The Shadow of Marcuse: from Phallogocentrism to Feminine Endings

In my feature for Salvo 20 about Herbert Marcuse, I pointed out that the discipline of “Critical Theory,” ended up deconstructing all of Western civilization. Intellectuals like Marcuse diagnosed Western culture and values as being inherently logo-centric, patriarchal, institutional, patriotic, and capitalist.

Marcuse is dead, but the shadow of Critical Theory and deconstructionism are alive and kicking.

Following in Marcuse’s wake, Jacques Derrida (pictured left) would add “Phallogocentrism” to the crimes of Western civilization, reducing the entire tradition of Western metaphysics to a byproduct of the male impulse for sexual dominance. A person just can’t be too careful, you see: to show an interest in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, or Jonathan Edwards, doesn’t just make you a nerd, but a sex maniac, according to Phallogocentric theorists.

Deconstructionism eventually came to be stretched over the entire canopy of Western experience. In have already noted the way even the act of whistling fell under the deconstruction of thinkers like Adorno, who thought that whistling indicated “control over music” and was symptomatic of the insidious pleasure Westerners take “in possessing the melody.”

Building on this, there developed a large school of thought which sees the whole tradition of oil painting, from the development of its technique to its appearance inside golden frames, as being a manifestation of the desire of males to take possession of things, particularly females.  This was the view articulated by John Berger in Ways of Seeing.

This helped to open up whole new fields of art criticism, and by the 90s the Western tonal tradition would become the next casualty to this sexual deconstructionism. “The exercise of male power to the end of social and sexual control is directly reflected by the practice of writing tonal music” wrote Robert Samuels in a work about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, summarizing the work of Susan McClary in Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality.  In particularly, the cadence (the most basic harmonic progression in tonal music), “is an analogue of this male desire for dominance” particularly in its “drive towards closure and climax . . .”

More about McClary’s musicology tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “The Shadow of Marcuse: from Phallogocentrism to Feminine Endings

  1. Ideas of the sort described in the article lead me to wonder if their proponents are sane. It seems that they only talk to each other and try to outdo one another in weirdness.

  2. And interest Aquinas and Edwards, two dead theologians that still speak to us,indicate an impulse towards sexual dominance. Fascinating. The things one can learn about oneself from these unanchored, self-appointed experts.

  3. Pingback: The Crimes of the Sonata » » Signs of the Times Sign of the Times | Salvo Magazine

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