revision to response 3 http://pitt-crit-reading.blogspot.com/2011/02/desublimation.html
Marcuse makes the argument that the progress of technological rationality is causing a process of desublimation of high culture. He argues that as culture becomes more socially integrated it loses its purpose.
“The music of the soul is also the music of salesmanship.”(Marcuse 57)
Whitman, in his exhibition into the woods, seems to reject this notion and believe in a democratizing of culture
Marcuse says that the past culture illustrated nature more in its literature. It is possible that the past culture he is referring to is that of Walt Whitman’s era.
“Artistic alienation is the conscious transcendence of the alienated existence—a ‘higher level’ or medicated alienation. The conflict with the world of progress, the negation of the order of business, the anti-bourgeois elements in bourgeois literature and art neither due to the aesthetic lowliness of this order nor to romantic reaction,”(Marcuse 60)
In Song of Myself 10 Whitman describes being amazed in the woods “at my own lightness and glee.” For Marcuse, Whitman’s expedition into the woods was an example of the artistic alienation. Marcuse argues that as a result of technological integration, an expedition like Whitman’s is impossible.
“The absorbent power of society depletes the artistic dimension by assimilating its antagonistic contents.” (Marcuse 61)
In “Song of Myself” Whitman makes a statement about slavery, Marcuse argues that repressive desublimation results in the dilution of the antagonistic statements in literature and the arts.
“The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside,
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and bruis'd
feet,” (Whitman 10)
Whitman shows a runaway slave compassion which is, in many ways, a critique of the society at the time. Marcuse argues that the type of socially antagonistic writing Whitman exhibits is impossible in the technologically integrated society.
Marcuse argues that the arts should remain “high class” he believes that as the classics become more integrated into society, their antagonistic nature is deprived.
“…but coming to life of the classics as other than themselves; they are deprived of their antagonistic force, of the estrangement which was the very dimension of their truth.”(Marcuse 64)
Marcuse continues to say that culture shouldn’t be as easily accessible, the paperback, while it brings the classics to the masses, diminishes the power of the literature within its pages.
Marcuse also makes the argument that as the language of the masses has succumbed to operationalism. In this sense Marcuse is making a similar assessment of language as linguist Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent who asserted that the media goes through a filter of sorts to reach the masses.
“The major agenda-setting media -- after all, what are they? As institutions in the society, what are they? Well, in the first place they are major corporations, in fact huge corporations. Furthermore, they are integrated with and sometimes owned by even larger corporations, conglomerates -- so, for example, by Westinghouse and G.E. and so on.” (Chomsky)
On the surface, Marcuse’s assessment applies to Whitman’s work. Whitman was uncorrupted from societal influences and was markedly opposed to many societal norms.
Whitman’s entire work is “sublimation” it creates the images of conditions which are “irreconcilable with the established reality principle,” (Marcuse 72). In “song of myself” Whitman creates long elaborate passages describing the world around him, he creates images that are separated from social reality.
It was discussed in class how overtly sexual “song of myself” was. Whitman expresses life through a sexual scope throughout the text and views life as inherently sexual. Marcuse argues that technological progression has de-eroticized the environment. In “song of myself” Whitman describes riding a horse in ostensibly sexual terms:
“A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my
caresses, Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears,
Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground,
Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving.”(Whitman 32)
The technological integration of society, according to Marcuse, has diminished this inherent sexual nature of existence. The operation of a greater deal of sexual freedom has confined sex into “operationalist” terms, in stark contrast to Whitman who sees sexuality as truth.
However, Whitman, in his exhibition into the woods, seems to reject this notion and believe in a democratizing of culture. Whitman doesn’t see his work as “sublimation,” he would have wanted more people to read “song of myself”.
“I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Marcuse 1)
Whitman’s idea of democracy applied to the arts as well. While Marcuse saw the integration of arts in society as an inherently negative quality, Whitman would believe the contrary.
This divergence can be attributed mostly to the differences between Marcuse and Whitman on the subject of freedom. Marcuse believes that society is free when man is free from the. Whitman however sees America in its state as a beacon of democracy, where Marcuse shows critique Whitman writes in adulation of the system that Marcuse describes as operationalist.
Chomsky, Noam. "Excerpts from Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky Interviewed by Various Interviewers." Chomsky.info : The Noam Chomsky Website. 1992. Web. 18 Feb. 2011.
Marcuse, Herbert. "The Conquest of the Unhappy Consciousness: repressive Desublimation." One Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon, 1964. 56-73. Print.
Bloom, Harold. Walt Whitman's Song of Myself. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003. Print.