Sunday, February 24, 2008

Re-Thinking The Bourgeois Subject, Toward the Sensibilities of Freedom.

J.L. Hinman

from Netations(the journal I used to publish) fall of 1997.

either traditional Marxism, nor postmodernism, grasp the dynamic nature of the cultural and economic process shaping the consciousness of the bourgeoisified subject. Traditional Marxists tend to view the process from a transhistorical perspective; class conflict within a framework of economic determinism, and to deal with the bourgeois subject by creating its own "socialist man." Postmodernism, to a large extent, seeks to evade the problem by eliminating the subject altogether. Both camps fail to produce a dynamic critique of the process, and both fail to translate what they do understand into a consciousness capable of resisting bourgeoisification. The industrial production mode of late capitalism necessitates a total way of life that shapes people into alienated consumers and reduces all personal and social values to economic commodity. The only hope for re-thinking the left is to cultivate sensibilities of freedom that create new possibilities and new ways of life.

Traditional Marxism always tried to work the other way around, to have the revolution, to produce a society capable of forging the "new humanity," and then to produce a free individual, one whose freedom is predicated upon the Vanguard, the state, and the party line. This is like wanting to have a child, and then to consummate the marriage. Moreover, capitalism has delivered the goods, and bound the consciousness of the subject to itself as supplier. It has produced:

...a social totality integrated under the universal form of commodity production. Under the domination of the commodity structure, a phantom objectivity is conferred upon human relations, transforming social relations into relations between things; subjectivity, the consciousness, comes to reflect and reproduce this system of domination, giving it the character of a `second nature.' 1

In other words, the mode of production shapes a total way of life that revolves around commodity. This process, rather than labor alone as in traditional Marxism, creates the bond of social relations. This ensemble forges an obedient subject. Within that framework class struggle and exploitation exist as historical contingencies. The alienated subject is itself a product of the way of life.2

The problem, then, is to cultivate sensibilities capable of transforming the production mode, or at least capable of resisting reduction to commodity, but an individual who is, nevertheless, capable of social solidarity, and to foster such an individual without imposing another "totalizing" and tiresome party line. An examination of three very different thinkers, each of which has contributed to the discussion in a major way, may yield new possibilities: Michel Foucault, Moishe Postone, and Herbert Marcuse. This is not an attempt to create a synthesis of the three, nor to harmonize them, but an explication of their contributions to the discussion might yield a direction in which to move. These three are chosen because each has a foothold in postmodernism, and yet in some sense maintains a critique of the forces which transform individuals into objectified subjects.

To begin with the current situation, the postmodern cultural critique has replaced Marxism as the major "cutting edge" outlook in the academy. Nevertheless, in its attack on the subject, it has not only failed to engage the problem, but leaves the individual open to co-optation by commodifying forces. Moreover, it ignores the nature of capitalism. As Postone points out, the crisis in traditional Marxism does not obviate the need for a critique of capitalism and its latter transformations: "globalization and concentration of capital that has taken place on the new, very abstract level, far removed from immediate experience and apparently, for now, beyond the effective control of the state;"3 it is also marked by the re-emergence of "manifestations of industrial capitalism," such as global economic dislocations and intensified rivalry between capitalists.4 Yet, at a time when the Marxian critique should be carried further, in new ways, the baton has been handed on to postmodernism, in some ways to the detriment of the left.

The postmodern attack on the subject, despite its roots in Nietzsche and Freud, began in earnest with Derrida, Foucault, Althusser, and other thinkers coming out of the student revolt in France, May of '68.5 At that time, Herbert Marcuse's theory in One-Dimensional Man (1964) had already had a profound influence upon that generation of thinkers. Much of the rhetoric of May '68 was aimed at saving the individual from the role of "cog in the machine."6 In subsequent years, however, what began as an attack on the bourgeois subject became an attack on many of Marcuse's approbations; freedom, consciousness, reason, and the individual. The Postmodern attack on the subject contributes to the death of the left by ridding it of its view of "humanity," its organizing principles, and its ability to propose grand theory ("meta-narrative").

