A note from the author
Preliminary remarks
PART ONE: From 'The decline of the West' to 'The last utopia'
Introduction. An eyewitness account


It would seem appropriate, in this foreign edition, to add a few comments on the theoretical background–the ideational context, as it were–from which the present work emerged. It represents the crossing of the two basic themes I have been working on for the past fifteen years. The first involves the 'historical sociology' of art and literature, a framework I have used to investigate the 'history of social thought' on art and literature from Plato and Aristotle to the philosophers and sociologists of our own day in three separate books: Art as a Sociological Phenomenon: On the Aesthetic and Political Views of Plato and Aristotle (Moscow, 1968), Art and the Elite (Moscow, 1966) and finally, The October Revolution and the Arts: Tolstoy, Blok, Mayakovsky, Eisenstein (Moscow, 1967, English and 1970, Japanese translations).1 These studies attempted to understand art (literature) as a social organism or, in other words, a specific system of social relations, a specific system for the division of labour–as the product of certain social groups and the pleasure-object of others. Various concepts of art and literature formed by historians of philosophy and sociology, by critics of art and artists themselves, were considered as they reflected the social relations prevalent in the sphere of art, primarily those between the producers and the consumers of aesthetic issue.

Put in these terms, the question presents its own theoretical difficulties: how is the sociological analysis of literature and art (or the history of sociological thought on both) to avoid the pitfall once known in the Soviet Union as vulgar sociologism, the reducing of cultural phenomena to fit social structures, to the point where all distinguishing features are completely effaced and culture is ultimately 'stripped of meaning'. It was this predicament which inspired me to view the specific object of the sociology of art and literature as a subject matter of art, wherein art is taken to be a sociological phenomenon. My concept encompasses an entire complex of phenomena interconnected within the bounds of art and literature to ensure their existence as entities unique unto themselves, without however determining the aesthetic sense of either or violating the integrity of the creative act.

At the same time, I was made more and more aware of a trend diametrically opposed to my own efforts, that aggressive attempt, pursued to this day in West European philosophy and sociology, to reduce the meaningful (and meaning-determinant) in culture to the 'meaningless' and sordid. This, with its far-reaching consequences for West European culture as a whole, I sensed as a persistent 'nihilistic' drive.

Hence the second theme, which became all the more acute as I read about the Maoist cultural revolution in China on the one hand and the New Left movement in the West on the other; both revealed not only the theoretical but also the practical effects on living culture of nihilistic reductionism. The result was a second series of books: 'A Critique of the Socio-Philosophical Views of the Frankfurt School' (Moscow, 1977), 'The Aesthetics of Nihilism: Art and the New Left' (Moscow, 1975) and 'Neo-Marxism and Problems in the Sociology of Culture' (Moscow, 1980), which drew on the assistance of my students, as well as 'The Sociology of the Counter-Culture: Infantilism as a World-View and a Social Disease' (Moscow, 1980). Together these books represent an attempt to analyse a type of nihilistic consciousness observed in the culture of today's West, traced to its theoretical roots and socio-cultural premises and considered to pertain to art and literature, and to express certain concrete goals. The analysis in turn inspired an introduction to the philosophy (or, to be more precise, social philosophy) of contemporary Western literature as set against the struggle between nihilistic and antinihilistic trends which, in my opinion, defines the contemporary Western ideological scene.

The twentieth-century brand of nihilism I would ascribe to Nietzsche. The ``self-overcoming'' '(Selbst-Uberwindung)' he offered was actually one if not the most insidious of the forms of nihilistic personal and cultural disintegration. Nietzsche's self-overcoming is in fact achieved only through consistent, thoroughgoing liberation, not simply from traditional moral values or even morality as such, but from the very impulse behind these absolutes–'the ideal measure of human existence'–with the ideal itself exposed as a lie, as subterfuge, illusion and propaganda. This perspective identifies Nietzsche as twentieth-century nihilism's most immediate precursor and, what is more, a harbinger of vulgar sociologism at its most brutal and virulently iconoclastic, which re-confirms, or at least as far as I am concerned, the genetic bond between contemporary nihilism and the entire gamut of vulgar reductionism, from vulgar-sociological to Neo-Freudian, structuralist and that advocated by Foucault.

Thus, among the nihilistic currents presently affecting Western culture (particularly art and literature, my chief concern), I focus on those formed under the direct or indirect influence of Nietzschean nihilism. I examine, in this connection, the literary and artistic phenomena, as well as their general interpretation in theory, which emerged in the Philosophy of Life–a philosophic mood of the first quarter of our century, inaugurated by none other than Nietzsche. It was, incidentally, this very mood which prompted (and was closely affected by) Freudianism's propagation, not as a psychiatric trend (an aspect I do not presume to judge), but as a distinct philosophy of culture, of an art and literature obsessed with reducing the sublime to the petty and downright sordid. The Nietzschean-Freudian complex formed at the beginning of our century in the "social unconscious" of the West, its unconscious cultural stratum, gave rise to the existentialism of the 1940s and 1950s, the Neo-Marxism of the 1950s and 1960s, the counter-culture of the 1960s and first half of the 1970s, consecutively and, at times, concurrently of considerable impact on the literature of the West.

These philosophical, socio-philosophical, cultural-philosophical and literary-philosophical trends compete one with the other and yet move in the same basically nihilistic stream; they have occasionally advanced to the forefront of Western intellectual conscience to spark veritable epidemics, which by no means implies a total lack of resistance in that same West. Resistance there was, often within the nihilistic trends themselves, as an existentialist, for example, or a Neo-Marxist suddenly "saw the light" and the ultimate end of his half-digested Nietzschean or Freudian persuasions. Counter-trends outside the nihilistic mainstream (such as those associated with Guardini) are also considered, though not as a separate theme.

Much more attention is paid to the problem of selfovercoming in nihilism as a whole, to the potential and limits of contending forces generated from a common source both within and without the nihilistic ethos. Here too the Renaissance consciousness is discussed. Without undertaking an exhaustive inquiry, I note simply that nihilism strikes me as an extreme development of the Renaissance view of man and the world about him, following Nietzsche before me, who believed 'his' problem (that of the Superman) to be the very crux of the Renaissance. Nihilism does, in fact, take 'man's deification of man' to its logical extreme; man, according to Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre in his wake, Horkheimer, Adorno and finally the ideologues of the counter-culture, longs to be God and yet retain his humanness as a finite, mortal being.

This, however, makes the anti-nihilistic trend born of the Renaissance ethos and represented in this book by Marcel on the one hand, and Domenach on the other, inconsistent, fatally contradictory to its core and hence insoL vent. Both Marcel and Domenach (though the latter went much further, on a much deeper understanding, in his criticism of nihilism to link it with the many developments in Western culture, and of what could be said to constitute the "intellectual ethos" of our age)–both limit themselves in the final analysis to the model of man established by the Renaissance.

The human model, or the concept of man, is central to the theoretical structure of the present work. It is introduced on the premise that that which consciously or unconsciously attracts the artist or writer during the creative act, shapes the essence of that work. Equally important, for the philosopher of culture or the sociologist of literature, the art or literary critic, is the concept of man (fully assimilated or not, as the case may be). My analysis of trends in modern Western literature and art in general, of the philosophical-sociological thought on both, accordingly seeks the human model at their source. It focuses on the question of whether or not the nihilism observed in the trends themselves and their socio-philosophic interpretation alike is connected with the reductionist nature of the concept of man.

