Art And Society Essays In Marxism Aesthetics Art

Bloch was more optimistic than Adorno and Horkheimer about the utopian potential in everyday culture. When it came to the relation between art and society, he broadly agreed with Marx’s basic insight in his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859, that it is “not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but their social being that determines their consciousness” (Marx, 2010: 263).

Thus insofar as art is a product of social labour, which has always been divided according to interests, Bloch saw in it, too, the manifestation of ideology. Yet he resisted the reductionist reading of culture, prevalent among Soviet Marxists, according to which art and other “superstructural” elements simply reflect a specific form of social relations or mode of production. Instead, Bloch understood the “being that conditions consciousness, and the consciousness that processes being […] ultimately only out of that and in that from which and towards which it tends” (Bloch, 1986: 18). In other words, both social reality itself and the cultural products of that reality always contain more than simply oppression, violence, exploitation and their expression. The “blossoms of art, science, philosophy,” Bloch writes in The Principle of Hope “always denote something more than the false consciousness which each society, bound to its own position, had of itself and used for its own embellishment” (155). Bloch called this “more” culture’s “utopian surplus,” and he saw it as at bottom always the same: an expression of the still unfulfilled desire for utopia, and the anticipatory consciousness of its possibility.

Bloch was far from seeing “high art” as the exclusive province of the utopian trace. Anticipating the work of thinkers such as Henri Lefebvre (1991), he also took everyday life seriously as a space worthy of consideration and critique, though unlike Lefebvre, Bloch resisted the idea that the everyday has been entirely colonized by capitalism. Instead, by analysing everyday practices and objects, he sought to decode the utopian desire that can still be seen to reside there despite the dynamics of commodification.

The daydream was Bloch’s point of departure for his analysis of the utopian everyday (Bloch, 1986, 77-113). Here again, he conceives of his insight into the character of the daydream as a complement to Freud’s theory of the night dream. Whereas Freud focused on the libido as the primary drive behind the nocturnal dream, Bloch saw the daydream as driven by hunger and the arising expectant emotions, including hope. Contrary to Freud, for whom the “night-dream is basically nothing other than a daydream which has become serviceable through the nocturnal freedom of the impulses, and distorted by the form of mental activity,” according to Bloch, daydreams “always come from a feeling of something lacking and they want to stop it, they are all dreams of a better life” (87). To be sure, Bloch’s distinction between day and night dreams was heuristic rather than scientific: he sought to highlight the aspects of the unconscious overlooked in Freud’s theory of dreams as expressing repressed, mostly taboo, desires.

In The Principle of Hope, Bloch finds the daydream assume “symbolic form” in everything from fashion to fairy tales (333). If for Marx human beings “begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence,” so Bloch continually emphasised the significance of the creative dimension of human labor (Marx, 2010a: 31). “Clothes which can be chosen distinguish men from animals,” he writes, and jewellery is even older than these clothes, it sets them off even today by standing out” (341). Even the fetishized commodity was not without its utopian promise for Bloch, for it “always still needs a label which praises it,” and advertising not only makes products “shine in the shop window” (343), it also “transforms man into the most sacred thing next to private property, into the consumer” (344).

Books 73 On the other hand, the participant from Romania called for a ‘militant theatre’ (p. 58), holding that the role of artists is to be agents of revolutionary change. He pointed out that ‘...from the outset, Romanian theatre has provided invaluable support for action to achieve national liberty and socialjustice’(p. 57). For all this diversity of views, the symposium produced more agreement than might have been expected. The participants called for artists to be less isolated, to assume a more central role in society and they were generally agreed that artists deserve some sort of state support for their work. Culture and Company: A Critical Study of an Improbable Alliance. Alvin H. Reiss. Twayne, New York, 1972. 309 pp. $8.95. Reviewedby Lincoln Rothschild’ This book does an astounding job within its set limits. However, it is couched in terms that suggest a degreeof social advance that is not really encountered when the growing connections between art and business in the U S A . are closely examined. Many instances are reported in detail on the use of corporate profits to maintain the financial viability of cultural activities in the face of inflationary costs and of a long history of elitist unconcern for a widespread acceptance of art. As a reportage of the path followed since about the end of World War 11, the book is virtually a miraculous collection of information on activities, personalities and events that have taken place throughout the country. Indeed, the initial reaction one might have is wonderment as to why concern must be whipped up over so flourishing a phase of these activities. However, scattered hints of resistance or indifference are played down in this enthusiastic presentation of what has been done and how it might be done on a much grander scale; but the hints reveal that, considering the resources available, only a small number of the general public have been affected and that it will be less easy to increasethe number. Nevertheless, the author recommends the vigorous pursuit of plans that he outlines at various points in the book on the basis of what has been done. The survival problems of cultural organizations is covered in detail, with discussions of annual deficits, program curtailments and rescues in cliffhanging situations accompanied by the cry ‘We’ve done it before, we can do it again’. Comprehensive outlines present ingenioussuggestionson how relations between business and the art world might be expanded, as though an improvement of their expansion would provide a solution to the difficulties The book cannot be faulted for any glaring inadequacy within its chosen limits. Two aspects of the widening dissemination of the arts, however, need further consideration. (1) Are other sources of community patronage available to replace the wealthy individual collector, whose passing is briefly discussed in the first part of the book? (2) What must be done to adapt the arts to the rapidly changing social patterns in the U.S.A. in order to take their promotion out of the ‘improbable alliance’of the book’s title? To be sure, in respect to the first question several important aspects of it are touched upon. The appropriateness of concern for the arts by labor unions is suggested, in view of agitation for a shorter work week. Philanthropic foundations are mentioned, generally in citation of various studies that have been published on the role of the arts in contemporary society. Social and political groups are proposed as means of promotion and coordination. Federal government funds and their distribution at national and local levels are reviewed at some length, especially the activities of the U.S.National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities. The policy of confining recipients of funds to existing agencies and of firmly proscribing any effort to influencethe nature of their established programs is appropriately cited. The author ignores the Federal Art Project of the 1930s and its dramatic accomplishments. Throughout the book concern is devoted primarily to the performing arts. No referenceis made to changes of form and *63 LivingstonAve., Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522, U S A . content in art works that might be extrapolated from works of the past, as though only something radically new will...



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