This Great Allegory
On World-Decay and World-Opening in the Work of Art
336 pp., 6 x 9 in, 13 color illus., 2 b&w illus.
- Published: November 22, 2022
An engagement with the relation between the world in which an artwork is created—a world that perishes or decays over time—and the new world that the artwork opens up.
Gerhard Richter explores the relation between two worlds: the world in which an artwork is created, that is, a world that over time perishes or decays beyond interpretive understanding, and the new world that the artwork opens up. This book examines the multiple relations between these worlds in the works of a number of central thinkers and in various modes of aesthetic production, including poetry, painting, music, film, literature, and photography. It is precisely in and through the work of art, Richter shows, that central elements of the thinking of world as world are negotiated in the most essential and moving ways.
Exploring the relationship between these worlds through art and European philosophy, Richter offers bold new interpretations of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Blanchot, Georges Bataille, Emmanuel Levinas, Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Derrida. The book also provides stimulating new insights into the works of heterogeneous artists such as Paul Celan, Friedrich Hölderlin, Werner Herzog, Arnold Schönberg, Franz Kafka, Herman Melville, Andrew Moore, Botho Strauß, Didier Eribon, and even prehistoric cave painters. In each case, Richter's readings are guided by a consideration of the conceptual constraints and singular interpretive demands imposed by the specific genre and medium.
“This Great Allegory is an extraordinarily rich, searching, and thought-provoking meditation that weaves through an impressive array of philosophical and literary texts, media, and genres, offering fine-grained readings at every turn. Taking his point of departure in Heidegger—and the authors read by Heidegger (especially Hölderlin) as well as those who read him (especially Derrida)—Richter explores the constellation of world, finitude, loss, mourning, death, and the fragile constitution of the subject. In the course of this investigation Richter makes a strong case for the centrality of the artwork and for the seemingly infinite work of interpretation that every artwork solicits.”
Rebecca Comay, Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature, University of Toronto
“From the opening vignette to the final chapter, Richter uses Heidegger's thought-model to explore a vast array of works in novel and exciting ways. His careful manner of explicating and challenging theoretical texts and artistic enterprises on a highly nuanced, philological level makes for engaging reading. This Great Allegory is sure to have an important and lasting impact in the fields of literary studies, aesthetics, the history of philosophy, cultural studies, and related areas of research. I can think of no recent title that covers the same ground, and certainly none that does so with the same élan and intellectual flair.”
John Hamilton, William R. Kenan Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Harvard University
“This Great Allegory is a stunning display of thinking that moves effortlessly between philosophical texts, artworks, and poetry, and through which Richter emerges as one of the pre-eminent thinkers of his generation.”
Dimitris Vardoulakis, Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy, University of Western Sydney