The Arty Semite

A Jewish Philosopher’s Love, Loss and Solace

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
wiki commons

The German Jewish philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885–1977), not to be confused with the Swiss Jewish composer Ernest Bloch, is still remembered for such landmark books as “The Spirit of Utopia,” “The Principle of Hope,” and “The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays.”

As a philosopher, Bloch was influenced by Karl Marx and G. W. F. Hegel, although he was also drawn to novelist Karl May, a German creator of tales for children about the American West. Although Bloch cultivated friendships with the Hungarian Jewish philosopher Georg Lukács (born Löwinger György Bernát), Kurt Weill and Theodor Adorno, little of a personal nature was known about him by readers until 1978, when Suhrkamp Verlag published a collection of intimate jottings written after the death of his first wife Else in 1921.

Still unavailable in English, this touchingly eloquent text from Bloch’s thirties appeared in a French translation by Lucien Pelletier, a professor at the University of Sudbury, Ontario, in November from Les Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme. Entitled “In Memoriam Else Bloch-von Stritzky,” the book humanizes the political philosopher, recalling how his late wife was “distressed not to be Jewish (authentically Jewish, of pure Semitic background, like Margarete Susman).”

A remarkable Hamburg-born German Jewish woman of letters, Susman was a close friend of the Blochs for many years. Else’s dream, Bloch further recalled, was to visit the Holy Land with her husband:

Just thinking that she might see all that one day, with me at her side, would move her to tears.

As part of the mourning process, Bloch transcribes sympathy notes from friends, including Walter Benjamin who praises Else as a “being who, in all her behavior, brought us inconceivable comfort.” These letters, from Jewish intellectuals such as the economist Emil Lederer, the poet Marta Karlweis and her husband the novelist Jakob Wassermann, all concur that Else was “luminous,” which Bloch adds was strictly true. He recalls an incident in which, upon meeting her for the first time, the orchestral conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler “literally stepped back when confronted by the power of the beautiful light” which she emanated.

As solace, Bloch repeatedly reflects on Gustav Mahler’s “Song of the Earth” in performances which he attended, conducted by Bruno Walter. Bloch especially relished the piece’s last movement, “Farewell,” with its words: “I wander in the mountains. I am seeking rest for my lonely heart.” Bloch exclaims: “Mahler, my brother!”

Listen to parts of Mahler’s “Song of the Earth” conducted by Bruno Walter, which consoled Bloch.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Theodor Adorno, Lucien Pelletier, Karl Marx, Kurt Weill, Gustav Mahler, Georg Lukács, G. W. F. Hegel, Ernst Bloch, Ernest Bloch, Else Bloch-von Stritzky

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.