Formalism and its Malcontents: Benjamin and de Man on the Function of Allegory

Hansen, Jim.

New Literary History, Volume 35, Number 4, Autumn 2004, pp. 663-683 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/nlh.2005.0004

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Formalism and Its Malcontents: Benjamin and de Man on the Function of Allegory*
Jim Hansen
The very opposition between knowledge which penetrates from without and that which bores from within becomes suspect to the dialectical method, which sees in it a symptom of precisely that reification which the dialectic is obliged to accuse. —Theodor Adorno, “Cultural Criticism and Society”

ormalism is evidently making a comeback in North American literary criticism. After facing decades of apparent exile at the successive hands of the structuralists of the late 1960s, the poststructuralists of the 1970s and 1980s, and the various historicist schools of the 1990s, the formalist analysis of aesthetic tropes appears to have returned to the post-2000 academic scene. In a recent issue of PMLA, W. J. T. Mitchell interrogates the term’s longstanding use as a pejorative while simultaneously affirming his own “commitment to form.”1 Mitchell warns us that this new formalism, a far more subtle, sober, and erudite approach than its much-derided ancestor the New Criticism, shares many of the aims of historicism and ideology-critique. Moreover, Mitchell argues, throughout the critical debates of the last few decades, formalism has “continued to rear its head, even when most fervently disavowed.”2 Similarly, in a special issue of Modern Language Quarterly, Ellen Rooney claims that “formalism is an unavoidable moment in the projects of both literary and cultural studies.”3 Like Mitchell, many of new formalism’s most ardent and thoughtful defenders tend to list theorists and politically savvy thinkers like Fredric Jameson, Edward Said, and Theodor Adorno as critics whose formalist


I would like to thank the following people who helped with the essay: Jed Esty, Erich P. Hertz, Michael Rothberg, Mark Christian Thompson, Renée R. Trilling, Fergus Clinker, and the students from my graduate seminar on Frankfurt School Aesthetics from the spring of 2004.
New Literary History, 2005, 35: 663–683

then formalism must not be all that bad. that politics need not necessarily be aligned with conservative forces. . a critique that takes up and actually deploys formalism’s logic. the embodying of an idea in a character or an emblem.664 new literary history readings score political points. Quite the contrary. articulating its various philosophical. Hegel’s content. we are far more likely to see formalisms indebted to postmodern modalities of suspicion and to the heteromorphic conceptions of historicism and discourse analysis that this suspicion has engendered over the last thirty years. at best.” I certainly do not think that anyone suspects it will resemble either the traditionalist science of meaning one sees in the New Criticism or even the more sophisticated literary-historical/evolutionary model proposed by Russian formalism. In fact. W. Nevertheless. In the writings of Walter Benjamin and Paul de Man. and aesthetic paradoxes. we see two thinkers who both attempted to redeem that clumsiest and most belabored of formal devices: allegory. formalism has been taken by a generation of politically informed and historicist critics to be the other of ideological criticism. This is all to say that if. should begin by asking what is wrong with formalism. We are reminded that if a respected and nuanced critic like Jameson imports formalism into his Marxism. where does its own internal logic collapse. formalism has always been a matter of theory. To my way of thinking. Rather than constructing a list of political critics who recur to formalism. Generally speaking. claiming that all formalisms are reactionary would be an insight of such purely metaphysical formalism that even the most vulgar left-Hegelian could denounce it as insufficiently historicized. contemporary critics might well fear that even supple and reflective formalist practices lead.and history-driven Aesthetics challenged Immanuel Kant’s pronouncement that art was autotelic or “purposiveness without purpose. perhaps an immanent critique of formalism. however. to something like a diffident quietism. If. academic criticism is entering the age of a “new kind of formalism. and what separates ideologically inflected historicism from a critique circumscribed by questions of aesthetic form in the first place? Obviously.5 Neither is it likely that any sort of contemporary and critically astute academic formalism will try to teach us to recognize the inherent aesthetic beauty of certain forms. social. immanent critique always conceals a politics. these are not so much new questions as they are rewarmed versions of the familiar aporia that has kept philosophy professors up at night at least since G. Formalist practices were as central to Benjamin’s project as they were to de Man’s. F. this kind of defensive reading of formalist techniques fails to think through the division between formalism and historicism. as Mitchell suggests. That is. in other words.”4 For modernity. I would like to look to two critics who often begin with formalism only to end up as its malcontents.

or the carefully measured generic category can make. then. In his writing.” de Man initiates the kind of ascetic. representation “does not stand in the service of something that can be represented. allegory marks out the space of the failure of referential meaning. early speculation about a hamhanded formal feature provided something of a foundation for the kind of provocative micrological and materialist work that we see Benjamin doing throughout his later writings. Benjamin’s messianic approach to allegory and de Man’s conception of allegorical reading provide contrasting models of the political and/or theoretical interventions that a criticism reliant on the formal. negative reading that would come to characterize both his conception of the finitude of human agency and his inveterate resistance to referential and empirical meaning. with what we might call the dialectic of immanence and transcendence. In the work of Benjamin and de Man on allegory. but also actually begin and end with the consideration of aesthetic form.6 For de Man. the de Manian conception of allegory remains suspicious both of the totalizing claims implicit in ideology-critique and of the “politicizing” of art that Benjamin himself had once advocated. likewise. the space in which. I believe that in their separate techniques for engaging with or displacing the dialectic of immanence and transcendence. we witness two contrasting species of theoretically nuanced literary criticism that not only deploy formalist strategies. the internal and the external.formalism and its malcontents 665 For his part. in discussing that same formal feature in his notorious 1969 essay “The Rhetoric of Temporality. Benjamin seemed so committed to teasing out the aesthetic and dialectical implications of allegory that it remained central to his critical vocabulary even after his epistemo-theological thinking had been called into question by his conversion to Marxism. In the end. On the other hand. be deployed to nuance the potentially reifying nostalgia that appears to haunt Benjamin’s approach.8 When read against each other. as he explains. we should be able to formulate the theoretical boundaries for any “new” formalism by suggesting that a Benjaminian kind of politicizing formalism can be used to criticize a de Manian nihilistic formalism while de Manian skepticism can. I will argue that any formalism seeking to enter into or resituate current academic debates must start by negotiating the dialectic of immanence and transcendence and by acknowledging how formalism itself invariably becomes a way of thinking beyond form. allegory gradually became the key rhetorical figure in a particularly relentless strain of deconstruction. Benjamin and de Man suggest that any contemporary type of formalism is always already itself an allegory of larger philosophical or social problems. particularly in Das Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project ) and the work on Charles Baudelaire. the tropological. . In fact.”7 In other words. Likewise.