The nihilist reduction of man, should it triumph in art 'per se' or in its philosophic interpretation, drags his highest potential down to its mean (and where possible sordid) opposite, thereby depriving the individual of freedom, not in the sense of capricious choice, but the capacity to realise that which he considers highest within himself and higher than his own finite being, Nihilism I see as a flight from this very freedom* for all its advocates may proclaim themselves the champions of man.

My last comment concerns not so much content as form, which in this case should strike the reader immediately. The book abounds in references to rather notorious texts characteristic of nihilistic trends current in Western art, literature and their socio-philosophic interpretation between the late 1950s and 1970s. The passages cited can and often do speak for themselves, insofar as there is little to add by way of appraising the negative features under consideration. Naturally, I wished to present the material as fully as would permit the reader to form his own opinion. There was, however, a second, none too insignificant factor.

The troubles loosed by the energy and other crises have led, paradoxically as it may seem at first glance, to the decline in the West of the attitudes expressed in the unabashed nihilism now being replaced, as so many times before in the West European consciousness, by a more covert rejection of culture. This in turn has prompted some to pronounce nihilism dead and others to doubt it ever existed, dismissing the phenomenon as a mere gibe at the powers-that-be from a starry-eyed youth blessed by equally starry-eyed fathers in the faith. There is, moreover, a new generation of Western readers inclined to accept this view for not having experienced the 1960s and their testimony to the deep-lying links between philosophic and literaryartistic nihilism on the one hand and its political, practical offshoots on the other. The younger reader, then, should find the somewhat didactic tone of this book useful; points which might appear self-evident to those schooled in the 1960s (to the extent each has managed to forget his own dramatic initiation) are demonstrated over and again. Much of the evidence I adduce is now being consigned to oblivion in the West, or so it seems; most advanced in the effort are, typically enough, those who were once the most indebted to the cause–yesterday's nihilists themselves.

Consideration for the reader, and the intellectual ambience this book emerged from, account for several omissions in the text. Were I to write it now, I would deal much more closely with the nihilist trend in ethics from Nietzsche, via Heidegger, to Sartre and Camus.

Preliminary remarks

Not many eyebrows are raised today when told of the intellectualisation of twentieth-century Western literature, of its intimate and at times far-ranging ties with philosophy (followed by theoretical psychology, culturology, sociology and so on). It has long been standard practice to complain that a significant if not overwhelming amount of serious literature (with pulp production at its heels) cannot possibly be deciphered without the key to its secret code, to the metaphysical or ``depth-psychological'' sense between the lines. As it now stands, no critic or student of literature will risk analysing a new work, however trivial, unless persuaded (summarily or otherwise) he has stumbled on some underlying philosopheme. And if, beyond all expectation, he should take that risk anyway, his analysis would be inevitably discredited as utterly naive or wholly incompetent. Nor will many writers today venture down the perilous path of creative endeavour without first latching on to some chic philosophical authority for unassailable protection.

Fashion and its inescapable dictates aside, though, we cannot deny that a serious and well-argued study of Joyce would seem to be unthinkable without reference to the "depth psychology" of Freud and Jung, Nietzschean influence in the case of Hemingway and Camus, the Philosophy of Life in that of D. H. Lawrence and Faulkner or, finally, when considering Marcel, Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir, to their fundamental bonds with existentialists Jaspers and Heidegger and phenomcnologist Husserl. The point is particularly well taken with Thomas Mann, father of the so-called "intellectual novel" of the twentieth century: virtually every one of his works translates into the language of images, that interpersonal sphere of multifold collision which set the intellectual climate in Europe between the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.

Thomas Mann was also one of the first to detect this convergence of fiction and philosophy, as well as its bivalent nature, the impulses flowing from one pole to the other and back again. "For most," he maintained, '"belles lettres' in the narrow sense clearly takes second place to critical philosophical literature, that of the intellectual essay. More precisely, the blending of the critical and poetical spheres begun by our Romantics and vigorously stimulated by the philosophic lyric of Nietzsche is now complete; this process blurs the distinction between science and art, pours a living, pulsing blood into abstract thought and spirit into form and creates that type of novel which, unless I am mistaken, is now supreme and may be called `intellectual'. It includes such works as Count Hermann Keyserling's 'Reisetagebuch eines Philosophen' [A Philosopher's Travelogue], Ernst Bertram's superb 'Nietzsche' and the monumental 'Goethe' by Friedrich Gundolf, prophet of Stefan George. Here too, by virtue of its literary polish and the intuitively rhapsodic art of its description of culture, we may certainly list Spengler's 'Untergang [des Abendlandes]' [Decline of the West].2

The trend Mann identified as early as the 1920s stood witness to the fundamental processes then affecting Western culture and was therefore soon to flower. This was the process, highly advanced under capitalism, by which the ``spontaneous'' (Marx's term) relations between men and of man to nature are made artificial, dependent on the commodity-money system and the entire complex known among sociologists as the "bourgeois rationalisation" of the world. It was best described in the 'Communist Manifesto', which had a profound impact on cultural, let alone proletarian and revolutionary, awareness in the West.

``The bourgeoisie," say Marx and Engels, "wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his 'natural superiors', and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment'. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentinientalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom–Free Trade...

``The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-labourers.'' 3

Marx expands this thought in another context: " Capital-based production . . . creates a system for the universal exploitation of natural and human qualities; even science, like all physical and spiritual human traits, is a mere vehicle in this system of universal utility; there is nothing beyond this sphere of social production and exchange which would act as an 'entity superior in itself', justified in and of itself.'' 4

He is referring to the process spreading ever deeper roots over an ever expanding front, the so-called ' Entzauberung' (Max Weber) and demythologising of reality itself, of the relations, that is, between men and of man to nature (including his own inner and outer worlds). Naturally, inevitably, the consequences reach far into social consciousness as well, to affect culture and particularly art and literature. Here the demythologising has been so radical as to demystify the very fabric of cognition by which the world is theoretically and practically (in the artist's sense) absorbed. A mighty and, under the pre-bourgeois mode associated by Marx with ``spontaneous'', ``traditional''5 interpersonal relations, impregnable foundation, the mythological consciousness of tradition was chipped stone by stone out from under literature and art.

The erosion and ultimate destruction of traditional mythological structures under the bourgeois rationalisation of the world and its interpersonal relations was a long, hard and far from straightforward process. The results in several instances proved diametrically opposed, at first glance, to those anticipated, among them a heightened interest on the part of artists and their public alike to mythology, its themes and apperceptive devices. A second, closer look, however, cannot fail to expose in this attitude to the traditional mythological forms of consciousness the predetermination and purpose, the rationality and formalising reflection which reduced its return to myth to a mere variant in the 'Entzauberung' and demythologisation of human consciousness. That the attitude ever arose was nonetheless symptomatic of the deep-rooted ties between the artistic and the mythological consciousness. It is as art grows more and more demythologised that myth–"not only the arsenal but the very ground of art'',6 to quote Marx's shrewd comment on the Greek legacy–acquires a third and indeed determinative function. The traditional mythological consciousness established a stable system of moral and, more generally, value coordinates which ensured mutual understanding between the artist and his public or art and society and which moreover lent the product of the artist's fantasy its first aesthetic weight, if not simply to say weight alone.

