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Latin America: Flowing Memories of the Philosopher of Hope, Ernst Bloch|
Tuesday, January 23 @ 20:38:36 UTC
By Jutta Schmitt|
January 23, 2007
During one of the recent philosophical discussions of our Bolivarian Study Circle "El Momoy" in Chiguara, Venezuela, after Franz as usual has been launching the latest methodological series concerning the multilogics of our science and philosophy, I have found myself mind-travelling “back and forth” across the past 13 years of philosophical unrest we have shared together, recalling our favourite philosophy teachers about whom we were crazy with untamed enthusiasm, remembering our many, burning quests and endeavours, our various starting points, our innumerable discussions and debates, our first systematical sessions to develop our very own philosophical-logical method in order to overcome the flaws we found in the sytems of our favourite thinkers, and the first steps we made into this direction by developing our own philosophical symbols and language – efforts, which “materialized” in 1994 in a 57-page, self-edited book with a black hard cover entitled “Introduction to the Method of Thinking-Acting” we simply called our “Black Book”.
I also remember all the friends and “comrades” along the way, who, in one way or the other, for some time or longer, were part of our journey and contributed to our philosophical advancement and acceleration, even if this often meant teaching us some rather bitter “home truths” that lead to harsh disillusionment and to the breaking of some very dearly cared myths we had carried along with us half a lifetime. Thus, what concerned our very own thinking, philosophizing and also acting, we were, for a variety of circumstances and expressed in the concise formula of our esteemed friend, Carl Zimmermann, forced to discover and “build our own worlds from scratch”, without forgetting the fundaments and also ashes, from which these new worlds began to arise.
For two reasons I think it might be worth while tracing back the multiple threads of our own philosophy and method to their beginnings and show, how they originated. The first reason lies in the purpose to facilitate sort of a guide-line to all those, who philosophically want to approximate us by following our own philosophical development (Werdegang), and the second reason has to do with what they call Selbstverständigung in German, a kind of dynamic “self-understanding”, revisiting central philosophical matters for the sake of their ever enhanced clarification, according to what we could call the “transmetamorphosis principle”: You can revisit the same philosophical problem a thousand times, and it will never be the same, because neither you nor the problem are the same anymore, any time you revisit it. In this sense, we and our philosophical problems are, exist and transcend new, anew and renewingly as “transmotional travellers and transmotional horizon”, in motion as “rest a n d motion”, in transmotion as “neither rest nor motion”.
The River Main Question
The ignition that sparked off our enterprise to the philosophically unknown was my question to Franz in 1990, on an early summer evening walk along the River Main in Frankfurt-Kelsterbach, what then could still be thought of in terms of an authentically new thinking and philosophizing, after our favourite German philosopher teacher, Ernst Bloch, had formulated his “open system” with his dynamic “method of progressive formation” (Fortbildungslehre) that operated with an entirely new arsenal of dynamic-tendential, flowing categories, meant scientifically-anticipatingly to penetrate the horizon of an open, undetermined future. What else was there left to explore, if Bloch had philosophically explored the very concept of the new, the open, the never-before-thought-of and the never-before-acted-upon? How was a dynamic, open system-in-motion to be excelled other than taking a step backward towards a static, closed system-at-rest?
Franz could not answer my question right away, and neither could I myself, but we decided to set out to explore any conceivable possibility that might hint into the direction of an answer, including any further conceivable question that could have arisen with regard to Bloch’s philosophical, open system. And to our surprise, tenaciously insisting in our endeavour, with each and every visit and “revisit” to Bloch’s philosophy and determined aspects of it, a myriad of questions arose, and with them a myriad of possible-approximative answers. This is, how our own, multi-logical method and philosophy came into being, existence and transcendence as a continuous, progressive answer to that momentous “River Main Question”.
In the following letters, I will start outlining the basic premises of Bloch’s philosophy and comment on the “nodal points” that became decisive for our finding answers to my question.