With immanent criticism we get the fetishizing of the object itself and. The Dialectical Problem of Formalism Simply put. or else maintaining an external or identity position from which to read a culture’s products and call the whole of that culture into question with regard to its ideology. With transcendent criticism we often get an extorted form of reconciliation in which objects are subsumed under universal-historical principles. both old and new. approach the artwork’s immanent or internal architecture. ahistorical meaning that is always readily available to an interpreting subject who always appears suspiciously impervious to anything resembling prejudice or false consciousness. its coherence or incoherence. for Adorno political or utopian aesthetic criticism is not abandoned but. the transcendent and the immanent at once meet and are kept at bay by a critical method that points to the internal contradictions of a work of art-qua-object as .666 new literary history II. from a Marxist. As this often-told story goes. as someone like Mitchell certainly does. or social generalities. The opposition between the immanent and the transcendent so central to what we call literary criticism is. ethical. however. neglects particularity in an effort to focus on utopian. we still have to determine precisely how particular breeds of formalism attempt to rethink or even to sublimate this dialectic and to what ends. communal.9 Each side of the dialectic remains enfolded inextricably into its other. implicitly. the notion of an abstract. transcendent criticism. feminist. Adorno tells us in Prisms that any “truly dialectical” criticism must subscribe to both methods and to neither. to Theodor Adorno’s way of thinking. or postcolonial perspective. symptomatic of reified consciousness in that it fails to see how form is always already imbricated with the sociohistorical. Of course. and its rhetorical figures. as transcendent critique pursues its overt goal of positive social change. we might say that the critical alternatives are either confronting the internal structure of an art object by analyzing its stylistic maneuvers. always already extratextual in its aspirations. That is. At the risk of oversimplifying. kept alive by being thought negatively. In its most nuanced formulations. Immanent criticism avoids such teleological agendasetting by simply explicating the text and surveying its often very nuanced structuring principles. If we take it for granted that Adorno is correct. immanent critique negates the universal-historical through an analysis of the particular object’s inconsistencies and ambiguities. Of course. formalisms. then. rather. immanent criticism stands accused of neglecting the ideological and the historical entirely and of deploying its critical vocabulary with some pretense to scientific authority.

de Man had casually dismissed Benjamin’s Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiel (Origin of the German Mourning Play ) for remaining too Hegelian in its dialectics and too teleological in its attempt to define allegory and map the terrain of romanticism. modernity’s arch-formalist. then. It seems to me. In either case. Coincidently. he claims that in such judgments one begins by meditating on a particular object for which “the universal has to be found. determining what transcendent aims the critic actually advocates can be achieved by establishing how the critic figures the finite boundary of immanent form as a reflection of the sociohistorical or philosophical finitude of human understanding and practice tout court. near the very end of his career. The artwork falls short where the social world from which it springs falls short. de Man’s methodology. Even when Kant. always draws a line past which critical consciousness trespasses only at the risk of projecting a potentially mythic or totalitarian order on an already existing world. Implicitly. formalism conceals certain assumptions about that preexisting order and its role in creating the possibility for human action and critical theory in the first place. cultural.11 In other words. blind to its own situatedness and historicity (Geschichtlichkeit ). de Man engaged with Benjamin’s work on this very subject. . Explicitly. towards that which cannot be discussed. respectively.”10 In other words. too willing to remain outside of history and attack the whole of romantic consciousness because of its fragments and divisions. remains too transcendental. III. the cautious teasing out of philosophic and linguistic paradoxes. and indeed in nearly any formalist critique. We must ask what transcendent aims are implicit in any given immanent critique. As late as the 1979 Allegories of Reading. even a most circumspect and rigorously skeptical formalism relies on or moves towards certain ontological assumptions. De Man’s offhanded criticism of Benjamin might easily be overlooked. Benjamin’s critique. formalism always points towards boundaries. that any “truly dialectical” evaluation of the different breeds of formalism must read each approach’s explicit claims against its implicit assumptions. describes the immanent concerns of a reflective judgment.formalism and its malcontents 667 embodying historical. For Benjamin and de Man allegory works precisely as a formal feature that embodies historical contradictions or ontological problems. appears much more amenable to our own literary and theoretical practice than the often theologically inflected approach taken by someone like Benjamin. and the foregrounding of something like undecidability. predicated on poststructuralist discourse analysis. and social contradictions. Formalism and the Question of Historicity At first glance.

After all. the interpreter. Following various Heideggerian schools of thought. circumscribes what Heideggerian thinkers call the “horizons of understanding.” and “truth-content.14 Likewise. then. de Man seems to have changed his tune as he associates the Trauerspiel book’s notion of allegory with the disruptive force of figural language. revolution. he goes so far as to say of Benjamin’s 1923 essay “The Task of the Translator” that “in the profession you are nobody unless you have said something about this text” (73). “no poem is intended for the reader. or identity to guide the dynamic of “History. which foregrounds ideas like “originality. theodicy.12 Ostensibly.16 Here. in his 1982 introduction to Hans Robert Jauss’s Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. as Heidegger claims in Being and Time. and language certainly appears to have as resolutely an antisubjectivist feel in Benjamin’s “Translator” essay as it has in much of de Man’s post-1968 work. to face the mystery of this hidden knowledge. Hegelian-Marxist dialectical maneuvers that de Man sees as potentially totalizing.” then it forecloses on the possibility of transhistorical or universal-historical modes of sensemaking.” “revelation. Benjamin gets grouped together with deconstruction’s favorite arch-debunker of metaphysical and referential truth. in the last of the Messenger Lectures that de Man delivered at Cornell in 1983. conceived of as the unavoidable “situatedness” of the interpreting subject in a context or discourse.” “to understand something is to realize that one had always known it. subject to and constructed by the vicissitudes of structural and linguistic phenomena like différance.15 As with his various interpretations of Nietzsche. Benjamin’s thinking seems to partake of the kind of immanent criticism—conscious of its own situatedness—that de Man fosters. but at the same time. de Man foregrounds the philosophical concept of historicity.” and that language does not communicate or impart any information. Benjamin begins his piece by telling us. Oddly enough. Understanding can be called complete only when it becomes aware of its own temporal predicament.” Following this logic.668 new literary history but it marks a key difference between a poststructuralist approach to the question of form and one inflected by Frankfurt School aesthetics. Benjamin’s approach to the problem of form. a flouter of transcendent and utopian criticism.” no ontological principle like freedom. however. From this perspective. de Man began to read Benjamin as a protodeconstructor. “prior to what is called history.”13 In poststructuralist thinking. Now. De Man is characteristically attentive to the delicate aporias of Benjamin’s essay. there can be no such thing as a transcendent or teleological conception of “History.” seems to retain precisely those extrinsic.” if Geschichtlichkeit is. Nietzsche. finds him/herself bounded by the hermeneutic circle circumscribed by historicity. If historicity. a criticism . as de Man explains in “Form and Intent in American New Criticism.

