Walter Benjamin and Witold Gombrowicz: Allegory's immanent domain
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Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire reveals that in the decline of the storyteller the allegorist is the new storyteller. This assertion is established by dismantling misconceptions about experience, allegory, and storytelling. We easily forget that the "communal" fire associated with the storyteller is not, though personally felt, personal experience. For, just as the memoire involuntaire does not retrieve what one experienced but what was salvaged for later experience in the face of shock, modern day "catastrophe," so too does storytelling require inexperience . Consequently, we must view experience differently, and the preconceived notions that separate storytelling from allegory should be diminished. The memoire involuntaire revealed that inexperience has a redemptive aspect in the face of shock. Similarly, the allegorist, whose acts of redemptive rescue forge constellations between elements of the past unknown and unexperienced by anyone in the "present," finds common ground with the storyteller through redemption. Moreover, the storyteller and the allegorist share a similar Baroque trait, for storytelling knows no "Finis", as its "counsel is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the continuation of a story which is just unfolding," just as allegory's interpretive act is always already pointing elsewhere. Indeed, when we hear that "the epic side of truth is dying out," what we now understand is less disconcerting because there was a misconception of what truth means for storytelling. "Truth" really translates as an act of unveiling; storytelling perpetuates its story as allegory perpetuates itself through unfulfillment in the "unveiling" of interpretation. Also, storytelling has always been at odds with the explanatory habits of "information" as heralded by headlines; coincidentally, like storytelling allegory does not concern itself with explanation. In Wings of Desire stories are told through images that interrupt each other in succession, challenging one to participate in the continuation of its story through interpretation. Interruption bears significance for the Baroque sovereign as well as his counterpart, the "sovereign" self in Gombrowicz's interhuman church. In the Baroque the state of emergency declared by the sovereign interrupts the law at hand, and in order to maintain the legitimacy of his rule his order must be "interrupted" in reference to the "chaos" that he holds at bay; similarly, in Gombrowicz's The Marriage people find themselves torn between the desire for order and chaos as Form becomes an expression of a perpetual state of interruption. As a precursor for the interhuman church, the sovereign's state of emergency suggests that there is no sovereignty of the self apart from the determination by others through Form. In its arbitrary nature the interhuman church proves to be a compliment to the chaos that helps sustain the sovereign's power, for without catastrophe there would be no state of emergency and no sovereignty, and without the interhuman church there would be no self created. The Marriage is a Baroque play through and through, as sovereign indecision is matched by Form's effect on man. For, just like a sovereign crippled with inaction, every action performed by man in the interhuman church does not remain under the control of his action but is deformed by others; thus, the tyranny of Form makes equal martyrs of its tyrants, just as the Trauerspiel reveals with the soverign's representation of power amid his powerlessness. Thus, Baroque indecision is matched by inauthenticity in Gombrowicz's The Marriage . Just as the self must form itself indirectly through the imposition of Form by others in the interhuman church, so too is indirection required of constellation. For Benjamin, a noumenal Idea can only be represented indirectly through earthly, phenomenal things that redeem the Idea by making its representation possible, while simultaneously devaluing it because Ideas take a detour in their need for phenomenal representation. The disparate particulars are elevated in their constellatory representation, and as phenomena are redeemed in the creation of a constellation so too is the self elevated and devalued through Form in the interhuman church. For, " phenomena do not...enter into the realm of ideas whole," 1 so subjects do not enter into the realm of meaning whole. In Cosmos Witold contends with evidence of the imposition of meaning by others through the anomalies that he discovers around him. His desire to impose meaning and order to the chaos of arbitrary things at hand suggests that the discussion of the role of the imposition of the allegorist must be coincident with an exploration of man's compulsion for order in Gombrowicz's Form. Allegory and Form both negotiate the registers between order and chaos or the state of emergency and catastrophe in a secular world devoid of transcendence and inept at conclusion. Like allegory, Witold the detective perpetuates interpretation while never uncovering a meaning, solution, or truth; thus, the detective becomes the criminal, perpetuating the mystery in order to be incessantly solving the mystery, just as the sovereign never forestalls chaos in order to legitimize and maintain his "sovereignty." 1 Walter Benjamin. The Origin of German Tragic Drama .