Literary and Critical Theory Georg Lukács
Konstantinos Kavoulakos, Patrick Eiden-Offe
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0108


Georg (György) Lukács (b. 13 April 1885–d. 4 June 1971) was a Hungarian philosopher and literary theorist of Jewish origin. His work substantially determined the 20th-century theoretical current of Western Marxism. Lukács had a long and often turbulent life due to his constant (not necessarily successful) efforts to unify theory and political practice. Consequently, his intellectual trajectory is marked by important theoretical shifts—a fact that makes it impossible to refer to central themes of his work without simultaneously distinguishing its main periods. There is, of course, a central idea, which permeates his investigations throughout his work. It is the critical analysis of the domination of subjectivism in modern society and culture that causes men’s alienation from their historical reality. One can distinguish three main periods in which Lukács was occupied by this question in different ways and on different levels: Lukács’s early work divided into his early pre-Marxist period, ranging from his young age to his turn to Marxism at the end of 1918, and his early revolutionary Marxist work of the 1920s (the most representative and influential of it being the collection History and Class Consciousness (1923)); his middle Marxist period, from his emigration to Moscow in 1930 to his return to Hungary in 1945; and his later Marxist period (among others, his mature works on aesthetics and social ontology). Lukács’s early (pre-Marxist and Marxist) work substantially influenced intellectuals of the wider tradition of critical theory, such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Lucien Goldman, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Löwenthal Jürgen Habermas, Michael Löwy, Andrew Feenberg, Cornelius Castoriadis, and others. His middle and later work had an important impact on his disciples, the members of the Budapest school (Ágnes Heller, Ferenc Fehér, György Márkus, Mihály Vajda). After a period of vivid interest in Lukács in the 1960s and 1970s, a more subterranean process of reception of his work followed. Since 2010 a significant revitalization of the international interest in his work has been observed. At the same time, his works on realist literature are often considered as part of the canon of literary studies. Bibliography of and on Lukács is vast; therefore, its presentation has to be selective. This bibliography emphasizes the general overviews and collective volumes that offer multifaceted analyses of his work. As for the original works and the relevant special secondary literature we prioritize writings published in English.

General Overviews

Most of the general introductions to Georg Lukács’s life and work are published in German. Dannemann 1997 represents a systematic introduction to the main aspects of Lukács’s life work. Jung 1989 works out the unity of Lukács’s work throughout his life. Herman 1986 offers a narrative of Lukács’s life, while Raddatz 1972 combines narrative parts with quotes and photographical material. Benseler 1984 offers introductory comments and original texts by Lukács from different periods. In English it is worth mentioning George Lichtheim’s slim introduction to Lukács’s life and work (Lichtheim 1970), and Arpad Kadarkay’s biography—the only detailed biography of Lukács that is available to date (Kadarkay 1991). One can also consult the relevant chapters on Lukács by Martin Jay and Leszek Kolakowski (Jay 1984, Kolakowski 1978). The chapter on Lukács in Jameson 1971 is of particular interest since it offers an overview of Lukács’s literary theory throughout his work. Lukács himself delivered an autobiographical sketch and an interview published in Lukács 1984.

  • Dannemann, Rüdiger. Georg Lukács. Zur Einführung. Hamburg, Germany: Junius, 1997.

    The orientation of this introduction is not biographical but systematic. Dannemann poses the question of the actuality of Lukács’s thinking. In his search for an answer he does not follow the chronological order of Lukács’s development but reconstructs the central themes of his overall work: aesthetics, the theory of reification/alienation, the history of literature and philosophy, and ethics. He alludes to Lukács’s influence on Peter Bürger, Jürgen Habermas, and Agnes Heller.

  • Jameson, Fredric. Marxism and Form. Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.

    Chapter 3 of this study presents Lukács’s life work as a persistent reflection on narration understood as a privileged means to access reality. Jameson highlights the Hegelian conceptual framework Lukács used in his studies on literature from his early Theory of the Novel to his later works on realism. He interprets History and Class Consciousness as a Marxist attempt to think through the problems of narration raised throughout his work.

