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New Left Review I/121, May-June 1980

Theodor Adorno

Bloch’s ‘Traces’: the philosophy of Kitsch

The title Traces [1] Ernst Bloch, Sporen, Berlin, 1930. mobilizes for the purposes of philosophical theory the primary experiences derived from reading Red Indian stories. A broken twig, a footprint on the ground, speak volumes to the eagle eye of the child who speculates about them, instead of resting content with what anyone can see. There is something here, something hidden, in the midst of ordinary, unobtrusive normality: ‘There’s more here than meets the eye’ (p. 15). What it is, no-one knows, and Bloch, taking a leaf from the book of the gnostics, suggests that it may not be there at all yet, that it may be in the process of becoming. But il y a quelque chose qui cloche, [2] ‘There is something amiss’ (All notes have been added by the translator). and the more mysterious the source of the trace, the more persistent the feeling that something is really there. This is the point at which speculative thought seeks a foothold. As if in mockery of the dispassionate, scientific reflections of phenomenology, the speculative thinker sets out in search of the ineffable, feeling his way experimentally towards an interpretation. Indefatigably, the philosophical moth flutters against the pane of glass between itself and the light. The conundrums of what Bloch once called the shape of the unformulatable question are made to crystallize out into whatever answers they may fleetingly suggest. His traces are survivals of the ineffable experience of childhood which once upon a time communicated everything.

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Theodor Adorno, ‘Bloch’s 'Traces': The Philosophy of Kitsch’, NLR I/121: £3

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