What is political allegory in classical poetry

On behalf of the German Research Foundation, from 19.-23. May 2014 an international literary symposium on the subject of "Allegory" will take place at Villa Vigoni. Organizationally, it follows the pattern of the German symposia of the DFG, as they have been held since the 1970s. The conference languages ​​are English and German, whereby all participants should be able to participate in the discussion in both languages.

The symposium is intended to summarize and further develop perspectives on the allegory after Benjamin and de Man. The allegory is therefore not only a figure who says or introduces one thing in order to mean the other, but it means by denying what it is presenting. The allegory is a reflection of the sign in the sign. With self-reflective practices of fragmentation, quotation, collage, an ironically exhibited metanarrativity and metafictionality, etc., modernity and postmodernism have given rise to a return of allegory as an analytical category, which then renders previously mimetic sign practices readable.

The focus of the symposium should be on cultural and historical issues: it is about allegory as a technique of remembering, appropriating, penetrating and superimposing cultures; about the symbolic self-understanding of (sub) cultural collectives by means of allegorical narratives; about the discourses in which allegory was historically discussed in the field of competitive terms; allegorical procedures of puzzling and hiding in the sense of the secret or the cipher, which serve a shielded communication of certain cultural actors. It is also about the analysis of allegorical texts, works of fine art and multimedia productions in the sense of an analysis of their forms of showing and meaning in the historically specific social field of art and cultural production.

The problem outlined is to be examined in four sections - some of which overlap.

1. Places of crossings / placelessness of crossings
Head: Daniel L. Selden (Santa Cruz)

The allegory is spread in the time of intensified transcultural contacts after Alexander's campaigns and is then also the subject of systematic discussion for the first time. It is closely related to the development of cosmopolitan centers of cultural and economic exchange: the allegory operates a mouvance (Zumthor), a movement of the texts beyond temporal, geographical and cultural boundaries.

Traditionally, allegory has been characterized as a process that preserves the original signifier of a (sacred or classical) text but adds a new signified to it; the original reading of the text becomes historically obsolete as the sign is recontextualized in a new geographical and cultural framework. The allegory or the allegorical reading are therefore considered a mode of historicization that preserves traditions threatened by oblivion and re-functionalises them for the historical present. The procedure can also be defined in the sense of an imperial appropriation of foreign texts or as a local phenomenon of cultural hybridization. Insofar as discourses of tradition formation, imperial unity and cosmopolitan cultural interdependence intersect in the allegory, it can be thought of as an overdetermined textual place of cultural self-reflection.

The focus of this section is on the transcultural contexts that favor the emergence of allegorical texts, images, buildings or their allegorical reading in cosmopolitan centers, e.g. in Alexandria, Cordoba, Florence, Paris, Vienna, New York or today, for example, Dubai and Shanghai. The analysis of literary genres, such as the ancient novel or troubadour poetry, as text networks is particularly welcome.

Possible topics: Allegory as a practice of historicization - Allegory and crossing cultural boundaries - Allegory and imperial traditions - Allegory and architecture - Allegory and cultural memory - Allegory and (historical forms) of cultural criticism - Allegory and cultural crisis - Allegory / syncretism / hybridity - Allegory and Translation - text networks, genre systems of allegory.

2. Allegory in the field of its competitive concepts
Head: Bettine Menke (Erfurt)

The allegory is historically situated in a field of competition terms. It is important to look at the field of discourses in which allegory participates (such as exegesis, hermeneutics, rhetoric and poetics) as well as the historically different weighting of certain epochs and genres in literatures and arts in relation to allegory.

In rhetoric, allegory figures as metaphora continua, with two possible borderline concepts: the riddle (aenigma), to which it can develop as tota allegoria, and the irony, with which it has in common speaking differently (than intended). The double speech, which is conceived on the one hand aenigmatic and on the other hand politically-public (állon-agoreúein), gives birth to fictions and can be expanded epic and novel-like. With regard to exegesis practices (e.g. in the various religions), allegory is in competition with language and grammatical analysis on the one hand and with letter operations on the other. - In the history of the exegesis of texts from late antiquity and the Middle Ages, allegory becomes a second language of things. Things in their facticity become signs of the second order, traditionally as an element in the book of nature, secured by divine authorship, or - more far-reaching - without transcendent safeguarding as "myths of everyday life" (Barthes). With regard to the ciphers of the world, the allegorical assignment of meaning competes with semiology, but allegory also turns this back on itself, on becoming or making signs. - With regard to the representation, the allegory contradicts its conception of mimesis (and, because of its rhetoric, it should not be confused with other figurative narrative forms such as parables and parables). If the mimetic representation seems to be geared towards seeing what is represented (as in the symbol, in which, according to Goethe, the general is immediately revealed through the particularity of the perception), then the allegory is dependent on reading. In the foundation of aesthetics, the allegory, which has now advanced to the explicit counter-concept to the beautiful, experiences its most violent defense; in so far as it does not close itself to form, but is connected with detailed, decomposing knowledge, it threatens the viewer himself with dismemberment. - The concept of allegory finally becomes critical insofar as it denotes the limit of the autonomy of art.

Possible topics: allegory versus symbol, fiction, facticity, mimesis - allegory and grammar (among other things in the relationship between metaphor and metonymy) - allegory and other practices of exegesis - allegory, cipher, rebus - allegory and literality - allegory, parable, example, etc. Quotation character of allegory as a reference to the library, the world of texts, the copia of signs and things - allegory and the “melancholy” of art - allegory and irony - allegory and the textuality of images - general objectives and rules of artistic production in respective epochs which this allegory takes up or rejects.

