Remapping the Constellation of Walter Benjamin’s Allegorical Method


Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University


The now-longstanding academic revival of allegory, as well as its import

as a perennial buzzword of contemporary art criticism, owes much to a group  of  essays  published in the journal  October  in  the  early 1980s.

Authors Craig Owens and Benjamin Buchloh, in turn, drew a bloodline to the ideas of allegory that occupied Walter Benjamin throughout his literary career. However, whereas Benjamin saw allegory as the expression of a radical, indeed messianic, view of political possibility, the October writers found in allegory a counter-paradigm against Modernism that would resist the latter’s totalizing tendencies by pursing its own deconstructive fate of “lack of transcendence.” In the following essay, I trace the source of this discrepancy to the crucial theological underpinnings of Benjamin’s concept of allegory, without which the allegorical forms – appropriation and montage – produce not miraculous flashes of unmediated recognition but the permanent impossibility of communication.

Keywords: Allegory, Walter Benjamin, postmodernism, theology, messianism, dialectics, deconstruction, constellation, ruin, Trauerspiel