Don Quixote contra Faust: Ernst Bloch’s Abstract or Concrete Utopia?

This paper critically discusses the distinction between what Ernst Bloch terms Concrete Utopia and Abstract Utopia. It is argued — counter to Bloch’s claims — that it is Abstract Utopia that is the more genuine form. Commencing with clarification of what Bloch deems to be Concrete, as well as Abstract forms of Utopia, there follows a discussion about why he promotes the Concrete form. This leads to a critique of Bloch’s schema by discussing the subjective prejudice inherent in the process of docta spes, or ‘educated hope’. Bloch’s argument in favour of Concrete Utopia will be shown to be bound by a dogmatic Marxism, which renders the dynamic element of Utopia defunct. Arguments in favour of Bloch’s position are offered by discussing the potential value of docta spes, and the pragmatic benefits of tempered Concrete Utopias inspired by the historical materialism of Marx. Even so, the conclusion argues that Bloch’s position is untenable in concordance with a genuinely dynamic concept of Utopia. Accordingly, the paper ends with allusion to — contra to the general consensus within Utopian Studies circles — Theodor Adorno as the greater Utopian theorist of Bloch’s era.

Abstract Utopia, Concrete Utopia, Docta Spes, Ernst Bloch, Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno

Ernst Bloch (1885–1977) was an iconoclastic thinker loosely associated with the neo-Marxists of The Frankfurt School. His quasi-mystical brand of Marxism led to a tumultuous relationship with his peers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, as well as a fractured friendship with the Orthodox Marxist György Lukács. Bloch’s work is particularly well known amongst Utopian Studies circles, and his corpus continues to undergo revised translations. His works are unique, and include a mixture of cryptic and seemingly unordered aphorisms, as well as sprawling sentences with expressionistic overtones, infused with obscure religious and mythological references. As a result, reading and attempting to decipher Bloch is often a refreshing, as well as challenging undertaking.

In this paper — building upon the work of Ruth Levitas and Darren Webb in particular — there will be a discussion of the distinction between what Bloch coins ‘Abstract Utopia’ and ‘Concrete Utopia’ in his middle works. These include his magnum opus entitled The Principle of Hope (hereafter to be referred to as POH) as well as Heritage of our Times (HOT). Bloch wrote HOT in Germany in the 1930’s prior to the rise of National Socialism and his own subsequent exile in the United States of America, while he compiled the vast majority of the three volumes of POH in exile during 1938–47. POH meticulously details what Bloch interprets as a utopian longing manifested in human artistic creations ranging from ‘‘technology, architecture, painting, literature and music, and also ethics and religion’’ (1986: 624). In view of that, the paper will take as a premise Levitas’ observation that it is Bloch’s central thesis that

‘‘human dreaming has always reached towards utopia, with varying mixes of the abstract and the concrete; but only with Marxism has it become possible for Utopia to be fully graspable in the imagination and hence in reality’’ (1989: 29).

In this way, it is to be understood that Bloch distinguishes between two types of utopianizing: Abstract and Concrete, but that he posits the Concrete as the more genuine. Firstly, there will be a discussion of how Bloch interprets each of these types of utopianizing, before examining the reasons for the distinction. After this will follow a critique of Bloch’s promotion of the Concrete, leading to a conclusion that Bloch — against his intention — demonstrates by way of his work itself that it is the Abstract form which is the more genuine form of utopianizing. This interpretation will hopefully lead to a refreshed critical reading of Bloch, as well as promote discussion amongst Utopian Studies circles about Adorno as the greater utopian theorist.

For Bloch, Abstract Utopia is representative of purely wishful thinking, and demonstrates an immature form of utopianizing without concrete actuality in relation to what is. Thus, whilst is carries desire, it is never attainable by praxis, and if a particular configuration of it constitutes a potentially transformed future for all, it is not achievable. For such reasons, Bloch grants it a place in his schema of utopianizing, and argues that it is better than none at all, but that it is merely an initial rung on the ladder towards a mature utopianizing, and thus can only be merely compensatory.

