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Ryan Moore


hile Henri Lefebvre languished for several decades as the ignored
philosopher and social theorist1, his significance within critical
social theory is now rising rapidly. Lefebvre has been the most
influential intellectual in the spatial turn in neo-Marxist social theory and
political economy: scholars have utilized Lefebvre to illuminate the uneven
geographical development of global capitalism, the shifting scale of state
spaces and city governance, and the challenges for justice presented by urban
social movements.2 However, Lefebvres work on space has made a larger
impact than his other ideas, with Anglo-American scholars typically utilizing
his spatial theory in abstraction from his complete oeuvre. There is a second
field of scholarship which recognizes the significance of Lefebvres Critique
of Everyday Life for a method of cultural analysis that draws from Simmel,
Benjamin, Barthes, and de Certeau, as well as the Dadaist, Surrealist, and
Situationist movements.3 Those who have appropriated Lefebvres theory
of space for their critiques of political economy typically overlook these
enduring concerns with culture, temporality, and everyday life. Contrary to
his own dialectical approach, the emerging body of social theory inspired
by Lefebvre is divided between critiques of space and time, corresponding
with the longstanding intellectual boundary between the base of political
economy and the superstructure of everyday life.

Lefebvre envisioned a method of analysis that could comprehend the

interrelations between the temporal and spatial dimensions of everyday life,
which he called rhythmanalysis. Lefebvres ideas about rhythmanalysis are
scattered and unfinished, but they represent a powerful methodological tool

Stanley Aronowitz, The ignored philosopher and social theorist: On the work of Henri Lefebvre.
Situations, vol. 2 (2007): 133-155.
Lefebvre has had a decisive influence on radical geographers and critical theorists of social space,
especially David Harvey, Edward Soja, Kristin Ross, Neil Smith, Doreen Masssey, and Neil Brenner.
See Michael Gardiner, Critiques of Everyday Life (New York: Routledge, 2000); Ben Highmore,
Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2002); and Michael
Sheringham, Everyday Life: Theories from Surrealism to the Present (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2006). Lefebvre was also an important influence in the pioneering work of Greil Marcus on
music, art, and modernity in Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1989).


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that can illuminate the dialectics of power and resistance that transpire in
urban settings, particularly in the interrelations between music, the body,
and urban life. Rhythmanalysis must be understood in relation to Lefebvres
core concepts, particularly everyday life, alienation, and moments, as well as
the significance of festival. I will briefly describe the development of these
ideas in the context of Lefebvres fascinating biography.

Marxs notion of alienation was central to the three volumes of Lefebvres

Critique of Everyday Life, published between 1947 and 1981. Lefebvre used
the concept of alienation in a dialectical manner that presupposed a struggle
for dis-alienation, thus developing a theoretical foundation for perpetual
resistance. Lefebvres ideas were shaped by involvement with intellectual,
political, and artistic movements that traverse the revolutionary history of
the twentieth century: Dadaism and the Surrealist avant-garde; a Hegelian
form of Western Marxism; the French resistance to Nazi occupation; a stormy
relationship with the French Communist Party; his reciprocal influence with
the Situationist International and the student uprisings of May 1968; and
finally, the movement for autogestion (self-management) in conjunction
with Lefebvres critique of space and the state.4 These struggles energized
Lefebvres ideas and compelled him to theorize the possibilities for resistance
and revolution that develop within capitalist societies.



Lefebvres intellectual roots were formed between the two world wars, as he
mixed a Hegelian form of Marxism with the insights of Dada and Surrealism.
The interwar avant-gardes explored how art, performance, and spontaneous
action could disorient the dominant culture in which social conventions
appear as natural and inevitable. Andr Breton famously sought to synthesize
poet Arthur Rimbauds call to change life with Marxs summons to change

Among his intellectual biographies, Rob Shields Lefebvre, Love, and Struggle (New York:
Routledge, 1999) and Stuart Eldens Understanding Henri Lefebvre (New York: Continuum, 2004)
offer the best explanations of Lefebvres writings on space, while Andy Merrifields Henri Lefebvre:
A Critical Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2006) presents a more general portrait of his various
works as they developed in the course of events in twentieth century France. More recent works on
Lefebvre have explored his significance for particular aspects of social theory: the focus is on issues
of urbanization, the right to the city, and globalization in Goonewardena et al., Space, Difference,
Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre (New York: Routledge, 2008); architecture in Stanek, Henri
Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2011); and the relation between space and the state in Brenner and Elden,
Lefebvre: Space, State, World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).


