, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 145-156

Symbol and allegory “In the wake of Romanticism”

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Abstract

Divided into three parts, this article investigates how Johan Huizinga and Walter Benjamin draw upon romantic formulations regarding the difference between symbol and allegory in their respective books on the Middle Ages and the Baroque. The first part of the article offers a close reading of the “Symbolism in its Decline” chapter of Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen (The Autumn of the Middle Ages) (1919) to show how Huizinga sides with Goethe in his preference for symbol over allegory. The second part of the article examines the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama) (1928) to decode Walter Benjamin’s account of how “in the wake of Romanticism” a notion of the symbol derived from Classicism was deployed to underwrite a conservative critical practice. The third part pits Benjamin’s allegorical order against Huizinga’s symbolical one and shows that the latter’s humanism provides a less penetrating criticism of modernity as an ongoing process.