”17 De Man quickly retorts that Benjamin’s critical powers are resistant to messianism. sociohistorical . contra de Man’s own claim in Allegories of Reading. I think Benjamin is being introduced as someone who gives us all of the . An Allegorical Formalism For both thinkers negation is the task of modern critical consciousness. Hence. he warns. quite accidentally. Beware all messianic interpretations of Benjamin. That is. as accurate as his 1982 depiction? Perhaps Benjamin’s rethinking of the dialectic of immanence and transcendence provides.formalism and its malcontents 669 that does not work to resolve inconsistency through the fiat of some utopian. it enfolds the transcendent into the immanent while de Man’s approach deconstructs the transcendent via the immanent. an “irrefutable critique by anticipation” of the de Manian approach to the problem of form.18 But what if de Man’s 1979 characterization of Benjamin’s thought is. negating approach to criticism over what he saw as the “salvational” and transcendent pretensions of an overtly political criticism. or extrinsic harmony. dialectical disposition towards aesthetic form maintains both the transcendent and immanent positions at once. Of course. that “Benjamin would be closer to Nietzsche than he is to a messianic tradition which he spent his whole life holding at bay” (103). . or. formalism becomes the way for modern thought to negotiate the problem of historicity. Benjamin’s Trauerspiel book is not blind to its own Geschichtlichkeit? Appended to de Man’s lecture is a particularly illuminating questionand-answer session.19 In de Man and in Benjamin. . to appropriate one of de Man’s pet phrases. IV. all of the subtlety of contemporary French criticism. it must itself become allegorical. Benjamin’s thought outlines how the inconsistencies of figures of speech and referentiality reflect the internal structures of language. formalist reading must become an allegory for larger. but Benjamin’s peculiar. Apparently disconcerted by de Man’s arguments. in de Man’s reading. Does this mean that. for “that way madness lies” (103). here all political readings seem to dovetail nicely with the messianic ones. with a political dimension that’s very much identified with messianic hope. If de Man always preferred the immanent. both Benjamin’s Trauerspiel book and de Man’s “Rhetoric of Temporality” speculate about literary meaning by staking a claim for the negating immanence of allegory over and against the mythic and universalizing implications of its more popular sibling. the symbol. Dominick La Capra explains to de Man that “on the left today. If formalism is to survive. that is to say. teleological. then somewhere between 1979 and 1982 he seemed to discover a Benjamin who agreed. Rather.

and here he is followed closely by de Man. and unpoetic. as timeless. “conceived as an expression of unity between the representative and semantic functions of language. the symbol acts as a kind of a priori undialectical totality. the romantic conception of the symbol posits the beautiful as the true and. the symbol transmutes that which has been lost within the context of an individual work of art into an eternal. an emblem or representation that refers to an unrepresentable idea. In his Trauerspiel book. also pretends to be absolute in a metaphysical sense. The similarity here between the powers of the symbol and those claimed for the post-Kantian Enlightened subject are not simply coincidental. or referential conflict by constructing universal imperatives and continuums.670 new literary history contradictions and/or ontological problems. In preexisting history. the critical emphasis on symbolism and. In Benjamin’s thought. a bit forced. Artworks in which characters appear to simply and unproblematically embody virtue or lust always seem. is something of a linguistic trick. it works to overcome the immanence-transcendence dialectic by reconciling material form to transcendental ideal. Finally.” de Man argues that with the advent of romanticism the symbol. appearance and essence. Lost for an instant. In rather undialectical ways. becomes a commonplace that underlies literary taste. regularly dismissed by romantic critics as fragmentary. both de Man and Benjamin oppose the kind of overtly transhistorical claims made by such a notion of the symbol. ideal order. Benjamin . symbols actively conceal sociological. contextual. anachronistic. likewise. or as beautiful as the well-wrought world of the symbol. then. They project a mythic. subsequently. subject and object. literary criticism. as the truly moral. and essential unity. the teleological unity of form and content. In their critical works. As an artistic trope that also philosophizes. where form can actually only exist in and reflect its own historicity. The symbol subsists as a form that denies its historicity. In “The Rhetoric of Temporality. They are both forms that get posited as preexisting the historical. The clumsy sphere of allegory is never as subtle. at the very least. Formal attention to allegory becomes a self-consciously micrological way of articulating the underlying macroproblems of modernity. indivisible. it is recovered and recoverable forever. erases the distinction between the transcendental and the material. and literary history. Let’s not forget that allegory.”20 Derived from the mythic movement of tragedy. As the key figure for tragic pathos. the symbol provides an idealizable teleology. they also appear to define and guide it. Symbols long for transcendence in the most overt and naïve sense. That which is symbolic. autotelic and unifiedin-itself. Any formalism founded on and tied to this romantic theory of the symbol—and we might place New Criticism in this category—masks similar transcendent aims. For Benjamin.

