The Allegory Project

Since I’m likely to end up referring on occasion to my previous work, and because everything I’m doing now is connected to it in one way or another, I thought I should put up a brief summary of what it’s about and what conclusions it reached. This is just for the gist—I’ll probably end up fleshing things out a bit here in the future. You can also see a couple of articles: The NLH piece I mentioned a few days ago (“Toward a Benjaminian Theory of Dialectical Allegory,” NLH 37.2 [2006], 285-298) and two non-MUSE-available pieces, “Narrating the Sublime Event” (Theory@Buffalo 11 [2007], 143-166) and “Events as Dual and Narrative Entities in Deleuze and Badiou” (Subject Matters 2 [2005], 25-34).

So … in my dissertation—and now a book manuscript—I developed a thesis about the relationship between allegory and the event. Specifically, I claimed that we should expect to see allegory play a prominent role in the mechanisms by which revolutionary ideas and movements take hold and propagate through their relevant communities (or situations and subjects, if we’re feeling Badiouian). What that means in practical terms for a literary scholar/theorist is that we’d expect to see on uptick in the quantity and perceived importance or centrality of allegorical literature produced during moments of transition between comparatively stable aesthetic and cultural regimes. One can probably hear Kuhn and Latour rattling around in the background here, if only by analogy from the scientific case; it’s also an attempt to flesh out a problem in Badiou’s theory of the event, which is good on the “what” but not so strong on the “how” of the matter.

I then have a more or less detailed case study of American late modernism, which I think illustrates this phenomenon pretty well; American fiction in the fifties and sixties is, in fact, shot through with allegory in a way that neither high modernism nor literary postmodernism proper can (nor would want to) match. That’s nice enough, and it identifies and explains an overlooked aspect of late modernism (which is otherwise usually just understood as an imperfect “prefiguring” of postmodernist literary production, or as a kind of last gasp of modernism proper). But the claim is much larger and more general than that; we should in principle be able to see a similar phenomenon in all kinds of other transformative moments, both within literary history and out in the rest of the world of events, be they political, aesthetic, scientific, whatever.

So now my new work aims to push this claim further and wider, specifically by analyzing the role of allegory and other tropological language in the primary literature of the natural sciences around moments of evental change (that’s the science project), and by examining a much larger historical sweep within literature proper (which is the digital humanities project). More on the details and status of both of those efforts on another occasion.

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