“It is a question of learning hope.“
So begins Ernst Bloch’s mid-twentieth century three-volume masterpiece, The Principle of Hope. Hope must be learned because we reflexively act in the world as spectors, passively floating through “What Is.” We are willing if not wholly conscious subjects of the ever-mutating, self-aggrandizing Golem known as the status quo. Like an invisible yet suffocating vapor, What Is lodges itself in the logic of “the natural order” and thereby blinds our imaginations to the Not Yet, to, that is, a possible future adequate to our utopian dreams. Thus, the human affect of hope “requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming.”
It is a question of learning hope because, well, what is the alternative? Bloch argues the alternative is to remain locked in the ruts of “anxiety about life and the machinations of fear” perpetuated by those who benefit from the status quo, and who thus insist on the impossibility of the Not Yet.
And so, The Principle of Hope is a book about realizing utopia concretely, right here, where we live and work and make our lives. But make no mistake, Bloch’s “concrete utopia,” like that of his comrades of the Frankfurt School, has the clarity and realism of a dream cleansed by the fire of fascism and the catastrophic failure of communism. Bloch’s concrete utopia decisively distinguishes itself from the “fraudulent hope” that is relentlessly hocked in our spiritual self-help malls, a perverted “hope” that is “one of the greatest malefactors, even enervators, of the human race.” Not flinching from “informed discontent,” concrete utopia is founded on an equally relentless creation of “knowledge as conscious theory-practice.” This creation requires collective thought and action in actual, lived, concrete situations.
In this seminar we will engage in a slow reading of The Principle of Hope, vol. 1. We will operate on the principles of unlearning. As opposed to learning, unlearning occurs when the numerous authoritarian structures and elements that typically accompany education are de-potentialized. Unexpected things happen when we read and think disentangled from the bounded field of a given discipline. Surprising things happen when we discuss and study out from the punctilious gaze of the Master. We are on our own. This means, among other things, that we won’t get very far, page-number-wise. But that’s not the point. Slow-reading and unlearning are the conditions for a transformative experience whose present contours and future destination lie in darkness.
I will leave you with a passage from the introduction to The Principle of Hope.
How richly people have always dreamed of this, dreamed of the better life that might be possible. Everybody’s life is pervaded by daydreams: one part of this is just stale, even enervating escapism, even booty for swindlers, but another part is provocative, is not content just to accept the bad which exists, does not accept renunciation. This other part has hoping at its core, and is teachable. It can be extricated from the unregulated daydream and from its sly misuse, can be activated undimmed. Nobody has ever lived without daydreams, but it is a question of knowing them deeper and deeper and in this way keeping them trained unerringly, usefully, on what is right. Let the daydreams grow even fuller, since this means they are enriching themselves around the sober glance; not in the sense of clogging, but of becoming clear. Not in the sense of merely contemplative reason which takes things as they are and as they stand, but of participating reason which takes them as they go, and therefore also as they could go better. Then let the daydreams grow really fuller, that is, clearer, less random, more familiar, more clearly understood and more mediated with the course of things. So that the wheat which is trying to ripen can be encouraged to grow and be harvested.
This seminar is limited to five participants.
Dates: Four Saturdays 10am-12pm: June 15, 22, 29; July 6
Reading: Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope: Introduction and Part One: “(Report) Little Daydreams.” A free pdf file is available on registration.
The Principle of Hope