The Stage and the Mother

Hans Holbein the younger.

“Take at hazard one hundred children of several educated generations and one hundred uneducated children of the people and compare them in anything you please; in strength, in agility, in mind, in the ability to acquire knowledge, even in morality – and in all respects you are startled by the vast superiority on the side of the children of the uneducated.”
Leo Tolstoy (Education and Children, 1862)

“The modern university confers the privilege of dissent on those who have been tested and classified as potential money-makers or power-holders. No one is given tax funds for the leisure in which to educate himself or the right to educate others unless at the same time he can also be certified for achievement. ”
Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society)

“The world is untrue, but it wants to return home through man (sic) and through truth”.
Ernst Bloch (The Spirit of Utopia)

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Citadelle)

I want to open with a somewhat lengthy quote from a post I did back in June, 2022. (and which I quoted from on the last Aesthetic Resistance podcast)

“The modern individual (for Marx) coincided with the rise of markets in which the owners of commodities were able to exchange their commodities (the qualities of) for quantities of the general equivalent. Modern subjectivity is deeply wedded to this emergence. But the idea of human psychic evolution is complex. Children like to, often, go off by themselves and climb trees or explore terrain unfamiliar to them. City kids do their own version of this only in abandoned buildings etc. And younger children will often find a place, sometimes in a tree, or in a grotto, where they themselves feel they can’t be seen. And in their silence they day dream. This is a familiar experience from everyone’s childhood (I think everyone). Now, these younger children have less developed vocabularies. They cannot articulate what they feel. And again, childhood amnesia looms as a profound riddle. But older children may have enough of a vocabulary to explain or describe what they felt alone in that tree. But it is always but a very partial description. For that sense of freedom, of aloneness, and usually quiet, is the other part of religious experience. I have said before that religion comes out of theatre, not the other way round. But that is partial, too, for this aspect of taking oneself away from the world has deep roots that probably go back to the early hunter gatherer communities. For the child brings that experience back to the home or community. Silently. As men return from war, often silently, with a different and traumatic experience. Victims of violence bring that experience back to the home or society. And there are no words for this. And it is EXACTLY BECAUSE there are no words that it has such deep resonance. Is it possible that this unworded resonance is a deeper form of memory? Or rather another register of memory? The pre history of the child in a sense. Childhood amnesia is actually another kind of remembering?
It is possible that this silent emotion of freedom is a basic building block of the human. And to watch children with smartphones is disturbing, even if just intuitively, because we know, we sense, something is being stolen from them.”

Perhaps because my twins are starting first grade this week I have been reflecting a good deal on education, on educating children in particular, and on how technology intersects today.

Thomas Nozkowski

“The institutionalized values school instills are quantified ones. School initiates young people into a world where everything can be measured, including their imaginations, and, indeed, man himself.”
Ivan Illich (Ibid)

Illich wrote Deschooling Society in 1970. It is interesting to look back that period vis a vis the radical critiques of compulsory education. Paul Goodman, Paulo Freire, and indirectly Norman O. Brown, Macuse, and Debord. And by further extension, I suppose, the work of R.D. Laing. The point being, here, Illich was writing about a consumer society. And advanced capitalism today is not quite that anymore. But I will return to this. One interesting aspect of education is the manner in which the backdrop of ‘progress’ effects beliefs and aspirations.

When Darwin voyaged on The Beagle, Capt. FitzRoy abducted (for their own good) three children from an indigenous community at Tierra del Fuego. He returned to England with them, *educated* them, introduced them to civilized society (and even a meeting with the Queen). Eventually all three returned to their Fuegian community, wanting nothing more to do with England or Europe. FitzRoy was profoundly baffled.

“But when the Beagle returned to Woolya Cove, near what is now called Mount Darwin, just a year after dropping them off, Jemmy, York, and Fuegia were nowhere to be found. The huts and gardens the British sailors had built for the three Fuegians were deserted and overgrown. Eventually, Jemmy was located and joined Darwin and FitzRoy for dinner on the ship, where he confirmed that the Fuegians had abandoned their civilized ways. { } “When Captain FitzRoy offered transport back to England, Jemmy declined, saying he had “not the least wish to return to England”.
Christopher Ryan (Civilized to Death)

Photography (cyanotype): Thomas W. Smillie (Smithsonian)

The idea of progress is very deeply embedded in the Western mind. And in some form it dates back to antiquity. Still, today’s idea of progress is very different, I would argue, than that of Dante or Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle. If they could even be said to have had a belief in what we, today, call ‘progress’. And this raises several questions having to do with an innate impulse to posit a future. I think the idea of ‘a’ future is tied into an awareness of death, but the idea of working toward an improved future, meaning working toward an improved ‘present’ is something relatively recent.

Why does the child believe he or she is being enrolled in school? What, today, does society believe it is doing under the banner of compulsory education? What do educators believe? I wonder today if school administrators and school principles or deans think much about the question of purpose. I suspect they spend most of their waking lives thinking about funding. Western society today no longer has a very firm idea about the role of education.

Now, one way of thinking about progress has to do with evolution. And paleontologists and anthropologists theorize about this a good deal. The other way of thinking about the future is more ideological. And I confess that is the way that interests me the most. Still, the first idea is worth discussing, a bit anyway. And there was no harsher critic of the idea of progress than Stephen Jay Gould.

