Address to the Living : Concerning the Death That Governs Them and the Opportuneness of the Present Moment for Getting Rid of It

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(1934 - )
Raoul Vaneigem (Dutch pronunciation: [raːˈul vɑnˈɛi̯ɣəm]; born 21 March 1934) is a Belgian writer known for his 1967 book The Revolution of Everyday Life. He was born in Lessines (Hainaut, Belgium) and studied romance philology at the Free University of Brussels (now split into the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel) from 1952 to 1956. He was a member of the Situationist International from 1961 to 1970. He currently resides in Belgium and is the father of four children. (From :


This document contains 18 sections, with 59,593 words or 368,236 characters.

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I. HERE, NOW, AND FOREVER In one of Hoffmann’s novels, the narrator is surprised by the rapture into which a man sitting at a table is plunged while listening to one of Gluck’s overtures, though it was performed awfully by a bunch of bar musicians. Called to justify his enthusiasm, the man, who turns out to be none other than the composer himself, explains: mediocre as it was, the evocation of his work revived in him not the excellence of the score, but the moving harmonies that had presided over its creation — the musical notes he had written could only provide an abstract sketch of those harmonies. What is true for the genius of art is even truer for the exuberant presence of the living. Is there anything more pathetic than a love letter? As regards the violence and passional serenity where the body discovers itself in its entirety, what word, what phrase, could contain that affection, that preciousness? Think about the ridiculous e... (From :

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II. GENESIS OF INHUMANITY Ending and Beginning Their lives are broken upon getting out of bed like they were broken in infancy and at the dawn of history. How can you tell it’s the end of an era? When a suddenly intolerable present crystallizes in a short period of time what was so uneasily put up with in the past. And everyone is suddenly quite easily convinced that he or she is either going to be reborn in the birth of a new world, or die in the archaic netherworld of a society less and less adapted to the living. With the first rays of dawn, a new lucidity is born. And it shows everyone instantly how drawn and quartered we’ve been by the clash between the desire to be human and the daily obligation of renouncing that desire away through the history of humanity and the recent infancy of the individual. Everyday Exile Although the day begins beautifully, the weather always ends u... (From :

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The Child They raise their children the same way they arise in the morning – in renunciation of what they love. For as long a time as they’ve forced themselves to ignore their secret desires, they’ve never stooped to learn anything about children. The more pressing needs of making war and governing hardly authorized them to study such subjects. Looking back over the centuries, the truth is that above all they were scared by this always-new Life, surging from the belly of woman to grow and multiply. The mirror of their own past uniqueness sent them the confused memory that existence was somehow promised to all spirits from the depths of their own infancy. And there in those depths, they found an embarrassing presence that the crushing vise of adulthood had failed to completely stifle. They hated children as they hated themselves; they beat them for their own good, and educated them from the perspect... (From :

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History As Broken Evolution Human civilization is aborted when commodity civilization is born. A succession of wars, genocides, and massacres, adorned by three pyramids and ten cathedrals — you’d have to be pretty bitter and cynical to dare to call this “the history of humanity”. The magic Flute, the cinema, the refrigerator, organ transplants. What they consider to be “good sense” consists in putting even a lower price on millions of sacrificed existences than they put on the coins and medallions they have their faces engraved on the backs of. Nonetheless, how can anyone really say anymore with a straight face that progress needs holocausts, the engineering of unfortunates, the bloodied gasoline, the monthly salaries of a daily ounce of fresh meat, when their moral and financial values are floundering, when their patriarchal authority is down at the heels, when a breath of death is contaminating the forests... (From :

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The Horror of the Suppressed Animal If they scorn, dread, and tyrannize animals, it’s only because there’s an animal inside them that’s been beaten down, and because they invented roles for themselves by means of which they could subdue a Free Spirit within them that was destined to govern the body and the world. They do not attribute their superiority to animals to the art of pushing beyond natural freedom, to a science of harmony which would free them of the dread so universally present among animals of being eaten or starved. No, what distinguishes them from their “inferior brothers” is a mysterious substance, a Spirit. Deprived of such privilege, the bear, the dog, and the groundhog fall into the disgrace of having to seek out their pittance randomly across the savannas, forests, and streets; humans, on the other hand, having inherited the earth from the gods, don’t get off on happiness, bu... (From :