The Beat of the City: Lefebvre and Rhythmanalysis

the world. Lefebvre drew inspiration from the Surrealist experiments with
new ways of living and perception, but from the beginning he was also
fiercely critical of the avant-garde. In 1924, he criticized the nihilism of Dada
as solely the spirit-that-says-no and ephemeral pseudo-sorcery, vainly
proclaiming the sovereignty of the instant.5 Later, in his first volume of
Critique of Everyday Life, Lefebvre denounced the bourgeois elitism of
Surrealists who maintained an opposition between extraordinary moments
and everyday life. He insisted that socialism would be realized only once this
opposition has been overcome: Is it not in everyday life that man should
fulfill his life as a man? The theory of superhuman moments is inhuman. . .
Man must be everyday, or he will not be at all.6

At the same time Lefebvre was beginning to engage the Surrealists in the
1920s, he was also closely connected to a group of philosophers who were
drawn to Hegel and published a periodical called Philosophies. Andr Breton
passed along a copy of Hegels Logic to the young Lefebvre in 1925, and
he joined the French Communist Party along with Breton and many of the
other Surrealists in 1928. Lefebvres Marxism therefore took shape through
a unique engagement with Surrealism and Hegelian philosophy. In the
1930s, he and Norbert Guterman began to utilize the concepts of alienation
and fetishism in a critique of fascism and what they called the mystified
consciousness. In 1939, Lefebvre published Dialectical Materialism, which
presented a Hegelian interpretation of Marx with an emphasis on totality
and a vision of the total man who has been dis-alienated. Dialectical
Materialism represented an alternative reading of Marx which contradicted
the official version that had congealed under Stalin, yet Lefebvre (unlike
Lukcs) managed to escape the Partys censure.7

The central concept extending throughout Lefebvres critique of everyday life

is alienation. In the first volume, Lefebvre argued that post-war capitalism
was colonizing all times and spaces of civil society and human existence,
including not only labor but leisure, family, private life, sexuality, the body,
the unconscious and the imagination. Lefebvre emphasized, there can be

As quoted in Marcus, Lipstick Traces, p. 191.
Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Vol. 1 (New York: Verso, 1991), p. 127.
As Martin Jay explains, Lefebvre implicitly came into conflict with the Stalinist version of
Dialectical Materialism then dominant in the PCF. However, at a time when the Party was willing to
tolerate certain deviations from its official line, if the deviants were prestigious enough intellectuals,
the work caused Lefebvre little official trouble. Jay, Marxism and Totality (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1984), p. 292.


Ryan Moore

alienation in leisure just as in work... So we work to earn our leisure, and leisure
has only one meaning: to get away from work.8 Marx himself had described
the experience of total alienation in capitalist society: man (the worker)
no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions
eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up,
etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything
but an animal.9 Witnessing the extraordinary expansion of consumption
after World War II, Lefebvre added, We must therefore imagine a work-
leisure unity, for this unity exists, and everyone tries to programme the
amount of time at his disposal according to what his work isand what
it is not.10 Many years later, on the centenary of Marxs death, Lefebvre
argued that the social changes in years immediately after World War II were
decisive in the shift toward a new stage in the colonization of everyday life
by the commodity form: The extension of capitalism goes all the way to the
slightest details of ordinary life.11

Lefebvre developed his ideal of the festival in the first volume of Critique of
Everyday Life, thus identifying a basis for conflict and contradiction in the
emerging consumer culture that would eventually detonate two decades later,
in the rebellion of May 1968. In a chapter titled Notes Written One Sunday
in the French Countryside, Lefebvre reflected on the festivals and rituals
of rural life in relation to the everyday. In the festival, people momentarily
realize the possibilities of liberation, and thus Lefebvre celebrated these
ancient practices as indications of the present and future opportunities to
recreate dis-alienated social relations that could reunite people with their
bodies, nature, and each other. Lefebvre presented the festival in a dialectical
relation with everyday lifethe festive and the everyday are linked as a unity
of opposites. He wrote,

Certainly, right from the start, festivals contrasted violently with

everyday life, but they were not separate from it. They were like
everyday life, but more intense; and the moments of that life
the practical community, food, the relation with naturein other
words, workwere reunited, amplified, magnified in the festival.12

Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. I, p. 40.
Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in Robert Tucker (ed.), The
Marx-Engels Reader (New York: Vintage, 1978), p. 74.
Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. I, p. 30.
Lefebvre, Toward a Leftist Cultural Politics: Remarks Occasioned by the Centenary of Marxs
Death, in Nelson and Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1988), p. 79.
Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. I, p. 207.