These value coordinates may to a certain extent be compared with the spatio-temporal scale (cf. Kant's 'a priori' sensualities), without which no object is conceivable '(Vorstellung' literalised into 'Vor-stellung)' as impinging on the individual consciousness. It is equally impossible, outside the moral and aesthetic coordinates which program the distinctions between good and evil, fine and unsightly or simply left and right in any given socio-culture,–impossible, I say, to perceive any work of art as an aesthetic or even meaningful object. In pre-bourgeois societies (termed ``traditional'' by Marx) value coordinates were prescribed by the myth with which the individual absorbed from childhood a more or less integral reference complex (absolutes) to view the whole of his environment, the world of interpersonal relations and meaningful objects, as an ordered cosmos of set and hence single-valued placings. To the art developed within this traditional mythological system, capitalism's on-going modernisation and demythologisation of the sociocultural world must have been particularly catastrophic. As this all-embracing process advanced to provoke in turn art and literature's ever more frequent and extensive retreat to their mythological roots, it became increasingly obvious that artistic consciousness (our sole concern at the moment) could 'neither' expand without the value coordinates once inseparably wed to traditional mythological constructs, 'nor' maintain anything of sort, given the universal demystification of myth. Hence art's gravitation towards philosophy or rather, those of the newer philosophical trends which promised to resurrect, discover or if nothing else, re-create myth.

It must, however, be stressed that not all art or literature faced with a crumbling mythological ethos ( including that recognised by historians of religion as the Christian brand) has rushed with cap in hand to philosophy for a new myth to light creative endeavour. In the first place, not all artists and writers have assumed, in my terminology, their value coordinates to be based exclusively on myth or, in other words, inextricably bound to this particular mode of apprehension. Secondly, of those convinced value coordinates are in fact unthinkable without some structural analogue to the mythological consciousness type, not all have linked the new mythology to come with the latest in philosophical development.

There were, on the whole, three alternatives, of which only the last gave rise to philosophic myth and the intellectual novel:

1. To continue to hope that the rationalisation and modernisation of the system of relations between men and of man to the external world would stop short of interpersonal communication at its most elemental, ``cellular'' level, that associated with the nature of social existence and basic to what Marx called "the simple laws of morals"7; to hope, in the event art does penetrate to this level, it will be able to rely on the value coordinates related to these same simple laws, of equal significance to the pre- and post-bourgeois eras alike and posited on the mythological as well as the disjunct, articulated structures of social consciousness which followed; to hope that in relying on the simple laws of morals as on the first precepts which promote within a coordinate system the primary distinction between good and evil or simply good and had in their broadest (aesthetic as well as ethic) sense, the writer and the artist will always find an audience, whatever the difficulties in the world of bourgeois rationalisation or modernisation.

2. To hope the "lance that wounds may also heal", that the very principle of rationalisation and modernisation might generate new value coordinates to guide human conduct, artistic creation and aesthetic perception; to hope in the words of the author of this theory, that "an inexhaustible source of new poetic grandeur" would emerge from the "positive conception of man as supreme master in a kingdom of nature he may constantly readjust to his own advantage according to a wise resolve entirely free of idle scruple, oppressive fear and disregarding all general limits except those imposed by the set of positive laws revealed to active reason"8; that the "necessary advance of universal reorganisation [i.e. rationalisation and modernisation] would spontaneously offer modern art both inexhaustible replenishment in the general spectacle of human wonders and an important social aim in improving our appreciation of the new society"9; that "the basic obligation imposed of necessity on modern art, science and industrial production, that of subordinating all conceptions to the set of real laws, should in no way arrogate its precious fund of fantasy, but merely channel this powerful logical device into a new direction consistent with that received from the two other universal aspects mentioned above".10

3. Finally, rejecting all these hopes and expectations, to turn with a will to those of philosophy's more recent experiments which claimed to have evolved a new, no longer ``naturally-formed'' but rather artificial myth of man, his destiny and place in the cosmos, together with a value coordinate system re-appraised accordingly. The prospect, for many Western writers and artists, was made especially attractive by its proponents pointing to its two-fold movement of literature and art towards philosophy and vice versa. Artistic creation, in this context, was considered closely akin to mythopoesis, requiring only philosophy's modest assistance in deciphering the new, art-generated myth. Philosophic and artistic creation, in other words, were seen to converge, potentially at least, with the latter taken as a model of the true apprehension and authentic image of a reality glimpsed through the magic crystal of its mythic transformation. Yet the artist was presumed ignorant of the actual content of his vision and work, and the content itself inaccessible to common intelligence unless ``translated'' by the philosopher, called upon to tell the world which myth any given creative act has produced. Or, to put it another way, the cult of Art and the Artist thus engendered with some claim to replacing its religious precursor made of the artist a latter-day Christ and the philosopher, an apostle no worse and perhaps better informed of the latter's own ``passion'', to take on an additional role very much like that of the interpreter-priest to a soothsaying pythoness.

Obviously, of these three alternative answers to the riddle posed Western art by the Sphinx of galloping bourgeois rationalisation and modernisation, only the last bears directly upon the merger of art and philosophy best illustrated in the intellectual novel (drama, lyric, etc.). The first was manifest in the realistic art of the West evolved (and evolving still) in a direction very similar to that taken by the great Russian writers Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. The second, positivist alternative worked through ever-popular science-fiction on the one hand, and on the other, the science-oriented trends of thought to offer, in their specific mode of apprehending reality, a genuine model of artistic creation (a view supported by Emile Zola and, in the avantgarde of this century, considered attractive, primarily from the theoretical standpoint, by the Futurists).

To be sure, these alternatives are purely theoretical distinctions, ideal types, as it were, existing only as greater or lesser deviations from their own norms or, in the multicoloured tapestry of literary and artistic processes, as only the broadest of trends. All three can easily intersect in one and the same seeker, whose creative evolution thus endorses their various responses to the challenge of formal rationality. Insofar, however, as each displays its own structural unity and logic of development, they cannot, in principle, combine in a single creative act unless, of course, simple eclecticism is to be recognised as artistically valid. The ideal types are therefore perfectly capable of distinguishing among contradictory yet logically self-contained creative potentials, both where they should happen to intersect in the creative evolution of a single artist and where consistently, separately observed in a variety of artistic trends. West European writers choosing the third, philosophicmythical alternative expressed, on the one hand, utter despair in the first, which turned to the bedrock structures of rudimentary interpersonal relations and their attendant value coordinates, and on the other, a decided rejection of the bourgeois rationalisation and modernisation, which, they' were convinced, destroyed both elemental structures and their value systems. It was no accident that the philosophic-mythical alternative was first chosen where the bourgeois demystification of all human bonds was particularly advanced and the traditional value system apparently eradicated so that myth-making could be seen as wholesale moral reassessment. Western writers and artists were drawn to the philosophic-mythical alternative for having sensed the dead-end bourgeois rationality had driven their culture into, as well as a mounting thirst to breakthrough into a new cultural dimension founded on the new myth.

