The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays


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He filled the void as he could with daydreams, voracious reading, music, theater, letter-writing to eminent philosophers, rebellion against traditional schooling, and concern for social democratic politics. Bloch left Ludwigshafen in to study philosophy and German literature at the University of Munich; he then moved on to the University of Wiirzburg, where he studied experimental psychology, physics, and music and took an interest in the Cabbala and Jewish mysticism.

After receiving his doctorate in philosophy in with a dissertation on Heinrich Rickert under the direction of Hermann Cohen, he moved to Berlin to study under the renowned sociologist Georg Simmel. More important, Simmel was one of those remarkable intellectuals who believed that a philosopher must be concerned with everyday occurrences and small events.

The purpose of philosophy or criticism is not merely to point to the failure of rationalism to grasp the totality — it is to reveal through language the missing dimension of cultural experience, to restore the ellipse of reason. Bloch also began studying Christian mysticism at this time in deference to the religious convictions of Else von Stritzky, a gifted sculptress from Riga whom he married in Most important for Bloch at this time was his work on what he called the noch-nicht- bewusst the not-yet-conscious and the noch-nicht-geworden the not-yet-become.

Here he began to connect messianic ideas with the study of everyday phenomena, art, literature as a means of criticizing existing social conditions. Given his opposition to the war, Bloch found few opportunities to earn a living or make his ideas known. In he emigrated to Switzerland with his wife, who was suffering from an ailment that would take her life in In Bern, Bloch undertook a study of Utopian currents and political strategies for the journal Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik.

He had also hoped to earn money as a political journalist, but the possibilities were more limited than he had expected. He and his wife lived as they could on a small subvention from a wealthy businessman. Poor living conditions often caused Bloch to act in desperate ways, and this book became his concrete means of countering harsh social and personal realities. Geist der Utopie was published in and then revised and expanded in The book marked out the path Bloch was to pursue during the s.

It was an expressionist effusion that rejoiced in the apocalyptic ending of Wilhelminian rule and the breakdown of the alienating conditions that had existed in Germany. We ourselves are still the lever and motor. The external and especially the revealed sense of life is faltering. Life also goes around girded with despair, with our spiteful presentiment, with the tremendous power of our human voice, to name God and not to rest until the innermost shadows are expelled, until the world is doused with that fire that is behind the world or shall be ignited by it.

This passage is typical of the elliptical, metaphorical, and prophetic style that Bloch was to use for the rest of his life. At the same time, as indicated by the last chapter of the book entitled Karl Marx, Death, and the Apocalypse, Bloch was turning more and more toward Marxism to provide the framework in which he would pose questions about ontology, aesthetics, and utopia. In fact, despite his mystical and expressionist leanings, Bloch became a hardline communist during the s. This unorthodox interpretation opened new approaches to both religion and Marxism.

The period from to was a trying one for Bloch, both personally and professionally. After the death of his wife, he went through a long period of depression. A desperate and unhappy marriage to Linda Oppenheimer in lasted less than a year. He also worried that his work had had an impact only on a small group of intellectuals, which included Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Gerschom Scholem, and Siegfried Kracauer.

He wanted a wider audience because he was supremely confident in the importance of his philosophical revision of Freud and Marx. During the s Bloch sought to learn from politically active expressionist writers and painters, and he adopted the montage technique and elliptical symbolism in his own writings to induce estrangement from the familiar. He wanted to provoke his readers to break away from whatever prevented them from becoming conscious of what they were missing, of things they would have to define for themselves.

During the s it seemed as though Bloch was trying to act out his philosophy of distancing and estrangement: He kept breaking out of Berlin, traveling between and to Italy, France, and North Africa. He even lived for a while in Paris, but he kept returning to Berlin, the city that had become the center of cultural experimentation in Europe and that kept challenging him to expand his philosophical and political ideas.

On one of his forays he met Karola Piotrkrowska, an art and architecture student, and this attachment seemed to give his work a new vitality. Karola drew closer to the Communist party, which she joined in , while Bloch continued to maintain a critical distance from the party. Indeed, Bloch felt that one reason why the fascists were able to gain control in Germany was that the communists spent more time attacking the social democrats and spreading meaningless, rhetorical prop aganda than addressing the needs, dreams, and wants of the German people.

He wrote numerous insightful articles on mainstream politics and culture, often criticizing the inadequacy of bourgeois art and literature and the dangers of Nazi ideology and practice while at the same time trying to analyze why it was that the National Socialism had captured the imagination of the people. He received a phone call from Karola telling him that his name was on a list of enemies and that he was scheduled to be arrested. The next day Bloch fled to Switzerland, where Karola soon joined him.

In Zurich they were active in resistance groups, but this was frowned upon by the Swiss authorities, who expelled them in Just before the expulsion, Bloch completed Erbschaft dieser Zeit, a penetrating study of fascism in which he elaborated the categories of synchronism and nonsynchronism to explain the attractions of fascist movements. He called for creative and inventive communist programs that confronted modernism in all its forms, so that the masses would not feel left out or left behind. Since the Communist party and other left organizations relied on empty slogans and called for paternalistic programs that failed to speak to basic human needs, it was no wonder that people turned to National Socialism with its mythic ideology and concrete welfare programs.

Bloch sought to expose the regressive policies of the Nazis while keeping alive the genuinely revolutionary impulse for change in socialism. First, one must distinguish the falsely from the genuinely nonsynchronous contradiction, the latter from the synchronous contradiction, and then, in both of them, the objective and the subjective factors of the contradiction. The basic factor in the objectively synchronous contradiction is the conflict between the collective character of the productive forces developed within capitalism and the private character of their antipathy.

