Georg Lukács
Search for other papers by Georg Lukács in
Current site
Google Scholar
Erik M. Bachman
Search for other papers by Erik M. Bachman in
Current site
Google Scholar
Free access

Editor’s Introduction Art in Its Eigenart

For those apt to take note of such a thing, the publication here of the first English-language translation of the first volume of Georg Lukács’s The Specificity of the Aesthetic (Die Eigenart des Ästhetischen, published 1963) may call forth a certain bemusement and scepticism.1 Bemusement because the very endeavour undertaken in The Specificity of the Aesthetic does not appear at first glance to be of its – much less our – time. After all, Lukács’s ambition in these two volumes is to offer a systematic and consistent account of Marxist aesthetics that relates art, its creation, and its reception to all other significant areas of human life (especially to science and the everyday) as well as to the behaviours that have promoted or impeded the genesis of art as such throughout the history of the human race in different parts of the world. This entails addressing many areas that otherwise might seem extraneous to aesthetics. For instance, Lukács elaborates at length the principles by which and the anthropological conditions under which art and science have respectively detached themselves from everyday life, labour, magic, and religion as modally differentiated ways of reflecting a shared reality over the course of millennia (Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 5). The first volume of The Specificity of the Aesthetic does, however, devote a great deal of attention to more familiar aesthetic topics, such as the long-drawn-out development of some notable abstract components of form (rhythm, symmetry, proportion, ornamentation) that have long since been incorporated into works and performances now legible to us as art (Chapter 4). Lukács develops the implicit claim that mimesis is not merely receptive behaviour but rather an active form of appropriating reality that extends to all higher organised forms of life, including but not limited to art (Chapters 5, 6, and 7). Furthermore, he itemises and expansively describes the mimetic qualities of art objects that inform, and are shaped by, the properly aesthetic comportments to be adopted by creators and receivers alike (Chapters 5 through 10).2

In this view the aesthetic sphere is a hard-won zone of highly mediated human activity that is characterised by pluralism in terms of the genres, works, and forms of art it encompasses, though these are all nevertheless ultimately linked together by a shared defetishising mission that we as their users and makers can fail to live up to (Chapters 8 and 9). The cost of such a failure is that in the end we do not see the art object or performance for what it truly is nor do we act upon the opportunity it provides for us to reshape our own subjectivities by means of the variety of catharsis-like experiences called forth by such objects and performances (Chapter 10). Lukács undertakes all of this while moreover venturing a grand unified theory of social action whereby the autonomous forms of disanthropomorphising reflection (science) and of anthropomorphising reflection (art) each in their own way help to cultivate a deeper engagement with the vita activa of a group or people in their everyday lives.3 Whereas the disanthropomorphisation performed by science leads to an ever greater conscious awareness of human activity and the surrounding world that exists both in relation to and independent of that activity, the anthropomorphisation commenced by art is said to eventuate in nothing less than the self-consciousness of the human race as such (Chapters 2, 5, and 7). This means that, when used by creator and receiver alike in the ways set forth in the two volumes of The Specificity of the Aesthetic, art allows us to meaningfully experience the identity of the individual with the human (of the singular with the universal) and – just as importantly – to contest, transform, and progressively expand the very definition of what it is to be human by means of the new orientations towards action disclosed by such an experience (Chapter 8).

On its face, Lukács’s ambition to synthesise these disparate aspects and histories into a coherent, unitary whole would thus seem to be more of a piece with nineteenth-century German monoliths like Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics (delivered 1818–1829, published 1835) or Friedrich Theodor Vischer’s Aesthetics, or The Science of the Beautiful (Ästhetik oder Wissenschaft des Schönen, published 1846–1857) than it is with those twentieth-century works on art and aesthetics that remain touchstones in much English-language scholarship. To be sure, its scope and systematicity are not out of step with the major aesthetic works of twentieth-century analytic philosophy – Susanne Langer’s Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art Developed from Philosophy in a New Key (1953), Ernst Gombrich’s Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (1960), Nelson Goodman’s Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (1968), Richard Wollheim’s Art and Its Objects (1968) – but its reliance on dialectical materialism to define that scope and to realise that systematicity certainly sets it apart. The contrast is even more striking when the major aesthetic theories of twentieth-century continental philosophy and American pragmatism are considered. Next to the esoteric essays of Martin Heidegger on art and poetry, the down-to-earth re-positing of aesthetics in terms of everyday experiences in John Dewey’s Art as Experience (1934), or the prickly paratactic shards of Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1970), The Specificity of the Aesthetic looks like a mouldering Victorian triple-decker: a loose, baggy monster redolent of foundlings, hansom cabs, poor houses, and unlikely turns of event.

Moreover, when one considers the specific claims and theories that are relied upon the most in The Specificity of the Aesthetic, any number of familiar questions arise. For instance, what are we to do with Lukács’s expectation that works of art do indeed constitute organic wholes? Isn’t it altogether out of step with the methods of collage and montage fruitfully explored by many of the historical avant-gardes and very much still with us in the age of digital sampling and piracy?4 Likewise, didn’t the historical avant-gardes aim to destroy the autonomy of art (that is to say, such things as organic totalities and works of art as such) and to thereby reintegrate art into life itself?5 Or to transform the very nature of aesthetic judgement from a contemplation of beauty into a question of what counts as art in the first place?6 What are we to do with a theory of the creation and reception of art that does not even consider such ways of making art except as examples that are best not followed? Moreover, hasn’t the conception of realism at the foundation of The Specificity of the Aesthetic been repeatedly discredited? In terms of theory, didn’t Roman Jakobson and Roland Barthes convincingly show realism to be more a matter of linguistic conventions than of the faithful reflection of reality?7 In terms of practice, what does the partisan, but nonetheless approximately accurate, reflection of reality ascribed by Lukács to art worthy of the name have to do with the crisis of representation influentially registered, expressed, and worked through by artists around the world over the past century?8 Simply put, what of value can The Specificity of the Aesthetic tell us about art made after modernism?

Countless more questions in this vein could be raised, but they would just more finely individuate the varieties of scepticism that are likely to accompany perplexity. For one thing, Lukács’s vision of art’s progressive role in the history and future of the human race bespeaks a belief in the two master-narratives (of the emancipation of mankind and the speculative unity of all knowledge) that were famously said to have become obsolete in the period of postmodernism.9 On every page, the postmodernist’s incredulity will thus clash with what she perceives to be Lukács’s naïve faith in liberation, totality, and narrative itself. Moreover, if an Anglophone reader’s frame of reference is not postmodernism but Marxist literary and cultural criticism, then The Specificity of the Aesthetic will very likely be subject to the same sorts of dismissive judgements that have tended to cling to most of Lukács’s post-1930s writings on art: though certainly estimable in many respects, it will nonetheless be seen to have serious blindspots requiring a Brecht or a Benjamin or an Adorno to supplement and redress.10 Emblematic of such a response remains Terry Eagleton’s blunt assessment of Lukácsian aesthetics:

It belongs to Lukács’s critique of both Stalinism and leftist avant-gardism to invoke the wealth of the bourgeois humanist legacy, overvaluing the undoubted continuity between that heritage and a socialist future; and the Romantic roots of his own brand of Marxism lead him often enough to ignore the more progressive dimensions of capitalism, including the need for an aesthetics which has learnt from the commodity form rather than lapsed back into some nostalgic totality before it ever was. To say this is not to deny the admirable force and fertility of the Lukácsian theory of realism, which represents an invaluable contribution to the canon of Marxist criticism, and which a modernist Marxism has unjustly demeaned; but Lukacs’s failure to take Marx’s point that history progresses by its bad side nevertheless constitutes a serious limitation to his thought.11

Too beholden to the humanism of the past and not dialectical enough to see that the only way forward is through the evils of capitalism – and, correlatively, through the unsightly forms given to these evils in modernist, avant-garde, and postmodernist works of art – Lukács merely repeats the mistakes made by almost all other major contributors to the discourse of aesthetics since Baumgarten, insofar as his own late aesthetics also ends up being merely ‘a sublimation and displacement of politics’.12

Yet it is precisely the speculative quality of the humanism espoused in The Specificity of the Aesthetic and its far-reaching recasting of aesthetics in terms of comportment that make this work an occasion for reconsidering Lukács’s stature in Marxist aesthetic theories.13 It also encourages us to reconceive what we understand the creation and reception of art to require of us at a time when it often seems that all that art asks is that we be credulous enough to view almost anything as a possible instance of it worthy of our diffuse attention, spare time, or passive engagement. Neither a sublimation nor a displacement of politics exactly, art in The Specificity of the Aesthetic is ultimately a field of human activity in which emergent political orientations get mediated for and absorbed into the ongoing formation of human personalities out of competing passions and behaviours. Art, for Lukács, requires of both its makers and receivers the creation of self-conscious subjects who could act, which refashions aesthetics into an account of what art has become since getting separated from magical and religious mimesis: a training ground for praxis (political and otherwise) rather than a compensatory source of pleasure to which we regretfully turn in the absence of all possibilities for meaningful action.

1 The Speculative Turn

These two claims (the speculative nature of Lukacs’s humanism and his reformulation of aesthetics as principally a matter of comportment) need to be tarried with in order for them to be recognised for the provocations they indeed are. Let us begin with the former: though Lukács certainly essentialises what it is to be human throughout both volumes of this work, his essentialism nevertheless remains emphatically processual: the ‘essence’ of man (of the species-being [Gattungswesen] of the human race) is almost always presented in terms of its competing discursive articulations, which is to say that it is subject to its historical (often strife-filled) conditions of unfolding emergence, vulnerable to misrepresentations, and available for momentous reformulations that can enduringly broaden the meaning of what it is to be human. In short, the humanism being elaborated in this text builds upon the influential anthropological conjectures offered by Marx in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and works through wide-ranging historical material and sublime time-scales that are more or less congruent with those explored by Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge in History and Obstinacy (1981), a fragmented work that in terms of its experimental form has almost nothing in common with The Specificity of the Aesthetic, though its focus on the role of labour in the evolution of human physiology and society makes it a suggestive intertext with Lukács’s own project and ambitions in this work.

