Which is why I was surprised to feel oddly lifted after reading "Letter from Friedrich Engels to Joseph Bloch." It seems that in this short letter, Engels wants to communicate something very large about the individual. "History," he says, "is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each again has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of paralelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant" (788). At first glance I found this both deeply true and massively disheartening. Is there anything organic about the individual or is everything we are just the product of some other condition? How is it ever possible to feel valuable if we are only a reaction to our world? How would an individual be able to transcend this and make the world react to him?
Engles continues: "For which each individual willed is obstructed by everyone else and what emerges is something that no-one willed" (788). Just when I thought my state of mind could not plummet anymore, I read this line, and felt more inane than ever before. It's as if we are insects, and there is no individual, only what we are as a group, the product of which nobody is directing. Together we could be becoming something unwanted, even dangerous, at this very moment, and we'd have no way of preventing this because we have no way of controlling what together we will be, since nobody wills this process.
"Individual wills do not attain what they want but are merged into a collective mean, a common resultant" (788). It is true that Marxism dismisses the role of the individual in the traditional sense, however; here Engels communicates that the individual does have a role, an important one to boot. What I gathered from the end of the letter is that Engels builds into the conclusion that ultimately we cannot determine that individual wills are worth nothing, because each must be something in order to contribute to a common resultant.
I began to ponder the notion that this really may be quite illuminating. It opens an entirely new possibility: the prospect that individual wills could collect themselves into something beautiful. It may be too idealistic to believe, as I so want to, that individuality is a dominant force. Yet individual wills can still augment history as long as they braid themselves together. Is there a way for individual wills to somehow instinctively direct themselves into an ultimately valuable purpose or something infinitely inspiring? The photo of those umbrellas in Spain certainly affirms the existence of that rare chance... Alone they are but products of the material conditions which created them, but together they achieve some strange transcendence, and if nothing else, attain a permanent grace in their image, captured for eternity.