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Beginning Bloch in English

This is still true:

[Blochs philosophy] of hope and ontological anticipation, is itself an anticipation,
and stands as a solution to problems of a universal culture and a universal
hermeneutic which have not yet come into being. It thus lies before us, enigmatic
and enormous, like an aerolite fallen from space, covered with mysterious
hieroglyphs that radiate a peculiar inner warmth and power, spells and the keys to
spells, themselves patiently waiting for their own ultimate moment of
decipherment. Frederic Jameson, Marxism and Form, 1971, p. 158-9.

And this is well-put, but not quite true. But its falseness, Adorno himself might have said, is an
authentic symptom of truthfulness; hopelessness the only way of being faithful to what hope once
The title Traces mobilizes for the purposes of philosophical theory the primary
experiences derived from reading Red Indian stories. A broken twig, a footprint on
the ground, speak volumes to the eagle eye of the child who speculates about
them, instead of resting content with what anyone can see. There is something
here, something hidden, in the midst of ordinary, unobtrusive normality: Theres
more here than meets the eye. What it is, no-one knows, and Bloch, taking a leaf
from the book of the gnostics, suggests that it may not be there at all yet, that it
may be in the process of becoming. But il y a quelque chose qui cloche, and the
more mysterious the source of the trace, the more persistent the feeling that
something is really there. This is the point at which speculative thought seeks a
foothold. As if in mockery of the dispassionate, scientific reflections of
phenomenology, the speculative thinker sets out in search of the ineffable, feeling
his way experimentally towards an interpretation. Indefatigably, the philosophical
moth flutters against the pane of glass between itself and the light. The
conundrums of what Bloch once called the shape of the unformulatable question
are made to crystallize out into whatever answers they may fleetingly suggest. His
traces are survivals of the ineffable experience of childhood which once upon a
time communicated everything. (Adorno, Blochs Traces: The Philosophy of Kitsch)

When we start to read Bloch, it is probably good advice to return to this remark from time to time.
Reading Blochs texts is not so much a journey from beginning to conclusion via the well-ordered
steps of rational argumentation, analysis, deduction, induction or abduction (Peirces term for an
inference to the best available explanation), but a being-abducted in a more disconcerting, literal
sense an exercise in track reading and in being transported into a dimension that escapes what can
be explained already in terms of what we know or what is there: the not-yet, Blochs singular
thought, the one thought that permeates everything he has ever written, the single thought that
makes him the philosopher he is.
And so, as Nietzsche said of himself, we first have to learn to read Bloch. This learning process is not
the same for everyone, as everyone will have a different encounter with these texts. But the texts do
invite a particular action on the part of the reader. They open up a dimension of thought that often
exists only at the periphery of our awareness. They form, in many different ways, exercises in utopian
thinking. As so often with philosophy, these texts are themselves instances of what they speak of. I