It is our task now to locate within contradiction a possible force even when it does not go beyond the nonsynchronous rift. The latter remains favorable to the Now of capitalism only as long as the nonsynchronous people lack the leadership or even the magic spell spurring them to march into the present-day battlefield.

The task is to extrapolate the elements of the nonsynchronous contradiction that are capable of antipathy and transformation, that is, those hostile to capitalism and homeless in it, and to refit them to function in a different context. As we can see from these remarks, Bloch advocated a common front between communists and socialists even before the Volksfront became the official policy of the Communist party. One can also see a tendency here to hypostatize the proletariat in a way that would eventually lead Bloch to support Stalinist politics.

Crucial in Spuren, an unusual collection of anecdotes, stories, political commentaries, and essays, is the designation and detection of traces in everyday events and cultural artefacts of the past and present that are harbingers of a better future. Bloch pursued these traces, but he became caught up in his own contradictions because of his eagerness to identify with the potential of revolutionary change that was symbolized, he thought, by the Soviet Union.

During the years Bloch married Karola and they both worked for the popular front — Bloch as unorthodox critic and Karola as courier for the Communist party. In they moved to Paris, after stops in Switzerland and Austria, in time for Bloch to participate in the International Congress for the Defense of Culture. In Paris, Bloch began a book on materialism, wrote numerous philosophical and cultural essays, and did what he could to support the antifascist resistance. His stance toward the Soviet Union at this time was complex and contradictory. For Bloch, the Soviet Union had gradually become a symbolic beacon pointing toward socialism and a classless society, and as long as that beacon shed light, no matter how dim, he argued that it was the duty of committed socialists to keep it going in every possible way.

This position was untenable, as Bloch was to learn through bitter experience. Bloch was relieved when the trials came to an end in , but he still rationalized them as a drastic measure to prevent the rise of fascism in the East. He was realistic enough, though, to perceive that the Soviet Union would not harbor an unorthodox Marxist of his kind, and when it came time to think of leaving Prague — Karola gave birth to their son Jan in and the fascists were about to invade Czechoslovakiathe Blochs chose the United States as their refuge.

It was practically impossible for Bloch himself to earn money. He was shunned by members of the Frankfurt School, particularly by Max Horkheimer, because of his defense of the Soviet Union, and his former friends refused to help him obtain teaching or publishing jobs. Meanwhile Bloch wrote political articles for the journal Freies Deutschland and became a member of the National Committee for a Free Germany. His major preoccupation, however, was the further elaboration of his primary categories of the not-yet-conscious and not-yet-become in relation to hope, Utopia, and wishful thinking.

By both Karola and Bloch had obtained American citizenship. However, many of their close friends were already under surveillance by the FBI and had been called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In Bloch, who was 63 years old and had never lectured at a university, received an offer to assume the chair of philosophy at the University of Leipzig.

Knowing that he might face attacks from the orthodox communists, Bloch insisted on absolute freedom to teach what he wanted. Leipzig at that time possessed some of the finest Marxist scholars in East Germany. Aside from Krauss, whose specialty was French literature, Hans Mayer taught German literature and Fritz Behrens economics, while Georg Meyer had assumed the post of rector. From the outset Bloch was perceived by the students as playing an oppositional role to the official politics of the state and the SED Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschland , the new communist party of the German Democratic Republic.

His lectures, books, and essays contained indirect criticisms of Stalinism insofar as it represented a mechanical base-superstructure position and disregarded the vital role that culture played in the formation of social relations.

Moreover, Bloch always stressed the dialectics of individual and social freedom and placed great emphasis on creative experimentation and the unfinished nature of the socialist project. On the other hand, Bloch continued to defend the Soviet Union and Stalinism as real, existing socialist formations that set the material conditions for the qualitative development of communism. Without carefully studying the political history of either the United States or the Soviet Union, Bloch continued to make hardline materialist pronouncements about both countries.

Through , Bloch associated the United States with fascism and imperialism and called it a threat to world freedom, whereas the Soviet Union was the guarantor of genuine freedom throughout the world. He rationalized the police measures and restrictions in the Soviet Union and in East Germany just as he had the Show Trials.

He believed that if only the Soviet Union were not theatened by the imperialist tactics of western capitalism, it would be able to get on with the socialist experiment and allow greater civil liberties. Bloch was convinced that the American invention and use of the atomic bomb, the communist witch- hunts, the onset of the Cold War, and the Korean War indicated that the western nations were out to sabotage the communist cause. Therefore, Bloch publicly showed solidarity with the communists, while in intimate circles — and sometimes within the university — he was outspoken in his criticism of Stalinism and pushed for reforms wherever he could.

In addition, his major works began to be published. The Principle of Hope whose three volumes appeared in , , and established Bloch as the foremost unorthodox Marxist philosopher in perhaps the most Stalinist of the Eastern Bloc countries. In this enormous work Bloch mapped out the formations of the not-yet-conscious as they take shape in daydreams, wish-landscapes, and religious, scientific, political, and artistic events of signification.

The signification can be traced in the anticipatory illumination and is determined by the manner in which it gives rise to hope within the cultural heritage. Despite its inconsistencies and ramblings, The Principle of Hope is important because it focuses our attention on concrete moments in history that point the way toward an actual transformation of the material world.

The luminous aesthetic quality of these concrete moments, even though they are fragmentary, allows them to be utilized and reutilized for realizing what has not yet become but can become, namely the classless society. Insofar as the aesthetic formations illuminate what is missing and might still come, they instill hope in viewers or readers and provide the impetus for individual and collective change.

