Gyorgy Lukacs was a renowned Hungarian philosopher and Marxist aesthetician, considered one of the founders of Western Marxism. His insightful works on Marxism set him apart from the Orthodox Marxism of the Soviet Union. Lukacs dedicated considerable effort to comprehending and clarifying Marxism, earning him the praise of literary critic MAR Habib, who hailed him as "the profoundest philosopher Marxism has yet produced."
A Multifaceted Scholar
Lukacs initially delved into Marxism from a sociologist's perspective. However, he proved to be more than just a thinker in the Marxist tradition; he also excelled as a literary critic. One of his significant works, "The Theory of the Novel," explores the intricacies of the novel as a literary form. In this seminal work, Lukacs introduces the concept of "transcendental homelessness," which denotes a yearning for utopian perfection that perceives itself and its desires as the sole true reality.
Interestingly, Lukacs later wrote an introduction that dismisses "The Theory of the Novel," deeming it a form of 'romantic anti-capitalism.'
Lukacs's Views on Modernist Writers
Lukacs was known for his critical stance towards some modernist writers like Kafka, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett. He favored Thomas Mann's approach to modernity instead.
Exploring the Genre of Historical Fiction
Lukacs extensively studied the development of historical fiction in his work titled "The Historical Novel." In this treatise, he argues that the consciousness of history was not highly developed before the French Revolution. He posits that the realization of human existence as evolving and constantly changing was catalyzed by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.
Among the writers representing this historical consciousness, Lukacs identifies Walter Scott. Scott's novels prominently highlight social conflicts and historical transformations, making him a crucial figure in the genre.
Lukacs further contends that French realist writer Balzac and Russian realist writer Leo Tolstoy adopted Scott's style, making them progressive writers in Lukacs's eyes. This reflects Lukacs's longing for a return to the realist tradition and his disapproval of the modernist disregard for history.
Thomas Mann: An Advocate of Traditional Realism
In his essay "Realism in the Balance," Lukacs advocates for Thomas Mann as a writer of traditional realism. He critiques the modernist movements and their proponents who emphasize individualism. Lukacs believes that modernist movements lack a revolutionary spirit.
Lukacs lauds Thomas Mann for being a good realist, noting his skill in creating a contrast between appearance and essence, as well as between characters' consciousness and the reality in isolation.
The Transcendence of Realist Writers
On the other hand, Lukacs criticizes modernist writers for merely portraying reality as it appears on the surface, without delving into its deeper dimensions. According to Lukacs, only realist writers transcend immediate and subjective perceptions of reality, providing insights into reality in relation to society.