Aesthetics: the peculiarity of the aesthetic

Edvard Munch, The Lovers, 1896


Excerpts from the author's Preface to the newly translated book

The book delivered to the public here is the first part of an aesthetics whose central theme is the philosophical foundation of the type of aesthetic positing, the deduction of the specific category of aesthetics and its delimitation in relation to other fields. To the extent that the exhibitions focus on this complex of problems and only address concrete problems of aesthetics when this is essential for clarifying these issues, this part forms a finished and comprehensible whole even without the subsequent parts.

It is essential to make clear the place that aesthetic behavior occupies in the totality of human activities and human reactions to the external world, as well as the relationship between the resulting aesthetic formations, between their categorical structuring (structural form, etc.) and other modes of reaction to objective reality. The impartial observation of these relationships results, roughly, in the following picture: the primary dimension is man's behavior in everyday life, a field that, despite its central importance for understanding higher and more complex modes of reaction, largely has not yet been investigated.

Without wanting to anticipate here points that were exposed in detail during the course of the work itself, we must mention, as briefly as possible, the basic ideas of its structure. Man's everyday behavior is simultaneously the beginning and end of all human activity, that is, when everyday life is imagined as a great river, it can be said that, in the higher forms of reception and reproduction of reality, science and art branch out. from it, they differentiate and constitute themselves according to their specific purposes, they reach their pure form in this peculiarity – which emerges from the needs of social life and then, as a consequence of its effects, its incidences on the lives of men, to flow back into the river of everyday life.

Therefore, this river is constantly enriched with the highest results of the human spirit, assimilating them to its daily practical needs, and from there, new ramifications of the higher forms of objectification emerge again, in the form of questions and demands. Therefore, it is necessary to carefully examine the complex interrelations between the immanent consummation of works in science and art and the social needs that awaken or cause their emergence. It is from this dynamic of genesis, unfolding, legality itself, and rootedness in the life of humanity that the particular categories and structures of man's scientific and artistic reactions to reality can be derived.

The analyzes carried out in this work are naturally directed towards understanding the peculiarities of the aesthetic. As, however, men live in a unitary reality and interrelate with it, the essence of the aesthetic can only be grasped, even if only approximately, in constant comparison with other types of reaction. In this case, the relationship with science is the most important; however, it is also essential to investigate the relationship with ethics and religion. Even the psychological problems that arise here necessarily result from questions directed at the specificity of the aesthetic pose.

Obviously no aesthetics can stop at this stage. Kant was still able to content himself with answering the general methodological question about the claim to validity of aesthetic judgments. Abstracting from the fact that this question, in our view, is not primary, but extremely derivative from the point of view of the structure of aesthetics, since the Hegelian “aesthetics” appeared no philosopher who takes seriously the clarification of the essence of the aesthetic can continue to be content with such a narrow framework and such a unilaterally oriented formulation of the problem in the theory of knowledge.

In the following text, we will talk a lot about the questionable aspects of Hegelian “aesthetics”, both in its foundations and in specific expositions; however, the philosophical universalism of its conception and the historical-systematic mode of its synthesis always remain exemplary for the project of all aesthetics. Only the three parts of our aesthetics as a whole will be able to achieve an approximation – only partial – of this elevated model, because, completely abstracting from the knowledge and talent of those who undertake such an attempt today, it is much more difficult in the current era than the it was in Hegel's time to put into practice the all-encompassing parameters established by Hegelian “aesthetics”. Thus, the theory of the arts – also of a historical-systematic nature –, also treated extensively by Hegel, is still outside the scope circumscribed by the global plan of our work.

In the first part, problems such as content and form, worldview and conformation [Formbildung], technique and form, etc. they will appear in an extremely generic way, just as questions on the horizon; philosophically, its true concrete essence can only come to light during a detailed analysis of the structure of the work. The same goes for problems relating to creative and receptive behavior.

The first part only manages to advance to its general outline, portraying in a certain way the respective methodological “place” of its possibility of determination. The real relationships between everyday life, on the one hand, and, on the other, scientific, ethical behavior, etc. and aesthetic production and reproduction, the essential categorical mode of their proportions, interactions, reciprocal influences, etc. they require analyzes focused on the most concrete dimension possible, fundamentally impossible within the framework of a first part centered on philosophical foundations.

