Engels, Lukács, utopia, & genre theory

by Ralph Dumain


[...] while thinking of Engels’ remarks on utopian socialism […], it suddenly occurred to me how central genre theory is in conceptualizing utopian thought. (Cf. Gary Morson et al.) I was on to this before, and I wrote a great essay on genre theory viz. philosophy and literature (which I was thinking of submitting to a professional journal but then decided to cut out the middleman). If assessing utopia means understanding the mediation of the actual and the potential, then one must understand more of both reality and imagination, which [individually and in relation] progress over time. [As] the differentiation of functions—myth, science, metaphysics, literature, etc.—becomes more finely differentiated (and must eventually be re-interrelated), what is liberating in fantasy as fantasy and not as projected future reality becomes better assessable. Fourier’s oceans of lemonade are delightful as pure fantasy, recognized as fantasy, as imaginative projections, which, like what stays in Vegas, best stays in imagination.

This also relates to what is so pathetic and constricting about Lukács’s literary theory, why he missed out on not only the best 20th century modernist works but missed out completely on its utopian, dystopian, and science fiction literature and why he remained stuck at the beginning of the 20th century and never evolved, torturing himself and being tortured within the confines of Stalinism. Demanding the perfect continuity between reality and imagination and the perfect reflection of social relations in artistic constructs—an entirely static notion in itself—Lukács remained always stuck in where he was, stoically, in the miserabilism of the East European sewer.

10 January 2017


Kadarky argues for the continuity of Lukacs' aesthetic perspective from his pre-Marxist days to the end. What Lukács supposed to be the “objective view of the totality of social relations” was Lukács’s purpose, to which he held judgments of literary merit hostage.

Side note: Kadarkay’s account leaves out a number of Lukács’s judgments: his grudging later acceptance of Kafka, posthumous praise of Babits, Lukács’s literary politics in Hungary apart from his known hostility or indifference to certain authors. If Kadarkay’s claims are true, which I believe they are, they contribute to my hypothesis concerning Lukács vs Hungarian literature.

Kadarkay, Arpad. “Georg Lukács’s Road to Art & Marx,” Polity, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter, 1980), pp. 230-260. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3234582

The struggle that filled his life, at least since 1924, coincided with Stalinism and its complex legacy. As a result, his Marxist works are full of palinodes and retractions, disavowals and repentence. And it is during the Stalinist period that Lukács’s impersonal attitude toward his own life assumes political significance. The primacy of oeuvre over persona, with its denial of personathe Spinozan amor Dei intellectualis—enables Lukács to disavow with perfect sincerity and logic his “idealistic” youth and its works. This relentless searcher of the innermost essence of the soul could, when serving Stalinism, argue that a person is not identical with his truth. To reach this un-Kierkegaardian position, Lukács had to struggle through the Kantian solution of the relation between objective-subjective factors of history and arrive at Hegel's formula that a person is only a vehicle of an impersonal Spirit.

* * *

My intent here is limited to an elaboration of the internal consistency of Lukács’s early and late works on art and aesthetics. Lukács’s principal work, Die Eigenart des Aesthetischen (hereafter cited as Aesthetics, 1963), shows a thematic continuity with his Heidelberg Aesthetics (1912).

The continuity of the two works, despite the change in political perspective following Lukács’s conversion, is provided by a normative approach to reality and to art. As I have tried to show, in his early works Lukács uses Platonic immanence and transcendence to engage in aesthetic investigation. In building “palaces of ideals” here on earth, Lukács does not even attempt a synthesis between experience and the eternally given forms. His concept of form is influenced by Plato. But for the Marxist Lukács the form becomes “totality,” modeled after Hegel. There are certain similarities between Lukács’s Aesthetics (1963) and Hegel's Aesthetics. Both share the view that the vocation of art is to unveil the truth in the form of artistic and, therefore, sensuous configuration. And both idealize Greek art and ideals.”

But the differences between Hegel and Lukács are also subtle and important. Whereas Hegel was preoccupied with lyric poetry and, in effect, it enjoys a high rank in his system because poetry is the medium for inward subjectivity so characteristic of bourgeois society, Lukács remained aloof from poetry all his life. The objective genres, epic and drama, occupy a high place in his hierarchy of values precisely because both are manifestations of the crisis in the human order. More important, whereas Hegel’s Aesthetics deals only with the problem of representing the complex totality of modern life in literature and art, Lukács postulates that in bourgeois culture this “totality” is completely absent. Consequently, and herein lies the subtle continuity between the early and late Lukács, the empirical reality needs an Urbild or a Platonic Demiurge to impose norms on “meaningless” reality.

Lukács’s consistently normative approach to reality explains the internal consistency between his neo-classicism and Marxist cultural orthodoxy. Whether one reads his early works or his mature works, there is a persistent attempt to confront the meaningless present with an ought. This is the primary source of his stubborn antimodernism in art, which is evident in the adversary stance of Bertolt Brecht and Lukács.

* * *

Throughout the Aesthetics (1963), Lukacs expands on his central theme, in contradiction to the general thesis of History and Class Consciousness, that art expresses the organic unity of the “human personality” and its “destiny” in the world. He also asserts that art is not only the seeing, hearing, feeling organ of humanity but also its “memory.” The result of the mimetic concept of art is that literary geniuses can express the reality behind “reality”—the becoming of reality. This creates a problem. If realism aims at objective representation of social reality, how, then, can the depicted reality contain a purpose? Either one or the other is possible but certainly not both. Even from a dialectical viewpoint, reality and social purpose are two distinct entities: one is attained, from a commonsense standpoint, by description; the other, by prescription.

23 August 2016

(Some editing was applied to the above originals and the final quote was just added.)


"‘Philosophy’ and ‘Literature’: Relationships of Genres and the Frontiers of Thought"
by R. Dumain

Literary Theory, Philosophy, Genre, Borges et al Revisited
by R. Dumain

C.L.R. James on the Secret of Hegel's Dialectic

Charles Fourier’s oceans of lemonade

Lukács in Moscow: RAPP, Mór Jókai, Socialist Realism

Arpad Kadarkay on Lukács on Madách

Alienation, Utopia, & Hungarian intellectuals: Madách, Ady, Karinthy, Fogarasi, Nádor, Lukács, Mannheim
by Joseph Gabel

On Hungarian Dramatic Literature
by Georg Lukács, translated by Charles Senger

The Metaphysics of Tragedy: Excerpts by Georg Lukács

Georg Lukács on Dostoevsky & the future of the novel

Stavrogin’s Confession by Georg Lukács

The Importance and Influence of Ady” by György Lukács

 “Lukács and Hungarian Literature” by Ivan Sanders

Lukács on Futurology

Georg Lukács’ The Destruction of Reason: Selected Bibliography

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Select Bibliography

Gary Saul Morson: Genre, Utopia, Sideshadowing, Tempics, Prosaics, Parody,
Misanthropology, Philosophy, Literary Theory, Borges:
Select Bibliography

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources:
A Selective Work in Progress

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


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Uploaded 29 March 2021

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