The Wager of Lucien Goldmann

The Wager of Lucien Goldmann: Tragedy, Dialectics, and a Hidden God

Mitchell Cohen
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 368
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Wager of Lucien Goldmann
    Book Description:

    InThe Wager of Lucien Goldmann,Mitchell Cohen provides the first full-length study of this major figure of postwar French intellectual life and champion of socialist humanism. While many Parisian leftists staunchly upheld Marxism's "scientificity" in the 1950s and 1960s, Lucien Goldmann insisted that Marxism was by then in severe crisis and had to reinvent itself radically if it were to survive. He rejected the traditional Marxist view of the proletariat and contested the structuralist and antihumanist theorizing that infected French left-wing circles in the tumultuous 1960s.

    Highly regarded by thinkers as diverse as Jean Piaget and Alasdair MacIntyre, Goldmann is shown here as a socialist who, unlike many others of his time, refused to portray his aspirations for humanity's future as an inexorable unfolding of history's laws. He saw these aspirations instead as a wager akin to Pascal's in the existence of God. "Risk," Goldmann wrote in his classic study of Pascal and Racine,The Hidden God,"possibility of failure, hope of success, and the synthesis of the three in a faith which is a wager are the essential constituent elements of the human condition." InThe Wager of Lucien Goldmann,Cohen retrieves Goldmann's achievement--his "genetic structuralist" method, his sociology of literature, his libertarian socialist politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2126-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note on Titles, Abbreviations, and Language in the Text
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction: Eppur si muove?
    (pp. 3-12)

    It is said that Galileo, after recanting before the Inquisition the theory that the earth moves, arose from his knees and murmured beneath his breath, ʺEppur si muoveʺ—yet it still moves. This phrase was chosen by the Romanian-born philosopher and critic Lucien Goldmann as the title of his address in February 1969 to a conference in Stockholm organized by Bertrand Russell to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Viewing the year 1968, in particular, the events in Prague and Paris, as a historical watershed for the European Left, Goldmann, though steadfastly identifying himself as a socialist, contended that ʺin...

    • 1 A Youth in Romania
      (pp. 15-39)

      Lucien Goldmann spoke rarely of his origins. Perhaps this was for personal reasons, and perhaps it was due to his own methodological strictures against biography. In any event, records of his youth are few. Indeed, they are so sparse that details must be presented with constant caveats. He did leave an important clue, however, in a passing remark he made in 1959, a quarter of a century after quitting Romania for France, in a commentary on Marc Chagallʹs paintings. The milieu of Chagallʹs adolescence, said Goldmann, was similar to that of his own.¹

      He did not elaborate. Instead, he focused...

    • 2 Homeless
      (pp. 40-62)

      It was natural for Goldmann to go to Paris. The French capital, traditionally, was western Europeʹs great cultural lure for Romanians, especially the young. A return to Vienna could not have enticed him for the Austrian republic and Austrian social democracy had perished violently at the hands of Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss in February 1934. Hitlerʹs Germany was obviously out of the question.

      Paris harbored a substantial colony of Romanian students. They published their own newspapers, some of which made their way back to Romania. An article printed in one of them in December 1934, the month in which Goldmann completed...

    • 3 A Short History of Method
      (pp. 65-91)

      In the Place de la Sorbonne, a few meters from the venerable buildings of the University of Paris, stands a bust of August Comte. Together with Descartes, Comte represents the touchstone of modern French thought. DescartesʹsDiscourse on Method(1637) presented a famous set of rules of method at a time when the scientific revolution was turning the European mind topsy-turvy. Comte, writing two centuries later, in another epoch of scientific advance but also after the fall of the ancien régime, proposed that the world be grasped by one method, that of natural science. His ʺpositive philosophyʺ rendered ʺa uniform...

