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The Meaning of Contemporary Realism [Georg Lukacs, John Mander, Necke Mander] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Book by Georg. The Meaning of Contemporary Realism by Georg Lukács My rating: 2 of 5 stars I have always been attracted to the idea that art was more than. , English, German, Book edition: The meaning of contemporary realism / Georg Lukacs ; translated from the German by John and Necke Mander. Lukács.

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It is in contemorary way surprising that the most influential contemporary school of writing should be committed to the dogma of “modernist” lukcas. It is here that we must begin our investigation if we are to chart the possibilities of georb realism. We must compare two main trends in contemporary bourgeois literature [. We are presented with a false polarisation which, by exaggerating the importance of stylistic differences, conceals the opposing principles actually underlying and determining contrasting styles.

Plainly the same stylistic technique is being employed. I refer to the fact that with Joyce the stream-of-conscious technique is no mere stylistic device; it is itself the formative principle governing the narrative patter and the presentation realixm character. Technique here is something absolute; it is part and parcel of the aesthetic ambition informing Ulysses. The perpetually oscillating patterns of sense- and memory- data, their powerfully charged but aimless and directionless – fields of force, give rise to an epic structure which is static, reflecting a belief in the basically static character of events.

These opposed views of the world – dynamic and developmental on the one hand, static and sensational on the other – are of crucial importance in examining the two schools of literature I have off [. Looked at in meanig way, style ceases to be a formalistic category. Rather, it is rooted in content; it is the specific form of a specific content. But there is no content of which Man himself is not the focal point. The Aristotelian dictum is applicable to all great realistic literature [.

Their human significance, their specific individuality cannot be separated from the context in which they were created.

The fate of such individuals is characteristic of certain human types in specific social or historical circumstances. Beside and beyond their solitariness, the common life, the strife and togetherness of other human beings, goes on as before.

This implies, not merely that man is constitutionally [20] unable to establish relationships with things or persons outside himself; but also that it is impossible to determine theoretically the origin and goal of human existence. Man, thus conceived, is an ahistorical being.

The fact that Heidegger does admit a form of “authentic” teorg in his system is not really relevant. I have shown elsewhere that Heidegger tends to belittle historicity as “vulgar”; and contemporay “authentic” historicity is not distinguishable from ahistoricity. This negation of history takes two different forms in modernist literature.

First, the hero is strictly confined within the limits of his own experience. There is not for him – and apparently not for his creator – any pre-existent reality beyond his own self, acting upon him or being acted upon by him.

Secondly, the hero himself is without personal history. He does not develop through contact with the world; he neither forms nor is formed by it. The only “development” in this literature is gworg gradual revelation of the human condition. Man is now what he has always been and always will be. The narrator, the examining subject, is in motion; the examined reality is static.

Of course, dogmas of this kind are only really viable in philosophical abstraction, and then only with a measure of sophistry.

Barbara Hardy, “The Meaning of Contemporary Realism”: Georg Lukacs – PhilPapers

A gifted writer, however extreme his theoretical modernism, will in practice have to compromise with the demands of historicity and of social environment. But the locus they lovingly depict is little more than a backcloth; it is not basic to their artistic intention. This view of human existence has specific literary consequences. Particularly in one category, of primary theoretical and practical importance, to which we must now give our attention: These two categories, their interrelation and opposition, are rooted in life itself.


Potentiality – seen abstractly or subjectively – is richer than actual life. Modern subjectivism, taking these imagined possibilities [i.

The Meaning of Contemporary Realism

Then the world declines to realise these possibilities this melancholy becomes tinged with contempt [. The literary presentation of the latter thus implies a description of actual persons inhabiting a palpable, identifiable world. Rfalism the “human condition” – man as solitary being, incapable of meaningful relationships – is identified with reality thd, the distinction between abstract and concrete potentiality becomes null and void.

The problem, once again, is ideological. Certain leading modernist writers, attempting an apology, have admitted this quite frankly. Often this theoretical impossibility of understanding reality is the point of departure, rather than the exaltation of subjectivity. But in any case the connection between the two is plain.

It is, of course, intensified where the stream of consciousness is itself the medium through which reality is presented. Kierkegaard first attacked the Hegelian view that the inner and outer world form an objective dialectical unity, that they are indissolubly married in spite of their apparent opposition. Kierkegaard denied any such unity.

According to Kierkegaard, the individual exists within an opaque, impenetrable “incognito”. Thus the propagators of this ideology are mistaken in thinking that such a protest could ever be fruitful in literature.

In any protest against particular social conditions, these conditions themselves must have the central place. The bourgeois protest against feudal society, the proletarian against bourgeois society, made their pint of departure the criticism of the old order. In both cases the protest – reaching out beyond the point of departure – was based on a concrete terminus ad quem: This obsession pathology is not only to be found in literature.