Accordingly, the humanism on display here is as precarious as it is open to further development, much like art itself is said to be. In any case, Lukács treats both humanism and art as the historical categories and objects that they indeed are, and adequately comprehending them depends primarily on understanding the ways in which they have developed (progressed, stagnated, regressed) over vast spans of time. The comprehensive account of the unfolding qualities of the ‘human’ rendered in and modeled by means of art over the millennia thus makes The Specificity of the Aesthetic not only a significant (but thoroughly overlooked) interlocutor in contemporary animal studies and critical life studies more generally, but also more of an ally to performative theories of gender than a contemporary Anglophone scholar might otherwise expect.

It is worth briefly comparing Judith Butler with Lukács in this latter regard. According to Butler’s influential theory of the performative,

To claim that the universal has not yet been articulated is to insist that the ‘not yet’ is proper to an understanding of the universal itself: that which remains ‘unrealized’ by the universal constitutes it essentially. The universal begins to become articulated precisely through challenges to its existing formulation, and this challenge emerges from those who are not covered by it, who have no entitlement to occupy the place of the ‘who’, but who, nevertheless, demand that the universal as such ought to be inclusive of them.14

When approached as a political project, the universal (in the case being examined by Butler here, that group which counts as an enfranchised people or citizenry) does not involve the mere acceptance or rejection of the conventions and consensus that have formed around a given established universality; rather, the proper bearing called for by the universal is to look beyond such conventions or consensus and to formulate a broader, less straitened universal that can only be realised and given substance by way of weakening and opening up a given established universality’s own limits. The boundaries and scope of this new universal are not determined in advance but are to be looked for and found in the historical struggle around what constitutes this universality itself.15

The Specificity of the Aesthetic stages and presents the relationship between art and humanism in comparable ways. On the one hand, Lukács underscores art’s ability to articulate (and, in articulating, define) the borders of what the universal is at a given point in time:

Only in the aesthetic does the fundamental object (society in metabolism with nature) involve in relation to a subject – one that is working its way towards self-consciousness – the inseparable simultaneity of reproduction and the position taken, of objectivity and partisanship. The simultaneous positedness of these two aspects constitutes the indissoluble historicity of any work of art. It does not simply fix the facts existing-in-themselves in place as science does but rather immortalises a moment of the historical development of the human race. The survival of individuality in the typical, of partisanship in objective facts, etc. presents aspects of this historicity. As truth, artistic truth is thus a historical truth; its proper genesis converges with its true validity, since this is nothing more than revealing, making manifest and experienceable, a moment of human development that deserves to be held on to both in terms of its content and its form.

The approach to universality (in this case, ‘society in metabolism with nature’) called for by genuine works of art is to be held accountable to two concurrently invoked sets of criteria, one of which attests to its truth or objectivity (a truth or objectivity that is not absolute and transcendent but rather in force within a given historical situation or context) and the other of which concerns the exigency of the stance one is to adopt towards that truth or objectivity. Genuine art presents us with reproductions of universality that, among other things, model bearings towards a surrounding world and towards a given universal that we believe should be kept hold of as defining features of what it is to be human.

Importantly, however, Lukács insists that these features are not given in advance:

If we have determined art to be the self-consciousness of mankind’s development, then the aspect of continuity has thereby become the focal point. On the one hand, because only in this way can the static, idealist presumption of the ‘universally human’ be avoided: it is not a question of the actualisation of a humanity that is given a priori (in the idea) nor is it the dialectical unfolding of such an ‘idea’, in which, as in the Hegelian system, the end contains within itself as concrete fulfilment everything that already existed in abstract form at the beginning. The continuity intended here has no teleological character of this sort. It is – precisely in the literal sense – a real development that has actually taken place in its real ups and downs, with its real branches, attempts, regressions, etc.

Even what counts as the human in the present in its relationship to the past is subject to contestations and border skirmishes that do not hold the promise of unimpeded further advance. Our precarious hold on what has been gained in our humanisation as a species and the possibility for additional progress remain ineluctably linked. Both are thus subject to historical conditions that variably promote, obstruct, or otherwise confound momentous changes in what it is to be human, as this is encountered in meaningful everyday experiences and as such experiences get reflected in art.

On the other hand, however, this emphasis on the historical nature of art’s revelation of the self-consciousness of mankind carries with it two striking implications. First, it suggests that a work of art which ceases to disclose to us aspects of human development that are worth holding on to is no longer, properly speaking, art. In order to remain art, a work or performance must thus carry with it the vivid sense that it continues to have a bearing on us: ‘the aesthetic evocation of the past is the lived experience of this continuity, not the lived experience of something that is supposedly “universally human” for all time. We remain conscious of a temporo-historical remoteness, and yet we are immediately faced with a nostra causa agitur in fates, people, etc. that have long since vanished: this tension betokens this temporo-historical side of the aesthetic as the self-consciousness of mankind; […] it is the memory of mankind at the same time. However, whereas memory performs all sorts of functions in everyday life (among other things, merely registering and keeping ready to hand facts that can perhaps be of practical importance for the person concerned), the central function that is exclusively operative here is that of bringing up to date’. Lukács does not tarry with or expound upon the implication that it is therefore possible for specific works of art to cease to make their cause our own and thus to be worth our efforts to make them contemporary, but it remains in play whenever he emphasises the continuity of art and its ability to perform its role as the self-consciousness of the human race.

When read between the lines, The Specificity of the Aesthetic implicitly offers its own qualified version of the death (or end) of art argument that has attracted a great deal of attention – critical, revisionary, or otherwise – since Hegel’s formulation of it in his introduction to Lectures on Aesthetics. For Hegel, the death of art means simply that the highest vocation available to spirit is no longer to be found in the realm of art: ‘For us art counts no longer as the highest mode in which truth fashions an existence for itself. […] We may well hope that art will always rise higher and come to perfection, but the form of art has ceased to be the supreme need of the spirit. No matter how excellent we find the statues the Greek gods, no matter how we see God the Father, Christ, and Mary so estimably and perfectly portrayed: it is no help, we bow the knee no longer [before these artistic portrayals]’.16 The death of art thus does not mean that genuine works of art have ceased to be made or that they necessarily fail to improve upon the art of the past. Hegel cannot be refuted by adducing the works of Dickinson, Gauguin, Schoenberg, or Le Corbusier. Instead, his death of art thesis entails that ‘art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past. Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining its earlier necessity in reality and occupying its higher place. […] The philosophy of art is therefore a greater need in our day than it was in days when art by itself as art yielded full satisfaction. Art invites us to intellectual consideration, and that not for the purpose of creating art again, but for knowing philosophically what art is’.17 From here on out, philosophy and aesthetics lead the way, and new art either does or does not follow (if it even matters whether art does so or not).18

More recently, Arthur C. Danto has returned to and revised this Hegelian view to argue instead that philosophical concerns have indeed increasingly become the focus in art (Danto’s periodisation is ‘circa 1900’, but it stretches as far back as the Nazarene movement in the early 1800s and goes all the way to the present), but they are being worked out in art itself by artists themselves. Works of art have become a way of philosophising, and the root of many of their concerns has to do with ‘the problem of what makes something art when something phenomenally indistinguishable from it is not art’.19 In short, what makes Warhol’s Brillo boxes legible as works of art that are distinct from Brillo boxes for sale at a grocery store? According to Danto, the answer to this question for the time being cannot come from what we see of the two sets of boxes but rather from how well or poorly the Brillo boxes made by Warhol fit our particular understanding of what the essence of art is or might be. What Warhol makes conspicuous, however, is the necessary failure of any such understanding to ‘be compatible with all possible sets of manifest properties’ of everything designated as art.20 That is to say, art made ‘circa 1900’ marks the end of one way of telling the story of what art is, and ours is a period of confusion (masked by pluralism) until the next chapter of the story or a new way of telling all of the chapters up to this point presents itself: ‘But once art makers are freed from the task of finding the essence of art, which had been thrust upon art at the inception of Modernism, they too have been liberated from history, and have entered the era of freedom. Art does not end with the end of art history. What happens only is that one set of imperatives has been lifted from its practice as it enters what I think of as its posthistorical phase’.21

Lukács would accede to neither Hegel’s nor Danto’s arguments. In the case of Hegel, the death of art argument is clearly an artifact of subjective idealism, which Lukács repeatedly criticises and contrasts with his own dialectical and historical materialism. He certainly does not understand all modes of reflecting reality to be equal, but the hierarchy structuring those modes articulated by Lukács in The Specificity of the Aesthetic does not, for instance, place art above science or science above art; instead, he sees both as significant achievements in the reflection of a shared reality, and passing judgements as to which better serves man’s highest vocation at this moment in time is not a problem we are being asked to solve, either by history or by its bearing upon our contemporary everyday needs. More specifically, as to the relationship of art to philosophy, Lukács insists that it is art, not aesthetics, which has always called the tune: ‘Even in the case of great figures such as Aristotle, [the philosophy of art] always only cropped up post festum, and its most significant results were, just as in the works of Aristotle, the conceptual fixing in place of a level of artistic development that had already been achieved. This is not an accident’. That is to say, Hegel’s ‘truth and life’ still happen in genuine art, and while we may need a philosophy of art and of the human senses (in a word, an aesthetics) to conceptualise their co-occurrence, this ‘truth and life’ cannot make self-conscious subjects or persons of us by means of our thinking alone; instead, the happening of art’s ‘truth and life’ can only come to pass in the total effect of works of art on their creators and receivers. Aesthetics gives us the means of theorising the stakes of this encounter and the norms by which it has been ensured over time, but it is no substitute for the meaningful experiences that such an encounter calls forth in us – mentally, bodily, and spiritually. Aesthetics thus follows art, not the other way around.

