Monday, April 30, 2007

This Is Not Repressive Desublimation

For the last month or so, I've been a little bit obsessed with thinking about the federal goverment's insistence that they are out to end homelessness by encouraging municipalities to adopt Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness. This while they systematically create poverty and increased inequality in all other arenas. This obsession has recently shaded into an obsession with capitalism itself, and how it works as an organized system of power and control.

When I was in college, I read Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man about five times. This was a text that describes capitalism is Freudian-Marxist terms as a system of social control, and sees America as the highest expression of that system. Being a Social Thought and Political Economy major who gravitated to the most radical professors I could find, I had numerous instructors who apparently felt this was an essential text to master. It occurs to me that the Ten Year Plan could be understood in Marcusian terms. A summary of One Dimensional Man I found online contained the following:

"Language, Marcuse thought, was becoming one-dimensional and was contrived to manipulate thinking, indeed, to limit thinking. Questions are posed only in ways that permit specific ways of searching for answers; political choices are constrained to arenas in which no really thoughtful choice is empowered; and standard vocabularies (in the military, for instance) are designed to inhibit any thought about value or morality.

The second means of insidious domination was what Marcuse called "repressive desublimation," again an amalgamation of Freud and Marx. Sublimation, recall, is where instinctual energy gets deflected from its natural expression and appears, instead, in some other form of expression or satisfaction. "Desublimation," then, is a system that permits some degree of natural expression or satisfaction of instinctual energy. Desublimation is obviously so powerful that even a small dose can succeed in capturing us. We will return repetitively to satisfy ourselves even in small ways. As an example, something like Playboy magazine could be allowed to feed men a measure of unusual --- that is, formerly tabooed --- sexual satisfaction, but this would happen only by becoming a regular buying customer. When one turned to look at American society of the 60s, it was clear that sexuality was being desublimated in a variety of ways so long as people were ready to consume the right things. Thus, people were actually being repressed anew to the specific advantages of capitalist producers."

I've always thought of repressive desublimation in broader terms than this. It's not just the commodification of desire. It is also the commodification of dissent.

This is why everyone in the New York Times fashion section manages to look like some version of a revolutionary or a junky while they wear clothing ensembles that cost more than my car. Every cultural form of rebellion is eventually co-opted and commodified. Form trumps content pretty much every time. Repressive desublimation, then, acts as a safety valve of sorts by providing the form of taking political action without offering the content. One campaign, for example, asks people to wear a wristband to end global poverty.

Yeah. That'll work.

1 comment:

экскурсии в барселоне said...

Well, I do not actually imagine it is likely to have success.