As the reader can see, the structure of these aesthetic investigations differs considerably from the usual constructions. This, however, in no way means that they can claim originality in terms of method. On the contrary: they are nothing more than the most precise possible application of Marxism to the problems of aesthetics. So that an undertaking like this is not misunderstood in advance, it is necessary to clarify, even if in a few words, the situation of this aesthetic and its relationship with Marxism. When, more or less thirty years ago, I wrote my first contribution to the aesthetics of Marxism,[I] I defended the thesis that Marxism has its own aesthetics and, in doing so, I came across various resistance. The reason for this was that Marxism before Lenin restricted itself – including its best representatives, for example, Plekhanov or Mehring – almost exclusively to the problems of historical materialism.[ii][iii]

It was only after Lenin that dialectical materialism returned to the center of interest. This is why Mehring, who based his aesthetic on Critique of the faculty of judgment, managed to see the divergences between Marx-Engels and Lassalle merely as clashes of subjective judgments regarding aesthetic taste. This controversy, in fact, has long been resolved. Since Mikhail Lifschitz's brilliant study of the development of Marx's aesthetic notions, since the careful collection and systematization of the scattered statements of Marx, Engels and Lenin on aesthetic issues, there can be no more doubts regarding the nexus and coherence of these reasonings.[iv]

Highlighting and proving this systematic link, however, does not remotely resolve the issue of an aesthetics of Marxism, because, if the collected and systematized sayings of the classics of Marxism already contained an aesthetic or, at least, its perfect skeleton, it would be enough to add an good articulating text and Marxist aesthetics would be ready before us. But that's not the situation! As multiple experiences show, not even making a direct monographic application of this material to all individual questions of aesthetics is to bring scientifically decisive contributions to the structuring of the whole.

We therefore have the paradoxical situation that there exists and at the same time does not exist a Marxist aesthetic, that it has to be conquered and even created through autonomous research and that the result only exposes and conceptually fixes something that exists according to the idea . However, the paradox resolves itself when the entire problem is analyzed in the light of the method of materialist dialectics, since the ancient meaning of the word “method”, inextricably linked to the path that leads to knowledge, necessarily implies the idea that, for To achieve certain results, it is necessary to follow certain paths. The direction of these paths is contained in an unequivocally evident way in the totality of the world image projected by the classics of Marxism, especially to the extent that the results obtained are clear to us as the end points of such paths.

Therefore, even if this is not visible at first glance or directly, the method of dialectical materialism has previously and clearly outlined what these paths are and how they must be followed in order to conceptualize objective reality in its true objectivity and investigate in depth the essence of each specific field according to its truth. Only if this method, this guidance of paths, is fulfilled and supported autonomously by one's own research will there be the possibility of finding what one is looking for, of correctly structuring Marxist aesthetics or, at least, of getting closer to its true essence. .

Whoever cultivates the illusion of reproducing reality in thought with the help of a mere interpretation of Marx and, in this way, simultaneously reproducing the Marxian apprehension of reality will necessarily fail in both things. Only an impartial analysis of reality and its elaboration through the method discovered by Marx can achieve fidelity to reality and, at the same time, to Marxism. In this sense, this work is, in all its parts and as a whole, the result of independent research, but, even so, it does not claim originality, as it owes all the means of approaching the truth, its entire method, to the study of set of works transmitted to us by the classics of Marxism.

But fidelity to Marxism also means recognition of the great traditions that until today have sought to account for reality. In the Stalinist period, emphasis was placed exclusively, especially Zhdanov, on what separates Marxism from the great traditions of human thought. If, in this case, only what was qualitatively new in Marxism had been emphasized, namely, the leap that separates its dialectic from that of its more developed precursors, for example, Aristotle or Hegel, this could be relatively justified. A position like this could even be assessed as necessary and useful, if it did not highlight in a unilateral, isolating and, therefore, metaphysical way – in a profoundly non-dialectical way – the radically new in Marxism, if it did not neglect the factor of continuity in the development of Marxism. human thought. However, reality – and, therefore, also its reflection and reproduction in thought – constitutes a dialectical unity of continuity and discontinuity, of tradition and revolution, of gradual transitions and leaps.