Yet this does not mean that Danto’s end of art argument must be swallowed whole either. Lukács insists that the continuity of art and the human over thousands and thousands of years calls for philosophy to specify the customary expectations, forms, and experiences by which that continuity has been evoked, which means that genuine works of art are never free of the essence of art or of the need to relate to the history of art. Such ‘liberated’ works may be called art by us today, but Lukács would insist that they will not survive the test of time or the demands for continuity. Or if they were to persist as art, then that would be because their liberation from essence and history was ultimately an occulted expression of a momentous transformation of that essence and history that has since been incorporated into the ongoing formation of art. The version of the death or end of art argument tacitly expressed by The Specificity of the Aesthetic never ceases to posit that art will endure as an autonomous sphere of human activity so long as there exist people receptive to works and performance that do indeed evocatively carry out the humanising and memorialising tasks he describes. While Lukács does not address a prospective coming world in which art as such will have ceased to perform these tasks, individual works of art (irrespective of their age, familiarity, or venerability) are by no means guaranteed to continue to fulfil them into the future. On the one hand, works of art possess an ‘aesthetic existence [that] remains in force completely independent of this subject’. Once a work of art, always a work of art. Yet, ‘this – aesthetic – existence it possesses is completely anthropomorphic in character. It is a construct, created by means of the humanly sensuous […] reflection of reality. Its aesthetic existence is based exclusively on its power to evoke a world in receptive subjects’. The efficacy of works of art can thus obsolesce. For Lukács, however, the end of art prompting the speculations of Danto would merely be the inadvertent acknowledgment that the ludic provocations of the avant-garde and postmodernism will always never have been art.

2 Comportment and Catharsis as the Man-Made-Whole

This leads to the second implication of the historical nature of art’s revelation of the self-consciousness of mankind: The Specificity of the Aesthetic does not bind art and humanism exclusively to the past and the present. To be sure, the human history covered in these two volumes relies on a wide range of (now rather dated) anthropological sources – Arnold Gehlen, Sir James George Frazer, Erich Rothacker, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Ralph Linton, and Edward Burnett Tylor are notable touchstones for Lukács here – and on a time-scale that encompasses millennia rather than decades or centuries; nevertheless, the mode of address adopted is to a present that is ultimately oriented towards the emergent future.

In some cases, this involves accounting for those evocative details in works of art that run ahead of current sociohistorical development and make experienceable a facet of what it is to be human that will not in actual fact be a widespread human feature for many years or even centuries: ‘Thus, in the figure of Phaedra in Euripides and in that of Dido in Virgil, which elevated the individual passion of love into the species-like, into the possession of the self-consciousness of mankind, long before it would have turned into a general social appearance’. In other cases, this address made by art to the present in terms of the future is simply the reaffirmation of the continuity of the ‘human’: ‘Even consciousness about objective reality must of course hold on to facts, personalities, times, local conditionalities, etc. in their concrete specificity, though they are starting-points, springboards – the more strongly consciousness has developed, the more this is the case – for comprehending the general laws at work in them or at least for approximating them so as to be able to control even the singular as singular where it is possible to do so. Only in the aesthetic does this personal quality have an intrinsic value (in two regards in fact: as personal quality of the presented object and as the quality of the mode of presentation); it is the bearer of self-consciousness, the awakener of self-consciousness: as memory, as “inwardising” of the path that the human species has gone and will go, of the persons and situations, of the virtues and vices, of man’s inner and outer world, from the dynamic unfolding and dialectical contradictoriness of which the human species has raised itself into what it is today and will be tomorrow’. In sum, the ‘human’ in The Specificity of the Aesthetic is a personal value that we have yet to make into a social fact. Those reflections of reality that truly rise to the level of art (still subject to changing circumstances and adverse conditions) are essential in at least two ways. First, they maintain the continuity between our present conceptions of the human with those of the past. Second, they model comportments (ways in which we could yet act in a world that has not yet completely foreclosed the possibilities for such action) that force one to meaningfully experience the taking of sides in the momentous reassessment of this value and its prospective transformation into what is or will be the case.

Lukács expresses this most expansively in his account of how art transforms the whole man (der ganze Mensch) of everyday life into the man-made-whole (der Mensch ganz). The former ‘faces reality with the entire surface of his existence’. That is to say, it is an essential feature of the everyday that all human capacities collaborate in any given human activity. This collaboration may be characterised by real contradictions, but The Specificity of the Aesthetic insists that these contradictions do not entail that the man of everyday life is always only ever fragmented into this or that ‘faculty of the soul’, each of which is cut off from the others. To be sure, Lukács grants that such a sense of fragmentation and alienation is a salient attribute of capitalist everyday life, but to stop at this nascently critical observation is to get oneself stuck at the level of immediacy. Dialectical materialism demands instead that we move beyond a direct everyday lived experience of fragmentation and alienation under capitalism to an understanding of how the unity of the intellect and the senses is nonetheless already achieved because of (rather than in spite of) the immediate appearance of fragmentation and alienation: ‘only the complete elucidation of the social bases can make man comprehensible as a wholeness, can make the inseparability of his physical and psychological powers comprehensible’. The comprehensibility of the wholeness of people in the capitalist everyday may require a great deal of intellectual labour to disclose for a given moment or conjuncture, but Lukács maintains that this wholeness is still really there to be disclosed. To aver otherwise, as do those who defend modernist fragmentation or avant-garde collage and montage as compositional methods of rupture that fend off closure, is to hypostasise what is ultimately only an appearance.

Yet the whole man of everyday life (even of everyday life subject to modes of socio-economic organisation other than capitalism) necessarily remains in thrall to limitations that are insurmountable from within the everyday itself. One reason for this is that, although it is one of the three primary modes of reflecting reality addressed by Lukács throughout The Specificity of the Aesthetic, the everyday does not offer the sorts of enduring objectivations, like those characterising science and art, that make possible ways of behaving which are removed from the immediate mundane doings of life: ‘human modes of comportment essentially depend upon the degree to which their activity is objectivated. Where these objectivations attain the highest level, as in science and art, the objective laws of science and art determine the human comportment towards these constructs that man himself has made. That is to say, all human abilities come by an orientation (partly instinctively, partly consciously acquired) towards satisfying these objective lawful regularities’. According to Lukács, the fluid and mutable objectivations of the everyday (tradition, habit, etc.) fail to provide the degree of abstraction and mediation necessary to orient action beyond the immediate union of theory and praxis. This does not mean that the objects that make up modern everyday life (among others, Lukács points to taxis, buses, and trolleys) possess an inherently immediate character. To be sure, these objects ‘exist only as a result of a widely ramified, multifaceted, and complicated system of mediation that is becoming ever more complicated and ever more widely ramified in the course of social development. However, insofar as it is a question of the objects of everyday life, they stand there finished, and the system of mediation producing them appears completely effaced in their immediate, bare existence and thusness’. The results of science and art responsively stream into everyday life, but everyday life does not become more scientific or artistic as a result.

The autonomy and continuous interrelationship of these modes of reflection in modern times is constantly adverted to throughout The Specificity of the Aesthetic:

The everyday behaviour of man is at once the start and endpoint of all human activity. That is to say, if one conceives of the everyday as a great river, then science and art branch off from it into the loftier forms of reality’s reception and reproduction. They differentiate themselves from each other and correspondingly develop their own specific aims, and they arrive at their pure form in this specificity – a specificity rising from the needs of social life – in order to then flow back into the river of everyday life as a result of their effects, their impacts on human life. This river of everyday life thus continually enriches itself with the greatest achievements of the human spirit and assimilates them to its practical daily needs, from which new branches of the loftier forms of objectivation then arise again as questions and demands.

Science and art constitutively respond to needs and problems presented by an everyday life that is in turn broadened and deepened by them. This amplified everyday life then poses new problems that cannot be solved from within the scope of its immediacy but that can be with the aims and methods of science and art. The focus for Lukács in all of these relationships is on the flowing transitions between these three modes of reflecting reality and on the processes by which they mutually shape each other continuously.

On its own, however, the more solid nature of the objectivations produced by science and art does not account for the ability of either to lead the whole man (again, the integral combination of intellect and body, psychology and sensorium) of everyday life beyond himself and the everyday. To begin with, a given work of art or performance is encountered as a suspension of everyday practical objectives or interests. In other words, we do not read The Magic Mountain (1924) in order to learn how to run a sanitarium (or if we did, then our use of it would not be aesthetic). Thomas Mann’s novel does not present us with isolated facts that we can immediately act on once we perceive them, as we might when hearing the doorbell ring or when seeing the car in front of us brake unexpectedly. Unlike everyday life, art is not comprised of seemingly contingent people, facts, and objects but rather of meaningful relationships between those people, facts, and objects. It is a given work or performance’s homogeneous medium (visibility, audibility, language, gesture, etc.) which presents an artist with a constructively limited range of sensory appeals (primarily to the eyes and ears) with which to evoke a likeness of objective reality and to guide the reproduction of this likeness in the lived experiences of those receiving the work or performance. For Lukács, the homogeneous medium’s constriction of what is given to be seen or heard to a finite set of essential relationships is an important part of how an in-itself becomes a for-us in the aesthetic reflection of reality carried out by art. The world of the work of art requires drastic reductions, omissions, and rearrangements of the real world. As a result, art fights against the ‘dispersals of attention’ that confront the whole man of the everyday, and the homogeneous medium of a particular work ‘produces, creatively and receptively, such a focus so that all the objective possibilities and determinations dormant in a concrete phenomenon at the time are able to become current in a manifest way’. This homogeneous medium provides ‘the particular principle for the formation of objectivities and their linkages that were specifically brought forth by human praxis’, and these formal qualities of the work of art give a shape to the contents of life that those contents necessarily cannot receive in the everyday. Everyday life always carries with it the possible need to take immediate action; by contrast, the work of art’s very form calls not only for a ‘temporary suspension of the direct relationship to life itself’, which permits the possibility of new perspectives on long-held attitudes and beliefs, but also for a concentration of events, people, and/or objects into a self-contained space and time in which ‘that which is essential in the world of appearance is more strongly emphasised everywhere than is possible in the immediate sequence of happenings in everyday life’.

