Lucien Goldmann 1913–1970
Rumanian-born French critic and sociologist.
Greatly influenced by the theories of Georg Lukács, Goldmann was a prominent figure in the critical movement known as "Marxist Humanism" which emerged and gained a respectable following after World War II.
Most of Goldmann's work was written more than a decade before it was translated into English, which may have contributed to views that his theories were outmoded and redundant. Le Dieu caché (The Hidden God), Goldmann's first work to be translated into English, presents one of his most important concepts: vision du monde, or "world view"—a concept of the world as it is defined by a given social group. As Goldmann perceived it, a writer's world view is directly related to the world created in the work of art. Tragedy results from the writer's rejection of the world and the sense that God, if not absent, is a "hidden," silent observer.
Le Dieu caché and Pour une sociologie du roman (Towards a Sociology of the Novel) are probably Goldmann's best-known works. In Pour une sociologie du roman, a study of the novel from André Malraux to Alain Robbe-Grillet, Goldmann attempted to demonstrate that the form of a literary work is the result of the predominant social structures of the writer's world. Goldmann called this method "genetic structuralism."
Goldmann's last work, Lukács and Heidegger: Towards a New Philosophy, is considered important, yet flawed and inconclusive. In this compilation of lectures, which also includes an introduction he had been writing at the time of his death, Goldmann asserted that Heidegger's Being and Time is, at least in part, a response to the work of Lukács.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols 25-28 and Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)
[Although considerable liberties have been taken in translating the text of The Hidden God], M. Goldmann is himself responsible for some of the resulting obscurities, since his terminological usage wobbles dangerously between neo-Kantianism, Marxism and 'religious atheism', so that he is able, in one and the same breath, to disclaim any theological attachments and yet to describe both 'tragic' and 'dialectical' forms of thought as 'philosophies of incarnation'. (p. 322)
[Goldmann] regards Pascal and Racine as the key figures in the politico-theological crisis which convulsed mid-17th-century France: a crisis involving (a) the disintegration of the traditional social order, (b) the dissolution of the Thomist worldview, and (c) certain mundane conflicts between the Court and the social stratum to which Pascal and Racine belonged…. His treatment of this admittedly very complex theme probably struck his French readers in 1955 as a particularly enlightening example of the Marxian approach to the problem of historical 'totality'. Jansenism as the ideology of the noblesse de robe is indeed an excellent subject for a Marxist. This was proved as early as 1934, when the late Dr. Franz Borkenau published his unfairly neglected work on the philosophy of the 17th century, Der Übergang vom feudalen zum bürgerlichen Weltbild. The thesis that Pascal (without being aware of it) acted as the spokesman of a whole stratum of...
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[Goldmann's] main conclusion [in Pour une sociologie du roman] is that the novel's form is directly connected with the structure of the social environment in which it originates. He calls this genetic structuralism, and stresses that the relation between "the creator group," to which an author belongs, and the work of art follows mostly this model…. (p. 639)
The most important problem of this kind of sociology is to study the connections between the economic structures of capitalistic society and the literary phenomenon called the novel. Certainly, from the Marxist point of view this main affirmation is true. But the author overemphasizes it, losing touch with other elements that interact in the formation of the literary work. He does not pay due attention to the relative independence of diverse elements of the social superstructure, particularly in the domain of culture, in regard to the economic infrastructure. In this way he approaches the border of economic materialism, a tendency criticized by Marx and Engels, which tries to explain all social phenomena exclusively by the activity of economic factors.
It is proper to praise every attempt to throw some light on tortuous and concealed ways by means of which an artistic work comes into being. Such is the case with the study under review. But it is likewise correct to draw attention to the fact that the methods used in this...
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The structure of Goldmann's thought, and his epistemology, owes a great deal to Lukács, but his general ideological posture and temper, as well as his attitude towards psychoanalysis, belong to the French school. (p. 210)
M. Goldmann has been profoundly influenced by the work of Lukács. In his early Theory of the Novel [Theorie des Romans], Lukács described a certain number of timeless essences or 'forms' which corresponded to the literary expression of coherent human attitudes…. Although Lukács, in his later History and Class Consciousness, abandoned the idea of timeless structures in favour of a Marxist dialectical concept of dynamic structures, the original premise about the novel form has survived. Goldmann has virtually adopted it. Likewise he has accepted Lukács's emphasis on consciousness as a positive force, as a partial awareness of the possible, and not simply as a mechanical reflection of events. Above all, Goldmann has adopted the stress on literary form.
What, he asks, is the novel? He answers: 'the transposition on the literary plane of daily life in the individualist society born from production for the market'. The novel is characterized by an insurmountable rupture between the hero and the world.
Yet a difficulty immediately presents itself, a difficulty which threatens to strike at the heart of the whole theory. For is not this definition in reality one...