Scientific socialism itself is something completely new in history and, however, it constitutes the full realization of a vivid ancient desire of humanity, the fulfillment of what was deeply desired by the best spirits. The same occurs with the conceptual apprehension of the world by the classics of Marxism. The profound truth of Marxism, which no attack or silencing can shake, rests mainly on the fact that, with its help, the fundamental facts of reality, of human life, previously hidden, come to the surface and can become content of human consciousness.

The new thus acquires a double meaning: not only, as a result of the previously non-existent reality of socialism, human life receives a new content, a new meaning, but, at the same time, the defetishization carried out with the help of method and Marxist research, as well as its results, sheds new light on the present and the past, on the entire human existence, previously seen as known. In this way, all past efforts to grasp it in its truth become comprehensible in a very new sense. Perspective of the future, knowledge of the present, understanding of the trends they have entailed both intellectually and practically are thus in an indissoluble interrelationship.

Unilaterally emphasizing what separates and what is new evokes the danger of narrowing and impoverishing within an abstract alterity everything that is concrete and rich in determinations in the truly new. The confrontation of the distinctive characterizations of dialectics in Lenin and Stalin shows very clearly the consequences of this methodological difference; and the in many ways non-rational stances on the heritage of Hegelian philosophy led to an often frightening poverty of the content of logical investigations in the Stalinist period.

In the classics themselves, one finds no trace of such a metaphysical contrast between the old and the new. On the contrary, the relationship between them appears in the proportions produced by socio-historical development, to the extent that it allows the truth to manifest itself. Sticking to this one correct method is perhaps more important for aesthetics than for other fields, for at this point the precise analysis of the facts will show with special clarity that the conscious state of thought regarding what has been accomplished in practice in the field The aesthetic aspect has always fallen short of this practical result.

Precisely for this reason the few thinkers who arrived relatively early to have clarity about the authentic problems of aesthetics are of extraordinary importance. On the other hand – as our analyzes will show – reasoning that sometimes seems very distant, for example, those of a philosophical or ethical nature, are very important for understanding aesthetic phenomena. In order not to anticipate too much what only fits into detailed expositions, it should be noted that the entire structure and all the detailed expositions of this work – precisely because it owes its existence to the Marxian method – are determined in all their depth by the results that Aristotle, Goethe and Hegel arrived in their most different writings, and not only in those that refer directly to aesthetics.

If, furthermore, I express my recognition to Epicurus, Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Vico, Diderot, Lessing and the Russian democratic-revolutionary thinkers, naturally I do no more than just list the most important names; This list does not even remotely exhaust the authors to whom I feel indebted for carrying out this work, both in its entirety and in detail. The way these authors are cited corresponds to this conviction. We do not intend to deal here with problems of art history or aesthetics. Rather, it is about clarifying facts or lines of development relevant to the general theory. Therefore, in correspondence with their respective theoretical constellations, authors or works that stated something for the first time – correctly or significantly incorrectly – or whose opinion appears as especially characteristic of a given situation, will be cited. Aspiring to the completeness of the bibliographical foundation is not among the intentions of this work.

From what has been exposed so far, it can be seen that the controversial points of this entire work are aimed at philosophical idealism. In this procedure, the battle over the theory of knowledge, by its nature, goes beyond its framework; What matters here are the specific questions, in which philosophical idealism proves to be an obstacle to the adequate understanding of specifically aesthetic facts.

It is a widespread misunderstanding to believe that the world image of materialism – priority of being in relation to consciousness, of social being in relation to social consciousness – also has a hierarchical character. For materialism, the priority of being is, first of all, the observation of a fact: there is being without consciousness, but there is no consciousness without being. However, this does not result in any type of hierarchical subordination of consciousness to being. On the contrary, this priority and its concrete recognition – both theoretical and practical – by consciousness is what creates the possibility for consciousness to dominate being in real terms. The simple fact of the work illustrates this fact in a striking way. And, when historical materialism notes the priority of the social being in relation to social consciousness, it is also just the recognition of a facticity.

