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The glow of utopia

PHILOSOPHY / the problem with a hopeful optimism is that it does not take the current climate crisis seriously enough and ends up accepting the state of affairs. But is there a hope and a utopia that hides a creative and critical force? MODERN TIMES takes a closer look at German Ernst Bloch's philosophy of hope. For the German Ernst Bloch, one must rediscover the fire in our concrete experience that anticipates possible futures in the real here and now.


"I am. But I don't have me. That is why we will be first.”
Ernst Bloch, Sports

"I am. We are. It is enough. Then we can begin.” How to start Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) his early work: The spirit of utopia (Geist der Utopie) from 1923. With the First World War as a backdrop, Bloch describes Western civilization as a process of revolutionary explosions that break through traditions and ways of life, where art and philosophy show us the glimpse of another horizon, another community. There is always this 'something more'. Without a belief in the glow of utopia, Bloch writes, we end up like TS Eliot's cavemen with a «hollow world space in a disenchanted atheism».

A search at crossroads, in stories, dreams, anecdotes, thoughts, hopes, wishes and utopian worlds.

Change is the prerequisite for the life process, but the prerequisite for change is anticipation, staring the crisis in the eyes, time itself. Where I am: «The closest thing is the most incomprehensible of all, that our here and now always lives in a twilight, the darkness of the lived moment» (Sport, 1930, Danish 1984). We have to return to the closest: that we are always outside ourselves, always anticipating, never fully present where we are. We are out of sync with the given, do not know who we are and when we really live, such is the normal state of human life. But the traces are found and Bloch's writing is a cross-sectional investigation, in stories, dreams, anecdotes, thoughts, hopes, wishes and utopian worlds. The tracks are not noncommittal daydreams, but the unrealized potential of things. Beginning patterns, in friendship, in relationships. Utopia is not an abstract ideological draft, something that easily gains traction, but a concrete life-giving source of experience, ingenuity and way of life. It is the tracks that surprise us. «You just have to keep an eye out for small things, go after them» (Sports). It is the small hopeful stories, the fables and the indirect speech of fairy tales that show the way to goodness, beauty and truth, first in the collection of fragments Sport, page in the main work The principle of hope (The principle of hope 1938-1947).

While many other German intellectuals during the rise of fascism in the first half of the 19th century are marked by pessimism (Benjamin, Adorno, Lukásc, Brecht, etc.), Bloch rediscovers the confidence in life that recognizes the heat flow in lived life, in the human history, that which keeps life open and adventurous. It is this trust that distinguishes Bloch from so much in the spirit of the times, the short-term usefulness and coldness of cynicism, which sloterdijk writes in Criticism of cynical reason (Danish, 1989). For him, criticism was never simply negative, but always affirmatively creative, opening up the spiritual power of things.

Economic realism

Two tracks run down through Bloch's writing: a messianic-religious-Marxist and a ecological materialism with a focus on nature (substance) and the real possibilities of things.

The technological acceleration, contemporary political idleness and a now imminent ecological disaster have given Bloch's thoughts renewed relevance. In the book Ernst Bloch – Speculative Realism. Ontology, Epistemology, Politics (2020) describes Cat Moir the ecological crisis as a crisis that belongs to the problem of materialism itself: For Bloch, the material world is far more than production and work. What became the focal point for Marxism, socialism and later liberalism and now neoliberalism. Materialismn's problem is about the very conditions for our relationship with nature, things and the trans-historical. Bloch calls it the "not-yet-of-life". By limiting materialism to production, growth and work, we limit our own understanding of how we could live.

We see the result now where a deadlocked policy perceives more work and production as the solution to all society's problems. A political and human impotence where we no longer see reality, we only see and live by one economic realism where there is only what is, more of the same (Mark Fischer).

As the main character says in Christian Lollike's play All my dreams come true – et Disneydrama: "There are simply too few Hobbits, too few fairy tales, too few myths, too little to believe in, too little to live and die for [...] The fairy tale is not a decoration of reality, the fairy tale is more original than reality", or part of reality itself as Bloch would have said.

The ability to anticipate possible futures

If the world and politics have come to look like a bad movie, it is because things no longer make an impression on us (Gilles Deleuze).

The news flow and our knowledge of natural destruction, inequality, poverty, shameless consumption, stupidity and technological self-seduction do not really bite us.

