Ernst Bloch and the Utopian Imagination

Eras Journal – Brown, J.: Ernst Bloch and the Utopian Imagination

Ernst Bloch and the Utopian Imagination
Judith Brown
(Otago University)

…but the essence of the world is cheerful spirit and the urge to creative shaping: the Thing In Itself is objective imagination.[1]

Introduction

Ernst Bloch’s major work, The Principle of Hope, is a compendium of the forms and history of hope. While Bloch is recognized as a Marxist thinker, he stands somewhat apart from this tradition in both his specific emphases, and the manner in which they are presented. Bloch concerns himself with cultural and creative phenomena to an extent rare in Marxist theory. While Bloch’s concern is the great sweep of history he asserts that the true character of this is revealed in the ‘small things’ of human endeavour:”…a sudden convergence of every road on an overgrown, insignificant side road that becomes the main road to human progress”.[2] Bloch himself had a genuine love of fairs, circuses, the cinema, and Western and detective fiction. The style Bloch employs in his writings on the arts is not incidental to his philosophy but serves as a means of cohering highly diverse material. It is elusive, provocative and stimulating: a self-acknowledged attempt to reproduce the collage effect of his beloved Expressionist artists.

Utopia, Marx, and Imagination

Among the most heterodox aspects of Bloch’s Marxism is his reclamation of the Utopian tradition. It is in this context that his understanding of the imagination comes to full, if often allusive, flowering. For Bloch the imagination is productive of the revolution. And the revolution is the changing of the world. It is an “overturning of all circumstances in which (humanity) is a degraded, a subjugated, a foresaken, a contemptible being”.[3]

For Bloch the world, and humanity in it, are unfinished. Humanity’s only authentic task is the completion of the world[4] and therefore ourselves: “the world is untrue, but it wants to return home through man (sic) and through truth”.[5]As we shape the world through our work so we come to a condition of self-possession. Bloch’s conception of authenticity is as a coming-to-ourselves, in which we have reclaimed our human capacities from our alienation, manifest in the worship of the gods and masters.

Bloch’s concern is to call attention to a path toward unalienated humanity. Bloch offers a re-interpretation of humanity’s constitutive characteristics – what is only internal in us must become a self-encounter enabling us to direct our subjectivity into the external world. It is only after this preparation that utopia manifests itself as an expanse of human self-presence that transcends the “falseness” of the world, the closedness we are told is our lot by death, deprivation, and loss.[6]

This involves a struggle to attain a perspective on ourselves. It also includes the “only problem”[7]: the interrelationship of the self and the ‘We’. The problem of how we are to know ourselves is the same as the world problem. Possession of the self is finally a collective possession for Bloch, brought about by shared praxis. This issue is the “ultimate basic principle of utopian philosophy”.[8] We make of our subjectivity the world. And hope is the moral conditioner of this project: “Only hope understands and also completes the past, opens the long, common highway”.[9] Hope is the critical and constitutive heart of Bloch’s philosophy. It is both goal and always sought for. Hope and the blossoming of reason, a critical self-awareness, go hand in hand.

Hope knows itself as the ‘utopian function‘. Its contents are first represented in ideas, and essentially in those of the imagination.[10]Bloch speaks of such imaginative ideas as extending, “in an anticipating way, existing material into the future possibilities of being different and better”.[11] Here imagination is qualitatively, ontologically, something other than fantasizing or the remembering. It has a quality which is forward-directed, a call to action. The truth-bearing imaginative act is ‘hope-charged’ and realistic, “fully attuned… to objectively real possibility…and consequently to the properties of reality which are themselves utopian, i.e. contain future”.[12] Hence it is able to respond to circumstances and sustain the work of changing the world in even the most adverse conditions. It is not diverted by the ephemeral but is the fulcrum round which ‘dreams and life’ come to have a realistic relationship to one another.

This last remark bears on the functional significance Bloch accords the imagination. For Bloch our human condition is one of ‘not-yet’ (noch nicht), a category that in Bloch’s philosophy is a signifier,[13] referring to the fundamental directionality of the world and its unfinished character. Bloch’s emphasis is on reality as “process and open”.[14]Imagination which affects the utopian function in humanity (and possibly of matter itself) coheres reality, understanding it as a Totality (Totum). It is the applied aspect of hope, which is understood by Bloch as metaphysics.

The imagination overcomes the disabling ‘gap’ between the things we day-dream [15] and reality as it is. Our desires, dreams, and longings, are given their form by the imagination; they are how hope is cast by the imagination. When these original desires are given form as particular wishes it is by the imagination. The teleological moral-nature of the imagination emerges when we make conscious choices as to which of our wishes we seek to fulfill. Hope is participatory: the “waking dream”.[16] Choosing those wishes is in effect a critique of present reality: an expression of utopian aspiration. Action, or in more orthodox Marxist terms, the labour process, consists of materializations of goal projections – concretizations of the imagination.

As the utopian function hope is the only remaining transcendent function, but one which is immanent. Its correlate is process. Because of its openness the “Novum , (genuinely new thing), [is] no longer alien in material terms”.[17]Bloch rejects both the compartmentalizing of reality which he believes characterizes capitalism, and the Marxist subordination of culture to economic organization. For Bloch the superstructure,[18] the activities that arise subsequent to economic organization, is in a dialectical relationship with the organization of production and the division of labour.[19] Bloch was critical throughout his life of what he termed “cold-stream Marxism”: the theory that developments in the economic base have an inevitable tendency in themselves sufficient to bring about the collapse of capitalism. Indeed, such an approach is mimicking capitalism and perpetuating the bourgeois division of labour.[20] The significance of Bloch’s position is that it allows him to say that our activity, our choices are as important to the revolution as any alteration in the relations of production. As Bloch remarks “economic schematicism does not explain Pushkin or Beethoven”.[21]

Within the Totality humanity, both individually and collectively, are an incognito. We live in life (gelebt) but do not experience it. Bloch speaks of our condition as one of being too close to ourselves. We live in a darkness which is that of the “lived instant”[22]:

The Now is the place where the immediate hearth of experience in general stands…As immediately being there, it lies in the darkness of the moment. Only what is just coming up or what had just passed has the distance which the beam of growing consciousness needs to illuminate it.[23]

The necessity for humanity to come to itself is a “journey”[24] problem. What Bloch’s understanding of human nature says is that there are possibilities whose conditions have not yet ripened. He suggests, in consonance with his rejection of closure, that conditions may evolve. This is not just true of human being but matter itself. However, the revolution is not inevitable; it has to be worked for. And even where there is a receptiveness “it is not always possible even to pluck a Now that has come”.[25]

Hence, one of the reasons Bloch accords the arts so significant a place in his thought is that the artist is able to experience and depict a now, a present, which has a subtly different tenor: it is a mediated “now”.[26] Art is an active revision that expands the world and essentially increases it. The imagination is thought, understood as “transformed material”[27] which constitutes our difficult participatory knowledge of the external world.Bloch’s philosophy is a summons to a humanly fit world. A world unreified, unalienated, and undistorted by the relations engendered in capitalism. It is to this end that he rehabilitates the utopian tradition. Bloch’s fundamental position is that utopia is a mode of our being. For Bloch wishes are presentiments of our capacities. The essence of humanity is hopefulness:

…but human longing in both forms – as impatience and as waking dream – is the mainsail into the other world. This intending toward a star, a joy, a truth to set against the empirical, beyond its satanic night ofincognito, is the only way still to find truth.[28]

In Bloch’s philosophy this is given expression in a number of concepts, including that of homeland (Heimat).[29]Utopia is the locus of our homeland:

Once [we have] established [our] own domain in real democracy, without depersonalization and alienation, something arises in the world which all men (sic) have glimpsed in childhood: a place and a state in which no one has yet been. And the name of this something is home (Heimat).[30]

As a name for that which constitutes our being Heimat is congruent with utopia.