“Questions about the nature of history go to the heart of assumptions buried in Western culture, and Gould was a major critic of the biases that assume a progressive nature to history and the inevitability of the present. These biases can be seen in the common view in evolutionary theory that more recently emerging species are superior to their predecessors since surviving species have won out in the struggle for existence. Given human arrogance and the prevalence of progressivist ideology, it is commonly presumed that the emergence of Homo sapiens is the inevitable apex of evolutionary processes. Counter to this view, Gould argued that, although natural selection led to some degree of “progress” on short timescales in the limited sense that it dialectically adapted creatures to their environments, over longer scales of time there was no deterministic direction to the history of life.”
Richard York & Brett Clark (Stephen Jay Gould’s Critique of Progress, Monthly Review, 2011)

Tom Aitken, photography (British soldier on British western front in France 1917)

But this doesn’t really address what is meant by ‘progress’. In a Darwinian sense, evolution shapes advantages for survival for one species over another. One lives on and another dies off. Utilitarian in a sense. Now Darwin, as York and Clark observe, lived during a time of acute belief in progress in the Victorian era. Later in life Darwin came to be highly suspicious of progress per se. He wrote in a letter, cited by Gould, that he finally, after long consideration, saw there was no ‘long term progressive tendency to development.’ And Gould himself has summarized the prevailing belief in this idea…

“Progress is not merely a deep cultural bias of Western thought…it is also…the explicit expectation of all deterministic theories of evolutionary mechanism that have ever achieved any popularity, from Darwinian selection to Lamarckism to orthogenesis. I do not, of course, mean progress as an unreversed, unilinear march up the chain of being; Darwin did away with this silly notion forever. But even Darwinism anticipates that an imperfect, irregular, but general ascent should emerge from all the backing and forthing inherent in a theory based on a principle of local adaption to changing circumstances.”
Stephen Jay Gould (The Paradox of the First Tier)

These arguments are pretty well known, and Gould is among the most articulate of the critics of conventional notions of progress. There is a side bar discussion, though, as regards time, and scale. Peter Godfrey Smith has written on this as well, in his excellent book Metazoa. York and Clark touch upon it, too…

“The trilobites—marine arthropods that flourished before their disappearance in the greatest of all mass extinctions, which ended the Permian period approximately 250 million years ago—surely did not vanish due to inherent inferiority. After all, they had thrived for 300 million years, longer than mammals have been around, and over one thousand times longer than Homo sapiens has trod upon the earth. But their existence blinked out likely due to bad luck in an unpredictable, and still unexplained, global shake-up that took with it over 90 percent of all species then extant.”
Richard York & Brett Clark (Ibid)

John Ruskin (watercolor on paper).

The sheer scale of these time frames is hard to comprehend. Three million years? And this leads to what, I think, is important in terms of both education and politics. Why is it so hard to grasp the scale of millions of years? The answer is that we live such a relatively short time, firstly. But secondly, that in much evolutionary theory there is an agreed understanding that not much happened in terms of progress for very long periods. Sponges stayed the same at the bottom of the seas for millions of years. Some changed, eventually, evolved, and some didn’t. Why did jellyfish develop stingers? Took a million years or so. How did predation appear, in fact? But this begs the question of the framing of ‘earth’, and its representation as ‘our home’. The earth is all humans know. And progress is, as Gould noted, extraordinarily arrogant and hubristic. And that hubris helps explain the delusions of climate change orthodoxy. Here looms the sun, this massive (speaking of scale again) gaseous star of unimaginable power, and yet humans decide CO2 is the problem. Humans decide in fact that maybe dimming this sun is a good idea. Of course capitalism and the profit motive intersects at this point. Do the leaders of the world really believe Bill Gates is right about this? Or are they simply bribed (in essence)? And how is it that progress intersects with capitalism?

“The magnificent progress achieved by capitalism in a brief span of time .. is a matter of historical record.”
Ayn Rand (Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, 1967)

Rand is the, of course, perfect embodiment of this hubris. And of course an unadorned amphetamine addled fascist. Capitalism is predicated on the backdrop of a belief in inevitable human improvement. And productivity was there at the very origin of the capitalist system. And productivity was a virtue. This is why Darwin was so mystified by Fuegians lack of interest in returning to England, what he viewed as the seat of civilization. And the most productive country on Earth. And yet, by the end of his life even Darwin could not really put his belief in progress as an evolutionary fact. One suspects he did see it as politically factual.

But what do any of those who believe (in what Christopher Ryan called the Narrative of Perpetual Progress) in progress mean by progress. What did Any Rand mean by progress and her imaginary historical record? What is telling here the level of irrationality in the world today. At least in the West, in those countries with the highest GNP. Popular culture today (and by this I mean primarily corporate owned media) is rife with stories about how great life is today compared to any other point in history. But cutting across these narratives is another narrative about how Nature hates humans, how ‘we’ are the enemy to planetary survival. Alongside this has been the cultivation of a new warrior caste. Hollywood does nothing today as much as it promotes a hero worship of military ‘special forces’. So, there is a deep seated belief in progress, and at the same time a growing distrust of technology (or rather that better technology is needed) and the stresses of modern life (in the West anyway). But I suspect one of the long term effects of marketing has been a growing ability to compartmentalize.