can be no other way in philosophy. Platos texts are the way into the encounter with eidos.
Aristotles texts are the articulation of substance. Nietzsches texts are the arrow stretching between
man and bermensch. Derridas texts are themselves the act of deconstruction. This self-reflective
and, I would say, meditative quality is never far off, and is even there, often, when Bloch writes
cultural criticism or history of philosophy, or even where he comes most closely to a standard
academic, argumentative and systematic philosophical style, as in the book Experimentum Mundi,
which he intended as kind of overview of the categorial structure of this thinking. The text is its
This latter feature, we can call it the absence of a distinction between score and act, is, incidentally,
also a characteristic of both jazz and punk, art forms which Bloch rejected (jazz) and would have
rejected (punk) if he had known about it, which goes to show that no philosopher can spare us the
task of thinking for ourselves. If a philosopher is any good, he kicks us out after a while, but then he
has given us enough to start off on our own. The kick is the final gift, the ultimate dab of the clothes
brush, the final intellectual there! (F. Scott Fitzgerald). Then that which Bloch calls heritage can
And so, we should think of being in an enchanted forest perhaps more than being in a lecture hall,
when we start to read Bloch. We catch glimpses of exotic, strange creatures. A faun beckons us. Was
that a dragon? We are swept from delight and recognition we have come home, finally - to feelings
of uncanniness and darkness on a single page; and all these emotions are our first and most sure
guides as to what is going on around us. We have to find our own way. We can only find our way by
backtracking often and by looking up through the foliage to the guiding star or to the place where it
might appear against the background of the red-golden hue that hovers over the leaves.
Bloch wrote in German, in, as I have sometimes said, a utopian, not-yet German, a constant
elaborate play with the language and its unrealized potentials. The anacoluthon is a central stylistic
and philosophical operator for Bloch, the materialization in writing of to think means to transgress.
It is not going too far to say that we could deny the fact that these texts were written in German at
all. And if that is the case, the question of translation changes. It acquires a dimension that Benjamin
envisaged with the idea of pure language, and which Shelley conceptualized with his idea of the
insufficient void in poetic language. The poet seeks to make the insufficient void in language
palpable. Language, we might say with Bloch, is just another real thing, and shares in the ontological
incompleteness of the real. But it does so in a way in which that incompleteness can come to itself
more radically than otherwise. That function is the humanum. Well, the upshot of all of this is, to
my mind, that the question of translating these texts moves into the direction of translating poetry. It
becomes a mutually enriching affair for both source- and target language, and source- and target
text. English is particularly interesting language for the Bloch translator because of the fantastic,
insane possibilities that English, not only a language but the first post-language, offers. English is on
the road to embracing the anacoluthon as its only structural principle. Like, whatever. But: when it
does that, it itself will become the red-golden hue hovering over the dark waters of the real, an
experimentum mundi such as there has never yet been. We should view both translating Bloch into
English and getting to know Bloch in English as an eminently utopian undertaking.
An initial, necessarily limited, pathway into the English speaking Bloch could look something like this,
moving from the initial speechless experience of wonder with which all philosophy starts, to the

historical-materialist praxis of liberation, dialectically fugueing warm stream and cold stream but
never fusing them lest we end up with a luke-warm mlange which is only worth spitting out. A path
towards the problems of a universal culture and a universal hermeneutic.
1. Spoken and Written Syntax: the Anacoluthon. Literary Essays, p. 497-505.
2. The story of Rabbi Raphael, in Motifs of Concealment and Wonder, in Traces, p. 94-97; 169171.
3. Source and Outflow: Astonishment as Abolute Question, in The Principle of Hope, p. 288-290.
4. The Philosophy of Music, in Spirit of Utopia, p. 34-164.
5. Introduction, in The Principle of Hope, p. 3-18.
6. The Principle of Hope, chapters 13-20. (a more or less systematic presentation of Blochs
basic philosophical concepts, including an interpretation of Marx Theses on Feuerbach)
7. The Principle of Hope, chapter 36: Freedom and Order, Survey of Social Utopias.
8. The Principe of Hope, chapter 48: Young Goethe, Non-Renunciation, Ariel. (Blochs critical
abilities at their best; the text reads like a Beethoven symphony(George Steiner).
9. The Principle of Hope, chapter 55: Karl Marx and Humanity; Stuff of Hope. Apotheosis of this
book, outline of the praxis of liberation.
10. The Marxist Distance to Right and Even to Natural Right; the Problem of a Classless
Quintessence of the Upright Path in Natural Right, in Natural Right and Human Dignity, p.
11. From the same book, the appendix: Christian Thomasius, a German Scholar without Misery.
12. Heritage of Our Times, part III, Upper Middle Classes, Objectivity and Montage (This section
contains among many other famous short texts Blochs review of Benjamins One Way
Street, and a very perceptive critique of phenomenology which puts Blochs own thinking
into perspective for the philosophically (dis)orientated among us.)
13. Atheism in Christianity, chapters 24-26 and 38-44.
14. Dialectics and Hope. This is chapter 25 of Subjekt-Objekt, Blochs monograph on Hegel. It was
published in the New German Critique, 1976, 9, p 3-10.