Eros and Civilization: Herbert Marcuse. Vintage Books, 10/-, 253 pp. The origins of Love and Hate: Ian Suttie. Peregrine Books, 8/6d., 190 pp.
The re-issue of these two minor classics in the field of post-Freudian depth-psychological literature is a welcome event in view of the important questions they raise—whatever critical reservations one might wish to make with respect to their specific arguments. The authors take up nearly opposite positions in relation to Freud’s later metapsychological writings—Suttie (in 1935) totally rejecting the implicit pessimism; Marcuse (in 1950) accepting it but attempting to point out a way of escaping disaster.
Marcuse vigorously defends the whole body of Freud’s metapsychology including especially the theory of the death instinct. What he rejects, drawing on evidence from Freudian theory itself to support his rejection, is Freud’s identification of civilization with repression. Although Freud raised the question whether civilization based on the permanent subjugation of human instincts was worth the suffering thereby inflicted, he nevertheless held this subjugation to be inevitable. Happiness and gratification had to be subordinated to work, monogamic reproduction, social orderliness enforced by complex systems of rules about conduct. Marcuse points out that this rigid deflection of libido into narrowly defined channels of social utility has paid off very well in terms of the conquest of nature and increased productivity and the stage would seem to be set for greater freedom. In fact the reverse has happened: techniques of domination of man by man are becoming increasingly effective and freedom in all sorts of subtle ways is progressively lessening. Extermination camps and nuclear weapons are not transient regressions, but the implementation of the achievements of technological progress. Marcuse asks whether this parallel increase in material progress and repressive domination is really the necessary essence of civilization. Does the conflict between the Pleasure Principle and the Reality Principle inevitably demand the repressive transformation of the human instinctual structure, or is there the real, non-Utopian, possibility of a “non-repressive civilization” based on fundamentally different “existential relations” (to use Marcuse’s phrase)?
Marcuse affirms this last possibility and proposes the notion of “non-repressive sublimation”: sexual impulses, while retaining their erotic energy, diffuse beyond their object to eroticize relations between persons and between man and nature which are not normally erotic or are even anti-erotic. The converse notion is that of “repressive de-sublimation” where sexuality, although again spreading into hitherto tabooed areas, is expressed in forms which weaken the erotic energy.
In this latter case, instead of recreating relations in the images of the Pleasure Principle, the opposite tendency prevails and the Reality Principle further subjugates Eros. Marcuse quotes examples of the introduction of sexual images into business, politics and propaganda; sexuality here becomes a commodity and is used in the process of domination. Sexuality itself is organized against its own liberation.
Given his particular framework of reference and putting any questioning of its assumptions in parentheses for the moment, Marcuse elaborates an impressive argument. One wishes however for a more concrete picture of the liberated man. For instance, what precisely is envisaged when he writes of the eroticization of work relations? Without unreasonably asking for predictions one is nevertheless left with the feeling that man is being projected from a present of real circumstances, well characterized by Marcuse, into a future of metapsychological abstraction.
This however is not the major criticism of Marcuse’s interpretation of history and society. In his introduction he states that psychoanalysis in its essence is social psychology. He then takes this argument further to state that psycho-analysis is a complete theory of man and defines his own theory in this book as an essay in the “philosophy of psycho-analysis”. This is the beginning of a fatal confusion.