Counterrevolution and Revolt [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 26 (2):359-360 (1972)

Marcuse here returns to themes which he has discussed elsewhere: the prospects for revolution, the problem of generating liberatory sensual needs, and the subversive character of art. Of the book’s two principal essays, the first—"The Left under Counterrevolution"—attempts "only to focus the prospects for radical change in the United States." As a critique, the essay presents in highly schematic form the argument of One-Dimensional Man: the peculiar dialectic of expanding oppression and enlarged possibilities for liberation. Marcuse attempts to specify his critique in a discussion of the New Left, a discussion which he admits to be "highly tentative and fragmentary." As in the insistence upon theory and upon the "essentially intellectual" character of the contemporary Left, the essay is often provocative; but its overall effect is too schematic and fragmentary, as questions calling for detailed analysis, such as the problematic relevance of Marxist "class" ideology, are dealt with in summary fashion. However, the other major essay "Art and Revolution," focusing upon the cultural revolution, provides a lucid and precise account of Marcuse’s aesthetic theory. Through his interpretation of "the aesthetic form," Marcuse can unpack the political dimension of the imagination, without reducing artistic relevance to propaganda. Retaining an essential alienation from the established order, "art can express its radical potential only as art." There is no question of art collapsing into reality, even the reality of a revolutionary epoch; rather, while maintaining the integrity of the aesthetic form, art acts as an imaginative lure towards social progress. Finally, Counterrevolution and Revolt may satisfy few readers, but should challenge many to raise new questions—which is, after all, a central function of critical theory.—D. F. D.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph1972262169
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