Other terms enrich this concept, among which is ‘anticipatory illumination’ (das Vor-Schein). By this Bloch means a pre-appearance that acts as an intimation of humanity ‘come to itself’. This is material that contains elements of ongoing worth. Such material has an authenticity to it that arises from the nature of its intersection with contemporary realities: “an anticipatory illumination that could never be realized in an ideology of the status quo but, rather, has been connected to it like an explosive”.[31]It constitutes a surplus (Überschuss), transcending the ideology of its era. The surplus is what gives the superstructure a historical character. Bloch calls this surplus the ‘cultural heritage’. The surplus is a consequence of ‘non-synchronous development’ (Ungleichzeitigkeit), the idea that all parts of the social totality do not move at the same pace. There are both regressive and progressive elements. The later are a kind of revenant of the “hidden essence (das Eigentliche) in which the world (not art) could attain its aim”.[32] This is why Bloch also describes the surplus as a “tradition of the future”.[33] Anticipatory illumination is therefore an arsenal in the world. In its utopian nature it is both against the world and a not-yet (noch nicht).

The utopian imagination is productive in the true Marxist sense of work: this is an engagement in activity through which the individual is confirmed. Like all engagement it makes revolution possible by overcoming the fracturing of the world. Creativity is one word for the work of the imagination in materiality. Hence creativity, or the imagination active in material outcome, is, as indicated by the title of the section on music in Das Prinzip Hoffnung, a “venturing beyond”.

Imagination and the Signification of the Arts

Reality, time and space, are as much the domain of the imagination as our “dream worlds”.[34] Indeed, imagination for Bloch transcends the popular notion of sensibility in relation to the arts. Moreover, for Bloch, the arts are a proof in his utopian philosophy, a philosophy of inquiry into the whole meaning of the world. Art is a laboratory whose experiments are proofs of the Utopian process. In the “process-fragment” the material and form are a “cipher of the authentic”.[35]

Bloch’s sense of the arts, in the phrase of Marx, as a “storehouse of our dreams”‘ means he urges us to look for traces (Spuren) in the marginalized, in the ‘small things’. Productive shaped works are “the convex lens for the utopian material the earth is made of”.[36]The work of art is “a reflected splendour, a star of anticipation and a song of consolation of the return home (Heimat) through darkness. And yet, it should also be a distance, shining splendour, declared contradiction of any completion on earth”.[37] The arts are the material locale of anticipatory illumination. Within the arts there is a “secret signature”[38] of humanity and “so we seek the artist who lets us approach ourselves purely, encounter ourselves”.[39] The arts are a zone of prophetic intensity, not a prophetic enclave.

The imagination is of ontological significance; life-giving in a functional sense like hope. The imagination can “carry on the existing facts toward their future potentiality of their otherness, of their better condition in an anticipatory way”.[40] It is forward-movement, contrasted to recollection (anamnesis ),[41]and it enables the essentially hopeful condition of the daydream, and wishful-ness. As expressions of hope neither of these activities are trivial. Like youth, the ‘blue’ of a high sky, and the ‘front’ where the wave of the future breaks, the daydream and fairy-tale are expressions of liberty from the “putrefaction of yesterday”,[42] and the re-constitutive presence of utopian traces. Bloch speaks of the “exact imagination” being directed toward the “objectively possible Possible”.[43] The imagination mediates the world “with its tendency”.[44] It has a fundamental faithfulness to the world.

The imagination is central to Bloch’s dialectic of participating reason encountering the New (Novum). It is an active confrontation, a dynamic of anticipation and involves an engagement of the self with things as they are. This means Bloch does not look for utopian material in those myths that are ‘past’ward-looking, that is, closed and static. Though myth contains anticipatory content and is open to reformulation and hence the rescuing of imaginative meaning, when myths are merely ideological they are as alienating as both the religious espousal of a transcendent realm and the abstraction of idealism. The imagination rescues “phenomena into what is significant in them”.[45]

The fractured self Bloch attributed to modernism is countered by imagination as engagement. Paradoxically engagement has its origin in the human drive which Bloch regarded as our most elemental: that of hunger.[46] It is part of the subjective factor that began in Marx’s “dream about a thing”[47] : “Marxism’s sole theme is that of forming-transforming, and it scares away the dreamers but not the precise imagination”.[48] The dialectically trained imagination is at home in the socialist world but can only find hollow spaces to hide in the capitalist world. The imagination requires subjects and work.[49] It demands a correlate in the world.

Bloch takes as his starting point Marx’s remark that the architect is distinguished from the bee by erecting her structure first in the imagination. The imagination and the correct process are intertwined. The process which facilitates authenticity is that of sifting the facts and utilizing them in accord with their latent tendency of utopian content. The arts are for Bloch a kind of functionally prophetic sight. They involve us in a process of cognition in which the subject-object divide is transcended within the receptive subject.

Achieving this unity [50]is one of the functions of creative genius. The genius has a very important place as one who concentrates the utopian traces in the artistic products of an era.[51] The genius has a vital role in Bloch’s theory of ‘non-synchronous development’ (Ungleichzeitigkeit). The genius is of course a historical force of production, expressing the politics and ideology of their era, but able to interrogate their milieu in such a manner that both what is already very old in it and yet new, unfulfilled, is brought to awareness.

The genius brings forth a surplus which is more than a concretization of the spirit of the times. The genius works with tradition, against which and in which innovation creates what is genuinely new but full of lively unnamed potential.[52]The genius achieves transformations that are not inevitable: “A cultural tendency without a creative genius remains a…blank page”.[53]

The genius is a distillation of the process of utopian imagination. The utopian imagination is a tool of breakthrough; productive, causative. For Marx the element of tradition in the social imaginary is really ideological. Its images are only consolations, diverting us from the real. In other words, it is the utopian function that provides design for the free imagination, acting as a critique of what exists and creatively conditioning the social worlds we construct. The trace of utopia is a consequence of the dialectic between experience and “expectancy”:

Are we not ready to recognize in the power of the imagination, no longer the faculty of deriving “images” from our sensory experience, but the capacity for letting new worlds shape our understanding of ourselves? [54]

For Bloch the difference between fantasy and real imaginative possibility is praxis. We test the possible in experience, after we have tested reality by the imagination: “The emotion of hope goes out of itself…it looks in the world itself for what can help the world; this can be found”.[55] This is the difference between merely ‘interpreting’ the world and changing it. Imagination implies a becoming. It intimates the possibility of engagement: “…imagination also has a projective function which is part of the dynamics of action itself”.[56]

Music: the Audible World of Hope

For Bloch music is the art most saturated with intimations and forms of hope: “…the a priori latent theme of all the plastic arts, though it is really central to all the magic of music”.[57] His philosophy of music is itself an epitome of his philosophy of the arts. Music is a specific form of the imagination’s materialization of our self-encounter: “…the experiment of the hearing-in-Existence of observer and world remains common to all forms of music”.[58] It is hermeneutical. Music is both profoundly open and specifically, in its duration, a Now. A musical work is “an actual formed portion of time (Zeitstück geformter Art)”.[59] It is a public voice of the incognito.[60]

