Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From Spengler to Marcuse: Fantasy and petty bourgeois consciousness

These were some notes I made a few years ago in preparation for a monograph on the 20th century US writer H.P. Lovecraft.  I never had the time to work on that project, alas, but the notes still seem pretty useful.  They cover petty-bourgeois fantasies, reactionary and ultra-left, as a response to the stultification suffered by that intermediate layer within capitalist society after each of the world wars.


....Spengler ....perpetual war of the gods (ideals or
values)....And both the gods and their dispute are ruled by fate
and certainly not 'science'..."
....annexing the philosophy of history to the philosophy of life....
....with Henri Bergson....Spengler's concept of
culture...."coming into existence"....a product wholly
determined by its origins.
....generalises the philosophic mood of the early German
Romantics....sarcasm, the ironic mood to the tragic, the Divine
Comedy to the Divine Tragedy and a pan-tragic view of life.
....difference between Werden ["coming into existence"] and
Gewordenes [a product wholly determined by its origins].
....Werden and Gewordenes [=] (the act of creation and its
....a permanent rupture between becoming and being, which
renders every act of creation tragic. ....product of Werden is to
take up arms against its suffering parent to become its
primordial antithesis, relentless negation—in short, its very
.... two " primary facts of consciousness"—"self" (eigentliches)
and "other" (anderes).
....contains the profound antithesis between life and death
....human soul is no more than the awakening of the cosmic
soul from the unconscious, vegetative state, the triggering of
the contradiction between its primal urge to life (cf. Bergson's
"elan vital") and all that would thwart it.
....proto-sense of longing (Urgefiihl der Sehnsucht), together
with all the other new cultural prospects, stirs within that soul in
its sudden awareness of solitude.
....soul's congenital Angst thus takes on a dual aspect: the
horror inspired by the irreversibility of one's individual fate is
expressed in the concept of time, whereas that instilled by the
world without, by an inescapable, implacable opposition, by the
categorical negation of that same drive, works through the
medium of extension ultimately fixed in the concept of space.
....Truth, Beauty and the Good are united in a single—and most
singular—function, that of exorcising the other or, as Spengler
so eloquently puts it, tossing the veil of Maya over death, the
true end of the life drive in any form. The truth of mathematics
and the other sciences, the good of religion and ethics, the
beauty of art (philosophy, mathematics, religion and ethics too)
align in the common (false!) effort to conceal reality from the
human soul, to distract it from the true countenance of death, a
Gorgon's head turning all who look upon it to stone.
....resurrected the ancient god Chronos, devourer of his own
children....bloodthirsty god of time sprung from the loins of
cosmic Life to exploit the human soul dominates Spengler's
system. He was to be loved and prayed to, if only for want of
any other deity. Each of his children—culture and the historical
forms of human existence—was granted 1,100 years. Within
this span all cultures were to complete their life
cycle—childhood, youth, maturity and old age— and then
vanish forever into the belly of time. This is the highest purpose
of every culture: the obvious lack of any purpose whatsoever.
Thomas Mann with his "Uber die Lehre Spenglers" (1924):
".... hostile attitude to the future, disguised as scientific
"....arrogance, the contempt Spengler shows for all things
human. I
"....hyena-like prophecy."
....the smug conceit which, in lusting after treachery, haughtily
sides against spirit and man with nature, in whose name he
speaks of merciless laws and considers himself marvellously
staunch and noble.  The same could be said of the
extra-personal trend in bourgeois philosophy of the twentieth
century, represented in the 1960s by LeviStrauss, Lacan and

....Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse shared the existentialists'
antipathy for the mass-society generated by that order, but
parted company on the question of individuality. As they saw it,
the individuality and individual freedom promoted by the
existentialists were historically unsound (das Selbst having
suffered its final defeat), hence theoretically false and politically
.... Dionysian, impersonal orientation best expressed by
Marcuse, who let the Neo– Marxist secret of secrets slip. At
the same time, this particular brand of Neo-Marxism and
bourgeois thought in general experienced a rise in left-wing
Freudian motifs placing an absolute pleasure-principle foremost
in the concept of man.
....Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm....anticipated
....Readjusting the working model of man to Freud's
....coincided with state-monopoly capitalism's evolving into
....Freud's leftist followers may be considered the ideologists of
the consumer-society—the unwitting ideologists, that is, for
they believed their goals to be radically anti-bourgeois (a
paradox affecting so many ideologists, in Marx's sense of the
....rally all social forces who took consumerism to represent the
revolutionary negation of state-monopoly capitalism, an assault
on its last stronghold—Western culture. Such are the origins of
New-Left extremism and its bohemian-lumpen brand of


....faculty of fantasy, seen as the focal point of all forces not
subject to the all-powerful reality-principle.... forces Freud
considered untouched by the reality– principle
....a position equal to that occupied by the pleasure-principle
and its nemesis, the reality-principle....
....fantasy opposed to the shabby reality of exploitation
something far more fundamental, the memory of a "lost age"
when the pleasure-principle claimed man's jubilant submission
to his own instincts. Fantasy, in other words, has forced reality
time without number to face the opportunities it has not lost but
merely let slip into "nocturnal consciousness", to contemplate
freedom from oppression.
...."Imagination"....life of the individual was.... image of the
immediate unity between the universal and the particular under
the rule of the pleasure-principle.
....subsequent history of man is characterised by the
destruction of this original unity: the position of the ego.
.... lost age of the pleasure principle....unity of the universal and
the particular, a unity tantamount to the latter's dissolution in
the former, a generic, impersonal, collective whole.
.... position assumed by the ego....tenuous, "sinful", morbid and
morbific—quite close, in fact, to that expounded in Dialektik der
Aufklarung and linked thereby to the metaphysical axioms of
the Philosophy of Life movement.
....principiam individuationis [principle of individuation],
descendent from the reality-principle, which motivates the
"repressive use of instinct".
....individuationprinciple....like its antecedent, the reality–
principle, deflects them [each instinct] from their goal at the
mid-point of an advance powered wholly on their own, inner
....fantasy.... functions as a "fundamental, independent mental
process [with] a truth value of its own", and without regard for
how the reality-principle and the repressive mentality will react.
....[fantasy's]....ideal, Utopian, utterly unattainable aspect that
Freud valued.  ....Marcuse....[insists, opposed to Freud] 
fantasy and Utopia must be fought for at their most fantastic
and Utopian.
....[Regression from Freud on the part of Marcuse]....has the
distinctly neurotic features of infantile escapism....
.... erotic taboos broken in dreams, the involuntary infantile
reflexes of adults and children are seen to uphold the truth
rejected by the repressive mentality, thus restoring to man in
his maturity the lost age of childhood.
....far-reaching implications....infantile folly....deliberately
cultivated by les enfants terribles, particularly those on the New
Left. If Marcuse is a case in point, though, their fathers in
theory were not immune themselves.



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