György Lukács

By: Mark Kingwell
April 13, 2015

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Hungarian Marxist philosopher, aesthetician, and critic GYÖRGY LUKÁCS (Löwinger György Bernát, 1885–1971) comes off badly in his lifelong exchanges with Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Bertoldt Brecht. Lukács’s commitment to literary realism put him at odds with the younger thinkers’ hatred of reification and love of Expressionism. And it is true that, as Adorno argued with perhaps unseemly glee, to read Lukács favourite Thomas Mann as a realist is to miss the deep genius of one of the century’s supreme nuance-merchants and so to evade what Adorno called “the core of the work of art itself.” (Remarking on the work of a second-rate writer who set out to imitate his style, Mann laughingly said, “He writes just like me, only he means it seriously.”) But while Adorno, restored to academic comfort in post-war Germany, was belitting Lukács’s literary theories as decadent, the man himself was trying to achieve practical effect in Hungary as part of Imre Nagy’s anti-Soviet government, and enduring potential execution and eventual deportation to Romania. That punk Adorno should have it so good! Lukács is, finally, a sympathetic figure, a dedicated intellectual who tried to make dialectical ideas politically viable. He repudiated his Theory of the Novel (1916), maybe too hastily, but History and Class Consciousness (1919-23) remains essential reading. And perhaps his final victory lay in knowing that, while Adorno resided in what Lukács called “the Grand Hotel Abyss,” the beautifully conflicted Marxist intellectual Naphta, in Mann’s magisterial The Magic Mountain (1924) was modeled on him. Now that’s fame.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Jacques Lacan, Samuel Beckett, Michael Herr, Roy Loney, Garry Kasparov, Nella Larsen.

READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884–93).

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