What this all permits are opportunities for perspectival shifts that make available new ways of comporting oneself: the person receiving the work of art confronts it ‘not only as a closed system, but also as something immutably given, as something that exists independent of his consciousness that he certainly – as a whole or in singular details – can refuse to accept yet with whose course of action he cannot interfere. […] It is precisely this focusing of a person entirely on the totality of the work that creates the mental conditions to ensure that the whole man who stands in life again turns the new meaningful experiences acquired here to account there, that the shocks triggered in him by the work essentially alter and deepen his personal bearing in life’. On the one hand, we lose ourselves in the performance or art work so as to gain a heightened sense of ourselves as personalities. On the other, we thereby obtain a mediated relationship to the object world that appears immediate. This second immediacy achieved in art as an intensive this-worldly transcendence is in striking contrast to religion, where second immediacy is founded on an otherworldly transcendence, and to reification, where there is second immediacy but no transcendence.22

The this-worldly transcendence of art’s second immediacy is the meaningful experience of the aesthetic subject’s being at one with the human race, of being the man-made-whole by and in art. This otherwise purely intellectual sense of identification necessarily takes on an intensively lived, felt, and undergone quality in art that only happens by way of exception (if ever) in the everyday. The whole man of the everyday is always an integral unity of body, mind, sensory impressions, and personal memory, but only by means of art is he made to experience himself as being in total continuity (affectively and cognitively) with the species of which he and all other humans are a constitutive part. Our being a part of the human race is not something that subsumes us but rather is experienced as inhering within us by means of the work of art. The measuring stick for aesthetic subjectivity is thus necessarily relational (the creator and/or receiver of art in terms of the human species), which Lukács insists prevents it from lapsing into mere subjectivism and accords to art an idiosyncratic objectivity that nevertheless possesses an essentially subjective character. The anthropomorphising subjectivity of art does not cut it off from objectivity, but it does demand that objectivity in art always be related back to the human, that the intensive totality of the work of art reflect a social totality. The corollary of this claim is that aesthetics is ultimately a matter of comportment, of a way of behaving, which contrasts strikingly with the way in which most other aesthetic theories have tended to pose it in the West, where aesthetics has primarily been a matter of judgement, taste, representation, expression, or experience. Lukács does not do away with any of these facets of the aesthetic, though he does repurpose them to serve and inform that conduct which he understands to be proper to art. The creation and reception of art are first and foremost a doing, and this doing not only is socially grounded, but also has the effect of humanising us, of evocatively expanding, deepening, and consolidating our sense of ourselves as members of the human race.

This man-made-whole of art, however, is not, upon returning to just being a whole man, better equipped to deal with the practical tasks and obligations of everyday life. The effect of art on us is not to prompt direct action but rather to implicate us in the world as it relates to people and to awaken us to the possibilities for action disclosed by such an implication. The world is something with which we all have to do, and the man-made-whole of art is the creator or receiver of art in whom art has taken root not as an indifferent cultural heritage to which we are heir but rather as generator of the desire to intervene: ‘the specificity of [the] effect’ of works of art is that ‘they call forth passions in people and give these passions determinate contents, determinate directions, etc. whereby people then become capable of intervening practically into social life, of struggling for or against certain social facts’. Art produces civic passions in us, and it is these passions which then motivate the possibility for us to participate meaningfully in the changing of society, even when it comes to what does or does not count as ‘human’. For instance, Lukács notes that ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin does not call for help for the slaves portrayed there, slaves who in such a being-just-so indeed probably did not exist at all and in any case were not approachable at all in a practical way for the reader moved by the evocation of the work; instead, it awakens feelings and passions to fight for the emancipation of all slaves (of all who are oppressed in terms of class). What thus comes into being is a human willingness that must discover concrete means, etc. in life itself (perhaps even in science) if it is to be realised in practice, if it is actually to turn into deed’. Art thus evokes not just a sense of ourselves as members of the human race but, more importantly, a sense of ourselves as members of the human race with skin in the game.

Lukács’s concept for this is catharsis, and it provides the means of linking the lived experience of the man-made-whole with the work of art to the after-effects of this experience on the whole man of the everyday: ‘The essential common feature [of all types of catharsis], however, is the fact that this kind of aesthetic effect belongs to the afterwards of what is actually artistic’. That is to say, catharsis names both what happens in an encounter with a work of art and its socio-ethical impact on the person having the encounter. Aesthetic experience thus encompasses more than what takes place while viewing a painting, walking in and around a building, listening to a song, or reciting a lyric poem. It necessarily links together the everyday influences and habits leading up to such encounters and the transformations of those influences and habits that are made possible following them. This effect is not immediate or direct (reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin does not provide the practical means by which to achieve the abolition of slavery, either through civil disobedience or civil war); rather, it is one that ‘acts to promote or inhibit the formation of certain types of people’ (reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin helps to inculcate the formation of the sorts of civic passions that will make the abolition of slavery the kind of problem that the reader will hereafter seek to address and solve – in a word, the personality of the type of person who becomes an abolitionist). Lukács traces this ethical efficacy of art back to Greek antiquity, from which he derives his own theorisations of both catharsis and mimesis, though he attributes a scope to catharsis that extends far beyond the pity and terror described in Aristotle’s Poetics: ‘Reproach of the beforehand and advancement on behalf of the afterwards – and both may even appear almost effaced in the immediacy of lived experience – constitute an essential content of what we early referred to as the single most universal form of catharsis: such a jarring of the subjectivity of the receptive person that his passions which are active in life receive new contents and a new orientation, that they are purged to such an extent that they turn into a mental foundation of “virtuous habits” ’. The work of art thus calls for its receiver to suspend her immediate relationship to everyday practical concerns and to distance herself with respect to them, but in undergoing cathartic shock she does not sequester herself or her lived experience off from all that led up to that moment, and in carrying out what catharsis requires of her into her everyday life she is forced to reckon with momentous changes that need to be undertaken both in herself and in her everyday life. Alternatively, catharsis forces us not merely to acknowledge the ethical implications of art but to live them out.23 If mimesis provides the means by which the creator of the work of art builds the bridge between art and the world reflected by it, then catharsis is how that bridge gets embodied by the receiver of art to ensure that art and the everyday do not remain cut off from or indifferent to each other.

3 The World of the Work of Art

The condition for this, however, remains the autonomous work of art, understood as a world. For Lukács, ‘world’ does not mean the totality of things but rather their measure as represented in and by the self-contained depiction offered of this totality in a given performance, poem, sonata, still life, building, film, etc. In his critical analysis of current conceptions of ‘world literature’, Eric Hayot has identified how in contemporary literary scholarship the word ‘world’ tends ‘to pivot between an ontological reference to any self-enclosing whole (what are, after all, periods, regions, or parts of wholes but wholes themselves?) and a material reference to the largest possible versions of such wholes (history; the planet Earth; the universe)’.24 For Lukács, the world of the work of art invokes both references all at once: it refers both to the work of art as a self-enclosing whole and to the whole of the universe of things (at least as far as these things bear upon people) that is perforce outside that self-enclosing whole but which is nevertheless intensively evoked by it. According to Hayot, however, such a double reference may be implied by theories of world literature or of world-systems, but ultimately such theories end up omitting ‘the largest possible versions of such wholes (human time; the planet Earth; the universe)’ in order to focus instead on the part of the whole about which they can insightfully speak: ‘If I had to guess, I would say that the problem is that no one has a very good theory of the world, and that in the absence of good theories “world” comes to mean whatever one does have a good theory of (a system, a method, a social or cultural whole)’.25 To resolve this, Hayot offers his own speculative account about that for which he too has a good theory: literary worlds, or ‘the diagetic totality constituted by the sum of all aspects of a single text or work-part, constellated into a structure or system that amounts to a whole’ and that is ‘always a relation to and theory of the lived world, whether as a largely preconscious normative construct, a rearticulation, or even an active refusal of the world-norms of their age. In this sense they are also always social and conceptual constructs, as well as formal and affective ones’.26 In short, the world of the work of art necessarily expresses ‘worldedness’, or ‘the form of the relation a work establishes between the world inside and the world outside the work. The history of aesthetic worldedness is thus always, simultaneously, a history of the idea of the world as such’.27

In line with some of Hayot’s polemical speculations here, The Specificity of the Aesthetic offers a thick historico-anthropological account of how the intensive totality that makes up the world of the work of art connects to some of the most extensive possible totalities in the human world (species-being, the earth, the entire history of the human race, etc.). Likewise, Lukács’s focus on aesthetic worlds, worldedness, and worldliness means that his theories and analyses here do not rely exclusively on genre, medium, or close reading, nor do they take language, period, or nation-state as their sole (or even ultimate) frames of reference.28 For instance, much attention is paid to the conditions of possibility for the creation and reception of the worldedness of works of art in the first place, which makes legible not only the possibility for paradoxes like the worldless realism of Paleolithic cave paintings (realistic because of the high degree of fidelity in the depiction of each individual creature, worldless because no attention is paid at all to the relations between and among these depicted creatures as an ensemble), but also the constitutive roles played by underexplored categories like inherence or indeterminate objectivity in the creation of aesthetic worlds. Such features of the world of the work of art provide useful criteria that cut against familiar ways of undertaking comparative studies.

