Today part two of the Marcuse etxtravaganza. I want to make this brief today, as I need to get some serious writing done, so I will only introduce one concept. This is something I am trying to think through at the moment and an example of a concept that appears quite timely: repressive desublimation.
Yes, people who know me know that I have been occasionally playing around with this for the last two to three years, but I have as of yet not been completely able to articulate the ways in which this concept relates to contemporary capitalism (I tried to do this initially through the weirdly (and morbidly) sexualized economics of Bataille and Lyotard’s writings on libidinal capital, but that did not get me quite to the rigorous explanation I was looking for–still good fun to read Bataille every once in a while–I highly recommend it). I do have a theory of this now which is formulated in relation to he Social Structures of Accumulation School, but I’ll save this discussion for a future post.
So, about repressive desublimation: I will try to get at this by referring to culture, which seems to be the medium we are all the most comfortable with. This part of Marcuse is, as some of you may notice, strangely similar to Jameson’s discussion of the effect of postmodernity on cultural production, which I explain simply via the fact that Jameson was a student of Marcuse’s at Brandeis. Marcuse writes: “what is happening now is not the deterioration of high culture into mass culture but the refutation of this culture by reality. The reality surpasses its culture. (…) Today’s novel feature is the flattening out of the antagonism between culture and reality through the obliteration of the oppositional, alien and transcendent elements in the higher culture by virtue of which it constituted another dimension of reality. This liquidation of two-dimensional culture takes place not only through the denial and rejection of “cultural values,” but through their wholesale incorporation into the established order, through their reproduction and display on a massive scale.” This then is what Marcuse means by “one dimensional society,” a society in which the supposedly “democratic” move toward increased tolerance, inclusivity, de-marginalization, pluralism etc. results in the ultimate erasure of a possible working political dialectic that allows for the formation of true progressive negativity. Hence he describes this tendency as the “conquest of the unhappy consciousness.” I contend that it is precisely this logic of the conquest of the unhappy consciousness, of creating a social situation of one dimensionality that is built upon the supposedly democratic idea of inclusivity (which stands opposed to the supposedly overcome repressive nature of former social arrangements that rested upon marginalization and various forms of discrimination), that erases at its climax the very possibility of progressive negativity. In short, I would argue that this is precisely what characterizes the logic of neoliberalism. It is thus within this critique of the effects upon the workings of the unhappy consciousness that we must debate issues such as diversity (the foto above, just for your info and amusement, is taken from the Pepsico homepage), or pluralism in general (and to an extent here also the logic of postmodern theory founded upon the linguistic turn which contains a similar forms of desublimation–i.e. Foucault, Lyotard, etc.). In short, analyzed from this angle neoliberalism is indeed what one could call the end of history–the end of any possible dialectical forward move of history (see yesterday’s post).
Just wanted to quickly throw this out there as a suggestion.