Notions such as "class struggle," "the proletariat," and "new humanity," are discarded, along with their 18th century antecedents, the free individual, human reason, and the social contract. All such notions are seen as "logocentric," or as grounded in "totalizing" first principles.7 Postmodernism replaces such notions with an ethics and social agency based upon "difference." While it may be necessary for fighting racism, and while it is beneficial to value differences in people, without a common binding experience around which to organize solidarity, the left has fragmented even further.8

The postmodern attack upon the subject proceeds from Derridian principles, beginning in the late '60s with his attempt to deconstruct Husserl's notion of the intentionality of the speaker, in order to fulfill Heideggerian assumptions about the myth of presence. Derrida debunked the rationality of the core self, and opened a revolution against the Kantian transcendental ego. Nevertheless, this move had already been made in 20th century philosophy, from Heidegger, to Sartre, to Roland Barthes, but with Derrida it somehow became the orthodoxy of the day.9 The attack proceeds from the breakdown of coherent meaning in the deconstruction of the myth of presence, and extends itself into the mind of the individual; "not only my meaning, indeed, but I myself: since language is something I am made out of, rather than a convenient tool I use, the whole idea that I am a stable, unified entity must also be a fiction."10

Extreme versions of a social constructivist position have created a "postmodern individual, "one which sounds suspiciously like Marcuse's "one-dimensional man." Pauline Marie Rosenau's reading of the "postmodern individual is one who "...will not be held accountable for events, actions, outcomes; nor will s/he be the author of `caring' relationships (humanist) or creative individualism...pursuing a personal quest for meaning but making no truth claims for what results. S/he looks to fantasy, humor, the culture of desire, immediate gratification." 11 Richard Rorty, working explicitly from Derridian assumptions, posits a hypothetical individual, the "liberal ironist," who would inhabit his "liberal utopia." Because there is no truth "out there," no description of the world that might gain privilege over other descriptions of reality, Rorty's ironist is one who mouths the bromides of the community, eschews actually harming anyone, and knows in his/her heart that all values are merely "metaphors," the rhetoric of a relativistic language game.12 Such an "individual" would never stand against the community based on a principle of belief, in other words, the perfect citizen of the third reich.

The "skeptical" postmodern non-subject, despite approbations of "openness," and disapprobations of hierarchical truth claims, seems ripe for co-optation and exploitation (especially the bit about immediate gratification). "The postmodern individual" abhors unity, commitment, or a consistent political outlook. This "individual" is "open to recruitment in diverse and contradictory causes and social movements."13 All big brother need do is package co-optation in the guise of gratification (or cast a rock idol as a South American dictator's wife) and political naivete will deliver a mass audience of postmodern hipsters.

Trends in advertising already demonstrate the extent to which many new products are sold in a counter-cultural package.14 In Marcuse's theory, advertising is one of the main tools for rendering the masses one-dimensional. Frederick Jameson argues that the postmodern "fragmentation of the subject" creates a consciousness in art and literature which mirrors that of consumer society.15 "Jameson believes that...postmodernism replicates, reinforces the logic of consumer capitalism, the emergence of present-day multinational capitalism."16 While a major trajectory of postmodernism does seem to turn a blind eye to the process of co-optation, some postmoderns seem to offer alternatives.

Foucault seems to represent some hope from within the postmodern view, since his major concern was to uncover the forces in culture and history which cause people to constitute themselves as objectified subjects.17 He charts three modes of this process: 1) through scientific inquiry 2) what he calls "dividing practices" --the subject is divided from others, as with insanity and sanity, sickness and health, criminals and "good guys"; 3) "the way a human being turns him-or herself into a subject," as with sexuality.18 He sought to understand forms of resistance against different types of power. Such power relations as Foucault studied in oppositional forms include: men/women, parents/children, psychiatry/mentally ill, medicine/population, to name a few.19 He chose these struggles precisely because they threatened the value of the individual, while at the same time imposing upon him/her a kind of individuality defined by others through abstraction and institutionalization. 20

Foucault was a constructivist, maintaining that, "...[the self] is an illusory function of power relations."21 "Foucault's intention was to show...that the human subject is not given with permanent structures that constitute or condition reality, but is produced historically from its social world."22 Foucault's position has led his interpreters, such as David F. Gruber, to read into his work an anti-individualist position. "... [His] observations on the intertwinement of liberalism's individuality with its apparent opposite suggest that the current task for thinking and for action is not yet another attempted revivification and return to the individual, but instead is the rejection of and resistance to, the individualities that we are..."23 Gruber's own reading, however, offers nothing in return for the self, and no clear idea of the result; zombie-like, "we would exit our liberal individuality, not by simply transcending or rejecting it, but by working through it...we would experience, not an emancipation and actualization of our individuality, but an emancipation form our individuality," [emphasis his]. Just what that means, he never says.