Paradoxically enough, the intellectual art born of the convergence of the artistic and philosophic modes of apprehension (in the perceptive and creative senses) rests on the gravitating towards the non- and the anti-intellectual which enabled it to withstand the bourgeois rationalisation of the world, interpersonal relations and consciousness. It was only natural, in this light, that Thomas Mann, patriarch of intellectual Romanticism in the twentieth century, should have turned to the German Romantics in tracing its historical and cultural roots: the Romantics were indeed the first, in the culture of the new age, to see philosophy as a basic tool in the seeking and making of a myth lent objectively, commonly accessible form by art and literature. Those of their novels built on the presumption stand as prototypes to modern intellectual prose, where the key to comprehension is knowing the author's philosophic myth of the moment.

Even the German Romantics, anything but averse, in the main, to philosophy, embodied the ambivalence of artistic and metaphysical impulses noted by Mann in the intellectual novel of our century; even then, art strained towards metaphysics, and metaphysics towards art. The next, and in many respects critical step was taken by Nietzsche, termed in the above-mentioned essay by Mann a philosophic lyricist. He adopted the philosophy of Schopenhauer (via Wagner) to rediscover and reinterpret Greek myth in accordance with the European mood of the second half of the nineteenth century. This indeed imparted to his own, violently anti-rationalistic speculation a note of rhapsody and poetry, the attempt to create in the true spirit, from the very heart and, in a certain sense, in collaboration with ancient myth. Judging by the unfinished and posthumously published 'Urfragen', Spengler too conceived of his own work as art in the true spirit of myth, if not myth-making.

Nietzsche on the spirit and significance of Nietzsche notwithstanding, his contribution to bourgeois Western culture had little to do with unearthing the essence of ancient myth. He who traced the birth of tragedy to the spirit of Music was to influence Western art primarily through a new concept of man drawn from his (idiosyncratic) reading of Schopenhauer; to it he owed the new vision of myth he then adapted, circling back to his source, in support and substantiation. Contrary to Nietzsche again, philosophy (one's concept of man) neither follows nor proceeds from but rather anticipates myth, though it did in this case promote a reinterpretation of the myth closest in spirit, promptly enlisted to reinforce its own underpinnings! Content in the Nietzschean myth, in other words, was no longer ``naturally-formed'' but artificial, mediated through philosophic reflection, whatever its self-perception, and thus no different in this aspect from any other product of all-encompassing bourgeois rationalisation–though more of a negative than positive product at that.

Several questions crucial to the following chapters may now be set forth: why is art traditionally attracted to myth? where does the concept of man fit in the philosophic edifice? which of its variants best fulfils the inner needs of art? what changes were introduced by the art-philosophy convergence?

The first question was answered above: the 'mythologems' derived by the art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from various philosophical constructs (of a predominantly Nietzschean-poetic cast) reveal that art required above all else a specific concept of man duly sought in myth then, as in the demythologising age (affecting last of all the Christian myth as well), when it turned to philosophies of a more or less openly myth-making bent.

No single work of art–and this includes the multivolume novel–can present a whole concept of man; it, and the reader or viewer, is limited to a fragmentary glimpse. Were it even theoretically possible, there is no guaranteeing the public's proper comprehension; quite the contrary: the more original the concept of man set forth by the writer or artist, the less chance he has of being either understood or even faithfully read.

Hence the paradox: if the writer wishes first to produce and then to make contact with his public, he must base his work on a concept of man pre-established in some other context. It is in seeking to resolve this paradox, then, that literature approaches the philosophy which offers a concept of man expounded in the mythologising terms most intelligible to writer and to his public as well. This, not some primordial attachment to the irrational, is what drives the art faced with a "dead God" (or wholesale demythologisation of the mythic consciousness of tradition) to the West's mythologising schools, if not the mythologising brand of philosophy in general.

When still alive (or at least accepted by the majority of the public to whonv art and literature were addressed), when still imparting to the individual, in its myriad ways, a well-defined concept of man oriented on a single, integral centre, 11 myth considerably lightened the artist's load. The artist could bury himself, so to speak, in pure technique to embody in stone, metal, word or sound a fragmentary image borrowed from the mythological whole, from myth as the universal work of art. He was well aware of the place his particular fragment occupied in art's macrocosmos of myth and fairly well convinced (or well enough to dispense with any special speculative effort of his own) that his client, the public at large, shared precisely his point of view. His sole concern was to do his job well, faithfully reproduce the image (or fragmentary system of images) of the myth lodged in his imagination, and leave all else to that same living entity, to the mythologising ethos of his people and the sudden light it shed to make his fragment a whole complete in and sufficient unto itself.

Far more complex was the task of the artist working in the twilight of the gods heralded by Wagner. Picture a sculpture (termed fragment above) of antiquity torn from its niche of ancient myth (or rather today's `memory' of the same) and set, naked and dead, against an empty museum wall; dismiss all associations lingering in the modern consciousness and what is the–hypothetical, mind you–result? Detached from its immanent, intimate relation with the living whole of Greek myth, this professionally chiselled piece of marble will evoke no profound emotion apart from those stimulated by reference to other studies in the nude. It will simply remain a fragment hinting at some unknown whole, this, art's most popular, most generally accessible subject, beauty incarnated in the human form. What, then, is to become of twentieth-century art, Avith its far more esoteric themes?

The cultural function assigned philosophic concepts of man, their substituting for traditional mythology and religion, suggests something more than a purely philosophic nature. They are to come of the vital but not quite legal marriage of art and philosophy, be born of philosophy and raised by art, which retains all rights of parenthood. To inherit, from philosophy, its eternal passion for the "accursed questions" (Spengler's 'Urfragen' or primary questions), and from art, the urge to translate them, without delay, into the language of life as it is lived, with all its mundane conflict and drama. In this dichotomy lies the power and allure of the concept of man which has more to say to those innocent of metaphysical nuance, far more than speculation on other, more abstract themes. The ambiguity–inevitable when the language of philosophy, with its strict monosemantics, blends into the metaphorical polysemantics of art and all its modulations–contains as well the hazardous philosophic mythologem. As rich in meaning as myth, the mythologem nonetheless forfeits all claim to universal significance, due to the abundance of competition, especially in today's Western consciousness. It can play an equally ambivalent role in art, as indispensable, in the face of rampant demythologisation–that of anchor of salvation or a phantom, lethal illusion.

Once appreciated as vitally important to literature and art, the mythologems engendered by philosophic interpretation of the cursed questions of human existence cannot help but produce writers and artists of a philosophic bent (semi-, non- or completely professional, as the case may be); ultimately, the philosopher-novelist, or novelist-philosopher typifies literary and artistic life in the West (cf. Sartre and Iris Murdoch). The superficiality which dogged non-metaphysical art and literature in the reign of positivism and scientism had, by the middle of the twentieth century, yielded all too clearly to philosophism, which threatened to swallow the creative element entirely, to turn works of art into philosophic puzzles for the critic to unravel, armed with the collected works of Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger and Jung.

