Francisco García Chicote

The Concept of Märchen in György Lukács’s Early Work[1]


Abstract. The article examines György Lukács’s early works from the perspective of his concept of Märchen. It thus sheds light upon a somewhat underexplored – but nonetheless crucial – aspect of the young philosopher’s work: his attempt to overcome the strict dualism in which the emerging German sociological thought was rooted, and to intellectually prove the possibility of a dignified human existence. Such an attempt does not only confront the concepts of Märchen and tragedy in Lukács’ early conceptualization of literary genres, it also turns the former into a sort of “touchstone” in the search of forms of literature that assume a dialectically conditioned relationship between subject and object, and, furthermore, into an adequate means for a revolutionary pedagogy.

Keywords: Western Marxism; Theory of Literary Genres; Critique of Culture.

 1. Introduction
Lukács’s reflections upon the Märchen[2] in his early essays seem to be exiguous, ambiguous, diffuse and even contradictory. Due to this, probably, the theme has received little critical attention. However, Miguel Vedda (2011 and 2015) and Gábor Gángó (2014) have noticed its relevance in their studies about the young philosopher’s development and about the status of the Märchen among the German intellectuals within “Western Marxism”. Vedda and Gángó have placed Lukács’s considerations about the genre within the philosopher’s attempts to overcome the tragic nature that characterises part of his productions. They have also directed our attention to the role performed by the Märchen in the educational policies during the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic –whose People’s Commissary for Education and Culture was in charge of Lukács– and to its affinities with later theorisations, present in Walter Benjamin’s, Siegfried Kracauer’s and Ernst Bloch’s work. Concerning these two last aspects, Gángó (2014: 55-6) states that Lukács and the left-wing German intellectuals’ “starting point and objective […] was to develop, through the Märchen, the utopia departing from the principles of pre-scientific societies”.

As Vedda points out (2015: 63), Lukács’s early definition of Märchen is also said to anticipate, to a certain extent, some elements of the philosopher’s late development. From the celebration of everyday life implied by the poetics of this genre, a principle can be deduced that may perform “a crucial function in his mature aesthetics: great works of art present the world not as a hostile and alienated reality, but as the result of a dialectical interaction, in which human beings’ acts of taking up concrete positions play an essential role”.[3]

The 2018 recent edition of the first volume of Lukács’s Werke, which collects forgotten documents of his early production, sheds new light on the object Vedda and Gángó have habilitated. On the one hand, these documents reveal more concrete characterisations of the notion of Märchen within Lukács’s theory of literary genres; on the other hand, they show new connections between this notion and the philosopher’s political, pedagogical and sociological theories, to the point that it becomes relevant to continue the research triggered by the previously mentioned works. The following lines aim at reconstructing the concept of Märchen in Lukács’s work between 1910 and 1919. The scope indicates, at one extreme, the first appearances of the problem, included in the discussion about the possibility of human happiness; at the other, it points at the moment when the Märchen underpins the revolutionary pedagogy of the People’s Commissary for Education and Culture.

In keeping with previous analysis, it will be noticed that the concept of Märchen, despite its evanescent appearance, prompts a radical critique of the bourgeois society. This critique, on the one hand, calls into question the subjectivist dualism with which the incipient Central European sociological thought understands the process of socialisation and, on the other hand, discerns a model of an authentically existential dynamics in the epic genres. In the light of the documents available due to the recent edition of the first volume of Werke, it will be seen, however, that the theoretical power of the concept of Märchen lies in an alleged absolute autonomy of the genre, whose forms are beyond history and society. Given that this conceptualisation does not include mediating aspects with the reality it contests, the reflections upon the Märchen fail to overcome the dubious realm of a subjective “ought” and therefore fall prey to unsolvable internal vacillations. They thus show affinities and parallelisms with the young Hungarian philosopher’s first political theory.

This presentation is divided into four sections. First, it recovers basic features from Lukács’s theory of tragedy as a paradigmatic expression of a dualist and pessimistic worldview. Secondly, it traces the terminological emergence of the Märchen in the elements of the corpus until 1918, in order to reconstruct the concept. Thirdly, it examines Lukács’s only essay, published in 1918, devoted exclusively to understanding the Märchen as a genre. Finally, it analyses the role assigned to the Märchen in the 1919 revolutionary Commissary’s formative projects.

2. Form and Alienation in Young Lukács’s Dualist Worldview
Young Lukács’s interest in the Märchen is rooted in the field of his reflections upon the essence of literary genres and the diverse ways in which they tackle the alienated nature of the bourgeois world. In 1906, Lukács draws upon an ontogenetic theory of the emergence of the arts as a specialisation of the senses and insists on the centrality of the form. When the arts emerged,

[e]ach one gathered all its strengths in one realm, to bring about its impressive and suggestive effect in there, by means of a concentrated intensity of feeling. […] Form was born out of this renouncement. The narrowing down of space, the restriction of the means of expression for the benefit of the intensity of expression: that is form (GLW 1: 64).