but only to the Fall itself.23 Allegory subsists as the mournful trope that embodies as it acknowledges the loss of specificity. can offer us a critical simulacrum of its loss. With this insight into the structure of allegory in modernity. in The Arcades Project. In other words. originality. allegory’s failure actively underscores the gulf between matter and transcendence by foregrounding the conflict between artistic form and transcendent or theological intention.” Benjamin warns that Erfahrung (collective.24 In the closing passage of the essay he suggests that in the collision of structurally profane imagery and mundane materiality that we find in Baudelaire’s poetry. in allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified. the Trauerspiel book anticipates the kind of aesthetic-historical thinking that Benjamin will later advocate through his conception of experience. For Benjamin modern allegory does not idealize but.”25 Where the .formalism and its malcontents 671 explains that allegory embodies the paradoxical structure of a profane and bourgeois world because under allegory’s auspices any person or object can become an emblem of absolutely anything else. we see the “nature of something lived through (Erlebnis) to which Baudelaire has given the weight of experience (Erfahrung)” (194). rather. reflective. It points not to redemption. Allegory pronounces a judgment upon the profane world by translating that world’s erasure of the specific detail into a formal feature of art. communal experience) has been replaced in modernity by the more solitary Erlebnis (lived experience). This same negativecritical maneuver is central to Benjamin’s thinking about allegory. mourns. only to the dated and the worldly. In his much-discussed essay “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire. as Benjamin further claims. then. Baudelaire as allegorist broods upon and mourns a form of experience that is lost by depicting the failure. we view a world “in which detail is of no great importance. Benjamin encapsulates this distinction in the Trauerspiel book by claiming that “whereas in the Symbol destruction is idealized and the transfigured face of nature is fleetingly revealed in the light of redemption. primordial landscape.”21 Later. and horror of his contemporary world. Allegory becomes the formal feature par excellence of the transient and the irretrievable. so unashamedly about human consciousness struggling to dominate or to evade matter and nature. Baudelaire’s poetry cannot recover Erfahrung for us but.”22 Where the symbol erases the distinction between matter (or form) and transcendence. To Benjamin’s way of thinking. rather. In the language of allegory. allegory foregrounds precisely this distinction because as a form it is so forced and excessive. and revelation. Hence its function as an object is critical and mortifying rather than harmonizing and reconciling. he will go on to claim that “allegories stand for that which the commodity makes of the experiences people have in this century. isolation.

then. allegory consciously points to its own temporality and. the Nietzsches. As Benjamin goes on to tell us in The Arcades Project. Putting it another way. that is. For de Man.” or. .672 new literary history symbol presents a fixed point outside of the contingencies of history and nature as eternal and unified. the trick is to be aware of this aporia. . is produced by certain kinds of historical crises. Allegory is a similarly negating formal feature in de Man’s work. as an indication of the truth’s ineluctable failure to be anything other than rhetorical and situated. as the ironic “pseudoknowledge” of its own impossibility. As a critic. since it is the essence of the previous sign to be pure anteriority” (207). gets occluded by de Manian criticism. rather. as the face of that which has passed away. and Prousts of the world. certain epochs in human history that have experienced a “crisis of the aura. in de Man it reflects a deconstructive move on the part of either a piece of writing or an individual writer. deploy the linguistic trickery that is allegorical form—a kind of substitutio ad absurdum—in order to undermine any simple. De Man’s rethinking of the immanence-transcendence dialectic begins with the individuated problems inherent in form and then leaps directly to larger structural and ontological metaproblems. the space of collectivity. The linguistic context or constructedness of an allegory. in “The Rhetoric of Temporality. Allegorical form itself. de Man argues. “allegorical narratives tell the story of the failure to read. to see allegory. Writers sufficiently attuned to the nuances of language’s historicity appear capable of realizing allegory not as truth but. Allegory. which seems to suspect that collectivity is always subject to a kind of intransigent and totalizing conformity. In the process the space that mediates between these extremes. Simply put. . is always presented as an ethical problem in de Man’s work because it brings explicitly value-laden claims about things like “virtue” or “falsehood” into conflict with their own historicity. in so doing. in opposition to the symbol. 8/365). allegory presents the emblem as a death mask. Rousseaus. of a previous sign with which it can never coincide.27 Where in Benjamin allegory reflected some historical failure of or crisis in human perception en masse. They represent the collapse of transcendental signifieds.” that “the meaning constituted by the allegorical sign can then consist only in the repetition . utilitarian. then. as de Man instructs us in Aesthetic Ideology. these writers acknowledge their own historicity by allegorizing unreadability itself. eras that have stigmatized the ideas of both distance and the cult value of the work of art “tend toward allegorical expression” (J 77a. or transhistorical purpose for their various writings. always collapses that allegory’s pretension to be transcendentally or transhistorically true. then.”26 And certain kinds of very self-conscious authors. embarrasses its own claims to truth. As he tells us in his own Allegory book. its situatedness.

Intuitively. if a philosophy replaces politics with abstraction it does so at the price of shoring up the status quo and supporting reified social relations.” For Marx.30 In fact. Benjamin knocks the modern subject off of its philosophical and cultural pedestal. In de Man.28 To Benjamin’s way of thinking. Benjamin’s thinking corresponds to Marx’s insights here.” individuals are transformed into “consciousness. then. works to disrupt the normal and accepted order of idealist philosophy and culture. and for de Man. for Marx the tradition of philosophical idealism actually reads material history as merely a result of ideal history. rather than the subject’s Verstehen (understanding). the subject can neither precede nor provide a teleology for history. In both cases. Benjamin takes aim at those pretensions of modern subjectivity that grow out of idealism’s claims to totality.29 A criticism focusing on the object’s Geschichte (history). If. In The German Ideology.formalism and its malcontents 673 In Benjamin and de Man on allegory. we have two basic formulations of the dialectic of immanence and transcendence. His thinking prepares the way for what Adorno will come to call Vorrang des Objekts. what different kinds of ontological assumptions underwrite the formalisms we see in Benjamin and de Man? Where are the respective boundaries of finitude drawn and to what purpose? In Benjamin’s Trauerspiel book. Of course. to Marxian ways of thinking. Marx argues that idealist philosophies generally seek to explain away pesky things like materiality and empirical history. by championing the allegorical fragment over the mythic aspirations of the symbol. For Benjamin. formalist analysis uncovers failure. philosophy. as I claimed earlier. History gets replaced by the “history of philosophy” or the “history of understanding. In a sense. the preponderance of the object. the finite is delineated by an ontological principle that we might call discursive historicity. V. Natural History or Discursive Historicity As a number of critics have indicated over the years. the artwork’s immanence seems to embody external sociohistorical problems. even in its pre-Marxian phase. but finally politically vacuous. Throughout the Trauerspiel book. even the most circumspect and skeptical formalism relies on certain ontological assumptions. the internal incoherences that manifest themselves in form are indicative of the larger problems associated with historical situatedness.” and things like “nature” or the “material world” are either renounced as unreachable or understood simply and undialectically as the “objects of consciousness. finitude is marked by the dialectic of Natur-Geschichte (natural history). this theoretical maneuver makes idealism a very heady. .