Kim Uchiyama

“Despair darkens ever more lives as rates of clinical depression and suicide continue their grim climb in the developed world. A third of all American children are obese or seriously overweight, and 54 million of us are prediabetic. Preschoolers represent the fastest-growing market for antidepressants, while the rate of increase of depression among children is over 20 percent annually in recent years. Twenty-four million American adults are thought to suffer from PTSD—mostly attributable to the never-ending wars that have become part of modern life for the for the swelling underclass with few other employment opportunities. ”
Christopher Ryan (Ibid)

One other fascinating note by Ryan is that “Scientists analyzing remains from modern-day Sudan found that less than 1 percent of the hunter-gatherers living in the area suffered from tooth decay.”

The truth is that humans eat an increasingly poisonous diet largely because that is all that is available for most of them. Even in relatively prosperous Norway, where I live, shopping for food is a horribly depressing experience. And packaging plays a big part in this. You cannot find anything not wrapped in plastic.

Now, those who have embraced the climate fear narrative, and the need to cut CO2 etc, there is a contradiction at work. For most of them, in one way or another, are still believers in progress. I doubt most can define progress in any clear way, but it looms above their thought processes as a kind of generalized received wisdom. Most do not want to throw away their smartphones. The system provides substitute sacrifices — plant a tree, go vegan, support the war on small farming, etc. Most substitutes, state environmental indulgences, will result in some form of payment. But let me return this to education. For education is directly tied to the ideas and myths of progress.

Antonio Carnicero (Ascent in Balloon, Court of Charles IV) 1783.

And the discussion of education must begin with the psyches of children. With the individuals evolution, as it were. The trend today (and it’s true in Norway) is for remote learning and AI assisted teaching. Gates of course is behind most of it, but Tony Blair’s creepy company is also promoting it. Why is the ruling class promoting AI so aggressively? This is a sincere question. Are we to believe that war criminal Tony Blair, or a Bill Gates, care about mankind? The major funders of AI research include the National Institute of Health, Microsoft, the European Commission, the National Science Foundation, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. There are a dozen other research funding organizations. There are a half dozen other billionaires, and there is ubiquitous British Royal Family. There is also, of course, the U.S. military. Society has bequeathed the job of educating, and more, raising their children, to sociopathic billionaires and the zealots and fanatics at work in the corridors of global NGOs.

The history of education in the U.S. has been the subject of a number of excellent books (Gatto, Goodman, et al) but it is perhaps, at this point, worth looking at the pre school child, and his relationship to the society at large. This will entail some examination of the idea of family, and by extension the seeming war on parenting. The most visible class in the West, meaning the most media visible, is the white bourgeois, often or usually college educated. This white bourgeoisie is, it is worth remembering, wildly over-represented in media. And the wealthy top 2 or 3 percent are even more wildly over-represented. And here one returns to ideas of productivity and morality. Wealth bestows its own virtue, through the training of propaganda, and through the power exerted socially by the rich, in relation to the poor. If the rich are on TV more than car mechanics this is simply never questioned. Why would an auto mechanic working at Mr Goodwrench in Spokane be on the television? If you ask why Anderson Cooper is on television, the answer, I would guess, has to do with his expertise. Well, in a sense this is true. He grew up in a mileu of extreme privilege and wealth. He went to very elite schools and clerked for the CIA even (only, uh, clerked, he keeps insisting). The auto mechanic in Spokane went to Junior College, if he went to school at all after high school. A few perhaps went to universities, a state school maybe, like Washington State or Oregon State. But he did not study, probably, political science, and he did not personally (as Anderson did) know the political class or elected officials. Hence class determines visibility. If that auto mechanic, in his spare time, wrote a long essay on the origins of fascism in the ‘counter-enlightenment’, or, say, the role of education after de-colonization in Kenya, he would not get much of a response from The New Yorker or LA Times or even Spokane’s news channel. I’m not sure The New Yorker even reads blind submissions. The mechanic would not be interviewed on Spokane’s KXLY TV news, after a story broke about immigrants from Kenya who had, I don’t know, protested food quality at the high school. The point is, he would never get in the door at all, ANYWHERE. You have opportunities awarded to you by class privilege. Period. The narrowness of what mainstream media feeds the public is stunning, but much of that public has been trained to not notice. Or if they notice (and I think many do) they have been trained not to care. Trained to accept that this is just the way it is.

E.V. Day (Mummified Barbies)

Now I was thinking, after my interview with Thomas Lynn and Brett Ramsey ( that what children do when they return home, after playing, after climbing a tree or finding refuge to day dream in an abandoned building, is to bring those pre-linguistic memories with them. This is what actors do, too, when they enter from off stage. They are actually returning. No matter the play, the entrance is actually always a return. Benjamin noted the silence of returning WW1 soldiers. They returned bringing the war with them, of course, but they brought more than that. But, first a small digression…