However, unlike Hayot’s speculations, which tacitly adopt a constructivist viewpoint akin to that offered by Nelson Goodman, Lukács’s account of the world of the work of art here is more expressly reflective.29 That is to say, for Hayot and Goodman, there is no ‘real’ world at which the buck can stop; there is no world that can be taken as aboriginal or definitive. Yet this is precisely what the dialectical materialism of The Specificity of the Aesthetic insists is the case: there is in fact a real world that exists independent of any given work of art’s world and worldedness, and this real world is more or less closely approximated by that work of art’s world and worldedness. As Darío Villanueva persuasively showed some years ago, Lukács’s theory of mimetic reflection is thus triadic, insofar as worldview intervenes and mediates between the real world and the world of the work of art.30 In the case of Hayot and Goodman, however, what we end up with are just more and more recursively symbolised ideas about the world.

This distinction here between materialism (Lukács) and constructivism (Hayot and Goodman) has notable implications for what we understand art to be doing and what aesthetic debates are ultimately about. Simply put, Hayot’s intervention into conceptions of aesthetic or literary worlds takes aim at scholars and the universities that support them, primarily in order to shake them up and make them innovatively diversify the disciplinary customs and practices that they adopt, reward, and institutionalise.31 He is ultimately for pluralism (for many different world-versions), as is Goodman, who does not see much of value to be gained in reducing all worlds to a single ‘correct’ world: ‘While we may speak of determining what versions are right as “learning about the world”, “the world” supposedly being that which all right versions describe, all we learn about the world is contained in right versions of it; and while the underlying world, bereft of these, need not be denied to those who love it, it is perhaps on the whole a world well lost’.32 Conversely, for Lukács there are not many real worlds; there is only one real world. To be sure, he is a pluralist when it comes to the modes of reflecting reality – science in general and physics in particular, for instance, do not give us a reflection of reality to which all other modes ought to be reduced – but he does not countenance such pluralism when it comes to the ground upon which these modes are built: there is indeed a bedrock reality that science, art, and the everyday are all reflecting, each in its own way; moreover, pluralism reigns when it comes to the arts themselves. The stakes of art and its theorisation in aesthetics thus go far beyond the mere reinvigoration of pluralism and defence of diversity in the creation of worlds. If there is indeed only one foundational reality that science, art, and the everyday approximate in their respective reflections of it, then it becomes exigent to get it more or less right. And not so that we can merely advance our understanding or liven up our hoary old intellectual pursuits but rather so that we can make the more accurate, truthful ways of reflecting reality into more permanent aspects of meaningful human experience and actuators of human behaviour everywhere.

In Lukács’s account of it, the world of the work of art is accordingly a self-contained microclimate, one that is distinct within (yet interdependent with) the real world and that can foster passions, commitments, and orientations that otherwise might not survive, much less thrive. The view of art, its creation, and its reception in The Specificity of the Aesthetic is thus ecological: aesthetics requires that we treat works of art as environments that call for those humans who encounter them to adopt certain ways of relating to them and to carry the results of these relations over into the other parts of their lives so that they become durable aspects of their personalities. The world of the work of art comprises an intensive human-centred totality that selectively reflects a common shared reality and uses integrated parts of this reflection to evoke a sense of oneself as a member of the human race by means of a variety of cathartic effects that do not subsume the creator or receiver of art within species-being but rather make this species-being into an essential component of that creator or receiver. Art does not make us subjects in the human race; it makes us subjects of the human race. It allows species-being to be that which inheres within us, and such inherence likewise entails that our ways of behaving or comporting ourselves as the whole men of the everyday change in accordance with this effect of subjectification as well. Likewise, to claim that the view of art in The Specificity of the Aesthetic is ecological is also to note that it is conservationist: insofar as their efficacy on their human makers and receivers are an integral part of their existence, works of art are not just there, they do not just simply exist. As the long historical view taken by Lukács suggests, the creation of such works as an autonomous sphere of human activity has taken millennia to realise, and it requires persistent action on our part (a mode of comportment or way of behaving) to continue to effectively be the case. Again, as noted earlier, Lukács’s speculations in his late aesthetics do not foreclose the possibility that specific works of art might cease to make the claims on us that he attributes to art worthy of the name. Art is a real human achievement, but that does not mean that it is an eternal achievement. In this sense, The Specificity of the Aesthetic makes the case for the protection of art against its biggest threats, whether they be found outside art itself, as in the case of the distortive effects wrought by Stalinism in socialist countries or by capitalism in Western ones, or within it, as in the case of the different assaults made on art by avant-gardistes, modernists, and postmodernists. The latter make claims for disruptive innovation, negation, and radical discontinuity, and The Specificity of the Aesthetic provides some challenging speculations for all three (starting with the question: by what criteria can we presently see all art from all periods as being of a piece with each other, and if we cannot adduce such criteria, then on what grounds can we credibly give the name of ‘art’ to any such works?) and a plea for the protection of art and the behaviours it demands of us against the lures of radical relativism, which would leave us in the cul-de-sac ruefully described by Danto and thus with the end of the story of art as such instead of just the obsolescence of a few works of art here and there.

4 Provocations

There are at least two further timely and provocative consequences that follow from this. First of all, Lukács argues that when it comes to art, not all affects are created equal. This is likely to be taken as a provocation because affect theory has received a lot of attention in English-language literary criticism and cultural studies since the 1990s, and most of this attention has prioritised its openness and virtuality: affect as an immediate force or intensity of perpetual potentiality that is resistant to meaning, exists outside or before language, and tends towards the excessive and the instinctive. Eugenie Brinkema has pithily described the way in which it has usually been approached as of late:

‘Affect’, as turned to, is said to: disrupt, interrupt, reinsert, demand, provoke, insist on, remind of, agitate for: the body, sensation, movement, flesh and skin and nerves, the visceral, stressing pains, feral frenzies, always rubbing against: what undoes, what unsettles, that thing I cannot name, what remains resistant, far away (haunting, and ever so beautiful); indefinable, it is said to be what cannot be written, what thaws the critical cold, messing all systems and subjects up. Thus, turning to affect has allowed the humanities to constantly possibly introject any seemingly absent or forgotten dimension of inquiry, to insist that play, the unexpected, and the unthought can always be brought back into the field.33

This widely used understanding of affect is due in no small part to the pioneering efforts of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Brian Massumi to build upon, respectively, the works of Silvan Tomkins and Gilles Deleuze.34 In their wake, much influential work has been done to historicise and politicise affect while also accounting for the role it can play in generating novel aesthetic categories.35 Whatever their aims, subsequent critiques and genealogies of affect have likewise further entrenched its centrality to contemporary literary, artistic, and cultural criticism.36

In such a setting, the handling of affect in The Specificity of the Aesthetic will likely seem out of place insofar as only those affects (that is, those forces or intensities that relate the work of art to the bodies of its receivers) which are cathartic (again, those which evocatively engage and meaningfully reorient the passional commitments of the receiver of art in light of the sense of being of the human race that is made experienceable in the encounter with the work of art) are deemed specific to art; thus, attention paid to other possible affects is a frittering away of one’s time on things that are inessential to aesthetics.37 Moreover, while these cathartic effects necessarily perform an ethical function, this function does not make art a branch of ethics. The world of the work of art is distinct from the discourse of ethics in that it addresses the whole man of the everyday. The view that the work of art provides of one’s being of the human species is not just cognitive or intellectual but also corporeal and affective. As Reiner Ruffing sums up Lukács’s reflections in this regard, ‘Without works of art we would have inadequate notions of human possibilities, both as a species and as individuals. Art bursts the everyday’s habituated patterns of perception and sensitises you to new perspectives’.38 These perspectives aren’t limitless or undefined, however; to count as cathartic affects, they must carry with them the effect of humanising us, of making new conceptions of what it is to be human not just known but experienceable. All other affects that fail to move us towards this end or that act to thwart such a movement thus drop out of view or are treated as beside the point. This would render the bulk of contemporary affect theory – much of it characterised by openly or covertly anti-humanist aspects – irrelevant to aesthetics as such.

Yet this need not be as proscriptive as it seems, for as we have seen, the meaning of what it is to be human is precisely what is left open and processual in The Specificity of the Aesthetic. Lukács’s proscriptions here about affectivity thus serve a goal whose scope is subject to historical change and is therefore ultimately indeterminate. In many respects, this is in line with the influential description of species-being offered in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, where Marx contrasts animal and human production:

But [animals] produce only their own immediate needs or those of their young; they produce one-sidedly, while man produces universally; they produce only when immediate physical need compels them to do so, while man produces even when he is free from physical need and truly produces only in freedom from such need; they produce only themselves, while man reproduces the whole of nature; their products belong immediately to their physical bodies, while man freely confronts his own product. Animals produce only according to the standards and needs of the species to which they belong, while man is capable of producing according to the standards of every species and of applying to each object its inherent standard.39

According to Simon Skempton, this means that species-being refers to ‘the negative universality that constitutes consciousness, a universality stemming from the lack of any specific determination, an insubstantial intrinsic relationality. To say that a human is a Gattungswesen [species-being] is simply to say that a human is a conscious being, having the indeterminacy productive of universal awareness. It is not to say that a human is a being who has an identification with its biological “species”, with humanity. […] The point is that Gattungswesen involves freedom from specific determination’.40 Skempton goes on to criticise those who confuse species-being with an essence or differentia specifica that distinguishes humans from all other species.41 Lukács’s remarks on species-being in The Specificity of the Aesthetic do not make this mistake, but they do insist that art is where this consciousness of universality and indeterminacy gets essentialised. What would be a vice in Marxist anthropology becomes a virtue in Lukácsian aesthetics, where art is tasked with perennially making anew the openness of species-being into a meaningfully experienced essence and a truly living (because it is an embodied, not just a theorised) universality.

