From the Bible to sentence production and back again

As for my closer reading of Bloch's texts, I begin with sentence production, for it is Bloch's style that says as much about his engagement with the Bible as his sustained exegetical labours. While most work on Bloch has preferred to speak of his utopian hermeneutics, I have always found useful one of Fredric Jameson's strategies, itself drawn from Adorno, which is to tarry with sentence production itself, to treat carefully the craft of creating a text.

Atheism in Christianity turns out to be one mode of Bloch's dealing with the Bible; the full range is found in The Principle of Hope.14 There are four such modes: most obviously there is the explicit consideration of the Bible, especially themes such as Paradise, Eden, Exodus or the new Jerusalem. Atheism in Christianity is then the most extensive form of this mode. Characteristically, Bloch rarely refers directly to secondary literature, but, in both works, he shows more than a dilettante's interest in the major issues of debate in biblical studies. Secondly, there are continual references to ideas, texts and biblical figures in other discussions; that is, biblical texts become part of the fabric of a larger argument. Thirdly, we find a series of allusions and passing references. Finally, there are the deeper patterns in Bloch's thought, the basic ideas upon which he builds his work. All four categories show the Bible working in Bloch's thought in a way that is formative of his whole agenda.

Let me begin with the second mode, where the Bible appears as one item in larger discussions, used as an example, or as evidence for certain beliefs and practices, or as a crucial piece of something else. For instance, in a discussion of the attractions of the stars as a counter-utopia to death, Bloch refers in passing to the book of Job 31: 26-7 where the seduction of the heavenly

14 Bloch's biblical interpretation itself can also be seen as a specific moment in the much wider programme that may be distinguished in terms of a hermeneutics, philosophy and aesthetics of utopia. The first two categories are common in the secondary research on Bloch but the third, a utopian aesthetics, is the argument of Arno Münster. The key documents here are The Spirit of Utopia (Bloch 2000) with its focus on music and expressionism; so also Heritage of Our Times (Bloch 1991) and the role of aesthetics in Principle of Hope (Bloch 1995). See Münster 1985.

bodies for worship is noted.15 A more substantial example is the tracing of death consciousness and a wishful consciousness of anti-death in Brahms's German Requiem, where Hebrews 13: 14 - 'For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come' - is the basis of the first movement and Isaiah 51: 11 - 'Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads' - the basis of the second (1 Corinthians 15: 51-2 also appears). Bloch reads this, with its robust core in a music of annihilation, as one of the 'musical initiations into the truth of Utopia'.16 Indeed, it might be argued that it is precisely the biblical content that turns the German Requiem into a utopian initiation. The Principle of Hope is full of these types of biblical references, explicit parts of a larger argument, although they also appear in other places such as the Literary Essays and Natural Law and Human Dignity.17

Closely related, but less substantial, are the allusions and passing references. Time and again, an allusion appears with no explicit reference to the Bible, merely a word or two that conjures up a text, well-known or not. Incognito, it enters into the very structure of Bloch's vocabulary, syntax and thought.

Out of this plethora of biblical allusions,18 I focus on two. Firstly, his discussion of natural right alludes both to Jesus and paradise, including a saying of Jesus in Luke 12: 14:

15 Bloch 1995, p. 1150; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1353.

16 Bloch 1995, p. 1100; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1293.

17 Other examples include the biblical references in the discussion of the 'cryptic collective' and Christ-like utopia of marriage (Bloch 1995, pp. 330-1; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 384-5), the gradual suppression of dance from the Bible onwards (Bloch 1995, pp. 401-2; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 465-6), the task and suffering of the Jews in history (Bloch 1995, pp. 609-10; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 711-12), the world-creator as modeller and architect, taken from Egypt to Israel and then to the idea of the new heaven (Bloch 1995, pp. 730-3, 776; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 855-8, 908-9), the model of Mary and Martha for quietude and activity (Bloch 1995, pp. 953-6; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 1119-23), communion and baptism, in gnostic circles, as keys of the journey to heaven (Bloch 1995, pp. 1116-7; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 1312-13), the temptation of Jesus by Satan on the mountain in a discussion of the Alps (Bloch 1998, p. 437; Bloch 1985, Volume 9, p. 493), the use of the Decalogue in Thomas Aquinas's formulation of natural law (Bloch 1986, p. 24; Bloch 1985, Volume 6, p. 37), the role of the Fall and the divine legislator more generally in natural-law theory (Bloch 1986, pp. 36-9, 53; Bloch 1985, Volume 6, pp. 50-3, 68), the use of the Joseph's recognition of his brothers in Egypt as an example of anagnorisis and, as an example of great moments that pass unnoticed, the conversation between a friend and an aged Pilate who forgets about his contact with Jesus of Nazareth (Bloch 1998, p. 197; Bloch 1985, Volume 9, p. 220).

18 For instance, biblical epigrams stand side by side with those from Marx, Yeats, Feuerbach, and Bloch himself (see Bloch 1995, p. 1183; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1392).

As a whole, justice (Recht) is a topic much closer to the class society than Utopia is, and there is certainly no Christian, let alone chiliastic utopia in justice. Jesus expressly denies that it is his job to administer justice (Luke 12, 14), and the vernacular retains the old saying 'Men of law (Recht) - Christians poor'. And only the Natural Right (Naturrecht) of the sects, i.e. that which was not legally implemented, by going back to the primal state of paradise as a standard, kept aloof from amalgamation with the law of property, the law of bonds, debt, punishment and the like.19

Secondly, and more significant for its doubling over between the Bible and Marx, when he speaks of the road to utopia - Bloch's code word for socialism - his language is permeated with both the Bible and Goethe's Faust: the road to the abolition of deprivation, which is itself socialism (not its goal), is also 'the road which first leads to the treasures where moth and dust doth

Biblical phrases appear in the flow of another point to be made, as in the reference to 'honour and the hoary head' of Leviticus 19: 32 in a discussion that signals a greater role for old age in socialist societies; or, Psalm 127: 2 - 'the suspect god who gives to his beloved in sleep' writes Bloch, alluding to the Psalm's 'he provides for his beloved in sleep' - is a passing phrase in the discussion of daydreams. And then there is the allusion to the 'wise virgin' of the parable (Matthew 25: 1-13), who, in the confidence of the expectant intention 'in going into the chamber of the bridegroom, offers up as well as gives up her intention' (Bloch 1995, p. 112; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 127). The allusions run on, almost endlessly: Uriah the Hittite (Bloch 1986, p. 257; Bloch 1985, Volume 6; Bloch 1985, Volume 6, p. 290), Joseph and his brothers (Bloch 1995, p. 160; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 183), the mother-image in Isis-Mary (Bloch 1995, p. 172; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 197), the iconoclasm of the first commandment in Exodus 20: 4 (Bloch 1995, p. 212; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 244-5), the absorption of the individual into the Totum of making all things new in Revelation 21:5, and of the drive in religious art that this brings (Bloch 1995, pp. 215, 221; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 248, 255), the saying on salt's savour in Luke 14: 34 in relation to Marx's criticism of Feuerbach (Bloch 1995, p. 274; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 318), in opposition to there being 'nothing new under the sun', Ecclesiastes 1: 9 (Bloch 1995, 288; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 335), Nero and Hitler not as the furthering of history, but an aberration as the 'dragon of the final abyss', from Revelation 12-13 (Bloch 1995, p. 310; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 362), an allusion to Faust and John 1: 1 (Bloch 1995, p. 313: Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 364), the traditional end to German fairytales - 'still alive to this day' - is based on an Old Testament form of ending tales (Bloch 1995, p. 353; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 410), carvings of Adam and Eve in the Baroque garden, which itself has hints of the Song of Songs not mentioned directly by Bloch (Bloch 1995, p. 388; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 450), the play on Daniel 5: 27 (Bloch 1995, p. 402; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 466), the play on the Lord's prayer: 'give us this day our daily illusion', Matthew 6: 11 (Bloch 1995, p. 446; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 518), the 'supreme principle of Christianity' in Owen (Bloch 1995, pp. 560-1; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 652-4), in Saint-Simon's last work 'New Christianity' (1825), he remarks on the combination of sacred socialism and a profane Vatican, and on and on and on.

