Friday, January 14, 2011

Matters Of Style - Boer On Bloch I

When I first cracked open The Principle of Hope back in 1992, this was the very first section of the very first chapter:
I move. From early on we are searching. All we do is crave, cry out. Do not have what we want.
This rather inauspicious beginning both reveals so much, yet hides so much, about the writing style of Ernst Bloch. Described as expressionistic, Bloch's writing has a distinctive beauty about it, an almost romantic sweep and grandeur that is unlike anything, in any language.

Before delving in to what Bloch has to say, Roland Boer first says what needs to be said about how Bloch says it (pp. 11-12):
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 notable 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. . . 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. . . .(emphasis added)

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 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.(emphasis added)
The seductive power of Bloch's style is canny enough to make criticism more difficult. Like parsing poetry, it would seem an intellectual crime to take the step back necessary and point out where Bloch has erred; who would want to do something so pedestrian, so pedantic, so mundane as take the effusive writings and render them something less?

Boer's comments on Bloch's style are also important because of the very seductive quality of that writing. Because one can fall under its spell, it becomes necessary to make clear its beauty in order to do the difficult work of delving beneath that style to what it is Bloch is saying in this most beautiful way. Boer does this quite well, a point to which we shall turn in the next post.

Virtual Tin Cup

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