Back to: Literary Theory in English Literature
Gyorgy Lukacs was a Hungarian philosopher and Marxist aesthetician. He was one of the founders of Western Marxism. His works on Marxism are a departure from the Orthodox Marxism of the Soviet Union. His was an enormous endeavor to understand and clarify Marxism. Literary critic MAR Habib considers him “the profoundest philosopher Marxism has yet produced.”
Lukacs initiated his study of Marxism as a sociologist. However, he was not only a thinker in the Marxist tradition but also a literary critic. He investigates the novel as a literary form in his seminal work The Theory of the Novel. This work introduces the term ‘transcendental homelessness’.
This concept explains a longing “for utopian perfection that feels itself and its desires to be the only true reality.” However, Lukacs, later on, wrote an introduction wherein he dismisses The Theory of the Novel. He also considers it a ‘romantic anti-capitalism.’
Lukacs had a disregard for some of the modernist writers such as Kafka, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett for his preference of Thomas Mann’s attempt towards the condition of modernity.
Lukacs studies the development of the genre of historical fiction in his work The Historical Novel. In this work, he argues that consciousness of history was not much developed before the French Revolution. He explains that the realization of human existence as evolving and constantly changing was brought about by the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars.
He regards Walter Scott as the representative of such historical consciousness which is reflected in his novels wherein social conflicts and historical transformations are mostly highlighted.
Lukacs further argues that French realist writer Balzac and Russian realist writer Leo Tolstoy adopted the style of Scott. He regards them as progressive writers. This evinces Lukacs’s longing for a return to the realist tradition and his disapproval for modernist disregard for history.
In his essay “Realism in the Balance”, Lukacs advocates Thomas Mann as writer of traditional realism. He is critical of the modernist movements and their practitioners who laid emphasis on individualism. He has a disregard for modernist movements for he finds a lack of revolutionary spirit in them.
Lukacs considers Thomas Mann a good realist for he successfully creates a contrast between the appearance and the essence, between the characters’ consciousness and the reality in isolation.
On the other hand, modernist writers portray reality as it appears, they don’t look beneath the surface of immediate perception of reality. According to Lukacs, it is only realist writers who transcend the immediate and subjective perception of reality and see reality in relation to society.