Giuseppe Prestipino, reader of Lukács



Commentary on the BookAbout Lukács: Fragments of an ethical-political discourse”.

A few months after the death of Giuseppe Prestipino, a small book (Su Lukács: Framing an ethical-political disagreement) draws our attention to the analysis that the Italian philosopher dedicated to György Lukács, especially to a central aspect of the last Lukács: ethics.

As is known, Lukács, in the last years of his life, around the last twenty years, dedicated himself to the elaboration of a true philosophical system. First Aesthetics, which would be followed by a Ethics. After having finished the Aesthetics – at least in the monumental form in which we know it, 1600 pages, because Lukács' intention was to write a second volume – the Hungarian philosopher was preparing to write the Ethics, but he realized that first he should have defined the subject of this ethics and, therefore, he started to write For an ontology of social being. This work had just been completed, along with its shorter and more agile version, the Prolegomena for an ontology of social being, when death interrupted Lukács' systematic work. We have some notes from Ethics, from which, with some difficulty, some concepts can be extracted.

Prestipino, however, managed, especially at the turn of the century, to identify some concepts of an ethical-political nature of Lukács and La Porta, the organizer of the book, managed to synthesize this research in the pages of this booklet, knew, in particular, to synthesize the attitude of Lukács before the great question of democracy: “For Lukács, democracy is be with the other, or be among others” (p. 12). It is noted that democracy, a category of politics, has an ethical content, an openness to the Other and a coexistence with others, so that the individual is a being-in-common with others; the individual is, at bottom, a community of reciprocal actions.

It is noteworthy that in German – the language in which Lukács wrote – “community” is Community which also means “reciprocal action”. Personally, I always read the Ontology of Lukács as a theory of individual, that is, of a being not divided between a singularity and a collectivity, between a man and the community in which he lives. Now I see in Prestipino a reading very similar to mine, as is obvious for Marxists like us.

This individual, this social being, is “a possibility not yet realized” (p. 24), in the words of Bloch – another Marxist philosopher very dear to Prestipino – it is a not-to-be-yet. What prevents the realization of this possibility is the estrangement that dominates the contemporary world – I add – in all systems of wealth production and in all existing societies, in fact, estrangement, today, is the true globalizing element. Prestipino argues that “the concept of estrangement […] replaces the notion of exploitation” (p. 43); I believe that estrangement is a more refined instrument to complete the action of exploration and, in this sense, I use the concept of “reification” that Lukács used in History and class consciousness, his first Marxist masterpiece.

Em For an ontology of social being, estrangement returns as a phenomenon extended to the entire sphere of social being, as I said above, it can be considered a global phenomenon, the characteristic phenomenon of our time. The epochal characteristic, observed by Prestipino, is that estrangement is a way of uprooting the individual from the human race to lock him up in his particularity, to make him an isolated atom of the reciprocal relationship, of the community, with others. I speak of uprooting, because isolation in the particular is also the annihilation of relationships with tradition, with history, which form the particularity of the social being of each human being.

Today's particular individual can find new identities in natural relationships with others, such as, for example, sex, ethnic groups, generations (cf. p. 45), which are forms of primitive and ancestral communities, to be overcome in order to have a life full of meaning. Revolts against these natural barriers, i.e. feminism, or the LGBTIQ movement, or the Black Lives Matter, or the White Revolution – which would be the emancipation movement of the elderly, which is not talked about in an ancient continent like Europe, but is current in Latin America, a young continent – ​​are the current manifestation of the struggle against “natural barriers” , to which Prestipino referred.

We are, therefore, on the temporal threshold of an epochal change. The situation of estrangement/exploitation to which humanity is generically subjected cannot last forever, it was born with the subsumption of labor to capital and with the “fundamental conditioning exercised on production by rationality” (p. 24). Extreme rationalization makes a human life unfeasible under these conditions of estrangement and exploitation, which has also become environmental exploitation, with the risk of ending the very biological life of the social being.

Marxism can present itself as a new philosophy of history that investigates future possibilities – Bloch's not-yet-being – because these belong to the generality of social being (cf. p. 51). Future possibilities must not be built out of nothing, but must be extracted from the social being, where they are hidden and oppressed by estrangement. They are potentiae – in the words of Spinoza – that can pass in act, as a consequence of an act of liberation of the true and authentic human essence.

But, it should be noted, this liberation is, above all, an act of choice: in human nature one can choose for one's own particular, for the evil gesture towards another human being, but one can choose for the solidary, fraternal act towards the other social being, obviously overcoming the natural barriers mentioned above. It is a choice for the life of the other, as if it were one's own. One can choose the reciprocal relationship, the community, and this is the choice for the growth of the human being, for the growth of humanity. This is the substance of Prestipino's speech, which I evidently deepened towards a philosophy of liberation, which was by no means foreign to the Sicilian philosopher.

Prestipino does not hug in whole Lukács' positions, but takes up some of the characteristic accusations leveled at Lukács by his critics; first of all, his lack of understanding of the avant-garde. Lukács, not understanding the new directions of contemporary science, “did not understand that the artistic and literary vanguards perhaps pursued a 'realism' more adequate to the experimental paths of knowledge in general and scientific knowledge in particular in our century.