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The Agrarian Circle Agriculture fixes their civilization into real estate, in a circle constantly widened by the expansion of commerce. The formation of agricultural domains surrounded them with a wall that protected and imprisoned them at the same time. The scythe that harvested their fields of culture and occupation seems to hang its shadow over them and wrap them in a constant danger. Though they tighten their borders, dig deeper and deeper into the exploitable regions underground, and heighten their rooftops further into the infinite celestial dome, the act of appropriating a god, a master, and a spirit, they are nevertheless seized them by the head and enclosed forever into a ever more miniscule space. They spin around on whatever length of chain that is accorded them by the economy of their function and by their economic function: they expand and develop the exploitation of the earth and exchange the goods produced by it. H... (From :

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The Commercial Circle Commodity expansion has always held human hopes at arms’ length only to throw them down at precisely the place where their interest waned. Although it opens, in theocratic, feudal, or bureaucratic real estate speculating, a breach of freedom, it must know that it has already closed up on the use that the parentheses of marketability could have made of it. What do these passions discover, by leaping over the wall, these passions that raged against the oppression of rigid laws, mind-suffocating traditions, moral rigor, neurotic inhibition? They discover the need to pay for these new rights of transgression. And so libertinage giving good reason to Puritanism, as liberalism gives justification to tyranny, as the left gives to the right, as the revolution gives to despotism, peace to war, health to sickness. And let no one invoke here the effect of a so-called natural law: it’s nothing but the effects of comm... (From :

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Work Work has mechanized the body like it imposed the reality of its mechanisms on the world it transformed. The world changed fundamentally with the Neolithic revolution: it evolved away from a symbiosis of the natural and the human, and was flipped upside down by taking, for the foundation of its progress and civilization, a specialized activity which destroyed that primordial unity, exhausted nature by denaturing its resources, and generalized a system of constraints that made men into slaves. There’s the great result of all our pride of having done things impossible for animals — we’ve immediately forbidden ourselves access to creation, which makes up the human genius! Economic Mechanization By substituting itself for creative potential, work penetrates into evolution with a formidable force of fragmentation. Beneath the shock-wave of repetitive gestures, lucrative behaviors, servil... (From :

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III. GENESIS OF HUMANITY The Emergence of Another Reality The empire of economy long ago gave the knock-out punch to the symbiotic evolution of man and nature, and now that it’s falling apart, the path of the living has reopened. After the tyranny of work will come the primacy of enjoyment where life forms and perpetuates itself. What was tied is untied. The complexity of the old world is getting dislocated in a clutter of peremptory truths the ridiculousness of which never ceases to amaze. How could we have suffered so, killed each-other, and died for so many inanities of puffed-up importance? It’s all over for the gods, for fate, for the decrees of nature, for characterizing and categorizing people, for blind destiny guided by randomness. The great theological, philosophical, and ideological systems that once governed existence, pushing it from Charybdis’ whirlpool to Scylla’s s... (From :

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The End of Hierarchical Power There is no domain in which authority does not degrade itself and announce the end of all the power engendered by the exploitation of nature. Disbelief stripped the priests of the respect and scorn their ministry draped them in. God only ever shows up when he’s dug up in archaeological expeditions, and the episodical shop-floor bitching is never going to stop the collapse (at last!) of all religious enterprises. In a few poisoned lands of the third world the last tyrants crop up. A universal discredit has buried the military dictatorships little by little beneath the shit of the past; it does a better job than the most virulent antimilitarism in giving the stink of death to the uniforms of all the armies of all the continents and of all the parties. Nothing’s more comforting than seeing history close its dumpster-lid on the reign of the “living gods”, the saviors... (From :

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The End of Judges and the Judged-Guilty Fear and aggressiveness diminish along with the price society puts on prohibitions and their transgression. Free trade manages to dismantle the old walls of agrarian structure, and every newly opened breach in the wall brings up new ideas of openness and of freedom. Archaic societies surrounded their fields, property, cities, and nations with protective and oppressive walls. Commodity modernity is tearing them all down. The cities have lost their enclosing walls, the borders are being abolished slowly. Have they become the last bloody pages of this commodity-saga? The war of 1914 and the rekindling of its poorly-extinguished embers in 1940 mark, so far as it seems, the last ubuesque vociferations of protectionism, that regression from the commercial spirit back to the agrarian mentality. The tumultuous passage of private capitalism to State capitali... (From :

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The Decline of the Doctors A double evolution announces the end of the morbid marriage that foments the sick and the doctors. According to the first, the sick man thinks that he needs a doctor, according to the second, that he is, like the doctor himself, a living being that is afraid to live. Medicine has never so sovereignly imposed its power over death and suffering, and never have its efforts ended up so vain before the specter of incurable illnesses; the sickness of surviving with them obliterates the body. The truth is that medicine can vanquish everything but the essential thing — the fatigue of having to work all the time and everywhere. What a discouragement is cancer, where cells, frenzied in the shadow of death, proliferate in an extravagant life-reaction which kills them! What a defiance is AIDS, which opposes to the triumph of immune-system medicine the absolute collapse of the organism’s immunity! Medici... (From :

