Georg Lukacs Preface to The Specificity of the Aesthetic 1963
First published: 1979 in Marxism and Art. Essays Classic and Contemporary, pp. 404-419
Translated by: Maynard Solomon
The book herewith presented to the public forms the first part of an Aesthetics, centering in the philosophic foundations of the aesthetic Setzung (setting), the derivation of the specific category of aesthetics, its delimitation from other areas. By concentrating on this complex of problems and touching concrete questions of aesthetics only where it is required in order to clear up the problems, this volume forms a closed entity in itself and is also completely comprehensible without those that are to follow.
It is indispensable to delineate the place of the aesthetic attitude in the totality of human activities, in human reactions to the outside world, the relationship of the aesthetic form created by the latter and its categoric construction (its structure, etc.) with other types of reaction to objective reality. Impartial observation of this relationship provides, in rough outlines, the following picture. The behaviour of man in everyday life is the most important, though it is still largely unexplored in spite of its central importance for the understanding of higher and more complicated types of reaction. Without wishing to anticipate the detailed explanations given in the work itself, it is necessary to mention here briefly the basic ideas of the construction. The everyday behaviour of man is both the starting and end point of all human activity. This means that if we imagine everyday life as a huge stream, science and art branch from it in higher forms of reception and reproduction of reality, become differentiated and take shape according to their specific aims, achieve their pure form in: this characteristic stemming from the needs of life in society, to return at last–as a result of its effect, its influence on the life of people–into the stream of everyday life. Thus, this stream is constantly enriched by the highest achievements of the human mind, assimilates these to its daily, practical needs, from which new branches of higher forms of objectivization arise as questions and demands. Such a process calls for thorough investigation of the complicated mutual relationship between the immanent consummation of works of science and art and the social needs giving rise to them. The special categories and structures of man’s scientific and artistic reactions to reality can only be derived from this dynamics of genesis, of development, of self-regulation, of being rooted in the life of mankind. The reflections in the present work are of course directed towards recognition of the particularity of the aesthetic. However, since people live in a single reality, with which they stand in mutual relationship, the essence of the aesthetic can only be understood even approximately in constant comparison with other types of reaction. The relationship to science is the most important, but it is also indispensable to discover the connections with ethics and religion. Even the psychological problems appearing here occur as necessary consequences of questions aimed at what is specific in aesthetic Setzung.
Of course, no aesthetics can stop at this stage. Kant could still be satisfied with answering the general methodological question of the claim to validity of aesthetic judgments. Irrespective of our opinion that this question is not a primary one but, as far as the construction of aesthetics is concerned, highly derivative, no philosopher who seriously undertakes to clarify the essence of the aesthetic, can–since the Hegelian aesthetics–be satisfied with such a narrowly confined frame and with a placing of the problem so one-sidedly oriented towards the theory of cognition. The present text, both in its basic outlook and in its detailed considerations, will frequently deal with questionable aspects of Hegelian aesthetics; nevertheless, the philosophic universality of its concept, its historico-systematic synthesis remain a permanent model for the outline of any aesthetics. Only the three parts of this aesthetics together may achieve a partial approach to this high example. For, quite apart from the knowledge and talent of anyone undertaking such an experiment today, the standards of universality set up in Hegelian aesthetics are objectively much more difficult to transform into practice at present than in Hegel’s time. The historico-systematic theory of the arts, discussed in detail by Hegel, thus remains outside the area circumscribed by the plan of this whole work. Part Two–bearing the provisional title: Works of Art and Aesthetic Attitude–will, in the main, deal concretely with the specific structure of the work of art, which in Part One is derived and outlined only in general form; the general categories arrived at in Part One can only then obtain their real and defined physiognomy. The problems of content and form, Weltanschauung and selection of form, technique and form, etc., can emerge in Part One only in general, as questions on the horizon; their concrete nature can be illuminated philosophically only during the detailed analysis of the structure of art works. The same applies to the problems of creative and receptive attitudes. Part One can advance only to their general outline, rendering the methodological “place” according to the possibility of determination. Also, the real relationship between everyday life on the one hand and scientific, ethical, etc., attitudes and aesthetic production and reproduction on the other, the categoric essence of their proportions, interrelations, effects, etc., demand most concrete analyses, which could not be included in Part One in principle, directed as it is towards the philosophic foundations.
