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A Principle of Hope: Recorded Music, Listening Practices and the Immanence of Utopia

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In this paper I draw a set of partial connections between ways of using recorded music and utopia. The first half of the paper draws upon the process philosophy of Ernst Bloch to argue that utopia is not located else–where or else–when in a transcendent realm separate from the present but is paradoxically immanent to ‘everyday life’. This argument revolves around the novel ‘open’ experimental ontology that Bloch elaborates through the operator the ‘not–yet’. Bloch’s work enables the beginnings of an immanent utopianism that is able to discern, rather than critique, the dimly vibrating figures of hope that exist within rather than outside ‘everyday life’. The second half of the paper sets this thought in motion by connecting two of Bloch’s concepts, the ‘trace’ and ‘novum’, to the logic of one particularly common way of using recorded music: the use of music to ‘feel better’. Drawing on in–depth case study research with seventeen lower–middle–class households I describe how this practice enables people to momentarily enact two forms of hope that are both based around the geographies of affect and affection: how something better might feel and an ability to forget. I conclude by speculatively describing the practice of a Blochian ‘immanent utopianism’ that itself embodies ‘a principle of hope’.
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Keywords: Ernst Bloch; Everyday Life; Future; Music; Utopia

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: University of Sheffield

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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