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From Intellectual Labor to Relaxed Knowledge Separate thought has only ever produced an intelligence of self-denying life. From the combined triumphs of physics, chemistry, medicine, math, astronautics, biology, architecture, psychology, and sociology has not so much come happiness, but oppression and money. The sciences have propagated well-being throughout the world within the limits of supply and demand, taking human activity and pressing it back into market activity. We have gotten a lot of hell for incriminating progress and the other side of its coin from those who are proud of having exploited and raped nature down to the atom, from those who tear an energy of death from a nucleus of life, an energy quite useful for illuminating our chanty-houses and healing the cancer that nuclear pollution causes. What kind of a favor can we expect from a “progress” that is brought about by a commodity process that is based o... (From :

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IV. THE MATERIA PRIMA AND THE ALCHEMY OF THE I The Child’s Second Birth The return to infancy initiates the renaissance of the human. The malformation that withers people away comes from the fate handed to children — they are born with a nature, and they grow up with a character. The freeness of love gives them life, and society strips them of it; it is thus that the poison of business and numbers strip their trees of their leaves and their passions of their attraction. Infancy, wealth of being impoverished by having, the morning of desire darkened by the boredom of the factories, history abridged by a civilization that substitutes mercantile efficiency for the art of being human. Death triumphs in the planetary triumph of the economy, and everything that it destroys the hopes of works to perfect it. Enough of these revolutions that rot like the corpses of their dead! Only the creation of the... (From :

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The Primacy of Love Love offers us the only model there is for truly human accomplishments. There hasn’t been a moment in history when nature was brought to such an extreme degree of denaturation, and no time when such a firm will to recreate it by stripping it of what enslaves it has reared its head. Stimulated by the conquest of commodities, the sciences have clarified one side of the planet by plunging the other side in night and ignorance. So many truths have been rolled about from tide to tide; in the blocked ports so many ships about to set sail are rusting. All voyages have stopped short in the sole, changing scenery of creeks stuffed up with soot. To get to know things means nothing anymore if we do not come to that knowledge by means of self-enjoyment above all — that’s the key to knowledge. No knowledge is worth anything at all without the consciousness of love, and there is no love that... (From :

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The Humanization of Nature Exploiting nature has denatured it, while denaturing humanity. The nostalgia for a primitive nature and for its impossible return is the morbid consolation of a society sick with economy. It’s not a question of re-naturalizing people and the earth, but of humanizing them by giving primacy to the living energies they harbor. The exhaustion of natural resources and of human nature draws a demarcation-line between the men who work at it and succumb to it, a line that defines the one great confrontation to come. While the parties of death dip deeper into the well of fear and draw out the power to reign over the ruins of the spectacular and financial edifice, a unanimous cry is rising from the streets, from the forests, and from hearts: “Life above all else!” Before these rumors even reached public opinion, their echoes were heard in the enemy’s ranks, since there are no poll... (From :

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Creation Versus Work The act of creating is to the humanization of nature and life what work is to denaturation and to a programmed death. An accelerated reading of the obvious now ranks among the banalities a truth which was yesterday put in doubt: economic exploitation has brought humans and their surroundings to the limits of a survival the apogee of which coincides with its fall. The history of the commodity and the history of the people who produced it is one and the same: it is made by unmaking those who made it. We have been warned repetitively from century to century, and, if not reassured, at least precautioned, that there are many terrors to fear, terrors which we know to be inherent in a system the mechanisms of which have lost their inescapable character. The apocalypse is part of the past, part of the sinister procession of its cyclical horrors. The real Flood, pouring forth from the first walls of Jeri... (From :

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The Alchemy of the “I” The alchemy of the self is the conscious creation of individual destiny. The rationality inherent in mercantile practice has rejected traditional alchemy, in the long night when it burned the lamps of a secret science. However, its parallel language and its operations are most often narrowed to transpose the economic process in a field of coherence where the salt of the earth engenders the celestial gold and spirit. When they weren’t looking to enrich themselves, the alchemists of the past aspired to the power that commands beings and things (except for the most discreet among them, who doubtless landed on the shores of a totally different reality). Denatured Alchemy In a particularly vulgar sense, alchemy is taking place all the time these days. The transmutation of lead into gold and of libidinal energy into intellectuality is now effectuated by means of a hygienic treatment... (From :


October 16, 1989 :
Address to the Living -- Publication.

April 26, 2020 ; 2:33:49 PM (America/Los_Angeles) :
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