A Few Theses on Art, Alienation, and Abolition


Marcuse suggested the alienation of art from society intrinsic to the aesthetic form represents and recollects an unreal world capable of indicting existing social arrangements while simultaneously providing a sensuous experience of another possible, liberated reality denied by established institutions. Drawing on and recasting part of Marcuse’s theory of art and the aesthetic dimension, the author puts forward several theses regarding art, alienation and abolition of the prison-industrial complex (PIC). First, art implies alienation; yet, because of that condition, art offers an antidote to estrangement conducive to PIC abolition. Second, Marx explained why key components of capitalism engender alienation, but expounding upon his analysis reveals how incarceration and the concomitant punitive paradigm also reinforce and reproduce estrangement; art, understood as recollection, can aid in abolition of those institutions. Third, authentic justice implies unimpeded use of creative capacities denied and distorted by the PIC, but art can act as recuperation of those capacities in ways that transform our understanding and practice of justice. Fourth, art can offer a foretaste of liberation while anticipating, expressing and heightening our understanding of the possibilities for fuller freedom and PIC abolition, going against and beyond reformist reforms that have historically functioned to strengthen and expand the PIC. Finally, art augments the spirit of abolition and intimates a mode of being antithetical to imprisonment, the PIC and the alienated way of life associated with criminalization and State coercion.


art, alienation, abolition, prison-industrial complex, human nature, species-being, justice, recollection

How to cite:

Anderson, James. “A Few Theses on Art, Alienation, and Abolition.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 5, no. 3 (2021):  92-119. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2021.0030.


James Anderson
Independent Scholar


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