Form adopts a restrictive element typical of the medium in which it is developed. At the same time, by virtue of that negation, the diversity of the world is artistically reconfigured in a homogeneous and intensified fashion. As defining features of form, restriction, homogenisation and intensification contrast in an irreconcilable way with the realm of everyday life, precisely because this realm is characterized by the lack of such features, by an unsurmountable indeterminacy. A well-known passage from Soul and Form (1911) defines daily life in terms of a chaotic variation of grey tonalities (Lukács 1974: 152-3). The aesthetic form endows the indeterminacy of day-to-day life with meaning. Each genre has a “principium stilisationis” that offers, however, a tightly determined set of meanings –“something that is viable in one art form is dead in another; here is practical, palpable proof of the inner divorce of forms” (1974: 6)–, placed at an equally determined distance from the structure of the world. To a certain extent, each genre represents, by means of its own restriction, homogenisation and intensification, not only an aspect of the world but rather a certain subject-object relation from where a life conduct (Lebensführung) derives. In 1916, Lukács presents this relation between genre and ethics in the following terms:

The way in which poetry [Dichtung] questions the essence of the human being and its vital meaning lies in that it condenses [verdichten] the confusion –chaotic in itself– between will and sensation, between thought and action, between impression and expression into a substance full of meaning of a real self, of a “soul”. […] And forms differentiate themselves according to the type and degree of substantiality acquired by the soul to be configured in them (GLW 1: 609).

The “degree of substantiality” of the “to-be-configured soul” in each principle of stylisation is proved in the way it solves the irremediable dualism between soul and life. Here Lukács draws upon that worldview which understands modern alienations in terms of an invariable, metaphysically rooted and increasing conflict between “culture” and “civilisation”, between the soul’s formative drive and the hindering means which the soul necessarily creates for itself. This unsolvable contraposition between the concept of subject, considered an ontological prius, and the objective world is part of the bases of the German sociology in the making.[4]

From such a worldview, an abstract subjectivism derives, whose highest degree of substantiality is provided by tragedy. As the dramatic genre par excellence, tragedy asserts the hero’s solitude and allows him to “gloriously fulfill, out of his own strengths exclusively, his own self, a priori and eternally immanent” (GLW 1: 609). On that note, Lukács is said to have framed the presuppositions for an existentialist perspective: “Death here is merely a condition sine qua non”, claims Ferenc Fehér (1980: 246). Given that the most adequate representations of life can end up only in death, our behavior in life must respond to it affirmatively. Consequently, form opposes the world as a metaphysical element: hence its lack of historicity, its idealness, its unequivocally invariable lethal nature. In his essay about the metaphysics of tragedy (1974: 172), Lukács concludes that form is “the highest judge of life: the tragedy which finds expression in history is not completely pure tragedy”. The Neo-Kantianism of this definition is evident: Lukács understands the tragic form as “the form of the form”, the form of the “intelligible self”, “its postulate tightened to the absolute” (1990: 4).

3. The Märchen as an alternative to the dualist conception
Nevertheless, the tragic paradigm is not completely dominant over young Lukács’s essays. György Márkus (1977) has shown that they rather constitute a theoretical exercise in which two contradictory and plausible positions are put to the test –taken to the extreme, essayed–: either history aggravates the unsurmountable problem between the individual and his formations or, on the contrary, such conflict is historical and therefore susceptible to change; either history is tragic or tragedy is historical. The “ideological dilemma” behind these writings may be expressed, according to Márkus, in “whether the actual state of things at the time was an expression of the existential-ontological tragedy of culture or simply an expression of its historical and therefore resovable crisis” (1977: 99). In effect, Lukács develops, almost simultaneously, an opposite concept of artistic form which grants certain exclusivity to historical bases and thus to its social conditioning; in his History of the Development of the Modern Drama, he accordingly considers, for instance, the modern form of drama as an expression of the process of bourgeois rationalisation (GLW 15: 54).

Given this situation, the Märchen secures a tertium datur. In fact, it is set out as a guiding principle in a series of essays that, between 1910 and 1918, call into question the inexorability of human misery, affirm the unitary structure of the world and, at the same time, do not give up to a sociological reduction of the forms.

Lukács and his Hungarian colleagues Anna Lesznai and Béla Balázs have been attending to the problem since 1910. By the end of May that year, in a letter to Lukács with regard to the recently published essay “Aesthetic Culture”, Balázs relates the writing of fairy tales to the assertion, put forward in such essay, about the unity of the world. In “Aesthetic Culture”, Lukács attacks the pillars of the German sociology in the making: he charges with falseness the alleged freedom of the soul, he reveals the frivolous nature of the tragic ethos and advocates a concept of dialectic totality in which the objective pole seems to be of priority (GLW 1: 417-421). In his letter, Balázs, berates him for not having studied in further depth the notion of unity, “symbolised” by the Märchen. Paraphrasing Shakespeare in The Tempest, he adds:

Everything is done out of the same material: “sentiment and landscape”, the ideas and events around me, dreams and reality, all of them are ONE material. […] That is why I write fairy tales. […] Through their form, they symbolise that the crystal mountain at the end of the world does not bring about any dualism in my world (in Lukács 1982: 123-4).