Bloch’s philosophy of music illuminates his concept of the imagination. He speaks of music as the language of the new humanity (Mensch). This is humanity which has taken its place in the hollow spaces where the dead gods, to whom we have given our birth-right, were. The imagination gives from “ways in this world by which the inward can become outward and the outward like the inward”.[61] Music is a sound realization of this process of the self (Selbst) and We (Wir), attentive to the utopian traces (Spuren). Music realizes in their highest forms both ancestral recollection and the utopian drive. Bloch is saying that our authentic self struggles to attain the condition of music, not as any specific work in the guise of a specific era’s form and social relations, but because “this hardly known, warm, profound, Gothic sanctum of [our subjectivity] will be the same thing as the Kingdom of heaven revealed”.[62]

While Bloch’s philosophy of music is materialist – he understands music as an expression of the social relations of its era – he holds that music is unique in transcending cultural bric-a-brac : “the sonorous present given by music can be closely affiliated to any imaginable adventure or miracle”.[63] An example typical of the way in which Bloch utilizes orthodox Marxist categories of analysis occurs in his reading of the sonata form of Beethoven. Beethoven is “music’s first, rough, storm-driven, eloquent sea”.[64] The style of the sonata is “full of revolutionary tension, set by the contrasting double themes and the antithesis of their harmonic zones”.[65] It is a “tone-form”[66]expressive of the bourgeois “competitive, conflict-laden society” it arose in. But in Beethoven the self breaks out into the world: “for only in Beethoven does the self advance further toward the discovery of that certain ground that perhaps extends all the way to the final God”.[67] Beethoven’s lord and object is “active human essentially itself”. [68]

Bloch locates the oldest impulse of music in the basic human condition of yearning, the human cry. His reading of the myth of Pan and Syrinx, as it is told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses , illustrates this.[69] In Ovid’s account Pan pursues a dryad, Syrinx, who in fleeing him is trapped by the waters of a river. Syrinx calls on the waters to save her by transforming her. When Pan tries to seize her he finds in his hand only a river reed. While he is lamenting his loss a wind moves in the reed-bank, producing notes whose beauty moves Pan to construct the instrument which bears his name. Thus the music which was produced by the wind is now recreated through human breath and emotional instinct. The sound itself effects a consolation in Pan by bringing the presence of the nymph to him, even in her absence: “that which has passed beyond the limit is caught up again by this lament, captured in this consolation”.[70] The qualities which make music so expressive of our authentic being exist due to music’s invention as human expression;[71] which is the self. It is able to express what is still dark. Further, there is a “clairvoyance of the ear”.[72]Music also exists as movement in time and is not able to be fixed in place. Music is boundary-overstepping.

Bloch admits that conditions are not completely sufficient, but they may become so. Hope, as we have seen, is the moral conditioner of praxis. The imagination is the accomplice of Utopia in its ‘act of intending’. In music the imagination precipitates the last utopian struggle, the overthrowing of death, which it contests

with a concern that is all the greater because precisely death’s mysterious territory is filled with night, a generative force which seems so profoundly familiar to music within this world. However firmly the night of death may be distinguished from any other, music rightly or wrongly feels itself to be a Grecian fire that will still burn in the River Styx.[73]

For Bloch the imagination and, more broadly, creativity as response (praxis) is an aspect of Sein innovation. And in Bloch’s philosophy music is a materialization of the form that imagination gives hope. Bloch calls music an “inwardly utopian art…completely beyond the scope of everything empirically verifiable”.[74] A central intent of Bloch’s philosophy is indicated in his praise of music as a formal process of great intelligibility but enigmatic teleology. In this way there is no closure to the forms imagination gives to the extension of the boundary of being. It is the imagination that shows us the relation of appearances to the Totality, to how what is not-yet apparent may become so. The imagination is the accomplice of Utopia in its act of intending. The imagination pursues the ‘significant aspects’ of appearances and ‘visualizes’ the abundance of the manifest world, but also maps the relations that lie behind and in these and that are the ground of the immediacy of real experience.[75] It is the heart of the ‘remedy’ for evil: ‘revolutionary gnosis’.[76]

Some Concluding Thoughts

One could contend that Bloch’s thought sheds a particular light on its content, but that there is nothing fundamentally remarkable in his thought in relation to the imagination (or indeed the arts). This is not to deny the unique perspective of his philosophy. The uniqueness resides in the immense synthesis of such diversity into a consistent and singular focus. Bloch’s thought on the imaginative is arguably most informed by traditions of restlessness – Hermetic and Jewish mysticism, Expressionism, and a widely recognized debt to German Romanticism.[77] It is valuable to examine these ‘borrowings’ for the light they throw on both Bloch’s method and particularity. To a remarkable degree his project is one calling for commitment. It requires acquiescence to its totality.

Bloch makes use of the Romantic theory of creativity, seen here as an understanding of the working of the imagination, when he delineates the stages of creative production: ‘incubation’, inspiration and explication.[78]Incubation is preliminary and often lengthy. It establishes a ‘colouring.’ In it expectation becomes a directed receptiveness toward inspiration. Bloch criticizes the term ‘inspiration’ for the way it suggests a source outside the individual subject.[79] His own phrase is the “surpassing expanding element”, by which he seems to mean an element of transcendence that remains consonant with materialist philosophy when understood as a consequence of human action in the world:

Not only the subjective, but also the objective conditions for the expression of a Novum must…be ready, must be ripe, so that this Novum can break through out of mere incubation and suddenly gain insight into itself. And these conditions are always socio-economic and of a progressive kind.[80]

Here the genius becomes central, as the individual most attuned to the tendency of the times. This appears to be a reformulation of the Romantic theory that those works which transcend their time and form the creative storehouse for human endeavour are uniquely individual. They become so, one assumes, only collectively and immanently.

Explication is the translation of vision into work, involving singleness of purpose. Imagination here becomes a means of demonstrating Bloch’s objection to theories of inevitable revolution. Clearly the willed act of the individual is determinative within the species context. One may ask of Bloch whether or not the imagination is merely a facet of his concept of ‘action’? This would be acceptable within the agenda of a call to ‘seize the day’. The imagination is the means by which hope flowers.

This is one reason for Bloch’s enthusiasm for Expressionism,[81] specifically the emphasis it placed on artistic joy (Kunstfreude). This aspect reclaimed the element of play. It highlights the dynamic character of reality. It also attempts a breaking of form, a critique of the status quo that shows us reality incorporates discontinuity, and in such a way that the Novum is projected. Similarly, Bloch utilizes an analogy, related to the nature of creativity, from the cabbala, namely the ibbur. He speaks of this in relation to bursts of unforeseen creativity; interpreting ibbur as “pregnancy of the soul”.[82] A new soul becomes joined to our previous one in such a way that those who receive it receive something new, not past deeds. From this Bloch posits a “future soul that casts itself ahead”.[83] The imagination parallels this in function.

From the hermetic tradition[84] Bloch takes the concept of creativity arising from a ‘Not'(Nicht).[85] This is a brooding potential, a ‘fermenting’. Its connection with the imaginative function resides in its presence in the initiation of every movement toward something:

The start of the beginning of all being-here lies here always in the darkness which is still unmediated with itself, namely in the darkness of the Now or the just lived moment; the fiat of all world-movements occurs most immediately in this darkness.[86]

The ‘Not’, by being an absence or lack, rather than annihilation,[87] is momentum away from this lack also. The drive toward something is depicted as hunger, as need, as striving.[88] And it is only the emotions which reach deeply into the ontic roots, a reaching the imaginative function is the essential function for. A cultural masterpiece is the Nichtattaining awareness, becoming inspiration, completed by productivity.

