Other Voices, v.1, n.1 (March 1997)
Copyright © 1997 by Vance Bell, all rights reserved
What is dominant [in the symbol] is the inexpressible which, in seeking expression, will ultimately burst the too fragile vessel of earthly form by the infinite power of its being. But herewith the clarity of vision is itself immediately destroyed, and all that remains is speechless wonder.
The discussion of the differentiation of the allegorical and symbolic has had considerable influence on the conceptualization and validation of specific artistic techniques and forms of aesthetic experience. The Romantic denigration of the allegorical and its corresponding affirmation of the symbolic began with Goethe in the late 18th-Century and subsequently found its way into the writings of A.W. Schlegel, Fredrich W.J. Schelling, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Novalis in Germany, as well as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Thomas Carlyle in England. Continuing interest in the symbol-allegory distinction can be found in the literary criticism of Roman Jakobson, Northrop Frye, and Paul de Man, and the work of a number of other contemporary art critics and historians such as Craig Owens.  In his Trauerspiel study, Walter Benjamin attempted to redeem the allegorical mode as an artistic technique on par with that of the symbolic. Although Benjamin's text dealt exclusively with the Baroque period, it is apparent that allegory informs not only the Modernist techniques of Montage, Collage and Assemblage in both literature and visual arts, but the whole of interpretive writing. It therefore becomes important to comprehend the historical genesis of this distinction. This shall not be undertaken merely as an attempt to redeem Modernist forms of allegory for ourselves, but to lead us to the validation of a broader range "aesthetic" experience.
I. The Beautiful Symbol
The earliest characterization of the symbol that we can clearly recognize as our own is found in Kant's Critique of Judgment (1790). In §59 entitled 'Beauty as a Symbol of Morality' Kant objects to the improper use of the word 'symbol' to describe mathematical abstractions (e.g. symbolic logic), and instead defines the symbolical as a form of hypotyposis, a rhetorical mode involving 'presentation' or 'sensible illustration'. For Kant, there are two forms of hypotyposis: schematical and symbolical. Both confer something of the nature of a concept (Begriff) without being mere signs directly designating the concept itself.  The schematical mode illustrates the concept by demonstration, acting as a formal analog to the concept (as a drawn triangle would refer to the abstract principle which it both represents and conforms). On the other hand the symbolic mode represents that for which, "no sensory representation would be appropriate."  Paul de Man described hypotyposis in general as, "[that] which makes present to the senses something which is out of their reach, not just because it does not happen to be there but because it consists, in whole or in part, of elements too abstract for sensory representation."  The symbolic in this sense expresses a concept, "not by means of direct intuition, but only by analogy with it, i.e. by the transference of reflection upon the object of intuition to a quite different concept to which perhaps an intuition can never directly correspond."  The reflection of the object at hand in the intuition or imagination, brings forth a correlation with a concept for which there is no adequate representation.
Kant's relation of beauty to morality operates symbolically; morality is not found to reside in the beautiful form (i.e. beauty is not the sensuous presentation of 'morality'), nor does beauty demonstratively 'show' the nature of morality (as would a schema). Instead the relationship is one of analogy in which the two concepts 'beauty' and 'morality' are found to function according to similar formal principle. Kant states that language is, "full of indirect presentations of this sort, in which the expression does not contain the proper schema for the concept, but merely a symbol for reflection," as when for example the word 'ground' is substituted for 'support' or 'basis', or to 'flow' from something is employed instead of 'to follow'.  Thus, it is through a process akin to metaphor that beautiful form is found to represent morality. This formulation is directly linked to Kant's discussion of non-discursive knowledge, and represents a manner in which empirical sense experience can lead to knowledge of concepts which would otherwise be unavailable through purely empirical or conceptual means. Although this brief statement represents one of the earliest formulations of the modern symbol, Kant never returned to this line of thought in his later writings.
In the end it was not Kant, but Goethe, whose formulation of the symbol-allegory distinction became definitive. Before Goethe the terms 'symbol' and 'allegory' were used interchangeably to name any general mode in which one thing served to designate another. Hans-Georg Gadamer notes that, "Winckelmann, whose influence on the aesthetics and philosophy of history of the time was very great, used both terms synonymously; the same was true of eighteenth-century aesthetics as a whole."  Goethe redefined the pair antithetically to describe two forms of representation each with its own method and result.  The most succinct statement of this is found in his Werke:
1. Symbolism transforms appearance into an idea, the idea into an image in such a way that the idea remains always infinitely effective and unreachable in the image and remains ineffable even if uttered in all languages.