Testimony 1: Franz J. T. Lee
When I arrived in Germany in 1962, coming from Apartheid South Africa I really did know little about this world,
I was attending Tübingen University as from the winter semester 1962/63 on, studying Philosophy, English and German in the coldest winter Germany had seen in over 200 years. At that time interested in Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky I heard about the building of the Berlin Wall, and that a famous Marxist philosopher had decided not to go back to Eastern Germany but chosen as his new home Tübingen, where the air and corridors of the university still carried the spirits of Hegel, Hölderlin and Schelling. With basically no philosophical foundations, I dared to make acquaintance with this eschatological, cloud and light like figure, inscribing in his lectures and advanced philosophy seminar, listening to “Tübinger Introduction to Philosophy”, “Principle of Hope”, and “Hegel: Subject-Object”.
In the evening, after classes, we headed for the pub, where Bloch, together with his wife Karola and all of us students, used to continue the discussions - the corner we sat in covered by thick clouds of smoke emerging from the ever glowing pipe of the 78 year old philosopher, who wisely and patiently listened to all those manifold questions and remarks of us students.
Way back then, together with a lady friend, Irmgard Bolle, I founded the Neville Alexander Defence Committee, to help the political prisoners in South Africa. When Bloch read about it in the local newspaper, for the first time he addressed me directly and asked me to explain to him the then reigning system of Apartheid in South Africa. Ever since, although I rarely said anything in classes, there was this silent, comradely affinity between us. The day I presented a paper on Marx's assertion - that only thought approximating reality does not suffice, but reality itself must approximate thought - we had a lively discussion on revolutionary praxis and theory. Bloch, the exact opposite of an “Ivory Tower Thinker”, always asked for information about the South African comrades and regularly contributed to the expenses of the court cases, as well as to a fund to keep the starving families of the South African freedom fighters alive.
How packed his seminar and classes were! If you wanted to be there when he spoke, you had to reserve your seat two hours before, because thousands attended his main lectures. I had an old tape recorder and began to tape his lectures, about which Bloch was very happy. He asked Irmgard to transcribe the texts, transcription which later, revised and corrected, became the famous "Tübinger Einleitung"; also the lectures on Schopenhauer.
I would have wanted Bloch to be my tutor for my Ph.D. thesis, however, due to his age and retired status, he could not comply. There was no lecture of his I did not attend, no radio and TV interview I did not record. Unfortunately, due to my own odyssey across the planet, all of my recordings and notes got lost somewhere on the way, including all the books of his which carried his personal dedications to me.
In 1966, I left Tübingen to study at the University of Frankfurt, to attend classes of Horkheimer, Adorno, Habermas and Fetscher, but still following Bloch’s lectures across Germany and all his publications with primary interest. When the German government wanted to expel me to fascist South Africa in 1972, Bloch was one of the many public figures in Germany who signed a protest letter against that measure.
In a reference letter of November 5, 1974 to aid me in my search for a university teaching post, Professor Ernst Bloch testified the following about me:
"In 1962, Franz J.T. Lee came from South Africa as a scholarship holder to study political science and philosophy at the University of Tübingen. Until the summer term of 1965, he attended several of my main seminars in the subject philosophy, particularly political theory. Despite the fact that, as a South African, he had to learn the German language first and also get familiar with the German university procedures, he acquired well-founded knowledge in the realm of political philosophy, political economy and history in a short span of time, elaborated very good seminar papers and was a committed participant in debates. His scientific works reflected his determined support of the underprivileged of the whole world, especially of the “Third World”. The particular circumstance that Franz Lee has come from experience, that is, practice, to theory (as can be seen in his latest publications, “South Africa at the eve of Social Revolution?” and “Technical Intelligentzia and Class Struggle”), and not the other way round, turned out to be a great advantage for the treatment of problems dealt with by social and political science. What characterizes his work is, that he always pays tribute to the transformation of theory into practice, whereby the separation of the two phenomena is being overcome. Franz Lee is a critical scientist, whose carreer I´ve been following since a decade. I can testify to his qualification as a political scientist and his pedagogical faculties for the position of a university professor."
Of course, I got the teaching post at the University of Guyana.
In 1977, I heard on the Deutsche Welle that Bloch, at the age of 92, had silently passed away in his chair, listening to his favourite symphony, Fidelio. I will never forget what he once said in an interview when asked, what he still expected for the future. He replied that he expected his tobacco still to taste fine, and that, upon arrival of his final hour, he was looking forward to experiencing what Nothing or Nothingness were all about.
Little did he know, that one of his humble, shy students would be investigating just that - the very Nothing, the multifarious Nothingness in the living Here and Now.