Bloch felt himself caught in the contradictions of his positions the more he came into contact with the reality of GDR socialism. By he had received numerous awards from the government and felt more confident about openly criticizing the state, its rigid form of teaching, and the limitations it imposed on individual freedom and human rights. In , after Khrushchev had launched the criticism of Stalinism, Bloch thought that the hour for major democratic reforms had finally come.

He saw them as stemming from the dogmatic tendencies of the party and the rigid bureaucratic system. Thus, as Bloch began to speak out more openly for reforms, the German Democratic state and party leadership, which had tolerated him as long as he had served their propagandistic purposes and kept his voice low, came to view Bloch as an enemy who had to be isolated.

The SED seized its opportunity in Under the leadership of Walter Harich, a group of intellectuals in Berlin had begun planning a coup. Bloch knew about these plans but refused to join in. The government discovered the plot and sentenced Harich and several other collaborators to prison terms. Bloch himself now came under attack in the newspapers and magazines. In January he was forcibly prevented from continuing a series of lectures at the university, and throughout the year public conferences denounced the errors and faults of his philosophy while articles attacked his notions of Marxism.

Finally Bloch was forced to retire and was banned from holding public talks. His present and former students were obliged to break with him or recant his teachings. Some fled to West Germany; some lost their jobs; one committed suicide; and some protected their careers by turning against him. Though Bloch endeavored to remain active by participating in meetings of the section of philosophy at the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin, he was for all intents and purposes silenced and isolated by Thereafter, aside from privately trying to help some of his students, Bloch concentrated his energies on publishing and lecturing in West Germany.

Though he could have remained in the West, Bloch did not want to give up the struggle for civil rights and socialism in East Germany, nor did he want to abandon the friends who had sided with him. However, during the summer of , while the Blochs were vacationing in Munich after Bloch had lectured at Tubingen and Bayreuth, they learned about the building of the Berlin Wall, and they decided not to go back. This decision caused a great sensation in the German newspapers. In fact, hope never guarantees anything. It can only be daring and must point to possibilities that will in part depend on chance for their fulfillment.

Thus, hope can be frustrated and thwarted, but out of that frustration and disappointment it can learn to estimate the tendencies of countervailing processes. Hope can learn through damaging experiences, but it can never be driven off course. To do so would be pure invention, not definition. The world remains in its entirety the same highly laboring laboratory possibilis salutis. Hope had always been for Bloch a religious, ontological, and political matter, and it continued to be such more than ever in West Germany, where he became a symbol of integrity for the protest movements that emerged during the s.

While lecturing throughout Europe, Bloch again became involved in political struggles. He supported the Social Democratic party in West Germany, attacked the right-wing Springer Press monopoly, criticized the introduction of professional proscription of civil servants in West Germany, and took positions against nuclear armament, German anti-Semitism, the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Prague, and the terrorism of the Baader-Meinhoff Group.

Though he was critical of Israeli militarism, he also defended the right of Israel to exist in a public statement and refused to have anything to do with the anti-Zionist forces in West Germany. His political position became more discriminating and clearer, and the centrality of aesthetics in his political philosophy was often reiterated, as in the following statement from a interview with Michael Landmann: Aesthetics should not be confused with contemplation or considered disinterested.

Often, certainly, the true, the good, or the beautiful, or rather what is proclaimed as such, has nothing to do with daily life and so serves the purpose of deception, as an opiate of the people. Stage and story can be either a protective park or a laboratory; sometimes they console or appease, sometimes they incite; they can be a flight from or a prefiguring of the future. The stage is not just illusion; it can also be an anticipation of what is to come, for in it the resistance of the empirical world is eliminated.

Brecht made the stage a laboratory for new models. The image of Greek man, the citizen, was first delineated in art. Likewise, architecture first creates real space against the obstacles with which the earth is full.


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Were the inflammatory elements of art eliminated in the classless society, that would be proof that reality had remained a petit-bourgeois society in which art becomes a palliative ideology instead of a clarion call. True art, including nonrevolutionary art, is always a clarion call and a challenge. Bloch continually tried to learn from his errors and contradictions and reworked his former views if proven wrong by historical developments. In doing this, he clung to a personal ethics of the aufrechter Gang, the upright gait. According to Bloch, humankind had not yet learned to take full possession of its natural rights and to walk upright with dignity.

Humans still had to learn to become like God and take destiny in their own hands, that is, to make history for the first time. What is envisioned as home Heimat in childhood is in actuality the goal of the upright gait toward which human beings strive as they seek to overcome exploitation, humiliation, oppression, and disillusionment. The individual alone cannot attain such a goal, which is only possible as a collective enterprise.

II From the outset, Bloch saw his task as part of an ongoing endeavor to name the unnameable final destination, to construe the unconstruable question about the meaning of human existence. Whereby it cannot easily have that interior so defined or have materials in the empty space of the present alienation, materials in which it could feel well or with which it could already come out of the twilight every place where the revolutionary struggle against alienation is concerned.

The formation of this language was closely connected to the substance of his thought and his personal development. Form implied human intention for Bloch. That is, embedded in form was human creative activity that sought to make its mark and march toward a better world. The experience of World War I, the collapse of the monarchy, and the October Revolution in Russia served to reinforce his belief that bourgeois philosophy, art, and literature could no longer express the questions and problems necessary for pushing forward the socialist experiment.

But by no means was the bourgeois heritage to be dismissed. Rather it was to be reutilized umfunktioniert in a manner that would allow its Utopian undercurrents to be realized. Bourgeois capitalism itself had created what Bloch called the Hohlraum, the empty space, the hollow gap, and it was imperative that progressive intellectuals, artists, and politicians fill the void with substantially new forms and content.

