mercoledì 29 giugno 2016

Through Sartre and Marcuse: For a Realistic Utopia

by Federico Sollazzo (; II of 2) 

              So for Marcuse the term utopia has not a negative connotation; this degrading meaning plays alongside and in favour of the status quo. On the contrary, the utopian idea, as Marcuse thinks it, is a negation or a refusal of the actual in favour of the realistic possible, and so it keeps alive the possibility of a world qualitatively distinct from this one by virtue of the permanent transcending of what is already given. And this commitment is very urgent in a world which believes that the liberty, without discern between the false and the authentic one, has already been achieved, without realizing the dynamics of increasing reification to which it is submitted[1]. Philosophy, not as a particular discipline among the others, an accumulation of specialist knowledge, but as dialectical thought, can show that things do not go this way. In fact, dialectical philosophy and imagination can present an alternative reality, which is in itself a critique of the established order of things, not merely because they imagine and speak about alternatives, but, this is the point, because imagination and dialectical thought can grasp the reality in its totality, as a whole, and by virtue of this can delineate realistic possibilities.
            In other terms, the imagination makes possible a more comprehensive, and therefore more “realistic”, representation of the world. This way it can born a sort of imaginative map reliable over the limits of the factual details (scientific realism) because it includes them in a more comprehensive overview, which is at the same time realistic (because it begins from the reality) and critical (because it transcends the reality). This is the realistic utopia which Marcuse describes as that Great Refusal where the imaginative potential of art lies, the only authentic revolutionary potential.

The Great Refusal is the protest against the unnecessary repression, the struggle for the ultimate form of freedom - 'to live without anxiety'. But this idea could be formulated without punishment only in the language of art. In the more realistic realm of political theory and even philosophy, it was almost universally defamed as utopia[2]
           By this way is also possible to overcome naively objective aspirations in favour of more complicated mediations of representational forms of the world. Therefore, would be possible to clarify that there can be progress, or even better, dialectical advancement, only by virtue of the particular perspective in which we intend the world; under these circumstances, progress is not mere advancement in knowledge, but it is a change in it[3].     
            This is the reason why I believe that the imagination, the realistic utopia, i.e. the dialectical philosophy, always maintains its revolutionary potential, which is its fundamental critical power; also, and maybe especially, in front of the globalized world of today.
            Indeed, the present world is more complicated than the previous ones. It is an interconnected world in which it is impossible know and understand deeply and in details all these interconnections and the way in which they interact between them. For instance, an English citizen of the Commonwealth could have not clear idea about the Indian tea and the Jamaican sugar production that was required for his English ritual of tea-time, nevertheless he would have known that they existed. Today, in front of the political and economic processes which determine the course of the world, just few or any people (and in which measure?) can deeply decipher such processes which move in different, complex and interconnected levels. The human condition in the current late capitalist and technological society is thus involved in a system that can be scarcely known and understood.
            For this, is possible and very important use the imagination, grounded on the reality but in order to transcend it (for this I spoke of realistic utopia), mapping so with the imagination the world and our condition in it. And what matters is not that this map be realistic in the factual details, but that it may provide us with a sense of the world that we can use for navigating in it; at any rate, the factual details are always inserted in a certain paradigm of meaning, so if this were that of the realistic utopia would be assured both a description of the reality (more rich as more argumentative complex) and the transcending of it[4]. Through this perspective would be possible to have a sense of futurity neither optimistic (based on ingenuity) nor pessimistic (feeding conservatism), but which offers a ground for being-in-the-world, not a realistic or utopian ground, but a realistic and utopian one. Indeed, usually the critique directed to the utopia is that it is unrealistic, but, as I tried to show, the way in which we represent the world is the way that drives our activity into the world, and this representation would be qualitatively better if would be guided from an argumentative imagination which creates a “realistic utopian map” of the world; and this is not at all unrealistic. Of course, this does not mean that realistic utopia is fully achievable, if so it would become blocked and would lose its power of transcendence, but that it could be a very important element of the world and it cannot be absolutely dismissed as “unreal”.
            To conclude, is interesting now recall two sentences about the movements of ’68 protest, one of Sartre (based on the Parisian movements) and one of Marcuse (based on the American movements), in order to confront these remarks with the current status of the social movements of protest to which I referred myself at the beginning of the present article.

