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Philosophy as Exile from Life

Philosophy as Exile from Life:

Lukacs’ ‘Soul And Form’

Paul Browne

As ethical explorations of the world of literary and philosophical works, Georg Lukacs’s essays are so many restatements of a fundamental question: what are the relationships
between such works, the lives of their individual creators, and
social existence in general? In giving new expression to the
meditation on meaning, value and time (historicity) in the
texts it discusses, the critical essay does not merely restore
some already given content: it creates new forms of enduring
ethical value, which contribute to tracing the limits of human
generic life. The crucial ethical problem underlying all of
Lukacs’s essays is whether an individual can ever give form
and meaning to his everyday life in society, or whether he
must abandon such an endeavour as hopeless and seek a
higher form of existence beyond the confines of conventional
social relations. Lukacs’s response to this question evolved in
accordance with his more general philosophical positions,
which in turn were intimately connected to his political and
personal situation. His essays can be understood as theoretical
discussions or aesthetic portrayals of profound issues of
modem life. But what makes his case so interesting is the way
that these essays can be understood as practical interventions,
existential gestures, ethical behaviour both constituted by,
and constitutive of, fundamental values. This is most clearly
apparent in Lukacs’s first collection of essays, Soul and
Form. It not only theorized Lukacs’s ethic, but in a unique
way itself embodied a model of existence.

Written between 1908 and 1910, Soul and Form shows
Lukacs carrying out a ruthless self-cri ticism of romanticism,
striving to discover in the very material of impressionism the
basis of a new constructivism, and in the end proclaiming a
new classicism. The style, themes and mood of the book are
redolent of turn-of-the-century Vienna, and it is shot through
with the recollection of Pater, Wilde and Rudolf Kassner; but
its conceptual structures are built upon Plato, Simmel, Kierkegaard and the German mystics. Although a work of and
about art criticism, Soul and Form is especially an incisive
philosophical analysis of modernity. It has a peculiar relevance for those irresistibly drawn to a life (and not merely a
profession) of philosophical thinking. Lukacs typifies the
predicament of the modern intellectual qua intellectual under
monopoly capitalism: pure philosophical/artistic spirit caught
between the Charybdis of closure within the pure ‘inner life of
the soul’ , and the Scylla of a totally reified social world. Soul
and Form exemplifies the strength and weakness of the estrangement of intellect from everyday life. Its author is a
typically bourgeois thinker, but one who rejects reconcili20

ation with reified inner or outer life, and whose irony drives
bourgeois thought towards its utmost limits, mercilessly exposing its (and therefore his own) contradictions. And yet
Lukacs himself remains trapped within those very contradictions he unmasks.

While the gulf between intellect and everyday life provides Lukacs with the vantage point from which to launch his
critique, it also imposes fundamental limitations on his
thinking. Soul and Form gives expression to a tragic vision of
life: its rejection of all existing social relationships and conventions is combined with disbelief and despair in the possibility of any significant change. In a succession of remarkabl y
acute and subtle pieces, Lukacs charts the breakdown of
genuine communication and the concomitant isolation of
individuals in a universe in which institutions have become
disconnected from authentic spiritual and ethical life. With
exceptional lucidity , he criticizes abstract idealists who desire
to remodel the world according to their own arbitrary aesthetic or ethical will. Yet, because Lukacs does not recognize
any collective alternative to the social status quo, his philosophical and literary activity provide at best a means of
escape, a refuge and a vantage point from which to judge an
everyday existence he considers meaningless, disjointed,
prosaic and reified. If philosophy represented for Novalis the
drive to be at home everywhere, in Lukacs’s case it serves as
a place of exile – but not of rest or oblivion – for one who feels
nowhere at home. I

Although the tragic vision of Soul and Form had already been
foreshadowed in essays Lukacs wrote as early as 1903,2 its
proper foundation was provided in Lukacs’ s first book the
History of the Development of Modern Drama (1908-09).

Lukacs articulates therein a pessimistic sociological diagnosis of the possibilities of cultural development in bourgeois
society, considering them to be drastically narrowed and
distorted by the all-pervasive character of reification. In this
account, reification is produced by a division of labour involving the rationalization and quantification of all social
processes. This leads to the levelling of all quantitative distinctions, and a consequent paradoxical combination of extreme individualism and utter depersonalization or uniformity
of life. In contrast to the medieval world, labour processes
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

become autonomous in relation to the workers, lose their
individual nature linking them to specific craftsmen and
thinkers, and develop according to their own alien logic:

‘Labour gains a specific, objective life as against the individuality of the individual human, so that the latter must find
expression somewhere else than in the activity he is engaged
in. ‘3 A parallel process takes place in the structures of thought
so that products of human consciousness assume the character
of extra-human, objective, law-like processes. Subjective
consciousness is increasingly polarized, assuming two typical
attitudes: wonderment (Wunder, the experience of the world
as mysterious and incomprehensible) and the reduction of
everything to natural laws expressed in mathematical formulae. Two sets of abstractions face each other over an unbridgeable chasm:

on the one side the struggle of abstract thought in its
attempt to brutalize the concrete, irrational facts, which
cannot be fitted into any system; on the other side the
role of the abstract processes in life itself, which become … limitations of the concrete intentions of individual men.4
Objective circumstances in their totality threaten to absorb
the individual personality, but the latter can flee by retreating
into interiority. Eventually such a personality is so turned in
upon itself, so ‘soulful’, and external circumstances so abstract and uniform, that no true contact between them appears
possible. s
For the wish for social transformation to achieve concrete
realization, forces must be identified which can overcome the
dominant trends within the given conditions of existence. The
Russian Revolution of 1917 was to convince Lukacs of the
revolutionary role of the proletariat and convert him to Marxism. But in the seemingly unconquerable inertia of pre-1914
Europe, he was not able to identify an ‘Archimedean’ point of
change, and was led by his analysis of reification in a direction quite different from Marxism. 6
Although the early Lukacs’s analysis of reification owes
much to Marx, it is to a Marx read through the lens of
Simmel’s theory of culture. For the early Lukacs capitalism
means above all ‘objectification of production, its separation
from the personality of the producer’. Capital, as an ‘objective abstraction’, becomes the real producer; even the identity
of the owners of capital as individual persons becomes superfluous as the example of joint stock companies makes clear.7
This identification of depersonalization and rationalization as
sources of alienation omits the factor which in Marxist theory
is decisive for putting such processes into perspective. This is
the idea that the whole system rests on specific relations of
production defined by the complete separation of the means
of production from the direct producers, and the consequent
necessity for the latter to sell their labour power to the owners
of the means of production. From a Marxist standpoint, only
the extortion of surplus value from the working class can
render intelligible the genesis of the reification of production
processes, and the dialectic of capitalist control and autonomous logic governing the development of the productive
forces in capitalist society. 8
Because the early Lukacs does not grasp the essence of
capitalism as class rule and exploitation but as a tragic and
autonomous process of fragmentation and depersonalization,
he sees the possibility of a solution not in class struggle, but in
the creation of a new form of organic community, a new
culture, knit together by collective, meta-rational forms of
experience, such as religion. And indeed, therein lies the
interest of Marxism in his eyes. He describes it as ‘perhaps the
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

most cruel and most rigorous synthesis-since Mediaeval.

