Embracing that “reality of illusion” allows us to find freedom and pleasure in trying on different identities and casting them off when they no longer fit. “Just as Bowie seemingly reinvented himself without limits,” Critchley writes, “he allowed us to believe that our own capacity for changes was limitless.”

Arguably, this capacity for change goes beyond just the individual, though reading Bowie’s lyrics for an explicit political message is likely to frustrate the literal-minded leftist. The artist has long favored the poetic over the polemic, and Critchley is right in observing that Bowie’s lyrics are “at their strongest when they are most oblique.” In “Life on Mars?”, a haunting track from the 1971 record Hunky Dory, Bowie sings, “It’s on America’s tortured brow/That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Now the workers have struck for fame/’Cause Lennon’s on sale again.” We might read this as a commentary on fame or a critique of American consumerism or, if so inclined, evidence of Bowie’s hidden labor politics. What we can’t do is say for sure what it means, yet its collection of arresting imagery hints at something big beneath the surface.

In Bowie, Critchley, similarly, is less interested in making an explicit argument than in writing something beautiful. And yet Critchley’s reading of Bowie’s work does argue for finding radicalism there. “Just for an instant, for the duration of a song, a seemingly silly, simple, puerile pop song, we can decreate all that is creaturely (or Critchley) about us,” Critchley writes, “and imagine some other way of existing, something utopian.”

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