An archetypal example of Abstract Utopianizing for Bloch includes the activity of day-dreaming, in which not so much a transformed future exists for all, but rather a world in which one fantasises about one’s changed place in the given order. This form of day-dreaming is quite often represented by something such as a large win in the lottery, hence Bloch’s assertion that ‘‘most people in the street look as if they are thinking about something else entirely. The something else is predominantly money, but also what it could be changed into’’ (1986: 33). Furthermore, in his middle works Bloch posits — despite arguments to the contrary in correspondence with Lukács — cultural kitsch, alongside what he interprets as escapist forms of music, film and art into the realm of vulgar Abstract utopianizing. Still, the most striking example of the Abstract form of utopianizing for Bloch, and one that does not appear to have been given due interest, is his depiction of Miguel de Cervantes’ knight errant ‘Don Quixote’ as the Abstract Utopian thinker par excellence. In POH, Bloch argues that:

From the angle of abstract purity, Don Quixote is clearly the patron saint of honest-abstract social idealists. In so far as they drag the high, usually the all too high, down into the lower regions, to remedy morally or indeed to overthrow what can only be tackled economically, in the homogeneous dirt of the matter . . . . The better society does not come about through fanaticism or ideal propaganda from above. . . . Thus almost all idealistic social utopians were and are of Don Quixote’s breed. (1986: 1043–4)

Considering the vivid description above, and the connotations of the adjective ‘quixotic’, as ‘clumsily entertaining’, ‘trivial’, ‘outdated’ and ‘fantastical’, it is apparent that Bloch interprets Abstract utopianizing as merely compensatory, and impotent in the face of concrete, real-world dilemmas.

Taking this into consideration, it is understandable why Bloch chooses to relegate Abstract Utopia in his schema. Bloch understands Abstract Utopia to have discredited the overall concept of Utopia for centuries, ‘‘both in pragmatic political terms and in all other expressions of what is desirable; just as if every utopia were an abstract one’’ (1986: 145). So whilst Bloch argues that the Abstract is better than no utopianizing at all, it is merely compensatory, and like Don Quixote, something immature as opposed to based in actuality. Furthermore, it is as Bloch describes, ‘‘still predominantly without solid subject behind it and without relation to the Real-Possible’’ (1986: 145). Hence, it is a form of utopianizing which

is prone to being easily led astray, without what Bloch terms as ‘‘contact with the real forward tendency into what is better’’ (1986: 145). It thus lacks ‘‘the point of contact between dreams and life, without which dreams yield only abstract utopia, and life only triviality’’ (1986: 146).

This analysis leads Bloch on to provide the most damning critique of Abstract utopianizing in his description of it — undoubtedly following the work of Sigmund Freud — as giving rise to what he coins ‘‘utopistic neurosis’’ (1986: 324). What Bloch is referring to here is a condition involving a ‘‘lingering in the waking dream, for the image getting stuck in the first signs, in the mere initials of reality’’ (1986: 324). Hence, whilst Bloch argues for the value of Abstract utopianizing over none at all, it is clear that he also sees it as pernicious if it is to be the telos of one’s process of utopianizing. Within Bloch’s schema, to solely utopianize in the Abstract form is thus more dangerous than not utopianizing at all.

Bloch argues in the POH that Abstract Utopia’s spend nine-tenths of their energy imagining futures, with only one-tenth on a critique of the present, and whilst they ‘‘keep the goal colourful and vivid’’ the ‘‘path towards it, in so far as it could lie in given circumstances, remains hidden’’ (1986: 630). Thus what Bloch seeks is a form of praxis based in real-world actuality. He finds this within ‘‘Marxism through science — precisely with the development of socialism from utopia to science’’ (1986: 147). For Bloch, this development of Scientific Marxism has managed to salvage the concept of Utopia proper. Bloch thus counters what he depicts as the risks inherent in Abstract Utopianizing by arguing in favour of Scientific Marxism; namely, by way of promoting Concrete Utopia.

In juxtaposition with Abstract Utopia, Bloch argues that Concrete Utopia is anticipatory, wilful, and the embodiment of what he believes to be the essential function of utopianizing; which is that of simultaneously anticipating and affecting the future. Taking into consideration Marx’s famous dictum in the Theses on Feuerbach, ‘that philosophers have merely interpreted the world, the point is to change it’, the translators of Bloch’s POH, Stephen and Neville Plaice, argue that ‘‘Bloch was no utopist’’, but rather that ‘‘he considered his philosophy to be concretely utopian, mediated with real possibility, and [that] his philosophy advocates engagement with, rather than [mere] contemplation of the world’’ (1986: xxxiii).