The continual nuancing of the concept of historicity might. is transient and impermanent. if human history. In their plays. written upon nature. can never reconcile with transcendental ideal. outdated. is present in reality in the form of a ruin. mundane meanings. can never be permanent. “that the allegorical mode of expression is born. was always already decaying with it. And in this guise history does not assume the form of the process of eternal life so much as that of irresistible decay. becomes an allegory for a human history that is resolutely tied to the ruin. the morbid.33 This is how allegory points to Natur-Geschichte. what ruins are in the realm of things. it is a marker of impermanence and loss. a Benjaminian theory of form works neither to point out nor to expand horizons of understanding but. As Benjamin goes on to explain: [T]he word “history” stands written on the countenance of nature in the characters of transience. As such. the irreparably lost. 31 This dialectic measures out the limit of human finitude for Benjamin. that points towards an external or transcendent problem. with all its fixed. be read as twentieth-century philosophy’s rejoinder to Marx’s criticism. always fragmentary and disunited.674 new literary history Benjamin develops a theory of the Natur-Geschichte (natural history) dialectic that shares Marx’s suspicions about abstract philosophy. then it is neither self-realizing nor self-recovering but.” Benjamin explains. Rather. in all of its decay and transience. “It is by virtue of a strange combination of nature and history. rather.”32 The imprint of Natur-Geschichte separates allegory from the Telos and universalism of the symbol. in the realm of thoughts. Furthermore. In the ruin history has physically merged into the setting. That is. In contrast. History resembles something like a series of ruins. like nature. rather than a progressive Geist or consciousness. It is an immanent problem of allegorical form. rather. in allegory. nature. and is much more accurately mourned as a collection of lost and defeated cultures than celebrated as a triumphal procession from the past into the future. human understanding and historicism must be read together as only one side of the mutually determining natural-history dialectic.34 If nature was the primary source for the Trauerspiel allegorists. which is always moribund. then history. Allegories are. The allegorical physiognomy of the Natur-Geschichte-. to indicate that human understanding is itself subject to a dialectic that can be neither instrumentalized nor fully understood. . in some sense. Allegory thereby declares itself to be beyond beauty. which is put on stage in the Trauerspiel. material form itself. and they viewed nature as eternally decaying. The protestant baroque playwrights that Benjamin studies in his Trauerspiel book view history as human and profane.

Discussion of the artobject’s immanent architectural inconsistencies and failures leads outward to observations about cultural and historical failures.36 In 1940 Benjamin will reenvision this idea writ large in his final piece. Allegory historicizes itself.” “the art of finding” fragments. the “Theses on the Philosophy of History. The baroque allegorists “pile” these ruins and fragments. The arc of Benjamin’s theory of forms is finally sociocritical as opposed to epistemological. and. Part of allegory’s critical function is to awaken us to the current historical moment. allegories from past works of art teach us that our own ideas and circumstances are.”35 The ruin exists as ruin in the present. becomes an allegorical method for discussing and meditating on lost forms. is written on transient nature. As Benjamin himself claims in his December 9. “the now of contemporary actuality. and immanent critique. in turn. It does . Formalism itself becomes allegorical.” on top of each other without any strict teleology or goal (178). as Benjamin explains. Allegory’s apparently arbitrary linking of an unrepresentable idea to a material emblem indicates that the idea itself was dialectically enfolded into a material history strewn with similarly transient ideas.”38 Political criticism is preserved here by being thought negatively. subsequently. as Benjamin further explains.”37 There. and the accruing of more and more fragments only serves to intensify the artwork’s sense of mourning and loss. Benjamin goes on to warn that the tradition of the lost and the “oppressed” should teach us to recognize the dangers inherent in our contemporary “now-moment” or Jetztzeit (257). points towards the ruin’s place in what Benjamin calls the Jetzt. allegorical form. 1923. allegory represents the irrecoverable loss of the object’s originary sense. Benjamin goes on to develop a theory of allegorical perception that calls modernity’s various notions of progress and historicism into question. then. ruins are the “formal elements” of works of art (182). Similarly. does not embody the autotelic art of creation but rather. its persistent yet miserable denunciation of totality (179). invariably transitory and subject to decay. Benjamin extrapolates from allegorical form a theory of human finitude. letter to Florens Christian Rang. we are to remember. so dated and lifeless. History. Literature. “the same forces that become explosively and extensively temporal in the world of revelation (and this is what history is) appear concentrated in the silent world (and this is the world of nature and of works of art). an “ars inveniendi.” where he depicts Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus observing with great horror a catastrophic history that piles “wreckage upon wreckage. and. The ruins of the past teach us to recognize and critique the present. these allegorical “stereotypes” and “remnants. like nature. From an attempt to differentiate Trauerspiel allegory from tragic symbolism.formalism and its malcontents 675 Where the symbol had pointed beyond history and towards ontological truths.

