Episode #20: Seamus Deane on Georg Lukács

One of many prophets who forecast the disasters of modernism, but one of the few who did it from the left.

Georg Lukács was one of the leading European literary critics of the 20th century. His life story was entangled with the political storms that swept across his native Hungary – communist revolution, reaction, fascism, global war and Stalinism.

Georg Lukács’s study in Budapest

Lukács, who wrote in German and Hungarian (his name is also written as György Lukács), was in the German literary and philosophical tradition. He was a theorist of the aesthetic, and a Marxist who sought to define and defend the role of artistic practice in the social world.

In this interview, Seamus Deane discusses Lukács’s landmark writings on European novelists such as Scott, Zola, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Mann. At the core of Lukács’s project was the problem of understanding how the great  tradition of German rationalism slid into the darkness of ‘irrational intuitionism’ that marked the fascist period in particular.

For Lukács, the clearest indicator of the disintegration of all that was good about Europe, including communism as a utopian possibility, was the disintegration of the novel itself. The subjectivist, solipsistic styles of Proust, Joyce, Kafka and Beckett made it impossible to see the totality of relationships that make up society. The destruction of the novel form was directly connected, he believed, to the dissolution of all hope of the possibility of transformation and rebirth.
Deane ends his discussion by commenting on the precarious state of the Lukács Archives in Budapest, which have been threatened with closure, in line with the anti-intellectualism and anti-semitism of the Orbán government (Lukács was from a Jewish family).

Literary critic and novelist Seamus Deane.

Seamus Deane is a founding member of Field Day. He is emeritus Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He has published many books in Irish literary criticism, and was the General Editor of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991, 2002). He is the author of the Booker-nominated novel Reading in the Dark (1996).