Social practice is also directed towards the domain of the social being, and the fact that it has fulfilled its purposes only in a very relative way throughout history up to the present moment does not create a hierarchical relationship between the two, but only determines the concrete conditions in which a successful practice becomes objectively possible, thus simultaneously outlining its concrete limits, the space for maneuver for consciousness, the space provided by the respective social being. Thus, in this relationship, a historical dialectic becomes visible, but by no means a hierarchical structure. When a small sailing boat proves powerless in the face of a storm that a powerful motor ship would overcome without difficulty, this only shows the superiority or real limitation of the respective consciousness in the face of being, but not a hierarchical relationship between man and the forces from nature; and this is all the less so as historical development – ​​and with it the growing knowledge that consciousness has of the true nature of being – produces a constant growth in the possibilities of domination of being by consciousness.

Philosophical idealism has to project its image of the world in a radically different way. It is not real and alternating relations of power that create a preponderance or temporary inferiority in life, but from the beginning a hierarchy of powers is established, in accordance with consciousness, which not only produces and orders the forms of objectivity and relationships between objects and also have hierarchical gradations among them. To shed light on the situation of our problem: when, for example, Hegel associated art with intuition, religion with representation, philosophy with the concept and conceived them as governed by these forms of consciousness, he thereby gave rise to a hierarchy precise, “eternal”, irrefutable, which, as everyone who knows Hegel knows, also determines the historical destiny of art. (When, for example, the young Schelling inserted art into a contraposed hierarchical order, this did not change the principles).

It is evident that this gives rise to a whole tangle of pseudo-problems that, since Plato, have caused methodological confusion throughout aesthetics, as it is indifferent whether idealist philosophy establishes, in a certain sense, a relationship of superordination or subordination between art and other forms of consciousness, if thought is diverted from the investigation of the specific properties of objects and if these are reduced – often in a completely unacceptable way – to a single denominator, so that, in this way, it is possible to compare them with each other within a hierarchical order and insert them at the desired hierarchical level. Even if these are problems relating to the relationship between art, whether with nature, religion, science, etc., everywhere pseudo-problems necessarily give rise to distortions of the forms of objectivity, of categories.

The significance of the break with philosophical idealism is even more evident in its consequences, that is, when we further concretize our materialist starting point, namely, when we conceive of art as a peculiar way of manifesting the reflection of reality, a way that , in turn, is just one of the subtypes of universal reflective relationships between man and reality. One of the decisive basic ideas of this work is that all types of reflection – we will analyze above all those represented by everyday life, science and art – always portray the same objective reality.

This starting point, which seems obvious and even trivial, nevertheless has far-reaching consequences. Materialist philosophy does not see all forms of objectivity, all objects and categories associated with their relations as products of a creative consciousness, as idealism does, but glimpses in them an objective reality that exists independently of consciousness; therefore, all divergences and even contrapositions present in each type of reflection can only occur within the scope of this material and formally unitary reality. In order to understand the complicated dialectic of this unity of unity and diversity, it is necessary to first break with the widespread representation of a mechanistic, photographic reflection.

If this type of reflection were the basis from which differences arise, all specific forms would be subjective deformations of this single “authentic” reproduction of reality, or the differentiation would have to be of a purely ulterior character, entirely deprived of spontaneity, merely conscious and intellectual. However, the extensive and intensive infinity of the objective world forces all living beings, and especially man, to an adaptation, to an unconscious selection in reflex. Therefore, this selection also has – despite its fundamentally objective character – an insurmountably subjective component, which at the animal level is conditioned in purely physiological terms and, in man, in addition, also in social terms. (Influence of work on the enrichment, dissemination, deepening, etc. of human abilities to reflect reality).

Differentiation is, therefore – especially in the fields of science and art – a product of the social being, of the needs arising in this field, of man's adaptation to his environment, of the growth of his capabilities in interaction with the obligation to be at the height of entirely new tasks. In physiological and psychological terms, these interactions and these adaptations to the new must in fact be carried out immediately in individual men, but they acquire a social universality beforehand, given that the new proposed tasks, the new circumstances that exert a modifying action They have a general (social) nature and only admit subjective individual variants within the space for social maneuver.

The explanation of the specific features of the essence of the aesthetic reflection of reality occupies a qualitatively and quantitatively decisive part of this work. In accordance with the basic intention of this work, these investigations are of a philosophical nature, that is, they focus on the following question: what are the forms, relationships, proportions, etc. that the categorical world common to every reflection acquires in aesthetic terms? Naturally, it is inevitable that this procedure also addresses psychological issues; We dedicate a specific chapter to these problems (Chapter 11).