Moreover, the constructivist position is not to be confused with an anti-individualist position per se. We constitute ourselves as subjects.25 "Again, it is we who are doing it, not having it done to us."26 But he distinguishes between the construction given us in society, the creature of the "code" of interpretation in public discourse which is interpreted by others as "individual," and the thing (in myself) doing the constituting in subjection to the code. 27 Moreover, contrary to Gruber, Foucault did call for the creation of a new form of individuality:

We have to imagine and to build up what we could be to get rid of this kind of political "double bind," which is the simultaneous individualization and totalization of modern power structures. The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our day is not to try to liberate the individual from the state, and from the state's institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization which is linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity through the refusal of this kind of individuality which has been imposed on us for several centuries.28

He saw the imposed individuality as an extension of Pastoral power, the power of the confessional, taken over by the state after secularization, and translated into "the helping professions," institutionalized authority, and diffused authority.29

Nevertheless, Foucault does not offer any clues as to how we might go about finding a new individuality. More to the point, he seems to be content to replace the individuality we reject with nothing at all. For Foucault, power is not a force which suppresses an inner core self, the self is not some true nature that must emerge in the absence of power; "power is positive...power knowledge...that which constructs the self. The self is the effect of power rather than that which is repressed by power."30 Still, according to what has been said above, it seems that the self as the effect of power might alter the power relations through resistance and do some self shaping, but this would require an analysis of resistance.

When pressed to give an account of rebellion in light of the constructivist position, however, Foucault is unable to do so. He attributes this function to "an inverse energy," a "discharge," a "something" in "the social body, in classes, groups, and individuals themselves which in some sense escapes relations of power."31 On the other hand, one cannot cultivate a "discharge," or a "something." Moreover, to put it in these terms dismisses the notion of resistance; resistance is not a hope for further possibilities, but an anomaly, to be explained away. For this reason, Gad Horowitz argues that Foucaultian radicalism can only be saved from co-optation if it is combined with some form of Marcusian understanding.

Marcuse should help to bridge the gap between the need for a Marxist awareness, and postmodern concerns, since he shares many of the assumptions of postmodernism: a background in Heideggerian phenomenology (which means a'deconstruction' of "the logic of domination"), as well as a crucial role in the creation of identity politics, 32 and the attack on the subject itself. His view of the self is too grounded in modernity to be called "postmodern," though it does share certain elements of postmodern concern. On the one hand, he assumes human reason and rationality, and he does so in such a way as to allow a meta-narratival explanation of civilization and repression. On the other hand, he also shifts the basis in human reason from logos to Eros; the basis of human being is thus found in "irrational" libidinality, logos is the "reason of domination."33 On this point Marcuse shares a common Heideggerian background with Foucault, Derrida, and many other Postmodern luminaries. Logos, as metaphysical arche, abstracts reality and subjugates the world under rationalizing reductionism.

In Eros and Civilization, Marcuse sketches a Freudian-based idea of the development of human being from "animal man," through a "transformation of his nature," that results in civilized values. Humanity develops through the procurement of civilization; from immediate satisfaction, to delayed satisfaction, from pleasure to restraint of pleasure, from joy to toil, from absence of repression to security.34 While Postmoderns tend to use Freud to emphasize the disjunction between reason and irrationality,35 Marcuse transforms Freudian theory into socially critical theory, with his own notion of "surplus repression." The reality principle creates a differed gratification in order to allow orderly social functions. The requisite sublimation of the pleasure principle creates a complex network of sublimations that form the basis of the theory in One-Dimensional Man.

Material need creates repression, upon which the reality principle is based. Scarcity dictates that libidinal need be diverted to productive labor. While Western society has achieved a vast increase in productive labor, such that toil is no longer required on the same scale as that of the pre-industrial era, the institutionalization of repression through political ideology has created "surplus" repression.36 Dissent grows out of the libidinal impulse; the urge to dream of a better world is rooted in the pleasure principle. Sublimation through surplus repression means negation of the urge to change, and the ability to dream of alternatives. In One-Dimensional Man, he argues that society is organized around a social project which, like a black-hole in space, sucks into itself all alien forms of thought; co-opting dissent, dismissing as irrelevant anything that cannot be central to its purpose, and bending public as well as private consciousness to its ends.37 Under these conditions life becomes a one-dimensional hegemony of technical production. Social criticism withers away, and critical theory languishes in a vacuum.