This brings us to the second provocation made by the world of the work of art here, which has to do with Lukács’s commitment to totality, a concept that continues to be divisive, carrying with itself undertones of totalitarianism. This is not the place to replay the debates around this concept or how it evolved in Marxist scholarship over the course of the twentieth century.42 All that is to be done here is to stave off some likely confusions by summing up what ‘totality’ means for Lukács here, which is simply ‘the problem of the part and the whole’. As Gail Day pithily puts it, ‘Despite its considerable weightiness in Lukács’s writing, the concept [of totality] is surprisingly modest in what it performs; it simply demands that we consider the interrelations and interactions between different phenomena, that we relate the parts to the whole – and that we conceive these parts – the whole and all their relations – as mutable, as both materially constraining and subject to human actions’.43 Likewise, Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes Lukács’s understanding of totality as ultimately being a matter of labour:

The totality of which Lukacs speaks is, in his own terms, ‘the totality of observed facts’, not of all possible and actual beings but of our coherent arrangement of all the known facts. When the subject recognizes himself in history and history in himself, he does not dominate the whole, as the Hegelian philosopher does, but at least he is engaged in a work of totalization. He knows that no historical fact will ever have its whole meaning for us unless it has been linked to all the facts we are able to know, unless it has been referred to as a particular moment in a single enterprise which unites them, unless it has been placed in a vertical history which is the record of attempts which had a meaning, of their implications and of their conceivable continuations. If one takes on the responsibility of deciphering fundamental choices in history, there is no reason to limit oneself to partial and discontinuous intuitions.44

Totality names the demand that we conceive of parts and wholes in ways that hang together, but never in a way that is closed for once and for all. For Lukács, ‘open-ended totalizations predominat[e] over closed totalities’.45

This means that The Specificity of the Aesthetic is to be taken as a whole, not as a collection of fragmentary parts that we are free to pick through and salvage as we would the choice bits of an abandoned building or sunken ship. We are instead compelled to confront the disparate anthropological, historical, philosophical, economic, and aesthetic aspects of this massive project in terms of their constitutive interrelationships. Arguably, this demand to totalise is made all the more exigent by the fact that The Specificity of the Aesthetic is, notwithstanding its size and scale, incomplete. What we have here is a Pantagruelian sliver of a system that is not fully worked out, which does not make of it a philosophical fragment in which modernism inadvertently triumphs but rather underscores the degree to which Lukács would have the readers of this and all of his late works approach these texts as living, open constructs in need of extension, revision, deletion, and supplementation. Its incompleteness means it is not yet whole, but the demand to totalise necessitates that the interlocutors of Lukács’s aesthetics make it so.

The demand for totality – for expressing a presently coherent whole out of both the continuous and discontinuous aspects that make up a person or a society or the human race – extends to Lukács’s life itself, which is apparent in his late attempt at autobiography (as is the case with so much of his later work, it was never completed): ‘In my case everything is a continuation of something else. I do not think that there are any non-organic elements in my development’.46 His life, he insisted to the end, was all of a piece, and in this vein there has been much compelling work to link together into a cogent and shapely whole all of the stages in his intellectual biography, from Developmental History of Modern Drama (Entwicklungsgeschichte des modernen Dramas, published in 1909) to On the Ontology of Social Being (Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, published in 1971). For Werner Jung, for instance, the narrative of Lukács’s life as an intellectual charts a path ‘from utopia to ontology, from a historico-philosophical hope for a new human community – the “society of love” as he calls it in an essay from 1919 – to a sober-minded materialist stocktaking of this same supposedly new socialist society’.47 Alternatively, the problems posed to philosophy by language, science, and irrationalism are what instead provide János Kelemen with the means of unifying Lukács’s work into a whole.48 Even more recently, Fredric Jameson has shown the ways in which a commitment to working out a more robustly dialectical conception of form links together not only the political and aesthetic works of Lukács, but also his early and late writings.49

In this light, clarifying the ways in which The Specificity of the Aesthetic relates to earlier works by Lukács becomes all the more urgent, though a full accounting of such relationships is necessarily beyond the scope of this introduction. It is worth pointing out, however, the manner in which Lukács’s late aesthetics bears on History and Class Consciousness (1923), a text that remains a touchstone for much English-language cultural, historical, and political criticism. The most eloquent expositor of the kinship between these two works remains Ágnes Heller, who has long contended that The Specificity of the Aesthetic marks both a return to the problems explored in History and Class Consciousness and a momentous correction to the flawed answer it provides. In both works, Lukács seeks the means by which correct consciousness is to be attained in the face of reification.50 In History and Class Consciousness, this means is found in the class consciousness of the proletariat, who as the identical subject-object of history are not only the collective agents of revolution, but also the resolvers of the epistemological crisis posed by reification. To Heller’s mind, this confusion of categories (praxis with epistemology, empirical consciousness with class consciousness) entailed that Lukács’s solution could not help but be a mystification: ‘The concept of class consciousness used by Lukács postulated not only the collective class that takes action but also an epistemological character. The working class was thus the guardian of absolute, scientific truth. The Marxist conception changed from the ground up and gained a much wider meaning. The working class turned into the instrument for solving a set of epistemological problems, and it thereby turned into mythos’.51 In part, Heller traces this mystification of the agent of social change back to the tendency of History and Class Consciousness to be an idealised expression of Leninism, which she sees as the sustained, but not consciously recognised, target of criticism in Lukács’s late works. In The Specificity of the Aesthetic this criticism is said to be most salient in the substitution of the concept of the human species for that of class, which leads Lukács away from using class affiliation as a measuring stick for artistic truth and towards the theory of reflection.52 Thus, the identical subject-object of history in The Specificity of the Aesthetic is not the collectivity formed by the proletariat, as it was in History and Class Consciousness, but rather the collectivity of individual creators and receivers who comport themselves in the ways called for by works of art. The work of art ‘embodies the social universal’ and is the occasion for the aesthetic subject (the man-made-whole) to individually undertake ‘the reception of the social totality’.53 It thus falls to the work of art, not to class consciousness, to call forth from its creators and receivers ‘the deepest truth of Marxism: the humanization of man as the content of the process of history which realizes itself – in a myriad of varieties – in each individual human life. It follows that each individual – regardless of whether he is conscious of this or not – is an active factor in the overall process whose product he also is. Progress towards species being in individual life represents the true convergence of two real but inseparable paths of development’.54

In locating the social agency for progress in the comportment towards art it sets forth, The Specificity of the Aesthetic likewise marks a corrective to the pointedly undemocratic qualities of Lukács’s earlier Leninism.55 This change in course follows from the two major events of 1956: Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’ regarding Stalinism in February and the failed Hungarian Uprising of late October and early November. The effects of the former are visible throughout The Specificity of the Aesthetic, in which the Stalinist period is described as having the tendency ‘to vulgarise Marxism’ and to cut it off ‘from the great heritage of human thought’. Criticisms of Lukács’s ceaseless efforts to uncover continuities between this heritage and real existing socialism therefore need to remain mindful of this context if they want to fairly assess them and to form a judgement as whether or not they were sufficient to allow Lukács’s literary criticism of the 1930s and 1940s to do more than just promulgate the Stalinist party line. Expressing deep and abiding reservations in this regard, David Pike has insisted, ‘In no way did Lukács’ outlook and the basic editorial policy of Literaturnyj Kritik, least of all the notion of a “triumph of realism” and all the ideas that went with it, contradict conventional Stalinist policy. Rather, the application of the triumph of realism to past writers was a by-product of the new-found Soviet appreciation of the cultural heritage institutionalized and instrumentalized during the popular front era’.56 In this view, the question of socialism’s relationship to the bourgeois humanist tradition was not foreclosed by Stalinism but was instead opportunistically promoted at times, which would make Lukács’s criticism of Stalin in The Specificity of the Aesthetic yet another instance of special pleading.

Less peremptory, but still critical, assessments can be found in the work of Ferenc Fehér and Rodney Livingstone. For Fehér, Lukács’s incessant attempts ‘to reveal the “ideal type” of the system as he opposed its empirical reality, a procedure barely tolerated by the system itself […], also entailed the acceptance of the final principles of the regime. This critical distance was necessary, and at the same time sufficient, for Lukács to elaborate his classicism, to build up his personal Weimar, an island of culture in a world of power relations that were unambiguously hostile toward the outspokenness of any democratic culture’.57 Alternatively, in the words of Rodney Livingstone, ‘We may conclude that if the authoritarian features in Lukács himself were powerful enough to induce him to submit to Stalinism, they were also strong enough to enable him to stand up for his own – bourgeois-democratic – version of Stalinism’.58 Thus, in the opinions of these two tough-minded readers, Lukács ought not to be spit out by us, precisely because he managed the singularly tricky feat of somehow being neither cold nor hot in a situation in which no one could have possibly been lukewarm.

