sexta-feira, 14 de março de 2014

Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz by Herbert Marcuse*


Thanks to Peter Marcuse and Peter-Erwin Jansen who grant permission to publish this piece only for this publication on my homepage.


The question whether after Auschwitz, poetry is still possible can perhaps be answered: yes, if it re-presents, in uncompromising estrangement, the horror that was - and still is. Can the same be said about prose? Prose is much more committed to reality than poetry, consequently estrangement is much harder to achieve - estrangement which still is communicable, “makes sense.” It has been achieved: Kafka, Beckett, Peter Weiss (in Aesthetik des Widerstands).[1]

What is involved is more than the “tragic experience” of the world of death and destruction, cruelty and injustice. The tragic experience of suffer­ing is also the vision of its mitigation: Fate or the Gods, or Reason may still prevail (even the Greek tragedy has its negation in the ensuing Satyr-play).

But Auschwitz is the ultimate, is the refutation of Fate, the Gods, Reason; is the demonstration of total human freedom: the freedom to order to organize, to perform, the slaughter. That human freedom can be exercised with equal efficiency to prevent the slaughter, history still has to prove.

The Ultimate cannot be re-presented, cannot become “literature” without mitigating the horror. This is the guilt of the aesthetic form which is essential to art: sublimation. And the Anti-form, the negation of form, remains literature while the slaughter continues.

How can the immediacy be attained which undoes or suspends the sub­limation without ceasing to be literature? For it is the immediacy that has to be caught here - as the starting point of all mediations (perhaps, as the ultimate reality, it defies all mediations). This immediacy is in the cry, the despair, the resistance of the victims. And it is preserved only in memory. To preserve and develop the memory of those who did not have a chance (and of the many millions who have no chance) is the legitimation of literature after Auschwitz.

Memory is a potential of (human) subjectivity. The turn toward sub­jectivity happens in a specific political, historical context: the continued power of those who were responsible or co-responsible for Auschwitz, and the apparently continued impotence of the Left. The rediscovery of the subject, and of subjective responsibility could at last be the negation of that degenerate historical materialism which shies away from the question of subjective responsibility by stipulating the objective responsibility of capital, labor, class, production process, etc. - the human subject disappears behind these relationships reified into thing-like entities moving under their own power. But if “the conditions” are responsible, what about the human sub­jects who make and who suffer the conditions? They are the ones who change them: literature is an emancipatory process in the human subjects before it becomes an objective process of changing institutions and economic-political conditions. And this process involves the entire mental structure: consciousness and the unconscious, intellect and emotions, drives striving for objectification.



It is nonsense to say we’re all responsible for Auschwitz, but we are responsible for preserving the memory. We? Those who know what hap­pened, that it [is] still happening in many areas of the globe, and that there is no historical law which would perpetuate the Ultimate. Why should we refuse to live with the horror? Because there are, in spite of the sages of Marxist orthodoxy, not only men and women who are members of their class, who are existing in class relationships, who are shaped by the mode of production, etc. - there are also men and women who are the human beings in and against these conditions. They are supposed to be liberated and to fight for their liberation - not a class, not a bureaucracy. And they are those who have to organize (themselves).


Emancipation from the given conditions of life (which in the class society are necessarily repressive), transcendence beyond them toward more free­dom, joy, tranquility are the drives which constitute subjectivity. This means that subjectivity is “in itself” (an sich) “political.” At least since Aristotle’s definition of man as logos echon, the Western tradition has restricted sub­jectivity to its rational features, and with Descartes, concentrated it in the Ego. In the last analysis a solitary Ego in a world of things, which has great trouble in getting together with other Egos, [DK: makes it difficult] to understand intersubjectivity.[2] Hegel connects this conception in compre­hending the subject as spirit, objectifying itself in nature and society. And phenomenology sees in the transcendence of the Ego the very essence of the subject as consciousness: enclosed in the domain of thought.[3] But the transcendence of (“pure”) consciousness is only the abstract, purified form of a political process in the individuals, in which the individual introjects, and confronts his and her society.