As described by Goethe in the first two points, symbolism and allegory are related yet discrete modes of representation. Formed by coincidence of sensible appearance and supra-sensible meaning, the symbol seeks to represent the ineffable and "unrepresentable" from within the confines of the concrete particular. The relationship of form and content in the symbol is indissoluble, not to say that a particular form necessarily contains a specific content, but that 'form' in general allows us access to the ineffable content which unintentionally appears in the 'vivid representation of the particular'. This unity of form and content endows the symbol with its perceived "fullness" and inexhaustibility. In contrast, allegory expresses a particular content which remains equally communicable through another instance of language or another form. At a fundamental level the relation of form and content in allegory is arbitrary.
As Goethe states, both modes negotiate between sensuous appearance (Schein) and meaningful image (Bild). Although both modes result in the creation of a meaningful image, the content of the 'meaning' in each instance depends upon the nature of their mediation.  As Tzvetan Todorov suggests:
The concept, belonging strictly to reason, is opposed to the Idea in the symbol--we may suppose that the 'idea' is drawn by Kantian overtones toward a global and 'intuitive' apprehension. This difference is important, and new: for the first time Goethe affirms that symbol and allegory do not have identical content, are not just vehicles for expressing 'the same thing'. In the symbol this is accomplished by the relation of appearance and 'Idea', whereas allegory transforms appearance into image by way of a 'concept'. Because symbol and allegory undergo distinct mediations their content is non-identical. The Kantian 'Idea', "representation of the imagination which induces much thought, yet without the possibility of any definite thought whatever, i.e. concept, being adequate to it, and which language, consequently, can never get on level terms with or render completely intelligible," is given a privileged position  The Idea is greater than the mere concept of rational understanding, being irreducible to it, and simultaneously 'above' language which fails to encompass it. The 'Idea' as represented in the symbol remains, following Goethe, 'infinitely effective and unreachable'; its complete comprehension is postponed or held out of reach of the subject. What is represented by the 'Idea' is more than mere phenomenological experience. Schelling describes the symbol, "as concrete, resembling only itself, like an image, and yet as universal and full of meaning as a concept."  The unity of form and content, of appearance and Idea, comprises the ontological nature of the symbol. Hegel, for all his criticism of Schelling, maintains this definition in his 1835 The Philosophy of Fine Arts:
Inasmuch, however, as it is the function of art to represent the idea to immediate vision in sensuous shape and not in the form of thought and pure spirituality in the strict sense, and inasmuch as the value and intrinsic worth of this presentment consists of the correspondence and unity of the two aspects, that is the idea and its sensuous shape, the supreme level and excellence and the reality, which is truly consonant with its notion, will depend upon the degree of intimacy and union which idea and configuration appear together in elaborated fusion. 
In contrast, allegorical representation is easily delimited by the content of its attendant concept. In his 1819 World as Will and Idea, Arthur Schopenhauer defined the object constituted by the concept as, "abstract, discursive...attainable and comprehensible to him that has only reason, communicable by words without any other assistance, entirely exhausted by its definition."  The concept, although immanent in and coextensive with language, is capable of operating without the threat of a loss of content. The medium of transmission is thus viewed as adequate to the task of communication. Be it in the realm of language or that of the visual, there is no remainder. Goethe's allegorical 'concept', "can be grasped and...had completely...in the image."
In the third part of his characterization Goethe writes: "It is a big difference whether the poet looks for the particular in the general or whether he sees the general in the particular." The literary critic and theorist Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism summarized the distinction of symbol and allegory as, "between a 'concrete' approach to symbols which begins with images of actual things and works outward to ideas and propositions, and 'abstract' approach which begins with the idea and then tries to find concrete images to represent it."  Although Frye fails to maintain the critical use of the terms 'concept' and 'idea', his observation addresses an important issue in the relation of the two modes to rational thought. The terms 'idea' and 'concept' correspond closely to the two modes of reason widely discussed in German thought after Kant. The 'idea' emerges from synthetic reason (i.e., Reason, or Vernunft), while the 'concept' is produced by the machinations of analytic reason (Understanding, or Verstand).  For Kant and Hegel Verstand was a lower form of cognition, one that merely formed the phenomenal world into categories developed in relation to 'common sense'. To the understanding (Verstand) the phenomena and objects of the world appear as isolated entities, unrelated to one another except by general characteristics. Reason (Vernunft), however, is capable of comprehending 'higher' relationships between the objects of common understanding, and for Hegel Vernunft was fundamentally dialectical.  The symbol is thus found to be aligned with synthetic reason, a reason involved with the reconciliation and sublation (Aufgehoben) of antithetical conceptual pairs, or contradictory elements within a greater totality. As Hegel writes in his Encyclopaedia:
The logical has in point of form three sides...These three sides do not constitute three parts of the Logic, but are moments of each logical reality, that is of each concept...a) Thought, as the Understanding, sticks to finite determinacies and their distinctness from one another...b) The dialectical moment of the self-sublation of such finite determinations and their transition into their opposites...c) The speculative moment, or that of positive Reason, apprehends the unity of the determinations in their opposition--the affirmative that is contained in their dissolution and transition. 