In order to revive the fortunes of the Marxian critique, Moishe Postone has proposed an overhaul of Marxian analysis, in view of certain postmodern concerns. Postone believes that he can save the current situation by altering the way in which Marx is understood, replacing the misconceptions of traditional Marxism, upon which critical theory is based. In Time, Labor, and Social Domination, he offers a reading of Marx so radical that it defies all Marxist convention. That Postone opens a dialogue with postmodernism, and that he intends to do so, is seen in the theoretical frame he has chosen for the enterprise: "this reinterpretation treats Marx's theory of capitalism less as a theory of forms of exploitation and domination within modern society, and more as a critical social theory of the nature of modernity itself. Modernity is not an evolutionary stage toward which all societies evolve, but a specific form of social life that originated in western Europe and has developed into a complex global system."38 He claims for his reading that it is less totalizing, and he presents a critique of and alterative to the bourgeois subject, but to get to that, the reader must slog through a lot of Marxist economics.

Postone's reading is largely based upon the Grundrisse, a latter work (1857-58) that most card carrying Marxists tend to dismiss as a long footnote. Postone demonstrates that Marxists' use of Marx's categories, such as market, labor, exploitation, ownership and the means of production, are historically specific and not transhistorical.39 He presents two basic arguments in defense of this reading: (1) that ownership and distribution of wealth were, for Marx, sub-sets of the larger question of the production mode; (2) he re-interprets the labor theory of value, not as Marx's attempt to construct a political economy, but an attempt to critique political economy.

Marx's notion of the mode of distribution, argues Postone, includes capitalist property relations. As Marx stated, "the laws and conditions of the production of wealth and the laws of the distribution of wealth are the same laws under different forms, and both change, undergo the same historic process; are as such only moments of a historic process."40 Postone states, "If Marx considers property relations to be relations of distribution, it follows that his concept of the relations of production cannot be fully grasped in terms of capitalist class relations, rooted in the private ownership of the means of production and expressed in unequal social distributions of power and wealth. Rather, that concept must also be understood with reference to the mode of producing in capitalism."41 This move places the production mode center stage, and renders ownership as a secondary feature, the latter growing out of the former.

As for Postone's second major point, the re-interpretation of the labor theory of value, he argues that value based on wage labor is the real contradiction in capitalism. Traditional Marxists have always insisted, as a primary tenet of their doctrine, that ownership is the major contradiction. But, says Postone, value is not based upon ownership (that is the distinction between value and material wealth), but upon labor time (we are paid for the time we work). Nevertheless, "value becomes anachronistic in terms of the potential of the system of production to which it gives rise; the realization of that potential would entail the abolition of value."42 In other words, capitalism contains its own historical negation; its assumption of value is far outstripped by its actual production capacity, and the generation of material wealth.43

The force of the historical negation allows for a transformation of the structure of capitalism. The real contradiction in capitalism is that between value and the production mode, not merely labor and management. He uses this point to undermine the notion of the transhistorical struggle between labor and management over ownership. Since class conflicts are grounded in the historical moment, they are socially constructed, not economically deterministic, and therefore, subject to change. "Marx's analysis distinguishes between the actuality of the form of production constituted by value, and its potential--a potential that grounds the possibility of a new form of production."44

He uses this point to attack Marcuse, although not by name. Postone does not deal with Marcuse in the elaborate way that he deals with other Frankfurt thinkers, yet he does clearly attack Marcuse.45 "If capitalist society is not thought of as a unitary whole and its social forms are not considered `one-dimensional' one can analyze critical and oppositional forms of consciousness as socially constituted possibilities."46 He argues that any analysis (obviously Marcuse's) which views capitalism as a social totality, "only reified and deforming," and seeks alterative consciousness only outside of capitalist forms, "...implicitly positioning a privileged position for critical thinkers whose knowledge inexplicably has escaped social deformation...cannot account for its own existence and must present itself in the form of a tragic stance or avant-garde pedagogy."47 Foucault makes the same argument about the privileged position of critical theory.48 Thus, Postone offers two criticisms of critical theory: (1) It is based upon pessimistic assumptions (the totality of capitalism); (2) it assumes a privileged position.