19 Bloch 1995, p. 542; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 630.

corrupt, and only then to those which stay awhile'. The allusions here are to Matthew 6: 19-2120 and Faust, Part I, 1700: 'Stay awhile, you are so fair'. And, as if to pick a recurring motif, at the end of the discussion of Brahms, Bloch writes: 'In the darkness of this music gleam the treasures which will not be corrupted by moth and rust, the lasting treasures in which will and goal, hope and its content, virtue and happiness as in a world without frustration, as in the highest good: - the requiem circles the secret landscape of the highest good'.21 Of course, this is a double allusion, both to a saying in the Gospels and to Marx:

The less you eat, drink and buy books the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save - the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour - your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being.22

It is where the language takes on such a biblical feel without explicit references that we get closest to the function of the Bible in Bloch's conceptual structure. Like Johann Peter Hebel and Jeremias Gotthelf, whom he critically admired, he sought a 'Bible-educated, Bible-infused style' 'illuminated by the sun of biblical German'.23 Indeed, some of the deepest currents in Bloch's work - most obviously the utopian - could not have been thought in the first place without the Bible.

Bloch teases us with extraordinary statements, such as that both the 'Novum' - 'the eschatological conscience that came into the world through the Bible'- and 'Ultimum', central categories in Bloch's philosophy, find their earliest expression in the Bible.24 The Bible provides the source of the 'total expansion of hope that we find in humanism', it is the 'basic manual of hope',

20 'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also' (Matt 6: 19-21).

21 Bloch 1995, p. 1101; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1294; see also Bloch 1995, p. 1181; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1390.

23 Bloch 1998, p. 323; Bloch 1985, Volume 9, pp. 367-8.

24 Bloch 1995, p. 221; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 254.

but also the sources of the 'consciousness of evil' and the 'concept of hazard'.25 Reading Bloch is rarely tedious, and we soon find a collection of delectable phrases that mark his love of and saturation by the Bible. So he speaks of the 'socialist wealth' of the Bible (Isaiah 55: 1), of the 'original model of the pacified International'26 and the 'communism based on love'.27 Then there is the mindfulness of utopia itself: 'The highest conscientiousness of this mindfulness is set down in the words of the psalm: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning"'.28 But perhaps the most striking of all, and the motivation for my whole project in the first place is this: 'Implicit in Marxism - as the leap from the Kingdom of Necessity to that of Freedom - there lies the whole so subversive and un-static heritage of the Bible'.29 Bloch's system, then, is unthinkable without the Bible.

For there is an extraordinary charge in reading Bloch. His style has always been a source of delight and consternation, often incomplete, missing the various elements of the more conventional sentences (most notably the verb), declaratory when speaking of the most ephemeral of matters and tentative where the ground is firmer. There are thoughts and ideas thrown forward full of suggestion and promise; the longer sentences in which he juxtaposes two or more ideas or metaphors; and then the impossibly long paragraphs that run on for pages. The style is energetic, allusive. The absence of footnotes, the incomplete in-text references add to this, but it is the almost ecstatic, prophetic feel of the sentences, the heavy use of Latin and Greek terms, and the conscious effort to generate a style that is distinctive. More specifically, along with the expressionist presence, there is a prophetic and poetic feel to Bloch's sentences, paragraphs and discourse, one that seeks not only to speak with the urgency of prophetic voices but also the encyclopaedic allusiveness of Goethe's poetry. It seems to me that Bloch sought, by means of style itself, to allow what he called the 'spirit of utopia' to speak, to create a new way of writing through which the utopian would emerge.

