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Georg Lukcs and Irma Seidler

Author(s): Agnes Heller and Etti de Laczay


Reviewed work(s):
Source: New German Critique, No. 18 (Autumn, 1979), pp. 74-106
Published by: New German Critique
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/487851 .
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Georg Lukdcs and Irma Seidler*


by Agnes Heller

"Kierkegaardcreatedhis relationshipto RegineOlsen,"writesKassner,


quoted by Luktcs in his immortalessayon Kierkegaard.And GeorgLukacs
also created his relationshipto IrmaSeidler.He createdit and recreatedit
again and again. He created it and recreatedit accordingto the rules of
"Platonic"conduct:throughthe prismof others'fates,others'works,others'
"forms."Virtuallyeveryone of the pieces in TheSoulandtheFormsis such
a recreation."The essay on Philippeis maturingstrangely,"he noted in his
diary on May 20, 1910. "It seems this will be the most genuineIrma-essay.
The lyric of its present stage . . . Thus the true lyrical series will be
completed: George, Beer-Hofman, Kierkegaard,Philippe. The interrelationof the othersis muchlooser;Novalis:the moodof the firstmeeting;
Kassner:Florence,Ravenna;Storm:lettersfromNagybanya."And on May
29 he wrote: "The essay on Ernstwill be an essay on Irmaas well."
Georg Lukacsrecreatedhis relationshipto IrmaSeidler.Yet, in none of
the essayscanwe discovereven a singleobjectivesimilarity.The re-creation
of the relationshipconsistsof the explorationof the relationship'spossibilities. These possibilitieswere whatLukacsthought(andlived) out according
to the rules of "Platonic"conduct. These possibilitiesare daydreams,or,
more accurately- rationalvisions, the dreamsand visionsof "whatcould
be if," "what could have been, if." In these daydreamsand visions,
however, the Other is only a vagueshape, an indefiniteobject, theonly real
being is the one who dreams.
These dreams are addressedto Irma, but Irmais not presentin these
rationalvisions. Throughthe prismof his "Platonic"stance, the authorof
the essays bears witness to his own possibilities.Kierkegaardexists, but
*In this essay I've relied on the followingmanuscripts,recoveredfrom a Heidelberg
banksafein 1973:the diaryof GeorgLukacs(April5, 1910- December16, 1911);notesand
the draftof a letterby Lukacsfrom1908;draftsof twolettersbyLukAcsfromthespringof 1910;
letters sent by LukAcsto IrmaSeidlerin 1911;and letterswrittenby IrmaSeidlerto Lukcs,
of LukicswithLeo
July - November1908andJanuary- May1911,plusthe correspondence
Popper 1910-1911.The Lukfcsquotationshavebeentakenfromthefollowingessays:Rudolph
Kassner,Soren Kierkegaardand RegineOlsen, StefanGeorge,Charles-LouisPhilippe, The
Metaphysicsof Tragedy,AestheticCulture,and On Povertyin Spirit.
74

GeorgLukticsand IrmaSeidler

75

Regine Olsen does not; in Storm'slife, consecratedto duty,the belovedwife


is only an anonymousaccessoryto the ethical conductof life; the loves of
Novalis are merelysymbolsof the poet'searthlyfulfillment;noris Philippe's
Marie Donadieu more than "greatlove's"drill-groundfor Jean, the actual
hero. ("Mariewas for himmerelya coursein self-knowledge;hisdutydone,
he is now free to walk his own paths.")In the essayon George no womanis
present at all, only a man "who does not wear his heart on his sleeve,"
passing from loneliness throughlove back into loneliness.
All individuals -

insofar as they are capable of reflection, insofar as

they can make theirhumanrelationshipsthe objectof theirthinking- in a


certainsense "create"theirrelationshipwithOthersandcontinuerecreating
it. In the light of later events certain incidentsof the past gain specific,
symbolic meanings;others disappearin the abyssof forgetting;indifferent
gestures are filled with the joy of mutualrecognition;or they are gradually
swallowedup in the thickauraof sorrowanddisappointment.And, if something is over once and for all, is there anyonewho would not questionthe
facts againand againto see whethertheywere indeedthe factsof necessity?
Is there anyone who would not think throughthe possibilitiesagain and
again with the wish-fulfillinglogic or illogicof daydreams?In portrayinga
base life, poetry turnswhite into black.The poet alone remainswhiteon its
eerie screen. In portrayinga noble life, poetry continuallytransformsthe
composition, not the colors. All individualscreateandrecreatetheirhuman
relationships. But this creation is mainly addressedonly to oneself. It is
painful or beautifulonly for oneself.
"Kierkegaard -

writes Kassner -

created his relationship to Regine

Olsen, and, if a Kierkegaardcreateshis life, he does not do so in orderto


conceal, but ratherto articulatethe truth."If Lukics createdandcontinually
recreated his relationshipto Irma Seidler, he did not do it in order to
conceal, but also in order to articulatethe truth because he had a truth,
whichwas not addressedto himselfalone, whichwasnot painfulor beautiful
for himself alone."
When he dreamt and thought out the "possibilitiesrepresentedby
Irma," he was not thinking out the contingencies deriving from the
"accidental"meeting of two "accidental"entities. Both the I-heroof the
essays and their non-objectifiedobject are investedwith symbolic,stylized
meaning. The I-hero is always the creative, form-generatingman in a
chaotic, prosaic, lifeless, culture-forsakenworld. The object of desire is
always life, or more accurately,the life to be created. "In life, desire can
only be love" - the object of love is the objectof desirein life andfor life.
But can life be created?Or - to ask the same questionin reverse- can
there be an organic path from life to the createdwork? Can the creative
individual live a genuine life? Is it given to the creative individualto
experience love and being-with-others, the happiness of human fellowship?
"Last night I felt again: Irma is life" (diary, May 8, 1910). In his work
Lukics stylized the "possibilities represented by Irma" into symbolic

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Heller

events. During their first correspondence,which began harmoniously,he


considered the possibilitiesof life together,marriage,companionship:the
essay on Stormsaw light, bearingwitnessto the factthatlife canbe created,
that creative work can blossom forth from a life consecratedto a calling.
After their breakup, he wrote the essay on Kierkegaard,in which the
creation of life proves to be a futile, ship-wreckedendeavor.The essay on
Philippe, a masterpieceof proud renunciation,is writtenin the fear and
hope of meetingagain.Greatlove mustbe ascetic- the creativeindividual
must touch life, but only in orderto transcendit. Each essay is an attitude;
various possibilities, various attitudes. But the question levelled at the
variouspossibilitiesand attitudesis alwaysthe same:how cancreationtake
place? How can formsbe generatedin a chaotic,prosaic,lifeless, cultureforsaken world?
The truth that Lukacs wished not to conceal but to articulateis contained

in this question.Lukacscreatedhisrelationshipto IrmaSeidlerso thatin the


process of that creationhe mightformulatethisquestion:the vitalquestion
for everysignificant,conscious,creativeindividualof the bourgeoisworld:
the problemof the viabilityof the "createdwork"in the firstdecadeof the
20th century.
"Last night I felt again: Irma is life." All individuals"create"their
relationship to Others and continually recreate it. If this creation is
addressedonly to oneself, if it is painfulor beautifulonly for oneself, then
the forms of re-creation are infinite, and its colors and compositions
innumerable.But if someone createshis relationshipto the Other for the
purpose of articulatinga truth,whichis not painfulor beautifulfor oneself
alone, whichis not addressedto oneself alone, then the formsof re-creation
are finite, and the colors and compositionsare finite. Then, fromthen on,
the generalproblemdefines even the privatedreams,andeverythingin the
relationship of the two individuals gains symbolic significance. The
boundarylines between the diaryand the essaysbecomeblurred.Whathas
the one drawnfromthe otherandviceversa?Did LukAcscomposehisessays
in the way he did because he had composedhis relationshipto Irmain a
given manner,or wasit the reverse?Did he createhis relationshipto Irmain
a given mannerbecausein his essayshe hadgivencertainanswersto the vital
questions of the ever-presentI? What was primaryhere- the forms, or
life? What formedwhat?Did the humanrelationshipformthe philosophy,
or did the philosophyform the humanrelationship?
"But as it is now, metaphysically,I am absolutelyfaithless,homeless,
etc. In reality, however, I am faithfuland earthbound.By now - because
in the ultimatehumaninterrelationsmanactswiththe metaphysicalessence
of his being (well named: ens realissimum) - everyone treats me as though
I were unfaithful, while (in reality) I am like a faithful and unfortunate lover.
- It was with Irma that all this was most evidently so" (diary, May 11,
1910). The "I" is doubled; spontaneity is lost insofar as it remains incognito;
the "metaphysical I," the stance of the "I" of the essays is the "ens

GeorgLukdcsandIrmaSeidler

77

realissimum";the individual/personal
by the
possibilitiesare circumscribed
The
conduct
of
the
individual
philosophical possibilities.
becomes-willingly or unwillingly- the expressionof the finite, symbolicforms of
conduct.Lukacscreatedhisrelationshipto IrmaSeidlerwithhisphilosophical
"I"; he alignedhis life withthe truthof philosophy.
Every philosophermustlive out his philosophy;the un-livedphilosophy
is no longerphilosophy.But thisphilosophy- the philosophyof contradiction between life and "createdwork"- couldnot be lived out withoutthe
consequenceof life beingship-wreckedin the process.Life avengeditselfon
form by conformingto the principlesof thisform.In the essayon Philippeof
1910, the hero stridespast that stage of his fate in whichwoman- life still could play a role, in the followingmanner:"Desirehadmadehimhard,
strong. He, who had permittedthe woman to departsobbingwordlessly,
annihilated, trembling in pain, now gained luminous strength for the
renunciation. ... For he haddestroyedthe woman'slife, hadhe not?"Life
avenged itself on philosophyby hideouslyrealizingit.
And LukAcsknew that life's revenge was more than revenge: it was
judgement.In his dialogue On Povertyin Sprit,he identifiedsin with the
interminglingof castes.The manof formsmustnotattachhimselfto life. But
the un-livedphilosophyis no longerphilosophy.And in The Theoryof the
Novel a motifemergeswhichhadalreadybeenimplicitin allthe questionshe
had posed to the world- the motifof the creationof a new, genuine,interpersonallife. A life whichovercomesthe dualismof the "empirical"andthe
"metaphysical,"a life which- as ThomasMannsaid - will againprovide
an existentialbasis for art.
The dreamsof TheSoul andtheFormswere addressedto Irma,butIrma
was not presentin these dreams.The authorof the essaysborewitnessto his
own possibilities,to the possibilitiesof his own "metaphysicalI." But Irma
Seidlerwas not Regine Olsen, who livedhappilyuntilshe died. Kierkegaard
could create his relationshipto RegineOlsen;andhe couldcreateit in a way
that posteritycouldonly seek - andfind - the possibilitiesof the philosopher's "I" in this philosophicalcreation.Regine Olsen is trulyonly a nonobjectified object, a being transformedinto symbol,who does not intrude
into the story which is not her story,but thatof the manwho had given her
symbolicform. But IrmaSeidlerwas not Regine Olsen, who lived happily
until she died. She was not the heroineof philosophicalparables.She putan
end to the philosophicalparablesonce and for all with the final gestureof
suicide. It was she, and not the philosopherhimself,who threwinto doubt
and made the philosophyof TheSoulandtheFormsequivocalwiththisfinal
gesture. And with herdeath-leapshe earnedherrighttosharethisstory.Not
merely as its object, but as its subjectas well.