He fought against the exponents of the avant-garde, because, in his opinion, 'anguish as a dominant affect', far from witnessing with new instruments of knowledge the 'chaos' reigning in contemporary society, would be just the 'emotional expression' of an 'inability to glimpse the laws and directions of social development' underlying the supposed chaos” (p. 59). The reader of lukácsian pages knows that Lukács' opinion of at least two of the greatest exponents of the XNUMXth century avant-garde, Brecht and Kafka, was not so negative. Regarding Brecht, Lukács, in the funeral eulogy of the German playwright – published under this heading–, recognizes the great merit of having caused a crisis in contemporary consciousness, as that dominant affection, that anguish had a stimulating effect on the liberation of estrangement. In the case of Kafka, although in a private letter to the philosopher Konder – also present in this section – Lukács acknowledges that his negative opinion was wrong.

In my opinion, Prestipino did not dwell on the term “realism”. Lukács wanted to say that the realism of the avant-garde, although adequate to the time in which the artists lived, did not manage to go deep in discovering what was typical of the time and of capitalist society, a common polemical target of the avant-garde and Lukács. In practice, Lukács reproached the vanguards for their atypicality, that is, for not knowing how to represent the typical elements of the time, except in a superficial and non-essential way.

However, Lukács recognized in a contemporary author, such as Thomas Mann, this ability to go deeper into the representation of epochal themes. For example, in the novel Doctor Faust the German writer deals with avant-garde artistic themes, but, at the same time, represents the dominant estrangement in German society between the end of the 75th century and the beginning of the XNUMXth century. In fact, for Thomas Mann, as an authentic realist, the real is the typical essence, the synthesis of singularity and universality (cf. p. XNUMX), certainly not a singularity that sensibly expresses a reality that is only its own, not recognizable by others.

The critique of the avant-garde's incomprehension opens the way for a report of the typical accusations of Stalinism directed at Lukács: “It seems to me that Lukács' peculiar 'bad luck' derives from the fact that he was the only one, among the greats of Western culture, to praise of Stalin and, at the same time, 'outdated' thinker 'Hegel-Marxist'[…]; he was subservient to Stalinism and, at the same time, a tenacious opponent of 'irrationalism' […]; he was 'Stalinist' and, at the same time, anti-modernist from an aesthetic-artistic point of view […]; finally, no other great intellectual was as conditioned as he was, in life and thought, by party discipline” (p. 71).

It is perceived that the tone is ironic, Prestipino does not seem convinced that Lukács was a true Stalinist, even if some attitudes and theoretical positions were not far enough from Stalinist conceptions. In short, Prestipino recognizes that Lukács was for many of his critics “a scapegoat with too many heads to be cut off all at once” (p. 72).

Personally, I do not believe in Lukács's Stalinism, on the contrary, I recognize that he was a victim of Stalinism several times: he was arrested by the Stalinist police, in July 1941, and released by the intervention of the leader of the Third International Dimitrov, just for personal reasons; he was expelled from the University of Budapest in 1949 for his unorthodox views; he was deported to Romania as a member of the Nagy revolutionary government in 1957. He was a member of the Hungarian Communist Party for a few years, because his positions were not orthodox, so he was not at all faithful to the party's positions, especially in theoretical conceptions: if the Stalinism exalted socialist realism, Lukács exalted bourgeois realism; if Stalinism held that there was no relationship between Hegelian thought and Marx, Lukács wrote a book on the young Hegel, philologically highlighting Marx's debts to Hegel; if Stalinism condemned idealism, Lukács condemned irrationalism. These are all the differences between Stalinism and Lukacsian thought.

Stalin's "laudatory" quotes? In all his autobiographical writings, Lukács always recognized that quotations were the means to escape the control of Stalinist censorship and to be able to publish essays that did not conform to party guidelines. These are intellectual acrobatics, but the times and places in which Lukács lived did not allow an open struggle against the Stalinist regime, Prestipino recognizes that Stalinism did not allow mediation (cf. p. 69). However, Prestipino could have taken these facts into account.

However, Prestipino's acknowledgment of his debt to Lukács remains: “Communism is a decision, it is a rational will that must assert itself without preliminary certainties! (p. 96). Prestipino and Lukács were two organic intellectuals who made this choice, a choice that is above all ethical. Lukács was defined by those who had known him as a “good man”, the same can be said of Prestipino. Lukács risked paying dearly for this choice, Prestipino, who lived a generation after the Hungarian philosopher and in Italy, a democratic country, paid nothing for his choice, but at least knew how to recognize that Lukács was an essential theoretical reference for anyone who wanted to make this choice. choice.

*Antonino Infranca He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Author, among other books, of Work, individual, history – the concept of work in Lukács (Boitempo).

Translation: Juliana Hass


Giuseppe Prestipino. Su Lukács: Framing an ethical-political disagreement. curator: Lelio La Porta. Riuniti Univ. Press, 2021.



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