Legs in Lukacs

By Terezakis, Katie | New Formations, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Legs in Lukacs


Terezakis, Katie, New Formations


Timothy Bewes and Timothy Hall (eds), Georg Lukacs: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence: Aesthetics, Politics, Literature, London, Continuum, 2011, 239 pp; 60 [pounds sterling] hardback

As one thinker put it, the significance of past movements in thought is established only when the present requires them for understanding its own, defining upheavals. (1) With the work of Fredric Jameson, Martin Jay, and Lukacs's Budapest School inheritors, Georg Lukacs never entirely disappeared from notice. But now from within the crisis not of waning capitalism, but of capitalism's relentless ascendance, theorists are re-establishing our need for Lukacs, and his claim on us. This past year (2011), Continuum released two self-contained edited volumes on Lukacs: Michael J. Thompson's Georg Lukacs Reconsidered: Critical Essays in Politics, Philosophy and Aesthetics, and the collection under review here, Timothy Bewes' and Timothy Hall's Georg Lukacs: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence. Although three contributors have chapters in both volumes, each book is comprised of new and differently oriented essays. In addition to an introduction and twelve chapters, this volume also contains translations of two pithy and--especially in light of their application in several of these essays--extremely valuable works by Lukacs: 'Art for Art's Sake and Proletarian Writing' (1926) and 'An Entire Epoch of Inhumanity' (1964).

In their Introduction, the editors appropriate an Adornian design to ask what the present might mean 'in the face of Lukacs'. They sketch compellingly the character of a contemporary situation in need of Lukacsian analysis, but which demands, too, that Lukacs be rendered operational: rethought, critically revised, and perhaps most helpfully, read against himself. The Lukacsian principle of totality is presented as crucial to our judgment of current challenges, precisely insofar as Lukacsian totality interacts with the disunity or dissonance upon which it is established. At the level of interpretation, Bewes and Hall also show that the notion of totality develops out of Lukacs's earliest consideration of aesthetic form, for which contingency is constitutive. I find these to be fine points; I expand upon them in the Afterword to the 2010 edition of Lukacs's Soul and Form. (2)

A short review cannot dojustice to any single essay, let alone a multifaceted collection of them, so here I will only mention several connected, axial points from which much of the collection drives forward. There are productive interpretative divergences, for example, between Neil Larson's magnificent analysis of labour and class struggle as fetish categories, David Cunningham's argument that capital, rather than the proletariat, is the subject of history given expressive form by the novel, and Patrick Eiden-Offe's fresh portrayal of the way that class functions as a matrix of imputed, revolutionary consciousness. Yet these essays and others share an essentially Lukacsian insight about the task of the critic, and thus about the critical authority that roots the whole book: for given the long reach of reifying and ideological practices, the responsibility to define existing contradictions and to help engender alternative ways of life is a necessary intellectual condition of any non-reactionary rejection of the status-quo.

Andrew Feenberg's rethinking of reification, the cornerstone of Lukacs's legacy, embodies a related theme embedded throughout the collection. Feenberg confronts the economic, administrative, and technological faces of reification, cogently responding to Axel Honneth's recent appropriation. Feenberg deploys reification together with the equally Lukacsian notion of mediation to outline a philosophy of technology sensitive to the underdetermination of technological systems, and thus to their potential for organizing collective action. Feenberg's discussion of the way technical networks construct social collectives and may yet advance their shared interests is invigorating. …

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