One-Dimensional Man 3. Victory over Unhappy Consciousness: Repressive Desublimation
The achievements and failures of modern society have deprived the high culture of its former importance. The glorification of an autonomous personality, humanism, tragic and romantic love, apparently, was an ideal only for the passed stage of development. What we see now is not the degeneration of high culture into popular culture, but its refutation of reality.
Reality transcends its culture, and today man can do more than cultural heroes and demigods; he had already solved many problems that seemed unsolvable. But at the same time he betrayed hope and ruined the truth, preserved by sublimated images of high culture. Of course, high culture has always been in conflict with social reality, and the enjoyment of its gifts and ideals was available only to the privileged minority. However, the two antagonistic spheres of society have always coexisted; high culture was distinguished by its livelihood, and its ideals and its truth rarely disturbed reality.
The novelty of today’s situation is to smooth out the antagonism between culture and social reality by rejecting the opposition, alien and transcendental elements in high culture, thanks to which it created a different dimension of reality. The elimination of a two-dimensional culture does not occur through the denial and rejection of “cultural values”, but through their full integration into the established order and mass reproduction and demonstration.
In fact, they become instruments of social cohesion. In the competition between East and West, the greatness of free literature and art, the ideals of humanism, sadness and joy of the individual, the exercise of personality occupy an important place. And the fact that they are a heavy reproach to the forms of modern communism, modern society does not prevent them from being objects of daily management and sale. Just as people, knowing or feeling that advertising and political platforms in their very essence cannot be true or truthful, continue to listen to them, read them and even allow them to captivate themselves, in the same way they accept traditional values, making them part of its intellectual equipment. And the fact that the mass media harmoniously, often imperceptibly mix art, politics, religion and philosophy with commercial advertising means that these spheres of culture are brought to a common denominator – the commodity form. The music of the soul becomes running music. Quoted is not truth value, but exchange value. Here is the focal point of the status quo rationality and the beginning of all alienated rationality.
When lofty words about freedom and fulfillment of hopes are spoken by competing leaders and politicians, and then replicated using screens, radio and stands, they turn into empty sounds that make sense only in the context of propaganda, business, discipline and relaxation. This assimilation of the ideal by reality testifies to how far the ideal has lagged behind it. Deposed from the sublimated kingdom of the soul, spirit, inner world of man, he sounded in the language of operational terms and problems, in the language of progressive mass culture. This distortion indicates that a developed industrial society has come close to the possibility of materializing ideals. The realm of sublimation, in which the conditions of human existence were presented, idealized and denounced, gradually comes to naught, unable to compete with the equipment of society. High culture becomes a part of material culture and in this transformation loses most of its truth.
The high culture of the West – the moral, aesthetic and intellectual values of which industrial society still professes – was both a functional and a chronological sense of a pre-technological culture. Its significance goes back to the experience of the world, which no longer exists and which cannot be returned, because its place was taken by a technological society. Moreover, it remained predominantly a feudal culture, even when the bourgeois period supplemented it with its most durable principles. It was feudal not only because it was the exclusive property of a privileged minority, not only because of its inherent romantic element (which we are now discussing), but also because creations that truly belonged to her in spirit expressed a conscious, methodological rejection of the whole sphere business, industry, and order based on calculation and profit.
Despite the fact that the bourgeois order has found a comprehensive – and even affirming – reflection in art and literature (for example, in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, in the nineteenth-century English novel, in the works of Thomas Mann), it is still remained in the shadow and, moreover, under the gun of another, irreconcilably antagonistic dimension, condemning and denying the order of business. This other dimension is not presented in the literature….