Goldmann, Lucien


Goldmann, Lucien
(1913–1970)
   Goldmann followed in the footsteps of Georgii Lukács in expounding a form of Hegelian Marxism that placed great emphasis on dialectics, though he also advanced his own notion of “genetic structuralism.” He was born in Bucharest, Romania, but spent most of his life in France, particularly Paris where he died. His career as a scholar began with the study of law at his hometown university, before he moved on to study philosophy, economics and German philology at Vienna, Lwów and Paris. It was in Vienna that he began his lifelong study of the ideas of Lukács. During World War II Goldmann spent time as an internee in France before moving to Switzerland where he worked as an assistant to the psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget’s ideas and in particular his “genetic epistemology” were, after those of Lukács, a second great influence on Goldmann’s thought. While in Zurich he wrote a doctoral thesis on Kant, following this with a second doctoral dissertation on Racine and Pascal written in Paris after the war.
   In his second period in Paris Goldmann worked first in the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique and then in the École Practique des Hautes Études. He also spent a little time at the Sociology Institute of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. As an academic rather than an activist, Goldmann’s chief contribution lies in the realm of ideas, particularly his elaboration of a structuralist and dialectical interpretation of (some would say revision of or even departure from) Marxism. He sought to combine structuralism with the historical/genetic approach found in the dialectical tradition of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx and Lukács. Goldmann’s works include Immanuel Kant (1948), Sciences Humaines et Philosophie (1952), Le Dieu Caché (1955), Recherches dialectiques (1959), Pour une sociologie du roman (1964), and Marxisme et sciences humaines (1970). Of these Le Dieu Caché (published in English as The Hidden God) is arguably his most important work, although Pour une sociologie du roman (published in English as Towards a Sociology of the Novel) proved to be his most popular.
   Among the themes stressed by Goldmann are the notions of totality, class consciousness, worldview and reification. The notion of totality is drawn from dialectical philosophy and Goldmann uses it to suggest that facts must be understood within the context of “significant structures.” These “significant structures” give facts their meanings. Furthermore, things cannot be considered in isolation because they constitute interrelated parts of a whole; human communities constitute totalities and different aspects of the communities, such as economics or literature, do not have independent existences or histories, but express the whole. Goldmann was particularly interested in the key social group of class. Classes have a worldview that unites and distinguishes them, and also have both an existing class consciousness and a “potential consciousness” that expresses a clear, unmystified view of a class’s position and interests. Economics, literature and so on represent expressions of worldviews and must be studied in relation to these worldviews and not as if they were independent areas with their own separate histories. Marx’s view of reification Goldmann believed to be valid and relevant, but he did not follow Marx’s (not to mention Lukács’) view that the proletariat would develop a revolutionary class consciousness. Developments in production allowed many material needs of the workers to be met, thus dulling any revolutionary zeal. Instead, Goldmann looked hopefully to greater democratization and the development of workers’ selfmanagement to de-reify society and achieve socialism.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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