Rethinking Realism: A Critique of Georg Lukács

Charles A. Prusik


Word Count: 3,624 


In ?The Ideology of Modernism,? Georg Lukács proposes the following antithesis in order to critique the aesthetic condition of modern subjectivity: ?Abstract potentiality belongs wholly to the realm of subjectivity; whereas concrete potentiality is concerned with the dialectic between the individual?s subjectivity and objective reality? (24). The necessity of such an opposition resides in the aesthetic preservation of ?Realism,? i.e., the commitment to interrogating and discovering the true laws governing objective reality?in short, the uncovering of essence from the distorting images of appearance. Lukács identifies the emergence of Modernism as a symptom of the impossibility to negotiate, aesthetically, the difference between appearance and essence: ?If the distinction between abstract and concrete potentiality vanishes, if man?s inwardness is identified with an abstract subjectivity, human personality must necessarily disintegrate? (ibid). Despite his dialectical exhortations, my paper will be an attempt to demonstrate that Lukács? understanding of Realism effectuates an absolutization of ?concrete potentiality? insofar as he reduces the relationship of the literary subject to an essentialized form, namely, an explicit recuperation of Aristotle?s concept of man as a ?zoon politikon? (31). The circumscription of the literary subject as an immutable absolute?renders eternal, what realist literature has always understood to be temporal. In other words, Lukács? aesthetic strictures have transformed the immanent forms of literary production into static forms of transcendence. 

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