It’s astonishing to think that Henri Lefebvre began Volume 1 of Critique of Everyday Life with the founding of the United Nations and finished it with Volume 3, in 1981, during the first term of Ronald Reagan. In between, in 1961, just as mass consumerism really took off, he penned Volume 2. (He also wrote, as some of his students barricaded Paris’s boulevards, Everyday Life in the Modern World.) It was quite a stretch, quite a project: beginning in the age of peace and consensus, continuing through a cold war and a counterculture, and sealing it amidst a neocon backlash. His opening salvo in 1947 was that of a man of the countryside, even

though he found himself back pacing Paris’s streets, working for the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), after a period teaching in the provinces.1 At CNRS, Lefebvre focused on the peasant question, conducting research on agricultural reform in France, Italy, and Eastern Europe and on “primitive accumulation” of capital, as well as on the rural rent issues that Marx left dangling in Volume 3 of Capital. Lefebvre always felt that the peasantry figured prominently in socialist history; Mao’s 1949 revolution in China offered dramatic confirmation. (The French Communist Party, though, was less impressed with poor Lefebvre’s peasant labors. Rural rent, they scoffed, was a Ricardian problematic not a Marxist one!)

An even more amazing aspect of Lefebvre’s notion of everyday life, one overlooked by many commentators, is that it germinated when everybody’s daily life, Lefebvre’s included, was about to be blown to smithereens. Therein lies its most fundamental message: everyday life is so precious because it is so fragile; we must live it to the full, inhabit it as fully sensual beings, as total men and women, commandeering our own very finite destiny, before it’s too late. The life and death everyday drama for Lefebvre really began in December 1940, when he quit his teaching post as “a little prof de philo in a little provincial collège” (high school) at Montargis, one hundred kilometers south of Paris, and accepted another at Saint-Étienne, further south in the Loire.2 Married with four kids, Lefebvre’s already fraught personal situation soon worsened when the pro-Nazi Vichy government began purging public offices, schools, and colleges of Jews, Freemasons, and Communist Party members. Too old to be drafted, without job or means, the almost fortysomething philosopher fled to Aix-enProvence, where he joined the Resistance Movement and lived in a tiny house a few kilometers out of town. In winter, it was freezing cold. For fuel he burned wood that created more fumes than

warmth, bringing on a bout of bronchitis; the ailment periodically recurred throughout his life.3