Georg Lukacs, The Theory of the Novel (1920)

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from: Georg Lukács. The Theory of the Novel. A historico-philosophical essay on the forms of great epic literature. Trans. Anna Bostock. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1971. [1st. publ. 1920 in German]


Preface (pp. 11-23, dated Budapest, July 1962)

  • 11 - L. presents the motives for this essay as the outbreak of WWI and his personal rejection of it; also, he explains that it was originally meant to be a series of dialogues in the manner of the Decameron
  • 12 - This introduction to the context of the essay's production is necessary as it "will facilitate a proper understanding of it". L. declares that the essay goes back to and was influenced by "the so-called 'intellectual sciences' school".
  • 13 - He can now see the limitations of the school's method, which "scarcely succeeded in surmounting positivism", summarises the methodological approach as a "fashion to form general synthetic concepts on the basis of only a few characteristics - in most cases only intuitively grasped - of a school, a period, etc., then to proceed by deduction from these generalisation to the analysis of individual phenomena, and in that way to arrive at what we claimed to be a comprehensive overall view" and proceeds by giving examples of mistakes which the "author of The Theory of the Novel" - as he speaks of himself - made in his interpretations.
  • 14 - Highlights the well-made "analysis of the role of time in L'Education sentimentale".
  • 15 - Praises the text for being "the first work belonging to the 'intellectual sciences' school in which the findings of Hegelian philosophy were concretely applied to aesthetic problems", and especially "the historicisation of aesthetic categories".
  • 16 - Explains the author's intention as "looking for a general dialectic of literary genres that was based upon the essential nature of aesthetic categories and literary forms, and aspiring to a more intimate connection between category and history than he found in Hegel himself".
  • 17 - Solution was found only some 15 years later, on Marxist ground. The text opposes Hegel's view that "art becomes problematic precisely because reality has become non-problematic" by saying that "the problems of the novel form are here the mirror-image of a world gone out of joint".
  • 18 - Compares this last notion to Gottfried Benn's expressing the non-existence of reality, adding that the essayist's view, of course, was "more critical and more thoughtful". In defence against Bloch's criticism of his essay, he states that "the contradiction between The Theory of the Novel and Hegel [...] is primarily social rather than aesthetic or philosophical in nature" and explains this by his then strong influence by Sorel, Fichte and, foremost, Kierkegaard.
  • 19 - He draws a line from Hegel to Kierkegaard and Marx and hence to "present-day French philosophy" before he states that "[t]he socio-philosophical basis of such theories is the philosophically as well as politically uncertain attitude of romantic anti-capitalism".
  • 20 - Although the text may well be called naive - based on Hegel, Goethe and Romanticism - it is "not conservative but subversive in nature".
  • 21 - Detects a further feature, which followed French thinkers but preceded the German authors Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno: "the author of The Theory of the Novel had a conception of the world which aimed at a fusion of 'left' ethics and 'right' epistemology (ontology, etc.)", with other words: "The Theory of the Novel was the first German book in which a left ethic oriented towards radical revolution was coupled with a traditional-conventional exegesis of reality".
  • 22 - Criticizes the meeting of the German philosophers, including Adorno, in the 'Grand Hotel Abyss'.
  • 23 - Concludes that The Theory of the Novel gives insight into and helps understanding the ideologies of the 1920s and 1930s but warns against taking it as a guide.

The forms of great epic literature examined in relation to whether the civilisation of the time is an integrated or a problematic one

Integrated civilisations

  • 29 - "Happy are those ages when the starry sky is the map of all possible paths - ages whose paths are illuminated by the light of the stars" [cf. introduction to the Oxford Illustrated History of Literature]; "philosophy [...] is always a symptom of the rift between 'inside' and 'outside' [...]. That is why the happy ages have no philosophy, or why [...] all men in such ages are philosophers, sharing the utopian aim of every philosophy."
  • 30 - When "[t]he soul goes out to seek adventure [...]. Such an age is the age of the epic. [...] When the soul does not yet know any abyss within itself [...]. For the question which engenders the formal answers of the epic is: how can life become essence? [...] the secret of the Greek world: its [31] perfection". Homer's works presented as the only real epics.
  • 31 - "When we speak of the Greeks we always confuse the philosophy of history with aesthetics, psychology with metaphysics, and we invent a relationship between Greek forms and our own epoch."
  • 32 - L. suggests "to inquire into the transcendental topography of the Greek mind, which was essentially different from ours and which made those forms possible and indeed necessary" in whose world "even the separation between man and world, between 'I' and 'you' cannot disturb its homogeneity".
  • 33 - The Greek man accepts that "a long road lies before him, but within him there is no abyss". "The circle within which the Greeks led their metaphysical life was smaller than ours. That is why we cannot, as part of our life, place ourselves inside it." [Our seemingly inferior world sounds like a superior one here.]
  • 34 - "We have invented the creation of forms: and that is why everything that falls from our weary and despairing hands must always be incomplete. [...] that is why our essence had to become a postulate for ourselves and thus create a still deeper, still more menacing abyss between us and our own selves" [sounds like a punishment for original sin]. The Greek world is a close-off circle which enables totality and completeness whereas our is richer but also more dangerous and doomed for incompleteness.
  • 35 - The process, in which "substance was reduced from Homer's absolute immanence of life to Plato's likewise absolute yet tangible and graspable transcendence" is marked by distinct stages, "no gradual transitions", and results in "the great and timeless paradigmatic forms of world literature: epic, tragedy, philosophy".
  • 36 - The three stages produce "Homer's living men", "the tragic hero", and "Plato's new man, the wise man". The latter, "however, was the last type of man and his world was the last paradigmatic life-structure the Greek spirit was to produce". What comes after, i.e. "[t]he new spirit of destiny", "would seem 'a folly to the Greeks'", e.g. Kant.
  • 37 - "Art, the visionary reality of the world made to our measure, has thus become independent: it is no longer a copy, for all the models have gone; it is a created totality, for the natural unity of the metaphysical spheres has been destroyed forever." The "dream of new unities" as the grounds for the rise of religion: "[t]hus the Church became a new polis, [...] the leap became a ladder of earthly and heavenly hierarchies".
  • 38 - L. sees "a new equilibrium no less perfect than that of the Greeks: an equilibrium of mutually inadequate, heterogeneous intensities" in Giotto, Dante, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Pisano, St. Thomas and St. Francis, "aesthetics became metaphysics once more" but also for the last time. Since the disintegration of unity, since totality can longer be simply accepted, "the forms of art [...] [39] carry the fragmentary nature of the world's structure into the world of forms".