3. Politics of Allegory
Head: Ulla Haselstein (FU Berlin)

Allōs (or allon) agoreuein, speaking differently than publicly, means to distinguish between literal and improper forms of speaking, but also to speak differently in public (be it consciously or unconsciously). Special knowledge is required to read allegorical texts / to read texts allegorically, and an (intellectual, religious, national, territorial, psychoanalytic) community of interpretation to negotiate the validity of these readings. Regardless of whether the term allegory is used poetically or hermeneutically, it is always connected with the institutionalization of the production of texts and their interpretation and in political discourses on the concept of the public sphere, the legitimacy of power and the relationship between (officially) sayable and ( strategic) secrets.

By combining elements of different literary traditions, allegory serves social groups and their claims to power. The cultures of late antiquity, the courtly representational culture or the staging of national or ethnic identity in the 19th and 20th centuries constitute exemplary fields of the investigation. Discourses on mysteries, hieroglyphics and secret writing are also of interest. Finally, one should think of the contemporary boom of the sublime and the authentic, as well as their variant of both trauma, in which the impossible representation of the unrepresentable coincides with the necessity of its representation and can allegorically be described as a dissociation of what is imagined and what is significant.

Possible topics: The allegory as a strategic enigma or as a strategic integration of the forbidden / the politically precarious - allegory as a shift in political rhetoric - cryptic allegory as the naturalization of the symbolic order of the real - allegory and myth: (against) the authority of the sacred - allegories of political domination - Allegory as secret writing - Allegory as poetics / politics of cultural memory - Allegorical reading as a culture-critical practice of modernity - Allegory and institutions of knowledge - Allegories of the unrepresentable (history, death, trauma, utopia).

4. Delimitation of the allegorical: art and lifeworld
Head: Friedrich Teja Bach (Vienna)

Allegorical phenomena have become ubiquitous today. In a new and intensified way, the present is characterized by a “certain tendency towards allegory”, “if one understands by it a spiritual relationship where everything means more than it really deserves” (Musil). The concept of allegory can make the basic structures of the current constitution of reality legible, such as the simultaneity of globalization and particularization in the patchwork of cultures, the tendency to capitalize resources of meaning, the hyperbolic generation of signs and, on the flip side, the inflation and comparative validity of meaning, their indifference.

The aim of the section is to discuss the expansion of the concept of allegory, which has been suggested since the 1980s. The focus should be on the entanglements and transitions between two areas: the paradoxical ’presence’ of the allegorical in the art of modern and post-modern / super-modern (Augé) and the broad field of phenomena of allegorizing everyday worlds (commodities). In addition to considerations on the allegorical dimension of the various artistic media and strategies, the display and presentation forms of conveying art and the importance of the allegorical in the exchange of cultures and in the formation of globalized art, there are forms of allegorizing space and time as well as production and Consumption of an “allegorical” capital for discussion.

Possible topics: Allegorical topographies (public spaces, city, sea, 'foreign countries' of the tourist) - Sites / Non-Sites - Allegory and architecture (signature buildings) - Allegory and the 'return of the narrative' - Allegories of desire (goods, Fetishism, brand) - dematerialization of things - event cultures; allegorical spectacle (advertising, design, fashion) - allegory as a strategy of social differentiation (formation of subculture, etc.) - allegorical dimensions of early modernism - collage, assemblage, performative rituals, multimedia installations - allegories in film, photography and digital imagery - allegories of overwriting (re-writing of modernity, postcolonialism, appropriation) - allegory and display (staging of contemporary collection, museum and exhibition cultures) - allegory in contemporary Islam - allegories of global art - allegory as a production principle of the scientific community.

Scientists from classical and ancient studies, modern philologies, Arabic and Jewish studies, historical studies, art and architecture history, theater studies, theology and philosophy are invited to the symposium. The contributions are expected to combine historically saturated analysis with theoretically complex development of the systematic problematic contexts. Detailed investigations should be exemplary.

To the procedure:

The symposium will be kept free of lectures to allow for detailed discussions. All contributions will be sent to the participants electronically before the conference. Together with discussion reports, the contributions are to be published immediately after the symposium. In order to keep the symposium operational, the number of participants is limited to a maximum of 35. A written, ready-to-print template is the prerequisite for participation. It is expected that the participants will be present on all days of the event and participate in the discussion.

Interested researchers from Germany and abroad, especially younger ones (but usually not already doctoral students) are invited to contact the undersigned by no later than

1st of March 2013

to indicate their willingness to participate and their proposed topic, to attach a short synopsis and to suggest a section allocation. On the basis of the synopsis, the organizers will propose to the DFG who should be invited to this symposium.

The responsible curators must have received the final print versions of the templates by December 1, 2013 at the latest. The maximum length including the comments is 30 pages of 1,800 characters each; shorter templates are welcome.


by March 1, 2013: Registration with a proposed topic and synopsis
May 2013: Preliminary notification of those to be invited
June 2013: Invitation of the participants by the DFG
by December 1, 2013: Submission of the ready-to-print templates to the curators (electronically)
January 2014: sending of the templates to all participants (electronically)
May 19-23, 2014: Symposium

Travel expenses (travel expenses and daily allowances) are covered by the DFG in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Travel Expenses Act, insofar as they are not borne by the home institution.

Ulla Haselstein (FU Berlin)
[email protected]

Addresses of the curators:

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Teja Bach, Vienna ([email protected])
Prof. Dr. Bettine Menke, Erfurt ([email protected])
Prof. Daniel Selden, Santa Cruz ([email protected])