Thomas Mann, in the essay on Spengler cited above, registered a process of immense prospect and equally immense hidden dimensions, which lent it particular weight, if not symbolic significance in Western culture of the twentieth century. A fundamentally dual process, as noted above, it includes to this very day the proliferation, on the one hand, of the philosophic novel, tale and drama (cf. Mann's 'Doctor Faustus, Joseph and His Brothers, Lotte in Weimar' and others, Camus and Simone de Beauvoir in prose, Marcel and Sartre in drama, lonesco and Beckett in the dramatic allegory, and so on), and on the other, of philosophic studies in the intellectual-novel key ( Horkheimer and Adorno's 'Dialektik der Aufklarung', Adorno's ' Philosophic der nenen Musik', Fromm's 'Escape from Freedom' and other works, Marcuse's 'Eros and Civilisation' and ' OneDimensional Man', Reisman's 'The Lonely Crowd', Reich's 'The Greening of America', Brown's 'Life Against Death' and finally Roszack's 'The Making of a Counter-Culture)'.

Over a century's experience in the development of Western intellectual letters would indicate that the inevitable marriage of philosophy and art was of less than equal benefit to both parties. Specifically, philosophy would seem to have got "the short end of the stick". Having lost its traditional turn for strict definition in adopting arts as the higher mode of apprehension, having absorbed the irony and playfulness of art, philosophy nonetheless retains all pretensions to full, contemplative weight, to the status of ersatz religion for a sceptic public no longer willing to accept the religious concept of man; ironically aware of its own optional nature, it offers itself as a substitute for the faith which knows no doubt. Hostile in its radical and extremist offshoots to the Protestant spirit of seriousness, it nonetheless presents itself as a platform of revolutionary, if not to say immediate or non-reflective transformation.

Does this not account for the precedence assumed, among the philosophic concepts of man dominant in Spengler's day and resurrected in the 1950s and 1960s, by the historicist, vulgar-sociologistic and Feudian postulates? It was Freudian psycho-analysis, moreover, which supplied the psychological devices used to this day by the Western scepticism defined in 'The Decline of the West'. The aesthetisation and the relativisation of philosophy, its sceptical fascination with the relativity of all human values and ideals, have proven to be parallel developments or, more to the point, alternative aspects of one and the same process: the rapprochement and ultimate fusion of the philosophic and artistic perspectives on man and his world at a time when, to quote Marx, nothing is recognised as '"superior in itself', justified in and of itself".12 For this reason, the mythologems generated by various philosophic trends to bear upon man and the meaning of his existence are 'ab incipio' stamped by scepticism and relativism. Thus, more or less set definitions of man, his vocation, his relation to- good and evil, are replaced by a play-construct prolonging the glass-bead game 'ad infinitum' to pick, through all the various historically existent (ai?'l historically exhausted) explanations.

Art, in turn, looks to the mythologems of philosophy for more or less concrete pronouncements on human nature and is cruelly, irrevocably disappointed, doomed to pursue its ironic, playful bent to an unhindered end. Absolute values are no longer maintained; instead, the very concept is endlessly and exhaustively discussed. The writer refuses to uphold any categorical or even decisive commitment, hedging or ironically distancing his every thesis–given the opportunity to distribute his innumerable vacillations between ``yes'' and ``no'', or the various characters of the novel, tale or drama thereby lent a special metaphysical depth (cf. Murdoch's 'The Black Prince)'.

For the culture which lost faith in itself (to the extent its absolutes and truths no longer seem either absolute or true), which forgot that its sense derives from reality, from something higher and more meaningful than itself, the new leftist movement of the 1960s was an act of retribution, much like the many anti-culture waves (such as Fascism) visited upon this twentieth century of ours. Based, as all revenge, on a real offense and implemented by a specific, identifiable entity, the anti-culture wave of the 1960s was both inevitable (its grounds and justification) and glaringly unjust: it did not attack the real flaws of Western culture but culture in general, the very principle of spiritual '(geistige)' endeavour. Notably, in this context, the pogrom the New Leftists unleashed on the culture of the elite on slogans borrowed from the mass culture of the bourgeoisie (based on a simultaneous envy and hatred for all things select) proved in the long run to be a more extension of the bourgeois rationalisation of consciousness whose ultimate goal is to manufacture (!), on scientific, technological and mass lines, an entire cultural outlook.

Curiously enough, this class war on culture (as the New Left saw their nihilistic assault on what they called the bourgeoisie's last stronghold) was mounted by vulgar sociologism working hand in glove with structuralism. The alliance, founded on an unbridled reductionism, spawned a notion popular at the turn of the 1960s that the novel–the genre as a whole, and not just the intellectual variant (hopelessly entangled, by that point, in the convolutions of the glass-bead game)–was dead. And the slogan, "Down with the Novel", which so shocked the reading public, was but the herald of greater shocks in store. It was all too soon replaced by the still more radical, more brutal "Down with Literature" as bourgeois to its very core (as related, that is, to idealistic vs. material production). Before the unfortunate reading man could adjust to a concept which released him from all obligation to open any book whatsoever (lest he remodel himself in the bourgeois spirit) but left him. the right to 'hear' any text broadcast through the mass communication channels of radio and television–before he could adjust, there came the final blow. The structuralists of the Tel Quel group came to the ``scientific'' conclusion that words themselves were ideologically loaded and hence bourgeois. In the interests of the cultural revolution, the word was ordered to acquire substance, preferably stoney, for hurling at the class enemy. Enticing, to say the least.

The greatest paradox, however, is that this rather primitive (and less than morally attractive) flirting with the destruction of the novel, of literature in general and ultimately of the word as the vehicle of cultural content, should have rested on a specific concept of man–that ever-present factor. While the concept in turn took as its fundamental postulate the reification '(Verdinglichung)' of man, his conversion into a thing among others no less thingish, whereby all definitions of sense or spirit are reduced to a corrosive mould (facilitating the natural "man-thing`s'' transformation into the consummate bourgeois idealist-individualist bound by all manner of ideological taboo). Hence the inevitable thoroughly ``revolutionary'' idea that man was doomed to dissolve into the faceless mass, lose all individual (read "individualistic, bourgeois") features and discard at last all that stood between him and that most magnificent of all things, the machine.

Nevertheless, this deplorable if enlightening upshot of twentienth-century mythopoesis exposed its most sacred secret: its scepticism and relativism was based on identifying philosophic myth and practical activity, the human and the objective sense of reality, one's perspective on and the substance behind man's relation to nature and to his fellow man. It is this primary identification of being and consciousness which drives Western philosophers and artists working in the intellectual stream to the sin, either of pride–in ascribing to myth absolute power over reality–or, alternatively, of despair–upon watching their mythological constructs, universally recognised only just yesterday, fold like so many houses of cards, never to be recalled. Having failed in their failing attempt to pluck God by the beard, they immediately conclude he is dead, which is to say, deny the existence of objective reality for some sort of projection on the public consciousness of subjective, mutually exclusive myths.

As philosophical myths arise and are one after the other cast down or feverishly varied to reveal a derivative nature, the opposite effect is achieved: objective reality is shown to exist in the laws governing nature and society, as a ``resilience'' sensed day in, day out and willy-nilly coped with. Grim reality dictates the forms and modes of practical consciousness and conduct, and thwarts all would-be transgressors or subjective ``exorcists'' of societal life in the spirit of philosophic mythology. The historical process of establishing social mores, which overrides any and all mythologems in its path, appeals, not to the mythologising view (destined, according to Nietzsche, to yield to the realisation that "there is no truth") but rather to the true perception of the world. Its perception, in other words, as objective reality, as opposed to myth or spirit, as the necessary product of the past as given, the present as moulded and the future as neither manufactured myth nor ideal but rather the objective outgrowth of human effort, which expands its historical horizons in concrete activity to generate a wealth of truth-bearing and morasse of false-breeding ideal reflections in the mind of man.