The situation is similar as regards Part Three. (Its provisional title is: Art as a Socio-historical Phenomenon.) Yet Part One unavoidably already contains not only some historical excursions but constantly refers to the original historic nature of each aesthetic phenomenon. The historico-systematic character of art was first formulated, as mentioned before, in Hegel’s aesthetics. The rigidity of the Hegelian systematization deriving from its objective idealism has been corrected by Marxism. The complicated mutual relationship between dialectical and historical materialism is in itself a significant indication that Marxism does not seek to deduce historical stages of development from the internal development of the idea, but on the contrary strives at grasping the real process in its complicated historico-systematic determination. The unity of theoretic (in this case: aesthetic) and historical determination is realized in its final consequence in an extremely contradictory manner and can therefore be penetrated, both in principle and in single concrete cases, only through an uninterrupted cooperation between dialectical and historical materialism. (Tendencies towards the vulgarization of Marxism during the Stalin era are also revealed by the fact that dialectical materialism and historical materialism were temporarily treated as separate sciences and “specialists” were even trained for each of these branches.) Aspects of dialectical materialism dominate in Parts One and Two of this work, as it aims at giving conceptual expression to the essence of the aesthetic. There is, however, hardly any problem that can be solved without at least an indicative clarification of the historical aspects inseparably united with aesthetic theory. Part Three is dominated by the method of historical materialism, because the historical determinants and characteristics of the genesis of the arts, their development, their crises, their leading or subordinate role, etc., are in the foreground of its interest. Its task is to investigate first of all the problem of uneven evolution in the genesis, in the Sein und Werden (being and becoming) and in the effect of the arts. At the same time this means a breach with all “sociological” vulgarization of the origin and effect of the arts. Such a permissibly simplifying socio-historical analysis is, however, impossible without making constant use of the results of dialectical-materialist research into the categoric construction, structure and disposition of each art in order to perceive its historical character. The permanent and living mutual influence of dialectical and historical materialism is shown here from another side, but no less intensively than in the two first parts.
As the reader may see, the construction of these aesthetic investigations differs rather strongly from the usual. This does not, however, imply an originality of method. On the contrary, the investigations involve no more than as correct as possible an application of Marxism to the problems of aesthetics. If such a definition of the task is not to be misinterpreted from the outset, it is necessary to explain, if only in a few words, the position and relationship of this aesthetics to that of Marxism. When I wrote my first contribution to the aesthetics of Marxism about thirty years ago, I advocated the thesis that Marxism had its own aesthetics, and my view met with considerable resistance. The reason was that, prior to Lenin, Marxism, even in its best theoretical representatives such as Plekhanov or Mehring, limited itself almost entirely to the problems of historical materialism. Only since Lenin has dialectical materialism returned to the centre of interest. This is why Mehring, who incidentally based his aesthetics on Kant’s Critique of Judgment, could see in the divergencies between Marx-Engels and Lassalle no more than the clash of subjective judgments of taste. This controversy has, of course, long been solved. Since the brilliant study by Mikhail Lifschitz on the evolution of the aesthetic views of Marx, since his careful collection and systematization of the scattered utterances of Marx, Engels and Lenin on aesthetic questions, there can be no more doubt about the connection and cohesion of their train of thought.*
However, the demonstration and proof of such a systematic connection is still far from solving with finality the demand for an aesthetics of Marxism. If aesthetics or at least its perfect skeleton were explicitly included in the collected and systematically arranged utterances of the classics of Marxism, then nothing but a good running commentary would be needed in order to present us with a complete Marxist aesthetics. But there can be no question of this! Ample experience shows that not even a direct monographic application of this material to each particular question can provide what is scientifically essential for the construction of the whole. One has to face the paradoxical situation that a Marxist aesthetics does exist and does not exist at one and the same time, that it still has to be conquered, even created through independent research, and that the result still only presents and fixes something already existing conceptually. This paradox, nevertheless, resolves itself upon considering the whole problem in the light of the method of materialistic dialectics. The age-old literal sense of Method, indissolubly connected with the path to cognition, contains the demand upon thinking that it should follow definite paths to definitive results. The direction of these paths is with indubitable evidence included in the totality of the world concept provided by the classics of Marxism, especially as the end-stations of such paths are set clearly before us by the results at our disposal. The paths to be followed and the methods to be met are–though not directly and not visibly at first glance–clearly indicated by the method of dialectical materialism, if one wishes to establish the essence (auf den Begriff bringen) of objective reality and to examine the reality of a particular area in accordance with its truth. Only if this method, this direction has been practiced and followed through one’s own independent research, does the possibility arise of finding what one is looking for, of correctly constructing Marxist Aesthetics, or at least of approaching its true nature. Whoever entertains the illusion of mentally reproducing reality and at the same time Marx’s conception of reality through mere interpretations of Marx, is bound to miss both. Only an unbiased observation of reality and its elaboration through the method discovered by Marx can achieve fidelity to both reality and to Marxism. In this sense, though each part and the whole of this work is the result of independent research, it cannot claim originality, as its means of approaching truth and its entire method is based on the study of the oeuvre handed down by the classics of Marxism.