Romantic theories, especially Novalis’s (see Mayer & Tismar 2003: 65-4), serve as an antecedent of the understanding of the Märchen as somehow “outside” the culture/civilisation confrontation and as hinting at a unitary world. However, such understanding is driven by sociohistorical forms en vogue in central Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. It draws upon the overlapping –widespread in the intellectual field back then– of the concepts of alienation, reification and even objectivity in general (see Lukács 1971a: XXIII-XXV), and upon the equally widespread conviction that the overcoming of the bourgeois misery is of a redemptive nature, a change without transitions of religious features that is to restore a lost state of justice, ubiquitously latent (see Löwy 1992). In fact, an “atheist” messianism nourishes the discussions in Lukács’s group (see Gángó 2015 and Balázs 1972: 124-128).

In a meeting with Lukács in 1912, Lesznai conceives of the Märchen as proof of the immanence of divinity. Its divinity is said to derive, firstly, from the fact that the genre acknowledges possibility as a fundamental category of the world; secondly, from the fact that the essence of the Märchen may be the purely right –which Lesznai thinks of as God’s determination; and, finally, from its faculty of administering justice, which can restore the rights of all things: “by dignifying everything (animals, trees, et cetera) in order to consecrate it to the truth of God, [the fairy tale] returns things to their original value” (Lesznai 1985: 130).

Lukács also conceives of the Märchen as the representation of a unitary world, opposite to the alleged dualism of existence. However, his reflections on the matter are tinged with vacillation every time they are confronted with the question whether the Märchen’s utopian world can turn into an empirical reality. To some extent, it is about the “dilemma” indicated above. In the Neo-Kantian junction of Soul and Form, the question is answered in a negative way. There, the Märchen is related to a non-empirical state –a world that can only appear when eyes are wide shut– in which things and values mingle (Lukács 1974: 24). The rigid Neo-Kantian distinction between the axiological and the objective spheres is torn apart in the Märchen, since in there “every question […] turns again into a thing resembling the one that called it into being” (Lukács 1974: 5; emphasis added). A utopian element is added to this non-empirical outpassing of the alleged subjective essence of values, their consequent anchor in objects: the world of the Märchen suggests an original desire of total satisfaction, the “ancient dream of a golden age” (1974: 47).

However, in other essays of the same period, an affirmative answer is given to the question about the effective possibility of the world configured by the Märchen. For instance, the incomplete 1910-1911 manuscript “The Aesthetics of the ‘Romance’” tackles the utopian question of the happy existence. This text conceptually defines a genre opposite to tragedy –which Lukács duly thinks of naming “Märchendrama”, the “romance” (see Lukács 1982: 148). For Lukács, the “romance” or non-tragic drama is a sort of complex correlative to the Märchen. In both, the happy ending triumphs and the rigid divisions of reality are dissolved: “diverse levels of reality intersect, mix and alternate, none of them can expect the right to absolute validity. Prospero says: We are such stuff / As dreams are made on” (Lukács 1990: 17). The Tempest is one of the representatives of the “romance” and the bond suggested above by Balázs becomes evident. It may be said to be a “radiantly absurd and obvious fulfillment of the most deeply universal human-earthly yearning” (Lukács 1990: 4), by virtue of the happy ending as a guiding element and the normal and natural nature ascribed to the absurd and the marvellous in these tales. A deep and archaic dream, which is said to remain in the child’s tendency to happiness, becomes real in the Märchen. This is the general mode with which the Märchen appears, albeit sporadically, in The Theory of the Novel, written in the winter of 1914-1915: tales retain “fragments of […] lost worlds”, in which “what today can only be reached through an utopian view was really present to the visionary eye” (Lukács 1971b: 47).

Albeit without the status of the canon of poetry, the Märchen seems to have become a touchstone for the search of genres that empirically problematise the principle of human happiness. In other words, genres that configure empirical materials in such a way that the subject-object relation should not lead to death or a meaningless life. Apart from the already mentioned “romance” or non-tragic drama, the drama of grace (Gnadendrama), the chivalric romances and, finally, Dostoievski’s narratives have been analysed as carriers of the Märchen principle, as proof that the ultimate metaphysical presupposition of tragedy, i.e. that the scene in which our existence is at stake has been completely forsaken by the gods (1974: 154), does not tally with truth. Actually, these genres provide evidence of the fact that “divinity is not enthroned in the transcendental and inconceivable beyond; rather, it is something that becomes, that turns into redemption for the one in need” (GLW 1: 616). Putting forward the divine presence in the world necessarily calls into question the negative concept of form that tragedy founds. For Lukács, form as a configuration of the intelligible self does not come along with a genre which tackles, precisely, the overcoming of the dualism such self presupposes, a genre, thus, in which the richness of everyday life is the starting point. However, form cannot be accounted for as a mere expression of a particular time: in its proximity to life, the Märchen does habilitate the historical-objective conditioning of forms, but at the same time it insists on the unsurpassable human dignity (by means of the misleading term “divinity”).

