Lucien Goldmann

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Oleg Mandić

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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 book can create a false image of the interaction of factors contributing to the formation of the work of art: the creator's class and group membership, his social standing and psychological conformation, the social motives which induced him to choose a particular theme and hero, personal reasons for which he made the choice, particularities of his social environment influencing him in the course of the creative effort, the way in which all these influences are refracted through the prism of his individuality, giving to his work the creator's original stamp, the social impulses which compelled him to put into words his inspiration by means of the literary form of the novel, etc.

Only some of these sociologically relevant elements are here and there sporadically referred to. They are not systematically analyzed, although their interaction is decisive in determining the process of artistic creation. The majority have disappeared in the vague and indefinite term of "collective consciousness" …, which is mistakenly supposed to be a generally accepted Marxist concept.

In applying uncritically the concepts of his ideal and teacher, the philosopher G. Lukacs, Goldmann shows himself to be far more a philosopher than a sociologist. The insufficiencies of the empirico-sociological and historical approaches, prominent in the book under review, and the generalization from Lukacs' concepts, even where Lukacs himself is cautious and circumspect and admits the possibility of exceptions, lead the author directly into the hypothesis postulated by P. Francastel, that the sociology of art must not present itself as justifying a posteriori general theories accepted without discussion. Although the author ends his book with the remark that he has wished to formulate "a number of observations in order to establish a certain number of problems rather than to give solutions"…, it is evident that he has succeeded in formulating a general theory of the novel grounded on a philosophical, and not on an empirico-sociological, approach. (pp. 639-40)

Moreover the author limits his investigation to the "forms that constitute great western literature"…, without even an incidental reference to the great names of American literature—Dreiser, Sinclair, Lewis and others who are the most rewarding subjects of analysis with regard to the author's basic concept of direct relation between the capitalistic...

(This entire section contains 805 words.)

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economic structure and the form of the novel. He has limited the analysis to French authors … and omitted the whole of the Russian literature. Without mentioning other examples, the number of exceptions and facts not embodied in the author's theoretical construction is so great as to challenge its soundness.

Still another generalization must be rejected. This is the distinction between "some particular and specific groups, the nature of which favors cultural creativity" … and others which lack such characteristics. Such a differentiation sounds particularly harsh when the author emphasizes that the privileged bearers of culture are at the same time "groups whose conscience is directed to a global vision of Man" …, as if other groups, such as the proletarian classes, are forbidden to cultivate such a vision. These conceptions point the way to the idea of establishing a privileged stratum of Kulturträger whose mission is to lead the socialist society. This is the standpoint of some groups of Marxist philosophers in both the West and the East, who arrogate to themselves a monopoly of humanism and of cultural and political initiative. (pp. 640-41)

Oleg Mandić, "Book Reviews: 'Pour une sociologie du roman'," in Social Research (copyright 1966 by New School for Social Research), Vol. 33, No. 4, Winter, 1966, pp. 639-41.


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