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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Allegories of the postmodern: the work of Wilfred Watson and R. Murray Schafer Haag, Stefan


The characteristic doubling of postmodern works of art is best seen in terms of an allegorical gesture that melancholics undertake in order to create life in an entity they consider dead and meaningless. Walter Benjamin has theorized the allegorical gesture and provides a basis for extending his understanding of modern allegory to the postmodern. The postmodern can be seen as a continuum that at its two extremes veers towards a deconstructive and a reconstructive impulse, respectively. While the former decentres meaning and authority, the latter reconstructs the two on the basis of an arbitrary allegorical construct that relies itself on audience belief which is generated in participatory rituals. Watson and Schafer exemplify the interdependencies of these two postmodern impulses and their emblematical qualities. Furthermore, they illustrate how melancholics view the world, how they imbue their works with a political agenda, and how they try to indoctrinate their audiences. Ultimately, the allegorical construct is as ideological as what it brutally replaces. An outward sign of the violence that is at the root of the allegorical gesture can be seen in the many acts of violence in Watson and Schafer. Watson’s project ends in ambiguity because he ironically subverts his own authority so that the audience is left mocking the allegorical “message.” Schafer, on the other hand, represses the challenge that this violence poses to his allegorical construct. Although he does not realize it, his work remains caught in ideology. Reconstructive postmodernism, as far as it depends on the author(ity) of allegory, is thus built on a validating act of the audience, which is a leap of faith rooted in ideology.

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