Laura Wiley Haynes wrote : “A heavily subsidized universal daycare project that launched in Quebec in 1997, with impacts analyzed in 2015, provides stark evidence of the ’non cognitive’ harms of early center-based care. { } By comparing the Quebec children’s psychological and behavioral outcomes with age-matched peers in other provinces, and by comparing children in Quebec who began as newborns with their elder ‘siblings,’ who started at older ages, discrete negative effects of early group care emerged, beginning with markedly higher aggression, anxiety and hyperactivity in daycare-exposed children by early elementary school (ages 5-9). These problems persisted: by older teens, “program exposure is associated with worsened health and life satisfaction, and increased rates of criminal activity. Increases in aggression and hyperactivity are concentrated in boys, as is the rise in the crime rates.” These findings were similar to an earlier investigation by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, which began in 1991 and followed 1364 children: extensive use of early daycare correlated with behavior problems and negative social outcomes at four and a half, and on through age 15 (when the study ended). Full time day care predicted more teacher conflict, worse parent-child relationships, and high risk behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol.”
Laura Wiley Haynes (Universal Early Childhood Daycare Has Been Proven to Damage the Children Who Have Been Through It)

The rather obvious problem with this is the absence of class. Crime rates are a pretty poor indicator of anything absent economic analysis. That said, Haynes does note that disadvantaged children have to be viewed through a different lens than the relatively advantaged. The interesting aspect of group child care, starting at infancy (pre linguistic) was that any removal of the child from its mother resulted in deficits in pre-cognitive skills.

“‘Separation Anxiety Disorder’ is now diagnosed in toddlers. For essentially all of human history, separation anxiety has been considered a normal stage of babyhood. A mother leaves her baby’s sight, even for a moment. He freaks out, thinking she has abandoned him. This only becomes a “disorder” when a mother can’t flow with it and reaffirm her presence, helping the child to gradually grow past the fear. We ask too much of young babies when we expect them to separate from mothers without sadness or protest and endure a nine hour wait for a reunion with equanimity. We pathologize a developmentally normal need. “
Laura Wiley Haynes (Ibid)

Nathan Eastwood

So, there is a good deal more to say on all this, but the primary take-away for the purposes of this post is that the pre-linguistic child needs mothering, and needs an ‘aware’ mother who has the time to instinctively respond to the baby’s needs. Outsourcing child care, which began in the 80s, grew exponentially over the next decades seems to have resulted in the spikes in childhood mental illness that have grown exponentially as well. Babies need their mothers, but there is a study yet to be done that mothers need their babies. And now we are in a third generation of screen habituation and a third generation (or more) of children suffering a lack of mothering.

The point is that arts and culture have to stop being seen as ‘entertainment’. They are far more than that. And since I have more experience with theatre than any other of the arts, I will stick with that for the moment. I believe that at the dawn of human self awareness, which no doubt occurred in multiple ways in multiple locations, that self awareness came through an activity that was, in its essence, theatre. It was being seen by others, and seeing others. Language developed as a shared process. (As Wittgenstein noted, it is not possible that someone has a private language only he or she knows). Language is social. Theatre is social. Early childhood is one long exercise in theatrics.

Now, this idea of the stage, of actors entering and exiting is always about more than the play.

“The *Now* is the place where the immediate hearth of experience in general stands…As immediately being there, it lies in the darkness of the moment. Only what is just coming up or what had just passed has the distance which the beam of growing consciousness needs to illuminate it.”
Ernst Bloch (The Principle of Hope)

George Frederic Watts (Found Drowned, 1867)

Bloch devoted a lot of focus to the idea of ‘journey’. He was also good friends with Benjamin, and both shared a distrust of vulgar Marxism. Both were, though, absolutely Marxists, Bloch maybe more than Benjamin. Bloch placed considerable importance on art. And by extension on the imagination. For him, the imagination was inherently Utopian.

“Once [we have] established [our] own domain in real democracy, without depersonalization and alienation, something arises in the world which all men (sic) have glimpsed in childhood: a place and a state in which no one has yet been. And the name of this something is home (Heimat).”
Ernst Bloch (Ibid)

Which all men have glimpsed in childhood. This is the Mother, this is home. And if the earth is posited in popular culture as *home*, then this is another register of *home*. Different but related. And it not a coincidence that fascism (in both Italy and Germany) created elaborate mythologies about the homeland. For fascism destroys the home even as it glorifies it. Now, Bloch’s vision of art is multi tiered and worth a long re-investigation at this point. But what seems most germane for the present day and for this post is his idea of imagination and how it is an engine for creating a future. Bloch is suggesting something akin to my ideas on the child in the tree. That our imagination is partly pre-cognitive, and pre linguistic. It is also historical. But Bloch’s idea of history is oddly back engineered, as it were. The origin is the end (more below).

“Bloch’s sense of the arts, in the phrase of Marx, as a “storehouse of our dreams”‘ means he urges us to look for traces (Spuren) in the marginalized, in the ‘small things’. Productive shaped works are “the convex lens for the utopian material the earth is made of”.The work of art is “a reflected splendour, a star of anticipation and a song of consolation of the return home (Heimat) through darkness.”
Judith Brown (Ernst Bloch and the Utopian Imagination, Eras Journal, 2003)

Hiroshi Watanabe, photography.

“I would like to remind us right away that numerous so-called Utopian dreams – for example, television, the possibility of traveling to other planets, moving faster than sound – have been fulfilled. However, insofar as these dreams have been realized, they all operate as though the best thing about them had been forgotten – one is not happy about them. As they have been realized, the dreams themselves have assumed a peculiar character of sobriety, of the spirit of positivism, and beyond that, of boredom. What I mean by this is that it is not simply a matter of presupposing that what really is has limitations as opposed to that which has infinitely imaginable possibilities. Rather, I mean something concrete, namely, that one sees oneself almost always deceived: the fulfillment of the wishes takes something away from the substance of the wishes, as in the fairy tale where the farmer is granted three wishes, and, I believe, he wishes his wife to have a sausage on her nose and then must use the second wish to have the sausage removed from her nose.”
Theodor Adorno (in conversation with Ernst Bloch. Horst Krüger,moderator 1964)

Bloch’s response to Adorno’s comment touches on something very critical in all this. He mentions the very old wish to fly. The dream of being able to fly like a bird.