Christianity’ and as similar to it in essence. He thus sees it as
a potential means to achieve social integration and organic
comm unity. He feels however that Marxism has not yet succeeded in becoming a living force conditioning the whole
lives of its adherents:

Today even the truest socialists are that only in their
thinking, in their political and social convictions, etc;
the forms of their life not directly connected to these
could not have been transformed by their ideology as
yet. 9
Moreover Lukacs perceives that the dominant versions of
historical materialism of his time (those of Kautsky and Bemstein) are akin to a merely sociological understanding of
reality, reducing art, religion and philosophy to mere manifestations of economic factors. Their inability to conceptualize certain aspects of these realms forces them to declare them
irrelevant or non-existent. Consequently ‘the only hope could
be in the proletariat, in socialism … it seems that socialism
does not possess the religious power which is capable of
filling the entire soul: a power that characterized primitive
Christianity.’lo And further, speaking of the great poet Endre
Ady, and the specifically Hungarian context, Lukacs declares:

[Ady is the] poet of the Hungarian revolutionaries
without a revolution. His audience is pathetically gro …

tesque, consisting of men who feel there is no help
other than revolution. They believe that everything that
exists was never new or good … but bad; beyond
correction, it must be destroyed to make room for new
possibilities. There is a need for a revolution, but it is

impossible to hope, even in the distant future, of attempting one. There would only be leaders.ll
Thus the historical dimension of Lukacs’s analysis extends
only to the generation of the present by the past – the way from
the present to the future remains obscure and bleak in the
absence of the agent of revolution.

‘There would only be leaders’: Lukacs’s attitude is resigned and yet voluntaristic. In his despair over the impossibility of change, he accepts as given and immutable the
dichotomy between abstract, impotent subjectivity, and abstract, omnipotent objectivity in the sphere of reified, everyday social existence. 12 The internalizati~n Of. this dichotomy
in his theory assumes the shape of an antIthesIs between form
and validity on the one hand and lived experience (Erlebnis)
on the other. Because of reification, processes, practices and
institutions escape from subjective control and determination
and take on a life of their own, the meaning of which is no
longer transparent, and the sheer complexity and infinity of
which tend to defy understanding. In this context the random,
meaningless movement of reality becomes ~ thing-in-its~lf in
the Kantian sense. The absence of any discernable umtary
complex of laws has as a corollary the necessity of a plurality
of modes of subjectivity and objectivity. Experience, ~s t~e
level of immediate, heterogeneous and unstructured realIty, IS
paralleled at more mediated levels by different, irreducible
spheres (realms of form) characterized by th~ir own disti.n?t
subject-object relationships governed ~y their. own spec~flc
laws and modes of validity (e.g. aesthetiCS, SOCiology, ethiCS,
etc.). Lukacs’s discussion of the socio-economic structures of
modern life consists not so much in an analytical referral of
life-problems to social-structural relations and developments,
but rather in an ‘overriding cultural-social parallehsm, for
which economic-social factors in no way function as the
decisive causal basis’ .13 Rather than search for unifying tendencies grounding a many-layered, integrated totality (as developed in their respective ways by Marx and the later
Lukacs) 14 different spheres are constructed autonomously
and the~ compared and cross-referenced so as to yield insights into the state of culture. Thus the social study of art is
irrelevant to the assessment of artistic value or validity, which
is a matter for aesthetics, but it can examine the place of art in

Lukacs appears to seek a formal typicality in historical
life-elements in a way not dissimilar to Simmel’s study of
money which serves as the pretext for discovering a network
of metaphysical preconditions for various possible approaches to scientific investigation (in particular historical
materialism).ls The acuity of Lukacs’s analysis of modern


drama brings to the fore socio-historical factors which almost
become overall explanatory factors. Yet their methodolo~ical
relativization leaves a vacuum which must be filled. Eplstemologically, all the different modes of construing reality
(aesthetics, logic, historical materialism degraded to the status
of sociology)16 have an equal validity as distinct ~d autonomous modes of positing objectivity. The practIcal consequence of this is the possibility of shifting emphasis from
historical options (such as bourgeois class. r~le and pro~e~ar­
ian revolution) to aesthetic, ethical or relIgIOUS obJ~tIfICa­
tions embodying an individualistic qu.est for the tImeles~,
metasocial values of culture. Such a phIlosophy of culture IS
the object of Soul and Form.

The extreme ontological and epistemological separation of
intellectual life from everyday experience which pervades
Soul and Form furthers the train of thought of the History of
the Development of Modern Drama, but it also reflects
Lukacs’s own situation which, in its particularity, came to
mediate the general situation in his class and times in a tyPical
fashion. 17 Lukacs’s early essayistic period, during whIch he
composed Soul and Form, was .on~ ?f ret:rea~ ~nto ~or~.

Lukacs truly became an ‘isolated mdivIdual ~n. cI~ll ~oc~ety ,
his individuality undetermined by any specIfIC mSl1tutIo~al
attachment: neither selling his labour power, nor owmng
material means of production, neither bound by family ties,
nor involved in community organizations of one sort or another; Lukacs’s ties to the theatre ended in 1908), living off
his father’s fortune, frequently travelling, mixing ~ith o~ers
similar to himself – students, independent academICS, artists.

Yet unlike most of the latter, Lukacs had foresworn, or felt
himself incapable of sustaining, almost all personal rela~o~­
ships other than intellectual ones – and even those ~uly mtImate friendships his correspondence reveals were mtensely
intellectual in nature.

I cannot find my place and will never find it. Not more
so in the most elementary purchases than in the serious
human situations in which one ought to be serious and
human. There I am serious at a pinch – but as if paralyzed. 18
Lukacs’s renunciation of his amorous relationship with Irma
Seidler was of crucial importance in the genesis of this sense
of alienation and its expression in Soul and Form. His o~n
diary and correspondence make it more than clear that thiS
book was born out of that relationship and represented an
attempt both to articulate its significance and to justify his
own feelings, ideas and behaviour. 19 Agnes HelIer .has demonstrated how the relationship provided the occaSIOn, themes
and central problematic of Soul and Form, namely the attempted artistic composition (in the sense of the German word
Dichtung) of life itself. She has shown that both G. Lukacs
and I. Seidler had rejected the ‘inauthentic’, reified conventions which among members of their class furnished the basis
for interpreting words and gestures and therefo~e for ~ut~al
understanding. In the absence of any alternatIve objectIve
standard readily available to them, both sought to cr~ate
meaning in their lives by living in a new way – but the optIons
they respectively chose proved They bot~ saw
the removal of all barriers between mdlvlduals as the hIghest
goal. Yet while Irma Seidler was i~cline.d l? strive for. its
practical realization, Lukacs despaIred m ItS ever bemg
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

achievable, and retreated into philosophy. His own experience and analysis of cultural institutions, his evaluation of the
available political options and his philosophicallr and soci~­
logically grounded belief in the amorphous and mcommUDlcable character of individual experience in general, allowed
for no other solution. His intellectual work became everything. The other possibilities of his life not only remained
unrealized; he consciously repudiated them. He broke off the
relationship for fear that it would conflict with his work, and
that by attempting to reconcile both he c~uld do ~ustice to
neither. Intellectuality mediated all of his expenence, or
tended to, and consciously So.2O
Lukacs became a prototypical intellectual worker, a figure whose identity was in appearance defined exclusively by
his intellectual activity. One is struck by the proximity of his
work ethic and discipline to Max Weber’s ideal of the scientific worker.21 Today, the nearest thing to the unattached and