Fidelity to Marxism, however, means at the same time attachment to the great traditions of the mental mastering of reality to date. In the Stalin era, especially on the part of Zhdanov, those features were exclusively emphasized that separate Marxism from the great traditions of human thought. If this had resulted only in stressing what was qualitatively new in Marxism, viz., the leap that separated its dialectics from its most developed predecessors, say from Aristotle or Hegel, it could have been relatively justified. Such a viewpoint could even have been considered necessary and useful, had it not–in a deeply undialectical way–one-sidedly isolated and therefore metaphysically emphasized the radically new in Marxism, and had it not neglected the aspect of continuity in the evolution of human thought. But reality–and therefore its mental reflection and reproduction as well–is a dialectical unity of continuity and discontinuity, of tradition and revolution, of gradual transition and leaps. Scientific socialism itself is something completely new in history, yet at the same time it fulfils a human longing that has existed for thousands of years, something the best minds of humanity deeply strove for. The situation is the same with the conceptual recognition of the world through the classics of Marxism. The deep influence of Marxism, which cannot be shaken by any attacks or by silence, rests not least on the fact that with its aid the basic facts of reality, of human life are revealed and become the content of human consciousness. This gives a double meaning to the new phenomenon: not only does human life receive a new content, a new significance through the previously nonexistent reality of socialism, but at the same time the present and past that were considered as known, all of human existence, are newly illuminated through the de-fetishization achieved by the Marxist method and research and its results. All past efforts to seize it in its truth thus become comprehensible in an entirely new sense. Perspectives of the future, recognition of the present, insight into the tendencies that have brought it forth in thought and practice, thus form an indissoluble mutual relationship. One-sided emphasis on what separates and is new, conjures up the danger of confining everything concrete and rich in determinations in the genuinely new in an abstract otherness, and thereby impoverishing them. Confrontation of the characterization of dialectics in Lenin and in Stalin shows the consequences of such a methodological difference quite clearly; and the frequent unreasonable attitudes towards the inheritance of Hegelian philosophy led to an often frightening poverty of content in the logical investigations of the Stalin era.
In the classics themselves there is no trace of such metaphysical confrontation of old and new. Their relationship is manifested rather in the proportions produced by socio-historical evolution itself through letting the truth make its appearance. Insistence on this only correct method is, if possible, even more important in aesthetics than in other areas. For here an exact analysis of the facts will show with special clarity that conceptual consciousness of the practical achievements in the domain of aesthetics always lags behind such achievements. This is why those few thinkers who relatively early attained clarity regarding the real problems of aesthetics have become extraordinarily significant. On the other hand–as our analysis will show–often apparently distant trains of thought, e.g., philosophical or ethical, are very important for the understanding of aesthetic phenomena. Without anticipating too much of what has its appropriate place in the detailed considerations, let us only mention here that the entire construction and all explanatory details of this work–just because it is indebted to the Marxian method for its existence–are deeply determined by the results achieved by Aristotle, Goethe and Hegel in their various writings, not only those dealing directly with aesthetics. If, in addition, I express my gratitude to Epicurus, Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Diderot, Lessing and the Russian revolutionary-democratic thinkers, I have, of course, only enumerated the names most important to me; this does not exhaust by far the list of authors to whom I feel obliged for this work, in its entirety as well as in its details. The manner of quoting corresponds to this conviction. There is no intention of discussing problems concerning the history of the arts or of aesthetics. What we are interested in is the clarification of facts or lines of evolution that are important for the general theory. Therefore, in harmony with the particular theoretical constellation, those authors or works will be quoted who either expressed something–correct or significantly false–for the first time, or whose opinion appears especially characteristic of a certain stage of development. It would not correspond to the intentions of this work to strive for completeness in citing literary evidence.