The question of what to make of Lukács’s writings and activities under Stalinism will continue to be a live issue, even more so as works like Moscow Writings: Towards a Theory and Politics of Literature, 1934–1940 (Moskauer Schriften: Zur Literaturtheorie und Literaturpolitik 1934–1940, published 1981) get translated into English and published in the years to come. What is at issue here, however, is how we ought to approach Lukács’s defence of democracy and criticism of Stalinism in the 1950s and 1960s, and on this point his actions do bear the impress of sincerity. For one thing, Lukács accepted a cabinet post in Imre Nagy’s government during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, for which he was arrested and detained in Romania following the arrival of Soviet military forces. Upon his return to Hungary in April 1957, he was forced to retire from his chair in aesthetics at the University of Budapest and to forfeit his membership in the Hungarian Communist Party, of which he had been a founding member.59 Lukács’s stated grounds at the time for putting himself at risk of execution (a fate which indeed befell Nagy, who was hanged along with other members of his government) were in line with the commitments openly expressed in his final works. As he wrote during the uprising in an article published in Szabad Nép (Free People), the central newspaper for the Hungarian Communist Party, ‘The terrible lessons of the last few days must be learnt by everyone. The most pressing of these lessons is the reshaping of our national, social, economic, and cultural life in the spirit of a genuine democracy. Such a democracy is able to do away with all the remnants of Stalinism. The development of democratic freedom, of the power of self-determination of the people in every direction, is the real foundation for finding the Hungarian path of socialism and successfully actualising the Hungarian path to socialism everywhere’.60

Not vanguardism, then, but democracy; not the proletariat, but rather the man-made-whole by, in, and through the work of art. For Lukács in the 1960s, art thus had a formative role to play in the process of democratisation insofar as it educates us to have a lived understanding of what social action might mean in history while also habituating us to become the subjects of the human race and society: ‘A person is therefore neither causally influenced nor completely determined by his “milieu” as an external power; rather, his essential individual existence takes part in such a higher social order (or in several), and this taking part constitutes an essential (often absolutely decisive) aspect of the kernel (of the substance) of his personality’. Again, by becoming the man-made-whole by art, I do not recognise myself as participating in society or the human race; instead, I recognise society and species-being as being of a piece with my own very being. In short, The Specificity of the Aesthetic argues that the adoption of the proper comportment towards art not only makes possible the meaningful experience of totality, but also discloses possibilities for doing and taking part, which would make the lives of the people-made-whole by art resemble a Bildungsroman, where, as Mikhail Bakhtin has described it, human emergence ‘is no longer man’s own private affair. He emerges along with the world and he reflects the historical emergence of the world itself. He is no longer within an epoch, but on the border between two epochs, at the transition point from one to the other. This transition is accomplished in him and through him. He is forced to become a new, unprecedented type of human being. What is happening here is precisely the emergence of a new man. The organizing force held by the future is therefore extremely great here – and this is not, of course, the private biographical future, but the historical future’.61

In his final years, Lukács began to articulate a new Marxist theory of politics that would, among other things, reconceive historicity (the basis for the relationship between past and future in the present) and its bearing on everyday socialist life. In The Process of Democratization (never completed but written in late 1968 and published posthumously in 1985), this involves, among other things, a shift in focus from the dramatic overturnings that characterise the event and revolution to the slower, but more enduring, temporalities of habit and habituation. In that work he observes, ‘Concerning the relationship between past and future, we can and must state that the reconstruction of socialist production is not merely an economic endeavour. It should be looked upon as laying the basis for the transformation of man, for his habituation to a dignified human existence in everyday life and the permeation of this dignity to all his manifestations of life’.62 In particular, Lukács notes that this ‘practice of habituation can only become effective if men become accustomed to putting aside forms of behavior that fall below the dignity of species being, that often incorporate self-destructive and counter-human drives. Habituation must create a social being that discards any aggressive attitudes towards fellow human beings or their own lives (both are inherently inseparable). The creation of a being that is social in content is the end result of the gradual process of habituation. Such an inner transformation of man cannot be carried out without a restructuring of the external world of everyday life. Regardless of whether material production have [sic] developed itself to a high level, a communist society can never arise unless everyday life becomes not only an arena of political decision making but also the basis of social being’.63 Such a material restructuring of everyday life is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the emergence of the process of democratisation insofar as the new measuring sticks (‘dignified human existence’, ‘the dignity of species being’, ‘a social being that discards any aggressive attitudes toward fellow human beings or their own lives’) by which it is to be gauged in the everyday lives of people are what works of art are uniquely capable of disclosing to their creators and receivers in ways that are likely to become habit-forming. That is to say, it is art which acclimatises us to be the democratic subjects of the communist-society-to-be.

This has at least two important consequences. First, the talk of habit and habituation in The Specificity of the Aesthetic is not to be reduced to the frameworks in which Lenin famously presents them in State and Revolution (1917), even though Lukács himself draws parallels between the two throughout The Specificity of the Aesthetic. Norman Levine has pithily summed up the parting of the ways between the Leninist version of habituation and the one developed, both implicitly and explicitly, by Lukács in his final works: ‘In State and Revolution, Lenin uses the idea of habituation as a substitute for political procedures, and as a synonym for the most extreme form of democracy. […] When Lukács evaluates the idea of habituation as an extreme form of democracy, he praises it highly. One aspect of State and Revolution is its democratic plebeianism, and the actual processes of society would be vested in the people in general. When Lukács evaluates the idea of habituation as a substitute for political procedures, he only has negative comments. Lenin wants to show that learned responses, behaviouralism, could perform the same tasks that social protocols do: behaviouralism would ensure that people perform social functions without political compulsion. Lukács replaces behaviouralism with democracy: he replaces psychology with politics. He recognizes the need of protocols to enable society to reach its collective decisions’.64 This directly bears on the second consequence, which is that Lukács’s late aesthetics does not present art, its creation, or its reception as a substitute for politics. When read alongside The Process of Democratization, The Specificity of the Aesthetic makes it clear that works of art and the adoption of proper comportments towards them have key roles to play in the formation of subjects with political agency, of personalities who understand themselves to be more doing than done-to. Art, in this view, is not so much a ‘sublimation and displacement of politics’ as it is the incubator of political passions, commitments, and activity.65

This is a claim that provokes new speculations as to the contemporary relevance of The Specificity of the Aesthetic. For Ágnes Heller, it is nothing less than ‘the climax of Lukacs’s work’: it ‘is a historico-philosophical confession of faith. The problem that Lukács wanted to solve was whether it was possible to reconstruct history so as to grasp the relation between continuity and discontinuity and to prove the validity of the historicity of our time’.66 This is a problem that scholars of literature, art, and culture are indeed still grappling with, whether it be by way of conceptualisations of longue durée, deep time, contemporaneity, world-systems analysis, or planetarity.67 Likewise, The Specificity of the Aesthetic contrasts strikingly with the recent turn towards negativity, finitude, and nihilism in critical theory and continental philosophy, and one hopes that it becomes an irritant to thought for English-language scholars pursuing those lines of research.68 The prioritisation of certain kinds of experience in the encounter with the work of art, the effort to relate these experiences to everyday life, and the focus on the educative functions performed by art cumulatively make Lukács’s late aesthetics altogether more Deweyean than English-language readers might otherwise be led to expect.69 The situating of art as the place where political subjectivity gestates is exactly the opposite of what was claimed to be the case by the late aesthetics of Theodor Adorno, for whom art was the tenuous (perhaps already no longer existent) site of hibernation for people who no longer have a viable political agency to which they could reasonably turn or a tenable political subject into which they could credibly transform themselves.70 Finally, for Lukács one of the conditions of possibility for the creation and reception of art is ‘the lived experience of the world as home to man’, by which he refers both to a high level of human control over our lived environment and ‘the consciousness of a certain assuredness of life, secureness as the objective and subjective form of normal existence’. Indeed, ‘the fact of an objective “security” of normal human life, no matter how narrowly its compass may be limited at first, signifies a revolution in the human mode of sensibility, which today has already turned into such a matter of course that its actual, categorical antithesis can hardly be re-experienced anymore’. Yet we are entering a period of human existence on this planet in which such control, security, assuredness, and at-homeness are precisely the sorts of things that will no longer be the norms of our shared experience.71 Accordingly, Lukács’s speculations here provide much for those Humanities scholars working on the Anthropocene and climate change, especially insofar as the cascading tenuousness of our existence on this planet would seem to betoken the end of the creation of art (and perhaps even of existing art’s civic and political functions as well) long before the impending end of the human race as such.

More such examples (not all of them this gloomy) could be adduced at much greater length. I would like to close instead, however, with a more praxis-oriented claim for the timeliness of The Specificity of the Aesthetic. In a period in which precarity is the name of the game for most people holding doctorates from departments in the Humanities and the Arts, this is sure to appeal to the harried and casualised many who persist, despite sky-is-falling reports from the Modern Language Association, in their efforts to be educators at institutes of higher learning. According to Lukács, art educates us to be political subjects, to lead a vita activa, but only so long as we resist the omnipresent sociocultural forces that act to destroy art or to reduce it to an object of consumption or to translate it into a rarefied realm cut off from everyday life. That is to say, we need educators and researchers who account for art to a wider public and safeguard it for that same public. The exploitation of adjunct labour does not just harm those who are foolhardy enough to get doctorates in the Humanities and the Arts despite the odds against them; ultimately, The Specificity of the Aesthetic makes the case anew as to how such exploitation harms society as a whole. Likewise, in a period in which English, Literature, and Art departments are having to defend their access to needed resources and, in some cases, even their very existence, this is sure to appeal to the tenured few in the Humanities and the Arts who, if they ‘want their work to have some impact – political or otherwise – must ask themselves, What do I know that people in other fields don’t?’72 According to Lukács, what a philosopher or critic of art knows is not formalism or close reading or shallow reading or distant reading or weak theory; nor does she know how to disruptively deconstruct a text or how to properly periodise it. Instead, the philosopher or critic of art should know what art does and how it does it. She is responsible for knowing and conveying the ways in which art over the course of human existence has capacitated us not only to experience history (as the man-made-whole) but also to become its actors (as the whole man of the everyday). But only so long as the actions we take are organised around exigent ethical and political commitments that are ultimately not to be actualised inside the sentences of a short story or within the cornices of a building or the notes of a musical composition but rather in the often messy immediacy of theory and praxis in everyday life and how the history of the human race bears on it now, in this moment, today, right here. The philosopher or critic of art knows art is not the beginning of something or the end of something. It is instead the means of defining that something and orienting one’s bearing as a whole towards it.

What do we know that people in other fields don’t? We know what it means to do, or so the lure of The Specificity of the Aesthetic would have us believe. As a proposition, this is sure to be met with understandable incredulity and confusion in many quarters, but few scholars of art and literature today – both tenured and adjunct – are likely to be at a loss as to why now is the time to take it seriously.