The imagination is realistic. It is to do with what is possible, with selecting what betters our situation from the ‘undiscovered’. All immanence is fragmentary, which is not the same as incompleteness. In some music, for example, Beethoven’s last quartets, the depth of the work comes from an essential unfinishability. Bloch associates this with ‘end-times’ imagination in which totality is understood as transforming. The imagination finds expression in the fragment because the world is not closed, and is the authentic depth in a work of art. That is, it is itself only fragment. All fragments, or ciphers, or metaphors, or symbols, thrown up in ‘becoming’, are authentic fragments through which process manifests itself.[89]The conditioning factor is action. The ‘undiscovered country’ is humanity itself.

What is interesting about Bloch’s cultural agenda is that he appears to be saying that the imagination must never take form! Here we see why he favours music so strongly. It is the least ‘concrete’ of the arts. Moreover, individual composers can be read in a manner highlighting related aspects of their work. Schoenberg, for example, is the composer whose music expresses late bourgeois transitionality. His is ‘weather music’. For Bloch it expresses the subject-state of its age, but the lack of a tonal ‘homeland’ gives Schoenberg’s music a journeying, or at least restless quality, which prevents it being mere opiate or deception. Otherwise it is the function of the imagination to grasp and bring to form provisionally , with an eye, as it were, to what could be. The criteria for such assessments are based on a concept of participation that is ambiguous enough that the peril of subjective preference is almost unavoidable.

However, further investigation into Bloch’s reading of the imagination may be one way to re-utilize Bloch’s thought for today. Though some of the material Bloch utilizes has lost its cultural currency, his thought on music, on literature, and on the visual arts, serves to remind us that culture is a consequence of far from superficial human impulses within a continuum of changing environments and structures. Bloch may be the last flourish of the philosophical impulse to inquire into the whole meaning of the world.

(the email you send to eras@arts.monash.edu.au will be read by the Eras editorial committee and published on the “Discussion” page)

Notes

[1] Ernst Bloch,Das Prinzip Hoffnung, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1959. Ernst Bloch,The Principle of Hope (3 Volumes) translated by Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice and Paul Knight, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1986. Quotation in The Principle of Hope Volume 1, p. xx. Back

[2] Ernst Bloch, Geist der Utopia, (The Spirit of Utopia), translated by Anthony A. Nassar, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2000, p. 15. This is a translation of the Second Edition of this work, published as Geist der Utopie: Bearbeitete Neuauflage der Fassung von 1923, Frankfurt am Main, deiser Fassung Suhrkamp, 1964. Back

[3] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1355. Back

[4] Ernst Bloch, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays, translated by Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg; MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 73. Back

[5] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 279. Back

[6] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, pp. 2-3. Back

[7] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia , p. 206. Back

[8] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 206. Back

[9] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 51. Back

[10] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 144. Back

[11] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 144. Back

[12] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 145. Back

[13] Wayne Hudson, The Marxist Philosophy of Ernst Bloch, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1982. Back

[14] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 72. Back

[15] The day-dream is formed consciously. It is ‘within our power’. The day-dream runs the spectrum from silly and escapist to shaped art. Principle of Hope 1, 87-88. See also Principle of Hope 1, 86-113. Back

[16] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 3. Emphasis added. See also other references; for example Utopian Function , p. 105.Back

[17] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 146. Back

[18] Included in the superstructure are legal, social, cultural, educative, governmental, and bureaucratic institutions and structures. Back

[19] Ernst Bloch, “Ideas as Transformed Material in Human Minds, or Problems of an Ideological Superstructure (Cultural Heritage)”, in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, translated by Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg, 1972, pp. 18-71. Back

[20] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 23. Back

[21] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 30. Back

[22] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 208. Back

[23] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 287. Back

[24] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 3. Back

[25] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 179. Back

[26] Bloch, “On the Present in Literature” in Utopian Function , translated Zipes and Mecklenburg, p. 208. Back

[27] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 18. The phrase is from the title of Bloch’s important paper “Ideas as transformed Material in Human Minds, or Problems of an Ideological Superstructure (Cultural Heritage)”. Back

[28] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 206. Back

[29] This is a concept with a rich lineage in Austro-Germanic culture. While it means one’s physical home it is much more than a living space. It involves the full spectrum of the human sense of belonging and completion. Back

[30] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1376. Back

[31] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 41. Back

[32] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 49. Back

[33] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 50. Back

[34] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 986-987. Back

[35] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 219. Back

[36] Bloch, Spuren, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1965, p. 71. Quoted in Klaus L. Berghahn, “A View Through the Red Window: Ernst Bloch’s Spuren“, in Jamie Owen Daniel, Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch , Verso, London, 1997, p. 214. Back

[37] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 151. Back

[38] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, pp. 30-33. Back

[39] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 30. Back

[40] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 105. Back

[41] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 105. Back

[42] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 117. Back

[43] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 988. Back

[44] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 988. Back

[45] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 987. Back

[46] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 65. Back

[47] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 51. The reference is to Marx’s letter to Ruge, 1843. Back

[48] Bloch, “Marxism and Poetry” in Utopian Function , p. 159. Back

[49] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 159. Back

[50] Schiller is one of those (“in contrast to Puritan and Kantian dualism”) in whom attempts have “been made at synthesis, so that morality is possible and developable not as a break with, but as a blossoming of the human creature”. Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 951. Back

[51] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 36. Back

[52] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 156. Back

[53] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 38. Back

[54] Paul Ricoeur; “Metaphor and the central Problem of Hermeneutics” in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, ed. and trans. J.B. Thompson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981, p. 181. Back

[55] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 3. Back

[56] Paul Ricoeur, “Imagination in Discourse and Action”, in Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research, Volume VII, edited Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, D. Reidel Co., Dorcrecht, Boston,1978, p. 12. Further on Ricoeur calls the imagination a ‘process rather than a state”, p. 21. Back

[57] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 3. Back

[58] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1089. Back

[59] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 208. Back

[60] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1088. Back

[61] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 231. Back

[62] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 164. Back

[63] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 44-45. Back

[64] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 62. Back

[65] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1094. Back

[66] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1092. Back

[67] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 65. Back

[68] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 66. Back

[69] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1058-1060. Back

[70] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1060. Emphasis Bloch’s. Back

[71] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1060. Back

[72] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 161. Back

[73] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1097. Back

[74] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 162. Back

[75] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 222. Back

[76] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 279. Back

[77] See for example Jurgen Habermas,”Ernst Bloch – A Marxist Romantic” in Salmagundi, 10/11, Fall 1969-Winter 1970, pp. 311-325. Back

[78] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 122. Back

[79] Bloch, Principle of Hope, 1, 123. Back

[80] Bloch, Principle of Hope, 1, 124. Back

[81] I am not suggesting any shared Expressionist programme or imaginative signature. Back

Eras Journal – Brown, J.: Ernst Bloch and the Utopian Imagination

 

Ernst Bloch and the Utopian Imagination

 

Judith Brown

 

(Otago University)

 

Abstract

 

…but the essence of the world is cheerful spirit and the urge to creative shaping: the Thing In Itself is objective imagination.[1]

 

Introduction

 

Ernst Bloch’s major work, The Principle of Hope, is a compendium of the forms and history of hope. While Bloch is recognized as a Marxist thinker, he stands somewhat apart from this tradition in both his specific emphases, and the manner in which they are presented. Bloch concerns himself with cultural and creative phenomena to an extent rare in Marxist theory. While Bloch’s concern is the great sweep of history he asserts that the true character of this is revealed in the ‘small things’ of human endeavour:”…a sudden convergence of every road on an overgrown, insignificant side road that becomes the main road to human progress”.[2] Bloch himself had a genuine love of fairs, circuses, the cinema, and Western and detective fiction. The style Bloch employs in his writings on the arts is not incidental to his philosophy but serves as a means of cohering highly diverse material. It is elusive, provocative and stimulating: a self-acknowledged attempt to reproduce the collage effect of his beloved Expressionist artists.