“The technological perfection is not so complete and stupendous as one thinks. It is limited only to a very select number of wish dreams. One could still add the very old wish to fly. If I recall correctly, Dehmel wrote a poem concerning this in which he said, “And to be as free as the birds”the wish is in there, too. In other words, there is a residue. There is a great deal that is not fulfilled and made banal through the fulfillment – regardless of the deeper viewpoint that each realization brings a melancholy of fulfillment with it.”
Ernst Bloch (In conversation with Adorno, 1964)

What I think is being said is that technology purports (or is marketed as…) fulfilling these dreams or wishes. But technology is not a wish fulfillment machine. What it tells the dreamer is ‘look, here, your dream has become real’. But it has not. This was not my dream. I think children’s amusement parks do this constantly and it has a very detrimental effect on the imagination of the child. It is the introduction of cynicism. The old chestnut about saving your Wheaties box tops and sending away for a Buck Rogers two way wrist watch and what you get is a cheap piece of plastic junk is the crude version. The amusement park (like many children’s TV shows; Sesame Street for one) derail the imagination, the artificial fantasy is but a kitsch counterfeit and the child knows this even as he or she ‘enjoys’ the ‘fun’ designed for them. These are not small disappointments. But this false Utopian constitutes the heart of advertising, of course. And it ties in with advertising always being in some way about death.

Ernst Bloch

“This is the heart of the matter. It can be ascertained very easily; you only have to speak about the elimination of death some time with a so-called well-disposed person – I am borrowing this expression from Ulrich Sonnennmann, who coined and introduced it. Then you will get an immediate reaction, in the same way that a policeman would come right after you if you threw a stone at a police station. Yes, if death were eliminated, if people would no longer die, that would be the most terrible and most horrible thing. I would say that it is precisely this form of reaction that actually opposes the Utopian consciousness most of the time.”
Theodor Adorno (Ibid)

The discussion then addresses death as the counter-Utopia. Both thinkers specifically take issue with Heidegger here, which is sort of amusing because it exactly ties into fascism and Hitler. But at the end of this discussion, in the shadow of the counter Utopia of death (which was something Heidegger worked to provide an ersatz dignity for.. after a fashion. ) there is the observation from both men that the loss of Utopian dreams exists in both the Soviet Union and in the capitalist West. For the power of western capital, not only materially, but almost ontologically, has forced socialism to become what it abhors. Utopian socialism cannot but be suffocated by ‘the spectacle’. But Utopia is predicated upon Hope, and there is no hope, says Bloch, without disappointment. Perhaps the amusement park for kids is a laboratory for the reclamation of Utopia. Still, socialism is at its origin Utopian. Capitalism is not.

“In Heidegger’s Dasein, the existence of the individual, as opposed to Sein , or existence per se, is characterized purely by the certainty of death. It is death that gives the individual’s existence its meaning and, leaning on Descartes’s maxim cogito ergo sum , Heidegger contends that we live as sum moribundus , or being-toward-death.”
Peter Thompson (Ernst Bloch, Ungleichzeitigkeit, and the Philosophy of Being and Time. New German Critique #125)

Now it is worth mentioning here, that far more than even Adorno, Bloch has been criticized for his style. And this accounts for his barely being read today. Certainly his appeal lies with the most serious reader. And that is likely a positive (Adorno was a fierce defender of Bloch’s style, and insisted it value lie partly in how demanding it was). I think the time for a return to Bloch has arrived.

Lucas Cranach, the elder (Eve, 1528 detail)

“As Adorno phrases it, reading Bloch is a risk in which the habitual expectations and subjective false security of the reader are ‘not self-­enclosed and self-­positing like an idyllic inwardness but rather a space through which the thinking hand leads one to an abundance of content not offered by outward life.’ The initial moment of stuttering readability then, mirrors Bloch’s philosophical position that we embark upon the journey of discovery precisely because we are bewildered.”
David Miller (A Marxist Poetics: Allegory and Reading in The Principle of Hope)

What Bloch is doing, and Adorno as well, and likely Lacan and Wittgenstein, is to disrupt the methodology of accepted academic writing. In Bloch’s case this ties directly to his belief in a recuperation of the imagination. One cannot be a child again, but one can search for the trace memories of it, and to discover (in Brecht’s famous words from Mahagonny) ‘somethings missing’. (words singled out by Bloch in his dialogue with Adorno). And it is this banal fulfillment one finds in the amusement park. It is, largely, what one finds in ‘entertainment’ altogether.