It follows from what has been said so far that the polemic edge of the entire work is directed against philosophical idealism. The fight against its theory of cognition would naturally exceed the framework of this work; we are concerned with the specific questions in which philosophic idealism has proved to be an obstacle to the adequate comprehension of specifically aesthetic facts. We shall speak of the confusions that arise when aesthetic interest centres on beauty (and perhaps on its salient features) mainly in the Second Part; here this group of questions will only be touched on casually. It is the more important, in our opinion, to refer to the necessarily hierarchical character of any idealistic aesthetics. For, if the various forms of consciousness figure as ultimate determinants of the objectivity (Gegenstaendlichkeit–quality of being objects) of all things investigated, of their place in the system, etc., and are not–like in materialism–considered as types of reaction to something objectively existing and already concretely formed, independently from consciousness, then they necessarily become the supreme judges of mental order and construct their system hierarchically. Historically the degrees such a hierarchy contains differ widely. But this will not be discussed here, as we are solely concerned with the very essence of any such hierarchy, which falsifies all objects and relationships. It is a widely spread misunderstanding to believe that the materialistic conception of the world–priority of being over consciousness, of social being over social consciousness–is also of a hierarchical character. For materialism, the priority of being is above all the establishment of a fact: being exists without consciousness, but no consciousness exists without being. But no hierarchical subordination of consciousness to being follows from this. On the contrary, only this priority and its concrete theoretical and practical recognition by consciousness create the possibility of a real conquest of being through consciousness. The simple fact of work is a striking illustration of this. And if historical materialism states the priority of social being over social consciousness, this again is a mere recognition of an existing fact. Social practice too is directed towards dominating social being; nor does the fact that it has been able to achieve its aim in a very relative degree up to the present set up a hierarchical relationship between the two, but merely determines those concrete conditions in which successful practice becomes objectively possible, while at the same time, of course, determining its concrete limits, the scope offered by the respective social being for the unfolding of consciousness. Thus, historical dialectics–and by no means a hierarchical structure–becomes visible in this relationship. If a little sailing boat proves to be helpless against a storm easily overcome by a mighty steamer, it is only the real superiority or limitation of the particular consciousness in the face of being that becomes apparent, not a hierarchical relationship between man and the forces of nature; the more so as historical evolution–and with it the growing comprehension by consciousness of the true quality of being–constantly increases the possibilities of rule by the former over the latter.
Philosophical idealism has to design its world concept in a radically different way. It is not the real and changing relationship of forces that create a temporary superiority or inferiority in life; but from the outset there is a hierarchy of those potentialities of consciousness that not only produce and arrange the forms of objectivity and the relations between the objects, but are also mutually linked by hierarchical degrees. To elucidate the situation in the light of our problem: when Hegel classifies art under apprehension (Anschauung), religion under perception (Vorstellung), philosophy under concept (Begriff), and considers them as ruled by these forms of consciousness, then an exact, “eternal,” irrefutable hierarchy has been created, which–as everybody familiar with Hegel knows–determines also the historical fate of art. (That the young Schelling fits art into his hierarchical order in a contrary manner does not alter the principles.) It is obvious that an entire knot of pseudo-problems is thereby created, which has caused methodological confusion in every aesthetics since Plato. Regardless of whether idealistic philosophy, from a particular aspect, establishes a superiority or inferiority of art with respect to other forms of consciousness, thought is diverted from the investigation of the specific characteristics of objects, and the latter will–often quite inadmissibly–be brought to a common denominator to make possible their comparison within a hierarchical order and their insertion at the desired hierarchical level. Whether we are concerned with problems of the relationship of art to nature, to religion or to science, etc., the pseudo-problems must everywhere cause distortions in the forms of objectivity, in the categories.