Bloch believed that the relativistic thinking elaborated in the work of Ernst Mach and other leading physicists would provide some sparks for revolutionary political action as well as the radical advancement of technology and the natural sciences. Out of those exploded elements that have become pure and are made into rigid facades by objectivity, montage creates variable temptations and attempts in the empty space. This empty space originated precisely because of the collapse of bourgeois culture.

Not only does the rationalization of a different society play in it, but one can see a new formation of figures arising out of the particles of the cultural heritage that have become chaotic. Mechanistic, dramaturgical, or even philosophical montage is certainly not completed by a more or less quick reutilization, that is, with the use of short and disposable models. Also it is a form to ascertain the old culture: viewed from the journey and perplexity, no longer from education. Thus Bloch employed images, comparisons, implications, connotations, provocations, aphorisms, fables, and anecdotes to form and reform philosophical categories.

Though his use of such technique, was at times naive, he purposely relied on them to break with the instrumental manipulation typical of traditional philosophy and of Marxism as well. Bloch wanted to estrange both himself and his readers; distance had to be gained from the immediate experience of life and from those customary forms that locked life into blocks of classifications and categories. He constantly played with images and categories to refine them and to endow them with the very anticipatory illumination he endeavored to trace and analyze in works of art and everyday cultural phenomena.

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Though it is often difficult to read Bloch, it is a challenging and tantalizing experience that can open up new horizons of thought. He forces his readers to rethink the purpose of philosophical language and thought. As already noted, Bloch never developed an aesthetic theory, for he was convinced that aesthetics along with ethics and politics should not be separated from fundamental philosophy but actually formed the inner core of all philosophical thought.

As Gerard Raulet has pointed out, the self-stabilization of the system is certainly not the ideal of postmodernism. The appropriate answer to this paradox is its reversal — the saving of the specific requires that one take into consideration its dependence and constraints in order to grasp it as something that has already always been mediated. Bloch returns our gaze to the tensions and mediations between the intender, tendency, and intention in the reception and use of works of art. Important here is the fact that both author and receiver are intenders who come together through the work of art to form the substance and Novum of the cultural heritage.

Bloch liked to generate a sense of Staunen in his readers. In German, Staunen implies not only startlement but astonishment, wonder, and staring, and the formation of his philosophical categories compels us to pause and reconsider what we think, where we are, and what we want to look for. We are. That is enough. Now it is up to us to begin. Life is placed into our hands. It has long since become empty. It sways back and forth, but we stand firm, and thus we want to give it its first and goals. That I walk, speak, is not there. Only directly afterward can I hold it out in front of me.

While we live, we do not see ourselves in it; we flow onward. So what happened in the process, what we actually were in it, will not coincide with what we can experience. It is not that which one is and certainly not what one means. What was never conscious cannot become unconscious. We live ourselves, but we do not experience ourselves, and it is thus clear that we possess ourselves on top of ourselves neither in the ostensible present nor above all in any section of the memory. For the individual, the not-yet-conscious is the psychical representation of what has not-yet-become in our time and its world.

Signs of the not-yet- conscious are found primarily in daydreams, where individuals have presentiments of what they lack, what they need, what they want, and what they hope to find. Unlike dreams, which house repressed and forgotten desires and experiences, daydreams can be productive for the formation of individuals and the world since they occur in semiconsciousness and point to real, objective possibilities. It is by moving away from the darkness of the immediately experienced moment and toward the intimations of a better world sighted in the not-yet-conscious that the darkness will become clarified and we shall know what we experience.

This presentiment is also in its usual appearance the meaning for that which paves the way ahead. If the presentiment is productive, it will connect itself with the imagination, particularly with the imagination of that which is objectively possible. The presentiment that is capable of working is intellectual productivity, now regarded as work-forming werkbildend. Productivity sets itself into what is next to it as a triple extension triply growing into that which has not come: as incubation, as so-called inspiration, as explication. All three belong to the capacity to go beyond the former borders of consciousness and to move forward.

It is at this point that art and literature assume their Utopian function, for they are the means through which human beings form themselves, conceive their questions about themselves, and portray the possibility of attaining their objectives. Daydreams by themselves remain unproductive. In this regard, all art and literature that have anything to say to humankind are Utopian.

Literature as Utopia is generally encroachment of the power of the imagination on new realities of experience. It means discovering with lots of plans and rich imagination and activating the productive capacity of the human individual in the aesthetic image and critical rejection of an inhibiting reality. In addition, its temporal point of reference is the future. However, it does not withdraw from the reality principle merely to place an ethereal and empty realm of freedom in place of the oppressive realm of necessity.

Rather it does this intentionally to test human possibilities, to conserve human demands for happiness and playfully to anticipate what in reality has not at all been produced but what dreams and religious or profane wish-images of humans are full of. On this definition, literary activity becomes a special form of dream work. Obviously not all of literature and art is Utopian. The Utopian quality of a work of art is determined by its Vor-Schein or anticipatory illumination. It is Heimat as utopia — and here Bloch specifically reutilizes a Nazi term — that determines the truth-content of a work of art, and it is through the anticipatory illumination of the work of art that we are able to gain a sense of truth in reality.

Utopia as object-determination, with the degree of existence of the real possible, thus encounters in the shimmering phenomenon of art a particularly fruitful problem of probation. And the answer to the aesthetic question of truth is: Artistic illusion is not only mere illusion, but a meaning that is cloaked in images and can only be described in images, of material that has been driven further, wherever the exaggeration and narrative structuring depict a significant anticipatory illumination, circulating in turbulent existence itself, of what is real, an anticipatory illumination that can specifically be depicted in aesthetically immanent terms.

