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86 the minnesota review Cornel West Lukács: A Reassessment The antihistoricist climate of postmodern thought makes a reassessment of Lukács refreshing. Despite his incurable nostalgia for the highbrow achievements of classical bourgeois culture, Lukács remains the most provocative and profound Marxist thinker of this century. His major texts display the richness of the dialectical tradition, a tradition which emerged in figurai biblical interpretation, was definitively articulated by Hegel and deepened by Kierkegaard and Marx. This dialectical tradition differs from humanism and poststructuralism in three basic ways. First, the mode of theoretical activity of dialectical thought is critique: the demystifying of an apparent static surface and the disclosing of an underlying process whose emergence negates, preserves and transforms this surface. The corresponding mode of theoretical activity of humanist thought is criticism: the "civil" procedure of endless correction while remaining on the surface. That of poststructuralism is deconstruction: a potentially radical yet ultimately barren operation of ingeniously dismantling humanist thought and (attempting to) disarm dialectical reflection. Second, dialectical thought is guided by the rhetorical trope of synecdoche : of part-whole relations in which a totality serves as the context within which complex levels are mediated and related. Humanist thought is dominated by the rhetorical trope of metaphor: of an unmediated identification and resemblance (between subject and object, ideas and world, et. al.) in which correspondence is attained and unity is achieved. Poststructuralist thought is regulated by the rhetorical trope of metonymy: of the juxaposition or contiguity of the free play of signifiers which preclude correspondence and unity. Lastly, the basic problematic of dialectical thought is socio-political crisis: a crisis linked in a complex manner to prevailing structures of domination. The chief aims are to keep alive the notion of a different and better future, to view the present as history and to promote engagement in transforming this present. The major problematic of humanism is the exercise ofheroic individual will: an activity deeply shaped by the emergence and decline of modern capitalist civilization. The central aim is to preserve the sanctity of individual achievement and defend its nobility at nearly any social cost. The principal problematic of poststruc- 87 west turalism is the philosophical antinomies of humanist thought: these antinomies constitute an inescapable yet untenable metaphysics of presence. The major aim is to decenter and therefore break "free" from these antinomies, even though this "freedom" results in mere ironic negativity and severe paralysis of praxis. Lukács deserves our attention not simply because he believed that the dialectical tradition is the most theoretically engaging and politically relevant of the three. But rather, more importantly, because his major texts enact the most important dialectical reflections in our time. In this essay I will examine Lukács as neither a literary critic nor political strategist, but primarily as a dialectical philosopher. I will focus on his later ontological writings, especially parts of his Toward the Ontology ofSocial Existence. I will suggest that his rich dialectical textual practice is ultimately deficient, that is, not dialectical enough. The Early Period In order to understand more fully the latter Lukács, it is necessary to look briefly at his early and middle periods. Gyorgy (Hungarian name for the more widely used German name Georg) Lukács was born in Budapest in 1885, the son of a wealthy banker. Lukács was raised in a flaccid aristocratic milieu, as evidenced by his early use of "von" in his signature of early writings.1 Lukács' rejection of aristocratic pretense and bourgeois values was inspired by two of the greatest figures in modern Hungarian literature — the novelist Zsigmond Möricz and the poet Endre Ady — as well as the influential progressive thinker Ervin Szabo. Of these three, it was Ady who had the greatest impact on the young Lukács.2 While obtaining a degree in jurisprudence at the University of Budapest (1902-1906), Lukács became deeply involved in literary writing and aesthetic theory. Like Ady, he was of "two souls": scornful of the privileged class, hence a bourgeois-democratic revolutionary, and nostalgic for a heroic life of authenticity, therefore of antibourgeois artistic temperament. This predicament led to Lukács' adoption of a tragic view...


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