Some people call a lie told for a great and good purpose a “noble lie.” Our government engages in a noble lie, according to these people, when it lies to us for our own good. Let us suppose, for the sake of focusing on the issue of truth, that the lie really is for our own good. I believe we can confidently say that “noble lie” is an oxymoron that makes no sense…. but the nature of the big lie, because of its gargantuan proportions may be less easier to hunt and capture…
Herbert Marcuse felt that great art, the best art, is negative, destructive and irrational and therefore a valuable element in our society. Marcuse’s argument for the importance of the portrayal of negative powers in art is quite elaborate. In essence he combines Freudian psychology with a Marxian critique of the capitalist society. Freud’s psychology places a heavy emphasis on the role of (sexual) repression. The reality principle replaces the pleasure principle in young children. This is the basis of civilized society, and nothing can satisfy these unconscious desires of adults. The self which represses and is disgusted by what is repressed is the adult, social self while the self which delights in the repressed is the childish, anti-social self. This repression is exemplified by folk characters such as Peter Pan.
To Herbert Marcuse, Freud, in enunciating the doctrine of repression: a fundamental dicta that instinctual drives need to be repressed, to some degree in the interests of adjusting to a Reality Principle , that being the ability to recognize the claims of work, and to forego present pleasure for a future good; was not so much wrong as he was a prisoner of his time. Marcuse modifies Freud’s analysis by making a distinction between necessary and surplus repression. Necessary repression is necessary because it helps the individual to survive. However, surplus repression is not demanded by reality, but by other people ,such as rulers. Progress is an elimination of surplus and a lessening of necessary repression. However, Marcuse feels that surplus repression is being increased by the privileged sectors of society to ensure their dominance.
While the necessity to endure labor was still part of the human condition in Central Europe in Freud’s day, the radical transformation of technology in the twentieth-century changed this according to Marcuse. People today, argued Marcuse, suffer from surplus repression, not from an infantile inability to control libido. Work no longer rules. Marcuse, in a deliberate pun on Freud’s famous essay ”Beyond the Pleasure Principle” , argued that people are perfectly capable of living, if only they knew it, beyond the ”reality” principle.
Psychoanalysis, which in Freud’s day was a revolutionary doctrine, has in our day become a counterrevolutionary doctrine. It urges individuals to submit to an absurd society rather than attempt to transcend that society and break free not only of the sick or constricted society’s norms but of the very concept of what constitutes maturity and sanity in the modern world. Marcuse linked this idea with broader social and aesthetic contexts by asking why do the most powerful and outrageous claims get so quickly integrated into our society? Given surplus repression, and the theory of the unconscious we can divine Marcuse’s answer.
He thinks that the outrage people express at social transgression is overstated because it is a product of their inner conflict, between repression and our defenses against it. We recoil from it because we are drawn to the breach of the rules. Now, if it was necessary repression which was being challenged, we would have a duty (to preserve civilization) to constrain such outbursts. However, there is surplus repression. And, in order to conquer the surplus repression we must tap our infantile desire for release from all repression. Thus art serves a revolutionary role, it promises what can never be in order to obtain what should be. Again, quite Marxist. Is this a universal theory of art even if it’s correct? What happens to art if there is only necessary repression left?