Prophet of Radicalism.
Erich Fromm and the Figurative Constitution of the Crisis of Modernity
(With a Finnish summary) Jyvaskyla (University of Jyvaskyla) 2010, 271 p.; ISSN 1459-4323; 142; ISBN 978-951-39-4042-3
In this dissertation the work of Erich Fromm is discussed as a metaphorically constituted response to the crisis of modernity. As a popular and suggestive writer Fromm's critique and Utopian vision provide an exceptional perspective to this discourse. The emphasis is on Fromm's "voice" or "presence".
Fromm's work constitutes an original synthesis of Jewish tradition, psychoanalysis and Marxism. His narrative of modernity was dialectical: while recognizing the achievements of modernity, he insisted that the promises of progress were betrayed as the prevailing conditions forced individuals to seek security from authoritarianism and conformity. Fromm's social critique is essentially a discussion of the psychological consequences of alienation in liberal-capitalist societies. His work should be seen as a part of a wider Freudo-Marxist movement, which attempted to uncover new forms of control. The metaphor of "sick society" provides a focal point for his critique of capitalist consumerism.
Fromm's views had their roots in his multiple experience of exclusion. Rhetorically, the emphasis on the "nowness" of the crisis highlighted his notion that the crisis of modernity presents a decisive phase of alienation in the history of humanity. He saw social criticism as psychoanalysis: the task of the analyst is to lead the patient to face the causes of neuroses and to initiate a process of healing and liberation. His humanist inclinations are evident in his theory of the existential needs of man, which also provide the basis for his ideal of "the New Man". Here Fromm concurs with the emphasis by the New Left on the political importance of the radical reworking of subjectivity. Despite being sympathetic to the 1960s revolt, Fromm remained sceptical to its realities.
His visions of the messianic "New Society" and his metaphorical reworking of the fundamental meanings of religiosity should be seen as a part of the exceptional flourishing of the Judeo-Germanic radicalism at the beginning of the 20th Century. These Utopian tendencies were balanced with his emphasis on the ambivalences of modernity. Fromm's work can highlight how the struggle over material conditions and future of society also takes place over figurative meanings in culture. Even though his work can be seen as a response to the "organized modernity" of his time, several themes voiced by him seem more relevant now than ever.
Considering the global challenges we are facing -population crisis, energy crisis, food crisis, climate change, growing concentration of economic power, rising levels of inequality etc. - Fromm's emphasis on spreading the crisis consciousness can contribute to our awareness of these problems. Similarly, his call for the building of the culture of liberation highlights the importance of subversive and inventive metaphorizations in the effort to create an alternative modernity.