 

Utopia, Marx, and Imagination

 

Among the most heterodox aspects of Bloch’s Marxism is his reclamation of the Utopian tradition. It is in this context that his understanding of the imagination comes to full, if often allusive, flowering. For Bloch the imagination is productive of the revolution. And the revolution is the changing of the world. It is an “overturning of all circumstances in which (humanity) is a degraded, a subjugated, a foresaken, a contemptible being”.[3]

 

For Bloch the world, and humanity in it, are unfinished. Humanity’s only authentic task is the completion of the world[4] and therefore ourselves: “the world is untrue, but it wants to return home through man (sic) and through truth”.[5]As we shape the world through our work so we come to a condition of self-possession. Bloch’s conception of authenticity is as a coming-to-ourselves, in which we have reclaimed our human capacities from our alienation, manifest in the worship of the gods and masters.

 

Bloch’s concern is to call attention to a path toward unalienated humanity. Bloch offers a re-interpretation of humanity’s constitutive characteristics – what is only internal in us must become a self-encounter enabling us to direct our subjectivity into the external world. It is only after this preparation that utopia manifests itself as an expanse of human self-presence that transcends the “falseness” of the world, the closedness we are told is our lot by death, deprivation, and loss.[6]

 

This involves a struggle to attain a perspective on ourselves. It also includes the “only problem”[7]: the interrelationship of the self and the ‘We’. The problem of how we are to know ourselves is the same as the world problem. Possession of the self is finally a collective possession for Bloch, brought about by shared praxis. This issue is the “ultimate basic principle of utopian philosophy”.[8] We make of our subjectivity the world. And hope is the moral conditioner of this project: “Only hope understands and also completes the past, opens the long, common highway”.[9] Hope is the critical and constitutive heart of Bloch’s philosophy. It is both goal and always sought for. Hope and the blossoming of reason, a critical self-awareness, go hand in hand.

 

Hope knows itself as the ‘utopian function‘. Its contents are first represented in ideas, and essentially in those of the imagination.[10]Bloch speaks of such imaginative ideas as extending, “in an anticipating way, existing material into the future possibilities of being different and better”.[11] Here imagination is qualitatively, ontologically, something other than fantasizing or the remembering. It has a quality which is forward-directed, a call to action. The truth-bearing imaginative act is ‘hope-charged’ and realistic, “fully attuned… to objectively real possibility…and consequently to the properties of reality which are themselves utopian, i.e. contain future”.[12] Hence it is able to respond to circumstances and sustain the work of changing the world in even the most adverse conditions. It is not diverted by the ephemeral but is the fulcrum round which ‘dreams and life’ come to have a realistic relationship to one another.

 

This last remark bears on the functional significance Bloch accords the imagination. For Bloch our human condition is one of ‘not-yet’ (noch nicht), a category that in Bloch’s philosophy is a signifier,[13] referring to the fundamental directionality of the world and its unfinished character. Bloch’s emphasis is on reality as “process and open”.[14]Imagination which affects the utopian function in humanity (and possibly of matter itself) coheres reality, understanding it as a Totality (Totum). It is the applied aspect of hope, which is understood by Bloch as metaphysics.

 

The imagination overcomes the disabling ‘gap’ between the things we day-dream [15] and reality as it is. Our desires, dreams, and longings, are given their form by the imagination; they are how hope is cast by the imagination. When these original desires are given form as particular wishes it is by the imagination. The teleological moral-nature of the imagination emerges when we make conscious choices as to which of our wishes we seek to fulfill. Hope is participatory: the “waking dream”.[16] Choosing those wishes is in effect a critique of present reality: an expression of utopian aspiration. Action, or in more orthodox Marxist terms, the labour process, consists of materializations of goal projections – concretizations of the imagination.

 

As the utopian function hope is the only remaining transcendent function, but one which is immanent. Its correlate is process. Because of its openness the “Novum , (genuinely new thing), [is] no longer alien in material terms”.[17]Bloch rejects both the compartmentalizing of reality which he believes characterizes capitalism, and the Marxist subordination of culture to economic organization. For Bloch the superstructure,[18] the activities that arise subsequent to economic organization, is in a dialectical relationship with the organization of production and the division of labour.[19] Bloch was critical throughout his life of what he termed “cold-stream Marxism”: the theory that developments in the economic base have an inevitable tendency in themselves sufficient to bring about the collapse of capitalism. Indeed, such an approach is mimicking capitalism and perpetuating the bourgeois division of labour.[20] The significance of Bloch’s position is that it allows him to say that our activity, our choices are as important to the revolution as any alteration in the relations of production. As Bloch remarks “economic schematicism does not explain Pushkin or Beethoven”.[21]

 

Within the Totality humanity, both individually and collectively, are an incognito. We live in life (gelebt) but do not experience it. Bloch speaks of our condition as one of being too close to ourselves. We live in a darkness which is that of the “lived instant”[22]:

 

The Now is the place where the immediate hearth of experience in general stands…As immediately being there, it lies in the darkness of the moment. Only what is just coming up or what had just passed has the distance which the beam of growing consciousness needs to illuminate it.[23]

 

The necessity for humanity to come to itself is a “journey”[24] problem. What Bloch’s understanding of human nature says is that there are possibilities whose conditions have not yet ripened. He suggests, in consonance with his rejection of closure, that conditions may evolve. This is not just true of human being but matter itself. However, the revolution is not inevitable; it has to be worked for. And even where there is a receptiveness “it is not always possible even to pluck a Now that has come”.[25]

 

Hence, one of the reasons Bloch accords the arts so significant a place in his thought is that the artist is able to experience and depict a now, a present, which has a subtly different tenor: it is a mediated “now”.[26] Art is an active revision that expands the world and essentially increases it. The imagination is thought, understood as “transformed material”[27] which constitutes our difficult participatory knowledge of the external world.Bloch’s philosophy is a summons to a humanly fit world. A world unreified, unalienated, and undistorted by the relations engendered in capitalism. It is to this end that he rehabilitates the utopian tradition. Bloch’s fundamental position is that utopia is a mode of our being. For Bloch wishes are presentiments of our capacities. The essence of humanity is hopefulness:

 

…but human longing in both forms – as impatience and as waking dream – is the mainsail into the other world. This intending toward a star, a joy, a truth to set against the empirical, beyond its satanic night ofincognito, is the only way still to find truth.[28]

 

In Bloch’s philosophy this is given expression in a number of concepts, including that of homeland (Heimat).[29]Utopia is the locus of our homeland:

 

Once [we have] established [our] own domain in real democracy, without depersonalization and alienation, something arises in the world which all men (sic) have glimpsed in childhood: a place and a state in which no one has yet been. And the name of this something is home (Heimat).[30]

 

As a name for that which constitutes our being Heimat is congruent with utopia.

 

Other terms enrich this concept, among which is ‘anticipatory illumination’ (das Vor-Schein). By this Bloch means a pre-appearance that acts as an intimation of humanity ‘come to itself’. This is material that contains elements of ongoing worth. Such material has an authenticity to it that arises from the nature of its intersection with contemporary realities: “an anticipatory illumination that could never be realized in an ideology of the status quo but, rather, has been connected to it like an explosive”.[31]It constitutes a surplus (Überschuss), transcending the ideology of its era. The surplus is what gives the superstructure a historical character. Bloch calls this surplus the ‘cultural heritage’. The surplus is a consequence of ‘non-synchronous development’ (Ungleichzeitigkeit), the idea that all parts of the social totality do not move at the same pace. There are both regressive and progressive elements. The later are a kind of revenant of the “hidden essence (das Eigentliche) in which the world (not art) could attain its aim”.[32] This is why Bloch also describes the surplus as a “tradition of the future”.[33] Anticipatory illumination is therefore an arsenal in the world. In its utopian nature it is both against the world and a not-yet (noch nicht).