The Beat of the City: Lefebvre and Rhythmanalysis

Festivals offered a reprieve from work and disciplinary power, and they
strengthened the social bonds within a community while temporarily
inverting the hierarchies of the class system. Originally, rural communities
organized their festivals as tributes to nature and an expression of humanitys
dependence on natural forces, which took the form of a celebration of
natures bounty and a sacrifice of surplus in an atmosphere of collective joy.
The recurring time of natures seasons structured the timing of these festivals,
and the cycles of life and death became the basis for a symbolic order that
bonded humanity to its ancestors and the non-human natural world.

Lefebvre argues that this culture of festivity was not merely repressed but also
usurped by religion. Modern societies inherit the alienated residue of these
festivals of collective joy in the form of abstract symbols and standardized
rituals. Religion supplants the magic and mystery of country life, with the
Church seizing control of the rituals and symbols that constitute the culture
of a community. Church authorities violently repressed the traditions of
festivity that gathered people in celebration through music, dance, costume,
and numerous forms of bodily pleasure; in place of these festivals, they
superimposed a hierarchical symbolic order that suppressed the human body
and collective joy. The festivals that were once organized cooperatively and
experienced directly are reduced to symbolic gestures and myths, and their
significance is increasingly irrelevant to the rhythms of social life.

For Lefebvre, religion and the Church are nothing more than mans
alienation, the self torn asunder, a magic spell.13 In his critique, however,
Lefebvre also suggests that religion has preserved, albeit in alienated form,
collective memories of a more unified and gratifying experience of social life.
As the notes chronicle his visit to a country church, Lefebvre cries out: O
Holy Church, for centuries you have tapped every illusion, every fiction, every
vain hope, every frustration.14 In religion, we find the fossils of humanitys
utopian longings transmogrified into mystical powers and supernatural
deities. Helplessness in the face of social crisis increases the appeal of
religion, while in turn religion ensures the incapacity and unwillingness
of people to change society. Religion contains the power to colonize every
dimension of human life, but herein lies the source of its vulnerability as
well, for religion can never deliver on its promises. It is here that Lefebvre
summons Nietzsches critique of religion and identifies an opportunity for

Ibid, p. 217.
Ibid, p. 216.


Ryan Moore

Marxism to intervene with an alternative remedy to the alienated quality

of everyday life. Whereas religion accumulates all mans helplessness and
thus presents a reactionary, destructive critique of life, Marxism offers
an effective, constructive critique of life for the purpose of realizing the
consciousness of the new man and the new consciousness of the world. A
Marxist revolution, in short, should aspire to the transformation of life in its
smallest, most everyday detail.15

When Lefebvre returned to the first volume of Critique of Everyday Life in

1958 to write a new Forward, he began to transpose his critique of religion
into a dialectical analysis of the growing consumer culture. During the
years following the end of World War II, French society had undergone a
period of enormous transformation characterized by rapid urbanization and
American-style consumption; these changes provoked the intellectual and
political questions that would occupy Lefebvre in the decades to come.16
Consumerism, like religion, constituted an alienated form of everyday life.
Yet Lefebvre recognized that the consumer culture was responding to the
real needs, desires, and pleasures of its consumers, and these should not
simply be dismissed as symptoms of false consciousness. He wrote that
these forms of commercial leisure could hold a real content, correspond to
a real need, yet still retain an illusory form and a deceptive appearance.17
As with religion, the culture of consumption is plagued by an inherent
contradiction resulting from capitals inability to satisfy the existential and
social needs of consumers. The contradiction between the development of
human needs and societys capacity to satisfy those needsconceptualized
by Marx as a contradiction between the forces and relations of production
intensifies under consumer capitalism. Lefebvre (1991a: 58) wrote that the
development of the productive forces contained the implication of a new
stage in human fulfillment, of limitless possibilities; and yet as these needs
remain frustrated, alienation here is just as all-encompassing.18

After reviewing Marxs writings on alienation and needs in the Economic and
Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Lefebvre returns to his concept of the total
man. The ideal of the total man marks a point of reference for social critique,
particularly by identifying the discrepancy between the possibilities and the

Ibid, pp. 226-27.
Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture
(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995).
Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. I, p. 40.
Ibid, p. 58.


The Beat of the City: Lefebvre and Rhythmanalysis

realities of everyday life in advanced capitalist societies. Lefebvre wrote that

the total man is but a figure on a distant horizon beyond our present vision.
He is a limit, an idea, and not a historical fact.19 Lefebvres critique expanded
Marxs idea that modes of production are afflicted by an intrinsic contradiction
between their productive forces and social relations: capitals increasing forces
of production create needs and open possibilities that can only be fulfilled
through a revolutionary reorganization of social relationships.