Throughout POH, Bloch offers a multitude of examples of products of artistic creation which constitute — for himself — legitimate forms of engagement with the world in a manner that qualifies them as Concrete Utopia’s. These range from fields as diverse as literature, music, architecture and painting. However, the key feature of any creation regardless of the cultural field in which they fall, is that they possess for Bloch that which distinguishes them as Concrete Utopia’s from the Abstract ones. Bloch understands this feature to be an element of ­Vor-schein, or what is most appropriately translated as ‘anticipatory illumination’. One such Concretely Utopian example provided by Bloch is music — albeit music which Bloch himself qualifies as ‘music’ proper — performed outdoors, which possesses an uncovered Utopian charge. In the following passage from POH, Bloch offers a concise selection of creations which he grants the status of possessing a Concretely Utopian charge: ‘‘there is a spirit of utopia in the final predicate of every great statement, in the Strasbourg cathedral and in the Divine Comedy, in the expectant music of Beethoven and in the latencies of the Mass in B minor’’ (1986: 158). These particular creations for Bloch fit in with his teleological, Marxist account of Concrete Utopia, insofar as such Utopian surplus charges can be correlated within a Scientific Marxist account of history. In this manner, earlier in POH Bloch asserts that:

This road is and remains that of socialism, it is the practice of concrete utopia. Everything that is non-illusory, real-possible about the hope-images leads to Marx, works — as always, in different ways, rationed according to the situation — as part of socialist changing of the world. (1986: 17)

Bloch continues by positing Scientific Marxism as the ‘‘concrete ideal in each further stage to be pursued, an ideal which, through its systematically mediated solidity, spurs us on not less but more than the ideal which was abstract. . . . That, as a concrete realm, it constitutes the . . . last chapter of the history of the world’’ (1986: 174). Thus Bloch’s Utopia is a teleological one, counter to many arguments in favour of a perpetual dynamism in his work.

Whilst his earlier Spirit of Utopia (1918) presented a non-prescriptive and dynamic conception of Utopia, in POH Bloch demonstrates a fusion of his belief in the latent utopian power of cultural products exclusively by way of mediation with a Scientific Marxist framework. This is because given that for Bloch Abstract Utopia has discredited ‘Utopia’ for centuries, Concrete Utopia is necessarily an overdue rescue of the ‘‘good core of Utopia’’, of which ‘‘the concrete-dialectical utopia of Marxism is such a rescue’’ (1991: 136).

Bloch argues that Utopia is developed in the womb of present society, and thereby reveals tendencies and latencies from what is to what will be; it is a correlate of not-yet realized objective possibilities in the world, which given the examples presented above, are to be found in particular cultural products that possess an element of anticipatory illumination. Hence, in contrast to the wishful, compensatory form of Abstract Utopia, the Concrete form has a path, compass and order, which is mediated by the real-world objectively attainable. Bloch characterises this form by offering Goethe’s eponymous protagonist in Faust as the archetype of Concrete Utopianizing in opposition to the Abstractly Utopian Don Quixote discussed above:

This is why in this respect Faust rises so far above Don Quixote, a subject of mediation and its phenomenology, without abstract fantasizing. This is why mediation, with analysis of the situation and constant time-dialectic, constant subject-object dialectic, is so unquestioningly superior to pure spontaneity. (1986: 1053)

If one considers the significance of utilizing the character of ‘Faust’, it is clear that Bloch associates the Concrete with a hunger for real world knowledge, and a seriousness and sobriety that is not to be found in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Analogously, with reference to the work of Bloch’s predecessor Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), one can equate Concrete Utopia with the Apollonian world-view, and Abstract Utopia with the Dionysian. However, by relegating the intoxication of the Abstract form in favour of the sober Concrete, Bloch gives rise to the possibility of the concept of Utopia becoming redundant. Accordingly, the paper now turns to the problems inherent in Bloch’s schema.

