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September 04 , 2010

The Wager of Lucien Goldmann: Tragedy, Dialectics, and a Hidden God


The Wager of Lucien Goldmann, Mitchell Cohen provides the first full-length study of this major figure of postwar French intellectual life and champion of socialist humanism. While many Parisian leftists staunchly upheld Marxism's "scientificity" in the 1950s and 1960s, Lucien Goldmann insisted that Marxism was by then in severe crisis and had to reinvent itself radically if it were to survive. He rejected the traditional Marxist view of the proletariat and contested the structuralist and antihumanist theorizing that infected French left-wing circles in the tumultuous 1960s. In fact, the popularity of such trends in the Left Bank was one reason why Goldmann's own name and work were eclipsed - this despite the acclaim of thinkers as diverse as Jean Piaget and Alasdair MacIntyre, who called him "the finest and most intelligent Marxist of the age". As Cohen shows in this brilliant reconstruction of Goldmann's life and thought, he was a socialist who, unlike many others of his time, refused to portray his aspirations for humanity's future as an inexorable unfolding of history's laws, but saw them rather as a wager akin to Pascal's in the existence of God. "Risk", Goldmann wrote in his classic study of Pascal and Racine, The Hidden God, "possibility of failure, hope of success, and the synthesis of the three in a faith which is a wager are the essential constituent elements of the human condition". In The Wager of Lucien Goldmann, Cohen retrieves Goldmann's achievement - his "genetic structuralist" method, his sociology of literature, his libertarian socialist politics.
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