Marcuse and The Great Refusal


From Douglas Kellner’s Marcuse and the Quest for Radical Subjectivity:

A central dilemma in Marcuse’s theory — sharply formulated in One- Dimensional Man — that continued to haunt him: “How can the administered individuals — who have made their mutilation into their own liberties and satisfactions… liberate themselves from themselves as well as from their masters? How is it even thinkable that the vicious circle be broken?” (ODM 250-251).

In order to break through this vicious circle, individuals must transform their present needs, sensibility, consciousness, values, and behavior while developing a new radical subjectivity, so as to create the necessary conditions for social transformation (5L 67). Radical subjectivity for Marcuse practices the “great refusal” valorized in both E&C and ODM. In E&C (149f), the “Great Refusal is the protest against unnecessary repression, the struggle for the ultimate form of freedom — ‘to live without anxiety.'” In ODM (256f), however, the Great Refusal is fundamentally political, a refusal of repression and injustice, a saying no, an elemental oppositional to a system of oppression, a noncompliance with the rules of a rigged game, a form of radical resistance and struggle. In both cases, the Great Refusal is based on a subjectivity that is not able to tolerate injustice and that engages in resistance and opposition to all forms of domination, instinctual and political.


One Response to “Marcuse and The Great Refusal”

  1. Lisa Sloniowski Says:

    Prompted by the front cover of York’s alt press student newspaper – which photoshopped one of our signposts with a directional arrow to the “Great Refusal Library.” We wondered what the Great Refusal Library might look like.

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