Jane O. Newman: Re: More Allegory, More Macherey, and a Little Auerbach


The issue animating these posts is precisely the question of allegory, or, as I would prefer to frame it (following Erich Auerbach, but without his emphasis of the “ultimate fulfillment” of the figure): Figuration. Why read the baroque (or the Renaissance or Weimar) at all? Or more precisely: How are we to read them? Auerbach writes that figural reading allows the “interpretation of one worldly event through another; the first signifies the second, the second fulfills the first. Both remain historical events.” In the sense that each historical moment is “empty” if not read figurally, I suppose that Jennings could be correct. Auerbach would counter, however, that all of history, “with…its concrete force,” always already “remains…a figure, cloaked and needful of interpretation.” All historical moments are thus by definition potentially full (see Birns’ excellent comment here re the complex fullness of the post-1919 Silesian situation is relation to the Weimar Republic), both dis- and refigured in our reading and representation of them. When Benjamin reads the Baroque – and we read him reading it – he uses it as a platform, a constitutive horizon (a bit of Gadamer peeks in here), from which to observe his and our present through a Macherey-ian “mirror”: “The mirror extends the world: but it also seizes, inflates and tears that world. In the mirror, the object is both completed and broken: disjecta membra” (“Lenin: Critic of Tolstoy,” 134). In my more recent work, I have been circling around precisely this ‘mirroring’ effect in the case of what this generation (Benjamin included) did in fact know of what I am calling the Westphalian dispensation (the reception of the actual treaty and its consequences for the future of the European state system) and its afterlives. ( I do so because of current claims about the post-Westphalianism of our globalized, border-busting, networked world.) For these men (and at least one woman, Hannah Arendt), commentary on Westphalia may be somewhat “subterranean,” but it wasn’t really all that far down. See Benjamin’s commentary on the “constitutional doctrine” and the emergence of the early modern forms of sovereignty in the Trauerspiel book, for example. He of course famously cites Schmitt here, but lots of other source texts as well from the virtual industry of parsings of the political consequences of 1648. (I have come to think of his relation to Schmitt on these issues as a matter not of influence or dialogue, then, but, rather, as ‘parallel play’ and I look to Schmitt’s earlier essay on “The Visibility of the Church” (1917) or his later book on Hobbes (1938) (where he reads the issue of “indirect powers” as they emerge out of Hobbes’ Leviathan in their implications for the “machine”-state coalescing around him (admittedly, partially with his help). As a result, I prefer to embed both his and Benjamin’s commentary on the emergence of a doctrine of the ‘state of exception’, say, in a larger mosaic (see disjecta membra above) of figural readings of the post-Westphalian (literally, post-1648) world.) Others writing at this point were rather less figural; see Franz Rosenzweig’s Globus, 1919, for example, where he tries to wrestle the details of this historical trajectory to the ground, even as he was also writing Star. Kahn is correct in this respect to problematize the suggestion that Benjamin actually thought modern Germany’s soul could be saved. But by looking at the afterlives of Lutheranism both in the 17th century Silesian plays and in WWI war theology, he demonstrates the power of a text to offer what Macherey calls an “oblique” description of how it was lost. His own text, the Trauerspiel book, can function this way for us too.

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