Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The first genuinely summery day in a long while: hot and sunny, with just enough of a breeze to keep the humidity from being uncomfotable. I've been shifting around a lot lately as I approach the moment when I actually start writing the dissertation. Often before embarking on a long project I spend an inordinate amount of time hesitating at the threshold, waiting for some kind of hint or sign that will impel me into the actual writing. It's not an entirely comfortable place to be, but I'm coming to accept it as part of my creative process.

This evening I'm spending a little time with Ernst Bloch, whose cautiously cheerful utopianism makes for a refreshing change from the pessimism of Adorno. I was led back to him through Walter Benjamin, whose early essay "On Language as Such and the Language of Man" I read yesterday in search of further clarification of the idea of "Language" as that site (cite?) in which things communicate themselves: the capability to communicate, communicativity as such. (It's easy to go round in circles trying to think this stuff.) Benjamin of course returns me to such numinous, not-quite-pindownable concepts as mimesis and the dialectical image. Bloch (or at least Jack Zipes' very helpful introduction to Bloch's book of essays, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature) helps clarify Benjamin a bit and moves me closer to my particular (pastoral) ground with his concept of Vor-Schein, or "anticipatory illumination," which seems to exist in constellation with Benjamin's concepts (as well as Adorno's concept of, er, constellation). Here are some notes I scribbled in my non-online notebook just now:

Ernst Bloch sees literature as diagnostic of a topographically conceived historical situation: the distance of a given social moment from Utopia as well as, ideally, the direction in which that Utopia might lie.

Quotes Franz Marc (in his Principles of Hope): "pictures are our own surfacing in another place."

From the same passage: "Wish-landscapes of beauty, of sublimity as a whole, remain in aesthetic anticipatory illusion and as such are attempts to contemplate the world without its perishing."

Marx initiates a tradition of via negativa within Utopian thinking by refusing to describe the Communist society—so the genuine Utopian thinker must obey the commandment against graven images. Yet images have their function—the dialectical image of Benjamin is meant to shock the reader awake from his dogmatic slumber, and this image is thus cousin to Bloch's insistence on the Novum (the genuinely new, as distinguished from a marketable novelty) as the "qualitative reutilization of the cultural heritage" (Zipe's words). The image (most suggestively crystallized for my purposes as the "wish-landscape" or Wünschenlandschaft) takes the form of an "anticipatory illumination. This is the ability of an aesthetic depiction to return the depicted object to its full immanence (suppressed by habitual ways of seeing as well as, presumably, a merely theoretical or calculating vision)—but not in the service of an auratic nostalgia. The goal is rather to measure the distance between the artwork's historical moment (or more vitally, the historical moment of the reader/receiver) and Utopia (which Bloch insists on seeing as objectively realizable—he focuses on the daydream as the origin of anticipatory illumination because unlike actual dreams, whose content is twisted by repression, daydreams "occur in semiconsciousness and point to real, objective possibilities" [Zipes again]). Not only is the wish-landscape then a portrait of Utopia (though necessarily an incomplete and inaccurate one), but the very process of generating such an image depends on a kind of itself-Utopian openness of encounter between subjects and objects—presented once again in topographical terms as what Bloch calls "dialectically open space, in which any object can be aesthetically depicted" (emphasis in original). But Utopia itself is deferred into the not-yet, an undescribable but infinitely important and yearned-for home (Heimat).

Ah, if only I could simply present the blog as my dissertation. Or at least a Habilitationsschrift.

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