September 27, 2007

Much of the considerable delight I get from Bloch comes from his digressions, his encyclopedic wanderings

tusarnmohapatra Says: September 26, 2007 at 11:18 pm Wouldn’t it be pertinent to remember Baudrillard too while on the subject of “objects?”
larvalsubjects Says: September 26, 2007 at 11:41 pm Tusarnmohapatra, absolutely. As it stands– I’m embarrassed to say –I have only limited familiarity with Baudrillard, so I’m unable to say a good deal about his works. As I understand it, The System of Objects makes a number of claims about “symbolic-value” with regard to desire under capitalism. I tried to be postmodern once, but it felt funny and not at all natural, so there are a lot of these canonical figures that I’m just not that familiar with. This has made it difficult for me to situate myself vis a vis academia as (and perhaps I’m just being narcissistic) I just don’t fit into some of these categories very well. I was attracted to Deleuze not as a postmodern skeptic, but as a first rate metaphysician who thinks the world in terms of process and development. I fell into Lacan by chance, but stuck with his thought because of its ability to thematize both things in my own life and the social world about me.
Generally I haven’t found much in Lyotard, Baudrillard, or Derrida (though I wrote a thesis on the last of these three, situating him in terms of Husserl and, of all thinkers, C.S. Peirce), because it seems that these thinkers simply end up endlessly saying how such and such is impossible or falls apart, which I find uninteresting (of course all projects ultimately fail, but their few successes are grand). Perhaps, however, at a future point I’ll find myself encountering a set of problems that suddenly makes these thinkers significant for my own questions.
In my quest to think about futurity as opposed to endless historical analysis, I started reading Jameson’s Archeologies of the Future this afternoon and discovered, much to my dismay and delight, that Ernst Bloch gives a similar analysis of utopian imaginaries embodied in commodities in the second volume of The Principle of Hope (at least if I’ve understood Jameson’s descriptions correctly). Has anyone out there read The Principle of Hope. Given that it’s three volumes, is it worth the time and effort? I have similar questions about Lefebvre’s massive Critique of Everyday Life. I get nervous whenever I start making forays into humanistic Marxism.
Steven Shaviro Says: September 27, 2007 at 1:10 am I’ve read most of The Principle of Hope — I have almost, but not quite, finished it. (I put it aside a while ago, with just 200 or so pages left to go. When I am less busy, I hope to return to it and finish it). Reading it is one of those experiences, like reading Proust (though it isn’t as good as Proust) where getting immersed in it, because of its length, is part of the point, and a big part of the effect it has. But this is a matter of panorama, not just of length. Reading The Principle of Hope is like having a whole country to explore, rather than a difficult thesis to work through and work out — in that way, reading Bloch is very different from reading, say, Kant or Adorno or Derrida. Much of the considerable delight I get from Bloch comes from his digressions, his encyclopedic wanderings, the sheer breadth of the area he covers.
That said, the book is definitely (and inevitably?) uneven. Some passages are dazzlingly brilliant, others tedious in the way they trudge through their dialectical turns and reversals (tedious because it seems to recapitulate an all-too-familiar and played-out tradition of “dialectics,” as it was endlessly restated through much of the 20th century, without the insight of its original formulations in Hegel and Marx).
I do think The Principle of Hope gives an impassioned demonstration of how utopia and utopian hopes can be meaningful, in opposition to the postmodern fashion of rejecting the very category as merely a totalitarian dream of static perfection. In that sense, I have found it conceptually useful. Though, for me, Bloch is ultimately not anywhere near as richly suggestive as, say, Adorno, let alone Deleuze or Whitehead.

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