Soviet Aesthetics & Humor: The Societalists and Naturists

Edward M. Swiderski

Because all the aesthetic categories are related to man’s historical progress, all of them are actually confirmations of the beautiful. The ugly, for example, is attached to an object or phenomenon which is doomed to destruction in the course of historical development and by this very fact confirms the beautiful. The tragic in Marxist‑Leninist aesthetics is also a confirmation of the beautiful because it highlights the struggle of the old and the new and the inevitable triumph of the latter.

When the individual participants of the struggle for the new are destroyed, those beautiful human qualities, which conditioned the participation of these people in the struggle determined their addition to the present for future victory of the new are confirmed in the the tragedy of their (the people’s—E. S.) destruction. [Stolovič 1959, p. 100]

The comic has several forms—the humorous, satiric, ironic, etc.—although they share a common trait, viz. a socially perceivable contradiction, a socially significant lack of correspondence of end‑means, form‑content, event‑circumstances, essence‑its manifestations, which are rejected in the name of the beautiful. According to Marx, “History is thorough and goes through many phases when carrying an old form to the grave. The last phase of a world historical form is its comedy”. By laughing (?) people shed the old form easily, seeing in it a hindrance to the newly emergent, life‑confirming form of society [Stolovič 1959, p. 95]

Examples abound of this sort of ‘analysis’. Neither the societalists nor the naturist theory of the categories provides a particularly illuminating reason why just these and not some other categories had to be considered as aesthetic categories. In spite of all the proclamations about their specificity it remains unclear just what distinguishes the aesthetic in a social context from the moral, the ethical. For his part, W. Tatarkiewicz follows Max Scheler who ‘convincingly’ showed that the tragic is an ethical category, while humour, the comic, is a moral attitude. [Tatarkiewicz 1975, p. 185] It is nevertheless true that tragic and comic situations are a natural theme for the dramatic arts. Thanks also to the central place their analysis occupied in Aristotle’s Poetics these categories have come to have important status in aesthetics. It nevertheless remains true that to the extent that such categories are associated in Marxist‑Leninist aesthetics with the beautiful, to that extent the beautiful itself is obscured by an extraneous social theory imposed on the aesthetic phenomenon for the sake of maintaining a consistent world view.

SOURCE: Swiderski, Edward M. The Philosophical Foundations of Soviet Aesthetics: Theories and Controversies in the Post-War Years (Dordrecht, Holland; Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979), Chapter IV: The Societalists and Naturists, pp. 112-113. [Sovietica; v. 42]


Stolovič, L. N. 1959. Estetičeskoe v dejstvitel’nosti i v iskusstve, M., Gt.

Tatarkiewicz, W. 1975. Dzieje sześciu pojeć, Warzawa, PWN.

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