PART ONE: From 'The decline of the West' to 'The last utopia'


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the dawn of the New Left movement, the death of man was widely debated in the West, quite the rage in intellectual circles and the subject of a curious rivalry in the development of a startling idea.

Jean-Marie Domenach, a leading figure in contemporary bourgeois personalism, notes among its first participants in the arts such prominent avant-gardists as Beckett, lonesco and Robbe-Grillet; they not only stood witness to the annihilation of man and the entire human principle but sought to affirm it as the starting point in a creative quest and so became its willing or unwilling apologists.13

In philosophy, says Domenach, focusing chiefly on the French schools, the "death of man" concept, with its all too obvious leanings towards the provocative slogan, was supported by: Levi-Strauss and the "ethnological savage" he adapted to deny humanism and its ideals; Foucault, whose 'Les Mots et les choses' (1966) eliminated the human principle as ruthlessly as 'Histoire de la folie' had the distinction between reason and insanity; Althusser, who claimed Marxist thought amounted to "theoretical antihumanism"; and the neo-Freudian Jean Lacan.

In the political sphere, Domenach continues, the death of man becomes the individual's ecstatic dissolution in the act of Mutiny as represented by the Gauchist students later to spawn left extremism 'a la anarchiste, maoiste' and 'neotrotskiste'. The common denominator divvying all these movements into the clear coinage of mass consciousness Domenach identifies as "the barbarism of the counter-culture", today's version, in the West, of the youth sub-culture (that subdivision of the mass culture founded on the idols of the young).

All these figures, representing, over the past fifteen to twenty years, the entire gamut of French if not to say Western culture as a whole, are seen by Domenach as intimately connected, testimony to the anything but fortuitous nature of what he terms a veritable ``epidemic''. lonesco and Beckett, those absurdists in theory as well as practice, who cannot be said with any certainty either to bemoan the "degree zero" of humanity they themselves proclaimed, to arouse their contemporaries to withstand its dehumanising trend or, instead, accept it as the sole possible and hence unassailable verdict of history, are deemed the forefathers of modern anti-humanism.14

The New Wave of anti-humanism, Domenach maintains, was directly heralded by a writer for whom the death of man was neither one of several alternatives nor something to be mourned as before but simply stated as a fact destined to launch all further cultural development–by the famous French neo-avant-gardist, Alain Robbe-Grillet. His criticism, in 1958, of the humanistic survivals in French existentialism is considered significant, if somewhat in the infamous spirit of Herostratus.

Beckett, lonesco and Robbe-Grillet are then regarded as the practical forerunners, in art, of Levi-Strauss, Foucault and Lacan in the theoretical sphere of philosophy. France's leading personalist stresses that the 'nouveau roman' in which Robbe-Grillet and his school eliminated not only the individual, but time and history altogether, may well be considered the prototype, long anticipated in literature, of the then-emergent structuralism.

Christian humanism's most prominent exponent sees all these philosophers as participating in the concerted attack on humanism mounted, in French and other cultures over the past fifteen years, under the ``death-of-man'' banner. Well remembering the nightmare of Fascist barbarism, Domenach rightly calls the slogan provocative. He is particularly alarmed that the harbingers of anti-humanism should have been culture's most refined spokesmen thus converted to its fiercest opponents, that the about-face, moreover, should have met with such widespread enthusiasm in intellectual and academic circles. The convoluted argument presented by the structuralists and neo-Freudists to defend the death-of-man concept lent a pseudo-scientific form to the anti-culture revival; the younger generation took it as theoretical grounds for a revolt against culture 'per se', a nobly justified revolt linking its under-educated participants to the intellectual elite. In short, anti-humanists and anticulturalists are seen to form, in theory and practice alike, a fairly broad front, ensuring the support of the still broader bourgeois intelligentsia.

This would seem to indicate the importance, the immediate need for a critical analysis of the philosophical, literary, aesthetic and sociological questions currently raised in the West on the death-of-man issue. The problem is clearly more than academic, for how the West has judged the human predicament has all too often prompted conduct in kind: preaching the death of man is one short, unavoidable step to attempting, at least, to practise it. It becomes painfully evident that thought is much closer to action than was once supposed. Thought has become, in this day and age, legally accountable–that is our basic premise in studying, below, the supersedence of man, as a symptom and, moreover, catalyst of the crises now affecting bourgeois culture.

We shall therefore focus not only on the pessimistic prognoses for the individual identity so prevalent these days in the West, but as well on the place of each in a specific concept of man.

This is not the first time the "death of man" has dominated bourgeois thinking. The 1960s Domenach finds so stunning were simply more determined to match theory to practice, to make the idea central not only to philosophy and the arts, but political action as well, in the case of the extremists on the New Left. The West has been debating the "death of man" ever since Nietzsche called for his ' Uberwindung' in priming the soil for 'Ubermensch' to come.15 Books on philosophy, journals on literature and the arts will not, in the capitalist West, drop the subject, which occasionally spills over into newsprint, onto the stage and even screen.

All is symptomatic here: from where and through whose offices the notion arose to where it spread and is topical still. Indeed, the sudden obsession that one has lost all human features and might do well to take active part in iinishing them off altogether, speaks ill of the person obsessed. That many of those supposed to promote Nekrasov's "the good, the wise and the eternal" should come to see themselves as humanly obsolete and harp on the fact for a hundred years, would point to trouble, not just with the individual, but with his society and culture as a whole. Obviously, the crisis strikes at the very root (the human element) of society, signalled (and triggered!) by a diseased social ethos.

No wonder, then, but significantly if not ominously, the first thinker to insist, in the West, that man in his present cultural, anthropological type must be superseded, soon slipped, literally, into the dark night of unreason.

Western culture was therefore fated, as free-market capitalism shifted into state-monopoly capitalism, to see the notion which signalled and catalysed the fall of consciousness in the author of 'Zarathustra' capture its most prominent minds and, ultimately (in the 1950s), obsess an entire generation of artists and thinkers.

To be sure, not all who ponder the end of Western man reach Nietzsche's categorical conclusion that '"der Mensch ist Etwas, das überwunden werden muss' [man is something to be surmounted]".16 Not all have chosen to follow the lead of a thinker euphoric in the loss of his reason and identity to call upon man to "sacrifice himself to the earth so that it may one day bear the Superman".17 Not all have found the ecstasy-minded philosopher's courage to exhort the individual to perish in sacrifice, as he longs for death, as, moreover, the death wish is his highest virtue.18 For not all thinkers to have convinced themselves, in the age of slate-monopoly capitalism, of the death of man were able to view the prospect with any degree of rapture. Some were desperate, others–sceptically resigned, still others–- adamantly opposed. Despite this variety of response, West European artists and philosophers were, in the main, inclined to accept its grim necessity in ever-increasing numbers.

The cultural and historical significance of this mood found striking expression in the post-revolutionary work of Alexander Blok. He reduced its despairing, ecstatic and hostile outcries to their common denominator, glimpsed in the ``crisis'', if not collapse of humanism, as the individualistic (i.e. bourgeois) culture and outlook.