Verstand investigates the finite concepts of the Understanding in order to reveal their self-contradictory nature. In this process their unity is fractured and they stand in opposition to one another, having lost their self-identity. Verstand then reunites the non-identical elements at a 'higher' level where they can partake of the Absolute or 'totality'. Thus, Reason comes to 'see the general through the particular' in a manner analogous to the creation of the symbolic form. To a large degree the 'Idea' and the Hegelian Absolute coincide.
Hegel's principle of 'organic unity'--a principle that originates in Aristotle's theory of tragedy--goes behind Kant to revive the Baumgartian notion of 'perfectible beauty', according to which the beauty of an artwork or natural object corresponds to the degree of its organization or integration. In the ideal case no elements of an artwork or natural object appear arbitrary, unplanned, accidental, or irrational. Beauty thus becomes identified with systematicity, or an intense 'unity in diversity' in the field of appearance. The principle of organic unity stands as an example of Hegel's metaphysical vision of the total systematicity of the universe. The organic unity of the artwork visually represents the interconnectedness of all things, perceptual and non-perceptual. The beautiful artwork is a microcosm of the greater 'totality', and offers us a vision of what is perfect, what is unconditional, what is true, or what is divine and transcendent by means of their systematically unified appearance.
In the Introduction to his Lectures on Aesthetics, Hegel discusses the three principle forms of art. The first two, the Symbolic and the Classic correspond to the allegorical and symbolic modes:
[In] the Symbolic Form...the idea seeks its true expression in art without finding it; because, being still abstract and indefinite, it cannot create an external manifestation which conforms to its real essence. It finds itself in the presence of phenomena of nature and the events of human life, as if confronted by a foreign world. Thus it exhausts itself in useless efforts to produce a complete expression of conceptions vague and ill-defined; it perverts and falsifies the forms of the real world which it seizes in arbitrary relations. Instead of combining and identifying, of blending totally the form and the idea, it arrives at only a superficial and abstract agreement between them. These two terms, thus brought in to connection, manifest their disproportion and heterogeneity. But the idea, in virtue of its very nature, cannot retain thus in abstraction and indetermination. As the principle of free activity, it seizes itself in reality as spirit. The spirit, then, as free subject, is determined by and for itself, and in thus determining itself it finds in its own essence its appropriate outward form. The unity, this perfect harmony between the idea and its external manifestation, constitutes the second form of art--the Classic Form. Here art has attained its perfection, in so far as there is a reached a perfect harmony between the idea as spiritual individuality, and the forms as sensuous and corporeal reality. All hostility between the two elements has disappeared, in order to give place to a perfect harmony. 
Allegory is left in the less desirable position as handmaiden to the Understanding. Herbert Marcuse, in his Reason and Revolution, describes the conceptualization of existence from the point of view of the Understanding:
The world is taken as a multitude of determinate things, each of which is demarcated from the other. Each thing is a distinct and delimited entity related as such to other likewise delimited entities. The concepts that are developed from these beginnings, and the judgments composed of these concepts, denote and deal with isolated things and the fixed relations between such things. The individual determinations exclude one another as if they were atoms or monads. The one is not the other and can never be the other. To be sure, things change, and so do their properties, but when they do, one property or determination disappears and another takes its place. 
For Marcuse, the isolation of atomistic entities not only describes the plight of the individual under modern capitalism, but also the methodology of a dividing and classifying science. The inductive method of the Natural Science--its attempt to subsume the character of the particular under the general, abstract law--is parallel to the method of analytic reason, or Verstand.
The rise of Enlightenment thought in Europe was met by numerous counter-movements grouped under the umbrella term 'Romanticism'. It is within the context of this Romantic rebellion against reason that the symbol-allegory distinction received its most extreme characterization. The backlash against the divisionism and materialism of the Enlightenment's 'analytical reason' was manifested in aesthetics and criticism as the extreme distinction between the organic and mechanical form. A.W. Schlegel's discussion of mechanical and organic form in his Die Kunstlehre (The Art-Lesson) is mirrored in Coleridge's vehement attack on allegory as the "counterfeit product of the mechanical understanding:"
...allegory is but a translation of abstract notions into a picture language, which is nothing but an abstraction from the objects of the senses; the principal being more worthless even than its phantom proxy, both alike unsubstantial [sic], and the former shapeless to boot. On the other hand a symbol...is characterized by a translucence of the special in the individual, or of the general in the special, or of the universal in the general; above all of the translucence of the eternal through and in the temporal. It always partakes of the reality which it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part of the unity of which it is representative. 