unremunerated intellectual in the academic world is perhaps
the non-salaried researcher or doctoral student, engaged for
years on end in highly specialized projects which isolate him
or her even from other scholars. It is typical of such individuals’ lifestyles that work for them frequently becomes an
exclusive, even obsessive, concern which dominates every
waking moment. Such intense preoccupation cannot be sustained indefinitely though, and is necessarily punctuated by
periods of inactivity when wO!k can seem impo,ssibl~. When
these tendencies are fully realIzed, a doubly antmomlc structure emerges: (a) actual existence is apparently reduced to intellectual labour; all the manifestations of sociability not
mediated by intellectual labour appear to be relegated to the
status of possibilities; (b) periods of intense work are succeeded by periods of impotence where nothing can be accomplished. Among most intellectuals this remains at most a
virtuality; other relationships, with family, friends, coll~~gues
or others, also play a role, often at odds with the neceSSItIes of
work. By consciously refusing all such ~ies, Lukacs, came n~ar
to embodying the ‘pure’ intellectual lIfestyle. ThIS explams
why, in Lukacs’s view, intellect and life are not just ~epara~e,
but mutually exclusive. Humanity itself is sundered mto diStinct categories: those who live and tho~e wh~ und~rstand.

Neither can reach the other from the startmg-pomt of Its own
‘primary’ function of either living or understanding. Lukacs
saw himself as one of the ‘purest’ types of those who comprehend but cannot live, or attain authentic ‘living’ life. 22
There are people who understand, but do not live, and
there are some who live, but do not understand. And
the representatives of the first category will never
manage to be members of the second, although they
understand them, and those of the second category will

Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

never be able to comprehend anything, but that does
not matter for them, because they love or hate, possess
or will possess, and the category of understanding does
not exist for them.23
The fundamental categories of Lukacs’ s early philosophy
appear in this light not merely as manifestations of an outlook
predicated on the antinomy of positing intellect .and me~a­
tional everyday life, but of a very existence predicated on It.

Of course, Lukacs did not truly cease to lead an ‘everyday
life’ distinct from his intellectual activity, nor did his way of
life cease to be dependent upon the social structures which so
repelled him. Rather, his rejection of certain patterns, rhythms
and conventions of everyday life was so vehement that he
came to identify everyday life as such as a function of the
existence of other people. Ironically, his own prototypical,
‘purely’ intellectual existence was o~ly poss~ble becau~e it
rested on the material substratum which he Wished to reject.

His physical being was only reproduced thanks to the stipend
he received from his father,24 the director of a Budapest bank,
the very epitome of contemporary reification. ~oreo,ver, like
any labour process, all intellectual labour receives Its goals
and objects from life. Once a gulf has opened up ~tween the
self and the community, and the self has retreated mto a r~m
of pure intellectual activity, this gulfi~elfbeco~e~ the ~bject
of the intellect’s analytic efforts, and It leaves Its Impnnt on
every question. Far from breaking down, or escaping from the
barriers between the self and the world, the ‘purely’ intellectuallifestyle merely raises these barriers to a higher l~vel of
consciousness, while make them seem all the more Immutable.

In his essay, ‘Aesthetic Culture’, Lukacs shows !hat the
escape into inwardness, characte?stic of~e,aes!het~, IS also a
form of alienation. The aesthete IS a SpeCialiSt, m thiS cas~ of
inner life, who sacrifices the whole for the part as all Specialists do and remains isolated from culture as a wl)ole and from
other ~en.2.5 Individuals cannot achieve self-realization by
retreating into pure inwardness; they can only do so by means
of the ‘cultivation of objects’ (to use Simmel’s expression),
i.e. by positing teleological processes involving external objects. In order to achieve an authentic, as opposed to an
alienated, life one must, according to Lukacs, mould ~he
totality of events befalling one into a personal fate expressmg
one’s individual essence. This requires the fullest, most conscious manifestation of SUbjectivity: “‘soul” means in fact
the m~ximum development, the highest possible in.t~~sifica­
tion, of the powers of an individual’s wi!l, his c~pab~hti~s and
his “‘psychical energies”.’ However, m ~orgmg lIfe l~tO ,a
unique totality one goes beyond the confmes of mere mdlviduality to establish a reality which func~on~ as a val~e, a
universal normative standard: ‘the self-realIzatIon of a smgle
human being means that self-realization is possible for all’

and therefore ‘such a life can serve as a model’.26 The mediation and crystallization of the pure and homogeneous relationship between soul and value is provid~ by the ca~e~o~ of
form. Yet, an everyday life charactenzed by relflcatIon,
heterogeneity and meaninglessness canno~ g~ve rise to fo~;
those who merely live cannot impose a uDlfymg telos on h~e.

Forms exist beyond and outside of life as a priori categon~s
of valuation. Although a given form can only be present ,m
specific historical circumstances, ~ll forms ar~ et~rnallr valid,
metahistorical categories. In the tImeless objectificatlons of
art, the raw material of experience is given form in such a way
as to confer on events of an individual existence the soul and
value-constituting unity of a destiny. Yet, while it is foreign to
those who dwell merely within the bounds of lived experi-


ence, form is the very stuff of life for those alienated from the
everyday world, it is their ‘moment of destiny … the moment
when all feelings and all experiences on the near or the far
side of form receive form, are melted down and condensed
into form … the mystical moment of union between the outer
and the inner, between soul and form’. For the critic (a
designation which can be taken as synonymous here with the
merely comprehending individual, and which clearly represents Lukacs himself), form ‘is his greatest experience … the
really living content of his writing’. This experience confers
objectivity on form as ‘a world-view, a standpoint, an attitude
vis-a-vis the life from which it sprang: a possibility of reshaping it, of creating it anew’. The ten essays of Soul and Form
explore different possibilities of actualization of individuality; and while they deal with aesthetic questions, they more
fundamentally address ethical issues affecting the very essence of life. ‘El

In the light of the meditation on the meaning of his own
existence which animates Lukacs’s whole project in Soul and
form, it is hardly surprising that the book’s two first essays
reflect on the activity of the essayist and the nature of the
essay. Lukacs consciously modelled his essays on Platonic
dialogues. They flow in a dialectic where the ostensible goal,
the discovery of truth, constantly recedes before its seeker,
before whom, however, life itself unfolds. Lukacs compares
the Platonist or essayist to the poet, portraying both as homeless, as standing outside of life. Although the poet never
reaches the ‘world of real life’, he does exist in an absolute
world (Le. that of his creations and of poetic creativity) ‘in
which it is possible to live’ , one where things can be affirmed
or negated. In contrast, the ‘Platonist’s world has no substantiality’. He always longs for something he can never reach; his
essays or dialogues never achieve the ultimate goal for which
they explicitly or implicitly strive. Poetry represents a perfect, but narrow and limitless stasis; Platonism, on the contrary, is problematic, pure movement directed by a longing for
perfection. In his essay on Rudolf Kassner, Lukacs defines the
artist as the unity of poet and Platonist, as the person who can
combine longing and contentment, movement and rest, perfection and imperfection. The instrument of this accomplishment is form, which transforms accident into necessity, unifies conflicting tendencies, homogenizes heterogeneous elements,28 in the creation of a work of art which subsumes the
world’s dissonance in a closed, harmonious, timeless totality.

