The Reproduction of Everyday Life (v.1)
Added by Danielle Aubert 10 on Mar 28th, 2021
Type of Work
8 × 5 in
"Fredy Perlman wrote The Reproduction of Daily Life in 1969, while living in Kalamazoo. His most widely read work,3 this twenty-four-page essay breaks down Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism in a way that is succinct and clear. The Reproduction of Daily Life was reprinted many times—it was distributed to subscribers asB&R no. 8, as a Radical America pamphlet, and as a standalone text.4 The first printing was done at the Community Print Shoppe. Later, Fredy and Lorraine Perlman would print thousands of copies of The Reproduction of Daily Life at the Detroit Print Co-op. Other groups would translate it into French, Portuguese, and Swedish.5Perlman’s reading of Marx describes the process by which those of us who live in a capitalist society reproduce the conditions that tether us to a life of selling our “living activity” for wages. We use wages to buy commodities and access to spectacles, which we experience as passive observers. We are “consumed by things,” and unable—or unwilling—to act to change things. This produces in us a “death-in-life.”6The problem of overcoming passivity is one that Perlman would return to again in other texts. As Perlman was writing The Reproduction of Daily Life, he was engaged in printing the early issues of Black & Red. He recognized the inherent labor of the printer, but also sought to reframe that labor as non-alienating. He writes, “Digging, printing and carving are different activities, but all three are labor in capitalist society. Labor is simply ‘earning money.’ Living activity which takes the form of labor is a means to earn money. Life becomes a means of survival.”7 By contrast, Perlman’s printing was not a means to earn money.The act of leaving academia to print, publish, and distribute texts—to creatively produce tangible objects—was itself an attempt to take active control of his own life and shift out of the mode of selling his labor. However, he also recognized the limitations of this act. Perlman writes, “An individual can surmount ... death-in-life through marginal creative activity; but the population cannot, except by abolishing the capitalist form of practical activity, by abolishing wage labor and thus de-alienating creative activity.”8 Perlman acknowledges that in order for large-scale system change to take place, it will require more than a person here or there engaging in creative produc-tion—an overhaul of capitalism is necessary.There are two editions of The Reproduction of Daily Life, and the most obvious visual difference between them is that the photograph on the cover changes from the interior of what might be a textile mill, on the first edition, to the interior of a car factory on the second edition. There are at least three different type treat-ments for the text on the cover of the first edition. In the version printed to be distributed with Radical America, the title is typeset in black Times New Roman across the image. In other printings, sans serif block letters are used. The production quality on the first edition is a little rough—the image on the cover does not fully bleed off the page, and the pamphlet was not face-trimmed (the interior pages creep out from the cover). It is not obvious what kind of factory is pictured on the cover of the first edition, but the repetition of objects within the space—lights hanging at regular intervals, columns evenly distributed in the room, and rows of large machines with rolls—supports the concept of “reproduction.” The second edition is also printed in black and red ink. The photograph on the cover of this edition is of a FIAT factory in Italy. The cars are suspended from overhead rails so factory workers, some of whom are visible in the image, could work on them as they moved along the assembly line. When the cover is opened flat, the orderly proces-sion of shiny new cars aims straight at the viewer. It is likely that Perlman found the photo in a magazine or newspaper.The only other image to appear in the pamphlet is in the centerfold of the second edition, and of the Radical America printing of the first edition. It is a full-page black-and-white, enlarged image of a car assembly line viewed from behind. There is debris in the aisle next to a line of suspended cars on the left. These appear to be different cars than the ones on the front cover. Maybe the debris is caused by waste resulting from the production of these cars, but it could also be the result of some kind of riot or disruption on the factory floor. Lorraine Perlman noted that Fredy may have liked for it to be interpreted as a view from behind, or inside the destroyed factory on the cover.9The essay itself makes no mention of cars. However, the image on the cover and, especially, the interior image, operate as part of the argument of the text. At that moment in the text, Perlman is discussing commodity production. He writes of the worker selling their labor for a wage and of the capitalist who “buys labor and engages it in production in order to emerge with commodities which can be sold.”10 Perlman summarizes Marx this way: “The result of the worker’s sold activity is a product which does not belong to him. This product is an embodiment of his labor, a material-ization of a part of his life, a receptacle which contains his living activity, but it is not his; it is as alien to him as his labor.”11Following this discussion of our role in the production of commodities, the reader turns the page to find a full-spread image of a trashed factory. Perlman encourages the reader to consider that the only thing keeping workers from taking over the factory, or any space where workers are engaged as alienated wage laborers, is our own reluctance to disrupt the processes we reproduce. On the next page Perlman continues: “the deliberate alienation of living activity, which is perceived as necessary for survival by the members of capitalist society, itself reproduces the capitalist form within which alienation is necessary for survival.”12 Perlman is emphasizing that we are responsible for the reproduction of capitalist society when we accept that we must work, as alienated laborers, for wages in order to exist. With the image of the trashed factory floor, Perlman encourages the reader to disrupt not only the reproduction of cars, but the reproduction of daily life.The typography inside the pamphlet is not especially noteworthy, except for the opening and closing quotes from Karl Marx on the interior front and back covers. They are typeset in red above a portrait of Marx, printed in black, as if the words are a cloud (or tornado) coming out of the top of Marx’s head. Perlman set the text this way in the first edition, using Courier, and repeats it in Times New Roman with the new text layout for the second edition. Although these are presented as quotations from Marx, they’re actually a mash-up of quotes from different sources.13 This quote montage is indicative of Perlman’s casual relation-ship to texts (and images) authored by other individuals, and to attribution more generally." The Detroit Printing Co-op by Danielle Aubert.