What habitual or unblunted sense can hardly still see is illuminated here, in individual processes as well as social and natural ones. This anticipatory illumination becomes attainable precisely because art drives its material to an end, in characters, situations, plots, landscapes, and brings them to a stated resolution in suffering, happiness, and meaning. Aesthetically depicted means: immanently more achieved, more thoroughly formed, more essential than in the immediate-sensory or immediate-historical occurrence of this object.

This thorough formation remains illusion even as anticipatory illumination, but it does not remain illusive.

Adorno to Bloch on the Blockage of Utopia

Instead, everything that appears in the artistic image is sharpened or condensed to a decisiveness that the reality of experience in fact only seldom shows, but that is most definitely inherent in the subjects. Here anticipatory illumination is not simply objective in contrast to subjective illusion. Rather, it is the way of being, which in its turn wakes Utopian consciousness and indicates to it the not-yet- become in the scale of its possibilities. Here it is important to clarify further what Bloch meant by anticipatory illumination by distinguishing it from Schein illusion and Erscheinung appearance.

As he did with Freud, Bloch also sought to expand ideas taken from bourgeois philosophical idealism and reutilize them according to basic Marxist tenets and his principle of hope. In this case, Bloch converted epistemological concepts that had been primarily developed by Kant and Hegel. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant made an important distinction between appearance and illusion: Only appearance formed the object of knowledge because it was constituted in part of our forms of space and time.

Illusion is self-deceiving; but it has another side in that it can function as transcendental illusion, which operates as a moral postulate to regulate experience. Thus, for Kant, illusion could deceive through its intangible nature, and yet, in its transcendental metaphysical condition, it could serve as a corrective on reality and point to a way in which one might extend the bounds of experience. It was the double nature of illusion that appealed to Hegel, who endeavored to elaborate the dialectics between illusion and appearance.

In his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, he demonstrated that the essence of a thing must appear. Thus, when the shining of being is fully developed, its essence appears and can be known in its phenomenological form. In other words, there is a dialectics between illusion and appearance: The essence of a being is not only illusory as it appears but is also illuminated through a shining that allows the essence of being to appear.

It is through the dialectics of illusion and appearance that we can achieve knowledge of a thing, but this dialectics is historical, tied to a given moment, and bound by the totalizing concept that it engenders. Kant provided Bloch with the basis for an ethical and political ideal in the illusion that could act as a corrective in regard to reality, while Hegel demonstrated that illusion as a process of shining was actually a historical objectification of the subject as appearance.

To be sure this is no longer appearance in the Kantian transcendental sense but in the materialist sense of a qualitative reality that has been requalified. Illusion is moved through anticipatory illumination to a realizable future that is reachable no matter how far away. However, it remains problematic as a more-than-this future. Otherwise, anticipation would be mistaken for planification. It is only as anticipation, however, that anticipatory illumination is the fundamental category of Utopian philosophizing. It has an element of enlightenment in it.

It also demands that we become detective-critics in our appreciation and evaluation of such works. It is up to us to determine what the anticipatory illumination of a work is, and in doing this we make a contribution to the cultural heritage. That is, the quality of our cultural heritage and its meaning are determined by our ability to estimate what is valuable and Utopian in works of art from all periods.

According to Bloch, it is decisive for a work of art to have an Uberschuss or surplus for it to be truly Utopian. Literally translated, Uberschuss means overshot. For Bloch, the meaningful artist tries to go beyond himself or herself in projecting subjective wishes and needs, and thus the creation contains not only what the artist means but more — the surplus that continues to hold meaning for us today because of its Vor-Schein.

Historically, the surplus of a work of art enables us to grasp the conditions and tendencies of the times during which the artist worked, for it critically formulates what was lacking and needed during its period of conception and realization. This surplus is also the objectification of shared human values and possibilities that provide us with the hope that we can realize what we sense we are missing in life.

By cultivating different forms of human creation, we constitute our cultural heritage, and in this constitution we also redefine and reformulate what we hold to be the truth-content of reality and ideologies. The shape of a work of art, according to Bloch, depends on the specific techniques used by artists to bring about an encounter with the self and with the world whereby certain truths might be gleaned through anticipatory illumination. The critical reader learns through the anticipatory illumination not to accept passively what has been culturally served up as classical and standard, as necessity.

Personal choice and taste have sociopolitical ramifications. We read, view, and listen with hope for new impulses, whether the work is old or new, whether it is given high marks by elite critics or is considered mere entertainment of the colportage kind. Bloch was fond of the term colportage, which refers to the cheap materials sold by the colporteur or traveling bookseller of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. By the nineteenth century most of his materials catered to the dreams and wishes of lower-class readers who looked for something totally outside their ordinary routines.

Though the works were of dubious ideological character — often sexist, militaristic, and sadistic 29 Bloch refused to dismiss them as reactionary because they addressed the hunger of the imagination of people whose wants he felt must be respected. Bloch used the term Novum in various ways to demarcate the horizon line drawn by works that open up genuinely new possibilities to move forward in the world experiment. The Novum as the startling and unpredictable new is always at the forefront of human experience and indicates the qualitative reutilization of the cultural heritage.

It is through the Novum that we orient ourselves and reshape the inconstruable question about the nature of human existence in concrete ways so that we can see more clearly the direction of Utopia. Genres of art and literature result from the differing means artists use to break away from convention to form anew what they sense they cannot answer or find. Bloch revered all genres and forms and refused to establish hierarchies or canons, though he did make qualitative distinctions.

