[ilds] Fw: Herbert Marcuse and Aesthetics_Implications for the Alexandria Quartet

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Tue Sep 22 11:20:51 PDT 2009

There was a slight mistake I have corrected in the text of the email below, and I would be grateful if this version (below) is please taken as a substitute for my earlier email just sent. 


----- Original Message ----- 
From: Sumantra Nag 
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca 
Cc: Bruce Redwine 
Sent: Tuesday, September 22, 2009 11:44 PM
Subject: Herbert Marcuse and Aesthetics_Implications for the Alexandria Quartet

Does a Marxist view of literary criticism necessarily oppose aestheticism? The philosopher of the 'New Left' Herbert Marcuse sees art as a negation of reality, the reality that can control both a consumerist society through the power of consumer goods in a democratic capitalist society and also any population under any kind of totalitarian control, whether fascist or communist. At least that was my understanding of Herbert Marcuse's philosophy as expressed by him in 'The One-Dimensional Man' and in 'The Aesthetic Dimension'. Re-reading extracts from 'The Aesthetic Dimension' of Herbert Marcuse (as reproduced in 'Literary Aesthetics: A Reader' Edited by Alan Singer and Allen Dunn, Blackwell, U.K./USA, 2000) one notes the following expostion by Marcuse:
  "The critical function of art, its contribution to the struggle for liberation, resides in the aesthetic form. A work of art is authentic or true not by virtue of its content (i.e., the "correct" representation of social conditions), nor by its "pure" form, but by the content having become form.

  True, the aesthetic form removes art from the actuality of the class struggle - from actuality pure and simple. The aesthetic form constitutes the autonomy of art vis-a-vis "the given." However, this dissociation does not produce "false consciousness" or mere illusion but rather a counter-cosciousness: negation of the realistic -conformist mind." 

It seems to me that by this view of art Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet stands out as a work which as Marcuse's "aesthetic form" has "..the autonomy of art vis-a-vis "the given." Such an assessment also answers many of the latter day critiques of the Alexandria Quartet based on the absence of the reality of Egypt or Alexandria in Lawrence Durrell's novels set in Alexandria. Perhaps it also counters Terry Eagleton's negative views about the aestheticism of Lawrence Durrell:

  "Part of the fag-end of cosmopolitan modernism, he shacked up in Corfu, Athens, Egypt, Rhodes, Buenos Aires, Cyprus and France, changing wives almost as often as he changed countries.Some of this placeshifting was an attempt to keep one step ahead of the second world war, which he did his aestheticist best to ignore. While Hitler was on the rampage, Durrell was in search of a spot more sunshine. He despised politics, thought Marxists "synonymous with pigs and fools", and set his thoughts instead on the eternal."
  (From: "Supreme Trickster", a review by Terry Eagleton of LAWRENCE DURRELL: A BIOGRAPHY by Ian MacNiven.)   

And Terry Eagleton is also a Marxist critic.

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