“..there is a great deal that is not fulfilled and made banal through the fulfillment…regardless of the deeper viewpoint that each realization brings a melancholy fulfillment with it.”
Ernst Bloch (Principle of Hope)

Erin Miller

This is what theatre uncovers in a sense. The actor’s return, for its always a return, brings something of an experience outside the play and yet inextricably bound up with the play. With the repetitions of rehearsal, with the actors own history. Something is missing, but the intention is not to find it, but it is not ‘findable’ per se anyway, but the experience of recognizing it is missed brings something (per Bloch) like ‘hope’ to the audience, but also terror. A psychological terror but one operative below the conscious level. And when I say the actor’s own history, I mean something more than Lee Strasberg or Stella Adler. That is certainly an aspect of it, but it is more collective than individual. Actor as portal to the forces of a what might better be called a pre-history. The actor brings a pre linguistic history with him. Collective and individual. And this is only possible because of rehearsal and repetition. A repetition of a magnitude that the memorizing of the text recedes. It is not ‘thought’ about any longer. The actor speaks. And in great actors that speaking takes on the quality of a trance. Of clairvoyance. But clairvoyance is often of the past, as well.

“In a chapter entitled “Will and Nature, Technological Utopias”, in Das Prinzip Hoffnung (The principle of hope), Bloch analyses the potential dangers lurking in Simmel’s “subjective energy”, Bergson’s “will”, Carl Schmitt’s “decisionism” and Sorel’s “total abstract”. He writes that Sorel, emulating Bergson, inflated the will beyond measure. The general strike – the unbounded expression of the will – could develop into a Fascist putsch, actually opposing the course of history. In another chapter, “Sorel, Machiavelli; or Energy and the Wheel of Fortune”, Bloch develops the idea that activism for its own sake is the essence of fascism.”
David Ohana (The Fascist Temptation: Creating a Political Community of Experience)

Bloch shared with Adorno a fear of activism for its own sake. An uninformed activism. Bloch said fascism was action without content. The action without content is by necessity a swift decisive action. And such action favors the fascist.

Alec Soth, photography.

In the current social climate everything is becoming digital. And with this transformation the idea of impulsive activity is strangled. The technology works to limit (severely) spontaneity. The cultural implications are not insignificant, especially for the young. Unthinking activism is, then, both regressive in its tendency toward fascism, but also strangely, temporarily progressive as inarticulate protest.

“Man everywhere is still living in pre-history…True genesis is not at the beginning but at the end.”
Ernst Bloch (The Principle of Hope)

“For Bloch, space and time do not exist as part of a linear continuum but rather – in categories borrowed from both Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and the Lurianic Kabbalah – are relative concepts subject to the same forces of bending and shifting as the expanding universe. Thus, in the multiversal reality of existence, any idea or action can exist outside experienced time as an “invariant of direction.” Everything that exists has both a past and a future as nonsynchronous realities and driving impulses.”
Peter Thompson (Ibid)

This then is the role of culture, or art, and it is the reason humans develop social relationships. Bloch’s Utopianism matters less than his grasp of artistic practice. And Thompson adds, per that quote from Brecht…

“Bloch maintains that the search for the something missing is what drives us, but when we find our way to it, we arrive where we have never yet been, namely, a home that we remember but that has not yet emerged.”
Peter Thompson (Ibid)

The actor is returning home. Or, he or she is returning to a home that not has not yet emerged. That is the stage. The stage, I have come to realize, is always empty. But all great art (for this is what makes it great) introduces the viewer or audience to something sensed as not yet to emerge. It is our own, but it is also not yet ours. Standing before a Pollock, or a Giotto, or a Rubens, say, is to know that whatever this experience is, it is existential, and it is in some fashion honest. And therein lies the moral dimension of culture.

Matthias Grünewald (Temptation of St. Anthony, detail. 1512)

“The transition period and capitalism developed technology, at least in terms of skills and use, largely for the purpose of inexpensive mass production with high turnovers and big profits and not really, as pretended, to ease human labor or even to improve its results. We really do not know what seemed such a relief about the rattle of the looms, about the night shift, about the terrible pressure of the constant rotation speed, about the derivation of pleasure experienced by an individual who always works only on parts and never can enjoy the comprehensive process, the finished products. We do not know what was eased or even improved in contrast to earlier production that was more accommodating with the home and workshop side by side and a small quantity of honestly produced handwork. A totally different technology, not for profit but humanistic, would have to come, and a completely different technology for purely functional purposes, without any of the junk of commodity production and mechanical substitutes of the earlier artistic goods would have to be invented: relief should come and limits at the same time, transformation of the functional form of the machine’s spirit, appearance of freed, purely expressive colorfulness and profusion, detached from finery, from the old luxury. All honor to the grand elan, but all that it generated, which is not itself serviceable or functional (like locomotion or steel production)the entire spewed-up garbage of static substitute products will be packed away one morning. And the exploitative means of production of these substitutes that destroy culture will have to stand together with the cannons in the same peculiar museums of pernicious legends. I repeat: certainly one should think long and hard and be concerned with industry, for here in this breathtaking step, in this acceleration, unrest, and enlargement of our circle of action, there are great spiritual and intellectual values ready to be put to use.”
Ernst Bloch (The Utopian Function of Art and Literature)

Bloch describes a potential total automation of the world as ‘terrible desolation’. And this is upon humankind today. AI and smart cities (the curious if not suspicious fire on the island of Maui in Hawaii is to be used to create a ‘smart island’, with total automation) and all the idiotic transhumanist propaganda is part of the a final authoritarian offensive against society. Bloch rightly notes in the same essay that from the middle of the classical Greek period through the first half of the modern (excepting, maybe, the Baroque) art is framed as pleasant non religious accompaniments to life, as bourgeois ornaments of some sort, and I would add as, by the start of the 20th century, as material for the creation of an identity; but not as anything related to alleviate spiritual suffering or misery. And not to provide a potential awakening. There is a good discussion to be had here on the loss of taste, for this is something I am reminded of every single day.