    • 4 Lukács, Marxism, and Method
      (pp. 92-114)

      ʺThe primacy of the category of totality is the bearer of the principle of revolution in science.ʺ¹ When Georg Lukács published these words in 1923 inHistory and Class Consciousness, he had been a Marxist for five years. His bookʹs reinjection of the categories of classical German philosophy into Marxism made a profound impression on an array of intellectuals, who, beginning in the late 1920s, rejected the dogmatism that had come to dominate ʺofficialʺ Marxist thought of both the social democratic and Third International varieties. These intellectuals became known as Western Marxists, and some of the most gifted among them...

    • 5 The Dialectics of Lucien Goldmann
      (pp. 117-153)

      In 1958, in a lecture to the Philosophy Society of Toulouse, Lucien Goldmann proposed that ʺofficial Marxism,ʺ which had dominated all Marxism for the previous quarter-century, had not produced a single work of theoretical importance. Consequently, ʺit was essential during this period that a few researchers did not submit to the pressure of any body or orthodoxy, and devoted themselves to demonstrating on the level of concrete studies in one domain or another, theactualpossibilities [les possibilitésactuelles] and the fertility of [Marxismʹs] method.ʺ This is what Goldmann saw as his own accomplishment in writing on seventeenth-century France. It...

    • 6 From a Hidden God to the Human Condition
      (pp. 154-200)

      Goldmann completedThe Hidden Godin 1955, andTowards a Sociology of the Novel(hereafterNovel) was published in 1964. In the interim, Goldmann began to classify his method formally as ʺgenetic structuralismʺ and to employ the term ʺtransindividual subject,ʺ although both notions were conceptually present, or in gestation, in almost all of his earlier work. The use of ʺgenetic structuralismʺ was partly a response to the rise of structuralism in French thought, but Goldmannʹs formulation owes its origins to Lukács and Piaget. It was also during this decade that Goldmann reoriented his intellectual project, and started to articulate his...

    • 7 Existentialism, Marxism, Structuralism
      (pp. 201-249)

      ʺIn the beginning was the deed.ʺ Goldmann often quoted this line from GoetheʹsFaust—Goetheʹs recasting of the opening of the Gospel of John, traditionally, ʺIn the Beginning was the Word.ʺ Action and language symbolize the two cardinal phases of French intellectual debate during Goldmannʹs lifetime. They were dominated, respectively, by Sartrian existentialism, with its emphasis on man making himself and the world through freely chosen acts, and structuralism, which made language the paradigm for the human sciences. Marxism, however, persistently engaged existentialism and structuralism, sometimes as interrogator, sometimes as antagonist, sometimes as ally, sometimes as alloy.

      Postwar France had...

    • 8 The Hidden Class: Goldmannʹs Unwritten Politics
      (pp. 250-282)

      Goldmann never wrote a work devoted entirely to politics. This is one reason why he was often viewed solely as a sociologist of culture or, more narrowly, of literature. However, a reconstruction of Goldmannʹs politics based on both published and unpublished sources demonstrates that this is misleading. In fact, sometime in the 1960s, Goldmann planned a general work entitledPhilosophie et politique. It seems that all that was written was a three-page outline. Had the book been completed, its preoccupation, it is clear, would have been to delineate the historical relation between theory and politics.

      The opening chapter was to...

    • 9 Between Yes and No
      (pp. 283-290)

      Goldmann proposed in 1957 that meaningful Marxist theoretical work had been accomplished in recent decades solely byfranc-tireurs(partisans, snipers), who were inevitably branded heretics.¹ Clearly, the remark was self-referential: Goldmann was a Marxist heretic who insisted on his faith while discarding belief in one of its central tenets, the world historical role of the proletariat. In the early 1960s, notably at a colloquium on ʺHeresy and Society in Pre-Industrial Europe,ʺ Goldmann, seconding another scholarʹs comment, pointed to two characteristic features of heresy: ʺchoosing [to] distance [oneself] from the religious community and the fact of belonging to it.ʺ² He immediately...

  9. Abbreviations Used in the Notes
    (pp. 291-292)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 293-330)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 331-342)
  12. Index
    (pp. 343-351)