Writing in the Guardian, Steven Poole is won over by Malcolm Miles’ “thoughtful and generously contextualised” analysis of Herbert Marcuse’s writings on art in Herbert Marcuse: An Aesthetics of Liberation:
Can society be a work of art? So asked Herbert Marcuse, the cultural critic and subject of this admiring exposition. Marcuse studied with Heidegger, hung out at the Frankfurt Institute with Adorno and Horkheimer, worked for US intelligence during the second world war, became famous with his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man, and was treated, to his slight discomfort, as a guru of the late-1960s counterculture. Miles’s analyses of his subject’s writing on diverse artistic subjects – the German “artist novel”, French resistance poetry, and the work of Samuel Beckett (to whom Marcuse wrote a touchingly grateful “fan letter” after Beckett sent him a poem for his 80th birthday) – are thoughtful and generously contextualised.
The author – who, as a Chelsea art student in the late 60s, “wore frilled and flower-patterned shirts and chiffon scarves” – suggests pointedly that Marcuse’s thinking is still valuable in our own time of “precarity” and “a capitalism now obviously, wildly irrational”. He displays, too, a winning diffidence: “I realise this is rather speculative,” he apologises after one interesting thought, and ends the same chapter: “I am not sure if this matters, but it might.” If only inferior writers were as humble.
An Aesthetics of Liberation
A new introduction to the ideas of a thinker who greatly influenced the 1960s protest movements. Part of the ‘Modern European Thinkers’ series.
“Miles goes back to Marcuse’s work on aesthetics to link philosophy, art, history, political analysis, and sociological insights in a deeply humane search for the way to a better world. It deserves a very wide readership.” – Peter Marcuse, Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning, Columbia University
“This book presents a comprehensive critical overview and a comprehensive interrogation of Marcuse’s writings on art and aesthetics. Miles reads Marcuse as envisaging art as a way in which societies re-imagine themselves and project visions of a freer, happier, and better way of life. In these troubled times, it is refreshing to re-engage with Marcuse’s utopian visions of art and society and Miles proves a highly capable guide to this adventure.” – Douglas Kellner, UCLA, author of Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism and Media Spectacle and the Crisis of Democracy