I wish I’d picked up another strand in my review of The Last Gentleman. In it, the engineer, accompanied by a telescope, maps, a firkin and an knowledge of air conditioning represents to some degree measurement, exactitude, reasoning itself; in the novel this is contrasted against the fleshy immanences of existence, the messy viscera of humanity, and also the limits of abstract reasoning. Yet there’s a dissolution (not a compromise, not a resolution) of the dialectic or contrast – perhaps because they are, as Wittgenstein may have claimed, not really ‘problems’ at all. There is, demonstrated rather than ‘argued for’, in the novel (and demonstration is an entirely different kind of thing that writers and artists do where philosophers cannot) an unproblematical living with reason, body, feeling as a possibility.
Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia is an Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge which is not philosophy nor art but deals with the same issues: that between the abstract, transcendental world views of metaphysical and logical positivisms, and the actual lived experience of an individual or group (for the latter include cultural history of an idea, a nation etc) a lived history of experience involving a dialectic of oppression and resistance, inheritance by osmosis of values and their modifications, and ultimately an epistemology which must eschew philosophy but concentrate upon psychology, sociology and an intellectual near-pragmatism which is aware of its own perspectives and constructions as much as it is aware of current histories and the possibilities of change.
Written in 1936 within shooting range of Hitler, this book is extremely pertinent today when aside from the obvious ‘fundamentalisms’, the return to dogma and unacknowledged dredging of the irrational to produce modern progressive myths to live by are startlingly apparent to the analysis Mannheim suggests. That the irrational is the foundation of the rational Mannheim emphasises, but the implications of this for self knowledge and understandings of group cohesion are crucial.