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  • 8/2/2019 Marcuse Technology


    L A N G U A G E A N D T E C H N O L O G I C A L S O C I E T Y

    Herbert Marcuse

    This article is taken from a forthcoming book dealing with theideology of advanced industrial society, to be published by BeaconPress.

    Communication in and about daily performances, re-lationships, arrangements is ordinarily "non-controversial": it takesthings for granted. The world is established, and one has to put upwith it; the com mon projects and aspirations do not essentially questionit and do not go beyond it; they aim at rearrangements within it;the apophan tic* function of languag e is reactivated only in eme rgencysituations, when the normal state of affairs breaks or is being broken.But the extent to which the apophantic function remains alive in theevery-day universe of discourse is perhaps a token of the actual extentto which freedom of thought prevails in a given society. Freedom ofthought is freedom of speech also in the sense that the speaker iscapable of expressing and communicating ideas which contradict andtranscend the established meaning, and do so not by virtue of somepoetic or personal connotation, but by virtue of a soberly realistic andrealizable content. Such non-conformist expression and comm unicationpresuppose an open universe of discourse, in which the meaning ofthe key terms is not preempted by their reference to a specific set ofconditions, events, and relations. For example, "freedom of thoughtand speech" must be understood to mean, not only the constitutionalguarantee and the actual exercise of this liberty, but also the possibilityand a bility to think independe ntly, the con sciousness and the conscienceof the difference between individual and social needs and interests,between the hum an and the national purposein other w ords, the termmu st be understandable as containing the negation of its given content.The apophantic function of communication manifests itself inthe ability of language to convey, in its current usage, notions and imagesqualitatively different from those designating established conditionsand opportunities, to discover not only that which is but also the presenceof that w hich is not, to reveal the nega tivity of the positive. In the one- The term denotes a feature of an essentially pre-technological consciousness whichis discussed in a preceding chapter of the book. The world is experienced not asthe neutral stuff of transformation and domination but as cosmos in its own truthand its own right. The modes of thought expressing this consciousness reveal anddemonstrate truth and falsehood, right and wrong as ontological conditions.66

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    dime nsionality of advan ced techn ological civilization, this apophan ticfunction declines, and with the decline of the apophantic function,language tends to be appropriated by and adapted to the requirementsof the status quo. Language is literally m ade by corporate and nationalBusiness, by h ired researchers, entertainers, press agents, etc. The m oreblatantly production for profit demands manipulation of needs, themore obviously it depends on mass hypnosis and autosuggestion, themore vanishes the difference betw een the "ethics" of business and thoseof the racket, between selling and cheating, between promoting andpoisoning, between truth and lie, sense and non-sense. A s the rising ex-penditures for expanding and insuring business enter into the verystructure of the economy, theytogether with their moronic featuresand consequences becom e beneficial and rational. They help to pro-cure the comforts and luxuries, material and cultural, they embellishthe life of the whole. The economist justly comes to their defense:...uch of the criticism of the vast activity of selling and advertising inthe American economythat which concerns economics rather than taste orthe devastation of the countryside by billboardshas missed the point. . . .

    Our proliferation of selling activity is the counterpart of comparative opulence.Much of it is inevitable with high levels of well-being. It may be waste butit is waste that exists because the community is too well off to care.An d the m ore the grow ing productivity of industrial civilization seem sto be capable of dispensing with this sort of rationality, the more vitalfor the status quo becomes its retention. Hegel's formula, which wasat least partly ironical when it was stated, now finds its adequate re-formulation:

    Was unvernunftig ist, das ist wirklich;Und was wirklich ist, das ist unvernunftig.THE EVERY-DAY LANGUAGE of this state of affairs is of an infiniterichness and vitality. Slang and the colloquial have rarely been socreative as if the comm on man (or his anonymous spokesman) w ouldin this speech assert his humanity against the powers that be, as if the

    rejection and the revolt, subdued in the political sphere, would burstout in the vocabulary that calls things by their names: headshrinkerand egghead, beat it and dig it, you are cooked and you are gone, etc.On the other side of the fence, ordinary language still is haunted bythe big words of higher culture: by the dignity of the individual andthe inalienable rights and the philosophy of dem ocracy, etc. However,the defense laboratories and the executive offices, the time keepers andmanagers, the efficiency experts and the political beauty parlors (whichprovide the leaders with the appropriate make up) speak a differentlanguage, and for the time being they seem to have the last word.And from these centers of organization and manipulation, the wordis transmitted and incorporated into the com mon universe of discourseand behavior. The w ord thus transmitted is the word w hich orders and John K. Galbraith, A m erican Capitalism , p. 96.


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    organizes, which induces people to do and to buy and to accept whatis offered, to identify themselves w ith the function they perform in theestablished society, to release all frustration in the (equally organizedand controlled) realm of leisure and relaxation. As a consequence, wholedimensions of communication atrophy, or they are ritualized. Thislanguage closes and seals the m eaning of w ords; it fixes not only theirvalue but also their function within a narrow framework of behavior,shutting off all transcendence. The elements of autonomy, discovery,evaluation recede before designation, imitation, repetition, acceptanc e;and communication is permeated with magic, authoritarian, and ritualelements. I shall presently try to indicate some of them and to showtheir interconnection. Common to them seems a trend toward func-tionalization of languageit may serve as a starting point for the dis-cussion.Functionalization of language is germane to the technological-scientific discourse. There, it means the rationalization of the voca-bulary through functional or operational terms. This is Stanley Gerr'sformulation of one of the "main features of our evolving scientificlanguage"; * Gerr derives his conception from the principle that "anoperation is acceptable to technological science only when a device(tool, mechanism, instrument, apparatus) exists for carrying it out,and a process or physical property only when it can be mea sured; whichis to say, only w hen a d evice exists for measuring it."** It follows thata tool or instrument is "identical" with its partcular function, and that"no operation can be conceived apart from the mech anism with whichit is executed." Gerr sees the effect of this attitude on the language ofscience and technology in the "tendency to identify things and theirfunctions," or, linguistically, "to consider the nam es of things as beingindicative at the same time of their manner of functioning, and thename of properties and processes as symbolical of the apparatus usedto detect or produce them." f

    THE QUESTION whether this extreme linguistic operationalismis characteristic of the contemporary language of science is of no re-levance in m y context; I use Gerr's exposition only in order to illustratethe decline of apophantic communication in the publicized languageof our day. It is one of its features that words and concepts tend tocoincide, or rather the concept tends to be absorbed by the word: theformer has no other content than that designated by the word inthe publicized and standardized usage, and the wo rd is expected to haveno other response than the publicized and standardized behavior (re-action). The word becom es cliche and, as cliche, governs the speech orthe writing; the communication thus precludes genuine developmentof meaning. To be sure, any language contains innumerable termswhich do not require development of their meaning, such as the terms" "Language and Science" in Philosophy of Science, April 1942, P. 151. loc. cit., p. 156 .t loc. cit.


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    designating the objects and implements of daily life, visible nature,vital needs and wants. These terms are generally understood so thattheir mere appearance produces a response (linguistic or operational)adequate to the pragmatic context in which they are spoken.The situation is very different with respect to terms which denotecontents beyond this non-controversial context. The self-validating,strictly analytical propositions, which appear as the nodal points inthe pu blic universe of discourse, have their strictly no n-analytic, politi-cal connotation: they are like magic-ritual formulas which, hamm eredand re-hammered into the recipient's mind, produce the appropriateeffect of enclosing it within the circle of established conditions. Eastand West show the same tendencies. Thus, "freedom," "equality,""democracy," "peace" imply, analytically, a specific set of predicatesor attributes which occ ur invariably whe n the noun is spoken or w ritten.In the West, the approp