To answer these two points in reverse order, however, Marcuse never says that one-dimensional society sprang fully clothed with the birth of capitalism. He clearly describes one-dimensional thought as an unfolding process, one which did not always dominate society. In the early industrial phase of capitalism, feudal and primitive ways of life, which had been held over, did at least mitigate the "totalizing" aspects of capitalism. Moreover, he points out that the growth of technology, the mass media, and the domination of thought by technical facility create qualitative differences which never before existed in human consciousness.49

The categories of critical social theory were developed in a revolutionary era, and were based upon oppositional and negative concepts which defined contractions in 19th century European society [Negations].50 As Marcuse points out, categories such as `society' expressed conflict between the social and political spheres, antagonism between people and the state. Categories such as `individual,' `class,' `private,' `family' denoted forces which made their own demands upon people's lives and were not yet integrated fully into the hegemonic process. "With the growing integration of industrial society, these categories are losing their critical connotation, and tend to become descriptive, deceptive, or operational terms."51 Not only is society controlled by a single dominant hegemony, but even thought categories themselves become narrowed in such a way as to revolve around technical production.

Marcuse referred to this process of narrowing categories as "one-dimensional thought."52 Under this rubric he places all forms of scientific reductionism, operationalism, behaviorism, positivism, and the "totalitarian universe of technological rationality."53 The basic forms of thought he sees in conflict, however, are "linear logic" vs. "dialectical logic," or "the logic of domination" vs. "the logic of protest." He demonstrates the circular nature of operational thinking in P.W. Bringman's analysis of the concept of length. Length is defined by the process of measurement used to determine length. "The concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations."54

He goes on to quote Bringman; "to adopt the operational point of view involves much more than a mere restriction of the sense in which we understand the concept, but means a far-reaching change in all our habits of thought, in that we shall no longer permit ourselves to be used as tools in our thinking concepts of which we cannot give an adequate account in terms of operations."55 Marcuse's own example of the flood of operationalism in the social sciences, the reduction of "mind" to brain function alone, is today a major tendency, as evidenced by the flood of reductionist "brain science" material in recent years. Human beings are merely sacks of chemicals with electricity flowing through them.56 Through technical rationality logic itself has become "the logic of domination,"57,/SUP> a notion similar to the postmodern concern with "totalizing" and oppressive "logocentrism." In Eros and Civilization, Marcuse indicts logos as the topos of rationalizing domination.58

Postone's first argument is based on this view of one-dimensional society as a "totalizing" and unitary whole. Since capitalism is one-dimensionalizing, the only hope is to seek forms outside of its trajectory (through counter-culture and critical theory). Postone, on the other hand, offers the "true" Marxian contradiction from within capitalism itself; (value vs. production) will inevitably result in negation. But, Postone himself observes that the current form of hyper-capitalism ("global") is returning to its older forms, while moving beyond the scope of even governmental correction. If production outstrips value (workers produce a lot more than the value of their labor time) and the system still grows, expands, retrenches its commitment to technological production, then obviously the mere contradiction alone is not enough. The inertia of the system, plus its ability to shape consciousness, implies the need to tease out a contradiction on some other grounds.

The worker is too far removed from the overall production process, and the assumptions of production based upon value are too deeply rooted to enable change without a critique based upon something more. Consciousness must be changed enough to enable rejection of the influences of commodified life, before anyone will take seriously the notion of altering the mode of production. To wait for the inevitable change within capitalistic contradiction may mean suicide for the planet. Moreover, Postone speaks as though Frankfurt thinkers have no sense of capitalism's self-negation, but think of the "increasing instrumental rationalization of modern life as the ...irreversible results of a fate-like development."59

Marcuse's assumptions, however, are Hegelian. Reality is understood as a series of competing possibilities, and their fruitions; the negation, and the negation of the negation. Truth is not necessarily what is.60 Granted, the logic of protest is defeated before it can ever begin its work because it is a priori in contradiction to the established order. The logic of technological domination understands reality as that which is, and trains people in society to understand that which is as that which should be. Any notion of competing possibility is excluded. Granted, "that happy consciousness, the belief that the real is rational and that the system delivers the goods--reflects the new conformism which is a facet of technological rationality translated into social behavior."61 The rationality of the real is guaranteed by scientific technique. Capitalist society is the negation of further possibility. Nevertheless, Marcuse saw the potential for capitalism's own negation.

Every formation carries within itself the seeds of its own negation (this is the "negation of the negation" upon which revolutionary change is predicated--the revolutionary a priori). The Marcusian critique is aimed at teasing out this negation. Toward this end, Marcuse sought transcendent critical principles (TCP's), notions from beyond the commodified realm which, when brought into the closed realm of discourse through critique, create cracks and openings for new possibility.62 The real issue between Marcuse and Postone, then, is one of strategy, not a philosophical debate between determinism and constructivism, even though Postone sees it that way. The strategic difference is one of either predicating the contradiction upon social forms of capitalism, or upon capitalism itself.