Märchen and tragedy are thus strictly opposed. The governing principles that hold events together in each case are antithetical: at one extreme, the death of the tragic hero is the decisive point in his existence, the confirmation of his life as an authentic life; at the other, the happy ending governs the narrative structure –each and every element must subdue to this principle and acquires its meaning from it. The happy ending is reached by means of a series of absurd events, since the category that structures the world configured by the Märchen is that of a radical possibility: everything is equally possible and that is why destiny does not exist as such. Conversely, in tragedies, death unfolds through a necessary series of pseudo-actions whose starting point is the opposition between the purity of the hero who aspires to meet God and the lack of religiosity of the empirical world. In tragedy, necessity is not a subjective category; rather, it belongs to the realm of essence (see 1974: 157). A third element that distances the Märchen from the inner depth of tragedy is its flat, bidimensional nature, typical of the way friezes are presented, even close to the ornamental. The Märchen seems to be the simplified survivor and the mere utopian indication of a subject-object relation whose reciprocal conditioning foretells the happiness of humanity.

The formal characteristics of the genre serve as the basis for Lukács’s first work on the cinema “Thoughts Towards an Aestehtic of the Cinema”, written, like his essay on the “romance”, by 1911. Although an exhaustive determination of this problem lies beyond the scope of the present work, verifying a series of factors that support the affinity between the cinema and the Märchen will suffice. For the philosopher, cinema’s principium stilisationis represents the whole life on a same level, without references to a bidimensional, metaphysical depth: its characters are a series of actions in movement rather than characters with personality. The mobility of those series of actions pervades all things: the essence of cinema “is movement as such, perpetual flux, the never-resting change of things” (Lukács 2012: 183). Besides, cinema can poetise things (such as advances in technique: trains, automobiles, etc.) that are not allowed in other arts; cinema has an element of the artistic power that may still lie in children: “the child that is alive in each human being is set free here, and becomes master of the psyche of the spectator” (2012: 184). It follows that the governing category of the cinematographic art is the radical possibility, like in the Märchen: “Thus a new, homogeneous and harmonious, unified and diverse world emerges in the ‘cinema’, that, in the worlds of literature and life, finds its correspondence in the fairytale and dream” (2012: 183).

Once the affinities between the Märchen and cinema are evident, Lukács affirms that the latter, unlike the former, lacks the existence of an artist that honours its configurative powers: “that of E.T.A. Hoffman or Poe, or […] that of Arnim or Barbey d’Aurevilly” (2012: 185). This affirmation is symptomatic of the state of his considerations about the topic in question: the absence of clear delimitations between the Märchen sensu stricto and other short narrative forms. Moreover, Lukács shows some confusion regarding that difference that Jakob Grimm defends against Arnim, which may qualitatively delimit the sphere of the Volkspoesie (popular poetry) from the Kunstpoesie (artistic poetry) (see Jolles 1956: 183).[5] Although in 1918 Lukács embarks upon an attempt to unequivocally delimit the myth from the Märchen and other fantastic genres and even draws a distinction between traditional genres and modern forms, such delimitation continues to be abstract in the whole analysed period.

4. The Märchen as the expression of the worldwide crisis
In 1918, Lukács produces his first and only essay exclusively devoted to the genre: “Seven Fairy Tales”. This piece expects to offer a review of Balázs’s homonymous literary work, published in the same year. In his essay, Lukács recovers many of the previous determinations, at the same time he embarks upon a far-reaching definition of the principle of stylisation of the genre. He defines it against other forms of literature and characterises the peculiarities of its modern expressions; besides, the Märchen is conceived of as proof, as an indication of the contingent nature of bourgeois relationships, i.e., as “a revelation that ours is, as a whole, a random life” (GLW 1: 739). Whereas in the previous reflections, the genre seemed to matter, above all, as a poetic principle in the search of other forms of literature and in the basis for them, here it adopts a peculiarly autonomous status. A comparison provided by the philosopher illustrates this point: when compared to other genres, the Märchen is said to behave like non-Euclidean geometry in relation to Euclidean geometry. Other genres reveal the bases of a human existence –ours– immersed in the chaos and the confusion of life; the Märchen represents a world with other bases.

Drawing upon this marvellous radicalness, Lukács, well ahead of other theoreticians’ studies, distinguishes the marvellous from the fantastic. The horror caused by the fantastic configuration is said to derive from a distant feeling of familiarity, from realising that a connection has been lost: “the dreadful in the phantasmagorical results from the bond between something that passes through us and our empirical existence; it results from the chilling feeling that what cannot be completely grasped […] is ruled by the laws of our being” (GLW 1: 741). The absence of any bond between what the Märchen configures and the empirical and metaphysical levels of our existence is absolute; therefore, what is expressed there necessarily lacks the horrible and dreadful. The structure of the world assumed by the fantastic is religious, metaphysical; instead, the spirit inspired by the Märchen is known as “magic” and implies the immediate encounter, the non-graded appearance, of a “new absolute”.