Levitas argues that it is problematic how one distinguishes between the Abstract and Concrete forms of Utopianizing in Bloch’s work, in that he offers us no criteria (1989: 28). Whilst Bloch is not entirely clear, it can be ascertained from the above that there is a definite schema involved in his conception of genuine Utopia, and that he distinguishes elements of wilful anticipation from the dross of compensation by way of a subjective and culturally prejudiced Scientific Marxist lens. A critic of what he terms Bloch’s ‘mystical Marxism’, Darren Webb argues that Bloch’s method of distinguishing between lower (Abstract) and higher (Concrete) forms of Utopianizing rests on his filter of docta spes, or ‘educated hope’. What this results in is a circular line of argument in Bloch, whereby the reader is told that that the cultural products which Concretely anticipate Authentic Being, for example those detailed above including Goethe’s character of Faust, Beethoven’s music and Bach’s Mass in B minor, are those works of individual genius which Concretely articulate the Not-Yet-Become of Authentic Being. Webb argues that ‘‘Bloch thus distinguishes between concrete utopia and abstract ideology on the purely subjective basis of his own a priori conception of what human authenticity involves’’ (2000: 84), and makes the highly contentious leap to then correlate such cultural products as compatible through a Scientific Marxist lens.

What Bloch does not include as genuinely Utopian cultural products is as noteworthy as his preference for that which he does, for it substantiates Webb’s argument that Bloch defends his promotion of Concrete Utopia by way of a purely subjective aesthetic judgement. Moreover, Bloch’s judgement is borne out of a particularly conservative and elitist world-view. One striking example is Bloch’s derision of Jazz dances in the USA from the 1930’s:

Nothing coarser, nastier, more stupid has ever been seen than the jazz-dances since 1930. Jitterbug, Boogie-Woogie, this is imbecility gone wild, with a corresponding howling which provides the so to speak musical accompaniment. American movement of this kind is rocking the Western countries, not as dance, but as vomiting. Man is to be soiled and his brain emptied. (1986: 394)

In order to justify such a claim, Bloch appeals to the notion of docta spes, but one must question on what basis such a method of classification posits the Mass in B-minor above musical styles such as jazz, for Bloch offers no rigorously informed critique. What results from this reading is a portrait of Bloch as a highly conservative thinker, whose advocacy of the Concrete form over the Abstract displays a fear of the new, and rather supports — however unintentionally — a perpetuation of the status quo. His schema thus displays something of the spirit of positivism (Bloch 1988: 1). Set against Abstract Utopianizing which values the daydream, by positing Concrete Utopia through a Scientific Marxist lens as the greater form because of its mediation in real-world conditions:

Bloch refunctions the utopianism of the past without radically extending the range of things hoped for, and without providing convincing anticipations of additional developments. His utopianism has a conservative character. . . . Moreover, because Bloch relates his critique of utopia almost exclusively to Marxism, his critique is omissive of the universal rehabilitation of utopia which is possible, and which could provide a powerful critique of contemporary philosophy as well as Marxism. (Hudson 1982: 214)

Thus Bloch’s conception of Utopia renders its dynamism defunct. As post-colonial theorist Bill Ashcroft illustrates in an Adornian vein, the ‘‘‘surplus repression’ of the regulated commonwealth is precisely the peril of any Concrete Utopia’’ (2007: 412). Returning to the Plaice’s description of Bloch as ‘‘no utopist’’, something fundamentally flawed in Bloch’s schema is brought to the fore by demonstrating that his method of classification; namely docta spes, of distinguishing between real-world mediation and day-dreaming fantasy is based on no more than subjective and cultural prejudice. In seeking to rescue the ‘good core’ of Utopia, Bloch treads into irredeemably conservative and authoritarian territory.