The problems of a philosophy of the history of forms

  • 40 - "As a result of such a change in the transcendental points of orientation, art forms become subject to a historico-philosophical dialectic; the course of this dialectic will depend, however, on the a priori origin or 'home' of each genre." The formation of a new genre occurs not according to the Greek principle based on "a change in mentality" but when "the same mentality" is forced "to turn towards a new aim which is essentially different from the old one. It means that the old parallelism of the transcendental structure [41] of the form-giving subject and the world of created forms has been destroyed, and the ultimate basis of artistic creation has become homeless".
  • 41 - "German Romanticism [...] drew a close connection between it [its concept of the novel] and the concept of the Romantic" because, ultimately, "the novel form is [...] an expression of this transcendental homelessness". While Greek forms lasted until they reached their end, "[a]rtistic genres now cut across one another, with a complexity that cannot be disentangled, and become traces of authentic or false searching for an aim that is no longer clearly and unequivocally given"; "an essence that is divorced from life and alien to life can crown itself with its own existence in such a way that this consecration, even after a more violent upheaval, may pale but will never disappear altogether. That is why tragedy, although changed, has nevertheless survived in our time with its essential nature intact, whereas the epic had to disappear and yield its place to an entirely new form: the novel".
  • 42 - "It is the relationship of the essence to a life which, in itself, lies outside the scope of drama that renders necessary the stylistic duality of modern tragedy whose opposite poles are Shakespeare and Alfieri. Greek tragedy stood beyond the dilemma of nearness to life as against abstraction because, for it, plenitude was not a question of coming closer to life, and transparency of dialogue did not mean the negation of its immediacy."
  • 43 - "Not the remotest possibility of a certain nearness-to-life such as might destroy the dramatic form exists for either", i.e. the homogeneous Greek speaker and chorus. "Life is not organically absent from modern drama; at most, it can be banished from it." "The other kind of tragedy consumes life. [...] In this way the condition of the hero has become polemical and problem-[44]atic; to be a hero is no longer the natural form of existence in the sphere of essence, but the act of raising oneself above that which is merely human".
  • 44 - "[...] the polemical emphasis on heroism (even in abstract tragedy) leads, of necessity, to an excess of purely lyrical lyricism. Such lyricism has, however, yet another source which also springs from the displace relationship between life and essence.", i.e. loneliness.
  • 45 - "Loneliness is the very essence of tragedy [...]. The language of the absolutely lonely man is lyrical, i.e. monological; in the dialogue, the incognito of his soul becomes too pronounced [...]; loneliness has to become a problem unto itself, deepening and confusing the tragic problem and ultimately taking its place. [...] Such loneliness gives rise to new tragic problems, especially the central problem of modern tragedy - that of trust."
  • 46 - "This loneliness is not only dramatic but also psychological [...]; and if psychology is not to remain merely raw material for drama, it can only express itself as lyricism of the soul." Main opposition: "Great epic writing gives form to the extensive totality of life, drama to the intensive totality of essence."
  • 47 - "[...] epic poets in those times did not have to leave the empirical n order to represent transcendent reality as the only existing one", e.g. "in Homer's time [...] the transcendent was inextricably interwoven with earthly existence, and Homer is inimitable precisely because, in him, this becoming-immanent was so completely successful". Main difference between the epic and the drama: the epic is bound "with reality as it is"; two different concepts: "The concept of essence leads to transcendence simply by being posited, [...]. The concept of life, on the other hand, has no need of any such transcendence captured and held immobile as an object". "The character created by drama [...] is the intelligible 'I' of man, the character created by the epic is the empirical 'I'."
  • 48 - "The 'should be', in whose desperate intensity the essence seeks refuge because it has become an outlaw on earth, can objectivise itself in the intelligible 'I' as the hero's normative psychology, but in the empirical 'I' it remains a 'should be'. [...] The 'should be' kills life, and an epic hero constructed out of what 'should be' will always be but a shadow of the living epic man of historical reality".
  • 49 - "There is such a thing as great epic literature, but drama never requires the attribute of greatness and must always resist it." Moreover, "In the epic, subject and object do not coincide as they do in drama, where creative subjectivity, seen from the perspective of the work, is barely a concept but only a generalised awareness; whereas in the epic subject and object are clearly and unequivocally distinct from one another and present in the work as such."
  • 50 - "In the minor epic forms, the subject confronts the object in a more dominant and self-sufficient way. [...] Completeness in the minor epic forms is subjective: a fragment of life is transplanted by the writer into a surrounding world that emphasises it and lifts it out of the totality of life; and this selection, this delimination, puts [51] the stamp of its origin in the subject's will and knowledge upon the work itself: it is, more or less, lyrical in nature."
  • 51 - "The subject's form-giving, structuring, delimiting act, his sovereign dominance over the created object, is the lyricism of those epic forms which are without totality." "The immediate, flowing power of such lyricism is bound to increase in proportion with the significance and gravity of the life-segment selected; [...]. In the short story, [...] such lyricism must entirely conceal itself behind the hard outlines of the event [...]. The short story is the most purely artistic form; it expresses the ultimate meaning of all artistic creation as mood".
  • 52 - L. separates between the short story and the lyric-epic form: when the event is meaningful itself, the narrator has to speak up to put this meaning in relation to the absolute. "Only when the idyll transcends its form and becomes epic, as in Goethe's and Hebbel's 'great idylls', [...] must the author's own voice be heard and his hand must create the salutary distance [...]; when the object, the event that is given form, remains isolated as indeed it should, but when the lived experience that absorbs the event and radiates it out also carries within it the ultimate meaning of life, the artist's sense-giving, life-conquering power. This power, also, is lyrical [...]".
  • 52 - "Neither can a totality of life which is by definition extensive be achieved by the object's being annihilated - by the subject's making itself the sole ruler of existence. [...] The humorist’s soul [...] wants to give form to everything, and precisely for this reason succeeds only in mirroring a segment of the world". Conclusion: "This is the paradox of the subjectivity of the great epic, its 'throwing away in order to win': creative subjectivity becomes lyrical, but, exceptionally, the subjectivity which simply accepts, which humbly transforms itself into a purely receptive organ of the world, can partake of the grace of having the whole revealed to it."
  • 53 - L. praises Dante for having achieved this in Divina commedia, Goethe in Wilhelm Meister, Cervantes in Don Quixote, but criticizes Sterne and Jean Paul for speaking too much. "This is not a value judgement but an a priori definition of genre: the totality of life resists any attempt to find a transcendental centre within it, and refuses any of its constituent cells the right to dominate it." E.g. "Dante's Paradiso is closer to the essence of life than Shakespeare's exuberant richness."
  • 54 - The constructed totality in Goethe's Elective Affinities and Hebbel's Song of the Nibelungs causes both to be failures as opposed to "the story of the Iliad, which has no beginning and no end, a rounded universe blossoms into all-embracing life".

The epic and the novel

  • 56 - "The epic and the novel, these two major forms of great epic literature, differ from one another not by their authors' fundamental intentions but by the given historico-philosophical realities with which the authors were confronted. The novel is the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given, in which the immanence of meaning in life has become a problem, yet which still thinks in terms of totality." L. rejects the distinction by verse vs. prose but nevertheless describes different forms of verse: "Tragic verse is sharp and hard, it isolates, it creates distance. [...] Dramatic verse [...] reveals what-[57]ever triviality there may be in the artistic invention [...]. Epic verse, too, creates but in the sphere of the epic (which is the sphere of life) distance means happiness and lightness", i.e. epic verse abolishes triviality and approaches essence.
  • 58 - "In times to which such lightness is no longer given, verse is banished from the great epic, [...]. Only prose can then encompass the suffering and the laurels, the struggle and the crown, with equal power".
  • 59 - E.g. Goethe used verse for idylls but prose for his Meister. "In the world of distances, all epic verse turns into lyric poetry [...], for, in verse, everything hidden becomes manifest".
  • 60 - "The epic gives form to a totality of life that is rounded from within; the novel seeks, by giving form, to uncover and construct the concealed totality of life." "[...] the fundamental form-determining intention of the novel is objectivised as the psychology of the novel's heroes: they are seekers".
  • 61 - Contrary to the novel, "the epic and the tragedy know neither crime nor madness [...]. For crime and madness are objectivations of transcendental homelessness [...]."
  • 62 - "Where no aims are directly given, the structures which the soul, in the process of becoming-man, encounters as the arena and sub-stratum of its activity among men lose their obvious roots in supra-personal ideal necessities [...]. They form the world of convention, [...] it is a world that does not offer itself either as meaning to the aim-seeking subject or as matter, in sensuous immediacy, to the active subject. It is a second nature [...] and therefore it is incomprehensible, unknowable in its real substance."
  • 63 - Lyrical poetry establishes a "relationship between soul and nature", "in the epic forms the subjective experience remains inside the subject: it becomes mood"
  • 64 - "Estrangement from nature (the first nature), the modern sentimental attitude to nature, is only a projection of man's experience of his self-made environment as a prison instead of as a parental home." [would this be Hamlet's problem?!]; "The first nature, nature as a set of laws for pure cognition, nature as the bringer of comfort to pure feeling, is nothing other than the historico-philosophical objectivation of man's alienation from his own constructs."
  • 65 - "The nature of laws and the nature of moods stem from the same locus in the soul: they presuppose the impossibility of an attained and meaningful substance, the impossibility of an attained and meaningful substance, the impossibility of finding a constitutive object adequate to the constitutive subject." The subject "can only avoid falling prey to laws and moods if the arena of its actions, the normative object of its actions, is made of the stuff of pure ethics" [Kant's imperative?!]
  • 66 - "The epic individual, the hero of the novel, is the product of estrangement from the outside world. When the world is internally homogeneous, men do not differ qualitatively from one another [...]. The autonomous life of interiority is possible and necessary only when the distinctions between men have made an unbridgeable chasm [...]. The epic hero is, strictly speaking, never an individual" because the epic's "theme is not a personal destiny but the destiny of a community".
  • 67 - "Epic heroes have to be kings for different reasons from the heroes of tragedy (although these reasons are also formal). In tragedy the hero must be a king simply because of the need to sweep all the petty causalities of life from the ontological path of destiny [...]. What is symbol in tragedy becomes a reality in the epic: the weight of the bonds linking an individual destiny to a totality. [...] the epic hero, as bearer of his destiny, is not lonely, for this destiny connects him by indissoluble threads to the community whose fate is crystallised in his own. As for the community, it is an organic - and therefore intrinsically meaningful - concrete totality [...]."
  • 68 - "Dante is the only great example in which we see the architectural clearly conquering the organic, and therefore he represents a historico-philosophical transition from the pure epic to the novel. [...] The combination of the presuppositions of the epic and the novel and their synthesis to an epopoeia is based on the dual structure of Dante's world: the break between life and meaning is surpassed and cancelled by the coincidence of life and meaning in a present, actually experienced transcendence."
  • 69 - Dante's hero did not have to be socially superior because his "experience was the symbolic unity of human destiny in general".