” the patient and nuanced attention that New Critics paid to the reading of form succumbed to a kind of fetishism by mistaking the Heideggerian hermeneutic circle for “the organic circularity of natural processes” (29). on the other hand. but for de Man this is a truth-claim that acknowledges its own finitude. An intractable formalism. de Manian allegorical reading becomes so vigilant that it mistrusts itself. That is. Discursive historicity acts as the negative ontological principle of de Manian critique. then. claiming that all truth is contextual is also making a truth-claim. rather. It is.39 As he claims in Allegories of Reading. but the New Critics themselves remained uninformed about what de Man calls “the epistemological nature of all interpretation” (29). de Man finds a way to see the rhetorical. They failed to see that aesthetic formalism leads inevitably to certain ontological questions about the possibility of transcendent knowledge. always already preempt the messianic and political ones that totalize on the one hand while ignoring historicity on the other. auspicious for its negativity. negative form of transcendent criticism. As de Man sees it in “Form and Intent in American New Criticism. De Man’s method of allegorical reading. Their practice was. and the philosophers and artists he esteems invariably allegorize this same ontological problem. he believes. adjacent to New Critical formalism. in thinking the problem of material-history dialectically. an immanent critique actually transforms into a sophisticated. They mistook forms. Form points to the finitude of human sensemaking and the falsity of teleological conceptions of history. Of course. Benjamin’s approach acts at once to acknowledge and to critique the hermeneutic circle created by the problem of historicity. Such claims. Through a notion of allegory as failed reading. In a dialectical maneuver that almost seems more like a Möbius strip. seeks to cure North American formalism of its naïveté about the problem of historicity. “The Truth” gets replaced by contextual and discursive truths of various hermeneutic circles. He formulates a selfaware “new” New Criticism. its dual focus on ambivalence and paradox. along with much of the subsequent French poststructuralist theories of discursive Geschichtlichkeit. in other words. situated. an immanent critique conscious of its ontological implications and restrictions. his criticism acknowledges that language is rhetorical rather than representational (106). at least in an intuitive sense. In other words.676 new literary history not point to “the way” but. Of course. a negative truthclaim. to a problem. leads de Man to think the problem of historical consciousness ontologically. De Man’s criticism places Heideggerian notions of Geschichtlichkeit. which negate truth. for the truth as such. historicity-an-sich can never be an ontological principle for Benjamin . or performative functions of language as evidence of historicity.

40 In poststructuralist thinkers as different as de Man. which draws heavily from his 1916 essay “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man. the poststructuralist notion of discursive historicity reads like a move that embraces some of the instrumental qualities of language or as a philosophical maneuver that occludes the natural through overnaming. From this perspective. . or.” and he goes on to claim that “language never gives mere sign (69). worldview. Judith Butler. In “On Language as Such. Philosophical notions of historicity often acknowledge this limit by concentrating on how consciousness. as Marx would no doubt see it. at the very least. origin. are only one half of a dialectical equation. and in many instances actively occludes. subject to signifying systems. constructs and gets constructed by a context. nature. the mythic. But for Benjamin nature’s silence mournfully annunciates a critique of human understanding and of instrumental modes of reason. anything that precedes discourse becomes subject to the play of language as soon as we attempt to render it intelligible. represented here by Benjamin.formalism and its malcontents 677 because his thinking on allegory. continually instrumentalized. or the fetishistic has come to reign over the actual. but allegorical reading embraces that world by limiting criticism to the discursive analysis of epistemological issues. and revelation are of no great importance. Nature itself becomes always already second to signifying systems. those things through which consciousness situates itself and becomes situated in time. Hence.” Benjamin argues that “it is no longer conceivable. Allegory points to a profane world. we have the fear of the copy and of the counterfeit world it endlessly reproduces. authenticity. nature serves as the necessary dialectical counterpoint to history and understanding. on the other. or form of life.” argues that nature is “overnamed” by human language. and practices. Careful allegorists reveal a Nature that forces us to acknowledge that human history is transient. For Benjamin the controlling anxiety seems to be the nightmare vision of a society of such thoroughgoing false consciousness that the representative. that the word has an accidental relation to the object. While on the poststructuralist hand we have the fear of the authorizing original and of the transhistorical claim to truth upon which it draws. tacitly modernist. techniques. a philosophical theory of language takes unrestrained priority over. That is. nothing precedes discourse. like allegory. as the bourgeois view of language maintains. In Benjamin’s theory of language. Nature takes whatever name that humans deem fit to give it and remains mute. hand. merely represents an object-world in which detail. material reality. From such a perspective. But for Benjamin understanding and the like. and others. nature is continually made to fit different human needs. the iconic. that in human language. Michel Foucault. “nature” is not something one can discuss in any real sense.

insight. History and the historicity of understanding are subject to nature. as subject to both transitory nature and to politics and power. and nature is acknowledged as a category subject to historical thought. we recognize the loss of meaning rather than its ontological absence. But it is also important to recognize that nature is never a first principle in itself for Benjamin because it is always involved in a dialectic with history and.678 new literary history profane. This is an essentially historical. the critic explores the work as ruin. and we recognize it in and for the Jetztzeit. perception. and how. however. Dialectically speaking. those meanings display themselves as historical. If we recognize the Natur-Geschichte dialectic. formalism simply conceals its politics. and decadent. I claimed that formalism is generally thought to be the other of political or historical criticism. it does not necessarily follow that those politics will be reactionary or conservative. Nostalgia and Lost Forms Earlier. Rather than attempting to recover what was eternal and beautiful about the work. Dialectic of Enlightenment.”41 The transcendent element of Benjamin’s dialectic points towards the finitude of a human history that is at once determined and demythologized by its other. the natural. If. allegorical meanings have passed away. and understanding into question. In the present state of the academy. In the Trauerspiel book Benjamin calls this critical activity the “mortification of the works. is only open to us through history and language. as failed. The key is to be able to discern which ontological or historical principles are supported by our contemporary . Its truth is its loss. If the ruin continues to exist after its meanings have been shed or lost. transient form. allegorical form calls consciousness.42 VI. Benjamin’s formalism has more in common with the projects of historicism and ideology-critique than with that of New Criticism. however. It arrests thought. as I have argued. As an immanent form that always collapses in the face of transcendent time. To put it simply. for Benjamin the transcendent or enduring truth-content of an allegorical work of art is reached only through a recognition of that work’s own transient position as cultural ruin. it seems much more likely that different kinds of formalism will become the bases of different theoretical and historical approaches to aesthetic and cultural politics. as opposed to an epistemological. its historical decay. Criticism must show precisely that. Benjamin’s insight into the Natur-Geschichte dialectic initiates the Frankfurt School critique of dominance that is perhaps best represented by Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s post-World War II philosophical manifesto. thus. then. Form decays historically.