In this manner, Jack Zipes elaborates the dangerous conservatism inherent in Bloch’s mature works discussed herein in the following observation that: ‘‘Bloch began to elaborate his own special brand of utopian Marxism, which appears to have prevented him from seeing reality. What is important to consider here is that the Russian Revolution became a topos in his work equated with Concrete Utopia’’ (1988: 6). Bloch’s son, Jan Robert, highlighted the unpardonable defence that his father offered for the Moscow trials, and his advocacy of Stalinism right throughout the period of his middle works (Geoghegan 1996: 45). When considering what Stalinism represented in light of Bloch’s advocacy of Concrete Utopia mediated by Scientific Marxism, a rather sobering reading presents Bloch’s schema in an unfavourable light. Stalinism as a project had to be able to declare itself as final, and to see itself during the 1950’s retrospectively as a Concretely Utopian actualisation, a point of arrival at a Marxist teleological scientific analysis. This message was propagated through state issued cultural products through ‘‘fanaticism from above’’, precisely that which Bloch accuses Abstract Utopia of being guilty of. Thus, it is fitting to levy this charge made by Bloch against Abstract Utopia — and especially his argument versus Don Quixote — against Bloch’s Concrete Utopia instead. Conversely, in spite of such criticisms, with appropriate consideration to the historical and cultural milieu in which he produced his middle works, there is also much to be said in defence of Bloch’s schema, and his promotion of Concrete Utopia.

As discussed above, Bloch utilizes a classification process of docta spes, or ‘educated hope’, to differentiate between the dross of Abstract compensation, with the wilful Concrete anticipatory form of utopianizing. Bloch makes this move to rescue what he determines the good core of utopia, by way of — as Levitas has argued — omitting the ‘‘purely fantastic in favour of the genuinely possible, but also from the potentially fragmentary expression of utopia to social holism, from speculation to praxis, and to the social and political pursuit of a better world’’ (2007: 295). Hence Bloch cannot be charged with political quietism in the manner often levied against the Frankfurt School thinkers Adorno and Horkheimer. Rather, Bloch’s project aims at developing faculties of critical judgement to better real-world conditions. So whilst Bloch interprets a Utopian surplus or charge in a multitude of cultural products, it is imperative for him to provide some distinction between higher and lower forms in order for the Abstract/Concrete schema to work. By successfully providing a schema, Bloch evades Adorno’s erroneous charge that he sees Utopia in all and thus renders it defunct (Adorno 2012). For it is clear that Bloch does not do this, but rather, lays out a schema in which many cultural products such as Cervantes’ Don Quixote are to be interpreted as pernicious as Utopian ends in and of themselves, for they lead to ‘‘utopistic neurosis’’. Contrary to Adorno’s charge, Bloch argues that:

Objections to bad utopias can be raised, i.e. to abstractly extravagant, badly mediated ones, but precisely concrete utopia has in process-reality a corresponding element: that of the mediated Novum. Only this process-reality, and not a fact-basedness torn out of it which is reified and made absolute, can therefore pass judgement on utopian dreams or relegate them to mere illusions. If we give every mere factuality in the external world this critical right, then we make what is fixedly existing and what has fixedly become into absolute reality per se. (1986: 197)

In this manner, Bloch sees his role as that of a Utopian archaeologist, one capable of discerning cultural artefacts which contain a utopian surplus which can be utilized to spur humanity onwards to a telos by way of Scientific Marxism. This is the radical aspect of Bloch: his unrelenting pursuit of excavating sources of utopian surpluses. However, by doing so and seeking to negate stasis in favour of a dynamic utopian dreaming, his work walks the tightrope of leaning towards advocating the Abstract form over the Concrete. For instance, Bloch himself makes the observation that:

There remains a peculiar element of hope whose mode of being is not that of the existing or currently existing reality, and which is consequently left over together with its content. However, of course: it is, if it is not abstract but runs along the concrete line of extension of what it has overhauled, never quite outside the objectively possible in reality. (1991: 186)

Bloch restrains himself, and keeps his process of excavation regulated by a means of docta spes regulated by his Scientific Marxist worldview. Thus, his conception of Concrete Utopia ensures that his ideas remain conservative and mediated by real-world possibility. That he chose to do this is understandable given the historical context in which he wrote his middle works (1935–47). What is apparent in POH is Bloch’s assertion that, following Freud, his analysis be understood as a science, as opposed to a form of mysticism. This explains Bloch’s fierce criticisms of the esoteric works of Carl Jung, who Bloch accuses of being a proto-fascist (1986: 56). Bloch explicitly — and unjustifiably — targets Jung when he asserts that:

For every real innovator there are hundreds of fantastic, unreal, mad ones. If one could fish out the mad ideas which are swimming around in the aura of lunatic asylums, alongside the archaic theory of schizophrenia made all too famous by C. G. Jung, we would find the most astonishing pre-figurations created by paranoia. (1986: 93)

In binding himself within a Scientific Marxist framework — however unorthodox — Bloch seeks to evade the charge of esotericism and fantasy in the manner which both he and Freud charge Jung. Bloch’s value thus lies in his project as a realistic Utopian archaeologist, and his unwavering endeavour to put Concrete Utopia at the centre of our epistemology. His entire project is directed not only by Marx’s dictum above regarding changing the world, but also the dictum that ‘reason needs hope to blossom, whilst hope needs reason to speak’. It is clear for Bloch that both must operate within a Marxist unity. Bloch’s excavation of the utopian charge in select cultural artefacts is borne out of his Concretely Utopian Scientific Marxist analysis of history. Hence for Bloch, achievability by way of real-world mediated processes is imperative as a part of Concrete Utopia. To fall into the realm of fantasy, or esotericism, is to fall prey to the threat of utopistic neurosis. Nevertheless, it has been demonstrated that Bloch’s own conservative, Concrete Utopianizing leads him to perpetuate much oppression and favour the status quo over advocating new, truly revolutionary fissures born out of the seeds of Abstract Utopianizing. His acknowledgement above that ‘there remains a peculiar element of hope whose mode of being is not that of the existing or currently existing reality’ gives credence to the primary importance of the Abstract form of Utopianizing over the Concrete, for it demonstrates his — albeit unwilling — intuition that one must strive to see things afresh by way of imagining radical alternatives to not make the mistake of perpetuating oppressive modes of being.

Given Bloch’s support for Stalinism and the Moscow trials, and his feverous advocacy of the Concrete over the Abstract form of utopianizing, ‘‘like Heidegger and so many other German intellectuals of this era, he [has] no real theory of politics per se to temper his judgement about the realization of philosophy in concrete historical terms’’ (Jay 1984: 194–5). As discussed above, Bloch’s manner of advocating Concrete Utopia by way of a Scientific Marxism functions in a similar vein to Freud’s aim of concretising Psychoanalysis as a Science. In doing so, both thinkers inadvertently — or perhaps wilfully — nullify the dynamism in their work by way of legitimation and adherence, however subtle, to the given order. It is when Psychoanalysis is utilized as a non-dogmatic method of storytelling to uncover subconscious patterns of suffering that it is rendered most effective. Analogously, Bloch’s interpretation of Utopia is most powerful when primacy is given to the dynamic, albeit dangerous, Abstract form, over the safer, but somewhat positivist Concrete form.

Bloch’s claim above that ‘‘there remains a peculiar element of hope whose mode of being is not that of the existing or currently existing reality’’ demonstrates his implicit acknowledgement of the primacy of the Abstract, but is refuted by his conservatism to propagate the Concrete above it. In successfully revoking the charge of esotericism in the manner that he accuses Jung of being guilty of, he all too successfully posits himself in a positivist position in which the real dynamism of his thought is rendered impotent. As Bloch’s junior Herbert Marcuse pointed out in the early 1970’s:

If we could form a concrete concept of the alternative today, it would not be that of an alternative; the possibilities of the new society are sufficiently ‘abstract’, i.e., removed from and incongruous with the established universe to defy any attempt to identify them in terms of this universe. (1970: 86)

Hence, Bloch’s advocacy of the Concrete is flawed, as history has demonstrated. Bloch’s charge against Quixotic Abstract utopianizing as stagnating to the reality given to it is more adequately levied against Bloch’s conservative Concrete Utopia instead. Abstract Utopianizing, or wishful thinking, is more powerful than Concrete Utopia in that it presupposes it by demonstrating the parameters of objective possibility (Levitas 1990: 82). As evidence of this, one need only look at the work of the French Situationist International from 1957–72, as well as contemporary Insurrectionary Anarchist movements; all of which for Bloch fall into the realm of immature Abstract Utopianizing, but which carry a more infinitely dynamic Utopian charge than the aforementioned Concretely Utopian artefacts.