The inner form of the novel

  • 70 - "The totality of Dante's world is the totality of a visual system of concepts. It is because of this sensual 'thingness', this substantiality both of the concepts themselves and of their hierarchical order within the system, that completeness and totality can become constitutive structural categories rather than regulative ones". This is the reason why Dante could create an epic "at a time when the historico-philosophical situation was already beginning to demand the novel". Totality in a novel can only be established in abstract concepts (cf. Hegel) which cause certain risks:
  • 71 - "[...] the risk of overlapping into lyricism or drama, the risk of narrowing reality so that the work becomes an idyll, the risk of sinking to the level of mere entertainment literature", all of which can only be avoided by understanding nature as "fragile and incomplete". "Every art form is defined by the metaphysical dissonance of life it accepts and organises as the basis of a totality complete in itself [...]. The dissonance special to the novel, the refusal of the immanence of being to enter into empirical life, produces a problem of form whose formal nature is much less obvious than in other kinds of art, and which, because it looks like a problem of content, needs to be approached by both ethical and aesthetic arguments, even more than do problems which are obviously purely formal. [...] The novel is the art-form of virile maturity: this means that the completeness of the novel's world, if seen objectively, is an imperfection, and if subjectively experienced, it amounts to resignation."
  • 72 - "The creation of forms is the most profound confirmation of the existence of a dissonance. But in all other genres - even, for reasons we can now understand, in the epic - this affirmation of a dissonance precedes the act of form-giving, whereas in the novel it is the form itself. [...] In the novel, [...] ethic - the ethical intention - is visible in the creation of every detail and hence is, in the most concrete content, an effective structural element of work itself."
  • 73 - "[...] the novel - unlike other genres - has a caricatural twin almost undistinguishable from itself in all inessential formal characteristics: the entertainment novel" which is "entirely meaningless"; "As form, the novel establishes a fluctuating yet firm balance between becoming and being; as the idea of becoming, it becomes a state. Thus the novel, by transforming itself into a normative being of becoming, surmounts itself. [...] The 'half-art' of the novel, therefore, prescribes still stricter, still more inviolable artistic laws for itself [...] [74]: they are the laws of tact."
  • 74 - "[...] the inherent danger of the novel [...] that, instead of an existent totality, only a subjective aspect of that totality will be given form, obscuring or even destroying the creative intention of acceptance and objectivity which the great epic demands. This danger cannot be circumvented but can only be overcome from within. [...] The self-recognition and, with it, self-abolition of subjectivity was called irony by the first theoreticians of the novel, the aesthetic philosophers of early Romanticism."
  • 75 - Irony in the novel is not irony in satire: "In the novel the subject, as observer and creator, is compelled by irony to apply its recognition of the world to itself and to treat itself, like its own creatures, as a free object of free irony: it must transform itself into a purely receptive subject, as is normatively required for great epic literature. The irony of the novel is the self-correction of the world's fragility [...]. Thus a new perspective of life is reached on an entirely new basis - that of the indissoluble connection between the relative independence of the parts and their attachment to the whole"
  • 76 - The attachment is not a true connection but a concept; this is why "although the characters and their actions possess the infinity of authentic epic literature, their structure is essentially different from that of the epic", i.e. "the difference between something that is homogeneously organic and stable and something that is heterogeneously contingent and discrete." This is the reason why independent parts "must have a strict compositional and architectural significance, whether this takes the form of contrasting lights thrown upon the central problem (as with the novellas included in Don Quixote) or of the introduction, by way of a prelude, of hidden motifs which are to be decisive at the end (as with the Confessions of a Beautiful Soul)." Problems occur if this is done too obvious "as with the Romantics or with the first novel of Paul Ernst."
  • 77 - "The outward form of the novel is essentially biographical. [...] In the biographical form, the unfulfillable, sentimental striving both for the immediate unity of life and for a completely rounded architecture of the system is balanced and brought to rest: it is transformed into being."
  • 78 - "Thus in the biographical form the balance of both spheres which are unrealised and unrealisable in isolation produces a new and autonomous life that is, however paradoxically, complete in itself and immanently meaningful: the life of the problematic individual." "The contingent world and the problematic individual are realities which mutually determine one another."
  • 79 - "[...] self-destruction of reality [...] appears in two different forms. First, as disharmony between the interiority of the individual and the substratum of his actions [...]. Second, as the inability of the outside world, which is a stranger to ideals and an enemy of interiority, to achieve real completeness [...]: in other words, the outside world cannot be represented. Both the parts and the whole of such an outside world [...] acquire life only [...] when they become objects of mood or reflexion. This is the formal reason and the literary justification for the Romantics' demand that the novel, combining all genres within itself, should include pure lyric poetry and pure thought in its structure."
  • 80 - "The inner form of the novel has been understood as the process of the problematic individual's journeying towards himself, the road from dull captivity within a merely present reality - a reality that is heterogeneous in itself and meaningless to the individual - towards clear self-recognition. [...] The immanence of meaning which the form of the novel requires lies in the hero's finding out through experience that a mere glimpse of meaning is the highest that life has to offer, and that its glimpse is the only thing worth the commitment of an entire life, the only thing by which the struggle will have been justified. [...] The inner shape of the process and the most adequate [81] means of shaping it - the biographical form - reveal the great difference between the discrete, unlimited nature of the material of the novel and the continuum-like infinity of the material of the epic. This lack of limits in the novel has a 'bad' infinity about it: therefore it needs certain imposed limits in order to become form; whereas the infinity of purely epic matter is an inner, organic one [...]. The novel overcomes its 'bad' infinity by recourse to the biographical form." [circular argumentation?!]
  • 81 - "The beginning and the end of the world of a novel [...], thus become significant landmarks along a clearly mapped road."
  • 82 - "In the epic, the central figure and its significant adventures are a mass organised in itself and for itself, so that the beginning and the end mean something quite different there, something essentially less important [...]. Once more Dante's position is a special one; [...] what is contained between the beginning and the end escapes the biographical categories of the process: it is the eternally existent becoming of ecstasy [...]."
  • 83 - "The novel comprises the essence of its totality between the beginning and the end, and thereby raises an individual to the infinite heights of one who must create an entire world through his experience and who must maintain that world in equilibrium [...]. But just because the novel can only comprise the individual in this way, he becomes a mere instrument, and his central position in the work means only that he is particularly well suited to reveal a certain problematic of life."

