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#14: Self-Education

Zanny Begg /// Self-Education through Collective Action

“For Marx, enjoyment of the world is not limited to consumption of material goods, no matter how refined, no matter how subtle. It is much more than that. He does not imagine a world in which all men would be surrounded by art, not even a society where everyone would be painters, poets or musicians. Those would be transitional stages. He imagines a society in which everyone would rediscover the spontaneity of natural life and its initial creative drive, and perceive the world through the eyes of a painter, the ears of a musicians and the language of a poet. Once superseded art would be reabsorbed into everyday which had been metamorphosed by its fusion with what had hitherto been kept external to it”
Henri Lefebvre.[1]

“For Marx, enjoyment of the world is not limited to consumption of material goods, no matter how refined, no matter how subtle. It is much more than that. He does not imagine a world in which all men would be surrounded by art, not even a society where everyone would be painters, poets or musicians. Those would be transitional stages. He imagines a society in which everyone would rediscover the spontaneity of natural life and its initial creative drive, and perceive the world through the eyes of a painter, the ears of a musicians and the language of a poet. Once superseded art would be reabsorbed into everyday which had been metamorphosed by its fusion with what had hitherto been kept external to it” 
Henri Lefebvre.[1]

The field of education that contains the most interest and potential is that which grounds knowledge, and self-knowledge, in the practices and lived experiences of the oppressed outside the framework of the professions and the academy. In this sense self-education is not the individual completion of a university degree, the gaining of a place in the academy, nor even the mastering of a particular self-directed body of knowledge (useful though all these processes may at times be) but rather the process by which the individual is able to participate in a collective process which challenges the violence of the relationship between the commodity form and the comodification of consciousness. As Marx points out this disjunction is breached when “man is lost to him-self but at the same time has acquired a theoretical consciousness of this loss, and is driven by the absolutely imperious dictates of his misery – the practical expression of this necessity – which can no longer be ignored or whitewashed, to rebel against this inhumanity” [2].

Self-education needs to be therefore understood as the self-conscious understanding of the process of reification which cleaves our self-knowledge from our ability to act upon this knowledge. As Marx goes on to argue “the proletariat cannot liberate itself without destroying the conditions of its own life. But it cannot do this without destroying all the inhumane conditions of life in contemporary society which exist in the proletariat in a concentrated form”[3]. Thus the possibility of revolutionary action becomes embodied in the transformation of alienated self-consciousness.

Zanny Begg / When you set out to change the word, the world changes you. 2006

Zanny Begg / When you set out to change the world,
the world changes you. 2006

Self-education is therefore collective education of individuals within the tempo-spatial possibilities of everyday life. As Lefebvre points out alienation is not the “inauthentic” barrier to the obtainment of revolutionary consciousness but rather the productive and conflictual ground through which this consciousness emerges. In their critiques of the everyday theorists such as Lukacs, Lefebvre and Benjamin turned their attention to this fertile field for an understanding of the nexus between philosophical understanding and revolutionary praxis, theorising the plane upon which the gap between present realities, future possibilities and past understanding will be resolved as the proletariat becomes both the subject and object of history.

Lukacs, in his controversial but pertinent exploration of subjectivity and revolutionary consciousness History and Class Consciousness explains that in the gap between the subject and the object lies the “pernicious chasm of the present” [4]. To resolve this chasm he suggests that we need to be able to comprehend the present as a process of becoming. We can only do this by seeing in it the tendencies out of whose dialectical opposition we can make the future thus making the present a process of becoming that belongs to us.

The concept of the “militant researcher” builds on this understanding of the importance of the “everyday” as the ground upon which revolutionary consciousness and praxis meet. As Colectivo Situaciones explain the militant researcher is as far from institutional procedures as it is from ideological certainties. His or her role is to carry out “theoretical and practical work orientated to co-produce the knowledges and modes of alternative sociabilities, beginning with the …potencia of those subaltern knowledges” [5].

Similarly to an earlier concept of the “worker-corespondent”6 the militant researcher seeks to break down the distance between subject and object, part and whole, close and distant. They exist both as worker and cultural producer, they do not just report back on the lives of workers and other margionalised people but also seek to transform the daily experiences of these lives through common struggle, understanding, education and engagement.

True self-education can not be divorced from this struggle. As one of the participants I interviewed for my work for the exhibition Self-Education explains “when you set out to change the world, the world also changes you.” An ability to learn and challenge individual alienation and reification is predicated on an ability to engage with the collective struggle against how this manifests in everyday life. And the strength of this struggle has the capacity to dissolve everyday life into continually evolving forms of social being.

It will be through this that, as Lefebvre points out, our self-education will be fully realised and everyone will perceive the world with “the eyes of a painter, the ears of a musician and the language of a poet”.

Zanny Begg (1972) artist, writer and activist with the global justice movement, lives in Sydney, Australia

Footnotes:
1. Lefevbre, H, The Citique of Everday Life, Vol. II, p37.
2. Nachlass II, p133 [The Holy Family chapter 4].
3. Ibid p133.
4. Lukacs, G, History and Class Consciousness: studies in Marxist Dialectics
5. Colectivo Sitaciones, from transform magazine.
6. This concept is discussed in relation to the everyday by John Roberts in Philosophizing the Everyday, Pluto Press: London 2006, p57.

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