Still, an approach can be forged which draws upon all three thinkers: Foucault, Marcuse, and Postone. Not that the three can be "synthesized," but a cogent position can be formulated which is informed by dialogue between the three. With Postone, one can agree that the mode of production is the binding force of social relations. "According to Marx, the dual function of labor in capitalism as abstract labor and as concrete labor, constitutes the fundamental structuring form of social life in capitalism--commodity. He treats the commodity as a socially constituted and constituting form -- `subjective' as well as `objective'-- of social practice."63 The mode of production, however, is sustained, not by pure economic theory, but by operational thinking and technical production.

Operationalism is translated into technical production, which in turn is translated into commodities at the level of the general public, through consumer products. The linch-pin of the system is its ability to reduce everything to a form of commodity, and to supply society with a never ending flood of better and better products. To support the production mode, mass audiences are created and handed over to advertisers; the process through which supply and demand regulates the harmony of society by creating demand in order to sustain itself.64 The mode of production creates a way of life which shapes consciousness, absorbs all competing desires, and forges the identity of the bourgeois subject. "Self-determination, the autonomy of the individual, asserts itself in the right to race his automobile, to handle his power tools, to buy a gun, to communicate to mass audiences his opinion, no matter how ignorant or aggressive it may be."65 In this light, right wing anarchy (libertarian politics and militia groups) are not revolutionary forces, but militantly one-dimensional consumers demanding more fast cars, guns, and power tools through fewer taxes.

We do constitute ourselves as subjects, and we do so in relation to power, economic forces, and the general material trammels best described as "the way of life;" all an upshot of the mode of production. This is not to say that the mode of production causes the subject in a deterministic way, but the process of living in a commodified society creates pressures which herd us into making choices: not to continue education, or not to take it up at all, to become our jobs, to narrow our interests, not to think about what we are doing, to sell out, to sell ourselves, to allow ourselves to become the products we consume.66

The process turns on alienation and necessitates compliance and co-optation of the individual mind. Through alienation the worker is stripped of the social cement necessary for solidarity with his/her fellow workers. As C. Wright Mills put it, "alienated from production, from work, he is alienated from consumption, from genuine leisure."67 The worker is alienated from production because he/she is separated from the total process, trained for a job rather than educated, expected to achieve a certain way of life and certain level within that way; overworked, underpaid, and subjected to an ever growing pace of social life which leaves no time for reflection or understanding. With free time, the worker has "fun," "happy hour," he/she meets his/her social obligation to be entertained. Thus, the worker is alienated from genuine leisure, from his/her own mind, and through the illusion of upward mobility, from class consciousness (and thus, from solidarity). No one is a worker, no one aspires to belong to the exploited class.

The consequences of this way of life are both subtle and devastating. The reasons for an easier way of life are forgotten; the system becomes and end in itself. "A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress...the rights and liberties which were such vital factors in the origins and earlier stages of industrial society yield to a higher stage in this society: they are losing their traditional rationale and content."68 Freedom of thought, speech, and conscience, as well as free enterprise, were, according to Marcuse, critical ideas designed to replace an outmoded culture with a more rational one. In late capitalism, however, the rights and liberties are bent to the service of the system, and the latter, elevated to the level of the social project.

Since we constitute ourselves as subjects, we can choose resistance, we can constitute ourselves as other kinds of subjects. Marx, via Postone's reading, provides an alternative model to that of the liberal or bourgeois subject. According to Postone, "The notion of the Social individual expresses Marx's idea that overcoming capitalism entails overcoming the opposition between individual and society."69 Marx's critique of individual and society, as Postone points out, is not limited to either a critique of the atomized bourgeois individual, nor a blind embrace of the collective. "This notion does not simply refer to a person who labors communally with other people; rather, it expresses the possibility of every person existing as a full and richly developed being."70 The social individual would be an individual whose individuality, while original and truly self-constituted, is given to the group freely in solidarity. The great theologian Paul Tillich, who was a Christian socialist, makes the same point--though not about Marx--in The Courage to Be.71,/SUP>

The postmodern attack on the subject often leaves one with the impression that there are only two possible alternatives; either the acquisitive, self-seeking atomized individual, or the faceless representative of an oppressed group. These are not, however, the only two options. While it would not be possible to spell out the form the social individual would take, without resorting to the sort of totalizing option Foucault abhorred, it is possible to frame a model for values which transcends both limited perspectives, and produces an individual who freely joins in the solidarity of the group.

