Monday, May 08, 2006

Lukacs on Kafka (my continuing mood against modernism)

You can read about George Lukacs and his attitudes on modernism at wikipedia, but let me try summarize Lukacs' attitude on Kafka from my memory of studies at St. Thomas almost four years ago (learned from Dr. Scheiber and Dr. Jordan). I may get the summary inaccurate, but this summary will suit my purposes and is accurate for discussion even if misremembered.

Basically, Lukacs criticized Kafka and other modernists for taking the alienation experienced by many in the industrial world and turning it into "the human condition." Lukacs felt these writers wrote about the experience of alienation without examining the causes of alienation. Those causes lie with social and economic factors. By moving away from realism, modernists failed to examine the root social and economic causes of alienation in the modern world, instead focusing on the experience of alienation itself.

I think this is unfair in some ways (Kafka's "Metamorphosis" is, after all, about a disillusioned and unfulfilled salesman told by his boss that there is never a time to do no business), but accurate in others. If we focus on the feeling of alienation, and find new ways to express this feeling of alienation, we get nowhere. The Marxist in me would side with Lukacs and demand that we examine exactly WHY one might feel alienated. The Postmodernist in my feels that instead of focusing on the alienation, we find ways in the modern world to no longer feel alienated (is this even an element of "postmodernism"? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not). Because some people aren't alienated. Some people find fulfillment, human connections, community. These things exist--alienation is not THE human condition, though it is A human condition.

Which is why I don't enjoy contemporary modernism in film and literature. I think it is necessary to examine the real causes of alienation in the real world (I feel economically alienated much more often than I feel alienated in any spiritual or human way), and I think it is necessary to find the ways out of this alienation (they exist).

So that is what I wish for at this point in my life. Community may not have meant much to modernists (though American expatriates certainly shared a community--they just focused their writing on individual alienation more). But community can mean something today. E.M Forster perhaps gave us the pathway out of alienation.

"Only connect."


  1. yes, that's commie talk. i thought most of kafka was about the seperation from god. i suppose alot think its about banks and governments. i think kafka goes beyond the isolation in the modern world bit and gets to the core feelings of loss and isolation that created governments and religions.

  2. Exactly--the "core feelings of loss and isolation that created governments and religions" is a way to say that alienation is "the human condition."

    It doesn't have to be.