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The Aesthetics of Gyorgy Lukacs

The Aesthetics of Gyorgy Lukacs

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    The Aesthetics of Gyorgy Lukacs
    Book Description:

    This book-length treatment of György Lukács' major achievement, his Marxist aesthetic theories. Working from the thirty-one volumes of Lukács' works and twelve separately published essays, speeches, and interviews, Bela Kiralyfalvi provides a full and systematic analysis for English-speaking readers.

    Following an introductory chapter on Lukács' philosophical development, the book concentrates on the coherent Marxist aesthetics that became the basis for his mature literary criticism. The study includes an examination of Lukács' Marxist philosophical premises; his theory of the origin of art and the relationship of art to life, science, and religion; and his theory of artistic reflection and realism.

    Later chapters treat the concepts of type and totality in Lukács' category of specialty, the distinctions between allegory and symbolism in his theory of the language of art, and Lukács' understanding of aesthetic effect and form and content in art. There is a separate chapter on Lukács' dramatic theory.

    This lucid and readable account of Lukács' aesthetic theories will be of special interest to students of literature, aesthetics, and drama. In addition, it will be appreciated by those generally concerned with Marxist theory.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6981-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

    (pp. 3-19)

    The active writing career of György Lukács (1885-1971) spans the first seven decades of the twentieth century. An unusually prolific writer (his published works total nearly forty volumes), at the time of his death he was still engaged in writing a “truly definitive” philosophical work on Marxist ontology.¹ He was eighty-six. The changes in convictions, the revisions and rejections of earlier works, and the frequent self-criticisms that punctuate his long career are attributed by him to the necessary ideological development of a non-static thinker guided by the dialectical method and the “objective march of history.”² Inseparable from his striving for...

    (pp. 20-39)

    This is a legitimate question in view of the fact that evaluations of Marx’s works frequently conclude that Marxism is a social philosophy with all but exclusive emphasis upon history and economics. Lukács recognizes that in the history of philosophy Marxism has seldom been seen as ontology.¹ From the point of view of idealistic philosophies and religions that assume the existence of a creator, the impression may well exist that Marx underestimates or subordinates the role of consciousness relative to the role of material being. But the fact is that “Marx conceived of consciousness as a late product in the...

    (pp. 40-53)

    Just as it is not possible to explain the life of a tree without the consideration of its roots and the soil to which those roots are connected, so is every attempt doomed to failure that would understand a particular work of art separately from the soil of its origin. This is an essential principle of Marxist aesthetics. Lukács emphasizes repeatedly that the historicalhic et nuncis an unavoidable and inseparable component of not only every work of art but every human action and attitude. Individual pieces of art grow out of the deepest endeavors of the age of...

    (pp. 54-70)

    Once Lukács began to make systematic contributions to Marxist aesthetics (from the early 1930’s) the theory of aesthetic reflection gained central importance in his works. Four decades of writings contain innumerable examples, illustrations, clarifications, negative definitions, analogies, and references to previous and contemporary authorities on the subject, but never the final conclusive definition, say, in the manner of Aristotle. The reasons are simple: materialistic dialectic does not permit conclusive definitions (they are static), only flexible “determinations.” The theory continued to evolve in his mind untilThe Peculiarity of Aesthetics(1963), and, while the concept of aesthetic reflection is simple at...

    (pp. 71-87)

    In surveying the history of aesthetic theory,¹ Lukács concludes that several misunderstandings and misexplanations have resulted from various theorists’ erroneous concepts of categories as related to aesthetics. Some (e.g., Plato) have examined and evaluated art merely as epistemology, labeling it either “lie” or “illusion,” while others (e.g., Schelling, Kant, and other proponents of “genius” theories) have categorically separated cognition (epistemology) and artistic peculiarity, putting them at opposite poles. Even Aristotle, whose great contribution to aesthetics Lukács acknowledges repeatedly, is faulted by him in this area. Aristotle, in comparing history and poetry, recognizes only the categories of individuality and universality. He...

    (pp. 88-102)

    Lukács approaches this subject from the broader context of the languages of human life. He distinguishes among three human signalizing systems that may be involved in any mode of reflection or communication. The earliest and most basic of these is what he calls theprimary signalizing system. This is roughly the equivalent of the Pavlovian “conditioned reflex,” which gives birth to and supports the two more advanced systems. The most abstract of the three is thesecondary signalizing system. This is what we commonly think of asthelanguage we possess, in which we think and speak. The secondary signalizing...

    (pp. 103-112)

    Much of Lukács’ practical criticism, when dealing with the problems of form, gives the impression of de-emphasizing the importance of form in art. He often writes harshly of “empty formalism,” of “decorative form” and form for its own sake—in other words, of any kind of overemphasis or predominance of artistic form. His theoretical writings, on the other hand, seem to give quite the opposite impression. He believes that artistic work is conscious, rational work, in which the forming of the art-work takes up the major share of the activity. His theories seem to suggest that form rather than content...

    (pp. 113-124)

    One impression that emerges clearly from Lukács’ theory of aesthetic reflection is that he considers art a way of knowing. Art is not, however, simply an epistemological tool; its primary value is not social utility. He has said that art is man’s “self-awareness” and “the memory of mankind,” but those are much too abstract descriptions to satisfy. Only an examination of Lukács’ theory of the prolonged and complex nature of the complete artistic experience can take one close to his meaning of the value of art. Such an examination reveals that Lukács considers pleasure to be an integral part of...

    (pp. 125-141)

    The fundamental principles of Lukács’ aesthetic theory so far discussed—realistic reflection, special category, type, totality, symbolism, and the aesthetic effect—apply to all arts. They are, as we have seen, not rigid prescriptions, mechanical rules invented by theorists and scholars, but, rather, flexible principles that have evolved through the many centuries, constantly enriched, clarified, defined, renewed, and broadened by each new individual work of art, because each new work finds its own specific, peculiar artistic form rooted in its dialectical relationship with its specific content. Beyond these generally applicable aesthetic principles, Lukács, in his workThe Peculiarity of Aesthetics,...

    (pp. 142-148)

    It is appropriate once more to return to Lukács’ metaphor describing the relationship between life and art.¹ In this metaphor art and other “receptive and reproductive forms of a higher order” are compared to some very unique “tributaries” of the “great river” of life, “tributaries” that originate, branch off from this “river,” and feed back into it only to repeat the entire process again and again, endlessly. This is a carefully constructed metaphor, consistent with Lukács’ materialistic philosophy, for the “tributary” of art does not originate from mystical realms but rather from objective reality, the needs of social life, reflecting...