Testimony 2: Jutta
Ernst Bloch, the transhistorical road companion I never had the luck to get to know in person! Although, in times when Bloch was summer lightning at Tübingen University with Franz spellboundly listening, every now and then, at the occasions of family visits, I roved about nearby in my pram, circling around Tübingen Castle, the Old Town Centre, the Botanic Garden, nervously playing with my toes and somehow sensing, that most unfortunately I was born a latecomer to one of the most interesting time-spaces and space-times in Germany!
Bloch, the sharp, striking, concerning-affecting pioneer of the future, in whose incisive observations I have found myself again a thousand fold:
„Unto the utmost pain had we sunk into the beauty of trees, clouds, the evening sky, before which we stood with a sorrow and speechlessness that almost drove us to delusion.”(1)
„What a wandering human being takes along with him is he himself. Yet, equally is he wandering out of himself, enriched by field, forest, mountain. Just so does he learn again, literally, what getting lost, what path means, and the house that receives him at the end of his way does, by no means, seem a matter of course, but something achieved. … To wander poorly is to remain unchanged as a human being. Such a one only changes his surroundings, but not so himself in and with them. The more hungry a human being is to determine himself experiencingly, the deeper (not just wider) will he be rectified by external experience. … And just like he himself renews and rectifies himself on every stage of the journey, what he explores in a mutual subject-object relation arises as the responding, farther or nearer counter-image of his inner self.” (2)
Not only did I wander and wonder many a times, taking along myself, but taking Bloch along with me, my leather jacket resembling a bullet proof vest, stuffed with writings of his. Wherever I went I was armed with Bloch – be it in the café, be it on the road, be it in the forest. Bloch not only was a shield to me, but medicine, too: When I fell ill, Franz would read from Bloch’s writings to me, and I would simply forget about my ailment. Today, in a world of intellectual darkness, disinformation and mind control, I keep thinking with and of Bloch as the remedy: “The human weapon is the brain”.
Testimony 3: German scientist of letters, Alfred Kantorowicz
“At Easter, I spent a couple of days at the Bloch’s in Leipzig. I needed it. After conversations with Ernst you always take an oxygen supply home with you, that makes breathing easier for a little while. His vitality – meaning both: his powerful, intellectual energy as well as his astonishing physical ruggedness – is phenomenal. When it was getting two o’clock at night, I did not manage to follow him anymore, yet he kept extending himself until three or four o’clock, and would then still sit at his desk for another two hours; but at nine o’clock in the morning, when I would show up for breakfast all worn out, with my brains still stuck together, Bloch was fully there. The filth of everyday life does not take its toll on him, he walks right through it, without turning around, without noticing it.” (3)
Testimony 4: German writer Martin Walser
“In times of a less scientific imprint, which would not have required as much as an entire philosophy for the development and dissemination of such a boundless nature of hope, Bloch would perhaps have become the founder of a religion, or a prophet, or an apostle, or a revolutionary, but in order to impart a somewhat terrestrial measure and today’s necessary, scientific stringency to his eschatological hope, he became a Marxist, yet also remained a prophet, although one who spoke with the tongues of Marx and Angels (Engels): incensed at the “immensely deep sleep of foolishness or heterogeneity in the roughly navigable waters of our world-in-process.” ... But what carries him beyond Marxism is his yearning for the subject of nature, which he longs to see being related with the human being; the bourgeois, tamer-like standpoint has to be overcome and a natura naturata be found, the creative matter be rescued from the abstractness of relativized laws and liberated to co-productivity.” (4)
In the next Philosophical Letter and after these introductory testimonies of acquaintance with Bloch, where the sharp observer may have detected some transhistorical traces with regard to our philosophical writings and manifestations, I will start elaborating the core thought of Bloch’s philosophy.
1 Ernst Bloch, Spuren; Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft, Frankfurt am Main 1990, S.70, my translation.
2 Ernst Bloch, Tübinger Einleitung in die Philosophie; Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft, Frankfurt am Main 1990, S. 49/50; my translation.
3 From: Deutsches Tagebuch; München 1959; in: Silvia Markun, Ernst Bloch; Rowohlts Monographien, Reinbek / Hamburg, 1985, S.133, my translation.
4 From: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 26./27. September, 1959; in: Silvia Markun, op.cit., S. 133/134, my translation.
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