The significance of the break thus brought about with every kind of philosophical idealism becomes even more obvious in its consequences if we further concretize our materialistic point of departure, viz., if we comprehend art as a peculiar manifestation of the reflection of reality, a manifestation which itself is but one among various forms of the universal relationship of man to reality, of man’s reflection of reality. One of the most decisive basic ideas of this work is that all types of reflection–we analyse primarily those of everyday life, of science and of art–always picture the same objective reality. This starting point, however obvious and even trivial it may appear, has far-reaching consequences. Since materialistic philosophy does not consider all forms of Gegenstaendndlichkeit, all categories belonging to objects and their relations, as products of a creative consciousness, as idealism does, but rather sees in them an objective reality existing independently of consciousness, all divergencies and even contradictions can arise within this materially and formally united reality. To be able to understand the complicated dialectics of this unity of unity and diversity, one has to break first with the widely held idea of a mechanical, photographic reflection. If this were the basis from which the differences grow, then all specific forms would have to be subjective disfigurements of this only “authentic” reproduction of reality, or the differentiation would have to possess a purely ulterior, completely unspontaneous, only consciously-mental character. However, the extensive and intensive infiniteness of the objective world compels all living creatures, above all man, to adaptation, to unconscious selection in reflection. The latter–despite its fundamentally objective character–thus also possesses inescapable subjective components, which at the animal level are purely physiologically conditioned, while with man they are, in addition, socially conditioned. (Effect of work on enrichment; expansion, intensification, etc., of human capacity to reflect reality.) Differentiation–especially in the areas of science and art–is a product of social being, of the needs growing from its soil, of man’s adaptation to his environment, of the increase in his capabilities correlated to the necessity of becoming equal to entirely novel tasks. True, physiologically and psychologically these reciprocal effects, these adaptations to the new must be achieved directly within the individual, but they acquire from the outset a social universality, because the new tasks, the new circumstances that have a modifying influence, are endowed with a universal (social) quality and permit of individual-subjective variants only within this social scope.
The elaboration of the specific traits of the aesthetic reflection of reality takes up a qualitatively and quantitatively decisive part of the present work. These investigations are, in accordance with its basic aim, of a philosophic character, i.e., they are centered on the question of what are the specific forms, relations, proportions, etc., acquired by the world of categories in the aesthetic Setzung common to every reflection. Of course, psychological problems are unavoidably broached as well, and a special chapter (the eleventh) is devoted to them. It has to be emphasised, furthermore, that the basic philosophic aim necessarily dictates primarily the elaboration, in all the arts, of the common aesthetic traits of reflection, though–in harmony with the pluralistic structure of the aesthetic sphere–the peculiarities of the individual arts will as far as possible be considered in the treatment of the category problems. The very particular phenomenal form of the reflection of reality in such arts as music or architecture make it inevitable to devote a separate chapter (the fourteenth) to these special cases, with a view to clarifying these specific differences in such a way as to preserve in them at the same time the validity of general aesthetic principles.
This universality of the reflection of reality as the basis for all interrelationships between man and his environment has, in the final analysis, very far-reaching ideological consequences with regard to the concept of the aesthetic. For every consistent idealism, any form of consciousness of significance in human existence–in our case the aesthetic–must be of a “timeless, eternal” nature, as its genesis is explained hierarchically in connection with a world of ideas; insofar as it can be treated historically, this is done within a metahistorical framework of “timeless” being or validity. However, this apparently formal methodological position must necessarily become converted into content, into Weltanschauung. For it necessarily follows that the aesthetic belongs to the “essence” of man both productively and receptively, whether it be determined from the standpoint of the world of ideas or the world spirit, anthropologically or ontologically. Our materialistic outlook must produce an entirely opposite picture. Objective reality, which appears in the various types of reflection, is not only subject to permanent change, but the latter bears evidence of well-determined directions, lines of evolution. Reality itself, in accordance with its objective nature, is historical; the historical determinants of content and form appearing in the various reflections are correspondingly only more or less correct approximations to this aspect of objective reality. A definite historicity can, however, never consist in a mere change of content of unchanging forms, with unalterable categories. This change of content must have a modifying influence on the forms, must lead first to certain functional shifts within the categorical system, and at a certain stage even to explicit transformations: the creation of new and the disappearance of old categories. A certain historicity of the doctrine of categories follows from that of objective reality.