The news flow and our knowledge of natural destruction, inequality, poverty, shameless consumption, stupidity and technological self-seduction do not really bite us. So where should it come from this one utopione's impulse? For Bloch, it is nourished by concrete experience, the ability to anticipate possible futures in the real here and now. If we do not feel disgust and anger, it is probably because we are not sufficiently aware of what is happening around us. Utopia is the space we set aside for conditions that are not given to us. In the open encounter with matter, with nature, art, pain, new narratives: «Without matter no real anticipation, without an anticipation no understanding of matter.» (The principle of hope).

To then live to work and not the other way around.

Only when we stop, sharpen our attention, where something is allowed to settle, makes an impression, only then can we be open to this world not yet. Because what happens when for politics and art there are no objects and natural things, but only what we ourselves can think about them? Bloch's answer: We lose the sense of the preciousness of life, the ability to let ourselves be seized and amazed by the adventurous, "what things do without us", and, "do to us", "strange tales for a different way of life". What makes life worth living. What we discovered as children, but then forget. To then live to work and not the other way around. Hence the stress, unhappiness and despair that characterizes prosperous societies today: a lack of heartfelt joy that we compensate for through abstract dreams and empty consumption.

You have to make yourself vulnerable

The story "Fell into the present" from the book Sports, whether a beggar who, at a rabbi's inquiry, makes a wish that takes his own immediate situation seriously and does not project his hope into the distant future (his greatest wish is to get a shirt) shows that our here and now is a threshold to something else and not a closed door.

In Bloch's stories, people experience life as a threshold, a porous and open search, the vitality that keeps life open. Hope can disappoint, but precisely the disappointment belongs to the power of hope, as he writes. You have to make yourself vulnerable.

From the other side of the globe, I now and then receive small digital postcards from my son, which testify that he takes one day at a time and at the same time is completely open for anything to happen. Every day he sees and listens to animals, wonderful landscapes and generous people on his way. He feels as if he is standing and looking out towards an open horizon, while at the same time being present here and now. His thoughts are not guided by the future, studies, career, money, security, but above all by exploring without knowing what he is looking for...

Isn't it this open quest that we lose as adults? As if the utopian glow disappears in a political climate like Denmark's and Norway's, weighed down by large adult cohorts sitting in power. A generation of boomers and Gen-xers living a life of comfort, bustle and security.

The social and political changes depend on the images' ability to move and connect with open and exposed bodies.

Audio Laura Marks shows in his studies on Arab film art in Hanan al-Cinema Affections for the Moving Image (2015), the social and political changes depend on the ability of images to move and connect with open and exposed bodies. It is when we feel a change in our power of action that we see new openings and potentials. It's like getting a new body!

«Be careful, be careful!» says a voice to journalist Farnaby in Aldous Huxleys utopian novel Ø (1962). Farnaby, who represents the oil tycoon and who wants to get hold of the island's natural wealth, one day discovers that the voice that spoke to him about attention – does not come from a human, but a bird! The words echo like an echo everywhere on the island, reminding Farnaby of what pulls people away from fantasies and distractions to return to where you are here and now. He abandons his venture.

A full present – ​​between promise and fulfillment

You can only hope for what you have no power over. The Hopeone is born with the traces and the enchantment that lights up when we withdraw from a constant business of dealing. Even in the small details of everyday life, the 'wish images' are hidden, and thus the contours of a different future if we pay attention and can unravel them.

In the Jewish Sabbath, the meal is not only a place where you eat, but also a way to regenerate body and spirit together. Each has its own life and concerns, but together you repeat and revive the fulfillment of another time. This actually future community, writes the Italian writer Marcello Tari, referring to Ernst Bloch, «is the place where the comrade and the other accompany me on the journey towards a possible conversion.» (Tari: There is no Unhappy Revolution. The Comnmunism of Destitution, Common Notions. 2021.). We must not, as in Orthodox Judaism, roll back time to a paradisiacal messianic state, but make room for a full present that opens a portal to another future.

The messianskFor Bloch, e is like a light that casts a glow on the already existing world and things in a way that makes it impossible to view the current world in the same way as before. In this understanding of history, time is already in a tension between promise and fulfillment – ​​a correlate between the hope of the promise and the concrete possibilities of matter itself. There is something inherent revolutionary in this approach to time that must break with the political repetition of the same. It is us who are in time, and to live is to approach a turning point in time. The time we live through is charged with an unredeemed potential, or, time is not finished with itself, it works, it does not just pass.

It is part of a change in society that it creates itself in it resistanceskillful action, which only becomes available to us the moment we dare to connect with something else, demand something else from ourselves. Let's move to the place that has no identities yet. Approaching something, that forthcoming society that we do not yet know.

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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