The Hidden Rooms


I’m in Vienna at the moment, exploring the streets and museums as much as old war wounds will allow, searching for the ghosts of Trakl, Schiele and co, as well as buildings (unbuilt or otherwise). I’ve been keeping a journal which I might type up and post here when I get back as it’s been a curious time, if anyone is interested [cue the sound of an old church bell ringing as tumbleweed blows past]. Travelling has been a welcome excuse to catch up on reading as well as writing the Imaginary Cities book. One of the texts I’ve been enjoying most is Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life, which is somehow acutely perceptive and prophetic in terms of politics and society (particularly the encroaching Spectacle) whilst also being poetic and fun. It is one of those rare books that makes you want to cheer out loud at moments whilst reading it, half in delight and half in despair but always in recognition that christ this man gets it, when so many fellow travellers on the Left (if there is a Left any more) sadly don’t. I’ll write some more soon no doubt but here’s an excerpt I love from Vaneigem’s book (the image above is by the wonderful Robert Montgomery),

‘So far the heart of life has been sought anywhere but in the heart of man. Creativity has always been pushed to one side. It has been suburbanised; and, in fact, urbanism reflects very accurately the misadventures of the axis around which life has been organised for thousands of years. The first cities grew up around a stronghold or sacred spot, a temple or a church, a point where heaven and earth converged. Industrial towns, with their mean, dark streets surround a factory or industrial plant; administrative centres preside over empty rectilinear avenues. Finally, the most recent examples of town-planning simply have no centre at all. It’s becoming increasingly obvious: the reference point they propose is always somewhere else. These are labyrinths in which you are allowed only to lose yourself. No games, No meetings. No living. A desert of plate-glass. A grid of roads. High-rise apartment blocks.

Oppression is no longer centralised because oppression is everywhere. The positive aspects of this: everyone begins to see, in conditions of almost total isolation, that first and foremost it is themselves that they have to save, themselves that they have to choose as the centre, their own subjectivity out of which they have to build a world that everyone else will recognise as their native land.

One can only rediscover other people by consciously rediscovering oneself. For as long as individual creativity is not at the centre of social life, man’s only freedom will be freedom to destroy and be destroyed. If you do other people’s thinking for them, they will do your thinking for you. And he who thinks for you judges you, he reduces you to his own norm and, whatever his intentions may be, he will end by making you stupid – for stupidity doesn’t come from a lack of intelligence, as stupid people imagine it does, it comes from renouncing, from abandoning one’s own true self. So if anyone asks you what you are doing, asks you to explain yourself, treat him as a judge – that is to say, as an enemy.

“I want someone to succeed me; I want children; I want disciples; I want a father; I don’t want myself”. A few words from those high on Christianity, whether the Roman or the Peking brand. Only unhappiness and neurosis can follow. My subjectivity is too important for me to take my lack of inhibition to the point of either asking other people for their help or of refusing it when it is offered. The point is neither to lose oneself in oneself nor to lose oneself in other people. Anyone who realises that his problems are ultimately social in nature must first of all find himself. Otherwise he will find nothing in other people apart from his own absence.

Nothing is more difficult, or more painful, to approach than the question of one’s own self-regeneration. In the heart of each human being there is a hidden room, a camera obscura, to which only the mind and dreams can find the door. A magic circle in which the world and the self are reconciled where every childish wish comes true. The passions flower there, brilliant, poisonous blossoms clinging to and thriving on air, thin air. I create a universe for myself and, like some fantastic tyrannical God, people it with beings who will never live for anyone else. One of my favourite James Thurber stories is the one where Walter Mitty dreams that he is a swashbuckling captain, then an eminent surgeon, then a coldblooded killer and finally a war hero. All this as he drove his old Buick downtown to buy some dog biscuits.

The real importance of subjectivity can easily be measured by the general embarrassment with which it is approached. Everyone wants to pass it off as their mind ‘wandering’, as ‘introversion’, as ‘being stoned’. Everyone censors their own daydreams. But isn’t it the phantoms and visions of the mind that have dealt the most deadly blows at morality, authority, language and our collective hypnotic sleep? Isn’t a fertile imagination the source of all creativity, the alembic distilling the quick of life: the bridgehead driven into the old world and across which the coming invasions will pour?’

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2 Responses to The Hidden Rooms

  1. Steve says:

    What a great quote – has given me plenty to think about this Friday morning. I’m not sure I can properly get my head around it, and suspect that might be at least part of the point he is making. Anyway, any text like this that prompts further thought is welcome, thank you.

    And count me in for the journal post, for what it is worth!

  2. ‘Stupidity – comes from renouncing oneself…’ I will certainly remember that!
    Lovely, lovely writing; and very pertinent too!

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