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2
ACT ONE

G. firstmet I. in December, 1907.It wasin the midstof a noisycompany


that he noticed a female voice of unusualtimbre;he set out afterthe voice,
moving from room to room in search of its owner and found her. The
unwrittenlaws of their social classdid not permitthem to meet frequently.
Altogether they spentno morethana few hourswithone another.I. wanted
to be a painter.On May28, 1908she left forFlorence.G. followedherwitha
friend. Among G.'s papers,thereare the followingnotes:"Twominuteson
the train,two beautifulmomentsas we crossthe PonteVecchio.""Saturday,
June 6. S. Croce and S. Lorenzo with Irma. We buy pictures.Bargello.
Alone in the evening;one kiss in the dark."They returnedto Budapeston
July 1st. A few meetings. Among G.'s papers, the draft of the essay on
Kassnerwith the followinginscription:"I readpartof this to Irmaon June
28, 1908 on Svab Hill. After that, I saw her only twice."On July1st, I. left
for Nagybainya,*to study painting. Among G.'s papers, there are the
following notes, dated between July 1-3: "Scruples(marriagewould be
impossible). . .I was preparedfor malaise, fear, the mellowingeffect of
happiness, fear that I mightnot be able to orientmyselfin a morebroadlybased life."
FromJuly 1 throughOctober,correspondence.On October25, I.'s first
letter to suggest breakingoff the relationship.November2, I.'s second
break-off letter. Among G.'s papers,a draftof a good-byeletter:"I must
write now, now whenyou will only receivethese linesalongwiththe newsof
my death. . ." I. married R.

ACT TWO

In March,1910,G. sent the Hungarianeditionof his volumeof essaysto


I.R., accompaniedby a letter. The draft of the letter, addressingher as
"Most esteemed Madam,"survivedamongG.'s papers."Thistrulycannot
obligate you to me in any manner,for it is I who am obligedto thankyou,
with the most sincereandmostdeeplyfelt gratitudeandaffection,foreverything you have done for me, for everythingyou have been to me, for what
:''NagybAnya- name of a smalltown in Hungaryand the artists'colonywhichflourished
there from 1896 onwards.In contrastto contemporaryacademicpainting,the Nagybanya
in its
colony developeda distinctivenaturalisticstylewhichborrowedmuchfromimpressionism
treatmentof lightbut stoppedshortof the atmosphericdissolutionof form.The colonyhosted
many students as well as accomplishedartists from all over Europe during the 1910s.

Trans. note

Georg Lukdcsand IrmaSeidler

79

you have made of me." I.'s answer:"Dear Gyuri,*my heartfeltthanksfor


the book. . .Sincere greetings,IrmaSeidler, R."
The diarybegins with April, 1910.
"There'strouble.I am thinkingonlyof her;she couldhelpme"(April27).
"To remember one event with her is more than a life to be spent with
another" (May 8). "But, in that most general sense, everythingis 'over
between us.' Between us, yes. But fromme to her, no. And fromher to me,
who knows?" (May 14). "Irmawill have somethingto do with the end"
(June 1). "Strange,I knew her for barelya year, andhow long it took me to
learn what she really meant to me" (June21).
G. decidedto dedicatethe Germaneditionof his essaysto I. Dedications
drafts. "I place this book in your hands,for you have given me more thanI
could possibly recountin it; everythingthat I have acquiredandwon. And
even if you do not need, even if you will not suffer this expressionof
gratitude, it will still silently fall upon your head like faded flowers in
autumn"(May 14). "Inmemoryof my firstdaysin Florence.""I entrustthis
book to the hands whichgave it to me."
Fall, 1910, G.'s letter to his friend, L.: "The difficulties,it seems, are
greater still with Irma. I saw a sketch of hers for a fresco. . . . It is as though

Nagybainyaand R. never existed. And with her.. .this is a bad sign - in


terms of her marriage.The fact that she is comingto Budapestthis winter
while her husbandis to stay in Nagybinya is only a symptomof this. ...
Luckyfor me that by the time she will have arrived,I shallbe faraway,that
by now I look upon this whole affairwith simplehumancompassion- so
much so that I could even be her well-meaningfriend if it were not so
dangerous(for her), which, of course, is why it will not be."
ACT THREE

January, 1911, G.'s letter to I., in which he asked her to accept the
dedication from him. "You know...why these writingswere written,
because I cannot write poems, and you know againwho these 'poems'are
addressedto, and who awakenedthemin me." "WhatI wishto accomplish,
only an unattachedman can accomplish."
I.'s answer: "Thankyou for retainingso much warmthfor me. I am
proud that I had somethingto do with the productionof sucha book - or
that you believe that I had. I am also glad that, as it turnsout, I read the
Hungarianedition correctly."
March, 1911. G. and I. meet for the firsttime in almostthreeyears.G.'s
letters to his friend, L.: "Irma is here and we've met a few times, and so far it
*
Gyuri - affectionatetermfor Georg in Hungarian.After Irma'smarriage,theircorresuse
pondencetakes on an appropriateformality,whichis not reflectedin the undifferentiated
of "you" in English. - Trans.note

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seems everythingis over. But Irmais immenselyunhappy.It'squitecertain


that her marriageis totallyandhopelesslybad." "Whateverharmshe did to
me turnedout well for me in the end - here she is innocent.The factthatit
was even worse for her - this is her misfortune.""I'vechatteredon about
myself too long, perhapsin your eyes, suspiciouslylong."
I.'s two letters to G., sent by messengerin March, 1911. "But I must
absolutelyspeak with you alone before your trip.. .and don'tleave before
we've had a chanceto speakwithone another.Greetings,Irma.Pleasesend
an answerto mother.""I would verymuchlike to speakwithyou still....
And I wish you lovely days. . . . God be withyou, Gyuri,yourtruefriend,
Irma."
I.'s letter to G. in Florence,April 19, 1911:"Mydeargood friendGyuri,
why don't you ever writeme a line?Pleasewrite,my dearGyuri,for I amas
alone here as a straydog." G.'s answerto I.: "Therefore,I beg you to please
understand:it was quitewonderfulthatwe met againin Budapest,andwhat
revived between us, I sense, is but a beginning.... But I am happyto be
alone. It's not that I wish you both away- but I wish myself to be by
myself." G.'s letter to I. sent fromFlorenceto Budapest:"At timesI fear
you don't writebecausethingsaren'tgoingwell. Thiswouldpainme deeply,
for I know there's little, almostnothing,I could do for you now in case of
trouble. But still, perhaps. ..." I.'s last letterto G., April28: "Something
must be understoodall over again. In everyrespect."
April - May 1911:I.'s briefrelationshipwithG.'s friend,H. In breaking
off, H. appeals to the sanctityof friendship.I. commitssuicide.
On May 24, G. makes the followingentry in his diary:"No one is so
miserablethat God cannotmake him more miserable.I did not know this.
Every bond is broken, for she was every bond. And now there are only
shared goals and things and work, for she was everything.Everything.
Everything.Every thoughtI broughtto herwasa flower,anditsjoy andlifevalue were that it was hers - and that perhapsshe'd see it and delightin
it. ... It no longermattersnow whetheror not she wantedme. If one feels
this way about someone, he must alwaysbe ready. He must wait by her
doorstep, andperhapsonce. ... Onlyin thiswaycanhe becomeworthyof
what he feels, only in thisway can he earnthe rightto be human.I havelost
my right to life."
3.
"The gesture is unequivocal,only insofaras all psychologyis conventional" - writes Lukics in his Kierkegaardessay.
In the world of conventionsevery gestureis unequivocal,clear, transparent, intelligible. We know what a kiss signifies,we know what a love
letter signifies,or a warmsqueezeof the handat the gate, or.ifwe dancewith
the same person all night at a ball, or a serenadeunderthe windows;we

GeorgLukacsand IrmaSeidler

81

know what a bethrothalor marriagesignifies;we also know what marital


infidelity signifies. The significanceof individualgestures is regulatedby
institutionsand customs.If the gestureis sincere,therecanbe no misunderstanding; the only source of misunderstandingis deceit, but deceit also
presupposes knowledge of the significanceof gestures:it is the abuse of
these significations.But the significanceof gesturesremainsunequivocalfor
all that; indeed, deceit confirmstheir unequivocalmeaning.
Subjectively, Kierkegaarddid not participatein the world of conventions, his psychology was not conventional.But in his approachto and
estrangement from another human being, he neverthelessutilized this
conventionalset of customs.He wasbethrothed,andhe brokehisbetrothal.
Although Regine Olsen mighthave sensed a uniquenessconcealedin the
gestures,a uniquenesswhichcouldnot be describedin termsof psychological
conventions, she could just as well have interpretedthem accordingto the
significationsof sacrosanctcustom.Accordingto conventionalsignification,
breakingoff an engagementdefinitivelyconcludesa relationship.This may
be painful, but, in the last analysis,accordingto the rulesof customit also
signifiesfinalityand freedomregained.RegineOlsenwas a childof convention, thereforeshe could marryand live happilyuntilshe died.
But what happensif the customslose theirvalidity?Whathappenswhen
neitherof the two people have a conventionalpsychology?Indeed, what if
neither of them has access to a system of institutionsand customswhose
significationscould help interpretthe Other'sactionsandgestures?And, at
the same time, what if neitherof them has accessto a systemof institutions
and customs to help interprettheirown actions and emotions? Can two
people meet at all in harmonious,mutualunderstanding,if all existinginstitutions and their significations embody for them a contemptible,
unacceptablequotidien banality,if life turnsinto pure chaos, from which
they rise like two solitarymountainpeaks?Canone soul reachanotherif it
experiencesonly itself as genuinelyexistent?
The fated-togethernessof GeorgLukacsand IrmaSeidlerwas rootedin
theirlonely rejectionof the conventions.And preciselybecauseof this,their
being-fated-for-each-othercould never become living-for-each-other.
Both Georg Lukacs and Irma Seidler came from bourgeois Jewish
families in Budapest- the former from a financiallyprosperous and
growing family, the latter from a waningone. The "socialexistence"into
which they were born were stronglyrepugnantto them both. They were
disgusted by the musty atmosphereof the home contaminatedby petty
deals, calculations,self-seekingandthe conventionsof money.Thiswas the
life in which they were raised, and they both felt stronglythat this life was
somehow "not genuine." The home, the family, the institutions- they
were all inauthentic.They were both strangersamong their own. LukAcs
fled into "purespirit,"he learnedto breathethe headyairof philosophy.To
the irrelevantconventionswhichrepresentedchaosto him,he counterposed
purespirit,the "createdwork."The rootsof Irma'srebellionwereassuredly

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in goodness; she could not bearthe sightof suffering,andshe sufferedfrom


the lackof the meansto heal. "WhatshallI do? Imagine,a lovely,youngand
talented woman accustomedto hunger- isn't this monstrous!WhatI can
do to help her amounts to zero" (July 26, 1908). "I was tremendously
delighted with the 10 Forints,whichI rushedto the L's; they immediately
bought some paintand food. In the fall you will receivea smallsketchfrom
them because I cannot give them the money like this withoutaskingfor
something in return"(August 2). At the same time this considerateand
good personfelt uncertainin the atmosphereof "purespirit"which,forher,
was not so heady, but ratherrareindeed. She yearnedfor palpable,sensual
reality, for nature. She writes confidently: "We have both, I think,
surpassed in very healthy fashion, a perhapsoverly theoreticalstage. I
through nature, and you throughpositive history, throughthe study of
Marx." In 1919 -

had she lived -

Irma Seidler would certainly have

considered as her vocation the organizationof summer vacations for


proletarianchildren.
This was the root of Georg Lukacs'and IrmaSeidler'sfated-togetherness. And yet, this being-fated-for-each-other
could never become livingfor-each-other.
Can one soul reach another if it experiencesonly itself as genuinely
existent? Can two people arriveat understanding-each-other
if everyword
and gesture between them carriessignificanceonly in- and-for-itself,if the
institutionsand customsdo not offerat leastsome basisfor the interpretation
of gesturesandwords?Or, to inquirefurther,is a purelyuniquerelationship,
free of all regulation, createdfrom the void, at all possible?