With Coleridge the symbol is one with the 'whole'--it presents a unity of the particular and the general in which each is reflected in the other. This synecdocheal relationship of the symbolic object and the greater reality precipitates a hermeneutic circle in which it becomes impossible to obtain knowledge of either the symbol or the 'whole' it mirrors apart from their interrelationship. The symbol exists as a monadological abbreviation of the totality of which it is a part. Symbolic expression no longer attempts to merely make intelligible that which is 'inexpressible,' but to include all of creation within its realm. In this the symbol resembles the mythical outcome of the Hegelian dialectic where all possible antitheses (subject-object, essence-appearance, thought and being) are finally reconciled.
Coleridge makes a more complete account of the allegorical mode in another passage:
We...define allegorical writing as the employment of one set of agents and images with actions and accompaniments correspondent, so as to convey, while in disguise, either moral qualities or conceptions of the mind that are not in themselves object of the senses, or other images, agents, actions, fortunes, and circumstances so that the difference is everywhere presented to the eye or imagination, while the likeness is suggested to the mind; and this connectedly, so that the parts combine to form a consistent whole. 
It is only by means of a certain treachery that allegory conveys its 'moral qualities and conceptions' to the mind. The disunity of the images presented to the imagination is conceived by the mind as a consistent whole. Although Coleridge does not explicitly state how this is accomplished, it is presumably through subjective constructions that the identity of the 'disguised agents' is uncovered. This subjective aspect is noted--while a symbol 'enunciates' the whole, within allegory the parts 'combine' to form a whole, that is, one possible set of correspondences. Allegory expresses an arbitrary whole, one having no 'objective' relationship to the world of which it forms a part. The harmonious 'unity' of the particular and the totality invoked by the symbol is juxtaposed to the consistency which marks the same relationship in allegory. The 'conceptions of the mind' must not only be apparent, they must be consistent, so as to provide a coherent and communicable whole. This utilitarian function of language, in which the component parts are ordered so as to allow for the comprehension of the intended meaning, that leads to Coleridge's designation of allegory as 'mechanical'. This 'ordering of parts' is also reminiscent of the operations of the Understanding described in the above passage by Marcuse where concepts are comprised of the 'fixed relations' between 'fixed things'.
In language as in allegory, the particular element has no importance in and of itself. Individuals signifiers act merely as placeholders for an exterior, 'assigned' significance, "an empty shell into which another content is poured."  The allegorist, in attempting to mine the meaning of a work, undermines the status of the object itself. This process, Walter Benjamin states, leaves the object at the mercy of the subject:
If the object becomes allegorical...[it] causes life to flow out of it and it remains behind dead, but eternally secure, then it is exposed to the allegorist, it is unconditionally in his power. That is to say that it is now quite incapable of emanating any meaning or significance of its own; such significance as it has, it acquires from the allegorist. He places it within it, and stands behind it; not in psychological sense but in an ontological sense. 
Allegorical objects therefore obtain a form of significance based purely on the relationship of concept and object assigned by the subject. The instrumental relationship between allegorist and object instills meaning in the object in a transitive, if not necessarily intentional, manner. The symbol leaps over the fundamental gap between signifier and signified in its attempt 'to enunciate the whole'. Here, the performative utterance, "in the beginning was the Word," clearly applies. As opposed to the symbolic "language of God", the language of allegory is an all too worldly language more akin to the Structuralist conception that any other. This worldly language is delimited--its 'structure' emphasizes both a systematic wholeness while at the same time fundamentally questioning the unity of the 'sign' in the diremption of signifier and signified. Gershom Scholem, Benjamin's close friend and a noted scholar of Jewish mysticism, emphasizes this boundedness of language in his discussion of allegory:
Allegory consists of an infinite network of meanings and correlations in which everything can become a representation of everything else, but all within the limits of language and expression. To that extent it is possible to speak of allegorical immanence. That which is expressed by an allegorical sign is in the first instance something which has its own meaningful context, but by becoming allegorical this something loses its own meaning and becomes a vehicle for something else. Indeed the allegory arises, as it were, from the gap which at this point opens between the form and its meaning. The two are no longer indissolubly welded together; the meaning is no longer restricted to that particular form, nor the form any longer to that particular meaningful content. What appears in the allegory, in short, is the infinity of meaning which attaches to every representation. Allegory remains within the realm of earthly languages, unable to partake in the unity of the divine word. Both the symbolic and allegorical modes present that which is beyond the scope of sensuous appearance. When the symbol seeks to represent that which surpasses it, it does so only indirectly, appearing to suspend its particular nature in order to allow for the experience of the general. The symbol is incapable of being the general, and can thus only re-present it. Allegory however is capable of being the content solely in the appearance of its form which is sufficient to directly communicate the entirety of its content.
