One-Dimensionality: Herbert Marcuse’s Aesthetics of Liberation
Wendel, Jennifer R.
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Herbert Marcuse was the most politically active member of the Frankfurt School, and became the face of the New Left movements around the world because he sought to link his theories with practice and activism. Marcuse worried that society’s total rationality led to an invisible irrationality, that some kinds of decisions would appear so rational that no one would think to dispute them no matter what the cost. For example, he wrote that he was worried about a world that spends its massive amount of resources on technological development but ignores basic problems like hunger and poverty. But Marcuse’s extensive works are dated; he published his first book in 1932, and his last in 1978, and they world they speak of is very different from the one we live in today. In this paper I argue that many of Marcuse’s writings are still pertinent, though much of his work was left unfinished. I turn to modern philosophers and social practices to fill gaps in Marcuse’s work and revitalize his theories for modern society. I arranged my work into three sections that study the loss of sensibility, loss of intellect, and restorative imagination of Marcuse’s theories. I begin with the loss of sensibility in Chapter 1 and look at the development of Marcuse’s repressive de-sublimation from Freud and Marx and examine its implications in modern society. Chapter 2 follows Marcuse’s major work, One-Dimensional Man and defines what a one-dimensional society looks like, and what Marcuse sees as the path away from such a society. Chapter 3 begins with a discussion on Marcuse’s aesthetic liberation theories and his book The Aesthetic Dimension, and broadens to examine the work of modern philosophers like Lambert Zuidervaart and Martin Seel can do for Marcuse’s theories. I conclude with thoughts on how Marcuse’s liberation theories can be revived today.