26 Bloch 1995, p. 498; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 578 on Isaiah 2: 4; Micah 4: 3-4; see also Bloch 1995, p. 501; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 581.

27 Bloch 1995, p. 497; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 577.

28 Bloch 1995, p. 189; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 216.

29 Bloch 1972, p. 69; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 98.

I want to suggest, then, that Bloch's sentences have a distinctly biblical cadence about them, a feeling for the hints and glimmers of the future. It is not just that he wrote extensively about the Bible, or that it is a crucial item in discussions of major trends in music or in architecture, or even that he alludes to it time and again - although these are themselves important - but that the vocabulary and structure of the sentences and paragraphs show a consistent reading of the Bible for many years, an intimate knowledge of its texts and ways of writing. Bloch takes these up and seeks the potential for his own German.

The distinct pleasure in the style, an almost utopian charge in the syntax itself tempts me to apply the comment to Bloch that Terry Eagleton first used for Jameson, namely, that he would have the oppressive pleasure of knowing that his works will be read in some future, postcapitalist society. For it is not so much the impossibility of socialism that afflicts us in these days of rampant capitalism, but, rather, the fear among the most ardent advocates of capitalism that it will by no means be the last socio-economic formation under which humans live and thrive. It seems to me that Bloch always presses on in the very structure of his prose to this postcapitalist moment, especially since he caught a glimmer in the communism of Eastern Europe. For utopia is not merely hard work but also an extraordinary pleasure, an intense charge of which we can find moments now but not the continuity it should have. This is what Bloch's prose provides - a glimmer of such a perpetual pleasure. For instance:

In tendency it [order] is inscribed within it [the material], so that chaos, which is not or does not remain such, itself holds latent within it the star and the star and the star-figure. Common to the manifestations of freedom is the desire not to be determined by something alien to or alienated from the will: but common to order is the value of builtness, the elapsion in need of no emotion any more. It is this element of release and of having found its place, indeed this realm-like element, which in other worlds lying less in wickedness [1 John 5: 19] than the political one indicates best repose and indicates it as the best; as in Giotto, as in Bach.30

30 Bloch 1995, p. 533; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 619.

But style also merges into the content. In a characteristically aphoristic fashion, a new section will begin tangentially, subjectively. And so on the first pages, entitled 'Round the Corner',31 the point that the sly irony of subversive slave talk is found above all in the Bible emerges slowly and only after the style has made all the preparations:

Remorse alone does not bring maturity, above all when the conscience that pricks still does so childishly, still according to custom, but in a slightly different way. The voice still comes from outside, from above - 'the One above,' so often suspiciously at ease. Thou shalt be still: this downward, exclusively downward cry from above, against too many demands from below, looks exactly like the well-disguised, indeed apparently good slogan that one should not covet one's neighbour's goods, or that even the Jews are now men once more. And it has the same purpose.32

But, by the time the major point does appear - that the Bible has a lesson or two to teach in the subtle ironies of subversive slave-talk - the tangential and allusive style has prepared the way.33 Certain phrases, small hints, also work their way in through the reading process: in the text quoted, the lack of identification of 'the One above' suggests an elision between God and rulers, and the demands and protests are directed at both. A biblical allusion - 'one should not covet one's neighbours goods' - and the mention of the Jews cease to be floating phrases and start to link together in a theme that Bloch will pursue throughout the book.

And so I come to content as well, especially that of Atheism in Christianity. I have, in fact, left one of the four modes of engagement with the Bible aside until now. If I have spoken of direct references in larger discussions, allusions and the deeper patterns of Bloch's thought, then I have neglected the central category of his extended refections on the Bible. And I will focus on that text, and the elements that draw my attention are the question of method, the critique of theology, the three foci of Exodus, Christ and the Soul, and his final argument about the atheistic logic of the Bible and Christianity.

31 Bloch 1972, pp. 13-15; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, pp. 29-31.

32 Bloch 1972, p. 13; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 29.

33 Bloch 1972, p. 15; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 31.

0 0

Post a comment