Sunday, August 03, 2008

"If we were to restart theory"

I read quite an interesting article the other day "If we were to restart theory", whose title summarises precisely enough Georg Lukács' Soviet era literary-philosophical project: a project that today appears rather odd.

Lukács' subsequent political trajectory as well as his voluntary acceptance of Soviet citizenship and patronage ought to convince that his works do not merely passively reflect his circumstances as Soviet apparachik. Amid a vast polemic against "decadent" bourgeois civilisation that does not fail to denounce what were supposed to be its most "beautiful" "artistic" representatives, in the harshest terms, is a defence of the most bourgeois, individualist genre of all: the novel. Lukács evidently did not feel, as Gramsci did, distate at the thought of a lone individual exceeding the influence of an entire university.

It seems probable that Lukács' politics didn't fundamentally change between Hungarian Revolution and Hungarian Revolution. The way these politics were played was obviously largely dependent on historical circumstances, hence the apparent inconsistancies.

At the core of Lukács' politics is the notion that progress finally demands that the mass of people consciously participate in the reproduction of the social environment in accordance with their needs. This requires the mass of people to be able to exercise such control, but as a preliminary condition it requires the mass of people to "see the specific qualities of their own age historically" to "comprehend their own existence as something historically conditioned, for them to see in history something which deeply affects their daily lives and immediately concerns them".

The role of the intellectual, that Lukács is determined be retained, is coherent with respect to this project of facilitating "history as a mass experience". To adopt a metaphor, the intellectuals are to undertake reconaissance work on behalf of the masses, themselves steadily advancing like Napoleon's Grand Armée. They will carry out investigations, analyse information and present results. The masses whom they serve act, on this and other information, and consequently dissolve the existing situation, at which point the process starts again. The Soviet authorities apparently did not realise, or chose not to realise that this relationship is only valid in a pre-revolutionary period.

The problematic in Joyce's Ulysses is something like an analysis of how this organic model of intellectuality can break down, in a word its "disorganisation".

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