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The Aesthetic Dimension; Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics

Social Research Glossary. Citation reference: Harvey, L. This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Herbert Marcuse was a critical theorist who wrote critiques of capitalism and also developed a Marxist aesthetic. Marcuse's major contribution is a critique of the cultural forms of capitalism , expressed in Eros and Civilisation and One-Dimensional Man. This cultural critique is a powerful, if uneven, criticism of the process of industrialism and represents one of the major themes in Marcuse's work.


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Marcuse's sees the proletariat potentially as a revolutionary force. However, the experience of Germany in the 's and the United States in the period from onwards reveals that the proletariat cannot be accepted uncritically as a force with revolutionary potential. Indeed the feature of the American proletariat is the extent to which they are embedded in the culture of industrialism.

The Aesthetic Dimension; Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics

Moreover, modern industrial society is organised according to the 'reality principle' i. The 'reality principle' derives in the first instance from Freud's distinction between life and death. Underlying these instincts of life and death are the libido, the ego and the superego.

Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics

The problem for any industrial society is how to arrange the way of life, which is essentially a way of life of delayed achievement or gratification , so that the various energies of ego, superego and libido do not interfere with the process of work. The initial libidinal desire for gratification located in the libido is controlled by the ego and organised in accordance with the social conventions contained in the superego. In societies that are not industrial the relationship between ego, libido and superego is one of equilibrium: the relationship between nature, human beings and society is such that the energies are balanced.

Industrial society is marked however by a principle of repression that effectively engages libidinal energy by displacing this psychic energy into the activity of work.

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The consequence is that instant gratification is denied; the energy is displaced and ego and superego justify the displacement of gratification achieved by either delay or by the material rewards that will follow from such repressive displacement—deferred gratification. Eros and Civilisation and One Dimensional Man are both perceptive critiques of the ways in which industrial society engages the principle of repression, by replacing the reality principle for the pleasure principle.

The consequence for Marcuse is that needs remain unfulfilled, repressed and displaced. What is more significant is that Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man , does not see the possibility of transformation. In this, of course, he is similar to Weber and Weber's gloomy vision of the triumph of bureaucratic rationality.

Socialism, for Marcuse, involves a society in which people could enjoy more liberty and more happiness.


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Thus, Marcuse says, there is a clear relation between art and radical praxis , because both originate in given social relationships and both liberate individuals from these rrelationships. The autonomy of art reflects the unfreedom of individuals in the unfree society.

What is Aesthetics? (Philosophy of Art)

But that is not the case and art achieves its autonomy by contradicting it social 'reality. Art negates established reality principle but it is more than mere negation as that would be utopian.

Authentic art transcends naive utopianism by recasting the reality. It recollects and lays bear reality, rather than simply inverting it. For example, authentic art does not provide 'happy endings'.

The happy end, as in Shakespeare, Goethe's Iphigenie , Proust seem to be denied by the work as a whole. If an item is faulty, wrongly described, or different from the sample shown then we will meet our legal obligation which may include refunding the purchase price and delivery charges. Duplicated Orders which are purchased accidentally. We only refund one of them.

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Aesthetic Dimension: Toward A Critique of Marxist Aesthetics / Edition 1

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