B. The Dissolution of the Symbol
The experience of the symbolic object takes on the form of a perception or sensation whose initial moment is of utmost priority.  Kant states, "the beautiful pleases immediately," and although the work of art only pleases upon reflection, it re-presents the beauty of natural objects through its own form. As opposed to the immediacy and instantaneity of the symbol, allegory finds its expression in the flow of time. According to Todorov, it was Friedrich Creuzer who first introduced the category of time into the discussion of symbolic and allegorical form.  The following passage describes 'metaphor', which Creuzer considered a subspecies of the symbol,
The essential property of this form of representation is that it produces something that is one and indivisible. What analytic and synthetic reason bring together in a sequential series as individual features, with the objective developing of a concept, this other manner of apprehending gives as a whole and at the same time. It is a single glance; the intuition is achieved all at once. Benjamin also invokes Creuzer's formulation in the Trauerspiel: "The distinction between the two modes is therefore to be sought in the momentariness which allegory lacks...There [in the symbol] we have momentary totality; here we have progression in a series of moments."  Because of their temporal nature, Paul de Man proposed that "allegory always corresponds to the unveiling of an authentically temporal decay," which, "takes place in a subject that has sought refuge against the impact of time..." The symbol's hermetic form/content relation seeks to exclude both time and the natural process of decay. Allegory, by allowing a gap to exist between form and content, embraces temporality, decay, and finally--history. This aspect is foregrounded in one of the key passages of the Trauerspiel:
Whereas in the symbol destruction is idealized and the transfigured [Verklärung] face of nature is revealed in the light of redemption, in allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica [death mask] of history as a petrified, primordial landscape. Everything about history that, from the very beginning, has been untimely, sorrowful, unsuccessful, expresses itself in a countenance--or rather a death's head...this is the form in which man's subjection to nature is most pronounced and it gives rise to the enigmatic question not only of the nature of human existence as such but of the biographical historicity of the individual. This is the core of the allegorical way of seeing, of the baroque, secular account of history as the Passion of the world, a world that is meaningful only in the stations of decay. The greater the significance, the greater the subjection to death, because death digs most deeply the jagged line of demarcation between physical being and significance. Allegory does justice to worldly suffering in a manner inexpressible in the immediacy of the symbol. The symbol's preoccupation with beautiful appearance (schöner Schein) falsifies history, by excluding all that has been, 'untimely, sorrowful, unsuccessful'. Classicism for Benjamin was a 'symbolic' trend within the history of art which "by its very essence...was not permitted to behold the lack of freedom, the imperfection the collapse of the physical, beautiful nature."  Symbolic images "present themselves as stable, material embodiments of timeless, even transcendent, perfection;" however, that 'perfection' is fundamentally illusory.  As John McCole rightly points out, the connotative richness of the German Verklärung (transfiguration) plays a decided role in Benjamin's discussion of the symbol in the above passage:
It suggests, first of all, a transformation in which an object takes on a certain radiance. The object glows; it beams, like a face transfigured by bliss...[or] a religious apotheosis...But finally, Verkl&aum;lrung may also mean an idealization of something in the negative sense of distortion or even falsification; memory may transfigure the past by bathing things in a sentimental glow, making the good old days appear more beautiful than they actually were. The falsification found at the base of the symbolic work of art is precipitated by its attempts to stabilize the appearance of totality in plastic form. Benjamin states that only 'theological symbols', for which "the measure of time...is the mystical instant [Nu]," are 'timeless'.  The work of art can partake of the Nu only in as much as it relinquishes its physical nature--exactly that which it is unable to do.  Because the symbol attempts to point beyond itself to something else (the transcendent, God, 'totality'), it allows for a gap into which the wedge of temporality can be driven. As a result of its material existence the symbol remains within the ebb and flow of time--immanently historical. In failing to achieve the 'mystical instant', the symbolic work of art succumbs to its own objecthood. As a result of its hubristic attempt to include the totality within itself, the symbol devolves: "The mystical instant [Nu] becomes the 'now' [Jetzt] of contemporary actuality; the symbolic becomes distorted into the allegorical."  The symbol, for the very reason that it attempts to point beyond itself, carries within itself the mechanism of its own de(con)struction.