Lukracstries and triesagain,and triesincessantlyto makehimselfunderstood by Irma Seidler, to make her understand the being that is specifically

him, who is no one else, buthim. "Love"hasno meaning.It is a banalword.


"I miss you" has no meaning.It, too, is a banalexpression.Whatmustbe
made clear to the Other is what it means(for me andonly for me) to love,
what it means (for me and only for me) to miss someone. But to articulate
the question "What does it mean that," .

. .

this requires an entire system of

categories. And Lukacsborrowsthis systemof categoriesfromphilosophy.


Personal feelingsare not articulatedin the conventionalsignifications,they
gain their significances from Lukacs philosophy. From a philosophy whose

essence and system of categories are inaccessibleto Irma. Every word


becomes ambiguous,everysentencemisconstruable.Desirelosesits object,
and the "I"becomesa construct."Makingoneselfunderstood"turnsintoits
own opposite. The moreLukacswishesto revealhis "I"to Irma,the deeper,
the more impenetrablehis incognito becomes. "There are people who

understand and do not live, and there are others who live and do not understand. The first kind can never really reach the second even though they
understand them, and the second can never understand anything, but then,
that cannot be important for them in any case because they love or hate,
tolerate or will tolerate, and the category of understanding does not exist for

Georg Lukdcs and Irma Seidler

83

them." Lukaicswrote this in March 1910 to Irma Seidler, analyzingthe


failureof theirrelationship.Lukaicscreatedhis relationshipto IrmaSeidler,
and continuallyrecreatedit throughthe prismof his philosophy.For this
analysisis in factphilosophicalpoetry."Irmais life."The manof philosophy
understandsthe existentialbeing,the existentialbeingknowshowto livebut
does not understandthe man of philosophy.Thus far the poem. But the
realityis this:no mancan makehimselfunderstoodthroughthe prismof his
philosophicalcategoriesalone. No one cangraspwhatis intangible.But the
reality is this: Irmawas not "life"- not in the philosophicalsense of the
word. Nor did she merelywant to live, she also wantedto understandthe
Other; however, the Other'sself-clarificationwas incomprehensibleto her.
The reality is this: Lukacsdid not understandIrmaSeidlerbecausehe also
wanted to understandher with philosophicalcategories, and the living
person with its livingdesires cannotbe understoodthroughthe philosophy
with which Lukaicswished to understandit.
"You wished to save me - I thankyou. You wishedto save me, but I
cannot be saved. . . . You haveventureduponan impossibletask, andyou
have realizedthis, have you not, or rather,life has madeyou realizeit, life,
which loves those who knowhow to live, andhatesthoseof my ilk"(Lukics'
good-bye letter to Irma, November-December, 1908). "Irma...the
woman, the redeemer"(diary,April 25, 1910). "But perhapsI could have
saved her, if I had takenher by the handandled her"(diary,May24, 1911).
Rescue, redemption, grace- these are the categories with which
describedhis relationshipto IrmaSeidler,whetherin the dialogueof
Lukbacs
misunderstandingsor in his monologues. Irma wished to save him. Irma
wished to redeem him. The redemption failed, and he retreated into
solitude. Had Irmatrulyunderstoodhim, then he would have partakenof
grace. In the mysticalsense of the word,graceis mergingwiththe Other.But
Irmacould not save him. And afterthe terribleend, the rolesareapparently
reversed: it is he who should have saved Irma. It is he who should have
redeemed Irma,but he could not save her, couldnot redeemher, for he had
not partakenof the "graceof goodness"(On Povertyin Spirit).But the roles
are only apparentlyreversed.Be he savedor savior,redeemedor redeemer,
it amounts to the same: it is he who mustpartakeof grace, either to be
redeemed, or to be capableof redeemingthe Other.
was to quote Browningwell afterthe
"I go to prove my soul" wasresearchingthe conductof Dostoievsky's
conclusionof ourstorywhenheLuka.cs
heroes. "I go to prove my soul" - this is the "challenge"of those livinga
lifeless life, those who do not wish to live by the normsof custom,but still
hope to gainsome insightinto theirown viability."I go to provemysoul" LukAcswished to "prove" his own soul, his own human viabilityin his
relationshipto IrmaSeidler.He didnot wishto love, he soughtcertainty.He
did not expect love, but rather this same certainty, proof of his own
authenticity,redemption,grace.That is, thiswas his questat thistime.This
is what the words "love" and "I am loved" meant to him.

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But they did not mean the same to IrmaSeidler.


"DearestGyuri,god be withyou, writeandlove me, Irma"(August14).
Irmawantedneitherto save norredeemthe Other,as she alsoneverwanted
to be saved or redeemed. She simplywishedto love and be loved. But she
was loved! Or, perhapsnot? Whatdoes it mean, "to love"?
In the world of conventionsevery gesture is unequivocal,clear, transparent, intelligible.But whathappenswhentwo peoplemeet, andneitherof
them has access to a systemof institutionsand customswhosesignifications
could help interpretthe Other'sactionsand gestures?Can they still invest
with the same significance that simple phrase which substantiatesand
resolves everything,which expressesthe beginningand the end of everything, which joins soul to soul: "I love you"?
What did it mean for Irma"to love"?
"You write that the difficultpaths (in work) must alwaysbe walked
alone. But perhapsit is still possiblefor anotherto see everystep. I see the
value of two people's belongingtogetherin thatone is not alone. In thatall
sorts of difficulties,losses, disappointmentscan be so muchbetterborneif
there is another, if someone holds one's hand"(August5). For Irma"to
love" meansto accepttwofoldsolitude."Toholdone's hand"is for Irmathe
gestureof earthlylove. "Backthen she mighthave felt that I couldsave her
from her troubles, though she did not love me. But perhapsI could have
saved her, if I had taken her by the handand led her"(diary,May24). The
"receiver"of Lukacs'soul did not interpretthe offer of "holdinghands"as
love ("she did not love me"). For him, "holdinghands"was thegestureof
rescue, not of love, but of goodness. "For the union of souls there is no
marriagebed."
For Irma, the symbolic"holdinghands"meant "to love," for Lukacs,
redemption meant "to love." They both love, but neitherfeels loved.
Because the words"I love you"meansomethingdifferentto the one andto
the other.
Georg Lukaicsand IrmaSeidlerwere both strangersamongtheirown.
Neitherof themfelt thatordinarylife was "genuine."The home, the family,
the institutionswere all inauthentic.But whatcouldtheycounterposeto all
this?
Lukaics- the unmediatedmeetingof souls in the state of "grace."But
the pure, unmediatedmeeting of souls could only be momentary."The
possibility, the one-time actualizationof a possibility- says Eckhartmeans its everlastingreality. Metaphysically,time does not exist. And the
moment when I was I is truly life, full life; and yet, the 'moods' which
permeate all of life are only 'momentary.'Here, too, the same dreadful
ambiguity.Is this not frivolous,as well? In otherwords,the old problemwhere does HjalmarEkdal become distinguishablefromNovalis?"(diary,
May 11). Lukics does not sparehimselfthecrueltyof the clear-sighted,truly
noble individual against himself; indeed, where does Hjalmar Ekdal
become distinguishable from Novalis? Where does the conventionalized

Georg Lukdcsand IrmaSeidler

85

egotist become distinguishablefrom the poet fearlesslyexperiencinghis


death? And how can the Other's"receiver"not registerthe veryambiguity
of what is problematicand ambiguousfor the "I" itself. How could the
Other distinguishthese two intertwinedpossibilities?How could it not see
- justifiably,too - the fearof the over-refined,conventionalizedegotism
in the stance of "hoursin lieu of life"?
The meeting of souls in the moment, hoursin lieu of life - this is what
Lukacs counterposedto the "lifelesslife" of the everydayworld. But was
this also Irma'sanswer?Was this also Irma'schoice?
Irma'svisit to the Ferenczys":"Theylive a lovely life. ... Their life is
truly not ordinary, but a noble, warm and simple somethingbuilt upon
immeasurablerichness.It is a higherformof existence"(August5). Irma's
choice: life insteadof hours.But not the ordinarylife, ratherthe realization
of a "higherform of existence."
Irma'schoice: habitableinstitutions.Not institutionsfurnishedwith the
banal furnitureof custom, but those which providecomfortand warmth,
those which create new meaning, those which can be replenishedwith
authenticlife.
But, can privatelyinhabitedinstitutionsbe created?Is there a private
language?Are privatecustomspossible?Can two people make a world?
Lukacscould not understandIrma'sanswer,for he necessarilysaw false
illusion in all this. Because he knew that private language and private
customs cannot exist. He knew that two people cannot create habitable
institutions.Wherecultureis lacking,the habitableinstitutionis an "island"
at best. And even if he lookeduponthese islandswithlonging,andeven if he
held the authenticlife organizedon these islandsof habitableinstitutionsto
be exemplary, he still did not wish to live in WilhelmMeister'smarvelous
tower. "Irmais life" - and Lukcs did not want this life.
"Thereis no marriagebed for the unionof souls."Didn'tthe promiseof
the future lie in Irma'searthlydream, afterall?
4
Strindberg- andmanyothersafterhim - havewrittenof themanand
the woman who tortureeach other untilall mutualunderstandingburnsup
in the heat of hate. But has anyonewrittenthe anti-Strindberg?
The breathtaking dramaof two souls in searchof one another?Whenall truegestures
become ambiguous, all understanding- misunderstanding,when the
wordsthatare saidcausepain, andthe unsaidwordseven moreso, whenwe
are able to expressless and less, when self-revelationbecomesintroversion
until finally faith is silenced, and the souls are alienatedfromone another
with the finalityof fate? Has anyonewrittenthis dramayet?
*Karl Ferenczy(1862-1917),one of the principalsand teachersat the Nagybfnyaartists'
colony and a professorat the HungarianAcademyof Fine Arts after 1906.