The historico-philosophical conditioning of the novel and its significance

  • 84 - "The composition of the novel is the paradoxical fusion of heterogeneous and discrete components into an organic whole which is then abolished over and over again. The relationships which create cohesion between the abstract components are abstractly pure and formal, and the ultimate unifying principle therefore has to be the ethic of the creative subjectivity, an ethic which the content reveals. But because this ethic must surmount itself, [...] it needs a new ethical self-correction, again determined by the work's content, in order to achieve the 'tact' which will create a proper balance. This interaction of two ethical complexes, their duality as to form and their unity in being given form, is the content of irony, which is the normative mentality of the novel. [...] Wisdom can be expressed through the act of form-giving: it can conceal itself behind the forms and does not necessarily have to surmount itself, as irony, in the work."
  • 85 - "For the creative individual's reflexion, the novelist's ethic vis-à-vis the content, is a double one. His reflexion consists of giving form to what happens to the idea in real life, of describing the actual nature of this process and of evaluating and considering its reality. This reflexion, however, in turn becomes an object for reflexion [...]. The need for reflexion is the deepest melancholy of every great and genuine novel. Through it, the writer's naivety suffers extreme violence and is changed into its opposite. (This is only another way of saying that pure reflexion is profoundly inartistic.) And the hard-won equalisation, the unstable balance of mutually surmounting reflexions - the second naivety, which is the novelist's objectivity - is only a formal substitute for the first: it makes form-giving possible and it rounds off the form [...]. The novel is the form of mature virility: its author has lost the poet's radiant youthful faith 'that destiny and soul are twin names for a single concept' (Novalis); and the deeper and more painful his need to set this most essential creed of all literature as a demand against life, the more deeply and painfully he must learn to understand that is only a demand and not an effective reality. This insight, this irony, is directed both at his heroes [...] and against his own wisdom [...]. Indeed, the irony is a double one in both directions."
  • 86 - "[...] whilst irony depicts reality as victorious, it reveals not only that reality is as nothing in face of its defeated opponent, not only that the victory of reality can never be a final one, [...] but also that reality owes its advantage not so much to its own strength, [...] as to the inner (although necessary) problematic of the soul weighed down by its ideals." The problem becomes that of adults in general. It is based on the dual understanding that the gods of our youth will no longer speak to us and whatever else might speak to us, will not do it quite as clearly. "Fallen gods, and gods whose kingdom is not yet, become demons [...]."
  • 87 - A soul searching for essence, i.e. home, will "take the first path that seems to lead there": "That is why tragedy knows not real difference between God and demon, whereas, if a demon enters the domain of the epic at all, he has to be a powerless, defeated higher being, a deposed divinity." [interesting, cf. Döblin's Babylonische Wandrung, or Rushdie's Satanic Verses]
  • 88 - "The novel is the epic of a world that has been abandoned by God. The novel hero's psychology is demonic; the objectivity of the novel is the mature man's knowledge that meaning can never quite penetrate reality, but that, without meaning, reality would disintegrate into the nothingness of inessentiality. [...] The mental attitude of the novel is virile maturity, and the characteristic structure of its matter is discreteness, the separation between inferiority and adventure. [...] The dramatic hero knows no adventure [...]. The dramatic hero knows no interiority [...]. Therefore the dramatic hero does not set out to prove himself [...]" [Problem with definition: L. explains away a counter-example by saying that it is misplaced and [89] criticizes modern drama, esp. Ibsen, for unfolding a problem "which the dramatist should have completed [...] before beginning to write it."]
  • 89 - "The novel tells of the adventure of interiority; the content of the novel is the story of the soul that goes to find itself, that seeks adventures in order to be proved and tested by them, and, by proving itself, to find its own essence. The inner security of the epic world excludes adventure in this essential sense [...]." The epic hero is passive by definition, the novel hero can but need not be passive - a question of psychology and sociology which enables structural variations.
  • 90 - "The novel hero's psychology is the field of action of the demonic. [...] The writer's irony is a negative mysticism to be found in times without a god. It is an attitude of docta ignorantia towards meaning, a portrayal of the kindly and malicious workings of the demons, a refusal to comprehend more than the mere fact of these workings; and in it there is the deep certainty, expressible only be form-giving, that through not-desiring-to-know and not-being-able-to-know he has truly encountered, glimpsed and grasped the ultimate, true substance, the present, non-existent God. This is why irony is the objectivity of the novel."
  • 91 - In order to free himself, in order to succeed, the author has to realize the norm and understand the present condition. "Thus his freedom is subject to a double categorical dialectic, a theoretical and a historico-philosophical one; [...] when the historical categories are not sufficiently developed, the wish to achieve immediate silence must inevitably lead to mere stuttering. But when the form is perfectly achieved, the writer is free in relation to God because in such a form, and only it in it, God himself [...] is completely embraced by its system of categories."
  • 92 - "For the novel, irony consists in this freedom of the writer in his relationship to God, the transcendental condition of the objectivity of form-giving. Irony, with its intuitive double vision, can see where God is to be found in a world abandoned by God [...]."
  • 93 - "Irony, the self-surmounting of a subjectivity that has gone as far as it was possible to go, is the highest freedom that can be achieved in a world without God. That is why it is not only the sole possible a priori condition for a true, totality-creating objectivity but also why it makes that totality - the novel - the representative art-form of our age: because the structural categories of the novel constitutively coincide with the world as it is today."