The function of form is ethical, the creation of the normative
principle of an existence purged of everything accidental:

From the accidental to the necessary: that is the road of
every problematic human being. To arrive where everything becomes necessary because everything expresses the essence of man, nothing but that, completely and without residue – where everything, as in
music, is only what it means, and means only what it
From the unity of poet and Platonist, from the dissonance
which gives rise to the creation of form, emerges a higher
form of life.

Although the essay is clearly a transitional moment in the
quest for an all-embracing totality of meaning, Lukacs sees it
as inherently valid and meaningful. While describing the
essay as the ‘John the Baptist’ of a future aesthetic system, he

insists that it is intrinsically important as the necessary road to
travel from fragment to system. But besides this, the essay, as
form, is an objectification of the soul, a value transcending the
evanescence of an aesthetic system’s prolegomena: 3o
for in the system of values yet to be found, the longing
we spoke of would be satisfied, and therefore abolished; but this longing is more than just something
waiting for fulfillment, it is a fact of the soul with a
value and existence of its own: an original and deeprooted attitude towards the whole of life, a final and
irreducible category of possibilities of experience.

Therefore it needs not only to be satisfied (and thus
abolished) but also to be given form which will redeem
and release its most essential and indivisible substance
into eternal value. This is what the essay does.31
Longing constitutes the essence of the critical or essayistic
relation to life and – as the autobiographical essay ‘Longing
and Form’ shows – can be taken as Lukacs’s self-characterization.32 Just as the essay is described as derived from the
Platonic dialogue, so the life of Socrates represents the typical
life for the essay, one in which thought (contemplation) and
being (life) are clearly separate, where longing becomes the
whole content of existence as a philosophy aiming for the un-

attajnable. Here one finds mirrored the repudiation of sexuality, the retreat into intellectuality, the positing of all facets of
life as conceptual problems, so characteristic ofLukacs’s own

By advancing thus towards the ultimate, insoluble
conflict, [Socrates’s] longing became free from conflict in terms of real life: love – the typical form of
longing – became a part of the system, an object of his
explanation of the world, a symbol of the way in which
the world hangs together; Eros ceased to be the God of
love and became a cosmic principle. Socrates the man
disappeared behind his philosophy.33
In contrast with the poet, the Platonist and the artist (who all
discover their respective destinies beyond life in poetry, philosophy or art), Lukacs presents in Theodor Storm an exemplary figure from an earlier bourgeoisie whose way of life was
not devoid of meaning, but predicated on a work ethic quite
distinct from the self-abandonment to work characteristic of
Lukacs himself. Work for this bourgeoisie was no mere occupation, but a ‘life-form’, the element giving a purpose to life.

Yet it did not represent that retreat into the soul, into interiority, which ‘shifts the centre of life outwards, into the raging
sea of uncertainties and incalculable possibilities’; in other
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

words, which crystallizes the dichotomy between abstract
subjectivity and objectivity already discussed. Rather the
form of work described here establishes existence on firm
foundations, ‘because the centre of gravity is displaced to the
ethical sphere and to ethical values, i.e. to values where at
least the possibility of permanent validity exists’.34 The primacy of ethics negates egotistic solitude and dispels mood as
the measure of significance of all things. Because it genuinely
serves to unite subjects and thus to bring together subject and
object, work does not devour the subject here the way it does
in the case of later artists, where it becomes its own end and
walls subjectivity off from the world. Lukacs compares Theodor Storm, for whom work was a life-form, to Flaubert, for
whom life became in a sense a form of work:

The goal of the former [the Flaubertian aesthetes] was
to approach ideal perfection through superhuman effort, that of the latter [Storm, Ml>rike, etc.] was to
achieve the consciousness that they had done everything in their power to create a perfect thing. For the
former, life was only a means of attaining the artistic
ideal, for the latter perfection of work was only a
symbol, only the surest and the finest way of exploiting
every possibility offered to them by life; a symbol of
the fact that the bourgeois ideal – consciousness of
work well done – had indeed been achieved. 3s
The role of duty, of ethical laws, subjects individuality to a
higher power but simultaneously gives it an inner strength and
consistency enabling it to weather the harshest circumstances.

Thus Lukacs describes the characters in Storm’s short stories
as incapable of evil, for ‘ethics for everyone in this world is a
natural life-function like breathing; an unethical action is
therefore a priori impossible’ .36 Although external forces
may compel an individual to contravene his duty, ethics is so
fundamentally constitutive of his individuality that no single
deviation from duty can impugn his moral nature; Storm’s
characters accept the consequences of their acts, suffer retribution without complaint, and yet retain their belief in their
own innocence and integrity, their conviction of being the
victims of inevitable external odds.

In Lukacs’s eyes, the contemporary world can boast of no
such integration of ethics into society. The unity of duty, life
and work has disintegrated, leaving only the shards of community. Individuals consequently live in utter loneliness.

They constantly seek communion with their fellows, but can
never find it. Nor can they simultaneously share any common
experience: ‘if something does touch many of us simultaneously, it touches only a large number of isolated beings.’

Communication itself has become virtually impossible:

Today we tell everything, we tell it to someone, to
anyone, no matter to whom, and yet we have never
really told anything; other people are so close to us that
their closeness transforms what we have to give them
of ourselves; yet they are so far from us that everything
becomes lost on the way from us to them. We understand everything, and our greatest understanding is a
rapt marvelling, an incomprehension intensified to the
point of religiosity. We long passionately to escape
from our tormenting loneliness, yet what is closest to
us are the subtle pleasures of eternal solitude. Our
knowledge of humanity is a psychological nihilism: we
see a thousand relationships, yet can never grasp a real
connection. 37
At best souls can discover hints of the existence of other souls
or fleetingly encounter them in isolated words or glances, in
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

the interstices of normal discourse. 38 Where no supraindividual ethic binds soul and life together, laying out the individual’s path before him, life either stays without essential direction or must have its goals and structure imposed on it by the
subject. Yet the latter is imprisoned in its own interiority, and
can no more shape its own destiny than it can find fulfillment
in human community. This Lukacs demonstrates in an essay
on Kierkegaard, whose life-project was paradigmatic of
Lukacs’s own, as Agnes HelIer has shown. 39

Kierkegaard attempted to supersede everyday life by subordinating every event and action to one principle, embodied in a
gesture – his renunciation of his marriage to Regine Olsen:

The gesture is the leap by which the soul passes from
one into the other, the leap by which it leaves the
always relative facts of reality to reach the eternal
certainty of forms. In a word, the gesture is that unique
leap by which the absolute is transformed, in life, into
the possible. The gesture is the great paradox of life,
for only in its rigid permanence is there room for every
evanescent moment of life, and only within it does
every such moment become true reality.40
In a sense, Soul and Form itself represents such a gesture on
the purely intellectual plane, capturing the fleeting aspects of
contemporary culture in stable images which constitute normative forms. Yet for Lukacs such an attempt by an individual to raise his everyday life to the level of a self-imposed
destiny must fail. For only in the work of poets can ambiguity
and heterogeneity be superseded. ‘In life, not only those
motives play a role which have been accepted for the sake of
the final unity.’ The fate of the poet is to extract forms from
the raw material provided by life in general, but to be incapable of fashioning his own life into a harmonious whole.

Kierkegaard’s heroism was that he wanted to create
forms from life. His honesty was that he saw crossroads and walked to the end of the road he had chosen.

