Allegory and Violence

Allegory and Violence

Allegory and Violence

Allegory and Violence

Synopsis

The only form of monumental artistic expression practiced from antiquity to the Enlightenment, allegory evolved to its fullest complexity in Dante's Commedia and Spenser's Faerie Queene. Drawing on a wide range of literary, visual, and critical works in the European tradition, Gordon Teskey provides both a literary history of allegory and a theoretical account of the genre which confronts fundamental questions about the violence inherent in cultural forms. Approaching allegory as the site of intense ideological struggle, Teskey argues that the desire to raise temporal experience to ever higher levels of abstraction cannot be realized fully but rather creates a "rift" that allegory attempts to conceal. After examining the emergence of allegorical violence from the gendered metaphors of classical idealism, Teskey describes its amplification when an essentially theological form of expression was politicized in the Renaissance by the introduction of the classical gods, a process leading to the replacement of allegory by political satire and cartoons. He explores the relationship between rhetorical voice and forms of indirect speech (such as irony) and investigates the corporeal emblematics of violence in authors as different as Machiavelli and Yeats. He considers the large organizing theories of culture, particularly those of Eliot and Frye, which take the place in the modern world of earlier allegorical visions. Concluding with a discussion of the Mutabilitie Cantos, Teskey describes Spenser's metaphysical allegory, which is deconstructed by its own invocation of genealogical struggle, as a prophetic vision and a form of warning.

Excerpt

This book had its beginning in an article on allegory I contributed to The Spenser Encyclopedia, edited by A. C. Hamilton ,Donald Cheney,W. R. Blissett,David Richardson, and William W. Barker (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990). A. Kent Hieatt persuaded me to write on the subject, and the editors, especially Bert Hamilton, warmly encouraged me to pursue my own line of thought. I attempted in that article to construct a poetics of allegory, offering a definition of the genre, an analysis of its elements and their relative functions, an outline of its historical development, and an organizing hypothesis within which the transactions of the allegorical work with its culture might be understood.

In Aristotle's Poetics, the model for any such exercise, the organizing hypothesis is taken from medicine and the transaction accomplished by the tragic drama is a therapeutic purgation, a catharsis. My organizing hypothesis was taken largely from information theory and from the criticism of idealism in Wittgenstein's later philosophy; and the transaction of the work with its culture which I saw allegory performing was that ritualized form of information processing we call interpretation. It occurred to me that allegorical expression develops its imaginative structures by exaggerating those aspects of an eidetic theory of language most vulnerable to criticism on logical grounds and most likely to be undermined by processes that belong to becoming. I worked on the assumption that the cultural purpose allegory serves is to call forth from . . .

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