Ernst Bloch(s): Present of Utopia, Future of Hope

“If matter comes into the world as a beggar, it is because the Jacobs of theology have robbed it of its birthright”
Ernst Bloch

When Ernst Bloch quoted this passage from John Tyndall in The Principle of Hope, he argued against mechanical materialism, which reduced the real-possibility of ‘matter’ and ‘material’ to a static and ahistorical reality for him. However, he also attacked theology’s all-encompassing concept of divinity that left ‘substance’ without substance along with its ontology, an ontology which impoverished the subject who would process possibility. To turn metaphysics into ontology, to reproduce it, Aristotelian dynamei-on -the pole of tightrope walker– demanded perfect balance but the burden of plurality made it impossible, every word called for two from the other extreme. This is the reason for the seemingly endless and confusing profusion of chapter titles in The Principle of Hope; why Adorno called Bloch ‘loquacious’ and why Tubingen Introduction to Philosophy was criticized for its ‘overly harmonious resolutions of contradictions’. For Bloch, Ockham’s Razor was nota virtue. Bloch had to put up with even worse 'accusations'; he was called ‘a poet who accidentally found himself in philosophy’, and he was a ‘Marxist Schelling’ for Habermas.
Bloch’s life as an author began in 1918 when he published The Spirit of Utopia. From the very beginning Bloch’s project had two aims as seen from The Principle of Hope. On one hand, he tried to construct a materialist dialectic against the economistic-deterministic interpretations of Marxism; one the other hand, he was trying to extract the rational core of other ways of thinking that is generally preserved in a mystical form and consequently came to beexcluded from the rational realm. He pursued his project throughout Thomas Münzer as Theologian of Revolution, Traces, Atheism in Christianity and The Heritage of Our Times. His theoretical vocabulary adapted from theology, Messianic overtones, his provocative thoughts on and tantalizing interest in the ‘possibilities’ inherent in capitalism, and even ‘fascism’ always follows such line of enquiry. Bloch expresses ‘the absence of fantasy in communist rationality’ by telling us that ‘Nazis lied, but they lied to people. Communists told the truth, but only about things’.
In addition to seemingly endless invectives coming from Adorno and accompanying quarrels resulting in a dispute between him and Benjamin, Bloch’s theological view that Marxism’s ‘hot current’ (in contrast to its‘cold current’) should be conceived as the ‘material force’ of here and nowness proper to horizon of future also drew criticisms of voluntarism. However, the chapter in The Principle of Hope titled ‘The Layers of the Category Possibility’ gives the opposite impression with its attempt to reveal possibility, its structural attributes, and components on an objectively inscribed basis.
How many Blochs do we have?
Is he the one who subjected the Not-yet-Become/Not-Yet-Conscious to a materialist analyst in ‘The Layers of the Category Possibility’? Or, is he the Bloch whom Adorno called ‘loquacious’ or even a ‘babbler’? Is he ‘a poet who accidentally found himself in philosophy’, or the successful theoretician who deconstructs Social Contractualist and Schmittian concepts of law in Natural Law and Human Dignity? Or is he Bloch the Messianic, theologizing ‘Marx who took up the whip with which Jesus had expelled the usurpers from the temple after Münzer’, or Bloch the militant atheist who purified theology from mystification while attempting to ‘turn vulgar metaphysics into true metaphysics’ ? We dedicated the 12. issue of kampfplatz to spectating this parade of Blochs, multiplied in terms of numerous exaggerated dichotomies.
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