Lefebvre published the second volume of Critique of Everyday Life in 1961,

following a crucial time of transition for him both personally and politically.
After nearly 30 years of membership, Lefebvre finally left the Communist
Party following the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Khrushchev Report
detailing Stalins atrocities. Intellectually, of course, Lefebvre had long since
differentiated his Marxism from the Comintern orthodoxy.20 After 1956, he
could make explicit the critique of existing socialism that had already been
implicit in his emphasis on everyday life: Economic statistics cannot answer
the question: What is socialism? Men do not fight and die for tons of steel,
or for tanks or atomic bombs. They aspire to be happy, not to produce.21
In these years between the late 1950s and early 60s, Lefebvre cultivated an
intellectual camaraderie with Guy Debord, who was also at a pivotal moment
in founding the Situationist International. Their friendship ended abruptly
and bitterly, with accusations of plagiarizing and womanizing, but Lefebvre
and Debord greatly influenced one another during this critical juncture as
each developed a radical social critique for the 1960s.22

In the second volume of his Critique, Lefebvre presents a fundamental

conflict between cyclical and linear forms of time, and it is here that he
first introduces some preliminary ideas about rhythmanalysis. An emerging

Ibid, p. 66.
While Lefebvre escaped official censure from the PCF after publishing Dialectical Materialism, he
was not so fortunate when the first volume of his Critique appeared in 1947. As Stanley Aronowitz
explains, within months of its publication, Lefebvre was to suffer their criticisms: the work was
non-marxist because it seemed to slight the importance of class and class struggle; did not insist
on the primacy of the economic infrastructure in the constitution of social relations (in fact, the
book pointed in an entirely different direction); and veered dangerously close to the thinking of the
existentialists, notably Satre and Merleau-Ponty. Aronowitz, The Ignored Philosopher and Social
Theorist, p. 141.
Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. I, p. 48.
See Andy Merrifield, Lefebvre and Debord: A Faustian Fusion, in Goonewardena et al. (eds.),
Space, Difference, Everyday Life, pp. 176-189.


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concern with temporality moved to the center of Lefebvres project: Critique

of everyday life studies the persistence of rhythmic time scales within the linear
time of modern industrial society.23 Linear time is segmented into a succession
of quantified, interchangeable moments that measure the exchange value of
labor and schedule the rationalized order of capitalism. As E.P. Thompson
revealed, this temporal work-discipline is inextricably linked to the rise
of capitalism, as increasingly precise units of clock time became the basis of
quantifiable value in a manner that was brutally imposed on the workforce.24
Cyclical time scales, on the other hand, are rooted in nature, the seasons,
the cycles of birth and death, and the physiological rhythms of the body.
Throughout humanitys history, Lefebvre observes, the cycles of nature have
been a principal subject of rites, rituals, magic, and religious symbolism.
Although the linear time of modernity disrupts the cyclical and modern
societies become estranged from natures rhythms, the residual conception
of cyclical time never vanishes completely. Lefebvre wrote, cyclic time scales
have not disappeared. Subordinated to linear time, broken into pieces and
scattered, they live on.25

Lefebvre thus characterizes everyday life as a terrain a conflict and struggle

between enduring forms of cyclical time and the linear, quantitative temporality
imposed by industrial society; the cyclical and rhythmic are always at risk of
being chopped up and flattened out by the linear, yet they still continue.
Everyday life in modern capitalist societies is fragmented, segregated, and
discontinuous, but Lefebvre also senses an underlying and persistent rhythm
to it all. Later in the text, as he further develops his concepts of social time
and social space, Lefebvre hints that he will be proposing a rhythmology or
a sociological rhythmanalysis.26 He acknowledges borrowing the concept
from the spatial theorist Gaston Bachelard, but Lefebvre proposes to develop
rhythmanalysis into a methodology that could illuminate a wide variety of
spatial-temporal practices and struggles.27 Whereas pre-industrial societies
experienced greater continuity between past, present, and future, along with
closer connections between places of home, work, worship, and leisure, the
spaces and times of modernity are fractured and irregular. Lefebvre suggests

Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. II (New York: Verso, 2002), p. 49, italics in original.
E.P. Thompson, Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism, Past and Present, vol. 38
(1967), pp. 56-97.
Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. II, p. 48.
Ibid, p. 232.
See Kurt Mayer, Rhythms. Streets. Cities, in Goonewardena et al. Space, difference, everyday life:
Reading Henri Lefebvre, pp. 147-160.


