Posted by: Ha_Qohelet | September 20, 2008

On “The Spirit of Utopia”

I spent most of Thursday reading The Spirit of Utopia by Ernst Bloch. One commentator (maybe the back of the book) credits Bloch with being the first to combine messianism and Marxism. Well, maybe in print. Anyway, there are some clear parallels between Bloch’s discussion — well, highly non-traditional in form, but I think it’s OK to call this a discussion — of the call of the future, the center of the utopian spirit being the knowledge of experience, which is really unknown to us at present — and Adorno’s. Not surprising, since Adorno himself cited this text of Bloch’s as a transformative one for his intellectual life. Bloch talks A LOT about Jesus, the parousia, the coming Kingdom, making utopia in his discourse clearly linked to Christian eschatological categories. I was glad I read this book, but it’s terrifically difficult to understand — I would say poetic, but normally I would feel good about that, and I wasn’t at all sure I felt good about Bloch’s poetic tendencies. More Romantic (in my lexicon, definitely a pejorative). Complete with a typically romantic section on “Woman”. (yikes — but weirdly relevant to Levinas/Irigaray) Now, to write this up in some intelligible form . . .


  1. I have read about thirty pages and have only understood about 10% of what I have read (at least i think I understood that much). Is he just so brilliant that a pedestrian reader as myself is incapable of deciphering his syntax?

    • LOL — totally my feeling as well — but I think it may have more to do with not just having lived through WWI and been reading the German romantics, so maybe less his syntax than his referents.

      • I think it is both. I can’t even make out the essays that try to explain his work. But it seems there is something there, so I will have to reread it several times with constant reference to Wikipedia. One writer (Alain Touraine) claims that Block’s work dominates more than a half-century of our reflections on utopia. Since I am interested in the subject, I have no choice but work may through Spirit and The Principle of Hope.

  2. I can believe Touraine’s assessment. And that folks who talk about Bloch are difficult to understand. I certainly think Adorno is difficult to understand, and though I have been trying for years to do it, still feel unsuccessful more often than I would like.

    I will admit that I the first thing of Bloch’s I read was The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, which is previewed on Google Books, and has most of an exchange between Bloch and Adorno under the title “Something’s Missing” that seems helpful for orientation.

    Douglas Kellner has a nice discussion of Principle of Hope as a presentation of ideology critique (“Ernst Bloch, Utopia and Ideology Critique”), at Illuminations.

    I agree, I think there is something there — and that it’s a subject worth taking an interest in.

  3. good stuff, probably too messianic, but enjoyed some of his dialectic

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