“Hope after all”: responding to Ernst Bloch’s “Spirit of Utopia”

I have been struck by a few things lately. First, my capacity to pursue the things I prescribe myself to pursue, i.e., courage and perseverance. I have spent so much time, it seems, in futile vacillation: between pursuing these things (Marx on social-being and productive processes, Bloch and Celan on u-topia, Hegel, Agamben on the transmission of transmissibility, Hamacher on hermenutics, Bataille on non-knowledge…) and running in fear. Not in fear of these things– for in their attracting me, I feel alive and connected to the other within and without; rather, running in fear of the pursuit itself: running in fear of my self and my potential.

The vacillation (as well as worrying about it, maybe) is unwarranted, unnecessary, and generally wasteful. What does “running in fear” look like for me? Nothing too tragic: watching MSNBC and riling myself up over political struggles and economic injustices; consigning myself to afternoons of brats and beer; letting the night “go where it will,” whether that means smoking, sitting by campfires, bars, bowling, or whatever. Obviously, it is not these activities in themselves which are the “problem,” and anyone who tries to live a life without friends is doomed to the worst hermeticism. In fact, I am blessed to have such wonderful, light, and stimulating friends and contacts– I really do not know what I would do without them. But nonetheless, although to an ever lesser degree these past few years, those activities have often turned into moments of pure ‘sleep’– stagnation and stasis, losing the trail, forgetting rigor that is so invigorating.

In truth, I am less and less worried about these distractions, and accept them as they are and as they come, for I’ve never been one to dictate where I was (although I might work on this). But dissatisfaction is the root of invention, perhaps, and my dissatisfaction with ‘relaxation,’ ‘happiness,’ ‘fun activities,’ has long been growing. I think this sense of dissatisfaction grows because I am not just myself, I do not live for myself. For so long now I have known that to really do something means becoming invisible, disappearing. But what this means practically is the dissolution of the private sphere of interests and whims for the sake of an even more inner and private arrangement-engagement with the soul, where my tasks and activities are united with “them” beyond the local sphere of a billiard table, out into the creation of works, all the way to the world-beyond-the-world.

But the second thing that has been striking me is, precisely, the “futility” of these works. Or rather, I feel such a limitation with them. I know “theoretically” that we are always beginning anew; in my most intimate projects, this always anew tries to write itself out, but in practical-daily life I’m urged to pursue their continuity. Implied in this continuity would be a growing “body of works” which addressed the pertinent questions in my life and thought (namely, the link between the experience of a voided I and its being ontologically embedded before itself in the “we”). But I am less concerned with this “body of works” than I am with another sense of futility– that of the day to day “interventions,” my apparently desperate attempt for something of this pursuit to catch on elsewhere.

I see now that the real crisis is less the economic situation, the alienation of people from one another, the unfreedom that exists in all our freedoms, etc. The real crisis is “inner,” that no one seems to take themselves to be implicated in this alienation and state of unfreedom. While a few are engaged in politics, this is often only at that reprehensible mediatized level that I spoke of above. The real politics (beyond politics) is of the heart and the interior, linking us not simply to the “totality of beings,” but more importantly to those things which are not yet (conscious). The real politics is the dawning of an eternal messianistic or communistic struggle within us, with the potential to draw our efforts and hopes into this eternal movement whose separate moments in time are linked only by the hope they hold in paving the way for the “good life,” “with and for one another in just institutions” (Ricoeur). Interpreted from a Marxist standpoint, this means the liberation of our energies to themselves; making of ourselves and humanity ends-in-themselves (Kant), and not just means to political or economic ends; liberating our time and our productive processes to the manifestation of ourselves (understood as that “dawning” mentioned above). In a word, being less distracted from the eternal task at hand.

Part of this crisis is the fact that we have no vocabulary to speak this way, no cultural form or outlet in which to express the crisis. All the norms of society (internet videos, raves, political cartoons, methylone, profile pictures, comedy movies, boring games, apps, indulged depressions, p.d.a., gossip, etc.) succeed moment by moment in distracting us from this real crisis, which is really a distraction from ourselves and our capacity to create new conditions for what’s possible. I’ve mentioned the “struggle” I’ve had and still have with these norms. Clearly, creating new conditions for (self-other-)possibilities is a daily practice, and no doubt it accumulates, just as a path of study, once left to its own urgencies and motions, develops lines of attraction, tangentiality, and synchronicity of itself– not to mention creating an atmosphere of the heart and soul where insight can coalesce around the “inconstruable question of the We” (Bloch), which gives rise to all sorts of subtle and grandiose world-historical-messianic actions and works (i.e., “methods for the accumulation or logical invention of the Soul”(Bloch)). And yet, in saying this, there is no guarantee that this latter has actually been mobilized or put into effect (and this mobilization must again be begun anew).

What is it to calmly compose a message of utmost urgency, and to send it out in hopes of meeting another calm enough to meet his or her utmost urgency? As if it were within the powers of this text to do so any way! And so, to the very degree that I pursue these things and act and create along the way, my sense of the political-social limitations on the reach or effectivity of these acts and creations also increases. Perhaps even this is the root of that “fear” and my vacillation. Bloch expresses the anxiety well: what if “even our most convincing works, even our humanly most evident self-elucidations, will only drift like debris down some nameless river?” (and what better image of the nameless river than the blogosphere, a facebook page, or some book). While this has never disheartened me per se, never discouraged me from the pursuit, and certainly never hindered my initiative to write (most often this risk of ruin only has only invigorated me toward it), the sentiment of this evening is at least a bit bittersweet.