The Beat of the City: Lefebvre and Rhythmanalysis

that rhythmanalysis can provide the ethnographic framework for the analysis
of different social groups in relation to everyday life: each group has its
tempo, which is relatively fast or slow, and which varies between work and
everyday life outside work.28

At the end of the second volume, Lefebvre presents a theory of moments,

which he defines as the attempt to achieve the total realization of a possibility.29
The moment represents a radical break, a rupture in the linear course of
history. It is fleeting, but the moment comprises a totality that can illuminate,
however briefly, new possibilities for social relations and cultural practices,
along with new opportunities to realize them. Lefebvres theory of moments
could encompass a revolutionary upsurge or a flash of cultural innovation,
but he also intended for it to include social interactions and personal
experiences, including love and play. The moment offers us a taste or a
glimpse of unity and connection, and though it is temporary by definition,
it has the power to dramatically change the course of history and the quality
of everyday life. The theory of moments, he wrote in his autobiography,
thus repeats with a new meaning the theory of the total man.30 (2003, p.
174). Lefebvre also returns to the idea of the festival and incorporates it into
his theory of moments:

And the moment? It is an individual and freely celebrated festival,

a tragic festival, and therefore a genuine festival. The aim is not to
let festivals die out or disappear beneath all that is prosaic in the
world. It is to unite Festival with everyday life.31

Lefebvres theory of moments shares many commonalities with the notion

of situations that was being theorized at the same time by Guy Debord and
others in the Situationist International. Lefebvre maintained that the two
concepts were not exactly the same, mainly because moments possess a
definite form in their games, ceremonies, demonstrations, or festivals, and
therefore they are more regularly recurring than situations.32 Both Lefebvre
and Debord exalted the Paris Commune of 1871 as the preeminent example
of revolutionary festival, and in fact it became a major source of the rift
that developed between them, as Debord accused Lefebvre of plagiarizing

Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. II, p. 232.
Ibid, p. 348, italics in original.
Lefebvre, The Inventory, in Stuart Elden (ed.), Henri Lefebvre: Key Writings (New York:
Continuum, 2003), p. 174.
Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. II, p. 348.
Ibid, p. 352.


Ryan Moore

the Situationists Theses on the Paris Commune. These accusations seem

to have more to do with personal acrimony, for the Paris Commune is a
logical endpoint in the revolutionary imaginations of both thinkers. Indeed,
as evidence of the reciprocal influence, Debord and the Situationists (1962)
utilized the concept of everyday life in their Theses:

The Commune was the biggest festival of the nineteenth century.

Underlying the events of that spring of 1871 one can see the
insurgents feeling that they had become the masters of their own
history, not so much on the level of governmental politics as on
the level of their everyday life.33

Lefebvre (2003b: 189), meanwhile, applied his theory of moments in

presenting the Commune as a collective, impassioned effort to realize a dis-
alienated form of existence:

What was it? A basic will to change the world and life as it is, and
things as they are, a spontaneity conveying the highest thought, a
total revolutionary project. A general and delirious all or nothing.
A vital and absolute wager on the possible and the impossible.34

In the early 1960s, Lefebvre was beginning to propose that young people
might represent a source for social change in the years to come. Lefebvre
acknowledged that the category of youth was itself a product of advances in
capitalism, which now required longer periods of education and training. As
a result, the youth and young people of today constitute a more clearly
defined and distinct social group than they did a century ago, and this group
has its own specific problems and preoccupations.35 The contradictions of
capitalism, between the growing needs resulting from the development of
productive forces and the limits imposed by social relationships of inequality
and exploitation, were becoming manifest in what Lefebvre saw as an
emerging youth culture. As a lucrative consumer market, young people are
always being advertised the newest commodities of modernity, and so the
alienation, frustration, and boredom resulting from the disparity between
what capital promises and delivers is especially evident in youth.

Debord, Kotanyi, and Vangheim, Theses on the Paris Commune (1962).
Lefebvre, The Style of the Commune, in Elden (ed.) Henri Lefebvre: Key Writings, p. 189.
Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity (New York: Verso, 1995), p. 340.