The Utopian Function of Art and Literature

Anticipatory illumination could be found in fairy tales, the circus, adventure novels, detective novels, opera, classical music, and cartoons. In particular, Bloch constantly referred to the fairy tale as the common denominator of all Utopian art, and often his remarks about the fairy tale reveal how he made distinctions about the Utopian or nonutopian role that genres play in fostering anticipatory illumination. As though they did not draw a totally different world: the fairy tale, illuminating the way into colportage, designates revolt; the legend, stemming from myth, designating tolerated fate.

If there is rebellion of the small person in the fairy tale, and if it means breaking and clearing up the magic spell, before there was one, then the legend reports calmly about the irrevocable. Key here is whether a genre and work of art is enlightening in the sense of illuminating: The fairy tale is just as much the first enlightenment as it, in its proximity to humankind, in its proximity to happiness, forms the model of the last enlightenment.

It is for all times a childlike story of war about cunning and light against the mythical powers. It ends like a fairy tale about human happiness, like reflected being as happiness. Yet truth is not the major theme of detective novels, but rather the process by which one endeavors to get at the truth: In all other narrative forms both deeds and misdeeds develop before the omnipresent reader.

Here, on the contrary, the reader is absent when the misdeed occurs, a misdeed which, though brought home in a neat package, shuns the light of day and lingers in the background of the story. It must be brought to light, and this process itself is the sole theme. The dark occurrence is not even portrayed in a prelude, for it is as yet portrayable, except through a process of reconstruction from investigation and evidence. As the philosopher of the Utopian function of literature, Bloch was attracted to genres and forms that question and dissolve conventions and rigid notions of life.

The artist always strives to rewrite and break prescriptions that confine the imagination. Thus wishful thinking and hope constitute the productive imagination of the artist. It follows naturally that wish-images and wish-landscapes are formations conceived by artists to measure the distance we have yet to go to achieve happiness. The wish-landscapes seem to transcend reality yet, in fact, leave indelible marks in our consciousness and in cultural artefacts: They are the traces of Utopia that constitute the cultural heritage, and the continual production and reutilization of wish- landscapes point to the ultimate realization of a promised land that has yet to find its appropriate form: Franz Marc has said that pictures are our own surfacing in another place, and here, in the placelessness in which interior and perspective merge and permeate themselves with a dissolved other world, a whole existence surfaces in the other place; here there is nothing more than the wish-landscape of this everywhere, of this permeatedness with home.

A limit of art is also reached here of course, if not ventured beyond; for religious art is none at all insofar as it is always on the point of doing away with the appearance which exists for all the senses, without whose appearance nothing can be portrayed aesthetically.

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Wish-landscapes of beauty, of sublimity as a whole, remain in aesthetic anticipatory illusion and as such are attempts to contemplate the world without its perishing. Such virtual perfection, the object of every iconoclasm and itself perforated in religious art: this rises, suo genere geographically, in the wish-landscapes, placed far ahead of painting, opera, and literature.

They are often mythologically cloaked and disguised, but they never remain settled and sealed in this; for they intend human happiness, a sense of its space having been well placed and having turned out well, from the idyllic to the still mystical space. Anticipatory illumination provides this aesthetic significance of happiness at a distance, concentrated into a frame.

The realization of wish-landscapes will never depend upon a state but upon the struggle of human individuals acting together to bring about what is necessary to live without a state. He preferred to elaborate philosophical categories that would further the world experiment. But art is also necessary by virtue of the magic inherent in it. To read, to listen, to view. These are human acts of hope.


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  8. Their forms are manifold. Bloch cherished these acts, no matter how small and common, and sought to trace their origins with an eye to the future. To a certain extent, his views prefigure those of Jacques Derrida in that he ignored the distinction between philosophy on one side and literature and art on the other. Unlike Derrida, however, his philosophical emphasis on fragmentation, the unfinished character of all intellectual work, did not involve an endless displacement of meaning.

    For Bloch, writing leads to a self-authentication that is ultimately dependent on the transformation of the material conditions of society. Such conditions cannot be totalized or reduced by writing or philosophical conceptualization. Yet Bloch maintained that, as humans make their marks on the world, they leave behind specific traces and formations of intended meaning that serve as signposts toward ultimate truth.

    He refuted all theoretical programs of negativity that might be used to justify abstinence from action, and he also deplored dogmatic Marxist theory that rationalized the vested interests of ruling groups through categories of closure. For Bloch, interpreting and understanding meaning formed part of the uncontrollable relation between political struggle and the deep impulses and wishes embedded in and generated by works of art and intellectual projects such as Marxism.

    Reading and interpreting were political acts of detection, pointing toward resolution while demonstrating how this resolution is related to the ultimate mystery that is still in need of illumination. Notes 1. This essay first appeared in the edition of Geist der Utopie but was omitted in the edition of Instead it appeared in the edition of essays entitled Durch die Wtiste. See Ernst Bloch, Durch die Wtiste. Frtihe kritische Aufsdtze Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, Geist der Utopie. Unverdnderter Nachdruck der bearbeiteten Neuaujlage der zweiten Fassung von Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, , p.

    See Hans-Jiirgen Schmitt, ed. Materialien zu einer marxistischen Realismuskonzeption Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, and Aesthetics and Politics, tr. For a discussion of this incident, see Zudeick, Der Hintern des Teufels, pp. Literarische Aufsdtze, in Gesamtausgabe, vol. Erbschaft dieser Zeit, in Gesamtausgabe, vol. Bloch uses the word Bildung for education, implying that traditional or institutionalized education will no longer suffice or help determine the contours of the genuine, socialist cultural heritage.

