preamble to the review…
I’ve read through to the end of chapter 8. ( and as this review sat “In Progress” I read through to chapter 18. I’m more determined now to go chapter by chapter through this work. I don’t want to write a reductive reactionary review. What I’m after is an engaged reading so my plan now is to read both volumes and then with an over all picture of the work, go through it, developing my understanding of his argument. Jensen’s work at times is personal to the point of confessional. This interests me, because I believe that the personal sphere is where we are most able to make changes. So in this idea of direct action Jensen and I are in complete agreement. The confessional also demands of an empathetic reviewer a certain higher level of respect.
This reminds me of a story. My son was kicking a soccer ball back and forth with another kid. My son was at the time at that age of very little control and the kid he was playing with was a few years younger. So my son would kick the ball as hard as he could at the smaller child, who would then cry. The other parent and I explained to my son that he should pass the ball a little easier. So my son tapped the ball very lightly, and the younger child incredulous says, “I’d rather get hit in the face then have you pass it like that!” What I’m getting at is that Jensen with his confessional would rather get hit in the face then have us take it easy on him.
And finally in this revising note: In radical movements there’s a general dislike of criticism. This dislike is warranted. Anyone working toward social change is constantly getting it from all sides. But this needs to be reformulated as a good thing. We need to be open to criticism. We need to reject censorship of both ourselves and others.)
I’m going to try to continue going through this book chapter by chapter. At this point the exercise is reminiscent of a chapter for chapter read through of Echkart Tolle’s Power of Now. This is some seriously flawed thinking. I feel the need, in this, (the Tolle reading was done with a real friend over email, so I didn’t need to publicly state anything) that I am consciously living for revolution. I am thinking, reading, acting and sometimes writing toward living the revolution everyday. I feel the need to state this in reply to Jensen’s tendency to paint every critic of his ideas as some sort of accomplice in the maintenance of the status quo.
I fell for the advertising surrounding this book. I looked at the book’s page and this description sold me. “Derrick Jensen is a force for the common good. His books are mandatory reading in the study of culture and social change. Derrick Jensen is a contemporary philosopher with his feet firmly on the ground.”
And maybe more than anything it was this bit of bait that hooked me. The book was called “a powerful argument that demands attention in the tradition of such important books as Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization…” I wish there was a contemporary writer working and generating discussion in the tradition of Marcuse.
Jensen is not a philosopher. And yes Marcuse’s books Eros and Civilization, One Dimensional Man, and his essays on Liberation, and on Repressive Tolerance should be read by anyone interested in social change. Endgame is more precisely described as of the tradition of abridged thought that philosophers like Marcuse were writing against.
Review of the chapter titled Identification.
The cultural critic is not happy with civilization, to which alone he owes his discontent. He speaks as if he represents unadulterated nature or a higher historical stage. Yet he is necessarily of the same essence as that to which he fancies himself superior.
This is Adorno from ‘Cultural Criticism and Society,’ the whole of which may be read in Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967), p.19.
This is a short little chapter, but there’s a lot happening here. I pulled that quote from Adorno, who writes in the same tradition as Marcuse. When you read the quote, you need to remember that Adorno is a cultural critic. Then you understand that he’s being self-critical here. Self-criticism is part of the philosophical tradition. I’ll come back to this later, in the next chapter on abusers.
Of course Adorno also reminds us that we need sometimes play the fool and speak that though we’ve got hold of it. We’ve got to do this to move it along. Thinkers knows that we can never really know, but to develop ideas and actions we must go forward as if we can.
If Seven Stories Press is going to claim the continuance of tradition to which Marcuse belonged, I think it fair that we discuss the tradition and Marcuse.
First in this Chapter, Jensen critiques our sense of self as unsustainable. But when he writes that how we perceive our self is how we act, he steps outside the tradition of critical theory, or critical social theory. The problem of self perception is already part of the discussion. Critical theorists are aware of the invisibility of ideology. We may not necessarily perceive ourselves as we act in the world. And that includes us.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading Marcuse in a graduate class you’ll get what I’m saying, maybe not. Jensen writes that in our culture “We are also trained to lack imagination.” And I agree. Marcuse writes about the moronization of the population. (site) But in grad school, the students read that as other people, somehow they’ve managed to dodge this moronization. Grad students perceive themselves as bright, as having made the right choices, and as having been chosen. But it seems Jensen also seems to see himself as having skipped those lack of imagination training sessions.
Jensen, like you and me, is necessarily of the social he criticizes. He is clearly a mutilated individual who lacks imagination. Marcuse writes about this in the conclusion of One-Dimensional Man.
The mutilated individuals (mutilated also in their faculty of imagination) would organize and destroy even more than they are now permitted to do. Such release would be the unmitigated horror – not the catastrophe of culture, but the free sweep of its most repressive tendencies. Rational is the imagination which can become the a priori of the reconstruction and redirection, of the productive apparatus toward a pacified existence, a life without fear. And this can never be the imagination of those who are possessed by the images of domination and, death.
To liberate the imagination so that it can be given all its means of expression presupposes the repression of much that is now free and that perpetuates a repressive society. And such reversal is not a matter of psychology or ethics but of politics, in the sense in which this term has here been used; throughout: the practice in which the basic societal institutions are developed, defined, sustained, and changed. It is the practice of individuals, no matter how organized they may be. Thus the question once again must be faced: how can the administered individuals – who have made their mutilation into their own liberties and satisfactions, and thus reproduce it on an enlarged scale – liberate themselves from themselves as well as from their masters? How is it even thinkable that the vicious circle be broken?
Jensen has the facts. He is motivated by a material reality, but his response lacks imagination. As a product of a destructive culture, Jensen’s imagination leads him to the destruction of civilization. The fruit as they say doesn’t fall far from the tree. Marcuse proposes a “practice in which the basic societal institutions are developed, defined, sustained, and changed.”
It would be a mistake to think this culture clearcuts only forests. It clearcuts our psyche as well. It would be a mistake to think it dams only rivers. We ourselves are dammed (and damned)by it as well. It would be a mistake to think it creates dead zones only in the ocean. It creates dead zones in our hearts and minds. It would be a mistake to think it fragments only our habitat. We, too, are fragmented, split off, shredded, rent, torn.
But for some reason Jensen doesn’t perceive this lack of imagination, clearcut psyche, damnation, dead zones, and shredding of himself. Because after all of his analysis, and after we do some analyzing on our own, he writes, “we can proceed to tear something else apart.” The torn becomes the tearer. the bent becomes the bender
Imaginary Life Journey (September 13, 1923)
First a childhood, limitless and without
renunciation or goals. O unselfconscious joy.
Then suddenly terror, barriers, schools, drudgery,
and collapse into temptation and loss.
Defiance. The one bent becomes the bender,
and thrusts upon others that which it suffered.
Loved, feared, rescuer, fighter, winner
and conqueror, blow by blow.
And then alone in cold, light, open space,
yet still deep within the mature erected form,
a gasping for the clear air of the first one, the old one…
Then God leaps out from behind his hiding place.