By utilizing Bloch’s mature middle works — and against Bloch’s intention — this paper has demonstrated that Abstract Utopia is the more genuine utopian form over that of the Concrete. By way of discussing how and why Bloch promotes the Concrete, the subjective and culturally prejudiced docta spes under the guise of Scientific Marxism has been shown to render the dynamic power of Utopia defunct. Bloch’s arguments in favour of Concrete Utopia could feasibly be utilized to argue for Scientific Marxism, but that would result in a removal of utopia from the discourse, which for Bloch would result in throwing the baby out with the bath water. Utopia has been discussed herein, as per contemporary Utopian Studies scholar Lucy Sargisson as that which:

Journeys into uncharted and unfamiliar territory, and creates spaces in which visions of the good can be imagined. It is the good place that is no place. . . . [It] stresses the ‘ou’ — the ‘nowhere’ element — of utopianism and addresses fundamental questions of conceivability; it urges the theorist to let go of the stability and certainty of the search for conclusions in favour of an approach that is resistant to closure. (1996: 5)

Bloch’s conception of Concrete Utopia, whilst conceivably understood as a defence of an account of Scientific Marxism, clearly fails to satisfy the above conditions of a truly genuine Utopia. Following Sargisson, Utopia is not to be understood as a Marxist ‘‘ideal commonwealth whose inhabitants exist under perfect conditions’’ (1996: 9), but rather as a worldview to guide one whilst walking, and not for arriving, for that would eliminate the dynamism of Utopia, thereby equate to its death. Bloch’s argument in favour of the Concrete form is therefore too authoritarian, and its finality is symptomatic of real-world oppression. However, that said, it is to Bloch’s credit that the discourse surrounding Utopia continues to this day, and that his painstaking endeavour to legitimize the concept in an age of horror has not gone in vain. It is hoped that this paper will lead to a refreshed critical reading of Bloch, given that he has received an overly favourable reading amongst Utopian circles, and that it will prompt Utopian Studies scholars to look towards Adorno as an interesting counterpart, and ultimately as the greater genuinely Utopian theorist.

On that note, the paper will conclude by arguing that whilst Bloch falls foul to an authoritative position in favour of Concrete Utopia in the Scientific Marxist mould, in contrast, Adorno refuses to present a picture of a positive utopia. Rather, he advocates continual, active resistance to a repressive reality principle by way of impulses (2010: 54). These impulses, however slight, do not fall prey to the charge of authoritarianism. For Adorno, ‘‘wrong life cannot be lived right’’ (2005: 39), and whilst his hyper-pessimism has been derided by many in Utopian Studies Circles, his refusal to hypostatize ‘the good’ results in a perpetual dynamism against Concrete forms of oppression, thus always keeping the promise of Utopia alive.

Works Cited

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Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer 2010: ‘Towards a New Manifesto?’ New Left Review, 6: 32–61.

Ashcroft, Bill 2007: ‘Critical Utopias’. Textual Practice, 21:3: 411–431.

Bloch, Ernst 1991: Heritage of Our Times. Oxford: Polity.

— — — 1986: The Principle of Hope. Oxford: Blackwell.

— — — 1988: The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays. Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press.

Geoghegan, Vincent 1996: Ernst Bloch. London; New York: Routledge.

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Jay, Martin 1984: Marxism and Totality: the Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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— — — 1989: ‘Marxism, Romanticism and Utopia’. Radical Philosophy, 1: 27–35.

Marcuse, Herbert 1970: An Essay on Liberation. London: Allen Lane.

Sargisson, Lucy 1996: Contemporary Feminist Utopianism. London: Routledge.

Webb, Darren 2000: ‘Concrete Utopia? The Mystical Elitism of Ernst Bloch’. Studies in Marxism, 7: 73–100.

Zabel, Gary 1990: ‘Bloch and the Utopian Dimension in Music’. The Musical Times, 131: 82–4.

Zipes, Jack 1988: ‘Ernst Bloch and the Obscenity of Hope’. New German Critique, 45: 3–8.

A version of this article appeared in Yesterday’s tomorrows: on utopia and dystopia (2014), eds. Pere Gallardo and Elizabeth Russell.



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