The decline of the symbol at the hands of allegory finds its parallel in Benjamin's discussion of the decline of Aura of the work of art when confronted with its 'technical reproducibility'.  Benjamin describes the Aura of works of art in terms of the aura of natural objects:
The concept of aura which was proposed above with reference to historical objects may usefully be illustrated with reference to the aura of natural ones. We define aura of the latter as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. If while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch. The image makes it easy to comprehend the social basis of the contemporary decay of the aura. The auratic work of art contains a vitality and radiance attained through the 'transfigured face of nature',  The 'unique phenomenon of a distance' marking the aura of natural objects harkens back to Kant for whom natural beauty always constituted a singular experience, a token of the non-identity of the object with other objects. Aura also carries theological overtones in which, "the phenomenal appearing in space and time, in the here and now [Hier und Jetzt], of something non-phenomenal, something distant that transcends the phenomenal," brings the concept of aura into close relationship with that of the symbol.  Benjamin's recourse to the aura of the natural object brings the auratic work of art into relation with the passage of time and natural decay. The concept of 'aura' in the "Work of Art" essay is inseparable from its decline brought about by the reproducibility of the aesthetic object. Benjamin's central concern is not so much the re-production of auratic works, as the production of non-auratic works and the effect of their existence on the 'presence' of the auratic work: "The situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated."  Reproduction strikes at the heart of auratic works by questioning their 'authenticity,' their 'unique presence in time and space' which links them so closely to concepts of bourgeois subjectivity. The auratic work of art stands equal to the individual, an object able to 'return the gaze' of the beholder.  Benjamin's implicit reference to natural beauty in his discussion of aura stems from an interest in Romantic art criticism where the 'whole' of the symbolic work was often considered to mirror the 'whole' of the subject. This is especially apparent in the illusory identification of subject and object described by Coleridge: "The object of art is to give the whole ad hominem."  The allegorical rendering of auratic objects strips them of their beautiful appearance (schöner Schein), and in this manner, "allegory declares itself to be beyond beauty."  The harmony of the beautiful form The decline of the symbol is undertaken by allegory which assures that, "its false appearance of totality is extinguished."  The temporal aspect of this experience manifests itself in the irresistible decomposition of the natural object, which is mirrored by the historical transformation of the creations of man. What remains in the aftermath of this process is the emblematic character of the ruin.
The ruin concretely manifests a process of decay in which "the events of history shrivel up and become absorbed,"  "physically merg[ing] into the setting,"  Hegel as well notes the relation of the ruin to allegory: "It is like an architect obliged to accommodate himself to an unequal soil, upon which rise old debris, walls half destroyed, hillocks and rocks; forced, besides to subordinates his plans to particular ends. He can erect only irregular structures which must be wholly irrational and fantastic."  The ruin is marked by the passage of time, an object both created and altered by existence in its flow. It exists as the allegorical expression of the transient nature of man's creations, as well as the transient character of Creation. Transience is most securely inscribed upon the human physis in the form of the corpse--the significance of which in the Baroque was more than a mere memento mori. The corpse does not simply foreground (and foreshadow) the inevitable death of every man. Instead, the obsession with death found in both the Baroque and Modern era stems from their mourning of a common loss of the transcendent, a loss which occasions a question as to the significance and foundation of Being.
Whereas the middle ages places the frailty of worldly events and the transience of creation on display as way-stations on the path to salvation, the German mourning play buries itself entirely in the hopelessness of the earthy order. If it knows any solution whatsoever, it lies more in the depth of this predicament than in the accomplishment of a divine plan for salvation.
In a fallen world any possibility of a 'heavenly' escape appears foreclosed. Death, which once negatively circumscribed the subject as a barrier between the self and its alteriority, now fails in its task of demarcation: "Death remains, as it were, enclosed in the world of immanence: the dead do not depart, or if they do, it is only to return as revenants, as ghosts."  If the work of mourning represents the freeing of one's-self from a narcissistic identification with a lost object, then our object is the mythical 'whole' self and its guarantee of significance under the sign of the transcendent. To successfully mourn the death of the subject would require the de-cathexis of this lost object, and cathexis upon another, yet in an utterly profane world the only available objects are 'dead' objects. Thus, the task of mourning fails, repeatedly turning the subject back against itself and the world of profane things. The search for transcendence becomes an eternal return to the site of the originary loss--the secular death which was merely a 'passing away'. The Kantian notion of an individual, spontaneous, knowing subject capable of the disinterested aesthetic experience describes a situation at the earliest stages of modernity--a situation that would become increasingly unrecognizable during the rise of Modernism. The false elevation of the transcendent symbol over and against the world of man, mimics the illusory separation of man from the objective world brought about by the rise of the market economy. Against such a backdrop, history itself becomes a 'petrified, primordial landscape,' leaving man unable to locate the path back to the garden before the Fall. The corpse becomes both the subject of allegory and the nature of the subject.
The challenge of transcending the immanence of such an existence necessarily lies in the realm of the profane. Any solution to this predicament must come not from an external guarantor, but from the depths of current circumstance. Oddly enough it is Hegel who recognizes the way out of the abyss of absolute materiality, which is found not in the synthetic activity of Vernunft, but in the destructive character of the Verstand:
The analysis of an idea, as it used to be carried out, was, in fact, nothing else than ridding it of the form in which is had become familiar. To break an idea up into its original elements is to return to its moments, which as least do not have the form of the given idea, but rather constitute the immediate property of the self. This analysis, to be sure, only arrives at thoughts which are themselves already familiar, fixed, and inert determinations. But what is thus separated and nonactual is an essential moment; for it is only because the concrete does divide itself, and make itself into something nonactual, that it is self moving. The activity of dissolution is the power and work of Understanding [Verstand], the most astonishing and mightiest of powers, or rather the absolute power. The circle that remains self-enclosed and, like substance, holds its moments together, is an immediate relationship, one therefore, which is nothing astonishing about it. But that an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, what is bound and is actual only in its context with others, should retain an existence of its own and a separate freedom--this is the tremendous power of the negative; it is the energy of thought, of the pure 'I'. Death, if that is what we want to call this nonactuality, is of all things the most dreadful, and to hold fast to what is dead requires the greatest strength. Lacking strength, Beauty hates the Understanding for asking of her to do what it cannot do. But the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. Out of the very fragments of reality rises the phoenix of significance. In the very ruins of history, allegorical intuition "re-discovers itself, not playfully in the earthly world of things, but seriously under the eyes of heaven." 