His tragedy was that he wanted to live what cannot be
Kierkegaard’s gesture, while carried out and followed with
rigour and determination, ended up being lost amid the infinity of ambiguous motives, acts and events it was meant to
encompass. Idea and reality remained apart and opposed.

Like Kierkegaard, the poets discussed in Lukacs’ s essay,
‘The Romantic Philosophy of Life’, wanted to shape life
according to poetic intentions. Yet they differed from the
Danish philosopher in that they ignored the necessary distance between art and life of which he was at least aware. The
romantic philosophy of life proposes an ethic of total individual fulfillment, predicated on a poetic stylization of life. In
other words, the latter is to become a work of art and to be
structured accordingly. Lukacs criticizes this ethic for not
realizing that the difference between art and life cannot be
overcome, and for dismissing the problem without mastering
it. He shows that this ignored dissonance reappears in the
romantic poets’ life and work as a disruptive force, making it
impossible for them to live up to their aesthetic ideal, and
causing them to ‘outlive’, in a state they would once have
considered banal and mediocre, the life they tried to mould
into a work of art.

The exception among Romantics was Novalis, who was

able to fashion a life of disease and dying into the stuff of
poetry precisely because his ‘timely’ death ‘saved’ him from
outliving his ideal as other Romantics did. Paradoxically,
death, the very condition which made possible this voluntarist
project of a poetic stylization of life, was imposed on the poet
by external circumstances beyond his control. As Lukacs
points out, this resulted in Novalis’s philosophy of life in fact
being a philosophy of death. The mere suggestion that one
could outlive the life for which one longs signifies that only
death could be adequate to it.”2
The theme of the total opposition between empirical and
‘authentic’ life finds its most extreme expression in the final
essay of Soul and Form, ‘The Metaphysics of Tragedy’. Here
the polarity is stated in the strongest terms. Everyday life is
chaotic, fluctuating, unstable, never leading to any end or
fulfillment, unreal:

To live is to live something through to the end: but life
means that nothing is ever fully and completely lived
through to the end. Life is the most unreal and unliving
of all conceivable existences; one can only describe it
negatively – by saying that something always happens
to disturb the flow.”3
Real. authentic life cannot arise organically out of such an
existence. It appears with the suddenness of a flash of lightning and the supernatural character of a miracle. It is a
moment of living at the height of one’s essence, and as such it
cannot last, for ‘no one could live at such heights …. One has
to deny life in order to live’. In this, his least progressive and
democratic text, Lukacs describes men as to weak and cowardly to live the complete break with inauthenticity which
real life demands, to experience the unambiguous moment of
fulfillment where ‘the soul stands naked before the face of
life’ .””
The miraculous moment of fulfillment finds its expression
only in tragedy, defined by Lukacs as ‘a revelation of God
before the face of God’, a sphere within which ‘the immanent
god awakens the transcendental god into life’. In tragedy the
soul communes directly with destiny above and beyond the
inessentiality of social relationships, customs, laws, etc.

‘Tragedy is the most real life there is’:

all the relationships of life have been suppressed so
that the relationship with destiny may be created; everything atmospheric between men and objects has
vanished in order that nothing should exist between
them but the clear, harsh mountain air of ultimate
questions and ultimate answers …. [tragedy] begins at
the moment when enigmatic forces have distilled the
essence from a man, have forced him to become essential; and the progress of tragedy consists in his essential, true nature becoming more and more manifest. 45
In ordinary life, experience of the self is peripheral, mediated
by motives and relationships, i.e. by contingency. Every accident modifies past life, but does not bring anything necessary
or essential out of itself. In great moments, a total break
occurs, constituting a new ethic. Life acquires new foundations out of elements which previously might have seemed of
no consequence. The emergence of essence is its own necessity; it simply occurs, requiring no other cause than its own
essentiality. The great moment does not signify life, it is life.

Stripped of all the trappings of empirical existence, souls lead
new lives on the plane of the Platonic Forms.46 This explains
the unity of time in tragedy. Chronology is abolished in the
realm of ideas. The different moments of the tragic drama do
not follow each other in temporal sequence; they develop in a

sort of synchronicity or parallelism:

drama interrupts the external flow of time not only at
its beginning and its end, bending the two poles towards each other and melting them together; it carries
out this same stylization at every instant of the drama;
every moment is a symbol, a reduced-scale image of
the whole, distinguishable from it only by its size. To
fit these moments together must therefore be a matter
of fitting them into one another, not after one another.47
The reality of the realm of tragedy, like that of the Kantian
realm of ethics, transcends all spatial or temporal existence.

The tragic experience, as a simultaneous beginning and ending, is a Last Judgement. The development of tragic characters is merely apparent; such development consists in fact of
the experience of the moment of their becoming human. The
values of tragedy are thus clearly antithetical to modem realism, and Lukacs in fact evokes their affinity with scholastic

In an important passage, Lukacs establishes the difference
between the ‘mystical-tragical experience of essentiality’ and
the ‘essential experience of mysticism’ . The latter destroys all
forms, reducing them to an undifferentiated unity, while tragedy creates forms. The essence of tragedy is seltbood, while
that of mysticism is self-oblivion. In mysticism the self is
paradoxically asserted by its identification with objectivity,
its self-dissolution in the ocean of being. The struggle and
self-assertion of the self in tragedy radically drives apart
subjectivity and objectivity, reinforcing each in its autonomy
and resistance to the other, and its outcome is the destruction
of subjectivity by overwhelming objectivity.

Both mysteriously combine life and death, autonomous seltbood and the total dissolving of the self in a
higher being. Surrender is the mystic’s way, struggle
the tragic man’s; the one, at the end o(his road, is
absorbed into the All, the other shattered against the
All. From being at one with all things, the former leaps
across into the personal world of his ecstasies; the
latter loses his seltbood at the moment of its truest
exal tation.48
The tragic destiny must fully encompass the dimensions of
earthly existence. Empirical life falls short of them; thus it
cannot comprehend the nature of death which is the limit of
this world, and must experience it as a terrifying, meaningless, irrational force bursting into life. Mysticism ‘overleaps
the frontier’ of life and thus denies death any significance. For
the tragic existence, death is the limit of life, but, as its limit,
is immanent to it and structures its every moment. Through
the experience of death, the soul becomes conscious of its
limits and thus attains self-consciousness. Death ‘is only
outwardly a limiting and possibility-destroying principle’; at
a deeper level it is in fact the basis for self-realization, for
li ving the soul’s possibilities to the fullest.

The tragic personality is the opposite of the critical personality which finds expression in the essay form. In the
latter, longing is raised above life as a value and the possibility of fulfillment in this world is denied. Tragedy also has its
‘metaphysical root’ in the longing for selfhood, the ‘deepest
longing of human existence’. Dramatic tragedy alone can
embody the perfect fulfillment of this longing – and therefore
its abolition. Longing, the root of tragedy, thus has no place in
tragedy, which represents the moment of its supersession.

Ironically, because ‘the ethic of tragedy must have as its
categorical imperative the continuance unto death of everything that has begun’ ,49 because tragedy must mean encomRadical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

passing all of life to its very limits, longing is fulfilled and
abolished by death. Fulfillment proves hollow indeed. For the
Platonist, neither life nor truth can ever be fully appropriated;
for the tragic character they can, but the moment of appropriation is also the moment of their elimination.