``By 'humanism"' he wrote, "we commonly mean that powerful movement which swept through Italy and then all of Europe at the close of the Middle Ages under the banner of 'man' or the untrammeled individual. Thus, the basic, the primary mark of humanism is 'individualism.''19 "The movement sprung from and aimed at the individual was able to expand as long as the individual was the prime mover of European culture. We know the first humanists, the fathers of independent science, secular philosophy, literature, art and education to have felt unabashed contempt for the coarse and ignorant rabble. Blameworthy from the Christian standpoint, they were nonetheless true to the spirit of music since the masses were not, at the time, a moving force in culture, nor was their voice, in the chorus of world history, dominant. Yet when a new force–that of the mass, not the individual–emerged in the theatre of European history, humanism quite naturally came to a crisis.''20

The situation, which by the turn of the century West European cultural and philosophical thought had only begun to appreciate (in varying degrees), was for the Marxist neither desperate nor unexpected. The issues evoked by Blok's pregnant, foreboding "collapse of humanism" were never so morbidly or belligerently flogged in Marxism as was typically the case in the cultural philosophy of West. Marx and Engels never failed to stress either the antagonism embedded in the very principles of Renaissance humanism or the dramatic conflicts it was bound to (and did) produce when effected in the capitalist context. That the Renaissance was a most complex phenomenon is evident in simply listing the historical figures it, and its humanistic offshoot, is associated with in the European consciousness, to wit; Dante and Machiavelli, Petrarch and Clement VI, Boccaccio and Piccolomini, Titian and Cesare Borgia, Botticelli and Lorenzo Medici (the Magnificent), Melanchthon and Ulrich von Hutten, Erasmus and Luther, Raphael and Benvenuto Cellini, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Savonarola and Thomas More.

In describing a mere one of its stages, the so-called High Renaissance, Engels noted that none of the terms then applied–Quinquicento in Italian, Renaissance proper in French, and the Reformation in German–is adequate. Each merely reflects and abstracts a single aspect of this "momentous era". Those who left their mark, he wrote, "had anything but bourgeois limitations", which did not, however, prevent their establishing "the modern rule of the bourgeoisie" as opposed to any other class.21 They "were not yet in thrall to the division of labour... Hence the fullness and force of character that makes them complete men".22 But these are only formal traits, devoid as yet of content, of 'direction', for strength and fullness were equally apparent in Medici, Machiavelli and Leonardo. Typical of the Renaissance man as a whole was a certain adventurism which, like his freely moving from one pursuit to another, like his Conquistador and experimentative spirits was indelicately indifferent to the choice of means, especially when attaining a coveted end. And the ends, if only in the three instances above, were by no means identical or uniformly sublime.

Admittedly, ethics were 'not' the Renaissance's strongest point: in tackling Christian morality, its advocates were often inclined to throw out the baby with the bathwater, to substitute Beauty for the Good, and aesthetics for ethics outright. As Marx, however, pointed out, the moralism they attacked was anything but upheld hy the Popes and their cardinals: "Clement VI was enslaved to his mistress, the Vicomtesse de Turenne, his home in Avignon–Babylon's chief brothel, the `ideal' Petrarch notwithstanding"23; " enthusiasm for the grandeur of ancient Rome (and the writers of antiquity)" revived "at a time when the Eternal City had become a den of iniquity".24 Public morals were in no better state during the next Classical revival: clearly, the Renaissance development of consciousness was 'not' concerned with a stronger moral order, certainly not among those most closely associated with humanism.

No less contradictory is the Renaissance's social face. While noting that the period saw humankind's "greatest progressive revolution"25 to date, Engels reveals the other side of the coin: "the first phase of bourgeois enlightenment, the humanism of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries later turned into Catholic Jesuitry".26 Moreover, he finds nothing extraordinary in the development. "This transformation," he continues, "this about-face culminating in the direct antithesis of its starting-point, is the natural inevitable outcome of all historical movements where the participants have only the vaguest notion of the underlying causes and conditions and therefore set wholly chimerical goals. The 'irony of history' works in its own relentless adjustments.''27 It was this aspect which particularly interested the founder of Italy's Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci, in his famous 'Quaderni del carcere' ( Prison Notebooks).

Gramsci asked why the Renaissance should have stepped so casually into the Counter-Reformation,28 why "a movement founded on humanism should have grown into the Counter-Reformation".29 He stressed in reply that the Renaissance witnessed "humanism's break with the national life" of an Italy "launched with the close of the tenth century", to make of humanism "a progressive process for the culturally `cosmopolitan' classes, and a regressive step in Italian history".30 The social advance then begun and lent enormous significance by the urban communes, "fell into decline together with humanism and the Renaissance, as regressive movements in Italy, whereas crowned throughout the rest of Europe in national states and the world-wide expansion of Spain, France, England and Portugal".31 Accordingly, the Renaissance gave birth to a "new intellectual class", which in Italy's case split instantly into two vastly different groups with vastly different cultural-historical roles.

``The Renaissance," in Gramsci's view, "may be taken as the cultural expression of a historical process which produced in Italy a new intellectual class of European significance and composed of two sub-groups, the first performing within its borders a cosmopolitan function as associated with the Papacy and thereby reactionary, the second formed of political and ecclesiastical exiles abroad and either performing a progressive cosmopolitan function each in his country of settlement or helping establish modern states as the technical element in the military, political, engineering and other spheres.''32 To this sociological factor he links the "revival of Latin as the language of the intelligentsia entirely distinct from the vernacular", as well as humanism and "the Renaissance in its cultural aspect", with the latter said to have quashed "Italy's spontaneous Renaissance proper, dated to the end of the tenth century and culminated in Toscana".33

The ``spontaneous'' Renaissance he sees as diametrically opposed to its ``cosmopolitan'' offshoot, in "the emergence of a national idiom" attractive to culture (or its most prominent agents) and indicative "not so much of a harking back to as a total break with antiquity".34 "Does this not point," he adds, "to the clash of two outlooks–the bourgeois-popular set forth in the vernacular and the feudal-aristocratic expressed in Latin and oriented on ancient Rome, to this, and not the creation of culture triumphant as the definitive factor of the Renaissance as a whole?''35

In short, the ethical, cultural-historical and class approaches all show the Renaissance to have been a highly discordant, conflict-riddled phenomenon, open as such to a variety of discrepant if not mutually exclusive readings. This indeed accounts for the inspiration the movement (and its humanistic branch) is generally known to have given poetry and, in the theoretical sphere, a broad range of ethically and socio-politically incompatible artistic and philosophic endeavours. To attempt to list its every effect on modern Western culture would be sheer folly. The present study focuses instead on a single, specific line of impact.

This, in its sociological and socio-psychological aspect, involves both individualism and aristocratism, the latter made peculiarly elitist by the combination. The line itself was revealed in Jacob Burckhardt's 'Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien', the first study in a "voluminous literature particularly widespread in the North, on the artists and 'condotierri' of the Renaissance, a literature proclaiming the individual's right to a fine and heroic life, to freedom of action irrespective of moral bounds, [a literature) . . . incarnating the Renaissance in Sigismondo Malatesta, in Cesare Borgia, Leo X, in Aretino, with Machiavelli as its theorist and Michelangelo its lone wolf," and represented in Italy by D'Annunzio,36 that philosopher of Fascism and the avant-garde to boot.