The insights, reservations, criticisms, and questions of Tyrus Miller, H. Marshall Leicester, Jr., Nicholas Gaskill, and James Bachman regarding earlier drafts have been immensely helpful to me in preparing this introduction.


For more on mimesis as activity and receptivity in Lukács, see Göcht 2012, pp. 80–1. Darío Villanueva has helpfully pointed out that, in articulating a theory of mimesis that extends beyond art into other parts of life, Lukács draws on Plato as much as he does on Aristotle. See Villanueva 1997, pp. 26–7.


For more on the vita activa and Lukács, see Miller 2013, pp. xvi–xvii and xx.


See, for instance, Lethem 2012.


Bürger 1984.


de Duve 1998.


Jakobson 1987; Barthes 1986.


The scholarship on modernism’s relation to a crisis of representation is too vast to adequately account for in a single footnote. I adduce merely three notable instances of it that increasingly shift the location of this crisis from imperial nation-states to the colonies: Benjamin 2006; Jameson 2007; and Hanscom 2013.


Lyotard 1984.


Cf. the key documents of the realism-modernism debate collected in Bloch et al. 1980.


Eagleton 1990, p. 325.


Gandesha and Hartle 2017, p. xxviii.


It is worth noting here that Cornel West is one of the few English-language critics to emphasise the speculative quality of Lukács’s later writings, though West’s focus is on ontological (not aesthetic or humanist) matters. See West 2009, pp. 128–47.


Butler 1997, p. 90.


The emphasis on the historical nature of this struggle in Lukács implies a parting of the ways between The Specificity of the Aesthetic and Butler’s more recent work on how mourning can expand our sense of who is worthy of our ethical consideration. See, for instance, Butler 2010. For a sceptical account that is critical of the ethical turn in Butler’s work (and in poststructuralism more generally) and that is prospectively more in line with Lukács’s own ethical speculations in The Specificity of the Aesthetic, see Danewid 2017, p. 1684: ‘By focusing on abstract – as opposed to historical – humanity, [critics like Butler and Stephen White] contribute to an ideological formation that erases history and undoes the “umbilical cord” that links Europe and the migrants who are trying to enter the continent. This replaces questions of responsibility, guilt, restitution, repentance, and structural reform with matters of empathy, generosity, and hospitality – a move that transforms the responsible colonial agent into an innocent bystander, confirming its status as “ethical”, “good”, and “humane” ’.


Hegel 1988, p. 103.


Hegel 1988, p. 11.


Cf. Heidegger 2001, p. 78: ‘the question remains: is art still an essential and necessary way in which that truth happens which is decisive for our historical existence, or is art no longer of this character? If, however, it is such no longer, then there remains the question why this is so. The truth of Hegel’s judgement has not yet been decided; for behind this verdict there stands Western thought since the Greeks, which thought corresponds to the truth of beings that has already happened. Decision upon the judgement will be made, when it is made, from and about this truth of what is. Until then the judgement remains in force. But for that very reason the question is necessary whether the truth that the judgement declares is final and conclusive and what follows if it is’.


Danto 1990, p. 334.


Danto 1990, p. 345.


Danto 1990, p. 344.


For more on reification and second immediacy, see Lukács 1971, pp. 150–85 and 194–7.


Cf. the account of Lukácsian catharsis given in Jameson 2015, p. 27: ‘The work of art in its Utopian fulfilment does not enrich us with a matchless variety of new experiences; rather, its Erlebnis strips us of the private property of our own self and allows us to glimpse the possibility of a subjectivity without privilege and without hierarchy’.


Hayot 2012, p. 39.


Hayot 2012, p. 40.


Hayot 2012, pp. 44–5.


Hayot 2012, p. 45.


Cf. Hayot 2012, p. 86.


Hayot is a bit squirrely on this point. In a number of places, he seems to refer to a real or actual world beyond literary worlds while nevertheless putting ‘real’ or ‘actual’ in scare quotes at times. He likewise often equates ‘world’ and ‘worldedness’ with ideas or constructions of the world rather than with the real world itself. For an exemplary instance in which he manages to do both of these things in the same sentence, see Hayot 2012, p. 45: ‘An evaluation of [the] social and conceptual weight [of aesthetic worlds] begins by measuring a work’s degree of orientedness toward the world, the degree, that is, to which it responds or corresponds to the basic philosophical or social world-imperatives of its age, the normative sense of a “real” or “actual” world that bears some noncontinuous (and possibly oppositional) relation to the aesthetic’. This suggests that Hayot treats what he calls the ‘real’ or ‘actual’ world as (to use Goodman’s terms) a stipulative given or entrenched predicate rather than something that is really to be found beneath all versions that have been constructed of it in works of art. For the canonical expression of Goodman’s constructivist theory of art, see Goodman 1968. It is worth noting that Goodman’s theory is not restricted to art but aspires to offer a unified account of the worlds created by art, science, and the everyday. As such, its affinities with and differences from Lukács’s endeavour in The Specificity of the Aesthetic merit a much more sustained consideration than has been pursued by scholars up to now and more attention than I myself am able to offer here.


See Villanueva 1997, pp. 28–31. Cf. Nadal-Melsió 2004, p. 77: ‘since without mediation there is no possible apprehension of the real, reality has first to be mediated through art – that is, the realist novel – in a utopian reflection of the Marxist narrativisation of history in order to enter the totality of the real, and the “real” is always expressed as a narrative discourse. Realism, as a unique expression of totality, becomes then more essential than has ever been acknowledged. Realism does not reflect but intervenes in reality, a mediated reality that is, in any case, the only one we can apprehend. Real in Lukács always means realized’.


For example, see the lengthy polemic against the triumph of periodisation in Hayot 2012, pp. 147–70.


Goodman 1978, p. 4. The question of by what measure we can judge a version of the world to be ‘right’ is dealt with at length here by Goodman, who strenuously attempts to distinguish his account of worlds and worldmaking from radical relativism. For a sceptical (but respectful) account of this attempt and the irresolvable ambiguities it gives rise to, see Bruner 1986, pp. 93–105.


Brinkema 2014, p. xii.


Sedgwick 2003; Massumi 2002.


For the historicisation of affect, see Thrailkill 2007. For its politicisation, see Ahmed 2010; Berlant 2011. For the use of affect in the generation of new aesthetic categories, see Ngai 2005.


For instance, see Leys 2017.


This is where Lukács, Leys, and Walter Benn Michaels overlap in ways that would be worth exploring further. Cf. Leys 2017; Michaels 2004.


Ruffing 1992, p. 27.


Marx 1992a, p. 329.


Skempton 2010, p. 102.


Skempton 2010, pp. 102–03.


A valuable starting place for interested English-language readers remains Jay 1984.


Day 2011, p. 209.


Merleau-Ponty 1973, pp. 31–32


Jay 1984, p. 349.


Lukács 1983b, p. 81.


Jung 2001, p. 13.


Kelemen 2014, pp. 2–83.


Jameson 2015.


Heller 1983, p. 184. Cf. Fehér, et al. 1983, p. 130.


Heller 1981, p. 56.


Heller 1981, pp. 55–57.


Heller 1981, p. 58.


Lukács 1983b, p. 169.


This late focus on democracy and processes of democratisation usually gets disregarded by many critics of Lukács, even German-speaking ones. For example, see the cavalier dismissal of Lukács’s vanguardism (as if it were a lifelong feature of his intellectual profile and political activities) in Schulte-Sasse 1984, p. xxxiv.


Pike 1985, p. 130.


Fehér 1983, p. 77.


Livingstone 1980, p. 11.


Kadarkay 1991, pp. 426–43.


Lukács 1973b, p. 641.


Bakhtin 1986, p. 23.


Lukács 1991, p. 165.


Lukács 1991, p. 163.


Levine 1991, p. 53. It should be noted that Levine incorrectly discounts the importance of behaviourism for Lukács, who openly adopts and extensively revises Pavlovian theories throughout both volumes of The Specificity of the Aesthetic. Much as he meaningfully changes the Leninist significance of habit and habit-formation, Lukács likewise transforms what Lenin understood by behaviourism. Given that the more substantive engagement with behaviourism occurs in the second volume of The Specificity of the Aesthetic, the relationship between Lukács and Pavlov is addressed in the introduction to that volume rather than here.


Gandesha and Hartle 2017, p. xxviii.


Heller 1981, p. 57.


See, respectively, Braudel 1995; Dimock 2006; Ruda and Voelker 2015; Wallerstein 2004; and Friedman 2015.


These strains of thought include (but are not limited to) Afrofuturism, Afro-pessimism, non-philosophy in the vein of François Laruelle, and certain facets of speculative realism.


Cf. Dewey 1934. I should also note that Lukács himself would likely have objected to this association: Dewey gets exactly one mention in the entirety of the first volume of The Specificity of the Aesthetic, and it occurs in a brief quote from Arnold Gehlen, who casually dismisses Dewey’s entire theory of consciousness. That is to say, Lukács does not even bother to do Dewey in with his own words.


Cf. Adorno 1997. It is also worth noting that the second chapter of the present volume of The Specificity of the Aesthetic is a fairly direct rejoinder to Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944, revised 1947), insofar as Lukács spends a lot of time there disaggregating the progressive elements of the Enlightenment from its violence and gloomy consequences. Emblematic here is the treatment of Francis Bacon, who gets sympathetically reclaimed by Lukács in pointed contrast to the drubbing he receives at the hands of Adorno and Horkheimer. Cf. Horkheimer and Adorno 2002, pp. 1–34.


The scholarship on what to expect from climate change in the coming decades and centuries is vast, intractable, and dauntlessly self-inculpatory. For an emblematic range of such anticipations, see Mann and Wainwright 2018; Romm 2016; Scranton 2015; and Kolbert 2014.


Clune 2017, p. 1194.

  • Collapse
  • Expand