Form and Content
The multidimensional nature of The Principle of Hope, Ernst Bloch’s most important work, cannot be comprehended without a closer look at his personal development and background. Born into the drab community of Ludwigshafen, the son of assimilated Jews, he experienced a youth lacking the more varied cultural opportunities of the neighboring city of Mannheim. The difference between these two cities of his youth would sharpen his perception of class distinctions in German society and would help him understand the appeal Fascist ideology held for the lower classes.
In 1905, Bloch began his university studies. He first went to Munich to study philosophy and German literature; he then attended the University of Wurzburg, where he studied music, physics, and experimental psychology. He also became interested in the cabala and Jewish mysticism. In Berlin, he took up studies in sociology and later became interested in Christian mysticism. His intense interest in all areas of culture and his thirst for knowledge in many disciplines informed his philosophy and shaped the form and content of The Principle of Hope.
As a pacifist he went into exile to Switzerland at the outbreak of World War I. When the Nazi Party took power in 1933, Bloch, who was immediately blacklisted, left Germany to seek exile in Switzerland, France, and finally in the United States, where The Principle of Hope was written. His experiences in the United States thus also found entry into this extensive, multifaceted account of hope on all levels of political, cultural, and psychological experience.
In more than thirteen hundred pages divided into five major parts—“Little Daydreams,” “Anticipatory Consciousness,” “Wishful Images in the Mirror,” “Outlines of a Better World,” and “Wishful Images of the Fulfilled Moment”—Bloch explored the emancipatory powers of hope. He mapped out the genesis of what he calls the Not-Yet-Conscious in social, political, artistic, scientific, and individual psychological expressions. As an unorthodox Marxist thinker, he believed that anticipatory illumination within culture provides the possibility to transform the material base through the superstructure. Art illuminates the missing qualities of contemporary life as they are experienced by the individual artist. As such, they encourage the recipient to determine the specific aesthetic formulation of lack, or want, and thus enable him to become involved in cultural development. In detecting the anticipatory illumination of a work of art, the reader or spectator is instilled with hope. This hope provides an impetus for change. Bloch’s belief in this potential for art, which illuminates the path toward a more humane future, is the central focus of the three volumes of The Principle of Hope.
As in his other works, Bloch was concerned with developing a philosophy that would go beyond the rationalism of the Enlightenment, providing at the same time a more subjective method for understanding one’s own experiences and historical situation and offering methods of dealing with such pressing problems of late capitalism as alienation.
The Principle of Hope
Although Ernst Bloch is probably the least well-known of the Western Marxist thinkers outside his native Germany, his work has nevertheless not been without influence or partisans in the Anglophone world. The most notable is Fredric Jameson, who has dutifully carried the torch on behalf of Bloch’s call for Utopian thinking, arguing that the necessity to discover in even the most debased and apparently counterrevolutionary social practices positive figures of a better future world is at one with the philosophical and political project of Marxism. In The Political Unconscious (1980), Jameson writes of the dialectic of ideology and Utopia in a vein that can be traced directly back to Bloch’s lifelong project of maintaining hope in the face of disaster:All class consciousness—or in other words, all ideology in the strongest sense, including the most...
(The entire section is 3,557 words.)