The turn to subjectivity as emancipation is never a turn to the Ego as the center of a private sphere or as “unique.” Rather, the Ego always only appears as a particular manifestation of the general, which does not merely constitute its exterior but its interior as well. This general (the “context” of the Ego, which is inseparable from it) is the social, which in turn is rooted in biology. It is the Freudian unity of Ego, Superego, and Id, which only [together - RB] constitute the individual. The Superego and a “part” of the Ego are the representative of social conditions and institutions. The general penetrates the Ego in both poles of the psyche: (1) in the Superego as society; (2) in the Id as the various realizations of the primary instincts: Eros and Thanatos (life instinct and death instinct). Subjectivity is therefore generality, and the recourse to a private sphere is at best an abstraction. This abstrac­tion is not only a matter of thought but also of behavior. It takes on a social function. It was always ambivalent in capitalism: a necessary sphere of protection against dehumanization and the deindividualization of life in everyday relations - but also powerlessness, unable to prevent the intrusion of exchange relations into the private sphere.

Today the power of exchange relations over the private sphere is reaching completion: the identification of the individual with the roles that it must play in society. For example: the liberalization of sexual morality. This sub­jugates the private sphere to exchange relations. It tends to turn the other person into an exchangeable object - repressive desublimation. A genuine liberation of the sexual sphere is incompatible with the repressive society. It would [instead - RB] require a sublimation of sexual relations to eroticism and their “broadening” into a common life-world, autonomy as solidarity -  community as destiny. When great literature elevates sexuality to Eros, this transformation is not only that sublimation characteristic of all art but also the rebellion against the limitation of the life instincts in society.

Today system-conformist, repressive desublimation is becoming totali­tarian. In multiple forms, it generates acaptive audience, which is condemned to see, hear, and feel the manifestations of immediacy. In literature, desub­limation appears in the discarding of form. Aesthetic form demands that the general be preserved in the particular of a work, as a binding testimony to truth. This essential quality of the aesthetic is by no means only the imperative of a specific historical style but rather a matter of the transhistorical power of art to uncover dimensions of man and nature which have been buried or leveled. When this dimension is absent, the writing remains solely a private matter, the publication of which has the sole rationale of private therapy.

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It seems to offer an escape from the horror and impotence of the individual in society. Yet the flight into immediacy, encountering the Ego, also encounters the same society, which has made it an Ego. Society appears in a work indirectly, not as what it is, but rather as the context, in which the word is written. In the regression to the immediate Ego, this context is reduced, both in quantity and quality, to the experiential sphere of the Ego. The external is centered on the internal: form does not depend on what happens but on how the Ego experiences events. This was still possible in the classical epistolary novel (Werther!): but subjectivity as the basis of aesthetic form has become questionable today. Poetry and reality make this develop­ment evident in the extreme case: Werther’s suicide was still a challenge to society, while Jean Amery’s was a matter of despair, for which there was no more tomorrow.

If literature should nonetheless maintain its particular dimension of truth and represent the breach between dominant consciousness and the uncon­scious, then its subject can only appear as a victim of existing society, an existence that embodies resistance and hope. The author registers what is done to the subject. This labor is not a matter of the private Ego and its immediate experiences; instead the Ego “opens itself” to the general and to reality. And reality, measured at the extreme, is Auschwitz - as reality and possibility. But then it is not representable - neither in realism nor in formalism. For image and world already conjure up the unsayable and the unimaginable.

This consciousness motivates the struggle of the avant-garde against form and against the “work.” But the production of non-works dispenses with the inherent contents and the truth of form. Such non-works therefore frequently have a playful, uncommitted and artificial character (against Adorno!): they are exactly what they say they want to oppose: abstract. They lack substance: what makes them literature are words and their ordering - in other words, style, again exactly what they do not want to be (parallel: analytic philosophy).