    Frederick G. Geist der Utopie Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, , p. Gert Ueding Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, , 7, Das Prinzip Hoffnung, vol. I Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, , This translation is based on the one in The Principle of Hope, trs. Gert Ueding, vol. Ernst Bloch Stuttgart: Metzler, , Prinzip Hoffhung, in Gesamtausgabe, vol. The Necessity of Art Baltimore: Penguin, , Theodor W. However, insofar as these dreams have been realized, they all operate as though the best thing about them had been forgotten — one is not happy about them.

    As they have been realized, the dreams themselves have assumed a peculiar character of sobriety, of the spirit of positivism, and beyond that, of boredom. What I mean by this is that it is not simply a matter of presupposing that what really is has limitations as opposed to that which has infinitely imaginable possibilities. Rather, I mean something concrete, namely, that one sees oneself almost always deceived: the fulfillment of the wishes takes something away from the substance of the wishes, as in the fairy tale where the farmer is granted three wishes, and, I believe, he wishes his wife to have a sausage on her nose and then must use the second wish to have the sausage removed from her nose.

    The technological perfection is not so complete and stupendous as one thinks. It is limited only to a very select number of wish dreams. One could still add the very old wish to fly.

    In other words, there is a residue. There is a great deal that is not fulfilled and made banal through the fulfillment — regardless of the deeper viewpoint that each realization brings a melancholy of fulfillment with it. So, the fulfillment is not yet real or imaginable or postulatable without residue. But it is not only this that brings about the depreciation of Utopia.

    All this is no longer called Utopian; or if it is called Utopian, it is associated with the old social Utopias. But I believe that we live not very far from the topos of utopia, as far as the contents are concerned, and less far from utopia. At the very beginning Thomas More designated utopia as a place, an island in the distant South Seas. This designation underwent changes later so that it left space and entered time. Indeed, the Utopians, especially those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, transposed the wishland more into the future. In other words, there is a transformation of the topos from space into time.

    With Thomas More the wishland was still ready, on a distant island, but I am not there. On the other hand, when it is transposed into the future, not only am I not there, but utopia itself is also not with itself. This island does not even exist. But it is not something like nonsense or absolute fancy; rather it is not yet in the sense of a possibility; that it could be there if we could only do something for it. Not only if we travel there, but in that we travel there the island utopia arises out of the sea of the possible — utopia, but with new contents.

    I believe that in this sense utopia has not at all lost its validity in spite of the terrible banalization it has suffered and in spite of the task it has been assigned by a society — and here I would agree with my friend Adorno — that claims to be totally affluent and now already classless. Adorno: Yes, I support very much what you have said, and I want to use the objection that you have implicitly raised to correct myself a little.

    It was not my intention to make technology and the sobriety that is allegedly connected to technology responsible for the strange shrinking of the Utopian consciousness, but it appears that the matter concerns something much more: it refers to the opposition of specific technological accomplishments and innovations to the totality — in particular, to the social totality. Whatever utopia is, whatever can be imagined as utopia, this is the transformation of the totality.

    And the imagination of such a transformation of the totality is basically very different in all the so-called Utopian accomplishments — which, incidentally, are all really like you say: very modest, very narrow. That people are sworn to this world as it is and have this blocked consciousness vis-a-vis possibility, all this has a very deep cause, indeed, a cause that I would think is very much connected exactly to the proximity of utopia, with which you are concerned.

    My thesis about this would be that all humans deep down, whether they admit this or not, know that it would be possible or it could be different. Not only could they live without hunger and probably without anxiety, but they could also live as free human beings. At the same time, the social apparatus has hardened itself against people, and thus, whatever appears before their eyes all over the world as attainable possibility, as the evident possibility of fulfillment, presents itself to them as radically impossible.

    Is it happiness? Is it fulfillment? Is ita word that has just come up in our discussion — simply freedom? What is actually hoped for? Bloch: For a long time Utopias appeared exclusively as social Utopias: dreams of a better life. In other words, there is a transformation of the world to the greatest possible realization of happiness, of social happiness. One hundred years later, during the time of Philip II and the Spanish domination of Italy, during the atmosphere of the Galileo Trial, 3 Campanella conceived a countermodel to freedom in his Sun State.

    But the goal of More and Campanella was always the realm of conscious dreaming, one that is more or less objectively founded or at least founded in the dream and not the completely senseless realm of daydreaming of a better life. Yet, there is still a much older level of Utopias that we should not forget, that we least of all should not forget — the fairy tale.

    The fairy tale is not only filled with social Utopia, in other words, with the Utopia of the better life and justice, but it is also filled with technological Utopia, most of all in the oriental fairy tales. Thus, the content of the Utopian changes according to the social situation. In the nineteenth century the connection to the society at that time can be seen clearly, most clearly in the works of Saint- Simon and Fourier, who was a great, exact, and sober analyst.

    He prophesied the coming of monopoly as early as in his book Theorie des quatre mouvements. In other words, in this case it is a negative Utopia that is there, too. The content changes, but an invariant of the direction is there, psychologically expressed so to speak as longing, completely without consideration at all for the content — a longing that is the pervading and above all only honest quality of all human beings.

    Now, however, the questions and qualifications begin: What do I long for as optimal? There is theater architecture, which was cheaply set up with cardboard and did not cost much when money was lacking and technology was not far advanced. In the Baroque Age, most of all in the Viennese Baroque Theater, there were tremendous buildings that could never be inhabited because they were built out of cardboard and illusion, but they nevertheless made an appearance. There are the medical Utopias, which contain nothing less than the elimination of death — a completely foolish remote goal.