Of course, one has to be most careful as to the degree and extent to which such changes are of an objective or of a subjective quality. Although we hold the view that in the last analysis nature too has to be considered historically, the single steps of this evolution with its objective changes have hardly any importance for science. All the more important is the subjective history of the discovery of objectivities, relationships, categorical connections. Only in biology might it be possible to ascertain a turning-point and hence an objective genesis in the formation of the objective category of life–at least in the part of the Universe known to us. The situation is different qualitatively where man and human society are concerned. Here we are undoubtedly faced with the genesis of single categories and of categorical connections that cannot be “derived” from the mere continuity of evolution so far; this genesis sets special claims to cognition. It would, however, lead to a distortion of the true facts if we wanted to separate methodologically the historical exploration of the genesis from the philosophical analysis of the phenomenon brought forth by it. The true categorical structure of each such phenomenon is most intimately connected with its genesis; the demonstration of a categorical structure is possible–completely and in its right proportions–only when the objective dissection is organically connected with clarification of the genesis; the derivation of value at the beginning of Marx’s Capital is the best example of this historico-systematic method. Such an amalgamation will be attempted in the concrete explanations of the present work concerning the basic phenomenon of the aesthetic and its sundry branches. This methodology becomes a matter of Weltanschauung insofar as it involves a radical break with all those views that perceive in art, in the artistic attitude, some extra-historical, idea-like phenomenon or at least something belonging ontologically or anthropologically to the “idea” of man. Like work, science and all social activities of man, art too is a product of social development, of man becoming man through his work.
Even beyond this, however, the objective historicity of being and its peculiarly emphatic appearance in human society have important consequences for grasping in principle the specific quality of the aesthetic. It will be the task of our detailed explanations to demonstrate that the scientific reflection of reality seeks to free itself from all anthropological, sensual and mental determinations, and that it endeavours to portray all objects and their relations as they are in themselves, independent of consciousness. Aesthetic reflection, on the other hand, sets out from the world of man and is directed towards it. As will be explained in due course, this does not mean a simple subjectivism. On the contrary, the objectivity of the objects is preserved, but in such a way that every typical form of relatedness to human life is included in it, so that its appearance corresponds to the particular stage of man’s interior and exterior development, which is a social development. This means that every aesthetic formation includes–and takes its due place in–the hic et nunc of its genesis as an essential aspect of its decisive objectivity. Every reflection is, of course, determined objectively by the fixed place of its realization. Even in the discovery of truths in mathematics or in pure natural sciences, the point in time is never accidental; however, this is of objective importance more for the history of science than for knowledge itself, from the point of view of which it may be considered completely indifferent when and under what–necessary–historical conditions, say, the Pythagorean proposition was first formulated. Without entering here into a discussion of the complicated situation in social sciences, it must be stated that the effect of the temporal position may, in its varying forms, obstruct the elaboration of real objectivity in the reproduction of socio-historical facts. The opposite is true as regards the aesthetic reflection of reality: never yet has a significant work of art taken shape without creatively bringing to life the respective historical hic et nunc at the portrayed moment. Regardless of whether the artists concerned are conscious of this or create in the belief that they produce something timeless, continue an earlier style, materialise an “eternal” ideal taken from the past, their works, if artistically genuine, grow out of the deepest endeavours of the era of their production; content and form of truly artistic works cannot be separated from this soil of their genesis just from the standpoint of aesthetics. It is precisely in works of art that the historicity of objective reality receives its subjective as well as its objective shape.