then one version of this suspicion is what de Man advocates in books like Aesthetic Ideology and The Resistance to Theory. Finally. then. the threat facing contemporary formalism is not that it will conceal reactionary politics in the guise of the truthclaim. into a philosophical truth.formalism and its malcontents 679 brands of formalism. In fact. rather. in de Man’s criticism. Moreover. and overtly historicist approaches to interpreting literature are characterized as idealist and naïve. a formalism based on such a theory of allegory would see the struggle against instrumental reason as the most significant work of any circumspect and dialectical criticism. that it will see all political critique as structurally totalitarian. in other words. In his Principles of Literary Criticism. The object of philosophical criticism is to show that the function of artistic form is as follows: to make historical content. Benjamin’s criticism gives us a model of formalism that fights instrumental reason without giving up on ideology-critique. Each always points beyond itself and towards the other. form and history are mutually determining and mutually demythologizing. such a criticism falls prey to the same kind of thinking that allowed philosophical idealism to replace politics with abstraction and. such as provides the basis of every important work of art. To return to Marx’s insights from The German Ideology. he warns that political criticism often confuses “the materiality of the signifier with the materiality of what it signifies. This is why Benjamin warns us in the Trauerspiel book that “in the last analysis. Richards claimed long ago that attention to form averts misapprehensions and certain kinds of interpretive biases. but. structure and detail are always historically charged. One could easily—and to some degree justifiably—argue that the kind of paradox-driven allegorical reading that de Man encourages makes nothing happen. that it will become so immanent and so skeptical as to doubt the use or veracity of any kind of collectivity or political criticism. as the “confusion of linguistic with natural reality” (11).”43 The linguistic tricks and false realities imagined in and by literary language. In the latter. . In some sense. each points towards loss and the transience embodied by nature.45 But perhaps poststructuralist formalism’s trenchant fear of the “truth-claim” has been at once its most astute and most misdirected contribution to critical theory. discredited by a formalist technique that unmasks all language as subject to the same problems as literary language.44 De Manian critique sees politics as “ideological mystification” or. as the grandest of our various misapprehensions and interpretive biases. should teach us to see ideology itself as the ultimate fiction. Ideology-critique is. to shore up the status quo in the first place. so.”46 In this dialectic. that inveterate moralist I. If such an undertaking requires that close reading always be paired with some kind of hermeneutics of suspicion. Literature becomes a metonym for discursive historicity. A.

A subtle and reflective new formalism would be wise to do the same. A new formalism must not convert that which it studies into objects of or for consumption. “Form and Contentment. 3 Ellen Rooney. Still Crazy after All These Years. From a certain light Benjamin’s thinking seems less like historical materialism and more like the melancholy political messianism that Rolf Tiedemann accuses it of being.” a formalism cognizant of its own status as an allegory of reified consciousness or. NJ: Princeton University Press. then that nostalgia should by all means be subjected to the kind of skepticism that underwrites de Man’s project. Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just (Princeton. like de Man’s. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign NOTES 1 W.47 If a Benjaminian “mortification of the work” actually manifested itself as a nostalgia that devolved into a comfortable.” PMLA 118 (March 2003): 323. or. Benjamin’s notion of immanent critique has the shape of negative truth. that saw no analogue of the present moment of danger in the dead forms of the past. I’m not calling for a historicism that practices “strategic essentialism. a tragic jouissance that took no critical account of the current state of affairs. Benjamin’s own melancholic nostalgia always remained linked to a critical method that found in the modern artwork’s form a constellation of historical dilemmas.680 new literary history Though. On a vaguely similar but certainly more problematic note. . But Benjamin’s allegorical formalism also seems to engender a kind of intransigent nostalgia for the lost. Benjamin’s thought also invariably calls for a criticism that begins with the mortification of the work of art and ends by mortifying the structure of the social world from which that work springs. Mitchell. conformist pleasure in the lost. 1999) works to rehabilitate aestheticism with all of its attendant ethical imperatives and Keatsian supplements. and silenced voices. just as it must not enjoy what Benjamin once referred to as the “negativistic quiet” of a left-wing melancholy that converts the revolutionary political struggle itself into a reified object of pleasure. profane illuminations.” but rather for a politically and historically inflected formalism that practices “strategic deconstruction.48 Hence.” Modern Language Quarterly 61 (March 2000): 17. “The Commitment to Form. a formalism capable of doubting its own truth-claims without giving up on the object’s Warheit-Gehalt (truth-content) wholesale.” 324). J. 2 Mitchell argues quite correctly that formalism was never really gone and that this socalled “new” formalism is something “we will have already been committed to without knowing it” (“Commitment. T. in other words.

Thanks in no small part to Arendt’s introduction to the 1968 translation of Illuminations. “The Rhetoric of Temporality. In the second . 241). 1968). “Cultural Criticism. 16 Benjamin. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. 19 De Man. 1986). 9 Adorno. 20 De Man. 1970). 1998). (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ed. trans. the English-speaking world has read Benjamin’s invectives against the false totalities of Fascist Europe as coextensive with Heideggerian and poststructuralist criticism. Jennings (Cambridge. 32. Critique of Judgment. 1996). “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. introduction to Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge. Benjamin’s work. 21 Benjamin. 7 Paul de Man. Rilke. 13/328. Harry Zohn (New York: Shocken Books. Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 10 Kant. ed.” in Illuminations. Bernard (New York: Hafner Press. xix. As a result. trans. “Dead-End. 189. “Commitment. trans. vol. 11 De Man. Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau. 23 Max Pensky’s Melancholy Dialectics: Walter Benjamin and the Play of Mourning (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. CT: Yale University Press.” 240. 81. Being and Time. 51. “Form and Intent in American New Criticism. ed. 27.’” in The Resistance to Theory. 73–105. trans. 1951). 6 Walter Benjamin. trans.” de Man refers to Roland Barthes’s ideologically inflected structuralism as “salvational” (Blindness and Insight. 1983).” in Blindness and Insight. 2nd ed.” in Selected Writings.formalism and its malcontents 681 4 Immanuel Kant. edited by Michael W. 18 In “The Dead-End of Formalist Criticism. 15 De Man. 13 De Man. 8 My use of the terms “transcendental” and “immanent” derives from Theodor W. 15. 12 Martin Heidegger. like de Man’s. ed. by Hans Robert Jauss (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Adorno’s “Cultural Criticism and Society. 22 Benjamin.” in Aesthetic Ideology.” 33. fail to see the negative theory of redemption immanent to. The Origin of German Tragic Drama (New York: Verso.” in Prisms. theoretical. “The Task of the Translator. Samuel Webber and Shierry Webber (Cambridge. and political concerns for the English-speaking academy. and Proust (New Haven. her readings of Benjamin. will help clarify Benjamin’s interlocking formal. . . De Man’s reading of Benjamin follows a path established by Hannah Arendt. 17 De Man. Hopefully. MA: Belknap.” 324. 1996). “Pascal’s Allegory of Persuasion. 253.’” 102. J. 14 De Man. 175. 17. Arendt claims that Benjamin had “more in common with Heidegger’s remarkable sense for living eyes and living bones . Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press. Nietzsche. “‘Conclusions’: Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator. Andrez Warminski (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. MA: MIT Press. 1999). 242. 24 Throughout Benjamin’s writings the term “experience” takes on an elusive and complex character that mirrors its long and troubled philosophical history. 5 Mitchell. MA: Harvard University Press. 1982). Hannah Arendt. “‘Conclusions. De Man reads New Criticism as an “irrefutable critique by anticipation” of Barthes’s “salvational” and political criticism. 1967). 1993) provides a full account of Benjamin’s refiguring of allegory as a form of mourning. Critique of Judgment. than he did with the dialectical subtleties of his Marxist friends” (46). and the often problematic “dialectical subtleties” that serve as the structure of. 1. The Arcades Project. Jennings. J 55. the translation of Benjamin’s Selected Writings. H. 1996).” in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism.

