Thursday September 30, 2010
The other day I was in the office of one of my fellow creative writers at De Montfort, and I spotted a copy on his desk of Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope. We fell into a conversation, the upshot of which was I ended up loading the book into my already bulging bag, and heading off home with some light bedtime reading.
Bloch is a curious kind of writer and The Principle of Hope is a kind of odd mix of Heidegger and Marxism – not, perhaps, a recipe for the most digestible of philosophical fare – but with a happily leavening dash of that most unusual of philosophical virtues (and it is, I think, a philosophical virtue), and that is humour. The book comes in three hefty volumes, and I’m only part way through the first, but so far it’s fascinating stuff. Bloch’s aim in the book as a whole, as far as I understand it, is to understand the positive role that utopianism may have within human life. But the utopianism Bloch is aiming for is not a dream of an impossible world; instead it is the attempt to harness our wishfulness and our tendency to dream better futures, and to put these to work in actually making changes here in the world.
What I have been finding compelling so far are two things. The first is the idea that Bloch has that wishing is something that is central to human life. In the early part of the first volume, he charts a human (and, it must be added, albeit parenthetically, decidedly male) life from start to end, tracing the trajectory of wishing as it changes through time. And the second is the idea that Bloch ties in with this idea of the wish, which is his idea of the not-yet-conscious. Bloch’s idea of the not-yet-conscious is complex; but it combines both a sense of what might be called the preconscious mind (the soup that is brewing away merrily within our own minds without our knowing it), and also a sense of the possibilities that are yet to be realised or manifested. Bloch writes of it as “the mode of consciousness of something coming closer” (p. 116) There’s a kind of blurry, future boundary to Bloch’s view of the mind. There is always the possibility of newness, of a further opening up of new ideas and possibilities. And certainly this is the sense one can have, sometimes, when sitting in meditation, or else relaxing with a cup of tea and the cat on one’s lap, or reading a philosophy book and chasing after quicksilver thoughts just out of reach, or following the lines of a story.
Bloch talks about this not-yet-conscious as not having the scent of the musty cellar (a dig at the murk of the Freudian unconscious), but instead of the morning air. And it is this spirit, in the end, that is why I’m enjoying Bloch so much. This sense of morning air, of possibility, and of an existence that is not solid but that fizzes and ferments and foams and effervesces is one that goes against so much weight and heaviness and gloom in the Western tradition of thought. In Bloch, it seems, not even the clunky machinery of Marx and Heidegger can entirely obscure this fizz and this crackle.
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