Department of Needed Translations: Ernst Bloch’s Subject/Object

Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) can be called the outsider of German Marxist thought. While the members of the Frankfurt School and its extended circle have practically become household names in American academia, Bloch’s highly individualistic blend of Expressionism, Marxism, “Left” Aristotleanism, and messianism remains acknowledged by, but not assimilated into, the academic canon of Critical Theory.

There is no dearth of availability of Bloch’s work in English. Stanford University Press published Traces in 2006, the first time this work has appeared in English, and Verso made his Atheism in Christianity available again in a new edition last year.

Even with these welcome efforts, however, Bloch has at least one major work that has yet to be translated, a major study of Hegel and dialectics originally published in 1951 titled Subjekt-Objekt. Two chapters of the book have been published in academic journals (“Dialectics and Hope,” translated by Mark Ritter in New German Critique in 1976 and “The Dialectical Method,” translated by John Lamb in Man and World in 1983), but, unfortunately, the work as a whole remains unknown to the English-speaking world.

As a contribution towards bringing some much-needed attention to this important work, I am providing a brief excerpt (the first paragraph) from “The Dialectical Method” below.


The idiot never notices that everything has two side. He works with wooden ideas, with simple uniform ideas at which he can stop for breath and in which nothing happens. If he were to think a thought through to its end, he would notice that a struggle is taking place, that objections arise within which enrich it and disarrange its content. A is not always A, B must also be posited, and it it precisely consistency which shows B to be the contradiction. Above the consequent span C arises as apex and unity; that is until C splits too, and a new unity of contradictions emerges in irresistible dialectical development. Actual thought never runs in straight lines, like thought which is fixed, cut and dried, in which nothing expands or changes and which is therefore incapable of doing justice to transformation. Thought moves in triangles. These triangles, consisting of contradiction, unity, new contradiction, new unity, and so on, do not need to be schematically traced out each time. That would be incompatible with the free agility of elastic thought. Indeed, the triangle is not the only possible form, more contradictions than just this A and B are possible and they do not all have to refer to the same point of unity. But reliable, actual thought never takes a straight course, rigid and unchanged, like the rhythm of the nodding head of the pagoda or the dreadful, monomaniac, thoroughly undialectical thought of the madman. A man who continually entangles himself in contradictions is not for that a dialectician. If he cannot find his way out of the contradictions, he is much more a charlatan and, in the end, a perfect image of chaos. But thought which seeks a viable course, set on finding solutions, without going through the dialectical turn in which no determination is complete in itself, lands in chaos from the other side, namely in the chaos of rigidity. It cannot comprehend what is living and on the terrain of transformation—there is no other—with its fixed clumsiness, it will always stumble.

Translated by John Lamb

One thought on “Department of Needed Translations: Ernst Bloch’s Subject/Object

  1. Pingback: Department of Needed Translations: Ernst Bloch, Again « Criticism &c.

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