I.'s Letterto G. from Nagybdnya


Act One: Hope
July3, 1908.I have receivedyourletter, "butI am stillnot frightenedby
the things you say in it. But then - my dear Gyuri, listen to me: do you
believe thattwo people cangrowtowardone anothergenuinely,not superficially butsincerely,withoutanypain?. .. Afterwe grewso veryclose to one
another, I sensed that somethingof this sort was boundto come. But I was
not afraid.I treatthe whole thingas some noble work,somethingwhichone
does with courageousintegrity,in nobility."
Act Two: BetweenFearand Hope
July 17, 1908. "I am afraid- and at times like this I feel verylonely thatyou missme, andmissme only wherethoughtsandworkareconcerned,
in thatdomainwhichis yours,andmine,butwhichis nottheonlydomainthere
is. No, don't be angryfor these thoughts,whichI can barelyexpress. ..it
shouldmeanno moreto you thanthatthereis somethingI cannotexpress...
I love you verymuch,you knowthat, butone shouldsay so again,anyway."
August 2. "As forwhatyou writeregardingthe two of us, I haveonlyone
reply, dear Gyuri,I havebeen throughso muchdisappointment.Therehave
been men who lovedme well, andtheywereall cowards.Theywereafraidof
me. And now you, too, are afraid.I want a great love, the love of a noble
man. You grantme this."
August 5. "At times. ..it seemsas thoughsomethinghashappenedwith
you in relationto me." "Letter-writingis wretched.""Loveme and understand everythingwell. I was unableto say what I thought.I believewe can
reach one another, but no, no more talk of this. I love you very much."
August 14. ". . .we so very badly need a day together, a lovely, sunny

and seriousday, witheach other."G. shouldvisither;if it disturbshis work,


he should not come. "But if you can, if you are not afraid,then come, for
sure."
August 29. "I only know one single. . .method for your cominghere.
And that is: openly, with parentalpermission,with the expresspurposeof
visitingNagybanyaand myself."
September2. "It is my last hope that you mightcome from Budapest.
Openly."
Act Three:Despair
October 1. "Duringthe summeryou explainedsomewhatcruellyto me
in long, painful letters that we ultimately cannot make each other happy.
But at the time, all these things you were saying bounced off me. .. And

Georg Lukdcsand IrmaSeidler

87

now the reactionhas set in, and it weighs heavilyon me."


October25. "Gyuri,we spentmuchtime together. ... But we were not
togetherwitheverypartof our being. We werenot togetherwhereI havemy
most wretchedly human core of blood and pulsatingflesh which lives in
tangible things. . . . And today I will discontinuethis combativetogetherness becauseI often feel, to a degreethatwillbrookno argument,thatthere
are thingsin whichthe most incisiveanddeep psychologicalanalysis,as well
as the peculiar delight that goes with it, are useless for me, because they
cannot substitute for functionsof the soul but remainmerely intellectual
pleasure." "You never told me - and I certainlynever knew because I
alwayshad ample reasonto presumethe opposite - I neverknewwhether
or not you reallyconsideredlivingour lives together.And despite the fact
that you have never saidyou wantedit so, I ask you todayto returnmy freedom, whichperhapsyou nevertook fromme - whichyou alwayshesitated
and fearedto take. I now reclaimit. You knowthatI'vegone througha great
deal of pain to build up my strengthso I couldwriteyou all this." "God be
with you Gyuri, I bid you goodbye, becausewe cannotgo on together."
November2. "Mydearestone andonly Gyuri,I ampackingandcoming
to Budapest. . . . I wantto speakto you. To speakto you and makemyself
understood.If there is stillsome waywe canreacheachother. I wantus to do
so. And if not, I shallstill remaindevotedto you forever,andI shalltakemy
leave in the knowledgethat the warmthof my entiresoul was yours, and I
shall always watch every step you take from afar. The only thing that I
urgently,deeply desire, if we mustpart, is thatwe do so not withbitterness,
but with magnanimousand tendersentiments- gently."
The last rendez-vousshe expected did not take place at that time.
5
There is resigned despair and provocative despair; the provocative
despair is alwaysan expectationof miracles.IrmaSeidler'sdespairwas just
such an expectation of miracles. The goodbye letter is ambiguous.The
words speak of breakingup, but the passionthat risesfromthe wordswith
elemental force carriesthe oppositemeaning.IrmaSeidlerwantsone thing:
the ultimate certainty,the definitiveanswer.The certaintyof breakingup,
the certaintyof failure, - or, the miracle.IrmaSeidlerexpecteda mircale,
and, when it did not come, she challengedit. Perhapsthe finalityof one
the certaintyof failure, - or, the miracle.IrmaSeidlerexpecteda miracle,
force. Perhaps the finalityof "no" is the only way to attain the finalityof
"yes."
IrmaSeidler'sdespairwas the despairof expectingmiracles.Perhapsshe
was not even expectinga "big"miracle,but only "small"miracles.("Weso
badly need a day together." "My last hope is that perhapsyou can come
fromBudapest.")But the "small"miracleis as mucha miracleas the bigone,

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Heller

and it is fruitlessto expect miracles.They cannotbe forced. The one who


received the letter had no "ear" for the secret message. The ambiguity
carrieda single meaningfor him. Georg Lukics was a proudman, and the
proud man has no feeling for this typeof ambiguity.And so the last cryof
despair("If there is stillsome wayfor us to reacheachother, I wantus to do
so.") was in vain. Only one alternativeremained, one certainty- the
certaintyof failure, which was the failureof two people. The last rendezvous she expected did not take place at that time.
IrmaSeidlerloved GeorgLukaics,lovedhimas he was. She lovedhimfor
the same reasons that anyone, who really loves, loves - because he was
exactlywhathe was. And yet, IrmaSeidlerwantedthismanso terriblymuch
to be differentthanhe was in his relationshipto her. IrmaSeidlerexpecteda
miracle.But, the soundof trumpetswillcausethe wallsof Jerichoto fall, and
life-givingmannawill fall from heaven, before a significantindividualwill
act contrary to the principles of his own individuality.

"You too are afraid"..."if you are not afraid"..."you always


hesitated and feared"- IrmaSeidler expected the biggestmiracleof all:
she wanted the man she loved to be unafraid.
Georg Luktcs wrote in his diary:"To expectmiraclesis alwaysthe sign
of crisis.As long as thereis no difficulty,one canhavefaithin miracles.And
theywill come. But the expectedmiracleis alwaysimpossible"(June6, 1910).
The expected miracle is alwaysimpossible.But what does it mean to
"have faith in miracles"?Could IrmaSeidlerhave had faith in miracles?
Faith is alwaysdirectedtowardtranscendence.To havefaithin miracles
means that we have not partin the miracleitself. The miracleis externalgrace. In the havingof faithin miraclesthereis no time. We canhavefaithin
miracles throughoutour lives, and we can never say they will not happen.
That would be lack of faith.
To have faith in anotherhumanbeing means to considerthe Other as
transcendent, to know from the start that there is no relationship,no
reciprocity.Everythingproceedsfromthe Other.The Otheris the subject.I
the object - I am subjectonly insofaras I have faithin the Other.
But Irma Seidler's relationshipto Georg Lukcs was anythingbut
religious;for her, a relationshipmeantreciprocity,the constantdialogueof
two humansouls. IrmaSeidlerdid not havefaithin GeorgLukcs, andthat
is why she had the strengthto judge him: "You. . .alwayshesitatedand
feared."
Irma Seidlerjudged Georg Lukics, and yet, she wantedto provokea
miracle. But a miracleis just as much a religiouscategoryas faith is; the
provoked miracleis a paradox.And to appealto paradoxis alwaysthe sign
of despair: "but to expect miracles is always a sign of crisis" - the sign of
impotence; the sign of failure. Irma Seidler's good-bye letter was
ambiguous, but the one who received the letter could have no ear for it
because he was, such as he was. To try to provoke a miracle is already, in its
own paradoxical fashion, an admission of failure.

GeorgLukdcsandIrmaSeidler 89
The sound of trumpetswill cause the walls of Jerichoto fall, and lifegiving mannawill fall fromheavenbefore a man, who fears, ceases to fear.
"Scruples (marriage would be impossible)...I was prepared for
malaise:fear, the mellowingeffectof happiness,fearthatI mightnot be able
to orient myselfin a morebroadly-basedlife"(Lukic'snote, July1-3, 1908).
GeorgLukaicswasafraidof IrmaSeidler,buthe didnotfearforlife,rather
for his work. "What I wish to accomplishonly an unattachedman can
accomplish.""I feel moreandmorestronglythatthe reallyimportantthings
happenin solitude.... I experiencesolitudeas a great'redeeming'joy, not
as a resignationto being excludedfromlife, but as the discoveryof life, my
life, the life in which everythingis adequate." (Letters of G.L. to I.S.
Januaryand April, 1911)
"LastnightI felt againthatIrmais life" - but GeorgLukAcswas afraid
of this life. "Great love is alwaysascetic. There is no differencebetween
elevating the beloved to the height of heights and so alienatingher from
oneself as well as herself,andusinghersimplyas a steppingstone"(Lukacs'
essay on Philippe).
In theorythere maybe no "difference"betweenthese two attitudes,but
Lukics was a refinedandhonorableman.He knewthereis a difference.And
he chose the firstcourse. The figureof Irmabecamesymbolicfor him, and
he chose this symbolic transformation:"Strange how little I felt the
necessity, in Leo and Irma'scase, of their being-with-meand being-forme. .... Their being-here was sufficient" (diary, November 30, 1911).
Lukics transformed Irma Seidler into a mythical figure, into the
unobjectifiedobject of his eternaldesire.He hadfaithin Irma,(as Irmadid
not have faithin him), andhe couldhavefaithbecausewhatwasessentialfor
him, work, was not being-with-her,but her existencein itself.
Georg Lukacswas afraidof IrmaSeidler.He fearedfor his work,andhe
feared her as he was a refinedand honorableman. Of the two attitudes,he
chose the first.HefearedIrmabecausehefearedforIrma;he didnot wantto
transformher into an instrument."WhateverKierkegaarddid, he did it in
order to rescueRegine Olsen for life." RegineOlsenwas a childof conventions, and she marriedandlivedhappilyuntilshe died. But IrmaSeidlerwas
not a childof conventions,and at the sametime, she wasunableto havefaith
in miracles. She tried to provoke a miracle,and simultaneouslyprovoked
fate againstherself.
GeorgLukics wasafraidof IrmaSeidler,buthe didnotfearforlife,rather
feared for Irma.This fearwas of his essence;andyet Irmawantedhimnot to
fear butstill be himselfand remainhimself.Irmaexpecteda miracle,but the
miraclenever came. Irmatriedto provokea miraclebut miracleswillnot be
provoked. All our lives we can have faithin miracles;faithknowsno time.
But miracles can only be provoked in time, and only with the gestureof
finality. And Irma Seidler -

the second time around -

found the only

gesture in which finality becomes indissolublyfinal, the gesture in which


there is no more ambiguity.

