Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Day 1 - Rhythmanalysis

Rhythmanalysis – Time and Everyday Life
By Henri Lefebvre
Published by Continuum, London: New York - 2004
Lefebvre is a Marxist scholar, one noted for his contributions to sociological understandings of space, the everyday and cities. 

The introduction to this work, by Stuart Elden, notes it is Lefebvre’s final publication prior to his death (he was born in 1901 and died in 1991), and unites much of his prior thinking. ‘Lefebvre shows the interrelation of understandings of space and time in the comprehension of everyday life’ and the importance that the two concepts of space and time ‘need to be thought together rather than separately’ (pg vii). Space-time is already a singular concept in certain (all?) strands of physics – Lefebvre’s argument, perhaps unwittingly, picks up on this.

The author spends sometime considering the nature of rhythm itself, with sometimes difficult prose that slips jarringly into the poetic. I wonder whether it works better in the original French? Lefebvre is one of many French philosophers whose impact in the social sciences is colossal – he takes his place alongside Bourdieu and Foucault. 

The author’s key arguments on rhythm is that they are a product of repitition, and measure, they are mechanical, yet organic. Rhythms can be cyclical (cosmic) or linear (the daily grind). They dominate our lives – from our biological to the social. True to his Marxist ontology, Lefebvre maintains: -
“The commodity prevails over everything. (Social) space and (social) time, doinated by exchanges, become the time and space of market... The everyday establishes itself, creating hourly demands, systems of transport, in short, its repetitive organisation” (Pg 6).

The most valuable chapter, I found, was his description of the street. He argues one cannot appreciate the rhythm of the street while walking down it (“He who walks down the street, over there, is immersed in the multiplicity of noises, murmurs, rhythms” Pg 28) but rather by being within and without, such as standing on the balcony of house on the street, one can take the necessary distance to view and appreciate the rhythm.
Lefebvre describes how the street’s rhythm cannot be viewed simply as random, but an indication of a wider and deeper structural origin. It is here that the transcendental can meet the mundane for the author. By understanding rhythm, you can understand more fully the object of study.

The author concludes with a summary of his terminology (in some cases, borrowed from biology). There is Eurhythmia, the natural rhythms of the human body in harmony (like ‘garland’ or a ‘bouquet’ writes Lefebvre in his distinctive style) and opposite that, Arrhythmia, where the rhythms conflict. There is also Isorhythmia, where several rhythms exist in equal measure.

Rhythmanalysis is a relatively old work, and I’m keen to see how others have built upon it. It’s been on my to-read list for some time. My research is on British Mosques, and the everyday religious life of an observant Muslim is absolutely linked to rhythms - some obvious, some not so obvious. I sense Lefebvre’s writing will have considerable utility for me.  

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