The Beat of the City: Lefebvre and Rhythmanalysis


The campus occupations and revolts in the streets of Paris, Prague, Chicago,
Mexico City, Rome, and so many other cities in 1968 made a massive impact
on an emerging generation of intellectuals, and they also provoked the most
significant shift in Lefebvres work. Lefebvre had written periodically about
cities and space prior to 1968, but afterwards they moved to the center of his
analysis. He followed The Right to the City by publishing The Urban Revolution
in 1970, but then his focus expanded from cities and urban life to the totality
of space, culminating in his 1974 masterpiece, The Production of Space. From
philosophy to sociology, among Marxists and non-Marxists alike, space had
been ignored or taken for granted as a neutral, empty container that was
determined but not determining. By 1970, Lefebvre (2009, pp. 170-71) had
begun to develop a spatialized social theory in opposition to an uncritical,
reified acceptance of space as given:

If space has an air of neutrality and indifference with regard to

its contents and thus seems to be purely formal, the essence of
rational abstraction, it is precisely because this space has already
been occupied and planned, already the focus of past strategies, of
which we cannot always find traces. Space has been fashioned and
molded from historical and natural elements, but in a political way.
Space is political and ideological. It is a product literally occupied
with ideologies.36

Lefebvres later work addresses, among a great many other topics, the
construction and position of human bodies within their spatial environs.
For this task, he returns to his idea for rhythmanalysis, which in The
Production of Space he ambitiously imagines might eventually even displace
psychoanalysis, as being more concrete, more effective, and closer to
a pedagogy of appropriation (the appropriation of the body, as of spatial
practice).37 The body is the critical nexus for social struggles over space
and time, and although abstract space and linear time are dominant in
modern society, they never completely eliminate their concrete and cyclical
counterparts, so the role of rhythmanalysis would be to illuminate those
conflicts in the fight for revolutionary change. As he was writing in the period
after 1968 and through the early 1970s, Lefebvre had witnessed a succession of
international movements and revolts that made the body a locus of struggle.

Lefebvre, Reflections on the Politics of Space, in Brenner and Elden, Lefebvre: Space, State,
World, pp. 170-71.
Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1991), p. 205.


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He emphasized, the fleshy (spatio-temporal) body is already in revolt. The

movements of 1968 were closely linked to a counterculture whose expressivity
was manifest in personal style and sexuality, and by the early 1970s this revolt
of bodies had proliferated through the growth of second wave feminism and
the gay and lesbian movement, as well as the environmental movement.
Lefebvre argued that this revolt of the body is not a political rebellion or a
substitute for social revolution but rather an elemental and worldwide revolt
which does not seek a theoretical foundation.38

Lefebvre completed the third and final volume of his Critique of Everyday Life
in 1981, at a time when the political and cultural challenges from the Left
were losing momentum and a reactionary movement of neoliberalism was
becoming hegemonic. The movements of the 1960s and 70s issued major
challenges to social systems based on bureaucracy, conformity, hierarchy,
and repression of the body. At roughly the same time, the international
capitalist economy plunged into a state of crisis and prolonged stagnation,
signaling the exhaustion of Keynesianism and the liberal consensus that had
been in place since the end of World War II. Nonetheless, capital did not
simply survive but grew stronger from the crisis as a result of what Lefebvre
calls recuperation. The movements for freedom and against authority
were co-opted, in other words, and redirected toward support for free trade,
deregulation, and privatization. As an anti-authoritarian culture evolved in
the 1960s and 70s, Lefebvre wrote, neoliberalism, an official mystification,
benefited from this mindset: a Western model, whose contours were very
vague, was revalorized and identified with Freedom, while the standing of
the socialist model, hypothetically identified with Soviet reality, fell.39

With his concept of recuperation, Lefebvre examines the dialectical workings

of power to understand how capitalism did not simply squelch resistance
but also absorbed its energy for the purposes of further accumulation.
He argues an instance of recuperation occurs when an idea or project
regarded as revolutionary or subversiveis normalized, reintegrated into
the existing order, and even revives it.40 Recuperation cannot be attributed
to some weakness or inconsistency within the original culture, but rather
is a consequence of the adaptability and flexibility of power embodied in
capital and the state. Lefebvre (p. 106) plainly asserts, there is nothingno

Ibid, p. 201.
Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. III (New York: Verso, 2005), p. 100.
Ibid, p. 105.


The Beat of the City: Lefebvre and Rhythmanalysis

proposal, no project, no ideawhich cannot be recuperated.41 After 1968,

there was a recuperation of the right to difference. Yet for Lefebvre, these
continue to be matters of conflict and struggle, as the forces of recuperation
invariably generate new countervailing forces and movements. The final
volume of Critique of Everyday Life is certainly the most pessimistic of the
three, but Lefebvre continues to utilize a dialectical method that emphasizes
the contradictory nature of capitalist societies.