That is why there is no antithesis in the concept of the “new” in the fairy tale. Every other “new” emerges from time and is placed within a temporal reality: it is thus new in relation to other thing. On the contrary, the new in the fairy tale is absolute; it is the result of discovering [Auffinden] and not inventing [Erfinden]. It is to discover something that has always existed (or something which has never existed anywhere, which here is completely equivalent) that faces, however, our entire existence as radically new and whose condition as new cannot end or vanish –because its roots lie in its essence and not in its situation– (GLW: 741).[6]

Lukács’s distinction between traditional and modern expressions is equally original though significantly more problematic. He conceptualises such difference, but does not consider modern forms as configurations that can only express the wonder in an ironic and lacerated fashion. This means he does not understand the modernity of the genre in critical-negative terms –as he understands other forms–, but in affirmative terms. The Märchen of our time is to express totality in a complex way and without contradictions, which makes it an appropriate form for the non-alienated development of the infinite subjective interiority: “The infinitude of the Märchen that has become thus possible again is therefore the interior infinitude of the soul and not the world’s, as in the old Märchen” (GLW 1: 748). The modern variation is thus said to be able to reconfigure a form of individuality that may withhold the modern subjective depth without the implications of alienation. This is what Lukács in The Theory of the Novel has termed “soul-reality” (Seelenwirklichkeit) to define the alleged achievement of Dostoievski’s epic.[7]

The young philosopher’s convoluted theoretical structure shows here a major limitation. By hinting at the positive, non-ironic nature of the modern form of the Märchen, Lukács reveals that his idea of overcoming the bourgeois existence is still founded upon a scheme of strictly exclusive alternatives which does not include a dialectic category of mediation. Conceptually, the Märchen displays a situation in which form and matter are dialectical poles of the same unit. However, since that dialectic reciprocity is achieved at the expense of the genre’s lack of temporality (i.e., the genre’s “divinity”), every time it tackles temporal material (as is, undoubtedly, the case of the modern version), this material ends up hypostatised. Hence, in practice, this concept is not viable: the positive nature of the Märchen ultimately depends on the lack of historicity of its forms and, consequently, on a contingent bond with the materials it moulds, at the same time such contingency is not thematically dealt with given its affirmative nature. To a certain extent, the definition of the Märchen as the radically new confirms the validity of an approach that circumscribes the configuration of the utopian within the doubtful and, above all, the contingent limits of an axiological judgment, of an “ought” –only three years later will Lukács understand the socialist transformation of the bourgeois relations as the “manifestation of their authentic objective structure” (Lukács 1971a: 162).

Consequently, that vacillation, hinted at above, is sharpened in relation to the possibility that the world of these tales should gain empirical reality. On the one hand, it is affirmed that the Märchen unfolds in a dimension of reality where the foundations of our existence are not valid at all. On the other hand, we are reminded of the fact that “the world of the Märchen is no reality whatsoever” (GLW 1: 740). The marvellous principle of stylisation proves the possibility of such a reality because it can only be its expression (i.e., given that the Märchen exists, its world is possible), but the world of the Märchen is not real because the necessarily double structure of the real, which encompasses the empirical and the metaphysical levels, makes no sense at all in it. This vacillation, which derives from the non-dialectic understanding of form and materials, does not prevent Lukács from identifying in the Märchen the basis of a programme for the effective, total and material transformation. The redeeming power of the Märchen is idiosyncratically unstoppable: it is driven by a “never sentimental”, profound, yet barely perceptive, fine melancholy, the melancholy of a liberation that advances in two directions. On the one hand, the Märchen proves that “a complete satisfaction of the being” can be materially represented. On the other hand, its mere existence endows the effective state of things –i.e. the reality we live in– with the feature of having derived from a choice. The Märchen grants

the consciousness that reality –both the empirical and the metaphysical one– in which we live is not the only possible one, but just one among the unlimitedly varied imaginable realities; the consciousness that, although –for the reasons previously cited– our reality can be for us in fact reality, we can see it more in terms of a simple intellectual game, of a fantasy, as one among the infinitely possible ones. This way, the fact that we feel our life like prison is overcome at one stroke: if we are able –only in our not idle or irresponsible thoughts– of also living completely, till its satisfaction, other realities, the privileged nature of our reality receives then a new accent: the accent of choice; then our reality can no longer be like prison for us (GLW 1: 744)

The sociological explanation of the emergence of the Märchen is equally symptomatic of this overcoming without mediation. These tales are said to appear at the times of relaxation of the foundations of reality, times in which “it looks as if one were facing a choice again, as if one should again decide whether to stay on the already taken road of our reality or step into a path that, according to one’s essence, is alien to oneself” (GLW 1, p. 747). For Lukács, such times of crisis are prologues to a new state of matter, once the old and stiff forms “relax”.[8] However, the verification of the crisis and its potentialities is immediately followed by the restriction of the scope of such “relaxation”:

Certainly, the opportunity for such a choice is just in appearance: we live, then, in the time of crisis of our reality. It is the possibilities of our reality that fork at a crossroads; regardless of the path we took, it would never lead us out of our reality (GLW 1: 747).

The vacillations derived from this non-dialectic approach found a non-dialectic solution, one in which its terms were not overcome. Once the Republic was settled in 1919, Lukács was convinced that the Märchen could and had to gain empirical reality.

