- Im Bann der Utopie. Ernst Blochs Hoffnungsphilosophie in der DDR-Literatur by Verena Kirchner
Unlike the man, Ernst Bloch's philosophy of hope continued to influence select East German cultural intellectuals significantly long after his departure in 1961. Bloch himself left for West Germany following the construction of the Berlin Wall. After the end of World War II, he had returned from his New York exile by invitation in 1948 to accept the chair of philosophy at the University of Leipzig. While in exile, this friend of Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor Adorno had written the multivolume work entitled The Principle of Hope (Das Prinzip Hoffnung). In support of his return, the newly founded German Democratic Republic subsequently published it between 1954 and 1959. But Bloch's open-ended, dynamic utopian visions based on the "not-yet-conscious" and the concept of "possibility" soon ran up against the [End Page 374] inflexible doctrine of the Socialist Unity Party. Bloch's open criticism of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 led to accusations of "revisionism" by the party and to his eventual exit from East Germany.
His work continued to inspire many of the postwar generation (Aufbaugeneration) in East Germany. Some of them were able to attend Bloch's lectures while he was still at the University of Leipzig. In 1980, Erhard Bahr wrote, "The literature of the German Democratic Republic can be subsumed under Bloch's principle of hope, or, in other words, the literature of the GDR is the Literature of Hope" (15 n. 10).1 While unable to engage directly with the philosopher, the texts of a number of authors alluded to his ideas "between the lines" or directly through allegory or form. These writers included none other than the major names of GDR literature, among them Volker Braun, Peter Hacks, Heiner Müller, and Irmtraud Morgner. Bloch's influence has been referred to in post-reunification scholarship on GDR culture, including Wolfgang Emmerich's Little Literary History of the GDR (Kleine Literaturgeschichte der DDR, 2000). In English, Siegrun Wildner referenced Bloch in her article on Irmtraud Morgner's feminist reworkings of Greek myth from 2004. In his work on East German identity, Peter Thompson pointed to Bloch's role in the formation of the GDR as "imagined community" in 2011. Yet this remains an understudied subject. Kirchner's publication from 2002 was and still is the only full-length work devoted to the topic.
Kirchner's project is twofold: first, to demonstrate through close textual analysis the strong identification that a number of GDR authors did have with Bloch's philosophy; second, to find in this affinity an explanation as to how such authors failed to be more critical of the "socialist revolution" in East Germany (11). There had been the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the Solidarity movement in Poland of the 1970s. Yet no major uprising took place in East Germany between 1953 and the protests of 1989. Kirchner seeks an explanation when she writes that literary intellectuals increasingly turned to Bloch's work in the 1970s and 1980s as a "way to bridge the gap between a seemingly failed revolution and the hope for the future" (12–13). It led to a "fatal ambivalence" that "kept them from making a break with the system" (back cover). Instead, Bloch's reception enabled a process of simultaneous "critique and affirmation" of the existing system. Kirchner states, "Philosophically inspired literature … proved to be a reservoir of hope, which provided the originally emancipatory agenda of the [End Page 375] socialist revolution with a renewed and believable utopian horizon" (13). She comments that the writing by Braun and Fries relied on the Blochian concepts of "yes, but" or "this as well as that" in their reconciliation with the East German ideal and reality. In other stories, such as those written by Christa Wolf, the "not-yet" predominates as the idea that the utopia and the completely different (das "ganz...