I know now more than ever that I am made transparent in this work, that I am deep into the “nobody” for the sake of the we; and also, the flip-side of this, that I am made more opaque than ever the deeper this work takes me, that all of this has individuated me radically. But this means that I only become to the extent that we become. In a word: no one is set free alone. But there are two senses even to this simple phrase. The first, the hopeful one, is this: when I set free, when I act and create in the free creation of my potentials, of myself as an end-in-myself, such that this creation and these works are not consecrated to anything but to the potentiation of potentiality as such, then something is set free for everyone. Not (only) “encoded” in the work, but out there outside it. Freedom is given a chance in this movement where all movement is cast out towards others, in the hopes of awakening them to their own individual (self-other-)pursuit. But the second sense, the bittersweet one, is that “no one” (as a kind of name for the identity of those engaged in the historical problem of identity, and of the “we”)– “no one” is set free alone. But while there is an isolation in this, it is no one’s isolation. I’m told, “You must like to be alone,” and I respond: “I am never alone.” Though cryptic, I mean it: so quickly does one form of identity slip to the next, so quickly do the sentences and thoughts fly by, so quickly is one interrupted for the next, which is in turn interrupted, that to say I were ever “alone” would be to deny an experience of how the “I” is structured, which I have been initiated into understandingly, whether by rigor or by chance.

And yet, while I am always with, I am conscious enough in this to see the barriers before others: the limitations of blog-posts and the projects they set for themselves; the impossible gap between two people chatting, “virtually” or “in real person”; the ambiguity of a poem or a link posted to a social networking page; the oblivion of my most intimate poems and works, which have never made it to publishing form. Not to mention the opacity of this feeling I have right now of being connected. How to communicate, to encourage it? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope for everyone to enter into this sense of connectedness. But I’m trying to point out here that this “interconnectedness” is not some “natural given,” which is all the talk these days. I’m trying to say that this interconnectedness is– must be– made and made possible. While we are “we” before we are “I,” this interconnectedness to the destiny of the soul is less readily apparent: we must make it material, concrete, manifest, conscious. We must take it upon ourselves to see to it that we are connected with the “with,” not only locally, not only globally, but trans-world-historically. Evidence for this connection to the “many” will happen in the “one.” The tension or asymmetry between this “many” and this “one” will never be abolished, for it is the friction between them which produces the one and the other, and the heat that rises off of this production is, so to speak, a desire to be. And where it is warm with connectedness– “equal parts” I, “equal parts” we– you can be sure that there is a “work,” if not yet fully developed, at least in embryo, in statu nascendi.

In trying to comprehend, or even to lament, the limitedness of these works of such a  “frictitious” community, another work is created, and another work is shared and sent. I see nothing but “more of the same”– never the same– before me. As with any work, one never knows who it will touch, nor if anyone at all will touch it, sooner or later. But that does not diminish the need; and it is better for one to dig into the deepest depth and express them in all their obscurity than it is to shy away from this deep obscurity out of the fear of remaining unfinished, or of never reaching an audience. For

this deeply… only the internal path can lead, also called the self-encounter, the preparation of the inner word, without which every gaze outward remains empty and no magnet, no force to attract the inner world outwardly as well, to help it break through the error of this world.

Despite the utter lack of evidence that this working and pursuing in this way gets us anywhere, or puts us in touch with anyone, we maintain confidence in the historical aspect of our endeavor and ourselves, knowing that we are neither the first nor the last to step foot on this path– for the goal is incompletable, the soul is never satisfied with its degree of soul– and yet that the whole thing, as well as the wholeness of things, depends on us. We are the ones who must “light the way,” spreading the revolutionary “gnostic contagion” like an antidote against the cancer of countless stagnant cultural forms. We must point to a health that is only here for us insofar as we are producing ourselves— a point of health for the community, then, that while felt within our own movement of becoming, is yet distant in terms of the given “world.” But

precisely the one who was a thousand steps ahead can help more easily and closely than someone who blindly gasps along or adds his voice to the currently feasible.

And so we must take a thousand steps ahead, first of all, ahead of ourselves:

We have to set the course; on us lies the agony of choosing a direction, but we immediately go along as ourselves and not as mere memories; we follow the good, living way, the way of the goal, to its end, since we ourselves are this way.

Even if it’s luminosity darkens at first, one has to persist: this light must be moved from the inner sanctum onto a broader domain.

Although we cannot “induce” the revolutionary spirit per se, this does not mean that we do not try to induce it, and with all our might– by speaking our own spirit however we know how, and thus creating new conditions of possibility for the revolutionary spirit to catch fire. But the public airwaves, it seems to me, are not the place for the happening of such a delicate encounter. We must send and make possible, we must give this spirit its fighting chance, intimately, and we must pass through a thousand personal deaths and suspensions just to give ourselves this fighting chance. We must try to make known to as many as possible how profoundly implicated they are in this “discourse,” how the real crisis of community has to do with their productive and expressive practices and creations, with themselves as such. Of a community and of an I whose location is nowhere to be empirically found, whose place must be given space if it is to ever take place– in us.

And so I end by saying at once: this place has taken place, right here, supradivine or ultramundane, in the movement of this creation, “transimmanent”; but we cannot say it has taken place, we cannot prove it, simply because it continues to take place. The revolution: taking place as such. The majesty of the movement of creation will never be matched by any parcel of evidence (the works, the traces, the remnants, the history), because what’s present is the creation as such. And still: we hold fast to this not-yet-done, we fight for it, conjuring it just as much as we discover it. For we are not helpless, and certainly not hopeless, after all.

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