5. The Märchen in the Republic
Lukács’s “communist” turn by mid-December in 1918 shows the consolidation of at least three sets of theoretical approaches. It is worth noting, firstly, the conviction that history is not driven by unsolvable conflicts among heroic individuals’ moral stances, as can be deduced from the dynamics of tragic drama. Now, for Lukács, masses are the agents of history (see Kadarkay 1991: 202). Secondly, the concept of culture is modified by the statement that redemption is to be sought and found in life. Lukács no longer thinks of culture either as an aristocratic dignity of death (as he does in Soul and Form) or as mendacious frivolousness (he does so in “Aesthetic Culture”). Instead, he recovers the humanist optimism that the notion of culture acquires in German Enlightenment. On April 17th, already appointed to charge of the People’s Commissary for Education and Culture, he programmatically states: “politics is merely the means, culture is the end” (Lukács 1975: 94). Thirdly, in this context, a genuine pedagogical concern arises for the conformation of this “new culture” (1975: 146). The frenetic labour of the Commissary accounts for the seriousness of this task: from the beginning, its programmes do not aim at imposing cultural values, but at creating a frame within which culture could emerge without restrictions or commitments. In view of such aim, children’s education is of utmost importance both for Lukács as well as for Lesznai and Balázs, who are also civil servants of the Soviet Republic. The Märchen is considered to perform a leading role in turning children into cultural beings. It is known that on April 15th school headmasters are summoned “unconditionally” to the Commissary Offices to be trained as to how to use the Märchen in the classroom (see the newspaper advertisement of the resolution in Lukács 1975: 274). It is also known that Balázs instructs narrators to tell stories to children in hospitals, neighbourhoods and schools twice a week. Gángó (2014: 61) and Loewy (1999: 297) report the creation, in April 1919, of a Märchen Departament, in charge of Lesznai, within the bureaucratic structure of the Commissary. Illés, József and Szabolcsi (1984: 402) state that, in July 1919, the Commissary launches a contest for Märchen writers, who are to nourish public narrations.

Lukács’s political turn does not mean, however, the fall of the tragic paradigm. In his new understanding of the world, it coexists with –and is even called to assure and gain– the cultural ground whose development the Märchen contributes to. In other words, that approach of non-dialectic alternatives, which until 1918 brings vacillations with it, now offers the theoretical foundations of a resolute political programme. The frame image is quite telling of this new combination of approaches which, previously, used to be allowed only in an alternate fashion. Revolutionary politics, economic measures, the military defence against the advance of the Triple Entente armies (in brief, all the activities contained within the concept of “civilization”) demand, in the philosopher’s view, a sacrificial, violent and sinful ethic, typical of his concept of tragedy, that has to keep and look out for a qualitatively different space, free of commitments, anticipated and fostered by the Märchen. Lukács observes in the Young Workers’ Congress in June 1919: “For there must be a point in the struggle for the interests of the proletariat, where the flame bums absolutely clearly, where the struggle is uncompromising, completely pure, immaculate” (Lukács 2014: 40). Without the “social frame” (Lukács 1975: 87) ensured by the sinful revolutionary activity, the attempts to cultural growth are to no avail, since such growth is to have an uncontaminated, free development of its own. It is not unexpected that in Balázs’s statement after being charged of using the public funds for the promotion of the Märchen, he should compare the revolutionary with Moses, whose mission is to take his people back home, without entering it (Balázs 1984: 124).[9]

Lukács’s first communist phase is marked by a modification in the concept of culture. The Commissary’s pragmatic document, “The old and the new school. The liberation of popular education and the work community and the game in children’s education”, concludes, indeed, with the following dictum: “Communism means the adoption [Übernahme] of culture in public property” (in Lukács 1975: 265). This means overcoming the irremediably private-particular nature which the practices and the products included in the concept of culture necessarily take on within the logic of the bourgeois order. Lukács believes that the economic and political changes will allow for the establishment of an authentic culture. The philosopher, who has criticised certain determinations of culture in the above mentioned essay “Aesthetic Culture”, now understands them as expressions of the capitalist mode of production.

The essay that summarises this position is “The Old Culture and the New Culture”. The socialist political and economic system is there defined as a means to cultural existence, i.e., to the realisation of the human being as an “end in himself” (Lukács 1970: 30). Lukács rejects the determinist economicism that presupposes that Marx divides the social being into a “base” and a “superstructure” (1970: 26-7). Besides, he understands that the peculiarity of capitalism does not lie in the interpersonal relation of dominion mediated by the property of the means of production, but in the specific dynamics of the expansive valorisation that subjugates all classes: “capitalism […] has made precisely these forces [i.e. the forces of the dominant classes, FGCH] into slaves of production exactly as it has the workers, even though, in material terms, each evaluates the slavery entirely differently” (1970: 22). Hence, Lukács’s understanding that overcoming capitalism does not mean the suppression of a class’s dominance over the other, but the “liberation from the rule of the economy” (1970: 22). By suppressing commodities, socialism is said to meet “the sociological precondition of culture”: the human being as an end in himself, the conscious organisation of the division of labour (1970: 28). That is why it is ridiculous to anticipate what the cultural world may be like, since the socialist transformation of society is “only the framework, only the possibility of free human self-management and spontaneous creativity” (1970: 30).

The Märchen constitutes an efficient tool in the formation of the new individual, in the formation of the cultural human being; this is due to the effect of the genre on the privileged subject of the Commissary, its absolute priority: the child.

