Georg Lukács – “The Ideology of Modernism” (1962)

A very compelling critique of modernism that manages to overshoot its mark and reveal Lukács own allegiance to art that ostentatiously manage to unite the universal and the particular in the form of social protest. He argues that Modernists, by colluding with the fragmentation wrought by capital and privileging subjectivity, negate outward reality and thereby are able to represent mere abstract potentiality (not real potentiality à la Hegel). Thus the elevation of the subject is in fact a hollowing out of real subjective potential.

This ideology manifests itself in multiple ways: in the static form of novels, that refuse the historical dynamism inherent to realist representation; in the destruction of man’s capacity to realize his existence as a social being; in the use of allegory that treats the particular detail as an abstraction without insisting on its typicity, etc. Beckett’s Molloy is one such novel, which marks out the contours of the text according to the psyche of a human reduced to meer vegetative existence. The lack of objectivity in the description of the outside world (Molloy’s inability) is complemented Moran’s inability to help give order or clarity to that reality; instead, he becomes implicated in that obscurity, that idiocy. Kafka is used to show how Modernism “replaces concrete typicality with abstract particularity.”

He also points to Bergson as a crucial thinker of this ideology. Subjective time, something that Lukacs does not deny, is raised to the level of real time, which is an instance of Subjective Idealism. This term refers most immediately to the existentialism of Heidegger, who theorizes man as “thrown.”

Finally, he uses Benjamin’s work on Baroque drama to talk about modernist use of allegory. He claims that Modernism, like baroque, amounts to the negation of the aesthetic as such, not its enrichment.

It’s pretty crucial that he never mentions Eliot or Pound; nor does he engage Joyce’s use of Dublin and myth as ways of mediating history and the social. Nevertheless, a very clear exposition of some the central political stakes of modernist artistic practice.


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