Lefebvre continues to identify the tension between linear and cyclical forms
of temporality in everyday life as a vital source of conflict to be illuminated
by rhythmanalysis. Linear time, which is quantified and homogenized
into standardized units, is increasingly dominant in capitalist societies,
because the time spent in abstract labor is the measure of exchange value;
time is money. The closer productive activity approximates to industrial
production using machines, Lefebvre writes, the more linear repetition
becomes, losing its rhythmical character.42 The linear time of capitalist
modernity promises novelty and progress, but it delivers monotony and
tedium. In this regard, Lefebvre maintains a crucial distinction between
rhythm and repetition. Rhythms preserve difference and change within their
recurring patterns, Lefebvre argues: Although they are repetitive, rhythms
and cycles always have an appearance of novelty: the dawn always seems
to be the first one. Rhythm does not prevent the desire for, and pleasure of,
discovery: hunger and thirst always seem novel. Linear time, on the other
hand, annihilates these differences in the process of rendering all moments
equivalent and interchangeable: the formal and material identity of each
stroke is recognized, generating lassitude, boredom, and fatigue.43

A central task of rhythmanalysis in modern capitalist societies is therefore

to critique the growth dominance of the linear over the cyclical. Lefebvre
asserts, The important thing here is the progressive crushing of the rhythms
and cycles by linear repetition.44 However, he also continues to insist that
there are limits and countervailing forces that resist the ability of capital and
the state to completely colonize the whole of everyday life. Lefebvre laments
that The qualitative has virtually disappeared, but immediately remarks
that his use of virtually indicates a limit in the dialectical relationship of
power and resistance. At the limit, he theorizes, absolute quantification,

Ibid, p. 106.
Ibid, p. 129.
Ibid, p. 130.


Ryan Moore

pure rationality, abstraction would triumph. Yet this limit is unattainable

because it is always met with resistance and opposition, and also because
something else is always possible. For Lefebvre, enduring possibilities
continue to be evident in festive moments that amalgamate bodies in space
through rhythmic music and dance:

The splintering of time and space in general homogeneity, and

the crushing of natural rhythms and cycles by linearity, have
consequences at other levels. This state of affairs creates a need
for rhythms. The imposition of daily life as we have defined it thus
goes together with rhythmical innovations in music and dance,
innovations that accentuate rhythms and restore it to daily life
The festival, which in other respects has been recuperated and
commercialized, is restored, together with features that had been
done away with: rupture, transgression, ecstasy.45

Lefebvre further developed some ideas about rhythmanalysis during the

final years of his life. In 1986, he and his wife Catherine Rgulier published
a rhythmanalytical study of Mediterranean cities, extending the Annales
historian Fernand Braudels conception of the Mediterranean as a regional
totality where commercial and religious exchanges have created a plurality
of distinct, yet related and interdependent, local cultures.46 Mediterranean
cities and towns are characterized by a slower and more cyclical sense of
temporality, more decentralized and diverse geographies of place, and less
abstract forms of social relations and power. All forms of hegemony and
homogeneity are refused in the Mediterranean, Lefebvre and Rgulier
maintain, while the polyrhythmia of Mediterranean towns highlights their
common character through their differences.47 Lefebvre presented the
fullest statement of his rhythmanalytical project with Rgulier, proposing
the outline for a method to comprehend the interrelations of time and
spaceand the myriad conflicts between their different formsin everyday
life. Lefebvre described the traffic he could watch and hear from his window
across from the Centre Pompidou in Paris: the intermittent flows and breaks
in the movement of people and automobiles, the bodies occupying the
streets and public squares, the festive agglomeration of difference.48 He also
introduced some new thoughts on the central role of music and the media

Ibid, p. 131
Ferdinand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II (New
York: Harper & Row, 1972).
Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis (New York: Continuum, 2004), p. 98.
Ibid, pp. 27-37.


The Beat of the City: Lefebvre and Rhythmanalysis

in rhythmanalysis, but nevertheless Lefebvres final project remained mostly

incomplete relative to its grand ambitions, posthumously collected into a
slim volume following his death in 1991.


The totality of Lefebvres thought contains many ideas that have not been
fully explored, and that no one striving to create radical social change
can afford to ignore. The notion of rhythmanalysis, for instance, opens
numerous methodological possibilities, although at the time of his death
Lefebvres thoughts on the matter were still incomplete and tentative. His
method suggests that there is a significant connection between urbanization
and music, a relationship which is mediated by the tempo of everyday life
and the disciplinary construction of human bodies. Lefebvre never wrote
about rhythm in relation to African or African-American culture and music,
but rhythmanalysis could illuminate the dynamics and conflicts of urban
society that have been audible in black music, which has evolved into the
foundation for popular music worldwide.