This historical nature of reality leads to another important set of problems, which is primarily also of a methodological nature but, like every problem of a correctly–and not just formally–understood methodology, turns necessarily into a matter of Weltanschauung. We have in mind the problem of Diesseitigkeit (immanence). Considered purely methodologically, immanence is an essential demand of scientific cognition as well as of artistic creation. Only when a set of phenomena appears as being fully comprehended purely through its immanent qualities, through the equally immanent laws affecting it, can it be considered as scientifically known. In practice, of course, such perfection is always only approximate, the extensive and intensive infiniteness of objects, their static and dynamic relations, etc., do not allow any perception in its respective given form to be regarded as absolutely final and as forever excluding corrections, limitations, extensions, etc. This “not yet” in the scientific conquest of reality has in the most varied ways, from magic to modern positivism, been interpreted as transcendency, irrespective of the fact that much that was once classed as ignorabimus has long since become part of exact science as a soluble, if perhaps practically still unsolved, problem, The rise of capitalism, the relationship between science and production, combined with the great crises of religious ideologies, have replaced naive transcendency by a complicated and more refined one. Already at the time when the defenders of Christendom attempted to rebuff the Copernican theory ideologically the new dualism was formed: a methodological conception that connects the immanence of the given world of phenomena with the denial of its ultimate reality, so as to dispute the competence of science to declare something valid about this world. On the surface, the impression may arise that the devaluation of the world’s reality does not matter, since, in practice, people can fulfil their immediate tasks in production, whether they consider the object, means, etc., of their activity as things that exist in themselves or as mere apparitions. However, such a view is sophistic for two reasons. First, every active man is always convinced in real practice that he is dealing with reality itself; even the positivist physicist is convinced of this when, e.g., carrying out an experiment. Second, such a view, if it is–for social reasons–deeply rooted and widely held, disintegrates the more mediate spiritual-moral relations of man to reality. Existentialist philosophy, in which man, “thrown” into the world, faces the Nothing, is–from a sociohistorical viewpoint–the necessary complementary antipole of the philosophic development leading from Berkeley to Mach or Carnap. The real battlefield between Diesseitigkeit and Jenseitigkeit (transcendence) is, beyond question, ethics. For this reason, the decisive determinations of this controversy can only be touched on but not fully explained in the present work; the author hopes before long to be able to present his views in systematic form on these questions too. Let us only note here briefly that the old materialism–from Democritus to Feuerbach–was able to explain the immanence of the structure of the world only in a mechanical way; and therefore, on the one hand, the world could still be conceived as a clockwork needing transcendental influence to set it in motion; in such a world concept, on the other hand, man could only appear as the necessary product and object of immanent worldly laws, leaving his subjectivity, his practice unexplained. Only the Hegel-Marxian doctrine of man’s self-creation through his work, which Gordon Childe in a fortunate turn of phrase has formulated as “man makes himself,” has completed this immanence of the world concept and created the ideological basis for an immanent-worldly ethic, the spirit of which has been alive for long in the ingenious ideas of Aristotle and Epicurus, Spinoza and Goethe. (In this connection, the theory of evolution in the living world, the constantly closer approach towards the origin of life from the reciprocal effects of physical and chemical laws, of course, plays an important role.)
For aesthetics, this question is of the greatest importance and will consequently be fully set forth in the detailed elaboration of the present work. It would serve no purpose to anticipate here briefly the results of these investigations, which can only possess convincing force through development of all factors concerned. Nevertheless, to avoid hiding the author’s standpoint in the Foreword, it will suffice to say that the immanent Geschlossenheit (enclosedness), Aufsichselbstgestelltsein (self-centredness) of every genuine work of art–form of reflection that has no analogy in other domains of human reaction to the outside world–always willy-nilly expresses in its contents an avowal of Diesseitigkeit. Therefore, the contrast between allegory and symbol is, as Goethe so ingeniously recognized, a question of “to be or not to be” for art. Therefore, as will be shown in a separate chapter (the sixteenth), art’s struggle to liberate itself from the tutelage of religion is a fundamental fact in its formation and development. The genesis has to demonstrate how art has fought its way from the natural conscious confinement of primitive man to transcendency, without which initial stages would be unimaginable in any area, to a certain independence in the reflection of reality, to its peculiar elaboration. What is of moment here, is the evolution of objective aesthetic facts and not what their executors thought of their own actions. Especially in artistic practice, the divergence between action and consciousness of it is especially considerable. Here the motto of our whole work, taken from Marx: “They know it not, but they do it,” takes on special significance. It is thus the objective categorical structure of the work of art that again changes into Diesseitigkeit every trend of consciousness towards the transcendent, a tendency that is naturally very frequent in the history of mankind; it achieves this by appearing as what it is, as part of human life, immanent as a symptom of its momentary Geradesosein (being just so). The frequent rejection of art, of the principle of aesthetics, from Tertullian to Kierkegaard, is nothing accidental, but rather the recognition of its true nature by the camp of its born enemies. Nor does the present work simply register these inevitable struggles, but takes a resolute stand in them: for art, against religion, in the sense of a great tradition that extends from Epicurus through Goethe to Marx and Lenin.