 

The utopian imagination is productive in the true Marxist sense of work: this is an engagement in activity through which the individual is confirmed. Like all engagement it makes revolution possible by overcoming the fracturing of the world. Creativity is one word for the work of the imagination in materiality. Hence creativity, or the imagination active in material outcome, is, as indicated by the title of the section on music in Das Prinzip Hoffnung, a “venturing beyond”.

 

Imagination and the Signification of the Arts

 

Reality, time and space, are as much the domain of the imagination as our “dream worlds”.[34] Indeed, imagination for Bloch transcends the popular notion of sensibility in relation to the arts. Moreover, for Bloch, the arts are a proof in his utopian philosophy, a philosophy of inquiry into the whole meaning of the world. Art is a laboratory whose experiments are proofs of the Utopian process. In the “process-fragment” the material and form are a “cipher of the authentic”.[35]

 

Bloch’s sense of the arts, in the phrase of Marx, as a “storehouse of our dreams”‘ means he urges us to look for traces (Spuren) in the marginalized, in the ‘small things’. Productive shaped works are “the convex lens for the utopian material the earth is made of”.[36]The work of art is “a reflected splendour, a star of anticipation and a song of consolation of the return home (Heimat) through darkness. And yet, it should also be a distance, shining splendour, declared contradiction of any completion on earth”.[37] The arts are the material locale of anticipatory illumination. Within the arts there is a “secret signature”[38] of humanity and “so we seek the artist who lets us approach ourselves purely, encounter ourselves”.[39] The arts are a zone of prophetic intensity, not a prophetic enclave.

 

The imagination is of ontological significance; life-giving in a functional sense like hope. The imagination can “carry on the existing facts toward their future potentiality of their otherness, of their better condition in an anticipatory way”.[40] It is forward-movement, contrasted to recollection (anamnesis ),[41]and it enables the essentially hopeful condition of the daydream, and wishful-ness. As expressions of hope neither of these activities are trivial. Like youth, the ‘blue’ of a high sky, and the ‘front’ where the wave of the future breaks, the daydream and fairy-tale are expressions of liberty from the “putrefaction of yesterday”,[42] and the re-constitutive presence of utopian traces. Bloch speaks of the “exact imagination” being directed toward the “objectively possible Possible”.[43] The imagination mediates the world “with its tendency”.[44] It has a fundamental faithfulness to the world.

 

The imagination is central to Bloch’s dialectic of participating reason encountering the New (Novum). It is an active confrontation, a dynamic of anticipation and involves an engagement of the self with things as they are. This means Bloch does not look for utopian material in those myths that are ‘past’ward-looking, that is, closed and static. Though myth contains anticipatory content and is open to reformulation and hence the rescuing of imaginative meaning, when myths are merely ideological they are as alienating as both the religious espousal of a transcendent realm and the abstraction of idealism. The imagination rescues “phenomena into what is significant in them”.[45]

 

The fractured self Bloch attributed to modernism is countered by imagination as engagement. Paradoxically engagement has its origin in the human drive which Bloch regarded as our most elemental: that of hunger.[46] It is part of the subjective factor that began in Marx’s “dream about a thing”[47] : “Marxism’s sole theme is that of forming-transforming, and it scares away the dreamers but not the precise imagination”.[48] The dialectically trained imagination is at home in the socialist world but can only find hollow spaces to hide in the capitalist world. The imagination requires subjects and work.[49] It demands a correlate in the world.

 

Bloch takes as his starting point Marx’s remark that the architect is distinguished from the bee by erecting her structure first in the imagination. The imagination and the correct process are intertwined. The process which facilitates authenticity is that of sifting the facts and utilizing them in accord with their latent tendency of utopian content. The arts are for Bloch a kind of functionally prophetic sight. They involve us in a process of cognition in which the subject-object divide is transcended within the receptive subject.

 

Achieving this unity [50]is one of the functions of creative genius. The genius has a very important place as one who concentrates the utopian traces in the artistic products of an era.[51] The genius has a vital role in Bloch’s theory of ‘non-synchronous development’ (Ungleichzeitigkeit). The genius is of course a historical force of production, expressing the politics and ideology of their era, but able to interrogate their milieu in such a manner that both what is already very old in it and yet new, unfulfilled, is brought to awareness.

 

The genius brings forth a surplus which is more than a concretization of the spirit of the times. The genius works with tradition, against which and in which innovation creates what is genuinely new but full of lively unnamed potential.[52]The genius achieves transformations that are not inevitable: “A cultural tendency without a creative genius remains a…blank page”.[53]

 

The genius is a distillation of the process of utopian imagination. The utopian imagination is a tool of breakthrough; productive, causative. For Marx the element of tradition in the social imaginary is really ideological. Its images are only consolations, diverting us from the real. In other words, it is the utopian function that provides design for the free imagination, acting as a critique of what exists and creatively conditioning the social worlds we construct. The trace of utopia is a consequence of the dialectic between experience and “expectancy”:

 

Are we not ready to recognize in the power of the imagination, no longer the faculty of deriving “images” from our sensory experience, but the capacity for letting new worlds shape our understanding of ourselves? [54]

 

For Bloch the difference between fantasy and real imaginative possibility is praxis. We test the possible in experience, after we have tested reality by the imagination: “The emotion of hope goes out of itself…it looks in the world itself for what can help the world; this can be found”.[55] This is the difference between merely ‘interpreting’ the world and changing it. Imagination implies a becoming. It intimates the possibility of engagement: “…imagination also has a projective function which is part of the dynamics of action itself”.[56]

 

Music: the Audible World of Hope

 

For Bloch music is the art most saturated with intimations and forms of hope: “…the a priori latent theme of all the plastic arts, though it is really central to all the magic of music”.[57] His philosophy of music is itself an epitome of his philosophy of the arts. Music is a specific form of the imagination’s materialization of our self-encounter: “…the experiment of the hearing-in-Existence of observer and world remains common to all forms of music”.[58] It is hermeneutical. Music is both profoundly open and specifically, in its duration, a Now. A musical work is “an actual formed portion of time (Zeitstück geformter Art)”.[59] It is a public voice of the incognito.[60]

 

Bloch’s philosophy of music illuminates his concept of the imagination. He speaks of music as the language of the new humanity (Mensch). This is humanity which has taken its place in the hollow spaces where the dead gods, to whom we have given our birth-right, were. The imagination gives from “ways in this world by which the inward can become outward and the outward like the inward”.[61] Music is a sound realization of this process of the self (Selbst) and We (Wir), attentive to the utopian traces (Spuren). Music realizes in their highest forms both ancestral recollection and the utopian drive. Bloch is saying that our authentic self struggles to attain the condition of music, not as any specific work in the guise of a specific era’s form and social relations, but because “this hardly known, warm, profound, Gothic sanctum of [our subjectivity] will be the same thing as the Kingdom of heaven revealed”.[62]

 