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Edward W. Said
Goldmann has a very marked interest in the rationale of his enterprise; this, among other things, is what makes The Hidden God, his first book to be translated into English, a virtuoso performance by an energetic critic. Goldmann is not a gifted stylist … and so the book seems at first to be a somewhat scrappy affair. It is nevertheless a substantial, complex achievement, because Goldmann knows what he is doing, does it thoroughly and tells us why he did it. Every step along the way is carefully and perhaps laboriously reasoned, so that if one accepts the terms of his argument one stands in the center of a highly challenging and flowing pattern, a "dialectic" whose every detail sustains and is sustained by every other detail…. This economy serves him doubly: it shows his readers that the tragic vision of Pascal and Racine and the dialectical vision (of Marx, Engels, Lukács and Goldmann himself) are profoundly similar because of their total inner coherence; and it differentiates the tragic from the dialectical by showing the tragic to be a radically static vision of reality and the dialectical totally dynamic.
The book proposes a theory of coherence, or a theory of the way in which individual parts can be said to make up a whole greater than a mere sum of its parts: this, as we shall see, has a direct bearing on the Pensées, which is ostensibly a collection of units. Coherence is the result of a working partnership...
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[In Le Dieu Caché, an interesting theory on Racine] has been put forward by a Marxist critic which has general implications going well beyond the one particular case. M. Lucien Goldmann derived Racine's 'tragic vision' directly from his Jansenism, and related this religious creed in turn to the discontent of a particular social class. This was the noblesse de robe, the higher ranks of the legal profession which (he argued) saw its powers and prerogatives curtailed by the development of a centralised bureaucracy directly responsible to the Crown. Whence came, not open opposition, but a half-conscious 'attitude of reserve towards the life of society and the State'.
In his analysis of the tragic, M. Goldmann sets up three concepts or terms: God, the World, Man. When the middle term is out of harmony with the other two or, to put the proposition in another way, when God, though not absent from the World, is 'silent' in it, the man who is conscious of this possesses a tragic awareness. He rejects the World because it does not satisfy him—as occurs, according to M. Goldmann, in Jansenist theology and in Racine's tragedies when their basic significance is correctly analysed. In their implicit condemnation of the World—equated with the dominant values of contemporary society—these tragedies are, in fact, ideologically subversive.
On biographical and historical grounds, the case of Racine, stated very...
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Lucien Goldmann thinks in terms of totalities, comprehensive tendencies, representative figures…. [He] began as a student of law and, while still in his native Rumania, turned to dialectical materialism. During his subsequent exile in Prague and Zurich (where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Kant), he devoted himself to history, sociology, and philosophy. (p. 85)
Goldmann elaborates general descriptions of social groups in their reactions to the historical changes which they must confront, and the characteristic thoughts and linguistic constructs by which they respond. As cultural critic, Goldmann attempts to define the relationship between group consciousness and the work of art: a given group (in his earlier works identical with a social caste or class) evolves certain expectations and ideas which distinguish it from other groups; and the group consciousness which Goldmann calls vision du monde (echoing Dilthey's Weltanschauung) crystallizes in philosophical systems or in the writer's fictive world. Goldmann's investigations seek to define that relationship between group consciousness and work of art which he terms "homology," i.e. the historical correlation between a diffuse vision du monde and an articulate philosophy or work of art in which firm thought content (contenu) prevails, determining and organizing the form…. Diffuse group awareness finds articulate form in individual works, or a clear...
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Structures mentales is the richest and most rewarding [of Goldmann's latest works]. It contains three sets of studies. In the first he discusses 'global models' and the 'significant structures' (another favoured term) of the philosophy of the Enlightenment and also of certain works by Valéry, Sartre, Gombrowicz, Genet, and Chagall. In the second group of essays, Goldmann, supported on occasion by a team of research assistants, attempts to explain the relevance to 'global models' of 'microstructures' within literary texts…. Marxisme et sciences humaines presents recapitulations of Goldmann's basic theoretical premises and methodology, offers brief studies of the young Marx, Lukács, Sartre and Marcuse, and finally makes clear Goldmann's own ethical and philosophical stance in the face of the great issues of our time. As for [La Création culturelle dans la société moderne], it is disappointing, mainly comprising as it does sketchy variations of pieces already published. One would be inclined to blame the editor were it not for the fact that Goldmann himself was clearly not averse to presenting his readers both with familiar arguments and also with familiar subject-matter marginally recast for different fields of missionary activity.
The limitations of Goldmann's culture may finally strike one more resoundingly than its resources. His frame of reference was almost exclusively confined to France and, to a lesser...
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Goldmann's approach to the sociology of literature is highly idiosyncratic, fusing structural analysis with historical and dialectical materialism. It is important to note that while Goldmann develops a specifically Marxist theory, many of his key concepts and much of his inspiration derive from the early pre-Marxist writings of Lukács…. [Lukács's] most important concept, one which Goldmann has carried over into his sociology, is that of 'totality', a concept which, like those of alienation and reification, had been ignored by orthodox Marxism. (p. 63)
[Two] of Lukács's dynamic structures, tragedy and the novel, total complexes of thought about the world and man's position within it, are related concretely by Goldmann in his research to specific social, economic, and political structure. (p. 64)
From Lukács, too, Goldmann derives his concept of the world vision ('vision du monde') which, he argues, all great philosophical and literary work embodies, investing them with internal coherence and external 'validity'. A world vision is defined as 'a significant global structure', a total comprehension of the world which attempts to grasp its meaning in all its complexity and wholeness…. In the absence of a fully worked out typology of world visions, Goldmann suggests as examples empiricism, rationalism, and the tragic vision—total complexes of thought in which reality is grasped as a whole; moreover,...