Perhaps the possible presence of Auschwitz can be suggested in literature only negatively: the author must forbid himself from writing or describing trivialities - and such trivialities include some things he might think, do or not do. He cannot sing about parts of his body and their activities - after what Auschwitz has done to the body. He cannot describe his own love life, or those of others, without inviting the question as to how such love can still be possible, and without eliciting hate for whoever renders this love questionable. Nor can he sprinkle poverty and labor strife as “episodes” in his narrative. Given the desperation they entail, any such treatment would be untrue.

Yet a literature respecting such taboos would not be without hope. The hopelessness of those who struggle is reflected in the power of the author to communicate through the description of horror some of the resistance to reality today. But aesthetic form refuses an immediate representation of resistance and of the forces, always alive within it and able to survive all defeats: the will to live - and the need to destroy whatever suppresses this will.

The taboos just mentioned are not brought extrinsically to literature. They are based in the mimesis function of literature: to re-present reality in the light of that negativity that preserves hope. Auschwitz cannot be excluded from this thinking or dismissed. Nor can it be represented without sublimating the unsublimable through formal construction. It can only be present in the inability of humans to speak with each other without roles, and to love and to hate without anxiety and without fear of happiness. This inability must appear as the general in the particular, the destiny of reality - not as personal bad luck, misfortune, incapacity or psychological deficit.

Only the sublimation of personal experience can insert it into the dimension in which the reality appears as the general in the particular. The immediate cannot be separated from the particular individuality; everything else is external. Horror, as personalized, becomes a private event, which, however, because it is literature, needs to be published. Indeed it is published and sold because only such looking away from the real generality, from the external reality, can provide a good conscience to existing conditions. Reading what they do in bed and how still provides unspoiled pleasure.

It appears that literature after Auschwitz may still be possible, indeed even necessary, but it can no longer provide pleasure, at least not aesthetic enjoy­ment (but certainly pornographic enjoyment). This does not mean that [all - RB] literature which does not provide enjoyment is therefore authen­tic. The pitiful epigones of the dadaists and surrealists provide no aesthetic enjoyment, nor do they want to, without invoking the horror of reality. The destruction of form, the rejection of the (“organic”) work reflect only in a very limited way the real destruction underway in the world: in a bad abstraction, with no vision of hope.


Desublimated literature remains literature, i.e., it elicits the enjoyment which is inherent in aesthetic form. The classical (organic) form (the “work”) demands the transformation of the object, the content. In desublimated literature, the content is no longer transformed by form, nor internalized by form. Form becomes independent and reduced tostyle. Style can be extremely accomplished and mastered in all tiers of language, from everyday jargon, dialect, and administrative German all the way to the highest high language. Style “beautifies” the description of a sex act as well as a murder, the appearance of Hitler as well as Lenin . . .

The power of style indicates the poverty, indeed the irrelevance of the content. It is not formed by style: it remains rather in its immediacy: episodes from a whole, that is imperceptible. Or that is only a personal context for a hero, without transcendence and without the real sublimation that con­stitutes the general. Where reality beyond the private context constitutes the work (for example, the early Soviet state in the “Stories from Production”), reality renounces the beauty of style. People speak in perfect verses, but they versify a doctrine that has already congealed into ideology as well as a horrible reality, that robs the verse of any seriousness. For example: the piece becomes a hymn to the machine that requires human sacrifice. Reification of communism.

There is evidently a reality that resists form-giving, and which therefore cannot become an object of literature, without being falsified and reduced - and this is precisely the reality which should be remembered in litera­ture. This would mean that there is an internal border in literature: not every material would be appropriate for literature or form. Where is the legitimation of this imperative?

Just as literature has its internal truth, so too does it have an internal morality. That critical transcendence which is essential to literature ties literature both to the harm that oppression does to humans and to the memory of that past and to what can return. But the reality of Auschwitz cannot be transcended, it is a point of no return. Literature can remind us of it only through breaks and evasions: in the representation of people and conditions that led to Auschwitz and the desperate struggle against them. Representation remains obligated to the transformational mimesis: the brutal facts are subjugated to form-giving; reportage and documentary become raw material for formation through creative love (the principle of hope) and creative hate (the principle of resistance). The two principles of formation constitute an (antagonistic) unity, which is the political potential of art.

