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realism, as the only good way to write, Lukacs had to set himself in opposition to the literary movement that had superseded realism in the West, modernism (writers like James Joyce, William Faulkner, Robert Musil, and so on).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, it generates more and more alienation and meaninglessness in its citizens, and modernism is the attempt to reflect that collapse of value and meaning and human belonging in literary form. Because capitalist society is too corrupt and too chaotic to find meaning any longer, modernists insist that there is no meaning anywhere, and people who believe in meaning are just old-fashioned. Realism, by contrast, grounds literature in human social and political and economic realities. Realistic fiction shows us the way things really are. There is an interesting irony in this project: realism was the literary movement of nineteenth- century capitalism, and modernism was the literary movement of twentieth-century capitalism. In order to champion realism, Lukacs (and all the other theorists of socialist realism) had to defend an older form of capitalism against a newer -- an awkward position for a Marxist (who must believe in progress, in the future as better than the past) to take. (Next time, in fact,... ... middle of paper ... ...culture does do with "John Nichols"? What is the Nichols author-function in our society? Remember: this is not about Nichols himself! You might try thinking about it this way: what irritates Nichols most about this "book" is not the book itself but how people have come to see it, and to see him as (merely) its author. They love the novel and treat him as merely the guy (or even the name of the guy) who wrote it. He wants to be a full real person; the people he meets keep reducing him to a mere Foucauldian author-function. In this sense, the Afterword is (at least at the beginning) Nichols' attempt to fight back against the author-function, to reestablish himself as a real person who had a certain background and certain authorial intentions. Thus to figure out the Nichols author-function you'll need to figure out what it is, exactly, that Nichols is struggling against.

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