Furthermore, it is necessary to emphasize from the outset that the basic philosophical intention necessarily prescribes us to elaborate, in all the arts, above all the aesthetic traits common to the reflection, although in accordance with the pluralistic structure of the aesthetic sphere, and, as far as possible, the particularity [Peculiarity] of each of the arts in the treatment of categorical problems. The very peculiar mode of manifestation of the reflection of reality in arts such as music or architecture makes it inevitable to dedicate a separate chapter to these special cases (Chapter 14), seeking, in this case, to clarify the specific differences in such a way that the principles general aesthetics simultaneously preserve their validity.

This universality of the reflection of reality as the basis of all man's interrelations with his environment has, when taken to the extreme, far-reaching ideological consequences for the conception of the aesthetic, since, for all truly consistent idealism, any form of significant consciousness for human existence – in our case, aesthetics – must have an “eternal”, “supratemporal” way of being, given that its origin is hierarchically founded in the context of an ideal world; To the extent that it is possible to treat it historically, this happens within the metahistorical framework of being or “timeless” application.

However, this apparently methodological and formal position will necessarily revert to content, to a worldview, as it necessarily follows that the aesthetic, in both productive and receptive terms, belongs to the “essence” of man, even if this is determined from the point of view whether from the world of ideas, whether from the spirit of the world, whether in anthropological or ontological terms. A diametrically opposite picture should result from our materialistic perspective. Not only is the objective reality that appears in different types of reflection subject to uninterrupted change, but this change presents very determined directions, well-defined evolutionary lines. Therefore, reality itself is historical according to its objective way of being; the historical determinations, both of content and form, that appear in the different reflections are nothing more than more or less correct approximations of this aspect of objective reality.

However, authentic historicity can never consist of a simple modification of the contents of forms that always remain the same, within the scope of categories that are always immutable, as this variation of contents will necessarily have the effect of modifying the forms as well, and must initially lead to certain shifts in function. within the categorical system and, after a certain degree, even pronounced changes, that is, the emergence of new categories and the disappearance of old categories. The historicity of objective reality results in a certain historicity of category theory.

However, it is necessary to be careful to know to what extent and to what extent such transformations are of an objective or subjective constitution, because, although we believe that nature must, in the final analysis, be conceived historically, each of the stages of its development is of a temporal extension such that its objective transformations practically cannot be taken into account by science. All the more important, naturally, is the subjective history of discoveries of objectifications, relationships, and categorical links. Only in biology could we see an inflection point in the emergence of objective categories of life – at least, in the part of the universe that we know – and, thus, an objective genesis.

The issue is qualitatively different when it comes to man and human society. In this case, undoubtedly, it is always the genesis of singular categories and categorical links, which cannot be “deduced” from the simple continuity of the preceding development, whose genesis, therefore, presents specific demands on knowledge. However, there would be a distortion of true facticity if we wanted to make a methodological separation between the historical investigation of the genesis and the philosophical analysis of the phenomenon that arises in this process. The true categorical structure of every phenomenon of this type is linked, very closely, to its genesis; the demonstration of the categorical structure will only be possible fully and in the correct proportion if the concrete decomposition is organically linked to the clarification of the genesis; the deduction of the value, at the beginning of The capital, by Marx, constitutes the exemplary model of this historical-systematic method.

This union will be attempted in the concrete expositions of this work on the fundamental phenomenon of the aesthetic and in all its ramifications in matters of detail. Now, this methodology becomes a worldview to the extent that it implies a radical rupture with all conceptions that envisage, in art, in artistic behavior, something supra-historically ideal or, at least, something ontologically or anthropologically belonging to the “idea ” of the man. Like work, science and all of man's social activities, art is a product of social development, of man who becomes man through his work.

However, beyond that, the objective historicity of being and its mode of manifestation specifically demarcated in human society has important consequences for understanding the fundamental peculiarity of the aesthetic. The mission of our concrete arguments will be to show that the scientific reflection of reality seeks to free itself from all anthropological determinations, both sensitive and intellectual, and that it strives to portray objects and their relationships as they are in themselves, independently of consciousness. The aesthetic reflection, in contrast, starts from the world of man and is aimed at him. This does not imply, as we will show in due course, simple subjectivism. On the contrary, the objectivity of the objects is preserved, only in such a way that all the typical references of human life are also contained within it, manifesting themselves in a way that corresponds to the respective state of inner and outer development of humanity, which is a development Social.