In his reply to the charge of spending public funds on the Märchen, Balázs, the director of the section of literature in the Commissary, states: “Children first!”. Children guarantee the realization of communism, and thus no expenses are to be spared when it comes to their teaching (Balázs 1984: 124). By mid-April Lukács states: “There is no class struggle against children, since children must be considered the founding members of a society to come” (Lukács 1975: 88).[10] Two reasons justify such privilege. On the one hand, given his short age, the child is not contaminated by the bourgeois forms; there are no class determinations, the abstract division of labour has not penetrated his soul. On the other hand, the child keeps purely human characteristics, regardless of being aware of them or not: he has an immediate tendency, for instance, to art and a connatural concept of artistic genre. But, above all, he develops a “communitarian” sociability of love, satisfaction and happiness. The Commissary’s educative programme conceives of it in these terms: “Children have their own society, their own world […]. A special, happy, clear, smiling world, where they live together in a happy community at their healthy homes, in their happy countryside” (in Lukács 1975: 260).

An idealist concept of childhood rules here. It goes back to the ideas of the second Enlightenment and the first German Romanticism: by virtue of his unalienating properties, the child offers an ideal of sociability.[11] Besides, a strict dualist scheme has a bearing on this conception, by means of which nothing in the bourgeois society –except its cultural products– are to be considered respectable and every contact with the formations of civilisations corrupts the purity of the soul. Finally, the above-mentioned messianic worldview is of influence as well, in so far as it endows redemption with a restorative value: somehow, the goal (socialist culture) is the starting point (the child). Viewed this way, the child justifies the struggle that becomes necessarily sinful, since it aims at securing his free development at any cost, his development without commitments. Communist education is to cultivate the humanity of the child and thus categorically differentiates itself from the “old school”, which deforms people according to productive attributes to be taught by virtue of an alienating division of labour: “Only on the grounds of its educational system, the capitalist society deserves the death penalty” (in Lukács 1975: 260).

When in his autobiographical novel Lesznai refers to the moment in which his group gains control of the Commissary, he recalls “having planned the refunctionalisation of the Märchen” (qtd. in Gángó 2014: 61). In effect, in the 1911 text “Teaching Art at School”, Lukács insists on the fact that the recovery of the living contact with art, lost in the bourgeois society, can only be carried out through education, especially children’s since there remains in them an inborn, intuitive sense of aesthetics. For Lukács, such response towards art is expressed in the bond between children and the Märchen: “children’s relation to fairy tales is purer, deeper and more specifically artistic than the most of the adults’ to their favourite novel or poem […;] children glimpse […] more intensely at the ultimate questions of form” (GLW 1: 385). Here Lukács highlights that children do not relate to tales as things to be possessed, as proved by their asking the same tale over and over, and not a new one. Besides, that bond evinces an authentic critical attitude: the laws of the genre are the criterion of validation of the tales; hence, the rejection of those versions that do not meet stylisation forms (a clear happy ending, etc.). Balázs recovers this line of interpretation in 1919 when defending the Commissary’s politics. According to him, there exists an affinity between the child’s experience and the stylisation of tales: no matter how much one wants to teach them Marxist theory, “children see fairy tales around them, for them, every object is a living one” (Balázs 1984: 125). But this tendency to marvellous fantasy confirms the possibility of a truly human existence: by virtue of its ancestral nature, by virtue of its indifference to the historically circumstantial forms of alienation, the world of the Märchen attains, for Balázs, the goals of communism in its highest degree:

A world in which from all things everything can emerge in accordance with their interior value, where the figures not only mistake the class, but also form and life… that is more communist than our communism. We have only suppressed the difference between human classes, the fairy tale has overcome, by means of the possibility of magic, the limits between animals, plants, human beings, all the existent beings and the non-existent ones (1984: 126).

The death of the Republic in the hands of the Romanian armies means the fall of the programmes that promote the Märchen. The painstaking research that starts with Lukács’s exile –which means, above all, the inclusion of the category of mediation– may also explain the fall of the theoretical scaffold that supports the poetics of these tales.

6. Conclusions
The scope of the foregoing research can be summarised in three aspects. First: the Märchen is conceived of as proof and the laboratory of a worldview that opposes the strict dualism typical of the Central European sociological thought of the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th. Here, it is possible to perceive drives towards the recovery of a rationalist conception of totality. Second: the Märchen models the arrangement of a constellation of narrative (and dramatic) genres and the definition of critical criteria for it. At the same time, unilateral conceptions of form are rejected: form is not the crystallisation of a metaphysically hypostatised subjectivity nor the direct reflection of historical dynamics. Instead, it is understood, albeit confusingly, as resulting from the intersection between a peculiar human mode of activity and historical determinations. Third: the Märchen presents itself as proof and the means to the emergence of culture, an authentically and respectably human world. In this sense, Lukács and his friends’ poetics of the Märchen meaningfully conditions their first conceptions of socialism as a mode of sociability, with messianic strokes.

