Herbert Marcuse: Eros and Civilization
One of the most utopian works written in Marxist tradition, and a major influence on early feminist and LGBT movements, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization opens with the cry: “Today the fight for life, the fight for Eros, is the political fight.” Attempting to synthesize Marx and Freud, Marcuse argued that the nature of capitalist oppression stemmed not from wage exploitation; but rather, in a world of wild material abundance, in the enforced renunciation of sexual happiness above and beyond what is necessary to sustain material life. Only by transforming work into play, and turning mere sexuality into Eros, can humanity’s productive capacities be used “in accordance with the Life Instincts, in the concerted struggle against the purveyors of Death.” But what does it mean to “fight for Eros,” and who, in the absence of class struggle, will do the fighting? What does a non-repressive society look like, and does it seem achievable in our contemporary world, where legal sexual freedom and capitalist production seemingly easily coexist?
In this course, we will read the entirety of Eros and Civilization, critically assessing Marcuse’s account of repression and liberation and seeking to understand the importance of sexual liberation to any possible political emancipation. We’ll read from the thinkers on whom Marcuse draws, including Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Fredrich Schiller, Wilhelm Reich, Alexandra Kollantai, Johan Huizinga, and Theodor Adorno, as we attempt to contextualize Marcuse’s work in relation to longstanding debates surrounding sexuality and society and the compatibility of Marxism and psychoanalysis. We will ask: what is the meaning of Eros, how does it differ from mere sexuality, and how can it be placed at the center of a new kind of social organization? How can we understand the relation, or correspondance, between social forms and the individual personality? Who, in Marcuse’s vision, is the revolutionary subject? Is sexual liberation possible absent the radical transformation of social and economic life?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 08 — April 29, 2021