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New Left Review I/74, July-August 1972

Herbert Marcuse

Art as Form of Reality

The thesis of the end of art has become a familiar slogan: radicals take it as a truism; they reject or ‘suspend’ art as part of bourgeois culture, just as they reject or suspend its literature or philosophy. This verdict extends easily to all theory, all intelligence (no matter how ‘creative’) that does not spark action and practice, that does not noticeably help to change the world, that does not—be it only for a short time—break through the universe of mental and physical pollution in which we live. Music does it, with song and dance: the music which activates the body; the songs which no longer sing but cry and shout. To measure the road travelled in the last thirty years, compare the ‘traditional’, classical tone and text of the songs of the Spanish Civil War with today’s songs of protest and defiance. Or compare the ‘classical’ theatre of Brecht with the Living Theatre of today. We witness not only the political but also, and primarily, the artistic attack on art in all its forms, on art as Form itself. The distance and dissociation of art from reality are denied, refused, and destroyed; if art if still anything at all, it must be real, part and parcel of life—but of a life which is itself the conscious negation of the established way of life, with all its institutions, with its entire material and intellectual culture, its entire immoral morality, its required and its clandestine behaviour, its work and its fun.

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