Lukacs and Typology

A self-criticism on the typological method in The Theory of the Novel in the 1962 “Preface” to the book.

“[When I was writing The Theory of the Novel,] I was…in the process of turning from Kant to Hegel, without, however, changing my aspect of my attitude towards the so-called ‘intellectual sciences’ school, an attitude based essentially on my youthful enthusiasm for the work of Dilthey, Simmel and Max Weber” (12).

“[The school appeared to be a new ground of large-scale syntheses between the theoretical and the historical, and we] failed to see that the new method had in fact scarcely succeeded in surmounting positivism or that its syntheses were without objective foundation…It became the fashion to form general synthetic concepts on the basis of only a few characteristics–in most cases only intuitively grasped–of a school, a period, etc., then to proceed by deduction from there generalizations to the analysis of individual phenomena, and in that way to arrive at what we claimed to be a comprehensive overall view…[Yet] the typology of novel forms [in my study] depends to a large extent on whether the chief protagonist’s soul is ‘too narrow’ or ‘too broad’ in relation to reality…[Such an abstract criterion and an arbitrary synthesis are] far too general to afford full comprehension of the historical and aesthetic richness of [specific examples]…puts them into a conceptual straitjacket which completely distorts them” (13-4).

“Although rooted in the ‘intellectual sciences’ approach, this book shows, within the given limitations, certain new features which were to acquire significance in the light of later developments…[While a critique of] the flat rationalism of the positivists nearly always meant a step in the direction of irrationalism [Simmel and Dilthey]…The Theory of the Novel was the first book belonging to the ‘intellectual sciences’ school [and aspiring to get over its limits differently from the tendency towards irrationalism in that in it the findings of Hegelian philosophy were concretely applied to aesthetic problems:] e.g. the comparison of modes of totality in epic and dramatic art, the historico-philosophical view of what the epic and the novel have in common and of what differentiates them, etc….Perhaps a still more important legacy of Hegel is the historicization of aesthetic categories. In the sphere of aesthetics, this is where the return to Hegel yielded its most useful results” (15).

The legacy of Hegel’s view of the dialectical evolution of the world spirit is also at work in the refusal to the historical relativism in positivist kind. The positivist historical relativism in the ‘intellectual sciences’ school (above all, Spengler) tended toward “radically historicizing all categories and refusing to recognize the existence of any suprahistorical validity, whether aesthetic, ethical or logical. Yet by doing so, [it], in return, abolished the unity of the historical process: [its] extreme historical dynamism finally became transformed into a static view, an ultimate abolition of history itself, a succession of completely disconnected cultural cycles which always end and always start again” (16).

As a corrective to the irrationalism and the positivist historical relativism, The Theory of the Nobel was “aspiring to a more intimate connection between category and history” and “strove towards intellectual comprehension of permanence within change and of inner change within the enduring validity of the essence,” something like “a genuine historico-systematic method” in hopes of uncovering Marx’s real aesthetic and developing it further (16-7). Even though the study failed both in design and in execution, its intention came closer to the right solution to the problems of the ‘intellectual sciences’ school and its positivism.

A Kierkegaardization of the Hegelian dialect of history.

A difference between Hegel and Lukacs: While for Hegel “art becomes problematic precisely because reality has become non-problematic,” the idea that animated The Theory of the Novel was the complete opposite of the view: “the problems of the novel form are here in the mirror-image of a world gone out of joint…[the world where] reality no longer constitutes a favorable soil for art…[and] art has to write off the closed and total forms which stem from a rounded totality of being…[and] has nothing more to do with any world of forms that is immanently complete in itself” (17).

Lukacs’s conception of social reality (the present world) was strongly influenced by Sorel and Fichtesque idea of ‘the age of absolute sinfulness.’ “This ethically-tinged pessimism vis-à-vis the present does not, however, signify a general turning back from Hegel to Fichete, but, rather, a ‘Kierkegaardization’ of the Hegelian dialectic of history” (18). Indeed, “the Hegelian revival itself was strenuously concerned with narrowing the gap between Hegel and irrationalism,” which is clearly defined in, above all, “Kroner’s statement that Hegel was the great irrationalist in the history of philosophy” (1924) and also indirectly suggested in a Kierkegaardization of the young Marx such as Karl Löwith who detected Hegelian legacies as a common ground in them (1941).

This romantic anti-capitalism, although charged with critical energies, can turn into a reactionary practice, e.g., an easy apology for the inability or unwillingness to inquire into the present reality, a form of conformism disguised as non-conformism. This explains why Lukacs draws attention to utopianism in The Theory of the Novel: what makes the study not conservative but subversive in nature is “a highly naïve and totally unfounded utopianism–the hope that a natural life worthy of man can spring from the disintegration of capitalism” (20). Although one has every right to laugh at such primitive utopianism, it was the utopian impulse that served as salt to the romantic anti-capitialism, one fundamental ground that one can take meaningful without in any way modifying a critical stance towards its lack of theoretical principle.

The Theory of the Novel “aimed at a fusion of ‘left’ ethics and ‘right’ epistemology”: that is, in the study, “a left ethic oriented towards radical revolution was coupled with a traditional-conventional exegesis of reality” (21), which has become a major trend in critical theory since 1920s onward (Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor Adorno). Lukacs, however, warns us against the danger of the tendency (the synthesis of ‘left’ ethical orientation and ‘right’ epistemological form and the pessimism or romantic anti-capitalism as its effect): those intellectuals residing in the ‘Grand Hotel Abyss’ on the edge of an abyss where the daily contemplation of the abyss between excellent meals of artworks often spiced with a heavy dose of nothingness and absurdity heightens the subtle tastes and intellectual dignities of its upscale meditator clients. Imperative, thus, is to find out a properly ‘left’ mode of exegesis of reality that can make a ‘left’ ethics truly revolutionary in practice.

The ‘intellectual sciences’ school (positivism and abstract synthesis) → reactions to the trend

1) Irrationalism (in opposition of the rationalism of the positivist thought in the ‘intellectual sciences’ school) ↔ Lukacs’s historicization

2) Historical relativism (a radical historicization where since everything is relativized, the notion of history turns into a static concept and history itself is ultimately abolished) ↔ Lukacs’s attempts at a historico-systematic method

3) Pessimism or romantic anti-capitalism (a response to the situation that, gone out of joint, the reality of the world can no longer become a favorable soil for art) ↔ Lukacs’s primitive utopianism to be rescued in his misguided study where ‘left’ ethics oriented towards radical revolution is erroneously coupled with ‘right’ epistemology.

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