Attempt at a typology of the novel form

Abstract idealism

  • 97 - "The abandonment of the world by God manifests itself in the incommensurability of soul and work, of interiority and adventure - in the absence of a transcendental 'place' allotted to human endeavour. There are, roughly speaking, two types of such incommensurability: either the world is narrower or it is broader than the outside world assigned to it as the arena and substratum of its actions. [...] The demonism of the narrowing of the soul is the demonism of abstract idealism. [...] The structure-determining problematic of this type of hero consists [...] of the ability to experience distances [between ideal and idea] as realities."
  • 98 - E.g. in the epic "[...] the hero is rightly conscious of the superiority of the opposing outside world; yet despite this innermost modesty he can triumph in the end because his lesser strength is guided to victory by the highest power in the world [...]. When this instinctive sense of distance [...] is lacking, the relationship between the subjective and the objective worlds becomes paradoxical [...]"
  • 99 - "The novel's discrete-heterogeneous nature is revealed here with maximum vividness; the sphere of the soul - of psychology - and the sphere of action no longer have anything whatsoever in common. Furthermore, in neither of the two spheres is there an element of immanent progress or development, either within itself or arising from relationships with the other."
  • 100 - "The hero's soul is at rest, rounded and complete within itself like a work of art or a divinity; but this mode of being can only express itself in the outside world by means of inadequate adventures which contain no counter-force within them precisely because the hero is so maniacally imprisoned in himself [...]. Thus a maximum of inwardly attained meaning becomes a maximum of senselessness and the sublime turns to madness, to monomania. Such a structure of the soul completely atomises the mass of possible actions. Because of the purely reflexive nature of the soul's interiority, outside reality remains quite untouched by it, and reveals itself 'as it really is' only as an opposition to every one of the hero's actions."
  • 101 - "Thus the hero's psychological rigidity and the mass of action which has been atomised into a series of isolated adventures mutually determine one another and, as a result, clearly reveal the risk inherent in this type of novel: the risk of 'bad' abstraction, 'bad' infinity. The reason why this danger is avoided in Don Quixote, lies not only in Cervantes' genius [...] but also in the historico-philosophical moment at which the work was written. It is more than a mere accident of history that Don Quixote was intended as a parody of the chivalrous novels [not romances!!!], and its relation to them is more than an essayistic one." The chivalrous novel becomes entertainment literature because it tries to stick to form by all means. It was preceded by the pure art of "the chivalrous epic of the Middle Ages. We have here the curious case of a novel form existing in a period whose absolute belief in God really encouraged the epic."
  • 102 - Apart from Dante, "Other epic writers [...] could only create sentimentally conceived life-totalities which were desired but which lacked any existing immanence of meaning. They created novels, not epics. The unique quality of these novels, their dreamlike beauty and magic grace, consists in the fact that all the seeking which is in them is, after all, only a semblance of seeking. [...] These novels are in substance vast fairy-tales, for in them transcendence is not captured [...]. The safe, rounded irrationality of the entire cosmos, as reflected in these novels, makes the glimpsed shadow of God appear demonic [...]."
  • 103 - "The chivalrous novels against which Don Quixote was in the first place a polemic and which it parodied had lost the necessary transcendent relationship [...]. Cervantes' creative criticism of the triviality of the chivalrous novel leads us once more to the historico-philosophical sources of this genre. The subjectively incomprehensible, objectively secure existence of the idea is transformed into a subjectively clear, fanatically maintained existence, lacking any objective relationship. [...] That which, in the fairy-tale, had only to be guarded against so as to preserve the beneficent spell, here becomes positive action, becomes a struggle for the existing paradise of a fairy-tale reality which awaits the redeeming world. Thus the first great novel of world literature stands at the beginning of the time when the Christian God began to forsake the world; when man became lonely and could find meaning and substance only in his own soul, whose home was nowhere [...]."
  • 104 - "Cervantes lived in the period of the last, great and desperate mysticism, [...] the last period of truly lived but already disoriented, tentative, sophisticated, occult aspirations. It was the period of the demons let loose, a period of great confusion of values in the midst of an as yet unchanged value system." Cervantes shows that "the purest heroism is bound to become grotesque, the strongest faith is bound to become madness. [...] Don Quixote is the first great battle of interiority against the prosaic vulgarity of life [...]. Don Quixote - like almost any truly great novel - had to remain the only important objectivation of its type. This particular mixture of poetry and irony, the sublime and the grotesque, divinity and monomania, was so strongly bound up with the historical moment that the same type of mental structure was bound to manifest itself differently at other times and was never again to reach the same epic significance."
  • 105 - "The adventure novels which took over its purely artistic form became just as devoid of ideals as its immediate predecessors, the chivalrous novels. [...] the demonically narrowed soul faces a new dilemma: either it must give up all relationship to life or it must lose its immediate roots in the true world of ideas. The great dramas of German idealism chose the first path. Abstract idealism lost even the most inadequate relationship to life [...]. Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas, artistically a major work, shows to what degree the situation of the time demanded that the hero's psychology should become a matter of purely individual pathology, so that the epic form had to become that of the novella."
  • 106 - "If the narrowing of the soul is a purely psychological phenomenon, if it has lost any visible relation to the existence of the world of ideas, then it has also lost the ability to be the sustaining centre of an epic totality. [...] in addition to the actual inadequacy [...], there is also an inadequacy at the level of ideas: the contact between the hero and the outside world becomes a purely peripheral one [...]. The consequent danger, artistically speaking, is that the centre which is now needed has to be something that has meaning and value, but not something which transcends the immanence of life. [...] the source of humour is not longer the same as that of poetry and the sublime. [...] the characters, however humorously treated, become representatives of the 'bad' principle or of the pure absence of ideas."
  • 107 - The 'bad' principle needs a 'positive' counterweight, which "can be nothing else but the objectivation of the bourgeois concept of decent behaviour. [...] This is the artistic reason why Dickens' novels, so marvellously rich in comic characters, seem in the end so flat and moralistic." Same with Gogol's Dead Souls. "The outside world today has become so exclusively conventional that everything, positive or negative, humorous or poetic, can take place only within the sphere of convention. [...] (This historico-philosophically determined conventionality of the modern humorous novel should not be confused with [108] the form-determined and therefore timeless conventions of dramatic comedy. [...])"
  • 108 - "Balzac chose a completely different path towards epic immanence. For him the subjective-psychological demonism which is characteristic of his work is an ultimate reality, the principle of all essential action which objectivises itself in heroic deeds [...]. As a result, [...] we obtain the strange, boundless, immeasurable mass of interweaving destinies and lonely souls which is the unique feature of Balzac's novels."
  • 109 - "The danger of an abstract, 'bad' infinity is avoided by a great concentration of events (as in the novella) and a genuinely epic significance is thus attained. However, this triumph of form occurs only in each individual novel, not in The Human Comedy as a whole. True, the prerequisite for it is there: the magnificent unity of the work's all-embracing material. [...] it takes a form which is completely adequate to the innermost essence of this material, that of chaotic, demonic irrationality. [...] Only the details are epically formed, the whole is merely fitted together; the 'bad' infinity, surmounted in every individual part, defeats the whole as a unified epic work: the totality rests on principles which do not belong to the epic form, on mood and insight, not on actions and heroes, and so the totality is not complete and rounded in itself. [...] The totality of The Human Comedy as a whole, with its essentially lyrical nature that belongs outside the epic, is naive and un-[110]problematic. And if this totality is inadequate for the novel, it is even less adequate for the epic."
  • 110 - "A static psychology is the common feature of all these attempts at form-giving; the narrowing of the soul is a given, unchangeable, abstract a priori condition. It was natural, therefore, that the nineteenth-century novel with its tendencies towards psychological dynamism and psychological solutions should depart increasingly from this type and should seek the causes of the inadequacy between soul and reality in quite other directions." Pontoppidan's Hans im Glück as the only great novel, which "represents an attempt to treat this type of soul structure centrally and to portray it through movement and development."
  • 111 - "Pontoppidan's irony lies in the fact that he lets his hero succeed all the time, but shows that a demonic power forces him to regard everything he has gained as worthless an inessential and to throw it away as soon as he has gained it. [...] This explains the isolated position of Pontoppidan's work among modern novels, its strict insistence upon action which is reminiscent of novels of the past, its rejection of mere psychology, and - in terms of mood - the profound difference between the resignation which is felt at the end of this novel and the disappointed romanticism of other contemporary works."