What is important is that the action took place, at a time when everyone judged it to be unthinkable. If it took place, then it can happen again[5]


None of these forces is the alternative. However, they outline, in very different dimensions, the limits of the established society, of their power of containment. When these limits are reached, the Establishment may initiate a new order of totalitarian suppression. But beyond these limits, there is also the space, both physical and mental, for building a realm of freedom which is not that of the present[6]

            Well, Sartre is saying that the value of the protest movements is to make happen what is possible, and Marcuse that their value is not that of to be the alternative but that of showing it. Now, can we say the same about the current protest movements widespread in the world? Or maybe, are they neither the manifestation of a “possible possible” (the realistic utopia) nor, consequently, the representation of the alternative?
            In the Seventies Pier Paolo Pasolini labelled the Italian movements of protest as a bourgeois rebellion, and the same made Marcuse on American movements of protest, after an initial hope in them[7]. The risk is that things be the same also nowadays. It seems indeed that the protest movements are asking for their absorption into the status quo, they are protesting just because they are out of it: they are not contesting the power, they are contesting their exclusion from the power.
            If things are so, and this is my opinion, an activation of the imagination aimed to the gain of the realistic utopia becomes extremely urgent, in fact a different world than this one can arise only «from another development [which be] Otherness (not simply alternative) which by its very nature excludes any possible assimilation of the exploited with the exploiters»[8].       

[1] See: H. Marcuse, The Conquest of the Unhappy Consciousness: Repressive Desublimation. Id., One-Dimensional Man. Supra, pp. 59-86. Also, modernity «reduce[s] the worker [and man in general] to the state of a thing by assimilating his behavior to [that of] properties». J-P. Sartre, Materialisme et Révolution. “Le Temps Modernes”, I, nos. 9, pp. 1537-1563, n. 10, pp. 1-32, 1946, p. 15, my English trans.
[2] H. Marcuse (1955), Eros and Civilization. Supra, pp. 149-150.
[3] See: Th. S. Kuhn (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2012. A very effective exemplification of how are the Weltanschauungen to build the world (notwithstanding the presence of an “already given”) – and so more complex (which doesn’t mean complicated) is an argumentation, at first giving account of its genealogy, and more rich is the Weltanschauung in itself – is possible to find in these interesting lines: «the phenomenological experience of the individual subject – traditionally, the supreme raw material of the work of art – becomes limited to a tiny corner of the social world, a fixed-camera view of a certain section of London or the countryside or whatever. But the truth of that experience no longer coincides with the place in which it takes place. The truth of that daily experience of London lies, rather, in India or Jamaica or Hong Kong; it is bound up with the entire colonial system of the British Empire that determines the very quality of the individual’s subjective life. Yet those structural coordinates are no longer accessible to immediate lived experience and are often not even conceptualizable for most people». F. Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991, p. 411, my emphasis.
[4] On the importance to have an intellectual chart of the world, is interesting to remember the Mercator’s projection of 1569: it was not a true map in the sense of mimetically accurate depiction on the placed figured on its surface, but the imaginary map allowed to the sailors to orientate themselves through a particular view of the world. On the importance of an intellectual mapping of the world, see: R. T., Jr., Tally, Melville, Mapping and Globalization: Literary Cartography in the American Baroque Writer. New York: Continuum, 2009, and Id., Radical Alternatives: The Persistence of Utopia in Postmodernism. New Essays on the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. (Ed.) A. J. Drake. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010, pp. 109-121.       
[5] Qtd. in K. Ross, May ’68 and its Afterlives. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2002, p. 1.
[6] H. Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation. Boston: Beacon, 1969, p. viii.
[7] See: H. Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation. Supra, and P. P. Pasolini (1968), Il P.C.I. ai giovani!. Bestemmia: Tutte le poesie. (Eds.) G. Chiarcossi, W. Siti. Milano: Garzanti, 1993. 
[8] P. P. Pasolini (1976), Lettere luterane: il progresso come falso progresso. Einaudi: Torino, 2003, pp. 170 and 190, my English trans.  


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(«Analele Universităţii din Craiova, Seria: Filosofie», n. 31, 2013)

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