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Lukacstriedandtriedagain,andtriedincessantlyto makehimselfunderstood by IrmaSeidler, to make her understandthe being thatis specifically


him, who is no one else, but him. Every person in love does this. Every
person is a unique entity, and every person in love wants the Other to
perceive this uniqueness.This is what he wants to reveal. Thisis what he
wants loved: "I would love to be loved". . ."thatI mightbe seen."* - Is
there a more elementaryneed than this?
But we know thatwordsare not enough.We knowthatourvocabularyis
poor, and, if even it were a thousandtimesricher,we wouldstill not be able
to describewhatwe areandwhatthe Othermeansto us becausethesethings
are indescribable.
In the world of conventionsevery gestureis unequivocal,clear, transparent, intelligible. The significanceof individualgesturesis regulatedby
institutionsand customs. We understandone another,but is it one another
thatwe understand.We comprehendthe "signs."But arewe comprehending
the signs of humanuniqueness?In the worldof conventionsuniquenessis an
obstaclesince one mustconformthere. Individualmeaningsmustdissolvein
the universalmeaning. They must be integratedwith it. In the world of
conventions everythingis simpleand transparent.But is man simple?And
can the universalmake our uniquenesstransparent?
Every personis a uniqueentity,andeverypersonin love wantsthe Other
to perceive this uniqueness. Thisis what he wantsloved, but we know that
wordsare not enough. We need directandsensualencounters,the free play
of eyes, the meetingof hands.We need the embrace.But whatdoes the free
play of eyes, the meetingof handsmean, andwhatdoes an embracemean?
Once we step outsidethe worldof conventions,once nothinghasa universal
meaninganylonger,once everygestureexistsonlyforitself - a signonlyof
our uniqueness- then the directandsensualencountersagainhaveneedof
words. We circumscribewhat we have experienced.We live out what we
have circumscribed."Thereis no marriagebed for the union of souls"even a marriagebed will not unifysouls.
Everyperson is a uniqueentity, andeverypersonin love wantsto reveal
this uniquenessto the Other:"I wouldlove to be loved". . ."thatI mightbe
seen." But the revelation of uniqueness, making oneself known, is no
miracle, and even less is it grace. The revelation of uniquenessis an
and
accomplishmentwhich develops slowly in the search-for-one-another;
the search-for-one-anotheris being-together,if you will, "holdinghands".
And this hand-holdingis no longerthe meetingof two souls in the void, but
two people acceptingone another. And this acceptanceof one anotheris
life. Irmaon the Ferenczys:"Theylive a lovelylife. .... Theirlife is trulynot
*The lines are froma poemby the Hungarianpoet EndreAdy (1877-1919).- Trans.note

Georg Lukacsand IrmaSeidler

91

ordinary, but a noble, warm and simple something, built upon an


immeasurablerichness.It is a higherformof existence."
The revelation of uniqueness is an accomplishmentwhich develops
slowly in the search-for-one-another,and this search-for-one-anotheris
being-together.And being-together- holdinghands.And holdinghands
- acceptingone another.And the acceptanceof one another- life. And
this acceptanceof one another,this life developsits own customs,in which
the gestureswill be unequivocalbecausethey will haveconsequencesin life.
And uniquenessmay stillgainexpressionin these unequivocalsignifications
because this being-togetheris itself based on the search for uniqueness.
Habitable institutions.Did not the future'spromise lie in Irma'searthly
dream, after all?
triedand triedagain,andtriedincessantlyto makehimselfunderLuka.cs
Irma
stood
Seidler, to make her understandthe being that is specifically
by
him, who is no one else but him. He describedhimself with words. He
articulatedhimselfthroughcategories.He describedhis relationshipto Irma
with words, and he articulatedit through categories. These words and
categories were not conventional. They were the categories of his
philosophy. And IrmaSeidlerdid not understandthese categories,and the
more LukAcsrevealed himself, the more opaque, the more incomprehensible he became for her.
Were these categories"beyond"Irma?Did she fail to understandwhat
they articulatedbecause she could not understandthem?"Whywere Irma
and Leo beneficial for me? I think because they were strong enough to
understandexactly what I thought, but not strongenough to continueon
another plane once they embarkedwith me" (diaryMay29, 1919).That is,
Irma did not consider the Lukaicsiancategoriesappropriatefor describing
theirrelationshipwithone another.Thatis, Irmafelt thatthesephilosophical
categories only alienatedthem from one another.The articulationof vital
problems on a purely philosophicalplane was not acceptableto her. She
refusedto understandtheirrelationshipthroughthe categoriesof a philosophical system which has nothingbut contemptuoustermsfor life.
Irma attempted to recover immediacyin the project of mutualunderstanding, to recover spontaneity, to recover what is sensuallyreal- to
recover all this from a philosophywhichconsiderssensualitycontemptible
and which excludes spontaneityfrom the sphereof what it considersto be
"of a higher order".
"But if you can - for you own sake, too - do not analyzethisso much
in the future"(Irmaon the relationshipof the Platonistandthe poet - the
key idea of the essayon Kassner)."Sometimesone picksa bunchof flowers,
then rearrangesthem, andso far it has alwaysseemedto me thatI cannever
replacetheiroriginalfreshharmonybecauseI hadmovedeverysingleone of
them. In arranginglike this, in seekingharmonylike this, one shouldretain
some fixedreference- or else, one mighteasilyruineverything"(August5).
"Analysisdissects - and it is not alwayspossibleto reassemblethingsonce

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they have been reduced to their separate elements. . .the fact that
somethingcan be pickedapartdoes not provethatit hadto be pickedapart,
but only that the experimentcould be performed"(August 30). "No, I
cannot bear to analyzethings, nor do I want to becauseit is cruelto place
one's own and another'ssoul on the dissectiontable"(October1).
We do not have the letters Lukics wrote to NagybBnya;yet, we can
imaginewhat this analysismighthave been like. Lukaicswas contemptuous
of psychoanalysisas an explanatorytheory.For him psychologicalanalysis
was the analysisof motives and moods. And since motivesand moods are
ephemeral, constantlychanging,the dissectionof motivesand moods will
never reveal to us the ultimate, the truly essential, the unconditional.
However, it was through analysis that Lukaicswanted to arrive at the
unconditional, ultimate essences. Lukacs was contemptuousof psychoanalysis as an explanatorytheory. The "soul," just as it is, in its own
essentialnature,hasno priorhistory.To probethispriorhistorywouldagain
mean getting lost in the chaos of contingencies.This "prior history"
introduceselements into the analysiswhichare externalto the "soul".And
these externalelements are contingentelements.We must arbitrarilypick
and choose from among an infinityof contingentelements, and what we
want to graspmost, whatwe wantto knowmost andcomprehendin its own
unconditionalessence, in its "being-just-so,"in its uniqueness,the pure
individuality,the "intelligibleI" will againslip throughour fingers.It was
this "intelligibleI" that Lukics wished to revealin his analysis,and it was
through analysis that he wanted to arriveat this ultimate, unconditional
essence. "The newlyself-conscioussoul marvelsat its entirepriorexistence
like a stranger.. . . These are the dialoguesof nakedsoul withtheirnaked
fates."
This is existentialanalysis.The object of the analysisis not the living
individual, for the "soul" of even the noblest individualcarriesits own
prehistory.He, too, has motives, even motivesthatare contingentand not
decisive in terms of his individuality.The object of the analysis is the
individualconceivedand formalizedas symbol.Everyindividual- thatis,
every significantindividual,for only the significantindividualis worthyof
existentialanalysis- becomesthesymbolof an attitude,andthedialogueof
two individuals is the meeting of two symbolic attitudes. And every
symbolicallyconceivedattitudeis afate andthe meetingof two nakedsouls,
two fates seekingone another.And so, IrmaSeidleris not IrmaSeidlerbut
"life," "goodness," "the redeemer".And Georg Lukacsno longer in his
actual, empiricalpresence, but the "manof the createdwork,""solitude,"
"unviability"."I was honest and conscientiousin always revealingwhat
there was still between us, althoughI did it becauseI believed that these
things were but the strugglesof the past, and the futurewas alreadyon its
way, that its firstsignswere alreadyvisible,andthatyou hadsavedme andI
would perhapsbe able to reciprocateyoursavingme" (G.L.'s unsentgoodbye letter, November-December,1908). But Irma Seidler was not "the

Georg Lukdcsand IrmaSeidler

93

savior". She neitherwantedto save nor be saved. She loved, wantedto be


loved. But what does it mean "to love"?
It was throughexistentialanalysis,throughthe dialogueof two naked
souls, that Lukics wantedto arriveat the ultimate,unconditionalessences.
He wanted to provokeredemptionwiththe magicof philosophicalanalysis,
the magicof words.But merewordsare the eternityof repetition.Wordsby
themselves can never reveal fate to us. And if fate is not revealed, then
words in their eternalrepetitiononly alienateus fromone another,andthe
vehicleof communicationbecomes the vehicleof eternal-unredeemability.
"Hic Rhodus, hic salta. Hier ist die Rose, hier Tanze" (Marx)Mere
words, analysis,are the eternityof repetition.For it is only in the deedthat
we gain certaintyof whatsomeonemeansto us, of "whatit meansto love,"of
what "I love you" and "you love me" means. It is only in the deed thatwe
gain certaintyof what somethingmeans to us; only the deed is transformed
into fate. Whoeverwants to know, whoeverwantsto love, whoeverwants
eternal repeatability. "Hic Rhodus, hic salta. Hier ist die Rose, hier
wordsinto deeds. And this "leap"cannotbe avoided,andit cannotbe done
away with through analysis, because analysis is eternal repetition and
eternal repeatability. "Hic Rhodus, hic salta. Hier ies die Rose, hier
Tanze." The leap fromwordsinto deeds is a riskandthe acceptanceof risk.
For it may turnout thatwe do not love the one we love afterall. It mayturn
out that the fate we choose is not our fate, and whatwas resplendentwith
symbolismin the analysismay lose its brillance,andwe mayfailto findwhat
we were seeking. And yet, "hic Rhodus, hic salta. Hier ist die Rose, hier
Tanze." Withoutacceptingrisk,withoutthe "leap,"we, humans,cannever
find one another.
"Justa question - isn'tit somewhatfrivolous(the frivolityof empirical
lazyness deriving from transcendentalpessimism) to transformevery
psychologicalphenomenoninto symbols?"(diaryMay 11, 1910).Few men
have revealed themselves- even to themselves-- with more cruelty,
more relentlesshonesty.
And when Irma Seidler misunderstoodGeorg Lukacs,she still understood him correctly;she understoodwhatthistranscendentalpessimismand
this empirical lazyness meant for her. "You are afraid of me." Lukics
symbolically transformedevery psychologicalphenomenon because he
feared the riskof the "leap".LukdcsfearedIrmaSeidler;he feared,not for
his "empiricalI" but for his "symbolicI". He fearedfor his Work.
But "wheredoes HjalmarEkdalbecomedistinguishablefromNovalis?"
In the fact that Novalis accomplisheshis work.
7

Human beings make themselvesthe objects of theirconsciousness.


