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Last Rites Hardcover – February 24, 2009
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His voice (as past readers will be aware) is strong in its opinions and strong in its expression. Those are good things. Even if one does not agree with him his firm views cast the issues in bold relief and prompt reflections on them. He is particularly hard on a few academic idols, but that is, as often as not, refreshing. His views on history are, of course, deeply considered and they are very suggestive and useful.
There is a sadness in his voice, a sadness born of experience and, he would say, Hungarianness. At the same time, there is joy and affection throughout. He has said that he has had a happy unhappy life (which is preferable to an unhappy happy one). This book explains that feeling and it exhibits a sensibility which is simultaneously traditional and unique, sad but hopeful, wise but a bit fearful. It is a very special sensibility, one that his readers will treasure.
Several of the chapters reprise the themes of Lukac's later work -- the end of "bourgeois civilization," the rise of pathological nationalisms, and the corruption of political "conservatism." Like a Wendell Berry turned political historian and philosopher, Lukacs has a unique take on the decline and loss of traditional American sources of strength in the history and traditions of particular places -- our cities, towns, and rural regions.
Lukacs' Hungarian-American Catholic identity colors his conservatism in mildly cranky and endearing ways -- it rounds out the readers' understanding of his perspective -- but it strikes me that his unrelenting interpretation of himself and others (mainly his wives) through the lens of their ethno-religious heritage overstates how much character is conferred through family without reference to class and the economic order. Lukacs seems to think of culture and tradition entirely on the level of ideas which can't exactly be adopted or chosen as they arise from existing culture and tradition. They seem to operate in a kind of closed loop -- chicken or egg? -- either you have them or you do not. That's not an incorrect way to think about healthy cultures, but it is conceptually problematic, and it leaves a lot out. I wish Lukacs had reflected on this.
There is not much awareness in the book of how culture can be fractured by a purely material interest that dominates the economic order.Read more ›
Twenty years ago he published his memoirs as Confessions of an Original Sinner - which, I have to confess, strained my appreciation, as did several of the more truculent essays in his omnibus, Remembered Past. Both aspects - the profound and the eccentric - are in full display in Last Rites, his second "history of my thoughts and beliefs." My guess is that this short book will be most appreciated by his longtime readers.
Let me state my own bias. I find his Catholic invocation of God alienating - it detracts from the ideas that most interest me, although Lukacs would no doubt observe that it is intrinsic to these ideas. I'm also not much interested in his love life, although again this is unfair because this IS his memoir. But I take pleasure in his recitation of the "participatory" theory of knowledge - that "people do not have ideas: they choose them" - as well his provocative assertion that "we and our earth are at the center of our universe." This memoir doesn't defend this "new architecture of humanism" so much as invoke it (he's already made the case in his earlier books).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a foolish, contentless book of value only for the light it throws on a troubled soul. "I was not proud, but grateful", he assures us at one point. Read morePublished on June 11, 2013 by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'
Lukacs' latest book would have earned Pascal's delight: here we meet more than an historian, more than a writer - we meet a man.Published on April 17, 2009 by Leo R. Wong