“I am not a good Communist” – Henri Lefebvre’s Autobiography from 1957, translated by David Fernbach at the Verso blog
Thanks to Adam David Morton for the alert to this. The original was in a collection of autobiographical sketches by French philosophers – Gérard Deledalle and Denis Huisman (eds), Les philosophes français d’aujourd’hui par eux-mêmes: autobiographie de la philosophie française contemporaine, published with some delay in 1963. The pieces were written between 1956 and 1959, and some authors were dead by the time the book appeared. It is not the easiest book to find, but it’s an good collection – other pieces in the book include ones on Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, and by Roger Callois, Levinas and Jean Wahl [misspelt as Jean Whal]. Interestingly, it gives Lefebvre’s date of birth as 1905 – usually given as 1901, but I’ve seen 1895 too. Very good to have Lefebvre’s piece available in English.
[Update: following some interest, the table of contents of the French collection is here]
Originally published in:
Richard[Gérard] Deledalle and Denis Huisman (eds), Les philosophes français d’aujourd’hui par eux-mêmes: autobiographie de la philosophie française contemporaine, CDU (Paris), 1963
A collection of philosophical autobiographies? A set of ‘intellectual’ itineraries? The very indiscretion of the project piqued my interest, and I await its results with curiosity. And yet, when I try to write my own contribution, I struggle to find the right style. I reflect. I sense that this reflection will produce something other than an autobiography. An essay, or a kind of essay. Why not?
I’m offered twelve pages. I’d need eight hundred if not fifteen hundred. I would have to tell a good number of anecdotes, a few love stories (painful and happy, dramatic, and burlesque) and a dozen political tales. As far as I am concerned, philosophical thought cannot be detached from a fairly dense and hellishly complicated web of events. I believe I’ve been involved in most of the great ideological and political struggles of our time: the formation and dissolution of surrealism, the formation and fragmentation of existentialism, the rehabilitation of Hegel, discussions on the essence of Marxist philosophy and the fate of philosophy – liquidation of bourgeois nationalism and formal individualism – today the critique and balance sheet of what is globally called ‘Stalinism’. Now, for me, as a thinking individual, ideas are bound up with men, women, intrigues, loves. One day, if the great historic criminals such as Beria leave us time, I shall say everything: what I have seen, what I have understood, what I have not understood, what I have accepted and why, and what I could not accept.
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