Lukics tried and tried again, and tried incessantlyto make himself

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understoodby IrmaSeidler.He describedhimselfwithwords.He articulated


himself through categories, the categoriesof his own philosophy.Everything became theoreticaland symbolic.There are no ephemeralmotives,
and there are no indisolublesentiments.Only the ultimate,unconditional
essences, whose symbolicsignificancescan be grasped,exist. There is no
longer any immediacy, because only what is conceptuallymediated and
integrated into these symbols is real and "intelligible." Only those
sentiments exist that are part of a conceptuallyconstructed"fate."
Human beings make themselves the objects of their consciousness.
Human beings are capable of looking at themselvesthroughthe eyes of
Others.Humanbeingsare capableof judgingthemselvesin termsof normative principles. Human beings are capableof consciouslysocializingtheir
affects. Humanbeingsare capableof formingtheirownmoralindividuality.
Human beings make themselvesthe objectsof theirconsciousness.But
can a man become "pure consciousness,""pure spirit"?The senses may
become theoretical,but can they become theoreticians?
I.'s letter to G.: "I, too, must frequentlythinkaboutthat evening. . .it
was a partof those few hourswhenwe werestill free. Free of all self-censure
and reflection, free of that smallbut nonethelessimportanthobbleon that
warmest life in our innermost depths" (August 14). ". . .write, as spontane-

ously as possible, whatevercomes to mind. Because we need to be more


intensely together" (August 30). ". . .the most incisive and deep psycholo-

gical analysis. . .is useless for me becauseit cannotsubstitutefor functions


of the soul, but remainsmerelyintellectualpleasure."
FromG.'s diary:"Andas longas communicationis not all thereis andall
there is is not equallycommunication,nothingexists"(May8, 1910).
The senses maybecometheoretical.But can theybecometheoreticians?
Human beings are capableof lookingat themselvesthroughthe eyes of
Others. Humanbeingsare capableof judgingthemselvesin termsof normative principles. Human beings are capableof consciouslysocializingtheir
affects. Humanbeingsare capableofformingtheirownmoralindividuality.
This is the meaning of culture, and this is the conduct of individualsof
culture.
But what happens if one does not see throughthe eyes of the Other
because there are no unequivocal significations and if one cannot
comprehend the "signs"?What happens if the normativeprinciplesare
nothing more than the skeletons of exhausted conventions?How can
individualsbe culturedwithouta culture?How can individualsmake themselves objects of their consciousnessin the "eraof absoluteculpability"?
There is no privatelanguage,and thereare no privatecustoms,and the
institutions cannot be made privately habitable. In the "era of absolute
culpability" "the majority of human beings live without life and remain
unconscious of it." The majority of human beings do not make themselves
objects of their consciousness - not in the noble or ethicalsense of the term:
"their fates are concealed by petty 'musts'."

GeorgLukdcsandIrmaSeidler 95
But if individualsneverthelesswantto makethemselvesobjectsof their
consciousness, they can only do so throughtheory.And no immediacycan
remain in the "soul" because this immediacyonly mediates the "lifeless
life"; and the spontaneityof the senses must be renouncedbecause this
spontaneitycanonly be the vehicleof "absoluteculpability".The individual
of culture can only develop within a culturebecause only in a culturecan
spontaneity and sensuality itself become cultured. Only in a culture can
individuals make themselves objects of their consciousness without
sacrificingtheirsensesto theory,onlyin a culturedworldcanthe harmonyof
sensual and intellectualbeauty develop. Habitableinstitutions.Habitable
world. "Hic Rhodus, hic salta. Hier ist die Rose, hier Tanze."
Individualsof culturecan only developwithina culture;whoevermakes
himself or herself the object of consciousnessin the "eraof absoluteculpability" is over-refined. Theory absorbs the senses. "Poverty in spirit is
nothing less than liberationfrom our own psychologicaldeterminantsin
order to deliver ourselves to those metaphysicaland metapsychological
necessitieswhicharemoreproperlyfromourown."But is it liberationto be
liberatedfrom our psychologicaldeterminants?
In the world of conventionspsychologyis also conventional.We understand one another. But is it one anotherthat we understand?We comprehend the "signs". But are we comprehending the signs of human
uniqueness? We remain strangersto one another, perhapswithout even
knowingit, becausewe neverarriveat the question:whatarewe really?We
know "whatit meansthat I love you," but the other, deeperquestionnever
even dawnson us: "whatdoes it mean that I love you?
On the other hand, the fate of the over-refinedindividualwho leaves
behind the conventionallife to rise above it. The fate of the "nakedsoul"is
poverty in spirit.The senses are absorbedby theory,and thereare no more
psychologicaldeterminants,no past. Immediacyis lost, spontaneityis lost,
and only wordsremainfor self-revelation,wordsandwordsalone. And the
articulatedwords cause pain, and the unarticulatedwordscause pain, and
every gesture becomes ambiguous, and every understandingbecomes
misunderstandinguntil at last faith is silenced and the souls are alienated
from one another with the finalityof fate. "Thereis no marriagebed for
the union of souls."
"And as long as communicationis not all there is and all there is is not
equally communication,nothingexists."
Over-refinement is desire --desire for culture. The over-refined
individualis the individualdesirousof culture-ina worlddevoidof culture.
"In life, desire can only be love."
"Irmais life." Habitableinstitutions.Habitableworld."HicRhodus,hic
salta. Hier ist die Rose, hier Tanze."

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8
"Don'tbe angryif, thoughI haveceasedto meansomethingin yourlife if ever I was anything?- don'tbe angryif you neverthelessremainthe only
content in my life" (G.'s unsentgood-byeletterto I.). "Backthenshe might
have felt thatI couldsaveherfromhertroubles,thoughshedidnot love me"
(G.'s diary,May24, 1911). "I was neverfor herwhatshe was for me" (G.'s
diary, October27, 1911).
Irma did not love me. -

Irma never loved me. -

I was never anything

to her. - She alwaysmeant more to me than I did to her. Georg Lukacs


created his relationshipto IrmaSeidler, and he createdin thismanner.
"I've written with long-distancelove." "Goodbye, dear Gyuri, I love
you very much, Irma.""Write,becauseI love you verymuch.""ButI love
you always.""If there is still some waywe can reachone another,I wantus
to do so. And if not, I shall still remaindevotedto you forever,and I shall
take my leave in the knowledge that the warmthof my entire soul was
yours." Is it possible for someone to readthese lettersto mean "shedid not
love me?"
Why did Georg Lukacs create an IrmaSeidlerwho never existed, an
Irmawho did not love him?
"He who loves is more like unto god than he who is loved becausehis
love must alwaysremainunrequited,becausehis love is but a path to selfperfection" (Lukics in the essay on Philippe).He who loves is superiorto
love, and the more he loves and the less his love is returned,the loftierhe
stands. Georg Lukacs created the Irma Seidler, who did not love him,
because it was with the pride of "amordei intellectualis"thathe recreated
their history.
The man of conventions,the man"livingthe lifelesslife," is alwaysvain.
The men who stand tall and lonely above the world of conventionsare
alwaysproud. They are not proudof something;the sourceof theirprideis
not their sociallydeterminedposition;prideis theirmode of being.
The vain man says:I am loved by many.The vainmansays:it is me they
love more. The proudman says:I cannotbe loved.The proudmansays:it is
I who loves more strongly;he who loves is more akinto god thanhe who is
loved.
The vain man says:I am attractive.The vainmanwantsto be attractive.
The proudman says:I am not attractive,and I do not wantto be attractive.
The vain man says: I am superior.The vain man is constantlyout to
prove his superiority.The proudmanis not out to proveanythingbecausehe
is sure of himself.
The vain man compares himself to others: his whole life is a process of
"comparisons." The vain man is envious. The proud man does not compare
himself to anyone: there are no standards that he and others can hold in
common. The proud man knows no envy. Even when a superior being
crosses his path, he does not compare, rather he prostrates himself.

GeorgLukdcsand IrmaSeidler

97

For the vain man, a superiorbeing is tragedy.For the proudman, the


superiorbeing is the justificationof his life - a joy.
Vanity is self-centered.Pridewantsto find life's centerin another.
Vanityis jealous. It scentsdangerin everyoneat alltimes.Pridedoes not
know what jealousy is. Whoever abandons him is dismissed; he was
unworthy.
Vanity says to the once-beloved:you deceivedme; this is not whatyou
promised. Pride says: you did this, but since I loved you, yourdeed cannot
be wrong.
The vain man says: I was right, I am right. The vain man seeks to be
confirmedin his truth.The proudmanwantsto be wrong;he seeks a truth
higher than himself.
Is it necessaryto seek the humiliationof pride?
It is not necessaryto seek the humiliationof pridebecausehumilitygoes
hand in hand withpride. Humilityis prideturned"insideout"; humilityis
the self-manifestationof pride.The superiorbeingis the justificationof his
life - a joy. If a superiorbeing crosseshis path, he prostrateshimself;he
seeks a truthhigherthan himself.
The men who stand tall and lonely above the worldof conventionsare
alwaysproud.GeorgLukdcscreatedthe IrmaSeidler,whodidnot love him,
because it was with the pride of "amordei intellectualis"that he recreated
their history. "If I love you, what businessis it of yours?"
I loved you, butyou neverlovedme; he who lovesis superiorto he whois
loved: this is the gestureof pride.But it is not necessaryto seek the humiliation of pride because humilitygoes hand in hand with pride. And in the
gestureof proudhumilityeveryunconditionalessencebecomesits opposite:
I am not right, the Otheris right,the one I love is right.And in theabsolute
unconditionalityof love the beloved rises above the lover. The lover
humiliateshimself, pridebows his head "becausebeforeGod we are never
right."
"And in thisway even thiswhollyabstractmetaphysicsof formtakesone
back to the center of all things- to Irmabecauseshe specificallywas the
center of all things, the sourceof all things.She hadto be as she was anddo
what she did. I mustacceptthatjustas it is, andI musthold it sacredso thatI
mightrespectmy own life. ... I usedto believe:I shouldcondemnher, but
now I don't know" (diary,May 29, 1910). And even more unequivocally,
and with even more finality:"Peopleare rightor wrongwithrespectto each
other not in terms of deeds and certainevents, but in termsof theirbeing.
Certain people are alwaysrightwith respectto certainpeople. And now I
feel that she was and will alwaysbe rightwith respectto me." This is "the
self-conscious bow before a superiorbeing, vassalage, Hagen's range of
sentiments"(diary,June 2, 1910).
The proudman is solitary,andhumilitytemptshimterribly.But if pride
is to humiliateitself, then the beingbeforewhichit humiliatesitselfmustbe
perfect. If the proudman humiliateshimself,then he mustacceptthe being

