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Bloch was born in Ludwigshafen, the son of a Jewish railway-employee. After studying philosophy, he married Else von Stritzky, daughter of a Baltic brewer in 1913, who died in 1921. His second marriage with Linda Oppenheimer lasted only a few years. His third wife was Karola Piotrowska, a Polisharchitect, whom he married in 1934 in Vienna. When the Nazis came to power, they had to flee, first into Switzerland, then to Austria, France, Czechoslovakia, and finally the United States.
In 1948, Bloch was offered the chair of philosophy at the University of Leipzig, and he returned to East Germany to take up the position. In 1955 he was awarded the National Prize of the GDR. In addition, he became a member of the German Academy of Sciences at Berlin (AdW). He had more or less become the political philosopher of the GDR. Among his many academic students from this period was his assistant Manfred Buhr, who earned his doctorate with him in 1957, and was later professor in Greifswald, then director of the Central Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences (ADC) in Berlin and who became a critic of Bloch.
However, the Hungarian uprising in 1956 led Bloch to revise his view of the SED (Socialist Unity Party) regime, whilst retaining his Marxist orientation. Because he advocated humanistic ideas of freedom, he was obliged to retire in 1957 for political reasons - not because of his age, 72 years. A number of scientists and students spoke publicly against this forced retirement, among them the renowned professor and colleague Emil Fuchs and his students as well as Fuchs's grandson Klaus Fuchs-Kittowski.
When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, he did not return to the GDR, but went to Tübingen in West Germany, where he received an honorary chair in Philosophy. He died in Tübingen.
Bloch's The Principle of Hope was written during his emigration in the United States, where he lived briefly in New Hampshire before settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He wrote the lengthy three-volume work in the reading room of Harvard's Widener Library. Bloch originally planned to publish it there under the title Dreams of a Better Life. The Principle of Hope tries to provide an encyclopedic account of mankind's and nature's orientation towards a socially and technologically improved future.
Bloch's work became very influential in the course of the student protest movements in 1968 and in liberation theology.
It is cited as a key influence by Jürgen Moltmann in his Theology of Hope (1967, Harper and Row, New York), by Dorothee Sölle, and by Ernesto Balducci. Psychoanalyst Joel Kovel has praised Bloch as, "the greatest of modern utopian thinkers".Robert S. Corrington has been influenced by Bloch, though he has tried to adapt Bloch's ideas to serve a liberal rather than a Marxist politics. Bloch's concept of concrete utopias found in The Principle of Hope was used by José Esteban Muñoz to shift the field of performance studies. This shift allowed for the emergence of utopian performativity and a new wave of performance theorizing as Bloch's formulation of utopia shifted how scholars conceptualize the ontology and the staging of performances as imbued with an enduring indeterminacy, as opposed to dominant performance theories found in the work of Peggy Phelan, who view performance as a life event without reproduction.
Geist der Utopie (1918) (The Spirit of Utopia, Stanford, 2000)
Thomas Müntzer als Theologe der Revolution (1921) (Thomas Müntzer as Theologian of Revolution)
Spuren (1930) (Traces, Stanford University Press, 2006)
Erbschaft dieser Zeit (1935) (Heritage of Our Times, Polity, 1991)
^ abDavid Kaufmann, "Thanks for the Memory: Bloch, Benjamin and the Philosophy of History," in Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch, ed. Jamie Owen Daniel and Tom Moylan (London and New York: Verson, 1997), p. 33.