Prudencio Irazabal

This returns our attention to the grotesque practices being marketed or propagandized on child rearing. Children raised with all that is said above, but also without taste, are hurtling into that world of terrible desolation.

“These new expressions of Utopia in the Renaissance were a critical response to the collapsing conditions of the desperate classes, the peasants, farmers, and the serfs, who had to bear the crushing weight of the developing economic transition to early capitalism. As Max Horkheimer states, “the utopians realized that profit was becoming the driving force of history in the burgeoning trade economy.” In anticipation of Rousseau’s critique of capitalism, these early utopians understood what was creating the increasing misery of the newly created working class: the ownership of private property and the pursuit of ever-increasing levels of profit. As the utopians of the Enlightenment, these early utopians understood that it was [and still is] this competitive, class pursuit of capital over human well being that was crushing the masses of humanity into its service as well as setting the stage for wars between nations.”
Michael T. Ott (Something’s Missing: A Study of the Dialectic of Utopia in the Theories of Theodor W. Adorno and Ernst Bloch)

To donate to this blog, and to the Aesthetic Resistance podcasts, use the paypal button at the top of the page.


  1. Regino Robainas says:

    Brilliant, thanks.

    On automated desolation mobed me to recall
    “In the year 2555, if man is still alive…Some
    machine doing that for you…”

    Mote today’s news that the Saudis & the Emirates
    have been purchasing vast quantities of NVDA’s
    AI chips & plan to develop their own. Ah, divine
    magic lantern progress in the Crystal Palace where
    2 plus 2 shall remain predictably 4.

    But now I feel like a Motherless Child.

  2. Your posts always enlarge my mind and also seem to call up memories and I am often compelled to write a little post but sometimes feel I am being self-indulgent and should just keep my musings to my own journal. Alas, this post helped me make a lot of connections in my mind and potentially someone reading this would find it amusing or possibly slightly helpful or something.
    Though I’m not a published writer I have written some things and – especially in in the times we live in – I love to think about writing or about thinking in any way seriously as akin to what Robert Bly once put in one of his less-than-good poems but I love this image (apologise for the Word Salad!) … he was writing a Letter to James Wright after he died and said :
    “Do you remember that cliff we once imagined … hundreds of swallow holes, and an old Chinese poem rolled up inside each hole? We can’t unroll them here. We have to climb inside.”
    Every time I think about “publishing” something I’ve written I think about that and think that I would just like to get some lovely paper and write something with a fountain pen and roll it up and put it in a naturally occurring crevice, for potential future generations.
    I also realize that every time I write a response to your blog that I mention RB. Well I’m going to double down and mention his first wife, the brilliant short story writer and essayist Carol Bly.
    The older I get the more I realize I had a slightly unusual upbringing… I recently became friends with a celebrated literary scholar and when he was trying to ask about my background I told him “When I tell the truth no one believes me but when I make up stories about my background then they believe me” I’m a dual Finnish/US citizen and spent a lot of time on both sides of the Atlantic growing up. I have both elite and peasant lineage.
    This is a silly and too-long intro but what I meant to communicate is that your post brought me back to my first memory. I think I was in that transition point between crib and bed, somewhere in the 1+ year range and I distinctly remember standing up during my afternoon nap one day and looking out the window and seeing this beautiful wheat field fringed by trees. First conscious memory. I feel that to this day I can “go back” and feel the same feelings I felt at that moment. But there are other times I feel that I am imagining it.
    You might know Carol Bly. She wrote many provocative, fun, interesting books of short stories that few people read … but if more people had read her works we might be in a better world… anyway she was friends with my parents when I was little because she had a house on the edge of our tree farm and she always politely asked to ski on our property and my parents became friends with her.
    After I was graduated from college in New England I lived for a year back in Minnesota, in Minneapolis … somehow I saw some notice that Carol Bly was giving some lecture or getting some award or something… this is in the very early 2000s, maybe 2000 or 2001 and so I went to her event that was held at the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Gallery … I remember this evet for two reasons … the person who gave Carol’s intro was clearly not the chosen one … this woman gave the most ridiculous embarrassing, needlessly long intro of all time … I think that the person who was supposed to give the intro had a flight delayed or something because this was absolutely painful, some MFA student who went on and on and on…

    Anyway, Carol read her stories which were always brilliant and not noticed enough.

