Understanding Henri Lefebvre published in Korean translation (with text of English version of new preface)

IMG_3404.JPGMy 2004 book Understanding Henri Lefebvre: Theory and the Possible has been published in Korean translation by Kyungsung University Press. My two recent Foucault books are also forthcoming in Korean with Nanjing Publishing House.

(If anyone has a link to the Korean webpage for the book, please add in comments.) [Update: this is a link to the Korean edition]

The text is the same as the original edition, except for a brief new preface. Since that text isn’t available anywhere else, I’ve put the English version below:


Preface to the Korean edition

I began reading Henri Lefebvre almost twenty-five years ago, as I began my PhD thesis at Brunel University. My supervisor, Mark Neocleous, suggested I should read Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, recently translated into English, alongside the work I was doing on Michel Foucault. I remember a lecture I attended by Edward Soja in which he discussed Lefebvre, and that was also a great inspiration, even though I disagreed with much of what he said. I wrote initial pieces on Lefebvre at the time, though the submitted PhD only discussed Nietzsche, Heidegger and Foucault. The book which came from that thesis, Mapping the Present, focused just on Heidegger and Foucault.

My first conference presentation, in 1997, was on Lefebvre, at the University of Manchester. I remember being asked by the chair afterwards if my PhD thesis was on this topic. When I replied that it was not, he said this was good to hear, “because Lefebvre won’t get you anywhere”. While Lefebvre is certainly not the only thing I’ve worked on, this was not the case. Working on Lefebvre has led to several projects, speaking invitations and many friendships and collaborations. The most important of these initially was another conference encounter, where I met Eleonore Kofman. We began a conversation and she invited me to join her and Elizabeth Lebas on their next collection of Lefebvre’s writings. They had edited and translated Writings on Cities a couple of years before, and were planning a more general collection of his work.  Eleonore and Elizabeth thought it would be helpful to have a political theorist join them, especially to work on the section on Marxism and philosophy. This was the book that became Key Writings, eventually published in 2003. In parallel with that book I produced my study of Lefebvre, the book translated here, Understanding Henri Lefebvre.

Since then most of my work on Lefebvre has been editing his work in English translation. I worked with Gerald Moore on the translation of his last book, published posthumously, Rhythmanalysis. Neil Brenner and I then brought together a selection of his political writings in the collection State, Space, World, for which Gerald worked as a translator. The long introduction to that book, and a standalone essay on Lefebvre’s thoughts on state, space and territory, both co-authored with Neil, are the last substantial pieces I have written on Lefebvre. The essay, in particular, was crucial in working through Lefebvre’s ideas on territory in dialogue with Neil, a topic which has been the focus of much of my own work. Since then, I have been working with Verso for some of Lefebvre’s philosophical writings, editing the translation of his Metaphilosophy and writing an introduction, and advising on future books, of which the next will be Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche. I also wrote a brief preface to the translation of Marxist Thought and the City. My current project is working with Adam David Morton on a collection of Lefebvre’s writings on rural questions.

Unlike other thinkers I have worked on, the written traces of Lefebvre has remained much the same. Heidegger’s collected edition, the Gesamtausgabe will stretch to over 100 volumes, only a small fraction of which were published in his lifetime. Foucault’s lecture courses, individual lectures and papers and, most recently, the fourth volume of his History of Sexuality mean that there is more and more material to take into account. With Lefebvre, this is not the case. He published much more in his lifetime than either Heidegger or Foucault, but very little has appeared since his death. Rhythmanalysis appeared very soon after he died, and in 2002 Méthodologie des sciences. Both of these were discussed in Understanding Henri Lefebvre. The research of Łukasz Stanek unearthed the manuscript Towards an Architecture of Enjoyment, as well as many shorter pieces of which I was unaware, and Lefebvre’s doctoral thesis on peasant communities in the Pyrenees has now been published. But there is not the range of material published posthumously there has been for many other thinkers. Whatever material still exists remain largely unknown. There is no archive of Lefebvre’s work accessible, save for the few traces found in the Columbia University library papers of his long-term collaborator Norbert Guterman. His lecture courses, drafts, and whatever other riches there might be remain in private hands.

As such, if I was to write this book again today I would not change a great deal. I would do more to integrate the rural research of his doctoral thesis into the account in Chapter 4. In that same chapter I would likely say more about his engagement with spatial practitioners – architects and planners – in the light of Stanek’s pioneering work. When I wrote the book the only other book length studies of Lefebvre were Rémi Hess’s biography and the English-language study by Rob Shields. There are now books by Sue Middleton, Benjamin Fraser, Chris Butler, Andy Merrifield, Nathaniel Coleman, Laurence Costes and Hugues Lethierry, along with several edited collections, as well as wide range of articles. I would do more to take into account these different interpretations and appropriations. Many more translations of Lefebvre are now available in a wide range of global languages, testament to his enduring appeal and use.

Lefebvre was a thinker of specific place and time, though his work has proved influential in a range of other contexts and disciplines far beyond his own practice in philosophy and sociology. I very much hope that this guide proves useful to his readers in Korea.

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