Reason and madness: reading Walter Benjamin and Anselm Kiefer through Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I

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Abstract:

English: In this study I propose to appropriate Albrecht Dürer’s well-known engraving from 1514, Melencolia I, as an allegorical image through which to read both Walter Benjamin’s theory of allegory and Anselm Kiefer’s allegorical paintings. On the one hand, my aim will be to demonstrate the reciprocity which allegory proposes between the visual and the verbal: in allegory, words are often transposed into purely visual phenomena, while visual images are offered as script to be deciphered. On the other hand, I shall enact a reading of allegory as a figure for, or strategy akin to, the self-reflexive, interdiscursive practice which Mieke Bal calls “preposterous history”. In paying special attention to the bidirectionality of melancholia and allegory I shall also relate reading to the complexity of recollection or sublime ethico-theological anamnesis.