1 See "The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles," in Roman Jakobson and Morris Halle, Fundaments of Language, 1956; "Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols," in Northrope Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1957, pp. 71-115; "Rhetoric and Temporality," in Allegories of Reading, Yale University Press, 1979 and majority of The Aesthetic Ideology, Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1996 by Paul de Man; and Craig Owens, "The Allegorical Impulse: Towards a Theory of Postmodernism (Part 1)," in October 13, Summer 1980, reprinted in Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power and Culture, University of California Press, pp. 52-88.
3 Paul de Man, "The Epistemology of Metaphor," On Metaphor, ed. Sheldon Sacks, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 24. de Man also relates the 'schematical' form of hypotyposis to the representation of the objects of the mind (Verstand) where the "corresponding apperception is a priori, as would be the case for any geometric shape." (pg. 24). The 'symbolical' form represents objects of Reason (Vernunft)
5 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, §59, pg. 198. Italics mine.
7 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd revised ed., New York: Continuum Press, 1989 (1960), pg. 72.
8 Goethe's friend, the art historian Heinrich Meyer, attempted in his 1797 essay, "On the Objects of the Plastic Arts," to found a distinction between the two modes, but it was left to Goethe himself to produce the definitive discussion. Todorov characterizes Meyer's effort as 'uncritical' in the use of the two terms. Meyer's paper maintained an obvious indebtedness to Goethe as a result of their conversations at that time. Goethe also wrote an essay entitled, "On the Objects of the Plastic Arts,' during the same year as Meyer, however Goethe's version remained unpublished for over twenty years. Todorov, Theories of the Symbol, trans. Catherine Porter, Ithica, Cornell University Press, 1982 (1977), pp. 199, 212-4.
9 J.W. Goethe, Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, Munich: C.H. Beck, 1973, vol. 12, pp. 470-71. Translated in Rainer Nägele, Theater, Theory, Speculation: Walter Benjamin and Scenes of Modernity, Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, pg. 88.
10 Note that the German translation of the word 'symbol' is Sinnbild, literally 'meaning image'.
11 Tzvetan Todorov, Theories of the Symbol, pg. 206.
12 As cited in, Tzvetan Todorov, Theories of the Symbol, pg. 190.
13 Friedrich Schelling, "Philosophie der Kunst" (1802), Sämmtliche Werke, book V, pg. 411. Cited in Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, pg. 77.
14 G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Fine Art, trans. F.P.B. Osmaston, G. Bell & Sons, 1920, reprinted in Critical Theory Since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Publishers, 1971, pg. 520.
15 Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, trans. R.B. Haldane and J. Kemp, London: AMS Press, 1977, vol. 1, Bk. III, pg. 302.
16 Northrop Frye, "Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols," The Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957. Reprinted in Critical Theory Since Plato, 1971, pg. 1128.
17 Rainer Nägele, Theater, Theory, Speculation: Walter Benjamin and Scenes of Modernity, 1991, pg. 90.
18 Synthetic Reason was more than just capable of distinguishing the radically different from the merely at hand-it was capable of 'creating' the radically different through mediation. Art under philosophical aesthetics served the purpose of translating this ideational synthesis of the aspects of understanding into the realm of praxis. This desire underwrites the Modernist avant-garde's imperative that art become a loci for the active transformation of the lived world.
19 G.W.F. Hegel, Logic of the Encyclopaedia, §79-82 in William Wallace, Hegel's Logic, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.
20 G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on Aesthetics, in The Philosophy of Hegel, ed. by Carl J. Friedrich, New York: Random House, The Modern Library Series, 1954, pg. 334-5.
21 Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, Boston: Beacon Press, pg. 44.
22 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Statesman's Manual (1816), reprinted in, Critical Theory Since Plato, 1971, pg. 468.
23 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Miscellaneous Criticism, ed. T.M. Raysor, London, 1936, pg. 30. Cited in Angus Fletcher, Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode, Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1964, pg. 19. Italics mine.
24 Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, New York: Schocken Books, 1946, pg. 27.
25 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, pp. 183-4.
26 Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, pg. 26.