These three elements of the concept of the Märchen are limited, however, by the fact that its validity is abstractly posited. The poetics of the genre shows indeed that Lukács and his colleagues can see a series of theoretical-methodological implications aiming at the question about the possibility of human dignity, though they circumscribe the validity of their findings to a genre whose link with the bourgeois society they carefully cut off (as has been shown, the Märchen is to the other genres what non-Euclidean geometry is to Euclidean). Without a category of mediation, the possibility of the Märchen depends thus on annihilating the effectively existent life: in logical terms, that means the triumphant return of the tragic ethos. Lukács’s first political theory justifies personal sacrifice and doing away with bourgeois empirical world without any consideration whatsoever so that the world of culture can emerge uncommitted. His political theory thus presents a dynamics in keeping with such definition of tragedy. In Lukács’s thought, the category of mediation as the lever of praxis is seen to turn his own poetics of the Märchen obsolete.

7. References
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BALÁZS, Béla. Notes from a Diary, The New Hungarian Quarterly, XIII, 124-128, 1972.

CONGDON, Lee. The Young Lukács. Chapel Hill y Londres: The University of North Carolina Press 1983.

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FEHÉR, Ferenc. The Pan- Tragic Vision: The Metaphysics of Tragedy, New Literary History, 11, 245-254, 1980.

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GÁNGÓ, Gangó. El cuento de hadas como Ilustración, cultura y violencia. In: HERNÁNDEZ, Isabel & LLAMAS, María (eds.), Los hermanos Grimm en contexto. Madrid: Síntesis, 2014, 55-65.

GÁNGÓ, Gangó. La política cultural de la República soviética húngara. In: LUKÁCS, György, Derrotismo y dialéctica. Buenos Aires: Herramienta, 2015, 135-146.

ILLÉS, László et al. (eds.). Befunde und Entwürfe. Zur Entwicklung der ungarischen marxistischen Literaturkritik und Literaturtheorie (1900-1945). Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1984.

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[1] Translated from the Spanish by Cecilia Lasa, PHD student at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. A similar version of this paper was published in Spanish in Signotica (v. 33, 2021)

[2] Even though “Märchen” means “fairy tale”, we will refer to the phenomenon by using the German term since it keeps some ambiguity in meaning which, as we will see, runs through Lukács’s reflections. For the time being, André Jolles’s circular definition will suffice (1956: 182): “a Märchen is a tale or a story such as the Grimm’s brothers have anthologised it in their work Kinder- und Hausmärchen”.

[3] Apart from Vedda’s and Gángó’s contributions, it is worth noting Lee Congdon’s work (1983), who points out the presence of the concept of Märchen in young Lukács, as well as Hanno Loewy’s (1999), who tangentially tackles the question when dealing with Béla Balázs’s theory of film.

[4] We can think about Georg Simmel’s multiple definitions of the “tragedy” of culture (see GSG 6: 620-654). Drawing upon an article by Kurt Lenk (1964) about the tragic consciousness in German sociology, Jörg Kammler traces in Lukács’s early work a “specifically irrational” wording of the Marxist theory of alienation. In so far as it is based on the unsurmountable division between the political-civilising sphere and the animic-axiological, “Lukács follows […] Simmels’methodological intention” (1974: 19-21).

[5] As Mayer and Tismar observe (2003: 2-3), a clear distinction between one sphere and the other cannot be expected; we simply refer to the fact that Volksmärchen (popular fairy tale) and Kunstmärchen (artistic fairy tale) convey formal differences that can be absorbed in the “consciousness of a distance” that governs the latter, i.e. a “dissociation in the structure of what is narrated”.

[6] The affinities with Sigmund Freud’s analysis of the uncanny are noteworthy. Keep in mind that Freud abstracts the category from fantastic stories. On the one hand, he conceives, like Lukács, of the basic mechanism of the fantastic as the result of some violence acted upon a family bond that returns. On the other hand, he also acknowledges the peculiarity of the Märchen, even though some thematisations, uncanny in appearance, unfold in it (see Freud 1955: 249-51).

[7] Lukács (1971b: 152) defines “soul-reality” as a sphere “in which man exists as man, neither as a social being nor as an isolated, unique, pure and therefore abstract interiority”; a sphere in which “a new complete totality could be built out of all its substances and relationships”.

[8] Certainly, this sociopolitical diagnosis owes a debt to Simmel’s Vitalism (compare it with, for instance, Simmel’s contemporary essay “The Conflict in Modern Culture”)

[9] Löwy (1979: 80-1) shows the mark of the revolutionary task of Erwin Szabó’s ideas on this conceptualisation. Szabó is “the spiritual guide of revolutionary socialism in Hungary”. The moral rigorism that characterised Lukács’s group, its understanding of the revolutionary activity as the emplacement  of already defined idealist ends, without mediations, are said to have fostered the response to Szabó’s leftist approaches.

[10] Gángó (2014: 62) claims that the article from which this passage is derived presents the “theoretical bases” of the Märchen poetics during the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

[11] See Hans-Heino Ewers’s study about the concept of childhood in the first German Romanticism. According to Ewers (1984: 25), “due to their participation in the future and in the past, children perform a mediating function for adults: the former become representations for the latter, the concrete expressions of their own origin as well as their own future. Given that in this way childhood acquires not only an archaic nature but also a futuristic one, it reaches for the adults the meaning of an ideal to which they keep on relating even as adults”.