Unfortunately, there is a "catch-22" to this notion of the "social individual." The social individual is a product of a transformed mode of production. Postone says, "a necessary condition for the realization of this possibility is that the labor of each person is full and positively self-constituting..." 72 Postone argues that, according to his reading of Marx, capitalism is "a social formation in which social production is for the sake of production, whereas the individual labors in order to consume. My discussion thus far implies that Marx envisaged its negation as a social formation in which social production is for consumption, whereas the labor of the individual is sufficiently satisfying to be pursued for its own sake."73 How is society to move from working to consuming, to a condition in which work is sufficiently satisfying to be pursued for its own sake, when everything in society, the total way of life, all theory, all sublimated desire, and all consciousness tells us that the point of labor should be to consume, that consumption is not only good, fun, and necessary, but it is what is, therefore, it is what should be?

When critical theory seeks alternative consciousness in social forms which are not "capitalist social forms," it is not resigning in defeat, it is simply seeking to re-define the situation, which is the only way to escape a catch-22. After all, there are no "capitalist social forms," there is no "capitalist society," there are social forms in a society which has been commodified and subjugated by capitalist assumptions. Society must change the basic assumptions about life if it is ever to move beyond its present commodified state, and to circumvent the process of one-dimensionality which is gaining hegemony. As stated, society formerly contained other forms, other claims upon the allegiance and time of the individual. In seeking to move some of those forms back to center stage, critical theory is only seeking to expand the realm of discourse, to open new possibilities for the cultivation of a consciousness which values freedom above consumption.

The first two steps are: (1) to make a critique; (2) to bring into the closed realm of public discourse, values and axioms from beyond the commodified realm, counter-claims upon the allegiance and consciousness of the masses [the two stated goals of our journal]. In so doing, Foucault and Postone offer valuable tools. Foucault offers an understanding of how power relations predicate consciousness of the subject, and a critique of the individuality imposed upon society. The social individual can be brought in as a model, and one can begin working toward that model prior to an overhaul of the means of production. The social individual is an alterative to the faceless postmodern, or the acquisitive modern. Marcuse, however, offers the critical theory to tie these tools together into a critique capable of opening up new possibilities for fundamental change.

We cannot change the mode of production prior to a change in consciousness; thus, we cannot produce the ideal of the social individual in concrete reality. But, we can strive to alter social relations in such a way as to bring about a consciousness which will allow an overhaul in the mode of production eventually; we can push for a real educational system rather than job-training and baby sitting; we can conduct a dialogue through critique; we can engage in concrete social praxis (action and reflection) aimed at opening the closed realm of discourse, we can move toward the ideal of the social individual though subscribing to the theory (if not the journal) of Negations.


1 Barry Katz, Herbert Marcuse And The Art of Liberation: An Intellectual Biography. Verso, 1982, 63.

1 Barry Katz, Herbert Marcuse and The Art of Liberation: An Intellectual Biography. Verso, 1982, 63.

2 Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx's Critical Theory. London: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 388.

3 Postone, 12.

4 Ibid.

5 Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut. French Philosophy of The Sixties: An Essay on Antihumanism. Trans. Mar H.S. Cattani, Amherst: The University of Masschusetts Press, 1990. Original publication France, Gillmard, 1985.

6 Ibid., xxi.

7 For an excellent article on the influences that postmodernism has had on the Left, and some of the newer theories that are replacing traditional Marxist doctrines, see Susan Heckman, "Radical Plural Democracy: A New Theory for the Left?" Negations Vol. I no. I (Winter 1996), 41-58.

8 Trudy Steuernagle, "Marcuse, the Women's Movement, And Women's Studies," in Maracuse: From the New Left to the Next Left. ed. John Bokina and Timothy J. Lukes, University Press of Kansas, 1994, 89-106.

9 Robert Solomon, Contenintal Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self. History of Western Philosophy Series, no. 7. Oxford University Press, 1988. see also, John Sturrock, Structuralism and Since: From Levi-Strauss to Derrida. ed. Sturrock, Oxford University Press, 1979, 53.

10 Madan Sarup, An Introductiory Guide to Post Structuralism and Postmodernism. Athens, Georgia: Univeristy of Georgia Press, 1989, 37.

