Futurism What determines the style of a given work of art? How does the intention determine the form? Looked at in this way, style ceases to be a formalistic category. Rather, it is rooted in content; it is the specific form of a specific content. Content determines form.
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Futurism What determines the style of a given work of art? How does the intention determine the form? Looked at in this way, style ceases to be a formalistic category. Rather, it is rooted in content; it is the specific form of a specific content. Content determines form. But there is no content of which man himself is not the focal point.
However various the donnees of literature a particular experience, a didactic purpose , the basic question is, and will remain: what is man? Here is a point of division: if we put the question in abstract, philosophical terms, leaving aside all formal considerations, we arrive — for the realist school — at the traditional Aristotelean dictum which was also reached by other than purely esthetic considerations : Man is zoon politikon, a social animal. The Aristotelean dictum is applicable to all great realistic literature.
Their human significance, their specific individuality, cannot be separated from the context in which they were created. The ontological view governing the image of man in the work of leading modernist writers is the exact opposite of this.
Man, for these writers, is by nature solitary, asocial, unable to enter into relationships with other human beings. I would like, in the present study, to spare the reader tedious excursions into philosophy.
A more graphic evocation of the ontological solitariness of the individual would be hard to imagine. Man, thus conceived, is an ahistorical being. Particularly in one category, of primary theoretical and practical importance, to which we must now give our attention: that of potentiality.
These two categories, their interrelation and opposition, are rooted in life itself. The literary presentation of the latter thus implies a description of actual persons inhabiting a palpable, identifiable world. This principle alone enables the artist to distinguish concrete potentiality from a myriad of abstractions.
But the ontology on which the image of man in modernist literature is based invalidates this principle. The categories tend to merge. The disintegration of personality is matched by a disintegration of the outer world. In one sense, this is simply a further consequence of our argument. For the identification of abstract and concrete human potentiality rests on the assumption that the objective world is inherently inexplicable.
Certain leading modernist writers, attempting a theoretical apology, have admitted this quite frankly. Often this theoretical impossibility of understanding reality is the point of departure, rather than the exaltation of subjectivity. But in any case the connection between the two is plain.
Underlying both is the lack of a consistent view of human nature. Man is reduced to a sequence of unrelated experiential fragments; he is as inexplicable to others as to himself. What at first was no more than dim anticipation of approaching catastrophe developed, after , into an all-pervading obsession. And I would suggest that the ever-increasing part played by psychopathology was one of the main features of the continuity.
At each period — depending on the prevailing social and historical conditions — psychopathology was given a new emphasis, a different significance and artistic function. Some years later the opposition acquired a moral slant. The obsession with morbidity had ceased to have a merely decorative function, bringing color into the grayness of reality, and become a moral protest against capitalism.
With Musil — and with many other modernist writers — psychopathology became the goal, the terminus ad quern, of their artistic intention.
But there is a double difficulty inherent in their intention, which follows from its underlying ideology. There is, first, a lack of definition. Thus the propagators of this ideology are mistaken in thinking that such a protest could ever be fruitful in literature. In any protest against particular social conditions, these conditions themselves must have the central place.
The bourgeois protest against feudal society, the proletarian against bourgeois society, made their point of departure a criticism of the old order.
In both cases the protest — reaching out beyond the point of departure — was based on a concrete terminus ad quern: the establishment of a new order. However indefinite the structure and content of this new order, the will toward its more exact definition was not lacking. How different the protest of writers like Musil! The terminus a quo the corrupt society of our time is inevitably the main source of energy, since the terminus ad quern the escape into psychopathology is a mere abstraction.
The rejection of modern reality is purely subjective. And this lack is exaggerated still further by the character of the terminus ad quern. For the protest is an empty gesture, expressing nausea or discomfort or longing. Its content — or rather lack of content — derives from the fact that such a view of life cannot impart a sense of direction. These writers are not wholly wrong in believing that psychopathology is their surest refuge; it is the ideological complement of their historical position.
This obsession with the pathological is not only to be found in literature. Freudian psychoanalysis is its most obvious expression. The treatment of the subject is only superficially different from that in modern literature. This belief is still more evident in the typology of Kretschmer, which also assumes that psychological abnormalities can explain normal psychology.
Clearly, this is not strictly a scientific or literary-critical problem. It is an ideological problem, deriving from the ontological dogma of the solitariness of man. It is clear, I think, that modernism must deprive literature of a sense of perspective. This would not be surprising; rigorous modernists such as Kafka, Benn and Musil have always indignantly refused to provide their readers with any such thing. I will return to the ideological implications of the idea of perspective later.
Let me say here that, in any work of art, perspective is of overriding importance. The direction in which characters develop is determined by perspective, only those features being described which are material to their development. The more lucid the perspective — as in Moliere or the Greeks -the more economical and striking the selection.
Modernism drops this selective principle. It asserts that it can dispense with it, or can replace it with its dogma of the condition humaine. A naturalistic style is bound to be the result. This state of affairs — which to my mind characterizes all modernist art of the past fifty years — is disguised by critics who systematically glorify the modernist movement.
By concentrating on formal criteria, by isolating technique from content and exaggerating its importance, these critics refrain from judgment on the social or artistic significance of subject matter. They are unable, in consequence, to make the aesthetic distinction between realism and naturalism. Compared with this, formal categories are of secondary importance. That is why it is possible to speak of the basically naturalistic character of modernist literature — and to see here the literary expression of an ideological continuity.
This is not to deny that variations in style reflect changes in society. But the particular form this principle of naturalistic arbitrariness, this lack of hierarchic structure, may take is not decisive. These schools have in common a basically static approach to reality. This is closely related to their lack of perspective.
The Ideology of Modernism – Georg Lukacs
It is here that we must begin our investigation if we are to chart the possibilities of a bourgeois realism. We must compare the two main trends in contemporary bourgeois literature, and look at the answers they give to the major ideological and artistic questions of our time. We shall concentrate on the underlying ideological basis of these trends ideological in the above-defined, not in the strictly philosophical, sense. What must be avoided at all costs is the approach generally adopted by bourgeois-modernist critics them- selves: that exaggerated concern with formal criteria, with ques- tions of style and literary tecbnique. In fact it fails to locate the decisive formal problems and turns a blind eye to their inherent dialectic. We are pre- sented with a false polarization which, by exaggerating the im- portance of stylistic differences, conceals the opposing principles actually underlying and determining contrasting styles.
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