While Bloch’s philosophy of music is materialist – he understands music as an expression of the social relations of its era – he holds that music is unique in transcending cultural bric-a-brac : “the sonorous present given by music can be closely affiliated to any imaginable adventure or miracle”.[63] An example typical of the way in which Bloch utilizes orthodox Marxist categories of analysis occurs in his reading of the sonata form of Beethoven. Beethoven is “music’s first, rough, storm-driven, eloquent sea”.[64] The style of the sonata is “full of revolutionary tension, set by the contrasting double themes and the antithesis of their harmonic zones”.[65] It is a “tone-form”[66]expressive of the bourgeois “competitive, conflict-laden society” it arose in. But in Beethoven the self breaks out into the world: “for only in Beethoven does the self advance further toward the discovery of that certain ground that perhaps extends all the way to the final God”.[67] Beethoven’s lord and object is “active human essentially itself”. [68]

 

Bloch locates the oldest impulse of music in the basic human condition of yearning, the human cry. His reading of the myth of Pan and Syrinx, as it is told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses , illustrates this.[69] In Ovid’s account Pan pursues a dryad, Syrinx, who in fleeing him is trapped by the waters of a river. Syrinx calls on the waters to save her by transforming her. When Pan tries to seize her he finds in his hand only a river reed. While he is lamenting his loss a wind moves in the reed-bank, producing notes whose beauty moves Pan to construct the instrument which bears his name. Thus the music which was produced by the wind is now recreated through human breath and emotional instinct. The sound itself effects a consolation in Pan by bringing the presence of the nymph to him, even in her absence: “that which has passed beyond the limit is caught up again by this lament, captured in this consolation”.[70] The qualities which make music so expressive of our authentic being exist due to music’s invention as human expression;[71] which is the self. It is able to express what is still dark. Further, there is a “clairvoyance of the ear”.[72]Music also exists as movement in time and is not able to be fixed in place. Music is boundary-overstepping.

 

Bloch admits that conditions are not completely sufficient, but they may become so. Hope, as we have seen, is the moral conditioner of praxis. The imagination is the accomplice of Utopia in its ‘act of intending’. In music the imagination precipitates the last utopian struggle, the overthrowing of death, which it contests

 

with a concern that is all the greater because precisely death’s mysterious territory is filled with night, a generative force which seems so profoundly familiar to music within this world. However firmly the night of death may be distinguished from any other, music rightly or wrongly feels itself to be a Grecian fire that will still burn in the River Styx.[73]

 

For Bloch the imagination and, more broadly, creativity as response (praxis) is an aspect of Sein innovation. And in Bloch’s philosophy music is a materialization of the form that imagination gives hope. Bloch calls music an “inwardly utopian art…completely beyond the scope of everything empirically verifiable”.[74] A central intent of Bloch’s philosophy is indicated in his praise of music as a formal process of great intelligibility but enigmatic teleology. In this way there is no closure to the forms imagination gives to the extension of the boundary of being. It is the imagination that shows us the relation of appearances to the Totality, to how what is not-yet apparent may become so. The imagination is the accomplice of Utopia in its act of intending. The imagination pursues the ‘significant aspects’ of appearances and ‘visualizes’ the abundance of the manifest world, but also maps the relations that lie behind and in these and that are the ground of the immediacy of real experience.[75] It is the heart of the ‘remedy’ for evil: ‘revolutionary gnosis’.[76]

 

Some Concluding Thoughts

 

One could contend that Bloch’s thought sheds a particular light on its content, but that there is nothing fundamentally remarkable in his thought in relation to the imagination (or indeed the arts). This is not to deny the unique perspective of his philosophy. The uniqueness resides in the immense synthesis of such diversity into a consistent and singular focus. Bloch’s thought on the imaginative is arguably most informed by traditions of restlessness – Hermetic and Jewish mysticism, Expressionism, and a widely recognized debt to German Romanticism.[77] It is valuable to examine these ‘borrowings’ for the light they throw on both Bloch’s method and particularity. To a remarkable degree his project is one calling for commitment. It requires acquiescence to its totality.

 

Bloch makes use of the Romantic theory of creativity, seen here as an understanding of the working of the imagination, when he delineates the stages of creative production: ‘incubation’, inspiration and explication.[78]Incubation is preliminary and often lengthy. It establishes a ‘colouring.’ In it expectation becomes a directed receptiveness toward inspiration. Bloch criticizes the term ‘inspiration’ for the way it suggests a source outside the individual subject.[79] His own phrase is the “surpassing expanding element”, by which he seems to mean an element of transcendence that remains consonant with materialist philosophy when understood as a consequence of human action in the world:

 

Not only the subjective, but also the objective conditions for the expression of a Novum must…be ready, must be ripe, so that this Novum can break through out of mere incubation and suddenly gain insight into itself. And these conditions are always socio-economic and of a progressive kind.[80]

 

Here the genius becomes central, as the individual most attuned to the tendency of the times. This appears to be a reformulation of the Romantic theory that those works which transcend their time and form the creative storehouse for human endeavour are uniquely individual. They become so, one assumes, only collectively and immanently.

 

Explication is the translation of vision into work, involving singleness of purpose. Imagination here becomes a means of demonstrating Bloch’s objection to theories of inevitable revolution. Clearly the willed act of the individual is determinative within the species context. One may ask of Bloch whether or not the imagination is merely a facet of his concept of ‘action’? This would be acceptable within the agenda of a call to ‘seize the day’. The imagination is the means by which hope flowers.

 

This is one reason for Bloch’s enthusiasm for Expressionism,[81] specifically the emphasis it placed on artistic joy (Kunstfreude). This aspect reclaimed the element of play. It highlights the dynamic character of reality. It also attempts a breaking of form, a critique of the status quo that shows us reality incorporates discontinuity, and in such a way that the Novum is projected. Similarly, Bloch utilizes an analogy, related to the nature of creativity, from the cabbala, namely the ibbur. He speaks of this in relation to bursts of unforeseen creativity; interpreting ibbur as “pregnancy of the soul”.[82] A new soul becomes joined to our previous one in such a way that those who receive it receive something new, not past deeds. From this Bloch posits a “future soul that casts itself ahead”.[83] The imagination parallels this in function.

 

From the hermetic tradition[84] Bloch takes the concept of creativity arising from a ‘Not'(Nicht).[85] This is a brooding potential, a ‘fermenting’. Its connection with the imaginative function resides in its presence in the initiation of every movement toward something:

 

The start of the beginning of all being-here lies here always in the darkness which is still unmediated with itself, namely in the darkness of the Now or the just lived moment; the fiat of all world-movements occurs most immediately in this darkness.[86]

 

The ‘Not’, by being an absence or lack, rather than annihilation,[87] is momentum away from this lack also. The drive toward something is depicted as hunger, as need, as striving.[88] And it is only the emotions which reach deeply into the ontic roots, a reaching the imaginative function is the essential function for. A cultural masterpiece is the Nichtattaining awareness, becoming inspiration, completed by productivity.

 

The imagination is realistic. It is to do with what is possible, with selecting what betters our situation from the ‘undiscovered’. All immanence is fragmentary, which is not the same as incompleteness. In some music, for example, Beethoven’s last quartets, the depth of the work comes from an essential unfinishability. Bloch associates this with ‘end-times’ imagination in which totality is understood as transforming. The imagination finds expression in the fragment because the world is not closed, and is the authentic depth in a work of art. That is, it is itself only fragment. All fragments, or ciphers, or metaphors, or symbols, thrown up in ‘becoming’, are authentic fragments through which process manifests itself.[89]The conditioning factor is action. The ‘undiscovered country’ is humanity itself.

