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Allegory, Metonymy and Creatureliness: Walter Benjamin and the Religious Roots of Modern Art

  • Barnaba Maj

In many representative reconstructions of the Expressionist avant-garde the definition of its religious significance remains a vague connotation. In order to understand that significance one has to interpret the sociological and historico-political context of Expressionism from a spiritual and religious perspective. Seen in this way, art proves to be a focal point of historical experience, and the renewal of both philosophy and the theory of criticism that Walter Benjamin pursued in response to the antinomies of Expressionism proves to be of central importance.1 The present chapter focuses on significant interrelations between theatrical and pictorial issues in both Expressionism and the theory of allegory developed by Benjamin, against the background of Expressionist drama and painting, in his The Origin of German Tragic Drama (written in 1925). As a rhetorical and artistic device, metonymy is particularly suited to address the issue of man’s corporeal existence that with the First World War moved to the foreground of historical experience. I shall propose that in response to the war and modern technology in general Expressionism formed a new link between the metonymic and the allegorical that is central to its concern with both the meaning of creatural life and the genre of tragedy. Benjamin’s equalisation of Expressionist drama and Baroque Trauerspiel relates the theme of human orporeity to the ‘dialectical’ meaning of death.

Keywords

Historical Reality German Context Artistic Device Hide Meaning Semantic Shift 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Barnaba Maj

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