Freudian psychoanalysis is its most obvious expression. Lack cntemporary objectivity in the description of the outer world finds its complement in the reduction of reality to a nightmare.

Then, as help is imminent from a mysterious unspecified source, [31] the rescuer sinks into idiocy. The story is told through the parallel streams of consciousness of the idiot and of his rescuer. Allegory is a problematic genre because it rejects that assumption of an immanent meaning to human existence which – however unconscious, however combined with religious concepts of transcendence – is the basis of traditional art.

Thus in medieval art we observe a new secularity in spite of the continued use of religious subjects triumphing more and more, rfalism the time of Giotto, over the allegorising of an earlier period. Allegory, in modernist literature, is clearly of the latter kind [product of a reject of tendencies towards immanence].

Transcendence implies here, more or less consciously, the negation of any meaning immanent in the world or the life of man.

To conclude our analysis, and to establish the allegorical character of modernist literature, I must refer again to the work of [. In Allegory, the facies hippocratica of history looks to the observer like a petrified primeval landscape. History, all the suffering and failure it contains, finds expression in the human face – or, rather, in the human skull.

No sense of freedom, no classical proportion, no human emotion lives in its features – not only human existence in general, but the fate of every individual human being is symbolised in this most palpable token of mortality. This is the core of the allegorical vision, of the Baroque idea of history as the passion of the world; History is significant only in the stations of its corruption.

Significance is a function of mortality – because it is death that marks the passage from corruptibility to meaningfulness.

Benjamin returns again and again to this link between allegory and the annihilation of history:.

In the light of this vision history appears, not as the gradual realisation of the eternal, but as a process of inevitable decay.


Allegory thus goes beyond beauty. What ruins are in the physical world, allegories are in the world of the mind. Benjamin points here to the aesthetic consequences of modernism – though projected into the Baroque drama – more shrewdly and [41] consistently than any of his contemporaries.

He sees that the notion of objective time is essential to any clntemporary of history, and that the notion of subjective time is a product of a. It is problematic, on the one hand, because it is an art intent on expressing absolute transcendence that fails to do so because of the means at its disposal. It is also problematic because it is an art reflecting the corruption lykacs the world and bringing about its own dissolution in the process.

Benjamin discovers “an immense, anti-aesthetic subjectivity” in Baroque literature, associated with “a theologically-determined subjectivity”. Romantic – and, on a higher plane, Baroque – writers meanlng well msaning of this problem, and congemporary their understanding, not only theoretical, but artistic – that is to say allegorical – expression. When touched by the light of theology, its symbolic beauty is gone. The false appearance of totality vanishes.

The image dies; the parable no longer holds true, the world it once contained disappears.

George Lukacs, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism ()

The consequences for art are far-reaching, and Benjamin does not hesitate to point them out: This transferability constitutes a devastating, though just, judgment on the profane world – which is thereby branded as a world where such things are of small importance.

Precisely in modern art, with which he is ultimately concerned, descriptive detail is often of an extraordinary sensuous, suggestive power – we think again of Kafka. But this, as we showed in the case of Musil a writer who does not consciously aim at allegory does [42] not prevent the materiality of the world from undergoing permanent alteration, from becoming transferable and arbitrary.

Just contwmporary, modernist writers maintain, is typical of their own apprehension of reality. Yet presented in this way, the world becomes, as Benjamin puts it, “exalted and depreciated at the same time”. In realistic literature each descriptive detail is both individual and typical. Modern allegory, and modernist ideology, however, deny conte,porary typical.

By destroying the coherence of the world, they reduce detail to the level of mere particularity once again, the connection between modernism and naturalism is plain. Detail, in its allegorical transferability, though brought into a direct, if paradoxical connection with transcendence, becomes an abstract function of the transcendence to which it points. Modernist literature thus replaces concrete typicality with abstract particularity.

And, though we have reversed his scale of values, we have not deviated from the geor of his argument. Elsewhere, he speaks out even more plainly – as though the Baroque mask had fallen, revealing the modernist lu,acs underneath:.

Allegory is left empty-handed. The forces of evil, lurking in its depths, owe their very existence to allegory. Evil is, precisely, the non-existence of that which allegory purports to represent.

The paradox Benjamin arrives at – his investigation of the aesthetics of Baroque tragedy has culminated in a negation of aesthetics – sheds a good deal of light on modernist literature, and particularly on Kafka. Kafka refuted any such interpretation in a remark he is said to have made to Brod himself: Kafka is not able, in spite of his extraordinary evocative power, in spite of his unique sensibility, to achieve that fusion of the particular and the general which is the essence of realistic art.

His aim is to raise the individual detail in its immediate particularity without generalising its content to the level of abstraction.