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41XP3VWQD6LLong recognized as one of the foremost literary critics of the twentieth century, the Hungarian-born Georg Lukacs (1885-1971) shocked many by turning to Marxism in 1918. Having adopted German as his language of choice, he used his formidable knowledge of European cultural history to revitalize Marxist theory with History and Class Consciousness (1923), and continued to write extensively about literature. His essays on Goethe and Thomas Mann are particularly well known. Even now, discussions about the novel, realism, and literary theory are incomplete without references to his work. The ultimate question posed by Vazsonyi’s book is how Lukacs in the 1930s was able to write enthusiastically about Goethe, citing him as an ideal exponent of humanism, while simultaneously accepting, even condoning Stalinism. To solve this riddle, Vazsonyi’s book begins with Lukacs’ early works ‘Aesthetic Culture’ (1910) and Soul and Forms (1911) tracing the concurrent development of Lukacs’ aesthetics and ethics. Both his response to contemporary literature and his growing interest in ethics reflect a critique of modernity and a vague desire to overcome cultural despair. Goethe emerges as his constant reference point, because Goethe too had rebelled against modernity but, unlike the authors of Romanticism, had found a solution expressed both in his writings and his life. The later Lukacs continued to use Goethe, this time as an intellectual precursor to Marx, as a model for successful realist literature (according to theories developed by Engels), and as an ideological foil against National Socialism. His readings in Goethe and His Age (1936) and the Faust Studies (1940) apply a Hegelian notion of history in which individual tragedies, though regrettable, are necessary for the teleological development of the human species.

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