For Georg Lukács in his Theory of the Novel, if the abstraction inherent in the act of theorization itself is demanded in some way by the novel form, it is because in “the created reality” of the latter “totality can be systematized only in abstract terms.” Yet equally the novel is evidently distinguished by a new kind of concreteness: a devotion to what Hegel called the “unendingly particular.” Such a dialectic “without synthesis” between its abstract and concrete tendencies is the very historical condition of the novel form. Contra Lukács's own later attempt to redeem a less tragic conception of the novel under the name of realism, this essay seeks to rethink his early debt to Hegel's account of the novel and the subsequent reworking of its terms within a Marxist framework—one that sees in Marx's Capital a refunctioning of Hegel's Spirit as the “real abstraction” of Capital itself: that “self-moving substance which is Subject” in the “shape of money.” For such a reading, the novel is thus to be grasped by critical theory as expressive of what Henri Lefebvre describes as a “predominance of the abstract in modern art [that] accompanies the extension of … the unlimited power of money and capital, very abstract and terribly concrete at one and the same time.” Here modes of abstraction are less a flight from reality and more an index of the various social forms of “real abstraction” constitutive of the “unrepresentable” totality of modernity itself.
David Cunningham; “Very Abstract and Terribly Concrete”: Capitalism and The Theory of the Novel. Novel 1 August 2009; 42 (2): 311–317. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-020
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