Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Blog 4 - Marcuse and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Alex Quinn

In "One Dimensional Man" Marcuse argues that the appreciation of "higher culture" in our society has been flattened to a shallow and mechanist adherence to mass communication. Marcuse notes that "If mass communications blend together harmoniously, and often unnoticeable, art, politics, religion, and philosophy with commercials, they bring these realms of culture to their common denominator-the commodity form." He explains here that the truth that was originally only communicated through higher levels of thought has been extracted from its form and placed in a consumerist arena. Once placed into this arena Marcuse argues that these forms have changed fundamentally in their "intent and function."

When considering the thoughts of Marcuse we read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" in a new way. Philip K. Dick's novel is ripe with themes of consumerism and materialism in which Marcuse is fundamentally interested. However, during a first glance of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" we are not confronted with a consideration of the higher culture that Marcuse comments extensively on. Though, after considering Marcuse a reader of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" sees that Dick has a view on art that is fundamentally the same as that of Marcuse. The dystopia of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" is completely void of all forms of art or other references to a higher culture. Instead of from the higher level of thought, the members of this society receive their inspiration from consumerist entities like Buster Friendly or the mood organ. The world which existed prior to World War Terminus provided that higher level culture that was expressed through true joy or sorrow. Since the war, much of this innate human expressiveness has been stripped from humans and instead they are left with nothing but what is provided to them through the media or big business. Iran is a perfect example of this shift when she explains that she doesn't want to dial the mood organ because it will make her want to dial and "wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive [she] can imagine; [she] just wants to sit here on the bed and stare at the floor" (Dick 7). Iran is void of all feelings and the only way to initiate feelings is through the mood organ, Buster Friendly, or the empathy box. Similarly, instead of finding meaning from a piece of literature the characters of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" are captivated by "Sidney's Animal & Fowl Catalogue" which is the epitome of consumerist material in the novel. These entities that provide inspiration in the novel have flattened feelings such as joy, appreciation, or love to a point where they can only be accessed through the context of the media or consumerist activity.

The world which Philip K. Dick depicts in "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" was not always in the state which is shown in the novel. When we consider Marcuse, we realize that Dick's world shifted away from a higher culture much in the same way that Marcuse sees our culture shifting. Marcuse explains that "The traditional stuff of art (images, harmonies, colors) re-appears only as 'quotes,' residues of past meaning in a context of refusal." In the same way predicted by Marcuse, Rick Deckard expresses a refusal and demise of the art he loves. Deckard explains that "eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name 'Mozart' will vanish, the dust will have won" (Dick 98). Through this quote we can determine that the art that was once present in Deckard's life prior to the war has been systematically destroyed. The art that was once prolific has now been transformed to a point where it cannot be appreciated and instead must be forced it into refusal of the medium or it's meaning. The only thing remaining then to potentially find meaning in has been created by consumerism and mass communications.

2 comments:

Ronald Rollins said...

Your second paragraph seems to make a strong connection between Marcuse and Dick.

The last paragraph is quite good. There's a definite connection between Marcuse and Deckard's own thoughts, so it shows a good connection between the philosophies behind each work.

The biggest flaw I see with this is that it's a bit short. However, admittedly, I'm not quite sure how it could be extended.

Adam said...

I was very surprised when I got to the third paragraph, where you briefly mention the fact that Deckard, in fact, loves classical music, only to dismiss it. I was surprised because it seems like you are ignoring the absolute centrality (even literally - the opera house is at the middle of the book) to more classical art forms in DADES.

Deckard loves Luba Luft's work. He thinks she is a great artist, and that the world needs her. He knows some German. He compares her favorably to more famous opera singers from before the war. He knows the plot of the opera. He and Phil Resch capture and kill Luba Luft in an art museum. They discuss the art of Munch, including talking about realism vs. surrealism. They are presented as culturally literate and engaged.

Now, that doesn't mean that Marcuse is wrong, by any means. In fact, Marcuse's subject in part of the section you quote isn't the annihilation of high culture but its absorption into low culture - it's commodification, the stripping away of its second dimension.

So the topic is good, but your analysis of the novel is shallow - you don't seem to have reread and thought about any of the numerous passages in the novel which are directly concerned with the nature and fate of "high" culture. You engage in a brief, shallow analysis where there was abundant opportunity to do something much more interesting.