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Goldmann appears to us … as an isolated figure. Throughout his career his thought was met with hostility or indifference by competing trends which in all cases held a dominating position. To many he remained little known or unknown. It is just this apparent isolation that must be explained in terms of Goldmann's relation to the whole.
Goldmann belongs to the same intellectual tradition—and historical project—that much of his work takes as its subject: the German tradition of dialectical thought, from Kant and Hegel to Marx and Lukács. Goldmann discovered in the tragic vision of the seventeenth-century French Jansenists—Pascal and Racine—a precursor to dialectical thought. His own conceptions, however, while recognizing the affinities and continuities in that intellectual development, do not return nostalgically to either the tragic or the idealistic dialectical mode, but rather continue, extend and develop the materialistic dialectics of Marx and Lukács. While Goldmann is first and foremost to be defined as a Marxist, he is a Marxist for whom the contribution of philosophical thought is of the utmost import, and for whom the study of culture is as crucial to Marxist theory as is the study of the socio-economic realm. In his perspective there can be no absolute separation in the "human sciences" between science and philosophy…. For Goldmann not only does this socio-economic realm ultimately provide an explanatory framework...
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[Cultural Creation] gathers six papers written between 1965 and 1970, and adds a dialogue between Goldmann and Adorno and two brief tributes to Goldmann by Piaget and Marcuse. Addressed to different audiences the papers nevertheless have a methodological, substantive, and, above all, a moral unity that displays Goldmann's own sense of theory in the human sciences as a specific human practice. The papers' varying topics circle around Goldmann's concern to institute aesthetic practices as the paramount subject matter of sociological analysis and to pursue this project through his dialectic of genetic structuralism.
Works of art (primarily literature in Goldmann's own work) provide us with the richest and most complex occasions for reconstructing the 'world-view' of privileged or dominant social groups; and this re-construction is a necessary stage in the explication of the genesis and transformation of structures which, though tending towards equilibria, are always in a process of structuration. Social life is itself conceived as an 'ensemble of collective structuration processes' which are expressed 'in the psyche of all the group's members' and cultural creations are methodologically privileged by not merely corresponding to the structuration tendencies of a group's mental categories but by presenting an 'incomparably more advanced degree of coherence than the latter attain.'… (pp. 669-70)
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David Couzens Hoy
Since the subtitle of Lucien Goldmann's Lukács and Heidegger is Towards a New Philosophy, the expectation is that the book will advance not only historical but also philosophical theses. Unfortunately, Goldmann died before writing more than an introduction, and these expectations are disappointingly answered only by a summary of Goldmann's lectures for the 1967–68 academic year. The transcripts of university courses are rarely worth publishing, and these are no exception. Perhaps it was not a disservice to Goldmann for the French to publish this work since they could assume that most readers would be familiar with his works of careful scholarship like The Hidden God. The danger of an English edition is that it is not likely to generate interest in Goldmann's other works among readers who are unfamiliar with his unique approach and who pick up this book primarily because of its concern with Lukács and Heidegger. (pp. 107-08)
Despite the book's incompleteness, however, it does raise a provocative historical question that Goldmann, had he lived, could have developed into an originative philosophical discussion. Goldmann speculates that two crucial passages in Being and Time where Heidegger defends the importance of his own work against that of his contemporaries could refer only to Lukács, although he remains unnamed. This thesis has the startling implication that several of Being and Time's most...
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[Lucien Goldmann] envisages the whole course of philosophy from Kant to the existentialists in terms of a single problem, describing the problem with so little respect for the various arguments which the terms "subject" and "object" conceal that he is unable to see that there is no single problem to which he is addressing himself, and no genuine alternatives in the "answers" that he discerns in Lukács and in Heidegger.
He asserts in [Lukács and Heidegger: Towards a New Philosophy] that "the traditional philosophy of the progressive and revolutionary bourgeoisie, as well as that of the bourgeoisie in power, had radically separated the subject of consciousness and the action of the object with which both were concerned." Hence it seems to him that bourgeois philosophy … has created a problem by forcing a separation between things that are not truly separate. Man is a part of his world, not separate from it: he only seems to be separate from it when the productive activity which constitutes his essence also distorts his perception. The existentialist Heidegger, in pondering the deliverances of a consciousness that has been … isolated from the world that is "posited" through it, merely holds open the fracture that capitalist production creates, and bourgeois philosophy endorses; while Lukács (i.e., the early Lukács, the exponent of the Hegelian undercurrent in Marxism) heals that fracture,...
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