For true tragedy to occur, it does not suffice that objectivity impose its law on subjectivity, even to the point of destroying it; nor is it enough that the subject accept, like T. Storm’s
characters, the consequences of acts forced upon it. Tragic
characters must go beyond this and assume gUilt for their
actions, and in doing so accept – and conquer – destiny by
constituting it as their own. By positing what befalls them as
their destiny, realized by their acts, tragic figures transform
the seemingly accidental complex of events and relations
which make up life into a totality determined by the essential
category of guilt. The latter traces the limits of life, structures
it, casts its diverse aspects into the mould of necessity. 50
Lukacs reserves tragedy for the aristocratic few, speaking
of those ‘who are too weak or too lowly to dwell in the
kingdom of tragedy’.51 At the same time he sees the source of
the tragic ethic’s validity neither in its application nor in the
particular subjects who apply it,
but simply in its very existence.

Like Kantian moral law , it confronts life as a utopia, standing
in judgement over it:

cause of the extreme nature of its views on life, it does not
enjoy a privileged position. In attributing exaggerated importance to it, LOwy is led to the conclusion that the very essay
expressing the nature of the essay and thus explaining the
whole of Soul and Form, ‘On the Nature and Form of the
Essay’ , is ‘dissonant’ in relation to the whole, because it does
not present the same ‘Kantian-tragic rigour’ .53
The first (Hungarian) edition of Soul and Form concluded
with the dialogue ‘Richness, Chaos and Form: A Dialogue
Concerning Lawrence Sterne’. (In the German edition this
text occupies the penultimate position, immediately preceding ‘The Metaphysics of Tragedy’.) In this piece two men
debate the merits of Lawrence Sterne, one from a Vitalist, the
other from a Neo-Kantian point of view. The passive witness
of their discussion is a woman whom it becomes evident both
men are trying to impress by their rhetorical skill and intellectual ability, for whose affections both men are in fact competing. The substance of the argument is shown to be irrelevant
to life; it serves as ‘a highly unnecessary preparation’ for an
episode in the lives of the characters involved. Philosophy as
gratuitous and ridiculous courtship ritual – this is Lukacs’ s
last word in Soul and Form:

, .: I

~,f. ~ .! •


Form is the highest judge of
life. Form-giving is a judging force, an ethic; there is a
value-judgement in everything that has been given
form. Every kind of formgiving, every literary form,
is a step in the hierarchy of
life-possibilities: the a11decisive word has been spoken of a man and his fate
when the decision is taken
as to the form which his lifemanifestations can assume
and which the highest moments of his life demand. 52


This would suggest that the
sequence of essays, and hence
of value-judgements, in Soul
and Form constitute a hierarchy, with the tragic ethic at the
apex. However, one should not
exaggerate the importance of
‘The Metaphysics of Tragedy’,
as M. LOwy for example tends
to do. It should be recalled that
‘The Metaphysics of Tragedy’ had not been written when
Soul and Form was first published (in Hungarian), and that
while it was placed at the end of the German edition, this was
due more to its being the most accomplished of Lukacs’s
essays than to its being a sort of synthesis or logical culmination of the ideas contained in the other essays. As has already
been noted, the latter represent the crystallization of different
attitudes of life. Their order of appearance expresses no logical progression, no journey to an end that can be found. The
very absence of such a resolution determines the sequence of
essays as a kind of wandering, an exploration of alternatives
none of which is ranked higher than the others. Although ‘The
Metaphysics of Tragedy’ might seem a fitting last word beRadical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

Do you therefore understand why this is more profound than my earlier writings? It is because its form
is the critique of all my writings, the critique of my form
of life.54

‘Form is the highest judge of
life’ – but in this subtle parody
the tables are turned, and life
suddenly passes judgement on

The irony of· this reversal
could suggest an implicit dialectical leap beyond the ‘Platonic’ attitude on Lukacs’s part.

Yet the antinomy of intellectuality and everyday life is not
abolished, nor transformed, but
rather reconfirmed. In Lukacs’s
view the sublime is debased,
not redeemed, by its contact
with the mere contingency of
everyday existence. True supersession of the contradiction
cannot be brought about by the
elimination of one of its terms,
in this case by the transformation of philosophy into mere
courtship ritual, but only by the
creation of a higher form subsuming the different terms within
itself. This would involve the possibility of a positive reintegration of soul, form and life. But such an eventuality is
strenuously denied through Soul and Form. 55

Lukacs’s essays in Soul and Form present several facets of
the inadequate relationship of the alienated individual to the
social totality. In each case a profoundly utopian rejection of
everyday life underlies the possibility of fulfillment, or, to put

it another way, given reality is the negative determination of a
state of redemption. The poet, the Platonist and the artist
cannot truly transform, or escape from, the ephemeral, chaotic flux of immediate existence, although they can detach
themselves from it in their own ways, the Platonist for example to the extent that perfect longing distaflces him from
every specific aspect of immediate existence, allowing him to
relate to the latter as such, as an abstract, general state. The
contrasting world of Theodor Storm, in which life, work and
duty complement each other in harmonious unity, is presented
as a lost utopia which the present negates. It amounts to a
logical or narrative device, a fictional adequacy of subjectivity to objectivity, in which ‘ethics for everyone … is a natural
life-function like breathing’.56 It highlights the breakdown of
communication, the isolation of the individual and the alienation of objectivity in the modern world. The Flaubertian
aesthetes of whom Lukacs speaks still create perfection, but
only at the price of superhuman effort. Their works like
beyond reach, on the far side of a chasm of indeterminacy and
imperfection which their souls cannot bridge. The examples
of Kierkegaard and the Romantic poets reveal the impossibility of giving form to what is the very realm of formlessness.

The tragic hero comes nearest to the artistic ideal, not however by giving form to, but by actually obliterating, everyday
life. Here the soul crosses the gulf of indeterminacy to achieve
perfection, but only for a single ultimate instant. As in Hegelian philosophy, where only the final outcome of the process of actualization confers full meaning on all the different
moments, so in ‘The Metaphysics of Tragedy’ death alone can
determine the life which it cuts off as a ‘living’ or ‘authentic’


Lukacs’s ‘Platonic’ approach adopts a critical attitude
towards contemporary reality. In attempting to give voice to
eternal values, it constructs ethical models which exist in the
space between everyday experience and a systematic philosophy of totality. While essays such as ‘The Foundering of
Form Against Life’ show the impossibility of ordering life in
conformity with such values, they also propose a vantage
point from which existence may be assessed. ‘The validity
and strength of an ethic does not depend on whether the ethic
is applied.’ Its power and effectiveness must lie elsewhere:

‘Form is the only pure revelation of purest experience, but
just for that reason it will always stubbornly refuse to be
imposed on anything that is oppressive and unclear. ’57 In
constructing philosophical models which radically dissociate
themselves from the chaotic, irrational, preconceptual immediacy of everyday life, Lukacs’s early essays attempt an
ordered, rational conceptualization of its essential nature.