 

What is interesting about Bloch’s cultural agenda is that he appears to be saying that the imagination must never take form! Here we see why he favours music so strongly. It is the least ‘concrete’ of the arts. Moreover, individual composers can be read in a manner highlighting related aspects of their work. Schoenberg, for example, is the composer whose music expresses late bourgeois transitionality. His is ‘weather music’. For Bloch it expresses the subject-state of its age, but the lack of a tonal ‘homeland’ gives Schoenberg’s music a journeying, or at least restless quality, which prevents it being mere opiate or deception. Otherwise it is the function of the imagination to grasp and bring to form provisionally , with an eye, as it were, to what could be. The criteria for such assessments are based on a concept of participation that is ambiguous enough that the peril of subjective preference is almost unavoidable.

 

However, further investigation into Bloch’s reading of the imagination may be one way to re-utilize Bloch’s thought for today. Though some of the material Bloch utilizes has lost its cultural currency, his thought on music, on literature, and on the visual arts, serves to remind us that culture is a consequence of far from superficial human impulses within a continuum of changing environments and structures. Bloch may be the last flourish of the philosophical impulse to inquire into the whole meaning of the world.

 

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Notes

 

[1] Ernst Bloch,Das Prinzip Hoffnung, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1959. Ernst Bloch,The Principle of Hope (3 Volumes) translated by Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice and Paul Knight, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1986. Quotation in The Principle of Hope Volume 1, p. xx. Back

 

[2] Ernst Bloch, Geist der Utopia, (The Spirit of Utopia), translated by Anthony A. Nassar, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2000, p. 15. This is a translation of the Second Edition of this work, published as Geist der Utopie: Bearbeitete Neuauflage der Fassung von 1923, Frankfurt am Main, deiser Fassung Suhrkamp, 1964. Back

 

[3] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1355. Back

 

[4] Ernst Bloch, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays, translated by Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg; MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 73. Back

 

[5] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 279. Back

 

[6] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, pp. 2-3. Back

 

[7] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia , p. 206. Back

 

[8] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 206. Back

 

[9] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 51. Back

 

[10] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 144. Back

 

[11] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 144. Back

 

[12] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 145. Back

 

[13] Wayne Hudson, The Marxist Philosophy of Ernst Bloch, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1982. Back

 

[14] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 72. Back

 

[15] The day-dream is formed consciously. It is ‘within our power’. The day-dream runs the spectrum from silly and escapist to shaped art. Principle of Hope 1, 87-88. See also Principle of Hope 1, 86-113. Back

 

[16] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 3. Emphasis added. See also other references; for example Utopian Function , p. 105.Back

 

[17] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 146. Back

 

[18] Included in the superstructure are legal, social, cultural, educative, governmental, and bureaucratic institutions and structures. Back

 

[19] Ernst Bloch, “Ideas as Transformed Material in Human Minds, or Problems of an Ideological Superstructure (Cultural Heritage)”, in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, translated by Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg, 1972, pp. 18-71. Back

 

[20] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 23. Back

 

[21] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 30. Back

 

[22] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 208. Back

 

[23] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 287. Back

 

[24] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 3. Back

 

[25] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 179. Back

 

[26] Bloch, “On the Present in Literature” in Utopian Function , translated Zipes and Mecklenburg, p. 208. Back

 

[27] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 18. The phrase is from the title of Bloch’s important paper “Ideas as transformed Material in Human Minds, or Problems of an Ideological Superstructure (Cultural Heritage)”. Back

 

[28] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 206. Back

 

[29] This is a concept with a rich lineage in Austro-Germanic culture. While it means one’s physical home it is much more than a living space. It involves the full spectrum of the human sense of belonging and completion. Back

 

[30] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1376. Back

 

[31] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 41. Back

 

[32] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 49. Back

 

[33] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 50. Back

 

[34] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 986-987. Back

 

[35] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 219. Back

 

[36] Bloch, Spuren, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1965, p. 71. Quoted in Klaus L. Berghahn, “A View Through the Red Window: Ernst Bloch’s Spuren“, in Jamie Owen Daniel, Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch , Verso, London, 1997, p. 214. Back

 

[37] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 151. Back

 

[38] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, pp. 30-33. Back

 

[39] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 30. Back

 

[40] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 105. Back

 

[41] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 105. Back

 

[42] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 117. Back

 

[43] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 988. Back

 

[44] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 988. Back

 

[45] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 987. Back

 

[46] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 65. Back

 

[47] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 51. The reference is to Marx’s letter to Ruge, 1843. Back

 

[48] Bloch, “Marxism and Poetry” in Utopian Function , p. 159. Back

 

[49] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 159. Back

 

[50] Schiller is one of those (“in contrast to Puritan and Kantian dualism”) in whom attempts have “been made at synthesis, so that morality is possible and developable not as a break with, but as a blossoming of the human creature”. Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 951. Back

 

[51] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 36. Back

 

[52] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 156. Back

 

[53] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 38. Back

 

[54] Paul Ricoeur; “Metaphor and the central Problem of Hermeneutics” in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, ed. and trans. J.B. Thompson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981, p. 181. Back

 

[55] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 3. Back

 

[56] Paul Ricoeur, “Imagination in Discourse and Action”, in Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research, Volume VII, edited Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, D. Reidel Co., Dorcrecht, Boston,1978, p. 12. Further on Ricoeur calls the imagination a ‘process rather than a state”, p. 21. Back

 

[57] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 3. Back

 

[58] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1089. Back

 

[59] Bloch, Utopian Function, p. 208. Back

 

[60] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1088. Back

 

[61] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 231. Back

 

[62] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 164. Back

 

[63] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 44-45. Back

 

[64] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 62. Back

 

[65] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1094. Back

 

[66] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1092. Back

 

[67] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 65. Back

 

[68] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 66. Back

 

[69] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1058-1060. Back

 

[70] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1060. Emphasis Bloch’s. Back

 

[71] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1060. Back

 

[72] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 161. Back

 

[73] Bloch, Principle of Hope 3, 1097. Back

 

[74] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 162. Back

 

[75] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 222. Back

 

[76] Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, p. 279. Back

 

[77] See for example Jurgen Habermas,”Ernst Bloch – A Marxist Romantic” in Salmagundi, 10/11, Fall 1969-Winter 1970, pp. 311-325. Back

 

[78] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 122. Back

 

[79] Bloch, Principle of Hope, 1, 123. Back

 

[80] Bloch, Principle of Hope, 1, 124. Back

 

[81] I am not suggesting any shared Expressionist programme or imaginative signature. Back

 

[82] Ernst Bloch, quoted in Michael Landmann; “Talking with Ernst Bloch: Korcula, 1968,” Telos, 25, Fall 1975, p. 168.Back

 

[83] Bloch, Telos, 25, p. 168.Back

 

[84] Jacob Boehme’s discovery of the dialectically necessary relation that light must have to darkness in order that it become manifest as an “object”. Ernst Bloch, “The Dialectical Method”,Man and World, 16, 1983, pp. 281-313, p. 292. Also Boehme’s mystical notion of the Urgrund , the Ground of all being. Back

 

[85] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 306. Back

 

[86] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 307. Back

 

[87] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 306. Back

 

[88] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 306. Back

 

[89] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 219. Back

 

[82] Ernst Bloch, quoted in Michael Landmann; “Talking with Ernst Bloch: Korcula, 1968,” Telos, 25, Fall 1975, p. 168.Back

[83] Bloch, Telos, 25, p. 168.Back

[84] Jacob Boehme’s discovery of the dialectically necessary relation that light must have to darkness in order that it become manifest as an “object”. Ernst Bloch, “The Dialectical Method”,Man and World, 16, 1983, pp. 281-313, p. 292. Also Boehme’s mystical notion of the Urgrund , the Ground of all being. Back

[85] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 306. Back

[86] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 307. Back

[87] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 306. Back

[88] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 306. Back

[89] Bloch, Principle of Hope 1, 219. Back