Georg Lukács Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Georg Lukács 1885–1971

(Also transliterated as György) Hungarian critic and philosopher.

Lukács is now recognized by many critics as the leading Marxist thinker of the twentieth century. However, he was engaged in a lifelong struggle; despite his antagonism toward capitalism, the nature of his approach and his subject matter were often in opposition to socialist thought. As Susan Sontag has written: "By concentrating on 19th century literature and stubbornly retaining German as the language in which he writes, Lukács has continued to propose, as a Communist, European and humanist—as opposed to nationalist and doctrinaire—values; living as he does in a Communist and provincial country, he has remained a genuinely European intellectual figure."

As an undergraduate student in Germany, Lukács was inspired by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose philosophy informs Lukács's earliest works, especially Die Theorie des Romans (The Theory of the Novel). In this book Lukács described the novel as a "bourgeois epic" in which the writer attempts to depict the alienation and homelessness of the individual in modern society. These theories were much less metaphysical than those of his earlier work, Die Seele und die Formen (Soul and Form). In Soul and Form Lukács concentrated on what Lucien Goldmann called "the relation between the human soul and the absolute" and "the tragic significance of Kantianism."

In 1918, two years after the publication of The Theory of the Novel, Lukács joined the Hungarian Communist Party. Within five years he was to publish Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (History and Class Consciousness), which Ferenc Fehér would later call "the single major event in the history of Marxism as philosophy since the death of Karl Marx." According to George Lichtheim, History and Class Consciousness "owes its enduring relevance to the manner in which Lukács recaptured the Hegelian dimension of Marx's thought."

In 1933, Lukács denounced History and Class Consciousness and all his previous works and, for over a decade, wrote sporadically. Lukács's work after this time, most notably Essays uber Realismus (Studies in European Realism) and Der historische Roman (The Historical Novel), were discussions of such writers as Balzac, Sir Walter Scott, and Thomas Mann. For this reason, Lukács was again subjected to disapproval from the Communist Party. Although several theories have been proposed concerning his conflicts and compromises with the Party, Lukács himself commented on his recantations by asserting that "a critic must always re-examine his work, and reject what is false and outmoded; otherwise he is dishonest."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 101 and Vols. 29-32, rev. ed. [obituary].)