Origin. Anna Bostock (Cambridge. a more cumulative form of experience. Benjamin’s idea of natural history is culled in large part from Georg Lukács’s assertions about “second nature” in The Theory of the Novel: A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature. In Benjamin. 1973). 30 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. 34 Benjamin. In materialist terms. 149. Ashton (New York: Continuum. rather it indicates the loss of its own history. 25 Benjamin. “Theses on the Philosophy of History. 167. 1994). 26 De Man. E. Of course. 29 Theodor Adorno. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Allegories represent the irrecoverable loss of the object’s originary sense (“Eyes. Ronald Roblin [Lewiston. 1977) and Beatrice Hanssen’s Walter Benjamin’s Other History: Of Stones.” Ranier Nagele explains this element of Benjamin’s thinking succinctly by comparing it to the poetic concept of Vorwurf. ed. The Correspondences of Walter Benjamin. more importantly. 183. 27 De Man. the allegorist/brooder does not create but rather finds the hieroglyphic entity that is the discrete object. 257. 1971). 155–200) that he very much doubts the possibility of establishing collective existence and reflective experience (Erfahrung) in modern capitalist culture. Allegories. For Benjamin. Adorno. consists of immediate and unintegrated inner experience. 206–43). it seems to present a form of alienation from history itself and a reification of the ontology of linear. Architecture. Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Present Hope: Philosophy. Translation altered. trans. he claims.” As Nagele explains. seems both collective and. Erlebnis smacks of the familiar economy of homogenous empty-time. and Angels (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 28 In particular see Andrew Benjamin. The German Ideology (New York: Prometheus. Vorwurf is a technical term for the theme of an artwork. 36 In “The Eyes of the Skull: Walter Benjamin’s Aesthetics. Walter Benjamin. 31 See Susan Buck-Morss’s The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. “the special achievement of the shock defense may be seen in its function of assigning to an incident a precise point in time in consciousness at the cost of the integrity of its contents” (163). narratable. 38 Benjamin. Origin.” 69. and the Frankfurt Institute (New York: The Free Press. 206.” he goes on to suggest. Animals. trans. Marcuse. trans. 32 Benjamin. Manfred R. Thus. MA: MIT Press. 1997). Origin. 81.682 new literary history of his much-discussed Baudelaire essays. tending to remain in the sphere of a certain hour of one’s life (Erlebnis)”. “Pascal’s Allegory. and Erfahrung. that in the modern world we are constantly fending off shock. Negative Dialectics. 37 Benjamin. 224.” in Illuminations. 35 Benjamin. 177–78. of course. NY: Edwin Mellen Press. Origin. . or lived experience. Judaism (New York: Routledge. this entity does not disclose some ontological revelation or ur-historical truth. 1998). As much as he was attracted to the cabalistic and “storytelling” implications of Erfahrung. 183. 1990]. 33 Benjamin. 166.” in The Aesthetics of the Critical Theorists: Studies on Benjamin Adorno. Benjamin redefines the two philosophical formulations of experience: Erlebnis. impressions enter less often into “experience (Erfahrung). Benjamin clearly displays throughout “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” (Illuminations. With the prefix Vor it indicates a fore-structure like the English prefixes “pro” or “pre. the artist or. something thrown before” (217). Adorno. at least in some sense. 179. Jacobson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Origin. ed. “perhaps. progressive time. Human Beings. B. Vorwurf “is pre-jection. 1998). It seems. and Habermas.

425. Michael W. 1989). 167.formalism and its malcontents 683 39 See Jonathan Arac. . which gets translated by de Man as “Pure Language” (91). Richards. 1950). 182. “Historical Materialism or Political Messianism? An Interpretation of the Theses ‘On the Concept of History. “Afterword: Lyric Poetry and the Bounds of New Criticism. Origin. 2. 46 Benjamin. “Left-Wing Melancholy. NY: Cornell University Press. 40 Benjamin. Chaviva Hosek and Patricia Parker (Ithaca.’” his Cornell lecture on Benjamin. “‘Conclusions.’” 11. ed. 45 De Man. The Principles of Literary Criticism (New York: Harcourt. 43 De Man. 44 I. MA: Harvard University Press. mutually demythologizing concepts (54). ed. 41 Benjamin. 182. “On Language as Such and the Language of Man. 47 See Rolf Tiedemann. language which would be pure signifier” (97). Benjamin’s Natur-Geschichte dialectic points towards Adorno’s own figuring of nature and history as mutually determining. 1999). Origin.” in Selected Writings. History.” in Selected Writings. In “‘Conclusions. ed. de Man seems particularly interested in Benjamin’s use of the term reine Sprache. vol. Gary Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.’” 11.” in Lyric Poetry Beyond New Criticism. A. 1985). Jennings (Cambridge. De Man is quite explicit in claiming that for Benjamin reine Sprache points not to the sacred or divine but rather to “a language devoid of any kind of meaning. “‘Conclusions.’” in Benjamin: Philosophy. 175–209. 351. 42 As Buck-Morss points out in The Origin of Negative Dialectics. 48 Benjamin. Aesthetics. 1:73.

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