Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Marcuse and PKD

In One Dimensional Man, Marcuse opens his discussion to that of the world of art. He explores the affects technology has had on art since its emergence and resultant ubiquitous presence in our society. He claims, “the developing technological reality undermines not only the traditional forms but the very basis of the artistic alienation-that is, it tends to invalidate not only certain ‘styles’ but also the very substance of art” (Marcuse, Ch. 3). His claim argues that technology has reduced the value of art in our society because it negates the idea of alienation. He is also making a more powerful statement that with the development of technology also comes the destruction of our individual creativity and artistic ability. More generally, a society consumed by society will result in a group of disillusioned zombies glued to their technical gadgets, unable to generate ideas of their own and appreciate the beautiful things in life, like raw art.
    Taking this idea into account when reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, we see that Dick validates Marcuse’s claims. The novel takes place in a world where technology has essentially taken over the lives of all those left on earth. Dick designs a dystopic world of androids in which the remaining humans are either invalids or practically mindless automatons waiting for the dust to decay them. When we are first learning about the world in which Deckard lives in Androids, Dick inserts an add that reads, “‘Emigrate or degenerate! The choice is yours!’” (Dick, Ch. 1). To further validate the point that there is not much left to live for on earth, Deckard thinks, “very true...but I can't emigrate, he said to himself. Because of my job.” (Dick, Ch. 1). This wasted earth is a result of the abuse of technology, reliance on technology to solve our problems. In a discussion of nuclear war in the introduction of Marcuse’s writing, he states, “we submit to the peaceful production of the means of destruction” (Marcuse, Intro). Earth would not be in the state of disaster that it is in in Androids were it not for our own creation of technology and alienation of ourselves.
    In addition, the prevalence in technology in Androids results in very serious alterations to the humans left on the planet. There are machines designed to control your mood, “the mood organ” as well as “the empathy box” which is needed to feel a religious connection to the Christ figure in Dick’s world. For entertainment, the people of earth listen to Buster Friendly’s television or radio broadcast that runs all day, on which he features the same guests. There is no entertainment or artistic value in this. Essentially, the people of Androids have forgotten how to think for themselves in a world full of technology designed to think and do for them. They are no longer able to appreciate art in the form of religion, entertainment, or creation.
    In the final analysis, Dick validates Marcuse’s claims that a world of technology would invalidate a world of art. It can be seen in Androids with the overbearing use of technology in everyone’s life in the book as well as the design of the world itself.


Adam Lewis said...


I think you have a good start here for a revision. What I would suggest is a relationship between Marcuse, Dick, and our current society and how we have integrated what used to be art in our daily lives and ruined the "great refusal". "Beethoven in the kitchen" is how Marcuse puts it I think. I think it is also interesting to note that in DADES, there is an experience with art with Luba Luft and she, an android, seems to have a better connection with it than humans. It can also be noted that there is no mention of any new art in the gallery and she is singing a classic opera. Has art completely died out in Dick's world?

I really don't see an argument here which is easy to lose in an essay of this kind (I pretty much lost it on mine). I think you may be able to find your argument by relating what you have here to our society. As Dr. Johns said, Marcuse thinks we're incapable of experiencing art as the great refusal. I think I have the same task ahead of me should I use my essay on this topic for a revision.

Just some comments.

Adam said...

The first part of the first paragraph is good; the second part - "More generally, a society consumed by society will result in a group of disillusioned zombies glued to their technical gadgets, unable to generate ideas of their own and appreciate the beautiful things in life, like raw art" - is at risk of oversimplifying Marcuse.

The 2nd paragraph is good, especially your recognition of the centrality of nuclear war to both writers.

The 3rd paragraph oversimplifies Philip K. Dick. Of course it's only a draft - but if you revise, one thing you would really want to think about is the relationship between Mercerism and art. For one thing, we might argue that Mercerism itself - the experience of Mercer's ascent - is a kind of art in, of and by itself. Mercerism isn't simple, nor is Mercer, and I think that would ideally need to be taken into account here.

You do a lot in a little space in this draft. If you revise, I think having a stronger grounding in exactly what is wrong with our technological civilization (according to Marcuse) is critical. It's not that technology as such is the problem, after all. The problem for him is fundamentally in one-dimensional thought, which has its roots in technology but isn't the same as technology. But anyway - this seems like a good starting point, with lots of space to develop in relationship with both authors.

Note that Adam's comments also zero in on the question of whether you're really working with Marcuse in all his complexity.