That it was inherent to the Renaissance and Renaissance humanism is confirmed by the many historical and cultural studies of the era. Corroboration is found in the West European cultural tradition which, in continually re-thinking from German Romantic times its relation to the Renaissance and humanism, deals continually in motifs connected with this and no other facet of the period's ethos. Finally, and most importantly, its evolution (of significance to modern Western culture) is given theoretical proof in the Marxist dialectical analysis of the tragic contradictions affecting the Renaissance principle of 'personal independence', taken to mean the absolute freedom of the individual.

The principle, fixed in the West European consciousness by Renaissance humanism as its inspirational ideal, could according to Marx not be effected without ``reifying'' all human contact under the commodity-money system. It concerns the historical process whereby the personal dependencies characteristic of traditional societies, with their natural interpersonal relations, dependencies '(personliche Abhangigkeitsverhaltnisse)' attached to a specific individual (family head, spouse, blood relative, suzerain, priest and so on), are transformed into the material dependency '(sachliche Abhangigkeit)' of bourgeois society, with its chaotically formed commodity-money structures, on the anonymous, universal object of money.37

The further the transformation progressed, the more obviously contradictory was the Renaissance principle subsiding on the very negation of its own original premises. For the Renaissance man strove to assert his 'individuality via relations' that excluded all personal elements for the impersonal and material. Ultimately the individual was obliged to assert himself in an abstract world and manner; as Marx put it: '"material' as opposed to 'personal' tendencies operate such . . . that individuals are now dominated by 'abstractions' where once they depended one upon the other".38

For the Renaissance individual determined to develop his unique talents, the commodity-money relations were both a liberating and a limiting force. The Renaissance goal of all-round development (incorporated, if radically altered, by the Communist ideal), said Marx, could only be attained, in the capitalist context, as its opposite : "The total development of the inner essence of man is his total reduction, . . . the universal process of reification '( Vergegenstandlichung)' becomes his total alienation, while the setting aside of all specific, one-sided ends introduces an end-in-itself into sacrifices made for wholly external ends.''39

The tendency becomes more pronounced as capitalism enters the monopolistic and state-monopolistic phase (now in decline), analysed in all its political, economic and social aspects in Lenin's 'Imperialism, the Highest Stage of 'Capitalism'. Under the monopolistic and state-monopolistic system, all interpersonal ties are ``reified'' at a hundred times the intensity seen with the old commodity-money relations. Whereas ``liberal'' capitalism at least left the individual infinite though illusory political and economic elbow-room, the illusion dissolves before the surfacing, in social life, of the undisguised, or virtually undisguised conflict of class or group political and economic interests, which reduced all personal initiative and private risk to the negligible, comic remains of an irretrievable past. Competition among legally competent persons on the capitalist market, as well as their battle for prestige at Vanity Fair, is supplanted by bloodless if subvert and bloody if not, warring among corporations, monopolies, trusts and political blocs. Personal virtues are credited if backed by more or less significant (group) economic, political and other interests, and considered without consumer or exchange value if not.

This is a crucial factor in the crisis of individualism bruited about ever since the dawn of the twentieth century, ever since Nietzscheanism became fashionable among the "many, the too many" scorned in 'Zarathustra'. That indeed marked a turning point in Western culture, as processes vital to the fate of mankind were at long last recognised, not only by philosophers and sociologists, but as well by students of aesthetics, art and literature. Because the processes were to mature and spread throughout the imperialist period, the crisis of individualism was long to be discussed with utter resignation and a complete lack of faith in man.

Significantly, the Nietzschean tradition, which from its very inception so shrilly proclaimed the Crisis of Man, had by the first decades of this century taken two approaches to its own "accursed questions", the first represented by the mature Max Weber, whom Karl Jaspers, founder of the most liberal humanistic school of existentialism, hailed as his mentor. The second was advanced by Oswald Spengler in 'The Decline of the West'. Since both approaches have influenced aesthetic theory and artistic practice throughout the past hundred years, they would seem an appropriate starting point in the present discussion.

  • 1. Full English title: The October Revolution and the Arts, Artistic Quest of the 20th Century: Tolstoi, Blok, Mayakovsky, Eisenstein. 351 pp. Progress publishers, 1967. Iurii Nikolaevich Davydov
  • 2. Thomas Mann, "Uber die Lehre Spenglers", 'Gesammelte Werke', Band X (Reden und Aufsatze), Frankfurt am Main, 1974, S. 173-174.
  • 3. K. Marx and F. Engels, 'Collected Works', vol. 6, pp. 486-487.
  • 4. Karl Marx, 'Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Okonomie (Rohentwurf) 1857-1858', Verlag für fremdsprachige Literatur, Moskau, 1939, S. 313.
  • 5. K. Marx and F. Engels, 'Pre-Capitalist Socio-Economic Relations', Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1979, p. 99.
  • 6. Karl Marx, 'Grundrisse,..', S. 30. 14
  • 7. K. Marx and F. Engels, 'Selected Works' in three volumes, vol. 2, p. 18.
  • 8. Auguste Comte, 'Cours de philosophie positive', t. VI, Paris, 1894, p. 832.
  • 9. Ibid., p. 834.
  • 10. Ibid., pp. 834-835
  • 11. I.e., single value coordinate system.
  • 12. K, Marx and F. Engels, 'Collected Works', vol. 6, pp. 486-487.
  • 13. See J.-M. Domenach, "The Attack on Humanism in Contemporary Culture", 'Concilium', vol. 6, June 1973, No. 9, pp. 17-28.
  • 14. Its more remote forebears Domenach identifies as the early Picasso, Ernst, Chirico and other artists who fixed the death of man on canvas. Mentioned in this connection as well is Antonin Artaud, instigator of the Theatre of Cruelty, and the advocates of the unconscious among the surrealists.
  • 15. Cf. Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Also sprach Zarathustra', Leipzig, 1910, S. 16, 52, 291.
  • 16. Ibid, S. 16.
  • 17. Ibid. 30
  • 18. Ibid., S. 17.
  • 19. Alexander Blok, 'Collected Works', vol. 6, Moscow-Leningrad, 1962, p. 93 (Russ. ed.).
  • 20. Ibid., p. 94.
  • 21. F. Engels, 'Dialectics of Nature', Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1974, p. 21.
  • 22. Ibid., p. 22.
  • 23. K. Marx, Chronological Notes. 'Arkhivy Marksa i Engelsa', vol. VI, p. 40.
  • 24. Ibid., p. 35.
  • 25. F. Engels, 'Dialectics of Nature', p. 21.
  • 26. K. Marx, P. Engels, 'Werke', Bd. 22, S. 21.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Antonio Gramsci, 'Op ere', 4: II Risorgimento, Rome, 1954, p. 23.
  • 29. Ibid., p. 27.
  • 30. Antonio Gramsci, 'Opere', 4, p. 15.
  • 31. Ibid., p. 12.
  • 32. Ibid., p. 15.
  • 33. Ibid., p. 16.
  • 34. Ibid, p. 20.
  • 35. Ibid., p. 21.
  • 36. Ibid., p. 13.
  • 37. Cf. K. Marx, 'Grtmdrisse.. .', S. 75.
  • 38. Ibid., S. 81-82
  • 39. Ibid., S. 387.

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Feb 25 2017 16:57


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