Soul and Form articulates Lukacs’ s subjective experience
that subjective experience itself tends to be solipsistic and impossible to articulate. It analyzes the many facets of the
inevitable solitude of the modem individual in an attempt to
demonstrate the absence of any true community, and yet it
does so by constructing a spiritual community, namely a
catalogue of poets, playwrights, critics and philosophers from
whose writings a portrait of contemporary alienation can be
drawn by means of the essay. The essayist does not explain
his subjects as they truly are, but extrapolates from them,
chooses them to fit his designs and knits them into a homogeneous pattern. It is thus fair to say that Lukacs’ s new spiritual
community is more imaginary than real, a fictional aristocracy united in its search for the ‘living’ life beyond reification
and through the world of form. The paradox of this elite is that
the foundations of its existence are entirely negative: the
solitude of the individual, the refusal of existing reality, the
quest for utopia and its discovery in death alone.


As yet unable to formulate a radical political critique of
capitalist alienation, Lukacs’s ultimate ethical answer to everyday social life consists of mythical models of an aristocracy
of tragic heroes, dying poets and Platonic philosophers. The
great merit of this approach is that it exposes not only reification itself, but also the futility of any attempt to overcome it
by an attempted poetic stylization of life itself, in the manner
of Kierkegaard. Predicated on the impossibility of ordering
everyday existence according to ethical values, Lukacs’ s essayistic philosophy is ‘exile’ from life, providing a place of
banishment and refuge, of seeming independence and real
powerlessness. It is the moment of negation, privation and
denial, which still awaits the return to plenitude.










‘Philosophy is really homesickness … it is the urge to be at
home everyWhere.’ Quoted in G. Lukacs, The Theory of the
Novel. A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Forms of
Great Epic Literature. Cambridge. Mass .• 1971. p. 29.

‘The New Hauptmann’ and ‘Reflections on Henrik Ibsen’

(written in Hungarian). See L. Congdon. The Young Lukacs.

Chapel Hill. 1983. pp. 19-23.

G. Lukacs. Entwicklungsgeschichte des modernen Dramas.

Werke. Band 15. Neuwied. 1981. p. 95 (unless otherwise
noted, all translations here from texts in French and German
are my own).

Quoted by I6rg Kammler. ‘Asthetizistische Lebensphilosophie·. in Text + Kritik, Nos. 39/40. October 1973. p. 11.

G. Lukacs. Entwicklungsgeschichte, pp. 93-100.

See G. Lukacs’s 1967 preface to his History and Class
Consciousness. London, 1971, pp. ix-xvi. The development
of Lukacs’s views in the context of the liberal IewishHungarian bourgeoisie of the previous generation and of the
liberal radicalism of his own generation, is illuminatingly
discussed by Mary Gluck, Georg Lukacs ami· his Generation, 1900-1918, Cambridge, Mass., 1985, chapters 2 and 3.

G. Lukacs, Entwicklungsgeschichte. p. 95.

See Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. rn, London, 1977. pp.

791-792. On Georg Simmel, see ‘Subjective Culture’, in On
Individuality and Social Forms, ed. by Donald N. Levine,
Chicago, 1971, pp. 227-234. The influence on Lukacs of
Simmel has been well documented. See David Frisby’s introduction to Simmel’s The Philosophy of Money, London,
1978; A. Arato, ‘Lukacs’s Path to Marxism, 1910-1923’,
Telos, No. 7, Spring 1971, pp. 128-136; Michael Holzman,
Lukacs’s Road to God. The Early Criticism Against its PreMarxist Background. Washington, D.C., 1985.

G. Lukacs. Entwicklungsgeschichte, pp. 358. 359 (quoted by
Ferenc Lendvai. ‘The Young Lukacs’s Philosophy of
History’, New Hungarian Quarterly, No. 67, pp. 154-163
G. Lukacs, Aesthetic Culture. quoted by I. Meszaros, Ope
cit., p. 32.

G. Lukacs, ‘Ady Endre’, quoted by A. Arato and P. Breines,
The Young Lukacs and the Origins of Western Marxism,
London. 1979,p. 12.

F. Feher, ‘Die Geschichtsphilosophie des Dramas, die Metaphysik der TragOdie und die Utopie des untragischen Dramas. Scheidewege der Dramatheorie des jungen Lukacs’. in
A. HelIer et al., Die Seele und das Leben. Studien zumfruhen
Lukacs, Frankfurt am Main, 1977, p. 33.

I. Kammler, Ope cit., p. 12.

See G. Lukacs, Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins,
Werke, Band 13, Neuwied, 1985, Chapters 3 and 4.

G. Lukacs, Entwicklungsgeschichte, pp. 570-571; G.

Simmel, The Philosophy of Money. p. 56.

Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989










G. Lukacs, ‘Zur Theorie der Literaturgeschichte’, Text +
Kritik, Nos. 39/40, October 1973, p. 34.

The typical does not designate the average or the ordinary,
but rather a personality in whom are represented essential
structures and developmental tendencies of an overall situation, for example of a society at a given historical conjuncture. See G. Lukacs, Writer and Critic, London, 1970. For
detailed accounts of Lukacs’s development in terms of his
class and family background, see M. Lowy, Georg LukacsFrom Romanticism to Bolshevism, London, 1979; M. Gluck,
op. cit.; L. Congdon, op. cit.; A. Heller, ‘Georg Lukacs and
Irma Seidler’, in A. Heller (ed.), Lukacs Reappraised, New
York, 1983, pp. 27-62; and G. Lukacs’s own autobiographical notes, Gelebtes Denken. Eine Autobiographie im Dialog,
Frankfurt am Main, 1981.

G. Lukacs, letter to Uo Popper, 9 September 1910, in G.

Lukacs, Correspondance dejeunesse,1908-1917 (hereafter
referred to as CJ), Paris, 1981, p. 120.

‘If you read Soul and Form, truly read it … you know
everything about me: the best part of my life; more things
and better than 1 could say to you in any other way. You also
know – and you do know, don’t you? – who gave me the tone
which has become mine, you know from whom stems the
ever-changing form around which all these questions gravitate, and who is the being whom the mUltiple mask of the
ambiguous dedication obscured. You know – once again why these texts were written: because 1 do not know how to
write poems; and you know – once again – to whom these
poems were addressed and who awakened them in me ….

allow me to return them to the one from whom 1 received
them, permit me to dedicate the book to you.’ G. Lukacs to
Irma Seidler, 2 February 1911, Cl, pp. 149-150. See L.

Congdon, op. cit., pp. 43ff.; A. Heller, ‘Georg Lukacs and
Irma Seidler’; G. Markus, ‘Life and the Soul’ in A. Heller
(ed.), Lukacs Reappraised, pp. 1-26; M. Gluck, op. cit.,
passim (but especially pp. 123ff.).

‘I have the impression that what 1 began in the spring has
succeeded: 1 have eliminated “life”. This does not necessarily mean being ascetic, but only that the centre of gravity is
defmitely and unshakeably in work. People: perhaps there
are some, perhaps there are not. Happiness: perhaps it exists,
perhaps it does not. But all that is at the surface of life … 1
used to be ungliicklich [unhappy], now 1 am jenseits von
Gliick and Ungliick [beyond happiness and unhappiness].’

G. Lukacs to Leo Popper, 10 December 1910, Cl, pp.

134-135. See also A. Heller, ‘Georg Lukacs and Irma
Seidler’, pp. 43-48, 57ff., and especially p. 35: ‘Lukacs fled
into “pure spirit”: he learned to breathe the heady air of
philosophy. To the irrelevant conventions that represented
chaos to him he counterposed pure spirit, the created work.’

