Victoria Kahn: The Question of Literature

Victoria Kahn

I want to open up a different avenue of exploration. Newman does a brilliant job of reconstructing the historical arguments about the baroque and their relevance to debates about German nationalism. But there is another, more familiar dimension to Benjamin’s argument that transcends history altogether. In A Theory of Literature Production, Pierre Macherey seems to capture Benjamin’s own insight in the Trauerspiel book: “We have defined literary discourse as parody, as a contestation of language, rather than a representation of reality. It distorts rather than imitates.” But he then goes on to admit that “the idea of imitation, correctly understood, implies distortion, if, as Plato suggests in The Cratylus, the essence of resemblance is difference. The image that corresponded perfectly with the original would no longer be an image if it remains an image by virtue of its difference from that which it resembles.” And here’s the connection to Benjamin: “The aesthetic of the baroque merely takes this idea to its paradoxical extreme: the greater the difference the better the imitation, culminating in a theory of caricature. In this sense, all literature is ultimately baroque in inspiration.” [70] One question for Newman is whether her historical contextualization of Benjamin alters or fundamentally contests this insight.

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