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before whichhe humiliateshimself"justas it is"so thathe mightrespecthis


own life. And if pridehumiliatesitself,it losesitsright- anditsopportunity!
- to pass judgementbecausethe beingor objectbeforewhichit humiliates
itself can no longerbe judged"intermsof deeds andcertainevents,"indeed
the "center"of life can no longerbe judgedat all.
Georg Lukaicsbroughthis philosophy"downto earth"andtransformed
it into a myth. "Irmais life." And it wasthisIrmamagicallytransformedinto
a philosophicalmyth - and not the empiricalwoman- thatbecamethe
center of his life. And he prostratedhimselfbeforeherandidolizedher, and
he denied himself the rightto judge her: "the self-consciousbow before a
superior being, vassalage,Hagen'srangeof sentiments."
The proudman is solitary,andhumilitytemptshimterribly:beforeGod
we are never right.
But, judge, so that you may be judged!
The mythof philosophywill not come down to earth.And the empirical
woman is not the Irmaof the myths,and she mustindeedbe judgedby her
deeds because there is no essenceexternalto thedeeds.And the loveris not
holier thanthe beloved, but neitheris the belovedan idol to be worshipped.
Let us judge, so that we may be judged!
Vanity always judges, but the center of its judgmentis always itself.
Whatever is right for itself is "right",whatever is beneficial to itself is
"good". Vanityalso has idols, but they are empiricalidols. Vanitydoesnot
abstractfrom thedeedbecauseit justifiesthe deed whenthe deed justifiesit.
Blessed is pride whichseeks greatness.Blessed is pridewhichcan bow
down before greatness.Blessed is pride, even in its own self-humiliation.
But, judge, so that you may be judged!
The proud man is solitary,and humilitytemptshim terribly.
And if he is solitaryno longer?
The proud man is not proudof something;pride is his mode of being.
Pride is solitude's mode of being. Where there is no solitude, where
significant substantialitiesdo not need to rise above the world to realize
themselves, there is no morepride.Prideis mellowedintoself-respect.Selfrespectis pridesocialized.Self-respectis theprideof equals.The loveof selfrespectingpersons is the love of equals. For the self-respectingindividual,
the superior being is the object of his friendshipand alliance. The selfrespecting individualalso knows no envy; he does not comparehimself
with others, not because there are no commonstandardsfor himselfand
others, but becausetrueequalsareincomparable,becausethe uniquenessof
individualsis incomparable.The self-respectingindividualdoes not say: I
am alwaysright.And he does not say:beforeGod I am neverrightbecause
the self-respectingindividualdoes not idolize himself, nor does he idolize
anythingoutsidehimself
He judges, so that he may be judged.
Blessed is pride, which may mellow into self-respect.
But can one be self-respectingin the "eraof absoluteculpability"?

Georg Lukdcsand IrmaSeidler

99

Habitable institutions. Habitable world. A world peopled with selfrespectingindividuals.Culture.


Over-refinementis desire - desirefor culture.The over-refinedmanis
the proud man, the man desiringculturein a worlddevoid of culture.
But can culturebe createdby the self-humiliationof pride?
9
"Fromcontingenciesto necessity- thisis the pathof everyproblematic
individual"(Lukaicsin the essay on Kassner).This was the first flowerhe
had presented to Irma.
Two problematicindividualsin the "eraof absoluteculpability".
Thesis: woman as theformationof tragedythroughdeath.
"This self-liberationof the woman does not come about by way of
the most essential necessityof final departure,as does every genuineselfliberationof a tragicman. And the end of the dramaraises the question,
posed much earlierby the theoristErnst:can a womanbe tragicin her own
right, outside of her relationshipto the man in her life?" The question
alreadycontainsthe answer:womancannotriseto tragedy,freedomin itself
can never be a value to her. In the tragedy'sBriinhilde- Lukacsmusedin
his diary - there is somethingmasculine."A womanis only a woman."
G.'s entryin his diaryon February11, 1911:"I meantshamefullylittleto
her. The only questionis: shamefullyforme or for her?Madquestion:thisis
tragedy, but she could not rise to where I soared." A woman cannot be
tragic. "A woman is only a woman."
G.'s entry in his diaryon October22, 1911:"ForIrma,yes. Her tragedy
lay in life, in a sphere, where death is genuinelythe dialecticaloppositeof
life."
The formationof tragedythroughdeath.
I.'s letter to G. September20, 1908:"Perhapsthereis morein me of the
womanly and more of the unwomanly,the artistand the person, thanyou
know - and these two strugglewith each other."
A woman in a provincialcountry,earlyin thiscentury,desiredto break
with the worldof conventions.She desiredto breakwithit as a humanbeing
and as an artistbecausecreation,self-realizationin creativework,bringing
forth the new, was just as indispensablea partof life for Irma,just as much
the object of her passion, as it was for G. She was drivenby the demonof
work;creativeworkjustifiedherlife - the failureof herworkamountedto
the failureof her life.
I.'s letterto G. (July5): "I breakout in a cold sweatwhenI thinkthatin a
shorttwo months'time it will be clearwhetherI canaccomplishanything,or
whether all my effort this yearhas been simplya sham."July 19:"In all my
life I have never workedso hard."Beginningof September(date illegible):
"And I am exhaustedfroma stretchof over-intensivework, but the results

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are in no way proportionateto the strenuouseffortsinvolved. . .thingsare


very far frommy goals!""Theresultsof the lasttwo months'workamounts
to zero."
A woman in a provincialcountry,earlyin thiscentury,desiredto break
with the worldof conventions.Shedesiredto breakwithit as a humanbeing.
And in orderto breakwithit as a humanbeing,shehadto becomean artist.If
the worldof creativeworkcouldnot be herhome, thenthe worldof menhad
to remainher home, for "a womanis only a woman."
But this womanwantednot only to be a humanbeing andan artist,she
also wanted to be a woman."Andthese two strugglewitheachother."And
she did not want to relinquisheither one. This double fidelity, fidelityto
womanhood and fidelity to human-creativeexistence, causedher tragedy
since she did not want to be if she could not be both at once.

A woman in a provincialcountry,earlyin this century,desiredto break


with the worldof conventions.And she also desiredto be a woman.But she
could only be a woman with those who, like her, had broken with tlhe
conventionalworld.But the men werearrogant,andin theireyes "awoman
was only a woman." She did not want those who knewa prioriwhat things
meant. She wanted neither engagement, nor marriage, nor marital
infidelity.She wantedto "holdhands"withan equalwho acknowledgedher
to be an equal in the world of the senses and of the spirit.She was a selfrespectingwoman,butthe menwereproud,andin theireyes "awomanwas
only a woman."
G. expectedher to believein him.G. madea mythof herandwantedher
to become thismyth.He wantedherpersonalityto conformto the principles
of this myth so that she mightrise to the tragedyof a man. But she did not
want to rise to masculinetragedybecauseshe wantedto createherown life,
and, if necessary -

and it was necessary -

her own tragedy.

The voices of self-respect, the gestures of self-respect:"let both our

individual lives grow through our relationship, and vice versa" (July 5). "I

think we have both surpassed- in ratherhealthy fashion- a perhaps


overly theoreticalstage" (August23). "Thesepeople, fromwhomI go on
receiving and receiving. . .this is lovely and good, for receivingmeans
growing, being supported, carriedalong. On the other hand, this is not
good, for not beingableto give is sucha weightlessfeeling.One feels so light
and airy - like a child - and thiscan be painful,too, verypainful"(April
28, 1911).
The voices of recovering one's own individuality,the gestures of
preservingone's substance:"No, I cannotbear to analyzethings,nor do I
want to" (October 1). "In these letters, I have totallyaccomodatedmyself
and conformed to you, and I must speak frankly- at the cost of

inexpressible sacrifices - I have assumed the soul-forms of mutual


understanding that you stipulated. And today I will discontinue this
combative togetherness" (October 25).

Georg Lukdcs and Irma Seidler

101

The confrontationof her own creativeego with that of the Other, the
voices of judgement, the gestures of the woman-person-creator's
worldview: "Only those people are good people - and by good I mean somethingrathergrand- whose love of men andrangeof sentimentsin all sorts
of humanrelationshipsis as spiritualandas 'prophetic'as the attitudeof the
artist to his work. And those trulydevoted to creationand work are those
who can relate to their work as to an organic,living entity which can be
warmlyloved, which can be killed or saved, but whichlives."
A womanwantedto breakwiththe worldof conventions,butshewanted
to break with it as a humanbeing, as an artist.There was no otherway for
her. And at the same time she wantedto remaina woman,too, but the men
who could have been her companionsin solitudewere proud,and for them
"a woman was only a woman."
Still, didn'tshe commita tragicoffense by lovingthe one she happened
to love?
Love can never be an offense. And yet, didn't she commit a tragic
offense by promisingsomethingin the ecstaticmomentof love, something
she could not deliverin termsof her own individuality?
I.'s first letter to G.: "I would like to be able to measureup to the
standardsyou have set for me" (December30, 1907). I.'s letter to G. on
August 30, 1908:"I feel that, if I leave myworknow, I shallleave it on other
occasionsas well. And I also feel that, if I cannotsooneror laterarrangemy
life so thatI shallneveragainbe unableto workfullforceforthe greaterpart
of the year, I would leave art behindforever. Withgoals such as mineone
cannot get anywhere at this rate. . . . And still, I might come. Dear God,

don't be angrywith me for this letter - justlove me anddon'tjudgeme for


it. .... I need my work - andI missyou." Shouldthiswomanhavewritten
- even once: "I would like to be able to measureup to the standardsyou
have set for me?"
And here lies Irma Seidler's tragicoffense. For she did not keep the
promise she had made to a man. She followed the principlesof her own
individuality.Is thereanythingmorenobleor morejustified?But sheshould
never have made that promise.The love potion was the potion of death.
"In life, desire can only be love. That is its joy, its tragedy."G. was I.'s
everlastinglove, the object of her everlastingdesire.But she wantedto be a
humanbeing andan artist,andshe wantedto live accordingto the principles
of her own individuality,andshe was unableto measureup to the standards
her love had set for her. Yet, she had taken it upon herselfto do so.
And so, with the gesture of despair, I. marrieda painter, renounced
love, and decided to live for her art. But this art did not come to fruition. It
did not bring fulfillment.
I.'s last letter to G. (April 28, 1911): "Today I feel those ways of seeing
and those perspectives which have sustained me for years - though good
and honest - are miserably poor compared to the intensity of art. ...
Something must be understood anew. In every respect."

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Irma could not integrateher love with her art.