This principle forbids the trivializing and privatizing of literature. It does not permit centering the work on eating or sexuality . . . Precisely the political potential of art demands the formation of ageneral in the particular, that surpasses the “natural sphere.”[4]

But art abdicates not only before the extreme horror but also before the extreme situation as such. A telling example is the incompatibility between art and the depiction of the extreme manifestations of the body (such as fucking, masturbating, vomiting, defecating, etc.). This taboo is not asserted in terms of a more or less puritanical and petty bourgeois morality, but in terms of the very quality of the aesthetic form, its essential beauty. The avant-garde rejection in its liberty to violate and shock petty bourgeois pre­judice and repression - it achieves only the attraction of pornography. Not that these extreme situations are disgusting or perversions or ugly (the opposite may be the case), but they are turned into what they are not: “literature,” and the author plays the role of the voyeur.

According to Lessing, the extreme horror lies outside of the domain of the visual arts because its representation violates the law of Beauty to which art is subject. This law is also binding for literature, but there the extreme horror is within the power of production in a mediated form, that is, if it appears only as transitory in the context of the work, as a moment “in the story” - aufgehoben in the whole. Only by virtue of its transitoriness does the representation of the extreme horror allow the enjoyment of the work, the feeling of pleasure in its reception.

In the case of Auschwitz, no such aesthetic sublimation seems imaginable. The whole in the context of which Auschwitz could appear as transitory is itself one of horror, and the availability of ever more efficient scientific- technological killing suggests the possibility of repetition rather than passing.

If it is the historical imperative of survival that the memory of Auschwitz must be preserved in art, and that art exists necessarily under the law of Beauty, then we must admit the idea of an art that cannot be and should not be “enjoyed” and yet appeals to the consciousness of unconscious of the recipient. Release of “mauvaise (bad) conscience”? The drive to know the things which are not revealed in scientific as well as in everyday thought and speech and which are yet

[Editor’s Note: The manuscript breaks off at this point.]


* Editor’s note: An untitled text we are titling “Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz” was found in the Marcuse archive. It consists of four pages in English, followed by eleven pages in German, some fragmentary, and two rather fragmentary pages in English. It is not clear what the origins of this article are, what Marcuse intended it for, and why he wrote first in English, then in German, reverting in the final pages to English. It is found in the Herbert Marcuse archive under the number 560.00 with the description “Entwurf La Jolla, 1978.” A German version of the text with the title “Lyrik nach Auschwitz” was published in Peter-Erwin Jansen’s edited edition Kunst und Befreiung (Lüneburg: zu Klampen, 2000), pp. 157-66. We are following Jansen’s suggested title translated into English and Russell Berman has translated the German passages. (DK)

[1] Editor’s Note: Peter Weiss, Aesthetik des Widerstands, appeared in German in a three-volume edition in 1975, 1978, and 1981; an English translation by Joachim Neugroschel with an introduction by Fredric Jameson has appeared, The Aesthetic of Resistance, Volume 1 (Durham, N.C. and London: Duke University Press, 2005). (DK)

[2] Editor’s Note: Marcuse’s point seems to be here that the model of a solitary Ego makes it difficult to comprehend intersubjectivity, a defect of modern philosophy that Marcuse believes is overcome in Hegel. (DK)

[3] Editor’s Note: Marcuse is referring here to the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and perhaps the early work of Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego (New York: Hill and Wang, 1991), which lays out an interpretation and critique of Husserl. (DK)

[4] Editor’s Note: Marcuse inserts “ Vernunft?” (reason) in a handwritten note at the side of the margin at this point and the rest of the text is in English, is somewhat fragmentary, and breaks off before it is concluded. We do not know why Marcuse switched from English to German and then back to English in constructing this text.

Translated by Russell Berman 

Paul Celan "Todesfuge - Death Fugue" Poem animation German

 

Fuge of Death 

 

Death Fuge

 

In: Herbert Marcuse: Art and Libertion. Collected Papers of Hebert Marcuse. Volume Four. Edited by Douglas Kellner. London, 2007, pp. 211-217.

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