11 Pauline Marie Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions. Princeton University Press, 1992, 53.

12 Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

13 Rosenau, 53.

14 Tome Frank, "Dark Age: Why Johnny Can't Dissent," Baffler, 1995.

15 Frederick Jameson, The New Left Review, No. 146, 57.

16 Sarup, 145. Sarup inturpreting Jameson on the postmodern subject.

17 This is how Foucault defines his own task in "The Subject and Power."

18 Foucault, "The Subject and Power," in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structualism and Hermeneutics. Second ed. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983., 208.

19 Ibid., 211.

20 Ibid., 212.

21 Dan Latimer, ed. Contemporay Critical Theory. New York: Harcourt, Race, Jovanovich, 1989, 103.

22 David Couzens Hoy, Introduction, Foucault: A Critical Reader. ed. David Couzens Hoy, New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986, 4-5.

23 Dan F. Gruber, "Foucault's Critique of the LIberal Individual," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LXXXVI no 11, Nov. 1989, 615-621, 615.

24 Ibid., 621.

25 Foucault, "The Subject and Power," 208, 211,212.

26 Ian Hacking, "Self-Improvement," Hoy, op. cit. 236.

27 Ibid.

28 Foucault, in Dreyfus and Rabinow, op. cit., 216.

29 Ibid.

30 Gad Horowitz, "The Foucaultian Impasse: No Sex, No Self, No Revolution," Political Theory, Vol. 15, no. 1, Feb. 1987, 62.

31 Sarup quoting Foucault, op. cit. 91.

32 Steuernagle, 94.

33 Katz, 47.

34 Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry Inot Freud. New York: Vintage Books, 1955, 12.

35 Rosenau, 44.

36 Katz, 150.

37 Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. ix-xvii.

38 Postone, 4.

39 Ibid., 20.

40 Marx, Grundrisse, 832, in Postone, op. cit. 22.

41 Postone, 23.

42 Ibid. 26.

43 If I understand Postone, there is a problem with his notion of the contradiction. it seems that his contradiction of labor time vs. production is still just a function of ownership. Workers are paid for their time because they don't own the means of production. Time is still part of labor power, which is essentially what workers are selling. As long as worker's pay is part of overhead, it is still payment for labor power.

44 Ibid., 28.

45 Postone's attack on the Frankfurt School mainly centers on Pollock and on Horkheimer, although he brands the lot of them, including Marcuse, as "pessimistic," which is a standard criticism.

46 Ibid., 38.

47 Ibid., 38-39.

48 Issac D. Babus, in Lukes, op. cit. 107.

49 Marcuse, ODM, 43.

50 Ibid., xiv.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid., 123.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid., 13.

55 Ibid.

56 For examples of this flood of reductionism, reducing the human mind to mere brain function, see Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained. Boston: LIttle Brown and Company, 1991. also see Michael Gazaniga, Nature's MInd. New York: Basic Books, 1992.

57 In Eros..., Marcuse begins a theoretically analysis of the notion of logos as "logic of domination," in a way similar to the Derrida notion of the logocentric, or the metaphysical arche. This is because of their mutual influence in Heidegger. In ODM, he applies the notion of the "logic of Domination" to scientific applications and to rhetorical applications.

58 Marcuse, EAC. 47.

59 Postone, 41.

60 Robert W. Marks, The Meaning of Marcuse. New York: Ballentine Books, 1970, 3.

61 Marcuse, ODM, 84.

62 This is a summary of the Negations "Manifesto," (Vol I no.I) which was based on Barry Katz work on Marcuse, op. cit.

63 Postone, 385.

64 Herbert Marcuse, Essay on LIberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, 12.

65 Ibid.

66 Two litteral examples of the way in which we become products: 1) in the way tv audiences are handed over to advertizing for ratings, the audience becomes the product, the advertizer becomes the consumer; 2) in GRE scores and the awarding of dipolmas, degrees, ect. we become products, industry (even the academic industry) becomes the consumer. But I say "we become the products we consume" to the extent that our self-worth and status as members of society becomes based on what we own, our selves become predicated upon the ownership of goods.

67 C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination. London: Oxford University Press, 1967 (originally published 1959), 170.

68 Ibid., 1.

69 Postone, 32.

70 Ibid.

71 Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be. The Fontana LIbrary, Theology and Philosophy, Nisbet & Co. Ltd. 1952, Fontana 1962. While Tillich does not speak of Marx in this passage, he develops a very similar concept to that of the "social individual," in having "the courage to be a part of" and "apart from" the group. He was a Christian Socialist.

72 Postone, 32.

73 Postone, 33.

Special Thanks to Susan Heckman for discussions on the early phase of this article. Her advice was most helpful.


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_____. Essay on Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.

_____. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

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