1 Several of the key texts in this debate have been edited and translated in Aesthetics and Politics (London: Verso, 1977). For the Swedish-language reader, there is an even more detailed source book available, Det gäller realismen, ed. and trans. Lars Bjurman (Staffanstorp: Cavefors, 1972). The best German collection of sources for this debate is still Hans-Jürgen Schmitt (ed.), Die Expressionismusdebatte: Materialien zu einer marxistischen Realismuskonzeption (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975), which contains all the texts published in the review Das Wort. For an overview of the debate, see Eugene Lunn, Marxism and Modernism: An Historical Study of Lukács, Brecht, Benjamin, and Adorno (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).
Similarly Lukacs, in character totally alien to the narrow-minded thugs who held power in the Kremlin, is nonetheless a literary representative of the Soviet bureaucracy. Because of this, Lukacs is unable to see that the analysis he himself applied to the French bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century, that of a ruling class validating itself in the name of revolution, is equally applicable to the Stalinist ruling class. If he criticises this class, it can be only in the name of individual humanism, not from the standpoint of a class. Similarly, he cannot go beyond the point of view of the Communist Parties in the West, who derive their legitimacy from the Russian Revolution, and cannot therefore adapt to changed circumstances, such as the greater weight and sophistication of the working class. In short, for Lukacs history stops dead in 1917; a lucid analysis of political and literary events before then, but only a distorting parody of what came after.
But there followed aperiod of intellectual ecstasy: books and ideas became my opium. In a feverish state of excitation during the following months,Lukács finished the final essays to be included in . The irreconcilable nature of Lukács's philosophicalcategories are symptomatic manifestations of a melancholic psyche.
To the degree that the works of the early Lukácsgravitate toward questions of the solubility of social antinomies withinthe realm of aesthetic production, they also exist as markers for theinsolubility of his own personal crises.
Onone hand, the essays represent an embodiment of his own subjectivitywithin the act of philosophical writing, dissolving the false objectivityof "transparent" philosophical prose, while on the other, offering a wayfor Lukács to cast off that self-same subject position byinscribing it upon the objective world.
However, this does not seal the fate of realism in the present once and for all, and there are highly significant instances located at the line that separates the repressive dimension of socialist realism from a possible different version: above all in Brecht. While he can in no way be made into a part of the social realism that Adorno decries — “Jesuitical machinations were needed sufficiently to camouflage what he wrote as socialist realism to escape the inquisition” (336/297) — he is often the target of sharp criticism, above all in relation to the uncompromisingly didactic aspect of his plays, which puts a definite limit to his claims about art as a process of estrangement. The problem of realism remains tangential to Adorno’s debate with Brecht, however, and in order to unearth a positive sense of the term we have to look elsewhere.
For it is difficult to transfigure one's existence. Although the term "Goodness" dropped out of his writing during thisperiod, Lukács can be seen here pursuing that same goal,transfigured from the realm of heaven to that of the profane.
Drawing on this idea, Lukács sketches a theory of socialrationalization that goes beyond a mere description of economicrelations and towards a theory of cultural change. The core of thisargument is the claim that the dominance of commodity forms in theeconomic sphere must necessarily lead to the dominance of rationalcalculation and formal reason in society as a whole. Because abreak with the organic unity and totality of human existence is anecessary precondition for this development, the commodity form must,over time, subject all social spheres to its rule. By forcing politicsand law to adapt to the demands of capitalist exchange, the commodityform consequently transforms these spheres into a mode of rationalcalculability (a line of thought clearly stemming from Weber'sanalyses)—which helps explain the rise of the bureaucraticstate and the dominance of formal, positive law that continues toalienate individuals from society and encourages their passivity inthe face of objectified, mechanical rules (1923a: 98).
Lukács calls this development “reification”. It isa process which affects four dimensions of social relations: thesocially created features of objects (primarily their features ascommodities), the relations between persons, their relations tothemselves and, finally, the relations between individuals and societyas a whole (Stahl 2011). The objective and subjective dimensions ofthe dominance of the commodity form constitute a complex ofreification because the properties of objects, subjects and socialrelations become “thinglike” in a particular way. Theseproperties become independent, quantifiable, non-relational featuresthat must remain alien to any subjective meaning that one could attachto them. Additionally, by losing grip of the qualitative dimensions oftheir social relations, people become atomized and isolated.
This development leads into a contradictory situation both on thepractical and the theoretical level: because the process ofrationalization precludes the grasp of any kind of totality, it cannotever succeed in making the whole of society subject to rationalcalculation for it necessarily must exclude all irrational,qualitative dimensions from such calculation. As Lukács argues,the inability of economic rationality to integrate qualitativefeatures (e.g., of consumption) into a formal system not onlyexplains the economic crises of capitalism but is also reflected inthe inability of economic science to explain the movements of theeconomy (1923a: 105–107). The same holds true for a formalist model of law, which cannot theoretically acknowledge the interdependence of itsprinciples with their social content and therefore must treat thiscontent as an extra-legal, irrational foundation (1923a:107–110).
First, as a historical category implicated in the emergence of modern art, realism for Adorno occupies a fairly conventional place in the nineteenth century, when it was still a progressive force. This is the case of the nineteenth-century novel, which allowed new experiences to enter into art (334/295),12 prefiguring reportage and social science (17/8; see also 426/367). Because of this, which constitutes “aesthetic elements under the façade,” realist works were also in some respects more substantial than those that opted for an ideal of purity which, for Adorno, always involves a moment of self-deception in attempting to seal off the work from its social conditions: “The mistake of aestheticism was aesthetic: it confused its own guiding concept with the work accomplished” (60/45).
Any authentic critical writing must recognizethe contradictory nature of the cultural products of such an age. It is this conclusion that manifests itself in , and nowhere more strongly than in the lead essay"The Ideology of Modernism." Here, Lukács adopts a style that isalmost Aesopian.