  • Jay, Martin. “Georg Lukács and the Origins of the Western Marxist Paradigm.” In Marxism and Totality. The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas. By Martin Jay, 81–127. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

    This chapter can function as a critical introduction to Lukács’s early (pre-Marxist and Marxist) writings. Jay traces back, in Lukács’s early work, the concept of totality that determined the formation of the Western Marxist paradigm. He investigates similar conceptualizations in Lukács’s pre-Marxist works, before turning his attention to History and Class Consciousness and criticizing the idealist idea of totality as the expressive product of a universal subject of history.

  • Jung, Werner. Georg Lukács. Stuttgart: Verlag J.B. Metzler, 1989.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-476-03953-8

    Jung’s introduction to Lukács’s life and work aspires to depict “the whole Lukács” (p. x) by interpreting his different periods and theoretical elements as dialectical “moments” of a unitary development. Thus, it is not surprising that he starts from the end, Lukács’s later Ontology and Aesthetics, and continues with a flash back to the periods that preceded. Compared to other biographers, Jung puts more weight on analyzing Lukács’s major writings.

  • Herman, István. Georg Lukács. Sein Leben und Wirken. Vienna and Cologne, Germany: Böhlau, 1986.

    As a former disciple of Lukács, Herman gives a sympathetic biographical narrative with details that are not always well documented. The narrative ranges from Lukács’s childhood to his revolutionary period, his compromise with the new regime in the 1930s–1940s and his postwar Budapest period, the author had experienced himself. Herman also interposes brief elaborations on Lukács’s main writings.

  • Kadarkay, Arpad. Georg Lukács. Life, Thought, and Politics. Cambridge, MA, and London: Basil Blackwell, 1991.

    This long study represents the only comprehensive and detailed biography of Lukács to date. Drawing upon previously unknown documents from the Lukács Archive in Budapest and other repositories, Kadarkay depicts Lukács’s turbulent and often dramatic life in “an age of collapsing empires and rising revolutions” (p. xi). At the same time he makes dense references to Lukács’s writings, especially his major works in philosophy and literature.

  • Kolakowski, Leszek. “Georg Lukács. Reason in the Service of Dogma.” In Main Currents of Marxism: Its Origin, Growth, and Dissolution. Vol. 3, The Breakdown. By Leszek Kolakowski, 253–307. Translated P. S. Falla. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978.

    This chapter gives a coherent reconstruction of Lukács’s Marxism from the standpoint of the liberal denouncement of Marxism in general. Kolakowski locates Lukács’s positive contribution in the correct interpretation of Marx’s approach, to denounce, however, the latter’s espousal by Lukács. For Kolakowski, Lukács’s theory is insuperably “irrational” and “anti-scientific” (p. 300) because it confuses descriptive and normative theoretical elements. Consequently, it involuntarily conforms with political authoritarianism.

  • Lichtheim, George. Georg Lukács. London: Fontana/Collins, 1970.

    Written at a time when the English bibliography of and on Lukács was rather poor, Lichtheim’s study serves the humble purpose of facilitating “access to an important writer” (p. 9). Lichtheim briefly reconstructs the wider historical and intellectual context of Lukács’s early opting for a kind of neo-Platonic metaphysics and his shift to revolutionary Marxism. He also focuses on Lukács’s later studies on the history of literature and on his aesthetics.

  • Lukács, Georg. Record of a Life. An Autobiographical Sketch. Edited by István Eörsi. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. London: Verso, 1984.

    Apart from the editor’s preface, the book contains two main texts: (a) the autobiographical interview Lukács gave to István Eörsi and Erzsébet Vezér, and (b) Lukács’s autobiographical notes, on the basis of which the interview was conducted. Both texts cover Lukács’s whole life from his childhood and youth to revolutionary politics, exile, and his late years in Budapest.

  • Raddatz, Fritz J. Georg Lukács in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt, 1972.

    Raddatz uses quotes from Lukács’s writings and photographs to document and supplement his brief biographical narrative. He focuses on Lukács’s “way to Marx” and on his intellectual and political activity under actually existing socialism.

  • Benseler, Frank, Ed. Revolutionäres Denken—Georg Lukács. Eine Einführung in Leben und Werk. Darmstadt and Neuwied, Germany: Luchterhand, 1984.

    Apart from brief introductory comments and a biographical sketch by the editor Frank Benseler (at that time he was also the chief editor of Lukács’s collective works), this volume contains selected original texts of Lukács from different periods of his work, organized around four axes: autobiographical notes, history and theory of literature, political theory and practice, and philosophical aspects of historical materialism.

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