The dialectical development, dissection and reunion of such manifold, contrasting, converging and diverging determinations of Gegenstaendlichkeiten and their relationships require a proper method for their presentation. In briefly explaining here its fundamental principles the author in no way wishes to use the Foreword as a means of justifying the method of presentation. Nobody can see its limits and faults clearer than the author himself. He only wishes to stand up here for his intentions; he is not entitled to pass judgment as to where he has duly realized them and where he has failed. Thus, in what follows only the principles will be dealt with. These are rooted in materialistic dialectics, the consistent carrying out of which, in such an extensive area comprising so many remote subjects, calls above all for a break with the formalistic means of presentation that rest on definitions and mechanical delimitations and on “neat” compartmentation in subdivisions. If, in order, at a single stroke, to reach the centre, we set out from the method of determinations (Bestimmungen), as opposed to that of definitions, then we return to the dialectical foundations of reality, the extensive and intensive infiniteness of objects and their interrelations. Every attempt to grasp this infiniteness mentally is bound to have imperfections. Definition, however, fixes its own partiality as something final and must therefore violate the fundamental character of the phenomena. Determination is considered from the outset as something provisional, needing completion, something whose very nature requires it to be carried on, developed, specified. This means that whenever, in the present work, an object, a relationship of Gegenstaendlichkeiten, a category is moved into the light of conceptuality and concreteness through its determinations, it always involves a dual meaning and intention: to denote the respective object in such manner that it is recognized as something unmistakable, without however claiming that recognition at this stage should comprise totality and that one should therefore stop there. The object can be approached only gradually, step by step, by examining one and the same object in various contexts, in various relationships to various other objects, whereby the initial determination is not cancelled in the process–otherwise it would have been false–but on the contrary is constantly enriched and, as it were, steals ever closer upon the infiniteness of the object towards which it is directed. This process takes place in the most varied dimensions of the mental reproduction of reality and can in principle be treated as completed only relatively. If, however, this dialectic is applied correctly, there is a constantly increasing advance in clarity and richness of the determination concerned and of its systematic coherence; it is therefore necessary to distinguish the reappearance of the same determination–in various constellations and dimensions–from simple repetition. Progress so achieved is not only a step forward, a deepening penetration into the nature of the object to be grasped, but it will at the same time–if performed really correctly, really dialectically–throw new light on the road already traversed in the past; indeed, only now will it become passable in a deeper sense. In the days when my first, very inadequate attempts in this direction appeared, Max Weber wrote me that they had a similar effect to Ibsen’s dramas, the beginning of which only became comprehensible from their ending. I saw in this a clear understanding of my intentions, even though the work in question did not merit such praise. Perhaps, so I hope, the present effort may lay more claim to being the realization of such a method of thought.
Finally, the reader should permit me to refer quite briefly to the origin of my Aesthetics. I set out as a literary historian and essayist, who sought theoretical support in the aesthetics of Kant and, later, of Hegel. In the winter of 1911-12, in Florence, the first plan for an independent, systematic Aesthetics arose, on which I worked in Heidelberg between 1912 and 1914. I am still grateful for the sympathetically critical interest that Ernst Bloch, Emil Lask and above all Max Weber displayed towards my attempt. It failed completely. And if I here passionately oppose philosophical idealism, this criticism is directed against the tendencies of my youth as well. Seen superficially, the war interrupted that undertaking. The Theory of the Novel, written in the first year of the war, was directed more towards problems of the philosophy of history, for which aesthetic problems served only as symptoms. My interest centered on ethics, history and economics. I became a Marxist, and the decade of my political activity coincided with my coming-to-grips with Marxism, of making my own way. When I returned to an intensive occupation with artistic problems, about 1930, systematic aesthetics was merely a distant perspective. Only two decades later could I think of realizing the dream of my youth with an entirely different world concept and method, and of carrying it out with an entirely different content and radically contrary method.