The romanticism of disillusionment

  • 112 - "In the nineteenth century novel, the other type of the necessarily inadequate relation between soul and reality became the more important one: the inadequacy that is due to the soul' being wider and larger than the destinies which life has to offer it. [...] the failure of every attempt to realise this equality is the subject of the work. Thus we have a concrete, qualitative a priori attitude vis-à-vis the world - a matter of content, a struggle between two worlds, not a struggle between reality and a general a priori state."
  • 113 - "[...] here the tendency is rather towards passivity [...]. In this possibility lies the central problematic of this type of novel: its disappearance of epic symbolisation, the disintegration of form in a nebulous and unstructured sequence of moods and reflections about moods, the replacement of a sensuously meaningful story by psychological analysis. [...] It is a world entirely dominated by convention, the full realisation of the concept of a 'second nature'; a quintessence of meaningless laws in which no relation to the soul can be found. [...] Thus, a character's profession loses all importance from the point of view of his inner destiny, just as marriage, family and class become immaterial to the relationships between characters."
  • 114 - "In the type of novel which we are now considering, all the relationships have ceased to exist from the start. [...] This attitude is so intensely lyrical that it is no longer capable of purely lyrical expression. Lyrical subjectivity has to go for its symbols to the outside world [...]. Reflexion and mood are constitutive structural elements of the novel form [...]. When they become an end in [115] themselves, their unpoetic and form-destructive character becomes clearly obvious."
  • 115 - "This aesthetic problem, however, is at root an ethical one, and its artistic solution therefore presupposes, in accordance with the formal laws of the novel, that a solution has been found to the ethical problem. The hierarchical question of whether the inner reality is superior to the outer reality or vice versa is the ethical problem of utopia [...]. From the point of view of epic form the problem can be posed as follows: can this rounded correction of reality be translated into actions which, regardless of outward failure or success, prove the individual's right to self-sufficiency - actions which do not compromise the mental attitude from which they sprang? [...] Such longings can indeed be satisfied, but their inner emptiness becomes apparent in the work's lack of idea, as is, for instance, the case with Walter Scott's novels, well-told though they are."
  • 116 - "The flight from the present is of no use whatever in solvable the central difficulty. [...] The aesthetic problem, the transformation of mood and reflexion, of lyricism and psychology into genuinely epic means of expression is therefore centred on the fundamental ethical problem - the question of necessary and possible action. [...] the artistic task consists of revealing the point at which such a character's being-there and being-thus coincides with his inevitable failure. The completely pre-determined nature of this failure is the other objective difficulty of purely epic form-giving. [...] the evidence that failure is a necessary consequence of its own inner [117] structure, that it is, in its finest essence and highest value, condemned to death."
  • 117 - "The inner importance of the individual has reached its historical apogee: the individual is no longer significant as the carrier of transcendent worlds, as he was in abstract idealism, he now carries his value exclusively within himself [...]. The precondition and the price of this immoderate elevation of the subject is, however, the abandonment of any claim to participation in the shaping of the outside world. The romanticism of disillusionment not only followed abstract idealism in time and history, it was also conceptually its heir, the next historico-philosophical step in a priori utopianism."
  • 118 - "In Romanticism, the literary nature of the a priori status of the soul vis-à-vis reality becomes conscious [...]. Life becomes a work of literature; but, as a result, man becomes the author of his own life and at the same time the observer of that life as a created work of art. Such duality can only be given form by lyrical means. [...] This situation gives rise to a romantic lack of moderation in all directions. [...] Compositionally speaking, a maximum of continuity is aimed at [...]. All the fragments live only by the grace [119] of the mood in which they are experienced, but the totality reveals the nothingness of this mood in terms of reflexion."
  • 119 - "The purely artistic consequences of such a situation are inevitably, on the one hand, the disintegration of all secure and unconditional human values and the revelation of their ultimate nullity, and, on the other hand, the overall dominance of mood, that is to say of impotent sorrow over a world which is inessential in itself and which has only the ineffective, monotonous brilliance of a surface in process of decomposition."
  • 120 - As any form needs a positive counter-weight, Goncharev offers the character of Stolz to face the character of Oblomov - but attempt doomed to failure. "The great discrepancy between idea and reality is time: the process of time as duration."
  • 121 - "That is why only the novel, the literary form of the transcendent homelessness of the idea, includes real time - Bergson's durée - among its constitutive principles. [...] the drama does not know the concept of time [...]. The epic, it is true, appears to allow for the duration of time [...]. Yet this time has as little reality, as little real duration, as time has in drama [...]."
  • 122 - "[...] the author of an epic and his characters can move freely in any direction inside it; like all space, it has several dimensions but no direction." [Problem with normative definition: modern drama is criticized because it does not stick to Goethe and Schiller's norms.] "Time can become constitutive only when the bond with the transcendental home has been severed. [...] In the epic the life-immanence of meaning is so strong that it abolishes time [...]. In the novel, meaning is separated from life, and hence the essential from the temporal; [...] a struggle against the power of time. In the Romanticism of disillusionment, time is the corrupt-[123]ing principle: poetry, the essential, must die, and time is ultimately responsible for its passing."
  • 123 - "The overall design of the novel is bound to be deformed if positive and negative values are so distinctly divided between the two sides of the struggle. [...] Time is the fullness of life, although the fullness of time is the self-abolition of life and, with it, of time itself. [...] The novel is the form of mature virility: its song of comfort rings out of the dawning recognition that traces or [sic! of] lost meaning are to be found everywhere [...]. Thus it is that time becomes the carrier of the sublime [124] epic poetry of the novel [...]."
  • 124 - "Yet a feeling of resignation persists [...]. From this feeling of resignation mixed with courage there spring experiences of time which are authentically epic because they give rise to action and stem from action: the experiences of hope and memory [...]. Such an experience of time is the basis of Flaubert's L'Education sentimentale, and the absence of such an experience, a one-sidedly negative view of time, is what has ultimately been responsible for the failure of the other major novels of disillusionment. Of all great works of this type, L'Education sentimentale appear to be the least composed [...]."
  • 125 - "Yet this novel, of all novels of the nineteenth century, is one of the most typical of the problematic of the novel form; in the unmitigated desolation of its matter it is the only novel that attains true epic objectivity and, through it, the positiveness and affirmative energy of an accomplished form. This victory is rendered possible by time. [...] The life totality which carries all men here becomes a living and dynamic thing: the expanse of time [...] is [...] a thing existing in itself and for itself, a concrete and organic continuum."
  • 126 - "Everything that happens may be meaningless, fragmentary and sad, but it is always irradiated by hope or memory. [...] And so, by a strange and melancholy paradox, the moment of failure is the moment of value; the comprehending and experiencing of life's refusals is the source from which the fullness of life seems to flow. [...] Herein lies the essentially epic quality of memory. In the drama (and the epic) the past either does not exist or is completely present."
  • 127 - "As for lyric poetry, change alone is essential for any lyrical experience of the past [...]. Only the novel and in certain epic forms resembling the novel does memory occur as a creative force affecting the object and transforming it. [...] The surmounting of duality - that is to say the successful mastering and integration of the object - makes this experience into an element of authentically epic form. The mood-conditioned pseudo-lyricism of the novel of disillusionment betrays itself most obviously by the fact that [128] subject and object are sharply separated in the experience of remembering [...]"
  • 128 - [Another problem of normative definition: structural problems appear in the novel because some of its elements belong to other genres.] "The harsh and depressing quality of such works is therefore due [...] to the fact that the object of experience is constructed in accordance with the formal laws of drama, whereas the experiencing subject is a lyrical one. [...] The objective structure of the world of the novel shows a heterogeneous totality, regulated only by regulative ideas, whose meaning is prescribed but not given."
  • 129 - "A natural consequence of the paradoxical nature of this art form is the fact that the really great novels have a tendency to overlap into the epic. L'Education sentimentale is the only real exception to this and is therefore best suited to serve as a model of the novel form. [...] Pontoppidan's Hans im Glück (which, of all nineteenth-century novels, comes closest, perhaps, to Flaubert's great achievement) determines the goal, the attaining of which justifies and completes the life totality of the hero, too concretely as to content, with too much emphasis on value, to achieve perfect, genuinely epic unity at the end. [...] His lived experience of time therefore has a slight tendency to overlap into the dramatic [...]. Abstract idealism and its intimate relation with the transcendent homeland which lies on the far side of time make this overlapping of the novel with the epic necessary. That is why the greatest work of this type, Don Quixote, overlaps still more obviously into the epic in its formal and historico-[130]philosophical foundations."
  • 130 - "Here as in everything else, it was not Cervantes, the naive artist, who surmounted the dangers [...]: it was Cervantes the intuitive visionary of the unique historico-philosophical moment. His vision came into being at the watershed of two historical epochs [...]." The danger of the chivalrous epic and the adventure novel is that "of triviality, of being reduced to mere entertainment", while the danger of the novel of disillusionment is that of "disintegration and formlessness".