This means that every aesthetic configuration includes, orders within itself the hic and nunc history of its genesis as an essential factor of its decisive objectivity. Naturally, every reflection is concretely determined by the specific place in which it takes place. Even in the discovery of purely mathematical truths or in natural science, the temporal context is never casual; however, the objective importance of this temporal context has greater relevance for the history of sciences than for knowledge itself, for which it can be considered as completely indifferent when and under what – necessary – historical conditions it was first formulated, e.g. , the Pythagorean theorem.

This historical essence of reality leads to another important complex of problems, which, in the first place, is also of a methodological nature, but, like every authentic problem of a correctly conceived methodology – and not just in a formal way –, it necessarily becomes a World vision. We refer to the problem of immanence [Diesseitigkeit]. Considered in purely methodological terms, immanence is an essential requirement of both scientific knowledge and artistic configuration. Only when a complex of phenomena is fully understood based on its immanent qualities, the equally immanent legalities that act on them, is it possible to consider it scientifically known. In practical terms, this completeness is naturally always approximate; the infinity, both extensive and intensive, of objects and their static and dynamic relationships, etc. it does not allow knowledge to be conceived as absolutely definitive in a given form, which excludes the need to make corrections, reservations, expansions, etc.

 From magic to modern positivism, this “not yet” that prevails in the scientific domain of reality has been interpreted, in the most different ways, as transcendence, disregarding that many things about which a “ignorabimus”, has long since entered exact science as a solvable problem, even if in practice it has not yet been solved. The emergence of capitalism and the new relations between science and production, in combination with the great crises of religious worldviews, caused the naive transcendence to be replaced by a more complex, more refined one.

The new dualism was born at the time of attempts by defenders of Christianity to ideologically reject the Copernican theory: a methodological conception that aimed to create a link between the immanence of the given phenomenal world and the denial of its ultimate reality, with the aim of contesting the competence of the science of saying something valid about this reality. Superficially, one may have the impression that this depreciation of the reality of the world makes no difference, since, in practice, men can carry out their immediate tasks in production regardless of whether they consider object, means, etc. of its activity something like being-in-itself or as mere appearance. Such a conception, however, is sophistical in two senses. Firstly, every man active in his real practice always has the conviction to deal with his own reality; Even the positivist physicist is convinced of this when, for example, he carries out an experiment.

Secondly, when – for social reasons – such a conception is deeply rooted and widespread, it disintegrates the most mediated intellectual and moral relationships between men and reality. The existentialist philosophy, according to which man, “thrown” into the world, is faced with nothingness, is – from a socio-historical point of view – the necessarily complementary opposite pole of the philosophical development that leads from Berkeley to Mach or Carnap.

The battlefield itself between immanence [Diesseitigkeit] and transcendence [Jenseitigkeit] is unquestionably ethics. Therefore, within the framework of this work, the decisive determinations of this controversy cannot be fully exposed, but only touched upon; The author hopes to be able to systematically offer, in the near future, his views on this issue. At this point, we should only briefly note that the old materialism – from Democritus to Feuerbach – managed to expose the immanence of the structure of the world only in a mechanistic way, which is why, on the one hand, the world could still be conceived as the mechanism of a clock. that requires external intervention – transcendent – ​​to set itself in motion; on the other hand, in this type of worldview, man could only appear as a product and necessary object of immanent-citerior legalities [immanent-diesseitigen], and these did not explain his subjectivity nor his practice.

The Hegel-Marx theory of man’s self-creation by his own labor – which Gordon Childe condensed into the excellent formula “man makes himself [man makes himself]” – consummates for the first time the immanence of the world image, lays the ideological basis for an immanent ethics, the spirit of which was already very much alive in the brilliant conceptions of Aristotle and Epicurus, Spinoza and Goethe. (In this context, the theory of evolution in the [organic] world, the ever-increasing approach to the emergence of life from the interaction of physical and chemical legalities, plays an important role).