See Mu Weber, ‘Science as a Vocation’, in From Max
Weber: Essays in Sociology, translated, edited and with an
introduction by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, London,
1985, pp. 129-156. The considerable mutual sympathy
which developed between Weber and Lukacs in the
1912-1920 period was no doubt not unrelated to this. On this
point see Eva Karadi, ‘Bloch et Lukacs dans le cercle de
Weber’, in Reijication et utopie. Ernst Bloch & Gyorgy
Lukacs un siecle apres, Actes du colloque tenu au Goethe
Institut de Paris en 1985, Paris, 1986, pp. 69-87.

G. Lukacs to L. Popper, 27 August 1911, Cl, p. 193, and 25
April 1909, Cl, pp. 45-49.

G. Lukacs to I. Seidler, 20 March 1910, Cl, p. 84.

On Lukacs’s relationship with his father, and on the latter’s
political and ideological outlook, see M. Gluck, op. cit., pp.


A. Arato, ‘Lukacs’s Path to Marxism, 1910-1923’, pp.

130-131: ‘Lukacs calls the culture of such men aesthetic
culture, which implies the cult of the atomized self and its

Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989






passing moods, the submission to fancy and enjoyment, and
the impossibility of real creation and action. The outcome in
art itself is a dilettantism and constant irrational vacillation
of moods and technique. More generally, “the development
of a general culture which engages men at only one point and
never touches the whole of their humanity tends to weaken
the human in men”. ‘

G. Lukacs, Aesthetic Culture, quoted by G. Markus, ‘Life
and the Soul’, p. 9.

G. Lukacs, Soul and Form (hereafter referred to as SF),
London, 1974, pp. 8-9. Lukacs’s ‘exile in a realm of philosophical activity was not emancipatory, but profoundly alienating. This alienation of course differs from that suffered
by wage labourers. Lukacs’s products and labour power
w~re not estranged from him. However, the highly specialized, exclusive form of his activity, the segmentation of his
life, and his Platonic devaluation of sensuous drives are
characteristic of what Man calls the alienation of speciesbeing. See Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, in Early Writings, introd. by Lucio Colletti, trans. by
Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton, Harmondsworth,
1975, especially pp. 327-339.

‘The essence of form has always resided in my view in the
process whereby two principles which are mutually exclusive become form (without reciprocally abolishing each
other); according to my conception of the matter, form is
paradox incarnate, the reality of the lived experience [Erlebniswirklichkeit], the veritable life of the impossible
(impossible in the sense that its components exclude each
other absolutely and eternally and that their reconciliation is
impossible). For form is not reconciliation, but war, transposed into eternity, of struggling principles.’ G. Lukacs to
Salomo Friedlander, mid-Iuly 1911, Cl, p. 170. On the a
priori nature of forms, see G. Lukacs, ‘Zur Theorie der Literaturgeschichte’; G. Lukacs, ‘Georg Simmel’, in Buch des
Dankes an Georg Simmel. Briefe, Erinnerungen, Bibliographie, zu seinem 100. Geburtstag am 1. Mlrz 1958
herausgegeben vol Kurt Gassen & Michael Landmann, Berlin, 1958, p. 175.


SF, p. 23.

Lukacs himself understood Simmel’s pluralism and studies
of exemplary lives embodying typical values, in terms very
reminiscent of his own essayistic project. See G. Lukacs,
‘Georg Simmel’, pp. 174-176. On the essay as form, see G.

Lukacs, Fruhe Schriften zur Aesthetik, I: Philosophie der
Kunst (1912-1914) (the Heidelberg Philosophy of Art),
Werke, Band 16, Neuwied, 1974, pp. 55-56.

SF, p. 17.

See Rainer Rochlitz, Lejeune Lukacs( 1911-1916). Theorie
de la forme et philosophie de I’ histoire, Paris, 1983, pp.


On Lukacs’s view of Socrates in this period, see for example
his letter to Sara Ferenczi of Ianuary 1909 in Cl, pp. 34-39.

SF, pp. 57-58.

SF, p. 61.

SF, p. 66.

SF, pp. 86, 87.

SF, pp. 84-85.

See A. Heller, ‘Georg Lukacs and Irma Seidler’ .

SF, p. 29.

SF, p. 40.

SF, pp. 42-54; R. Rochlitz, op. cit., pp. 59-63.

SF, p. 152.

SF, p. 153.

SF, pp. 153, 156, 155.






For the characters in a drama, ‘all manifestations of their life
are mere cyphers for their ultimate relationship, their life
merely a pale allegory of their own platonic ideas’, SF, p.


SF, p. 160.

SF, p. 161. Tragedy appears in this essay as redemption from
earthly, bodily existence. Both the Platonic and the tragic attitudes in Soul and Form fmd value in the escape from the
physical, the sensuous. It is worth noting in this context that
the mysogynist remarks scattered throughout Lukacs’ s early
essays are rooted in his identification of woman with everyday life, with the world of the flesh or of nature. For related
comments on this issue, see R. Rochlitz, op. cit., pp. 85,
134-135; and M. Gluck, op. cit., pp. 37ff.

‘Through guilt, a man says “Yes” to everything that has
happened to him; by feeling it to be his own action and his
own guilt, he conquers it and forms his life, setting his tragedy – which has sprung from his guilt – as the frontier
between his life and the All.’ SF, p. 165.

SF, p. 173. In such passages Lukacs makes it quite clear that
the tragic option is not and cannot be open to any but a few
‘exceptional’ individuals. It is therefore difficult to agree
with Dennis Crow’s assertion that this ‘universal (pantragic) vision can be seen to raise the discussion of “form”
out of the contradictions of the purely aesthetic toward a
utopian vision of collective fulfilment.’ Dennis Crow, ‘Form
and the Unification of Aesthetics and Ethics in Lukacs’ s

Soul and Form’, New German Critique, No. 15, Fall 1978, p.

174 (emphasis added). For a discussion of Lukacs’s aristocratic attitude before World War I, see F. Feher, ‘Am Scheideweg des romantischen Antikapitalismus. Typologie und
Beitrag zur deutschen Ideologiegeschichte gelegentlich des
Briefwechsels zwischen Paul Ernst und Georg Lukacs’, in
A. Heller et al., Die See le und das Leben, pp. 241-327.

SF, p. 173.

Michael USwy, Marxisme et romantisme revolutionnaire:

essais sur Lu/cacs et Rosa Lwcemburg, Paris, 1979, p. 79. G.

Garkus points out that in the year in which he wrote ‘The
Metaphysics of Tragedy’, Lukacs also wrote a ‘passionate’

critique of it (in Aesthetic Culture). See G. Markus, ‘Life and
the Soul’, p. 5.

SF, p. 151. G. Lukacs to L. Popper, 27 October 1909, Cl, p.


Intimations of such a possibility already appear in an unfmished essay Lukacs wrote in 1912, ‘The Aesthetics of the Romance’. See F. Feher, ‘Die Geschichtsphilosophie des Dramas’, pp. 41~9; and Philippe Despoix, ‘Mystique et
tragedie. La rencontre des mondes spirituels de E. Bloch et
G. Lukacs (1910-1918)” in Reification et utopie, op. cit.,
pp. 28-30. Lukacs first gives expression to a vision of a
higher synthesis of soul, form and life in his concept of the
party as incarnation and representation of the identical
subject-object in History and Class Consciousness.

SF, p. 66.

SF, pp. 174, 172.




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Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

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