Essay on Georg Lukacs, "the Ideology of Modernism"

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The Hungarian Marxist literary critic Georg Lukacs (pronounced GAY-org LOU-cotch) was one of the premier theorists of socialist realism, the only acceptable style of literature in the Soviet Union. In order to champion realism, and specifically an ideologically charged realism, as the only good way to write, Lukacs had to set himself in opposition to the literary movement that had superseded realism in the West, modernism (writers like James Joyce, William Faulkner, Robert Musil, and so on). This essay is his attempt to distinguish the two absolutely, in favor of course of realism. Basically, for Lukacs (and for the Soviet Union), modernism is the last desperate cry of a dying economic system, capitalism. As "late" capitalism crumbles,…show more content…
Nineteenth-century realists like Balzac and Flaubert and Zola were able to pinpoint and analyze the crippling problems of capitalism in their novels. The modernists, living in a later and more chaotic (and transitional -- moving toward socialism!) era, couldn't see things this clearly. They just painted nightmares -- the nightmares they were living as capitalism collapsed. Lukacs starts off by promising to pay attention to the ideological underpinnings of these two trends (modernism vs. realism), and to avoid the "mistake" made by bourgeois Western critics in looking too closely at "formal criteria" (1127). (Remember that the Russian Formalists, Viktor Shklovsky at their head, had called for close attention to "formal criteria," and by the early twenties in the Soviet Union had been declared politically incorrect -- it became politically dangerous to be too formalistic.) From Lukacs's Marxist point of view, the "forms" of literature are mere window-dressing: plots, characters, themes, symbols. Paying exclusive attention to those forms means missing the main point, which is what is going on "beneath" the

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