Tagged: György Lukács

The essay form

The critique, the essay — call it provisionally what you will — as a work of art, a genre? I know you think the question tedious; you feel that all the arguments for and against have been exhausted long ago. Wilde and Kerr merely made familiar to everyone a truth that was already known to the German Romantics, a truth whose ultimate meaning the Greeks and Romans felt, quite unconsciously, to be self-evident: that criticism is an art and not a science. Yet I believe — and it is for this reason alone that I venture to importune you with these observations — that all the discussions have barely touched upon the essence of the real question: What is an essay? What is its intended form of expression, and what are the ways and means whereby this expression is accomplished? I believe that aspect of “being well written” has been too one-sidedly emphasized in this context. It has been argued that the essay can be stylistically of equal value to a work of the imagination, and that, for this reason, it is unjust to speak of value differences at all. Yet what does that mean? Even if we consider criticism to be a work of art in this sense, we have not yet said anything at all about its essential nature. “Whatever is well written is a work of art.” Is a well-written advertisement or news item a work of art? Here I can see what so disturbs you about such a view of criticism: it is anarchy, the denial of form in order that an intellect which believes itself to be sovereign may have free play with possibilities of every kind. But if I speak here of criticism as a form of art, I do so in the name of order (i.e., almost purely symbolically and non-essentially), and solely on the strength of my feeling that the essay has a form which separates it, with the rigor of a law, from all other art forms. I want to try to define the essay as strictly as is possible, precisely by describing it as an art form.

György Lukács, “On the nature and form of the essay,” Soul & Form