"Irma is life." "In life, desire can only be love. That is its joy, its
tragedy."Irmacouldnot integratehertragedyinto herlife. Forher, the love
potion was the potion of death.
And through death she formed her tragedy- her own tragedy.And
throughher death-leapall herdeedsbecamesymbolic,andall thecontingencies of her life took on theform of necessity.
Irma expected a miracle, Irma wanted to provoke a miracle. And
behold, the miracle materialized. G. never again wrote the words: "a
woman is only a woman."The man who had arrogantlystated:a woman's
life can never be tragicbecausefreedomis not a valuefor her, wrotethisin
his diary:"Her tragedylay in life, in a sphere,wheredeathis genuinelythe
dialecticalopposite of life."
"Fromcontingenciesto necessity- thisis the pathof everyproblematic
individual."
Two problematicindividualsin the "eraof absoluteculpability".
10
"Fromcontingenciesto necessity- thisis the pathof everyproblematic
individual."
Two problematicindividualsin the "eraof absoluteculpability".
Counterthesis:man as the integrationof tragedywithlife.
I write the word "man"anxiously.GeorgLukics was22 yearsold when
he met IrmaSeidler, and, whenthe tragedyoccurred,he hadjustcompleted
his 26th year.
"Withthis book I bid my youthgoodbye,"LukAcswroteIrmaSeidlerin
March, 1910, in an unsentletter, referringto the Hungarianeditionof The
Soul and the Forms. This was the period of Sturmund Drang, the time of
maturation.And yet, this tragedyis alreadya man'stragedybecauseit is
rooted in the stancewhichGeorgLukacslivedout and took uponhimselfas
the fate of a man: living- and what amountsto the same in this case thinkingthroughthe conflictsof a man livingin andfor his work.
"Kierkegaardcreated his relationship to Regine Olsen, and, if a
Kierkegaardcreateshis life, he does not do so in orderto conceal,butrather
to articulatethe truth."If Georg Lukacscreatedandcontinuallyrecreated
his relationshipto IrmaSeidler,he also didit in orderto articulatethe truth.
His questions were not only his personal questions. Everything was
resplendentwith symboliclight.His questionswerethe questionsof his great
contemporaries, the questions of Babits,* Ady,* Bartok, and Thomas
Mann. Can there be an organic path from life to art? Which life is the
authentic life? Can the man of art live an authenticlife? Is it given to the
andEndreAdy(1877-1919).- Trans.note
*TheHungarianpoetsMihalyBabits(1883-1941)

GeorgLukdcsand IrmaSeidler

103

creative individual,the one at home in creativework, the ambitiousman,


the one who bringsforththe new to experiencelove andbeing-with-others,
the happiness of human fellowship? Is art at all possible in the "era of
absolute culpability?"
Georg Lukics was able to articulatethe truthby recreatinghis relationship to IrmaSeidler. He integratedhis love with his work. He builtinto his
work the blood of the mason'swife* so that the fort would stand and rise
above life like a solitarymountainpeak.
"In other words,the old problem- wheredoes HjalmarEkdalbecome
distinguishablefrom Novalis?"
The answer- Novalis accomplishedhis work. And Georg Lukacs
accomplishedhis work too. He built it with the blood of the mason'swife,
but the fort stood and rose above life like a solitarymountainpeak.
"Great love is alwaysascetic. There is no differencebetween elevating
the beloved to the heightof heightsandso alienatingherfromoneselfaswell
as herself and usingher simplyas a steppingstone." In theoryperhapsthere
is no "difference"between these two attitudes, but Georg Lukacswas a
refined and honorable man: he knew therewas a difference.Lukcs was
afraidof IrmaSeidler. He fearedfor his work, andhe fearedfor Irma.And
because he fearedfor both, he chose the firstcourse.He transformedIrma's
earthlybeing into a mythicalfigure,into the mythof "life,"the objectof the
creative individual'seternal desire, and he humbledhis pride before this
magically mythicized life, before philosophystylized into life. But Irma
Seidler was not Regine Olsen, who lived happilyuntilshe died. She formed
her own life in the deathshe chose. And withthat, she integratedherhuman
life-blood withinthe edificeof art,whichcouldstandno otherway, so thatit
mightriseabove life like a solitarymountainpeak. IrmaSeidlerdidnotwant
to save anyone, andshe did not wantto be saved.She didnotwantanyoneto
fear her, nor did she want anyoneto fear for her. And so she still becamea
"stepping stone" for the creative individual,even againsthis will, for the
edifice was erected with her blood.
It is impossible not to transform life into an instrument if we approach it

throughforms. But the formalized,mythicized,stylizedlife avengesitselfon


form and judges it. Yet, is it trulyform thatjudgementis passedupon?Life
passed judgementon formby realizingit. But isn'tthisstill indicativeof the
fact that the form is, after all, the formof this life, thatwhat is reproduced
and recreated on the pure snows of solitary mountainpeaks is still the
turmoilof this chaotic life?
Life avenged itself on form, but it is not form that it judged. It passed
judgementon the "eraof absoluteculpability"in whichthe majorityof men
must "live a lifeless life," and where the genuinelyliving, those who give
meaning to their lives, must live out the same tragedy whether they erect
*In the
(TheMasonKelemen'sWife)a mason's
HungarianfolkballadKimivesKelemennd
wife is immuredto guaranteethe strengthof the fortress.- Trans.note

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that edifice or fall silent throughthe gesture of chosen death. Habitable


institutions. Habitable world. A world peopled with self-respecting
individuals.
An individualwho is ambitiousand creative in the "era of absolute
culpability"must use life instrumentally.And Georg Lukacs used Irma
Seidler as an instrumentfor his work- againsthis will. And the thingsthat
happened, and the waythey happened,all happenedfor the CreatedWork,
for the sake of art.
Lukacs on Kierkegaard:"Didn't he perchance abandon a possibly
successful struggleagainsthis own great sorrowbecausehe cherishedthis
sorrow,cherishedit morethananything,andcouldn'thavelivedwithoutit?"
Lukacs'draftof a letterto IrmaSeidlerin March,1910:"I thankyou for
appearingbrieflyin my life, andI thankyou for leaving.I thankyou for the
joys your nearness broughtme, and I thankyou for the pains that nearly
destroyedthis life. I thankyou for them becauseI couldnot go on without
them. They were signs;they were necessary."
Luk~csentryin his diaryon July27, 1910:"Herpictureis on my desk for stylistic reasons -

for the essay on Philippe. But I hardly look at it....

It disappeared- althougha little desire and sorrowfor it wouldnot hurt


now - for the sake of the essay on Philippe. ... The essayon Ernstwas
perhapsruined(made more pathetic)by her constantpresence;she did not
alwaysfit organicallyinto the parametersof the essay. But this one maybe
dry without her."
Lukacs letter to Irma Seidler in January, 1911: "What I want to
accomplishcan only be accomplishedby an unattachedman - one who
does not know what anotherhumanbeing can be to him, whatone person
can be to another.He can only be left to himself,butneverfirmandfree of
desire in his scholarlysolitude.Onlysucha mancanproudlyandcalmlypass
up the false andpettyopportunitiesfor togethernessthatareofferedto him.
Only such a man can chancehis entirelife on the perilousfate of his work."
Georg Lukics was afraid of Irma Seidler because he feared for his
solitude. He feared for his solitudebecausehe fearedfor his work.And he
constructedhis workin solitude,butthe workcannotbe constructedwithout
life, and so he built this edifice of his work with the blood of the mason's
wife. Irmabecamean instrumentfor his work, even thoughLukcs did not
want to use her so. But it is impossible not to transformlife into an
instrumentif we approachit throughforms.
The ethical law still lives. And the ethical law commandsthat human
beings must not use each other as mere instruments.
And this ethicallawwas alivein GeorgLukacs.And thatis whyhe transformed IrmaSeidler'sflesh-and-bloodwomanhoodinto a myth, and thatis
why he humbled himself in his pride before her, and that is why he said, with
respect to her, I can never be right.
Georg Lukics did not want to use another human being as a mere
instrument because the ethical law was alive in him, and he held its greatest

Georg Lukdcs and Irma Seidler

105

commandmentsacred.The frivolityof "aestheticculture"wasnot his path.


And the day he opened his diaryfor the last time, he wrote: "And all this
bringsme back to the old question:how can I become a philosopher?That
is, how can I create the form, the sublimewhen I as a humanbeing can
never get beyond the ethical sphere?" (December 16, 1911). Habitable
institutions. Habitable world. A world peopled with self-respecting
individuals.
Georg Lukcs wasafraidof IrmaSeidler.He fearedforhis solitude.And
fate gave him this solitude.
Doctor Faustus,1911:"He comfortedhimselfwith the possibility,with
the object of desirewhichcouldalwaysbe present,yet is not present.It is not
presentnow" (November23). "I ambeingpunishedformyprideandforthe
hope I have investedin work and the effort expendedupon it."
Fate gave him his solitude, but he no longerwanted this solitude. He
integratedIrmaSeidler, his love, his life with his work, but the ethicallaw
was alive in him: humanbeingsmust not treatone anotheras mere instruments. This was his tragedy.
IrmaSeidlercouldnot integrateher love withherart, andthatis whyshe
formed her own tragedythroughdeath. Georg Lukacsintegratedhis love
into his work, and thiswas his tragedy.Buthe integratedthistragedywithhis
life.
"Permanent tragedy...is the greatest frivolity...the sentiment of
eternal tragedy gives absolution for all idleness." Lukics in Aesthetic
Culture.
"Thereis no marriagebed for the unionof souls."Orperhapsthereis, or
at least, there ought to be?
"By virtue of the fact that everythingbelongs to us, that everything
belongs to the soul and every tragicevent mustbe playedout withinit....
And the absolution- the redeemingpower of form- only comes at the
very end of all pathsandsufferings,in thatfaithwhichcannotbe provedand
which lives beyond all proof, in the faiththatthe divergentpathsof the soul
shallmeet in the end. They mustmeet, fortheyhavetheirsourcein the same
center."
But for the over-refinedman, all understandingis misunderstanding.
The senses are absorbed by theory, spontaneityis lost, and only words
remainfor self-revelation,and everygestureremainsambiguous.The overrefined man lives out his tragedyand thinksit through.These two are one
and the same for him. And he judges it; he judges irrevocablythe "'eraof
absolute culpability," the source of his over-refinement.He passes
irrevocablejudgementon a world in which the createdwork can only be
built with the blood of the Other.
The humility of pride is like the bow of the over-refinedman to
barbarism.The hope "thatthe barbarianswill come and, withroughhands,
tear asunderall over-refinement."Allegro barbaro.
Pride mellows into self-respect- the desire of the over-refinedman,

106

Heller

desire for culture. Habitable institutions. Habitable world. A world peopled


with self-respectiving individuals. The promise of Karl Marx.
Georg LukAcsintegrated his love with his work, and this was his tragedy.
But he integrated this tragedy with his life.
Georg LukAcs "holding hands" with another Other. Pride bowing down
before the New God. But that is another story.
Life avenged itself on form by realizing it. And with that, it passed
judgement on the "era of absolute culpability." But, can form also avenge
itself on life? And if so, what is the judgement passed upon?
"Kierkegaard created his relationship to Regine Olsen." And Georg
LukAcs also created his relationship to Irma Seidler. In a certain sense,
everyone creates his relationship to an Other, and continually recreates it.
But few - very few - people can create their relationship to the Other in
such a way that others after them can also create it and recreate it. Only the
paradigmatic can become parabolic.
Translatedby Etti de Laczay

ANNOUNCEMENTS
WOMENIN GERMAN
Session at the 1980MLA
Call for Paperson WomenWritersPriorto 1800
Please submitabstractsfor papers(2-3 pages)by April 1, 1980.Sendproposalsto:
Gabriele Strauch
Julie Prandi
and
266 HillcrestRd.
407 WisconsinAve., 5
Madison, WI 53703
Berkeley, CA 94705

FORTHCOMINGCONFERENCE
The Fifth Annual EuropeanStudiesConferencewill be held on October9, 10,
and 11, 1980in Omaha,Nebraska.This conference,sponsoredby the Universityof
Nebraskaat Omaha,is an interdisciplinary
meetingwithsessionsdevotedto current
research, researchtechniques,and teachingmethodologies,as well as traditional
topics. The Conference stresses the interdisciplinarytheme focusingon Europe
from the Atlantic to the Urals.
Abstractsof papersand/orsuggestionsforpanelsshouldbe submittedbyMay 1,
1980 to Dr. Patricia Kolasa, Department of EducationalFoundations,or Dr.
Bernard Kolasa, Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska at
Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska68182.