Saturday, February 19, 2022

"Humor and Style in Panofsky’s History of Art", Introduction to Irving Lavin, ed., Erwin Panofsky. Three Essays on Style, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1995, 1-14; revised English version, unpublished, 2014 https://publications.ias.edu/sites/default/files/Lavin_IntroThreeEssaysStyle_2014.pdf

note 22 

Panofsky’s concrete, humane, sympathetic, and modern evaluation of the Baroque contrasts markedly—and I sometimes think deliberately—with that of Walter Benjamin who, while he also saw the Baroque as the beginning of the modern era, interpreted the style pessimistically as a kind of paroxysm of allegory, and essentially degenerate. In 1927 Panofsky had read and disapproved of the section on Melancholy, much indebted to the recent work on the subject by Panofsky and Fritz Saxl, in Benjamin’s subsequently famous study of German Baroque drama, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of the German Tragic Drama, London-New York, 1977;...)

George Steiner's introduction to the English translation, with its references to Marxist millenarianism, doesn't really help.

Thirdly. Benjamin pleads, though in a voice muted by concurrent hopes of academic acceptance, for the rights of the esoteric. It is not only his material—the neglected plays and emblem-collections of the German seventeenth century— that is esoteric; it is his critical task. How could it be otherwise? How could the empathic decipherment of many-layered texts in an idiom long-forgot, pretend to perfect clarity? In this contest opaqueness and inwardness of semantic arrangement are a manifest of honesty. No doubt, this plea reflects very strong traits in Benjamin‘s personality, traits which find expression in his love of the arcane, in his pretense to kabbalism, in the condensations and bracketings that mark his own prose. But once more, we are also dealing with a motif of the moment. The esoteric is a decisive symptom throughout the modernist movement. whether in Yeats‘s mature poetry, in Ulysses in the Tractatus or in the abstract art and music of the 1920s. Benjamin’s hermeticism represents a bias in himself and in the atmosphere of the day. 

That's a defense of a work of literature, not scholarship, and a literature that exemplifies the decadence and desperation of Mannerism. 

This is the Baroque.

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