Wilhelm Meister's Years of Apprenticeship as an attempted synthesis

  • 132 - "Wilhelm Meister stands aesthetically and historico-philosophically between these two types of the novel. Its theme is the reconciliation of the problematic individual, guided by his lived experience of the ideal, with concrete social reality. [...] The type of personality and the structure of the plot are determined by the necessary condition that a reconciliation between interiority and reality, although problematic, is nevertheless possible [...]."
  • 133 - "It is an interiority which stands halfway between idealism and Romanticism, and its attempt, within itself, to synthesise and overcome both of them is rejected by both as a compromise. It follows from the possibility, given by the theme itself, of effective action in social reality, that the organisation of the outside world into professions, classes, ranks, etc., is of decisive importance for this particular type of personality as the substratum of its social activity. [...] Such a community [...] is the fruit of a rich and enriching resignation, the crowning of a process of education, a maturity attained by struggle and effort. The content of such maturity is an ideal of free humanity which comprehends and affirms the structures of social life as necessary forms of human community [...]."
  • 134 - "The heroism of abstract idealism and the pure interiority of Romanticism are therefore admitted as relatively justified, but only as tendencies to be surmounted and integrated in the interiorised order [...]. This structure of the relationship between the ideal and the soul relativises the hero's central position, which is merely accidental: [...] the individual characters are closely linked together by this community of destiny [...]."
  • 135 - "This is why Goethe in Wilhelm Meister steers a middle course between abstract idealism, which concentrates on pure action, and Romanticism, which interiorises action and reduces it to contemplation. [...] This form has been called the 'novel of education' - rightly, because its action has to be a conscious, controlled process aimed at a certain goal: the development of qualities in men which would never blossom without the active intervention of other men and circumstances [...]. A story determined by such a goal has a certain calm based on security. [...] The robust sense of security underlying this type of novel arises, then, from the relativation of its central character, which in turn is determined by a belief in the possibility of common destinies and life-formations."
  • 136 - "In most individual examples the dividing line between this post-Goethean type of novel of education and the novel of disillusionment is often fluid. The first version of Der Grüne Heinrich shows this perhaps most clearly, whereas the final version stands definitely upon the course required by its form."
  • 137 - "[...] the one great danger inherent in this form because of its historico-philosophical base: the danger of a subjectivity which is not exemplary, which has not become a symbol, and which is bound to destroy the epic form." Again problematic as modern novel is said to commit this mistake. "The structure of the characters and destinies in Wilhelm Meister determines the structure of the social world around them. [...] A new principle of heterogeneity is thereby introduced into the outside world: a hierarchy of the various structures and layers of structures according to their penetrability by meaning."
  • 138 - "Irony here acquires crucial importance as a factor in the creation of the work because no structure in itself and for itself can be said to possess such meaning, nor not to posses it; [...] the completion of the process of education must inevitably idealise and romanticise certain parts of reality and abandon others to prose, as being devoid of meaning. Yet the author must not abandon his ironic attitude, replacing it by unconditional affirmation, even when describing the eventual homecoming. [...] In this ironic tact of the Romantic presentation of reality lies the other great danger inherent in this form of the novel, [139] which only Goethe - and not always he - succeeded in escaping. It is the danger of romanticising reality to a point where it becomes a sphere totally beyond reality or, still more dangerously from the point of view of artistic form-giving, a sphere completely free from problems, for which the forms of the novel are then no longer sufficient."
  • 139 - L. discusses Novalis's critique of Goethe's novel and shows that his attempt at a fairy-tale reality, based on medieval epic but consciously so, led him to failure - even greater than Goethe's.
  • 140 - "The triumph of poetry, its transfiguring and redeeming domination of the entire universe, has not the constitutive force to make all earthly and prosaic things follow it into paradise; the romanticising of reality merely gives reality a lyrical semblance of poetry, but his semblance cannot be translated into events - into epic terms [...]. The surmounting of this danger is not entirely problem-[141]free even in Goethe."
  • 141 - "This objective removal of the fundamental problematic brings the novel closer to the epic; yet it is impossible for a work which began as a novel to end as an epic, and it is likewise impossible, once such overlapping has occurred, to make the work homogenous again by the renewed use of irony. [...] In other words, the world thus confined within a single class - the nobility - and based upon it, partakes of the problem-free radiance of the epic. Not even the artistic tact with which Goethe introduces new problems a this late stage in the novel can alter the immanent consequences of the novel's ending."
  • 142 - "This is why Goethe was obliged to introduce the much-criticised fantastic apparatus of the last books of the novel, the mysterious tower [...]. Goethe makes use here of the methods of the (Romantic) epic. [...] This was more than a concession to the taste of period (as many have claimed in apology), and after all it is quite impossible to imagine Wilhelm Meister without this miraculous element, however inorganic it may be. An essential formal necessity forced Goethe to use it and its use had to fail only because, given the author's fundamental intention, it was oriented towards a less problematic form than that imposed by its substratum - that is to say, the historical epic."

Tolstoy and the attempt to go beyond the social forms of life

  • 144 - "The overlapping of the novel form into the epic, such as we have discussed, is rooted in social life; it disrupts the immanence of form only to the extent that, at the crucial point, it imputes a substantiality to the world it describes which that world is in no way capable of sustaining and keeping in a state of balance. [...] This attitude appears first in the novel of disillusionment, where the incongruence of interiority and the conventional world leads to a complete denial of the latter."
  • 145 - "The world of Western European culture is so deeply rooted in the inescapability of its constituent structures that it can never adopt any attitude towards them other than a polemical one. The greater closeness of nineteenth-century Russian literature to certain organic natural conditions, which were the given substratum of its underlying attitude and creative intention, made it possible for that literature to be creatively polemical. Tolstoy [...] created a form of novel which overlaps to the maximum extent into the epic. Tolstoy's great and truly epic mentality, which has little to do with the novel form, aspires to a life based on a community of feeling among simple human beings closely bound to nature [...]."
  • 146 - "The paradoxical nature of Tolstoy's historical situation, which proves better than anything else how much the novel is the necessary epic form of our time, manifests itself in the fact that this world cannot be translated into movement and action, even by an author who not only longs for it but has actually seen and depicted it clearly; it remains only an element of the epic work, but is not epic reality itself. [...] the nature which Tolstoy posits as the ideal and which he has experienced as existent is, in its innermost essence, meant to be nature (and is, therefore, opposed, as such, to culture ). This necessary opposition is the insoluble problematic of Tolstoy's novels. In other words, his epic intention was bound to result in a problematic novel form [...] for reasons of form and of the relationship of form to its historico-philosophical substratum."
  • 147 - "A totality of men and events is possible only on the basis of culture, whatever one's attitude towards it. [...] the work contains two layers of realities which are completely heterogeneous from one another both as regards the value attached to them and the quality of their being. [...] a sentimental, romantic experience finally becomes the centre of the entire work: the central characters' dissatisfaction with whatever the surrounding world of culture can offer them and their seeking and finding of the second, more essential reality of nature. [...] it is a factual assurance that an essential life really does exist beyond conventionality [...]. With the heroic ruthlessness of a writer of historic greatness, Tolstoy does not flinch from the grim consequences of [148] his world view; not even the singular position he allocates to love and marriage [...] can mitigate these consequences."
  • 148 - "The love which occupies the really central place in Tolstoy's world is love as marriage, love as union [...], love as the prelude to birth; marriage and the family as a vehicle of the natural continuity of life. That this introduces a conceptual dichotomy into the edifice would be of little importance artistically if it did not create yet another heterogeneous layer of reality, which cannot be compositionally connected with the other two spheres, in themselves heterogeneous from each other."
  • 149 - "Every conversation, every event bears the stamp of the author's [Tolstoy's] verdict. These two groups of experiences (the private world of marriage and the public world of society) are contrasted with the experience of the essence of nature. [...] Tolstoy, with paradoxical ruthlessness of true genius, shows up the profoundly problematic nature of his form and its foundations: these crucial moments of bliss are the great moments of dying [...] and it would be true bliss to die now, to die like that. But Anna recovers and Andrey returns to life, and the great moments vanish without trace."
  • 150 - L. distinguishes between the "will and theory of Tolstoy the thinker" and "the vision of Tolstoy as artist". "These three layers of reality correspond to the three concepts of time in Tolstoy's world, and the impossibility of uniting them reveals most strongly the inner problematic of his works, rich and profound as they are. The world of convention is essentially timeless [...]. Beneath it flows the stream of Tolstoyan nature: the continuity and monotony of an eternal rhythm. That which changes in nature is the individual destiny, and this, too, is inessential."
  • 151 - "The great moments which offer a glimpse of an essential life, a meaningful process, remain mere moments, isolated from the other two worlds and without constitutive reference to them. Thus the three concepts of time are not only mutually heterogeneous and incapable of being united with one another, but moreover none of them expresses real duration, real time, the life-element of the novel. [...] the overlapping into the epic only makes the novel form still more problematic, without coming concretely closer to the desire goal, the problem-free reality of the epic. (In purely artistic terms Tolstoy's novels are novels of disillusionment carried to an extreme, a baroque version of Flaubert's form.) [...] Literary development has not yet gone beyond the novel of disillusionment, and the most recent literature reveals no possibility of creating another type that would be essentially new; what we have now is an eclectic, epigonic imitation of earlier types, whose apparent productive force is confined to the formally inessential areas of lyricism and psychology."
  • 152 - L. awaits "a new form of artistic creation: the form of the renewed epic." Yet, there is a problem, as the influence works one way only. "But art can never be the agent of such a transformation: the great epic is a form bound to the historical moment, and any attempt to depict the utopian as existent can only end in destroying the form, not in creating reality. [...] In Tolstoy, intimations of a breakthrough into a new epoch are visible; but they remain polemical, nostalgic and abstract. It is in the words of Dostoevsky that this new world, remote from any struggle against what actually exists, is drawn for the first time simply as a seen reality. That is why he, and the form he created, lie outside the scope of this book. [...] He belongs to the new world."
  • 153 - "It will then be the task of historico-philosophical interpretation to decide whether we are really about to leave the age of absolute sinfulness or whether the new has no other herald but our hopes: those hopes which are signs of a world to come, still so weak that it can easily be crushed by the sterile power of the merely existent."

