Lukács Reads Goethe

Lukács Reads Goethe

From Aestheticism to Stalinism

Nicholas Vazsonyi

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Vazsonyi shows Lukács's evolving view of Goethe, examining how in the 1930's he was able to write enthusiastically about the poet, citing him as an ideal exponent of humanism, while simultaneously accepting and even condoning Stalinism.
Long recognized as one of the foremost literary critics of the twentieth century, the Hungarian-born Georg Lukács (1885-1971) shocked many by turning to Marxism in 1918. Having adopted German as his language of choice, he used his formidable knowledge of European cultural history to revitalize Marxist theory with History and Class Consciousness (1923), and continued to write extensively about literature. His essays on Goethe and Thomas Mann are particularly well known. Even now, discussions about the novel, realism, and literary theory are incomplete without references to his work.
The ultimate question posed by Vazsonyi's book is how Lukács in the 1930s was able to write enthusiastically about Goethe, citing him as an ideal exponent of humanism, while simultaneously accepting, even condoning Stalinism.
To solve this riddle, Vazsonyi's book begins with Lukács' early works 'Aesthetic Culture' (1910) and Soul and Forms (1911) tracing the concurrent development of Lukács' aesthetics and ethics. Both his response to contemporary literature and his growing interest in ethics reflect a critique of modernity and a vague desire to overcome cultural despair. Goethe emerges as his constant reference point, because Goethe too had rebelled against modernity but, unlike the authors of Romanticism, had found a solution expressed both in his writings and his life. The later Lukács continued to use Goethe, this time as an intellectual precursor to Marx, as a model for successful realist literature (according to theories developed by Engels), and as an ideological foil against National Socialism. His readings in Goethe and His Age (1936) and the Faust Studies (1940) apply a Hegelian notion of history in which individual tragedies, though regrettable, are necessary for the teleological development of the human species.


good insights... Well-documented, cogent [...] investigation of a very significant topic. CHOICE
"A useful contribution to the story of how the frayed and twisted tail-end of German idealism threaded its way through the Communist world." TLS
"An inventive and productive way of reevaluating [Lukács]. Useful not only to scholars but to those concerned with the politicization of culture in general. GERMAN QUARTERLY
Well researched and closely argued. J of ENGLISH & GERMANIC PHILOLOGY This is a well-informed and clearly written study and deserves to be suggested as supplemental reading for any course where Lukacs writings still figure. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIESThis is a solid study in intellectual history that is at once sobering and enlightening. SEMINAR'This study will give a new stimulus to current Lukacs research.' MONATSHEFTE

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