    But then there is something sober, like the elimination and relief of pain. Now, that is in truth much easier and has been accomplished with the invention of anesthesia. The goal is not only the healing of sickness, but this, too, is to be achieved — that people are healthier after an operation than they were before. In other words, there is a reconstruction of the organism in exactly the same way as there is a reconstruction of the state. Above all there is, as I said at the beginning, the Utopian in religion.

    Aware of his own shortcomings, though never apologetic, Bloch dealt with his contradictions and those of his time by continuously trying to locate the basic needs of oppressed groups and elaborating a Marxist critique of alienation and exploitation. In the process he maintained his optimistic belief in the potential of art to provide not only hope for a better future but also illumination toward the realization of this goal.

    In a interview Bloch stated:. In every age two threads intertwine: first, the cultural heritage [Engels], that is, religion, art, and philosophy; and second, ideology. Ideology is just a coloration of the awareness that stands and falls with the ruling class power. The dominant ideas of an age are the ideas of its ruling class [Marx].

    The Bible is made an excuse for its cheap imports; preservation of the purity of communism is a pretext for the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Nothing has changed. The slogans and alibis circulating in the Soviet Union today are pure ideology, and the best that can come from them is the warning: This is not the way to act. What has cultural value expresses more than the goal of one age or one class: It speaks for the future.

    Any significant philosophical or artistic work contributes to future maturity. Therefore great achievements in the superstructure no longer belong completely to their age. The Parthenon cannot be written off just because it was built by a slaveholding society. Its social mission at the time is no longer the important thing. What interests us now is its meaning for later generations living under a changed general situation.

    Only progress and the progression of time therefore bring out the full value of the past heritage and that never completely. The 18th century had no eye for Gothic art; we understand it because the parallax is greater from where we stand. But in the future we will see yet more. The receptive subject of culture grows with socialism; his entire richness will flourish only in socialist society.

    Blochs own growth as a receptive subject of culture came through his intense concern with questions of aesthetics and the cultural heritage and against the grain of institutionalized bourgeois aesthetics and ideology in practically every phase of his life. Thus it is important to place Bloch historically, to consider how he developed. Aesthetics was a way of life for Bloch, which meant that he had no interest in becoming a disinterested spectator of culture.

    In fact, Bloch intervened in almost all the crucial philosophical and aesthetic debates of his time, and his interventions left scars that need tracing if we are to realize their value for a critique of contemporary cultural developments. Ernst Bloch was born in in Ludwigshafen. His father was a senior official of the Imperial Railways and treated his son with a firm hand.

    For the most part he seemed concerned more with respectability than with helping the boy develop his talents. Bloch in turn felt his parents imposition of stultifying regulations as a direct impingement on his personal freedom. In his rare remarks about his youth, Bloch always stressed his desire to break away, and he hardly mentioned his parents in his later years. Nor was Ludwigshafen itself conducive to his childhood dreams and desires. At the end of the 19th century, the city was a dreary industrial center in which the living conditions of the workers were decrepit and the life style of the bourgeoisie was boring and predictable.

    Compared with the neighboring city of Mannheim, which was more affluent and had a more varied cultural life, Ludwigshafen, the proletarian city, stood as a constant reminder to the young Bloch of the social and political inequities that would disturb him throughout his life. To a certain extent, it was the contradiction between Ludwigshafen and Mannheim that gave rise to Blochs early political consciousness. Here was a clear instance of what he would call nonsynchronism: Mannheim was a modern society Gesellschaft moving with the times toward secularization and cosmopolitanism, while Ludwigshafen was still underdeveloped and harbored strong 19th-century notions of community Gemeinschaft.

    The nonsynchronous breach between the cities later helped Bloch grasp why fascism, which paid heed to the basic yearnings and customs of the lower classes and did not dismiss them as communism did, had such great appeal for the German people. In his youth, however, Bloch was more bothered by the void in his own life, which he came to realize was also connected to the contradiction between Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. That is, his home was characterized by what he called mush, dreariness, and lack of love, understanding, and stimulation. He filled the void as he could with daydreams, voracious reading, music, theater, letter-writing to eminent philosophers, rebellion against traditional schooling, and concern for social democratic politics.

    Bloch left Ludwigshafen in to study philosophy and German literature at the University of Munich; he then moved on to the University of Wiirzburg, where he studied experimental psychology, physics, and music and took an interest in the Cabbala and Jewish mysticism. After receiving his doctorate in philosophy in with a dissertation on Heinrich Rickert under the direction of Hermann Cohen, he moved to Berlin to study under the renowned sociologist Georg Simmel.

    It was in Simmels seminar that he met Georg Lukcs, who became one of his best friends and later one of his foremost philosophical antagonists. Bloch studied with Simmel until and was strongly influenced by Simmels Lebensphilosophie, which stressed the lived moment and the impossibility of knowing the immediate.

    More important, Simmel was one of those remarkable intellectuals who believed that a philosopher must be concerned with everyday occurrences and small events. He had a broad range of interests and expounded. He was a man after Blochs own heart, and he left a lasting impression even after Bloch broke with him over Simmels defense of German patriotism. The period between and was a time of major changes in Blochs life. Blochs and Benjamins confrontation with Buber and with Zionism affirmed a different Jewish idea that was both secular and theological and which represents an intellectualist rejection of the existing order of things.

    The messianic idea, though more pronounced in Blochs early writings than in Benjamins.

    The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays
    The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays
    The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays
    The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays
    The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays
    The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays
    The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays

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