For aesthetics, this issue is of paramount importance and, therefore, will be dealt with extensively in the concrete expositions of this work. It would not make sense to anticipate here, in an abbreviated form, the results of these investigations, which only acquire persuasive force in the unfolding of all the determinations pertinent to them. Just so as not to silence the author's point of view even in the preface, we will say that the immanent coherence, the “being-placed-on-itself” of every authentic work of art – a type of reflection that has no analogue in other fields of human reactions to the external world –, by its content, whether willing or not, it represents a confession of immanence.

Therefore, the opposition of allegory and symbol, as Goethe brilliantly realized, is a question of being or not being for art. For this reason, as we will show in its own chapter (Chapter 16), art's struggle to free itself from the tutelage of religion is, at the same time, a fundamental fact of its origin and unfolding. The genesis has to show precisely how, starting from the natural and conscious link of primitive man to transcendence, without which the initial stages in any field would be unimaginable, art gradually gained autonomy in the reflection of reality, coming to elaborate it in a form peculiar. It is, naturally, the development of objective aesthetic facts, not what those who created them thought about them.

Precisely in artistic practice, the divergence between act and consciousness of that act is particularly great. At this point, the motto of our entire work, borrowed from Marx, comes into sharp relief: “They don’t know it, but they do it”. It is, therefore, the objective categorical structure of the work of art, which once again transforms into immanence every movement of consciousness towards the transcendent, which by its nature is very frequent in the history of the human race, to the extent that it appears as that which is, that is, as an integral part of immanent human life, as a symptom of its respective being properly so [Geradesosein].

The repeated rejections of art and the aesthetic principle, from Tertullian to Kierkegaard, are not accidental; on the contrary, they are the recognition of his real essence coming from the camp of his irreducible enemies. This work does not limit itself to recording these necessary struggles, but takes resolute positions: in favor of art, against religion, in terms of a great tradition that goes from Epicurus to Marx and Lenin, passing through Goethe. The dialectical unfolding, separation and synthesis of determinations – so multiform, contradictory, convergent and divergent – ​​of objectivities and their relationships require a specific method for their exposure.

By giving a brief exposition of the principles on which the method is based, in no way can it be said that the author wants to make an apology for his expository mode in the preface. No one is able to identify its limits and flaws more clearly than the author. He only wants to state his intentions; It is not up to you to judge where he performed them adequately and where he failed. Therefore, we will only talk about the principles below. These are rooted in materialist dialectics, whose coherent execution in such a vast field, which encompasses things very far from each other, requires, first of all, a break with formal expository means, based on mechanistic definitions and delimitations, on “pure” separations. ” in sections. Transposing ourselves at once to the center of the issue, when we start from the method of determinations as opposed to that of definitions, we return to the foundations of the reality of dialectics, to both the extensive and intensive infinity of objects and their relationships.

Any attempt to grasp this infinity through intellectual means will necessarily have insufficiencies. However, the definition establishes partiality itself as something definitive and, therefore, necessarily violates the fundamental character of the phenomena. Determination is considered from the beginning as something provisional, in need of complementation, something whose essence needs to be complemented, continually formed and concretized, that is, when, in this work, an object, a relationship of objectivities or a category are exposed through its determination in the light of comprehensibility and conceptualization, we always have in mind and intend two things: to characterize the respective object in such a way that it is unequivocally known, without, however, intending that what is known at this stage applies to its entirety and that, For this reason, one could stop there.

It is only possible to approach the object gradually, step by step, to the extent that this object is analyzed in different contexts, in different relationships with different other objects, to the extent that the initial determination is not invalidated by these procedures – in this In this case, it would be wrong – but, on the contrary, it is uninterruptedly enriched or, we could say, it always approaches the infinity of the object towards which it is focused, with cunning. This process unfolds in the most different dimensions of the ideal reproduction of reality and, for this reason, is always considered in principle only relatively completed. However, if this dialectic is correctly executed, there is increasing progress in terms of the clarity and richness of its determination and systematic nexus; therefore, it is necessary to accurately differentiate the recurrence of the same determination in different constellations and dimensions from a simple repetition.

