Black Music and Desublimation: Contravening Expectations in Marcusean Aesthetics

  • Cristina Parapar Université Paris-Sorbonne


In 1968, Herbert Marcuse spoke to a packed audience of students at the New England Conservatory. The author of "One-Dimensional Man" urged young composers and performers to fight against the sublimating, harmonizing, and consoling forms of tradition. In other words, he encouraged them to create music that responded to the needs of the historical moment they were living in. Marcuse realized that both serious and popular music could not divorce themselves from their political dimension, and thus, they could contribute to the task of emancipation. In this speech, the philosopher declared that the musical counterculture of the 60s and 70s was the outcry of men and women who had lost patience, who had felt the lie, the hypocrisy, and the indifference of late capitalism, and who wanted music from other planets, very real and very close planets.

This later reference to a speech by Arnold Schönberg serves as the motivation for this investigation, which has a dual purpose. On the one hand, this article aims to examine Marcuse's comments and notes on musical counterculture from the late 60s until his passing. Certainly, the German philosopher was primarily interested in the Black music of his time because he believed it revealed the fissures of one-dimensional society and participated in the desublimation of the real. For this reason, the goal is to delve into the forms and musical strategies that led Marcuse to consider that Black music contributed to the task of denouncing the brutality of one-dimensional society. Secondly, this article seeks to evaluate the ongoing relevance of Marcuse's radical aesthetics in the context of contemporary popular music.


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