Walter Benjamin, an unquestionably eminent figure in the realm of post-critical use of allegory-collage, is the primary progenitor of this form of artistic expression. Benjamin’s perceptive insights and theories in the field of art criticism have unquestionably left an indelible mark on the artistic landscape, imbuing it with a rich tapestry of ideas that continue to provoke and inspire. As a visionary of his time, Benjamin demonstrated his profound understanding of the allegorical imagination prevalent in German Baroque playwrights, while simultaneously foreseeing the artistic requirements that would define the twentieth century.
Benjamin recognized a kinship between the works of Franz Kafka, from which a similar resonance emanated, and the emblematic yet enigmatic symbols employed by German Baroque playwrights. Moreover, Benjamin discerned an analogy between the melancholy spirit evoked by these artistic representations and the montage principle embodied in the works of Sergei Eisenstein and Bertolt Brecht. According to Benjamin, montage emerged as the modern form of allegory, granting the artist the ability to juxtapose disparate elements in a way that “shocks” the audience into new insights and understandings, thus ushering in new realms of comprehension.
In his earlier work “One-Way Street,” Benjamin deftly utilized the collage/montage style to blur the boundaries between various artistic forms. Thus, he confronted and challenged the conventional understanding of the academic book, depicting it as nothing more than an antiquated intermediary between two distinct filing systems. In an effort to transcend subjectivity, Benjamin ingeniously compiled a book consisting entirely of citations, allowing the self to serve as a conduit for the expression of “objective cultural trends.” This strategy resembles Roland Barthes’ creative endeavor in “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments,” where the distillation of subjective experiences into language fragments was the focus of his artistic endeavor.
Indeed, the Modernist critics faced a dilemma regarding representation, and Benjamin’s departure from the confines of conventional book formats is evidence of his response. By adopting the essay as his preferred mode of expression, Benjamin willingly embraced incompletion and digression, eschewing the need for conclusive proofs or conclusions. Thus, his essays became veritable mosaics of fragments culled from every stratum of contemporary society, which coalesced into a complex whole that defied conventional categorization.
The profundity of Benjamin’s observations and methods resonates profoundly within me, compelling me to further contemplate their implications. His assertion that montage and collage are effective artistic expression vehicles reverberates strongly. By juxtaposing disparate elements, Benjamin demonstrates the potential for the generation of new insights and the stimulation of new perspectives. Benjamin’s approach breathes new life into a world saturated with preconceived notions and entrenched frameworks, allowing the creation of alternative narratives that challenge entrenched paradigms.
Furthermore, the intellect is captivated by Benjamin’s emphasis on the inherent “shock” factor inherent to the act of forging connections between disparate entities. In an age characterized by an abundance of easily accessible information consumed primarily in fragmentary form, the ability to establish connections that defy preconceived notions assumes a position of preeminence. Benjamin’s conception of allegory-collage as a device for jolting the audience into novel recognitions and comprehensions is congruent with the transformative capacity of art itself. Through the art of collage, in which disparate elements coexist within a single spatial framework, Benjamin urges us to embrace the unexpected, discordant, and unconventional.
In addition, Benjamin’s preference for the essay over the traditional book format represents a broader shift in our approach to the production and dissemination of knowledge. In an era characterized by an abundance of diverse information, the linear and authoritative nature of traditional books may be viewed as limiting. Benjamin’s acceptance of incompleteness, digression, and fragmented narratives in his essays demonstrates a profound appreciation for the complexities inherent in our world. He recognizes that no single viewpoint can encompass the entirety of our experiences and that the truth may lie in the juxtaposition of diverse voices and perspectives.
The methodology of Walter Benjamin compels us to consider the role of the audience in the interpretation of art. By employing allegory-collage and montage techniques, he compels the audience to actively engage with the artwork, thereby eliciting their own conclusions. In this way, Benjamin challenges the notion of the passive observer, empowering the viewer to assume the role of an active participant. The act of “shocking” the audience with unanticipated associations disrupts complacency and fosters an attitude of critical inquiry.
I am struck by Benjamin’s ideas’ palpable relevance to the contemporary artistic landscape as I consider them. As our society grows more interconnected and complex, it becomes evident that novel modes of expression and interpretation are required. Benjamin’s emphasis on the power of fragments, collages, and essays resonates perfectly with the fragmented nature of our digital age. His exploration of allegory-collage as a means of fostering new understandings and subverting established frameworks provides a valuable compass for navigating the complex web of information and meaning that surrounds us.
Walter Benjamin’s contributions to the post-critical use of allegory-collage and montage have undeniably left their mark on the history of art criticism. His perceptive understanding of the allegorical imagination of German Baroque playwrights and of the artistic requirements that would define the twentieth century continue to reverberate and energize contemporary artistic practices. Benjamin’s embrace of the essay, coupled with his rejection of conventional formats, challenges deeply ingrained norms and compels us to reconsider our approach to knowledge production. By engaging in collage and montage, Benjamin creates new avenues for the interconnection of disparate elements, thereby eliciting novel insights. As they did during Benjamin’s lifetime, his ideas continue to serve as a source of inspiration for artists, critics, and intellectuals as they navigate the labyrinthine corridors of our ever-changing world.
Walter Benjamin, “The Origin of German Tragic Drama” (Germany)
Susan Buck-Morss, “The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project” (United States)
Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (eds.), “Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life” (United States)
Esther Leslie, “Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism” (United Kingdom)
Gerhard Richter, “Walter Benjamin and the Corpus of Autobiography” (Germany)
Sigrid Weigel, “Body-and Image-Space: Re-reading Walter Benjamin” (Germany)
Peter Osborne, “Walter Benjamin: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory” (United Kingdom)
Andrew Benjamin, “Walter Benjamin and Art” (Australia)
Beatrice Hanssen, “Walter Benjamin’s Other History: Of Stones, Animals, Human Beings, and Angels” (United States)
Esther Leslie, “Walter Benjamin: Overcoming Melancholy” (United Kingdom)