27 Paul de Man, "Rhetoric and Temporality," pg. 178.
28 Tzvetan Todorov, Theories of the Symbol, pg. 217.
29 Fredrich Creuzer, Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker, 1810, pg. 57, Cited in Tzvetan Todorov, Theories of the Symbol, pg. 217.
30 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, pp. 165.
31 Paul de Man, "Rhetoric and Temporality," pg. 190.
32 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, pp. 166. Translation altered.
33 Ibid., pp. 176.
34 John McCole, Walter Benjamin and the Antinomies of Tradition, Ithica, Cornell University Press, 1993, pg. 136.
35 Ibid., pg. 136-7. The transfigured work of art casts a light that alters memory, effecting a dual 'forgetting'-the plastic object gives up its 'memory' as it is simultaneously transformed 'beyond recognition'. Thus the symbolic work of art 'forgets' its own materiality-its history. The apparent absence of a history lends to the work the illusion of 'being out of time' (often mistaken for timelessness). The amnesia of transfiguration is temporary.
36 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, pp. 165.
37 As the art historian Michael Fried has pointed out in several of his later works (Absorption and Theatricality, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980 and Courbet's Realism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), the attempt on behalf of the work of art to overcome its ontological nature as object appear doomed to failure.
38 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, pp. 183.
39 'Technical Reproducibility' is considered a superior translation of Benjamin's Reprodukierbarkeit typically rendered as 'Mechanical Reproduction'. 'Technical Reproducibility' points toward the nature of the work of art as reproducible from the very beginning, not only in the modern age where technological advancements have caught up with the representational capabilities of traditional artworks, but also in earlier eras as exhibited in printmaking, coinage, etc.
40 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in Illuminations, pg. 222-3.
41 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, pp. 166.
42 Rudolphe Gasché, "Objective Diversions: On some Kantian Themes in Benjamin's 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'," in Walter Benjamin's Philosophy: Destruction and Experience, ed. Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne, London, Routledge, 1994, pg. 188.
43 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Illuminations, pg. 221.
44 Walter Benjamin, "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire," Illuminations, pg. 188.
45 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "On Poesy and Art," Biographia Literaria, vol. II, ed. J. Shawcross, Oxford, 1979, pg. 262.
46 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama,, pp. 178.
47 Ibid., pp. 176.
48 Ibid., pp. 179.
49 Ibid., pp. 177-8.
50 G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on Aesthetics, in The Philosophy of Hegel, ed. by Carl J. Friedrich, New York, Random House, The Modern Library Series, 1954, pg. 344.
51 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, pp. 81, translation altered in accordance with Samuel Weber, "Geneology of Modernity: History, Myth and Allegory in Benjamin's Origin of the German Mourning Play," MLN, no. 106, 1991, pg. 494.
52 Samuel Weber, "Geneology of Modernity: History, Myth and Allegory in Benjamin's Origin of the German Mourning Play," MLN, no. 106, 1991, pg. 494.
53 G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, pp. 18-19.
54 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, Verso Press, 1977, pg. 232.
Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, Verso Press, 1977
________, Illuminations, ed. and with and intro. by Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn, New York: Schoken Books, 1969.
Paul de Man, "The Epistemology of Metaphor," On Metaphor, ed. Sheldon Sacks, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "On Poesy and Art," Biographia Literaria, vol. II, ed. J. Shawcross, Oxford, 1979
________, Miscellaneous Criticism, ed. T.M. Raysor, London, 1936
Angus Fletcher, Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode, Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1964
Northrop Frye, "Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols," The Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd revised ed., New York: Continuum Press, 1989
Rudolphe Gasché, "Objective Diversions: On some Kantian Themes in Benjamin's ' The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'," Walter Benjamin's Philosophy: Destruction and Experience, ed. Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne, London, Routledge, 1994
J.W. Goethe, Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, Munich: C.H. Beck, 1973
G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977
________, "Lectures on Aesthetics," The Philosophy of Hegel, ed. by Carl J. Friedrich, New York: Random House, The Modern Library Series, 1954
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, translated, with an introduction, by J.H. Bernard, New York : Hafner Press, 1951
Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, Boston: Beacon Press, 1969
John McCole, Walter Benjamin and the Antinomies of Tradition, Ithica, Cornell University Press, 1993
Rainer Nägele, Theater, Theory, Speculation: Walter Benjamin and Scenes of Modernity, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991
Gershom Scholem,Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, New York: Schocken Books, 1946
Tzvetan Todorov, Theories of the Symbol, trans. by Catherine Porter, Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982
Samuel Weber, "Geneology of Modernity: History, Myth and Allegory in Benjamin's Origin of the German Mourning Play," MLN, no. 106, 1991
Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, trans. R.B. Haldane and J. Kemp, London: AMS Press, 1977
William Wallace, Hegel's Logic, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975
Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (19)