The progress thus obtained is not only moving forward, penetrating more and more deeply into the essence of the objects to be grasped, but – when it occurs in a really correct way, in a really dialectical way – it will illuminate the past path with a new light, the path already taken, only then making it truly viable in a deeper sense. Max Weber once wrote to me, about my first and very insufficient essays in this sense, saying that they gave the impression of an Ibsen drama, the beginning of which can only be understood from the end. I saw this as a refined understanding of my intentions, even though my production at the time in no way deserved such praise. I hope this work better lends itself to being considered the realization of such a style of thought.

Finally, I ask the reader to allow me to briefly indicate the history of the emergence of my aesthetic. I began as a literary critic and essayist who sought theoretical support in the aesthetics of Kant and later Hegel. In the winter of 1911-1912, I drew up in Florence the first plan of an autonomous systematic aesthetics, on which I worked from 1912 to 1914, in Heidelberg. I still think with gratitude of the benevolent critical interest that Ernst Bloch, Emil Lask and, above all, Max Weber showed in my essay. The plan completely failed. And here, when I vehemently oppose philosophical idealism, this criticism also goes against my youthful tendencies. From an external perspective, the outbreak of war interrupted this work.

The Theory of Romance[v], which I wrote in the first year of the war, is more focused on the problems of the philosophy of history, of which aesthetic problems would only be symptoms, signs. From then on, ethics, history and economics increasingly occupied the center of my interests. I became a Marxist and the decade of my political activity was at the same time the period of internal discussion of Marxism, the period of its real assimilation. When – around 1930 – I again became intensively concerned with the problems of art, a systematic aesthetic was just a distant prospect on my horizon. It was only two decades later, in the early 1950s, that I was able to think about realizing my youthful dream, with a completely different worldview and method, and executing it with totally different contents, with radically opposite methods.

*György Lukács (1885-1971) was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and theorist. Author, among other books, of History and class consciousness (WMF Martins Fontes).


György Lukács. Aesthetics: the peculiarity of the aesthetic. Vol. 1. Translation: Nélio Schneider and Ronaldo Vielmi Fortes. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2023, 532 pages. []


[I] György Lukács, “Die Sickingendebatte zwischen Marx-Engels und Lassalle” in Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels als Literaturhistoriker (Berlin, [Aufbau,] 1948, 1952) [ed. bras.: “The debate on Sickingen between Marx-Engels and Lassalle”, in Marx and Engels as Historians of Literature, trans. Nélio Schneider, São Paulo, Boitempo, 2016, p. 17-62].

[ii] Franz Mehring, Gesammelte Schriften und Aufsätze (Berlin, [Universumbücherei,]

[iii] currently Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin, [Dietz,] 1960 et seq.); Die Lessing-Legende (Stuttgart, [Dietz,] 1898; Berlin, [Dietz,] 1953); Georgy Plekhanov, Kunst and Literature (pref. M. Rosenthal, ed. and commentary Nikolai Fedorowitch Beltschikow, trans. Joseph Harhammer, Berlin, [Dietz,] 1955).

[iv] Mikhail Lifschitz, “Lenin o kul'ture i iskusstve”, Marksistko-Leninskoe Iskusstvoznanie, v. 2, 1932, p. 143 et seq.; ditto, “Karl Marx und die Ästhetik”, International Literature, v. 2, 1933, p. 127 et seq.; idem, Marks i Engel's ob iskusstve (ed. F. Šiller and M. Lifschitz, Moscow, 1933); idem, K. Marks i F. Engel's, Ob iskusstve (ed. M. Lifschitz, Moscow-Leningrad, 1937); Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Über Kunst und Literatur: Eine Sammlung aus ihren Schriften (ed. M. Lifschitz, pref. Fritz Erpenbeck, Berlin, [Dietz,] 1948); M. Lifschitz, The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx ([trans. Ralph B. Winn,] New York, [Critics Group,] 1938); idem, Karl Marx und die Ästhetik (Dresden, [Verlag der Kunst,] 1960, Fundus-Bücher 3).

[v] Gyorgy Lukacs, Die Theorie des Romans: Ein geschichtsphilosophischer Versuch über die Formen der großen Epik (Berlin, [Cassirer,] 1920; reed. Neuwied, [Luchterhand,] 1963) [ed. bras.: The Theory of Romance, trans. José Marcos Mariani de Macedo, São Paulo, Editora 34/Duas Cidades, 2000].

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