readings from Marxism and Art, ed. Maynard Solomon, 1973 and 1979

“On the Threepenny Opera” (1935)

Who had written the script and lyrics for the “Threepenny Opera,” and when and where was it first been performed? (Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Berlin, 1928)

What does Bloch believe was distinctive about the “Threepenny Opera”? (adapts popular music to the service of high art, 578)

Which songs and voices does he believe herald a new era, and why? (notes that the “broken-voiced beauty of the trumpet passage when Polly bids farewell to her highwayman becomes the evocation of a life that has yet to be lived,” 577; admires “the simplified forms and the extraordinary polytonality of Pirate Jenny’s dream, the gay melodies and the proliferating despair,” 577)

What political meanings does he read into its plot and representations? (“its beggars and crooks . . . stand for the decomposition of society itself,” 577)

According to Bloch, what social purpose can be served by art? (can “signalize an impending change by ‘absorbing’ and proclaiming whatever is decomposing and re-forming beneath the surface. Most of all it sheds light on the impulses of those who would be marching toward the future in any case, but can do so more easily with its help,” 577-78)

What functions does Bloch believe can be performed by popular music? (after praising songs of  Macheath, Tiger Brown and Pirate Jenny, the latter as “dreamer of [the people’s] dreams,” he sees such instances as revealing “how much the popular song, and the pleasure of class-barrier-obliterating extemporization can do nowadays,” 578)

How would you characterize Bloch's mode of criticism in general?

“The Meaning of Utopia”

Is it significant that Bloch wrote The Spirit of Utopia (1918) during the first world war? What do you make of this conjunction?

How does Bloch differentiate day dreams from those of the night? Which interests him most? (“[The day-dream] is concerned with an as far as possible unrestricted journey forward, so that instead of reconstituting that which is no longer conscious, the images of that which is not yet can be phantasied into life and into the world.” 578)

On what grounds does he critique Freudian psychology? (concerned with past, regressive)

What is the effect of the day-dream on the dreamer? (“can keep [the dreamer] restless and expectant, full of life and therefore of possible striving ahead,” 578) Would this apply to virtually all creative effort?

What is his definition of the meaning of “utopia”? Why is this notion important?

In what past cultural forms does Bloch discern a latent “utopian” strand? (fairy tale, geographic utopias, travel narratives, early social utopias such as those by More and Campanella, 579-81)

During what periods or under what circumstances is utopian literature likely to arise? (times of upheaval, emergence of new countries, 579) What are some forms utopian thought/expression has taken through history? (music, religion, laws, 580;  compare Dilthey's "life-expressions")

What according to Bloch should be the focus of philosophy? (the not-yet, 580)

How does he distinguish between the utopist and utopian? (580)

Why had early social utopias remained abstract? (“they had to be abstract, because . . . they came too early, 580)

What is the relationship of utopian thought to its own time? (“In spite of excessive dreams of the future, they are touched by their own time—precisely because their connexion with it is always negative. . . . they do not vindicate and proclaim the ruling class of their society, but rather wish to lay the plans for the future dwelling-place of a new class making its way through for the first time. . . half as—so to speak—advance billet parties, and half as effective architects of homo homini homo,” 581) How do you interpret this passage? Is it possible to have an entirely negative connection with one’s own time?

What aspects of artistic expression will become less important with time? How does this notion compare with the tenets of later reception theory? 

How does the utopian work change with time and the counterfactual movement of history? (rectified but not refuted by “the mere power of that which, at any particular time, is,” 582)

What is the importance of the concept of “not yet”? (Schiller, “only that which has never [yet] come to pass never grows old,” 582; “without the dimension of the future, conceivable for us as an adequate future, no empirical being will endure long,” 582)

What is the dialectical relationship between skepticism and utopia? (“the more an age skeptically renounces or is dogmatically removed from the not-yet, the more it solicits it,” 583)

What should be the relationship of humans to their own future? (“Action will release available transitional tendencies into active freedom only if the utopian goal is clearly visible, unadulterated and unrenounced,” a need for future and for utopian ideals, 582)

“Utopia in Archetypes and Works of Art”

What does Bloch see as the value of early social utopias, such as More’s Utopia? (fairy tales of the commonwealth, 583)

What is the utopian connection of the fairy tale? (related to basic images of the imagination, seen as rational, not anti-rational, 583)

What are some other instances in which Bloch finds the archetypal utopian? (e. g., legends of Golden Age, 583; legends of dragon killer or savior, 584)

Is it in the nature of a human dream to find satisfaction? (“it looks out for more,” 584--compare Lacanian desire)

What does Bloch find significant in the major works of art? (“The permanence and greatness of major works of art consist precisely in their operation through a fullness of pre-semblance and of realms of utopian significance,” 584)

How does he explain the paradox that oppressive ages can produce great works of literature or art? What examples does he give? (Greek tragedies, medieval art, such as cathedrals, 585; “Mediaeval art was tied to a feudal, hierarchical society; . . . yet he inwardness, order and mysticism of the art of the Middle Ages . . . rank above  the hierarchies of their own time, and above the mythological out-there,” 585)

What is Bloch’s notion of the “cultural surplus”? (“something that moves above and beyond the ideology of a particular age,” 585; compare Dilthey's "life-expressions," including art)

What inheres in these works beyond a sense of achievement or completion? (“the fleeting promise of that which is missing,” 585)

Should the utopian work concern itself centrally with the [political] means to its ends? (no, it “does not obscure its blinding goal with solutions”; this is because “The world-substance, mundane matter itself, is not yet finished and complete, but persists in a utopian-open state, i. e., a state in which its self-identity is not yet manifest,” 585)

How does Bloch face the objection that reality itself seems quite un-utopian? (“all given existence and being itself, has utopian margins which surround actuality with real and objective possibility,” 586; great works of art must include this “creative touch of poetic anticipation . . . the pre-semblance of what, objectively, is still latent in the world,” 586)

What is Bloch’s response to the literary form of tragedy? (paradox of optimistic tragedy, 586—does this resemble Kant’s notion of the sublime?)

What does he find to admire in Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”?

What according to Bloch is the human being’s duty? (“duty’s call is to do what is within and not to abandon what lies without—not to leave it as it is; more than ever. . . [to make] no peace with the world as already given,” 587)

How would you describe Bloch’s style?

How does Bloch’s thought resemble that of classic Marxism? Of what you have read by the Russian structuralists or members of the Frankfurt school?

How does Bloch's strand of Marxist humanism differ from later offshoots of Marxism such as those promoted by Althusser or Foucault? Are any aspects of their thought “utopian”?

Which strands of literary creation does he consider utopian? Where would you situate utopian features in literature written since his death?

Is there a place within his world view for dystopian literature? For the literature of documentary or naturalism?