    I was a hot young guy in those days and had places to go but I made sure to connect with Carol at the reception and walked up to her … she didn’t recognize me because the last time she had seen me I was maybe 10 years old … she knew exactly who I was when I told her where I grew up and who my parents were … Carol and I start catching up on stuff and then … out of the blue … she tells me that she always envied the “bend in the road” right before you got to the house I grew up in … from age 3-17 … Carol had maybe been down that road 10-15 times in her life and after we had just a really normal conversation she brings up the bend the in the road.
    Until that exact moment I had thought that no one understood the significance of the “bend in the road” …that I felt it from early childhood … truly the most cathartic moment of my life .. until that very moment I had felt that nobody understood the “bend in the road”… nobody in my life, certainly not my parents had ever mentioned it … I literally had that I was the only person in the universe who felt this sensation at the “bend in the road” … we lived at the end of a private dirt road and right before you got to my family’s house there was this bend in the road where the dirt road got even narrower and you took this dramatic turn to the left and at that precise moment the trees on either side got really thick , birch, popol, maple, pine, and anyone going down that road probably had the same sensation that you were in some way suspended and outside regular time … so hard to explain but Carol knew exactly what she was saying and I know exactly what she was saying and nobody else would have had the slightest clue. She gave me the most amazing gift that day because I never thought anybody would express that feeling I had carried with me all my life….

  3. John Steppling says:

    that’s great. And I, too, think Carol is overshadowed a bit because she was pretty remarkable. And the bend in the road is exactly what this post is circling. thanks.

  4. Cheers and many thanks Sometimes I regret posting on your blog because I think you’ll bite my head off. Your response made me feel great today… and few people know how remarkable Carol Bly was and she was always in good humor!!! Literally the most gracious person.

  5. George Mc says:

    There is a doublethink that manifests through the Western mind. It can be seen at its starkest in that odd individual Ayn Rand. She seems to me to be very much an American phenomenon. She was born in 1905, at the time of the “First Russian Revolution”, to a Russian-Jewish bourgeois family living in Saint Petersburg. I have read that her mother treated her cruelly. I make the following surmises about her life: she hated the later Russian Revolution and the society it birthed. Since she had no direct experience of life in America, she was immensely impressionable regarding Hollywood propaganda and was more naively trusting about “The American Dream” that anyone who actually grew up in the States.

    When she relocated to this fabled land of the free she moved within the Hollywood orbit and eventually delivered those borderline pathological tomes singing the praises of this “Great Free Market” etc. And that adage about fascism leaning naturally towards kitsch certainly applies here. I attempted to read “Atlas Shrugged” but only managed a fifth of the way in – a mere 200 pages. The po-faced seriousness clashed with the cartoonish scenarios. (I was particularly amused by her condensed Mickey Mouse “History of the flight from Europe to Make It In Freedom’s Realm”)

    Having suffered this sermon I responded with a negative review on Amazon which led to a disgruntled response. But what surprised me about it was how “nice” it was. The responder seemed to shrug his shoulders and say something like, “Oh well if it didn’t inspire you, never mind. It inspires others!” And I was left to wonder if this gentleman fully grasped the implications of Rand’s ruthless “survival of the fittest” rant. (Apparently, one infamous scene has a train wreck in which she gleefully enumerates little capsule histories of the victims whose “worthlessness” she is eager to emphasise.)

    This curious incongruence between presentation and content can be seen here:

    It is a quiet scene featuring an elderly guru figure and a rising executive. Both appear as pleasantly spoken charming people. The elder rolls out his advice in an affable avuncular manner which belies the chill of the message – especially when it hits that sinister word “unsentimental”. And then the old sage quietly ambles off to spray his plants to add a “New Age” touch. It’s like a kind of fascist Zen.

    And that’s a basic feeling I get about much American propaganda – a delightful veneer of “aw shucks” cuteness masking an appalling cynicism.

  6. George Mc says:

    The Ivan Illich quote suggests that academia is largely a propaganda factory for ruling class interests. And this article makes the point:

    You may not be able to read it due to a pay wall. But the gist is predictable. Barcelona University is to launch a mandatory module on climate change. Since this fanciful topic is one of the monomaniacal drones of the current ruling class agenda, this is hardly surprising. But the way this is introduced is a now familiar theatrical performance:

    “The announcement came after a seven-day occupation by a group from the anti-fossil fuel organisation End Fossil Barcelona.”

    Which led some professor to announce “the good news”:

    “The trigger was the student occupation but it shows a general cultural change. Ten or 15 years ago the university would have sent in the police. But now you can’t kick them out because you know they’re right and society supports them.”

    So “they’re right” and “society supports them”. The word “society” is portentous vacuity itself.

    “A committee of experts and academics largely nominated by the activists will meet to discuss the content of the course.”

    Note that curious “largely nominated by the activists”? These “disruptive unruly rebels” seem to have acquired one hell of a clout!

    The only thing to add is a nod to “The Bad Guys”. And here it is:

    “The decision to launch the course came as Isabel Diáz Ayuso, the conservative president of the Madrid autonomous region, said in a speech that there had always been climate change and dismissed “apocalyptic claims” as part of a communist plot.”

    So the valid suspicions that would surely be entertained by any actually thinking person are “tainted” by being associated with a “conservative” who, just to underline the sheer effrontery of these suspicions, refers to that old Rightist bugaboo: “a communist plot”.

    Thus does the ruling class introduce the latest modification of permitted academic discourse by spinning it as “a triumph for the people”.

  7. John Steppling says:
  8. Regino Robainas says:

    For me the number 23 has sacred significance. And,
    today 8-23-23-starting with the counterclockwise 90
    degrees rotation of the infinity signifier- even more

    I really want to scream, like a madman, that we are “mere”
    vehicles or toys of the Gods/Godesses to manifest their
    strange golden dreams. And this gives us Standing before
    the Sky above.

Speak Your Mind


To Verify You\'re Human, Please Solve The Problem: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.