In African culture, rhythm serves to reinforce social solidarity, and music

is fully integrated into the practices of everyday life.49 Music, dance, and
religious worship are inseparable activities, while rhythm functions as an
invitation to participate through singing, dancing, or drumming, or at the
very least in clapping hands, stomping feet, snapping fingers, and nodding
heads. This has been in stark contrast to the European traditions of classical
music, where there is a clear divide between musicians and their audiences,
musical works are supposed to be consumed in silence and stillness, and
musical performances occur in designated spaces and times that are separate
from the routines of everyday life. European music, as Lefebvre noted,
systematically devalued the significance of rhythm, which came to be
associated with savagery and the potential for social disorder.50 The use of
rhythm in music, and the ecstatic rituals it so often facilitates, was for many
centuries perceived as threatening to the power of slaveholders, the Church,
colonial authorities, and other representatives of white supremacy and state
power. These forces of slavery and imperial power vehemently suppressed the

See John M. Chernoff, African Rhythm and African Sensibility (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1979).
Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis, ch. 7.


Ryan Moore

African practices of drumming and ritualized dancing, just as the European

peasantrys traditions of Dionysian festival were condemned and abolished
by the Church during the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, elements of these
practices and sensibilities from Africa did survive, and they would eventually
intermingle with new cultural forms created from the experiences of African-
Americans in modern times.

Urbanization accelerated and intensified the rhythms of this African-American

music over the course of the twentieth century. The mass exodus of millions
of African-Americans from the rural South to the cities in what is now known
as the Great Migration began during World War I and reached its zenith in
the 1950s and 60s. The elementary forms of blues and jazz were established in
New Orleans and other areas of the South, but the Great Migration brought
this music into rapidly industrializing cities across America, and the sounds
of blues and jazz changed accordingly. Music imitated the sense of movement
and the sounds of an industrial city, especially trains, in the sound of what
Albert Murray called locomotive onomatopoeia.51 In the years following
World War II, a more urban style of rhythm & blues developed and then
mixed with country and other musical forms in the making of rock & roll,
which smuggled subversive sounds to white American youth in a time of
conformity and repression. As they continued to evolve and mutate into new
styles of psychedelic rock, soul, and funk, these musical forms would play an
integral role in the urban rebellions and university occupations of the late
1960s and early 1970s.

As the twin processes of deindustrialization and gentrification have

transformed cities and urban society, more contemporary forms of music are
thumping with mixtures of old and new beats, a boundless archive of sounds
waiting to be sampled, modified, and juxtaposed with the aid of digital
technology. If the music which evolved during the Great Migration imitated
a sense of movement while lamenting dashed hopes for freedom, hip hop
and rap music have emerged from de-industrialized inner-cities in a context
of joblessness and increasingly repressive policing. Space is encoded in hip
hop music, not as a sense of mobility, but instead through the affirmation
of place, in the rappers claim to represent a particular city, neighborhood,
street, or housing project. Temporally, rather than progressing in a linear
manner, hip hop music is created through sampling techniques which
enable more repetition and the recycling of beats and riffs from older music.

Albert Murray, Stomping the Blues (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976).


The Beat of the City: Lefebvre and Rhythmanalysis

Meanwhile, as rap and hip hop have been primarily produced by black
youths born into Americas abandoned ghettos, the music and its subculture
have facilitated a new system of signs for simulating authenticity to more
affluent white youth, great numbers of whom are reversing previous patterns
of white flight in the process of gentrification. The new beats of the city
are created under conditions of poverty, racism, and state repression, yet
in a manner anticipated by Lefebvres notion of recuperation, their ability
to signify authenticity is constantly generating some of the most valuable
commodities in the consumer culture.52

In short, a rhythmanalyst would be equipped to comprehend these shifting

relationships between music and urban society as part of a wider conflict,
dialogue, and struggle that pits the linear temporality and mechanized
rationality of the industrial city against the rhythmic sensibility and sensual
practices of African-American culture. Given the extent to which African-
American rhythms, musical forms, styles of dress, patterns of speech, and
cool sensibilities have permeated and infiltrated mainstream popular
culture (not only in the U.S. but increasingly around the world), it is clear
that this has not been a one-sided conflict, dialogue, and struggle. Lefebvres
social theory anticipates these forms of resistance over time, space, and the
body, but he also calls our attention to the power of recuperation, particularly
in an age of neoliberal capitalism when oppositional gestures are quickly
converted into stylish-yet-banal commodities. This critique makes Lefebvre
a potent theorist for our times: an incisive critic who never underestimated
capitals capacity to survive by recuperating its opposition, but also a
revolutionary who grasped the durability of resistance.

See Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Cultural Politics (Hanover: Wesleyan University
Press, 1994); Nelson George, Hip Hop America (New York: Penguin, 1998); and Jeff Chang, Cant
Stop, Wont Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation (New York: St. Martins, 2005).