Summary and Comment

  • Preface: L. creates a distance between his contemporary self and the author of the essay and criticizes the old method for taking some features of a movement, analyzing a book according to these and then focusing on the special characteristics. Problem: he does the same thing again when he identifies his 50-year-old text with the 'intellectual sciences school' and then points out the specialties, positive and negative.
  • Integrated civilisations: The Greek epic is based on a unity of immanence and transcendence in an age when man was in peace with himself and the outer world. Ancient Greece was a land of happines because it had no philosophy, i.e. no need for explanation - cf. the Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature with happy people without history. The development of the three paradigmatic forms of epic, tragedy, and philosophy is described not as a continuous but a clearly separated one and results in the portrayal of three different types of men: "Homer's living men", "the tragic hero", and "Plato's new man, the wise man". The problem with our age is the creation of form, of creativity and the resulting incompleteness - a description which sounds like a consequence of the orginal sin and does not necessarily portray our age as the inferior, only more complicated one. L. sees the emergence of Christian art as the last epoch of a rounded world. Problem: The notion is based on the certainty that totality exists, that it is currently damaged but may be achieved again.
  • The structure of the world of ancient Greece
  • Its historico-philosophical development
  • Christianity
  • The problems of a philosophy of the history of forms: Nowadays, new genres come up when the subject (author) turns to a new form, not as it used to be in Greek times, when the genre was succeeded by the next only when it came to its natural end. The genre of tragedy has gone through changes but remains in our times while the epic died out and a new genre was produced - the novel. The main feature of tragedy is loneliness. The epic is of natural totality, the drama of a constructed one. The more the author/narrator strives for totality - the more he achieves lyricism, but not greatness. The search and highlighting of meaning results in bad art, i.e. one which is further away from the essence of life. The division between good and bad art is not a question of judgement but fact based on the definition of genre. Problem: The division is only possible because of genre definition.
  • General principles
  • Tragedy
  • The epic forms
  • The epic and the novel: The difference between the epic and the novel is not based on the difference of the authors' aim but that of hitoric context. Today's world is fragementary → art forms are fragementary, too. Verse expresses lightness, prose expresses suffering. The hero is estranged from the world; is not an individual; has to be a king. Dante's Divina Commedia at the crossroads between pure epic and novel. Problem: Distinguishes between epic genres (incl. novel, although earlier stated as whole different thing) and pure (Greek) epic.
  • Verse and prose as means of expression
  • Given totality and totality as an aim
  • The world of objective structures
  • The type of the hero
  • The inner form of the novel: Dante writes an epic although the context urged him to write a novel. The form of the novel as the best proof of a dissonant world, which needs form-giving. The biggest danger of the novel is that it might represent only a small part of totality. The author has to treat himself and his subject with irony. The novel is a mature form (understanding of imperfection, resignation, strivance for glimpse of totality). It is based on biographical form and the notion of a seeking, problematic hero in search of himself. It has to be clearly marked by a beginning and ending, while the whole is linked by mood or reflexion. Problem: Dante's position. Circular argumentation concerning the biographical form.
  • Its fundamentally abstract nature and the risks inherent in this
  • Its process-like nature
  • Irony as a formal principle
  • The contingent structure of the world of the novel and the biographical form
  • The representability of the world of the novel; means of representation
  • The historico-philosophical conditioning of the novel and its significance: Irony as normative mentality of the novel. The novel is a worldly-wise (abgeklärt) genre. Because today's world is abandoned by god, the novel is demonic. Irony replaces religion. Problem: Definition of drama does not work for modern examples, esp. Ibsen. Yet, this does not lead to a change in definition but rather a negative judgement of modern drama.
  • The intention of the novel
  • The demonic
  • The historico-philosophical place of the novel
  • Irony as mysticism
  • Abstract Idealism: God's absence results in an abyss between soul and work. Two alternative consequences: inner world either broader or narrower than inside world. The first alternative results in romantic disillusionment, the second in abstract idealism. Great danger: the reduced hero is sent off on a myriad adventures, i.e. 'bad' infinity, e.g. chivalric novels [not: 'romances'!]. Cervantes - thanks to genius and historic context - wrote the first great novel with epic significance. Forced to create a positive counterweight for the bad principe of abstract ideas, i.e. bourgeois conentions, Dickes failed because his works too moralistic. Only Balzac manages to succeed - even if only in parts as the whole of his The Human Comedy is only linked by mood and reflexion again. The 19th cent. novel: tendency towards psychology. Best counter-example: Pontoppidan's Hans im Glück - success through rejection of psychology. Problem: Paradoxical classification of 'genius' writers as children of their times, yet special.
  • The two principal types
  • Don Quixote
  • Its relationship to the chivalrous epic
  • The successors of Don Quixote
(a) the tragedy of abstract idealism
(b) the modern humorous novel and its problematic
  • Balzac
  • Pontoppidan's Hans im Glück
  • The romanticism of disillusionment: The second alternative - see above - results in romanticism of disillusionment, characterised by the passivity of its heroes, a continuum of reflexion and moods. Danger: story replaced by psychological analysis, based on utopian longings, e.g. Walter Scott. Main characteristicum of the epoch: problem of time as corrupting principle but gained feature of memory and hope. Positive example: Flaubert's L'Education sentimentale. The advantage of great novels is, at the same time, their main problematic: the overlapping into the epic. Cervantes, too, at the watershed of two epoch - his success based on visionary ability: paradoxical in relation to last paragraphs of the essay. Problem: Normative definition after Goethe and Schiller does not include modern drama, which is once more criticised for not sticking to the rules. Furthermore, structural problems appear in the novel because some of tis elements belong to other genres - problem with definition in the first place. See marked quotation on p. 129 - paradox?!
  • The problem of the romanticism of disillusionment and its significance for the novel form
  • Jacobsen's and Goncharev's attempts at a solution
  • L'Education sentimentale and the problem of time in the novel
  • Retrospective examination of the problem of time in the novels of abstract idealism
  • Wilhelm Meister's Years of Apprenticeship as an attempted sythesis: Wilhelm Meister between abstract idealism and romanticism of disillusionment - a novel of education. The danger of this form lies in the risk of the hero's individuality - a breach of the earlier mentioned feature of epic hero never being an individual (cf. p.66). The other danger lies in an over-romanticising of the object. Even Goethe had its problem with these dangers, e.g. sudden creation of mysterious tower. Problem: Preliminary definitions lead to exclusion or critique of works.
  • The problem
  • The idea of social community and its form in literature
  • The world of he novel of education and te romanticism of reality
  • Novalis
  • Goethe's attempt at a solution and the overlapping
  • Tolstoy and the attempt to go beyond the social forms of life: The problem of polemicising is overcome in Tolstoy's artistic polemic but even he cannot overcome the danger: the moments of glimpses at totality are moments of facing death but these are overcome and forgotten. Only hope on the horizon: Dostoevsky and the portrayal of reality as seen. Problem: The epic is the better genre but the novel - although it has the tendency of overlapping into the epic - can, by definition, never achieve the pure epic totality. All we can do now is sit, twiddle our thumbs and wait for another historico-philosphical change which will result in a new genre!
  • The novel as polemic against convention
  • Tolstoy's concept of nature and its problematic consequences for the novel form
  • Tolstoy's dual position in a philosophy of the history of epic forms
  • Dostoevsky: an outlook