Paul de Man’s demystification of allegorical rhetoric has overtaken such theories as those proposed by Edwin Honig and Angus Fletcher and others, with the result that allegory is now treated largely in terms of the politics and rhetoric of representation. Textuality and temporality are the two concepts which define the nature of the paradox that de Man describes as encapsulating allegory:
Allegory is sequential and narrative, yet the topic of its narration is not necessarily temporal at all, thus raising the question of the referential status of a text whose semantic function, though strongly in evidence, is not primarily determined by mimetic moments; more than ordinary modes of fiction, allegory is at the furthest remove from historiography.1
So, paradoxically, allegory attempts to articulate what is atemporally true (the logos
) in a temporal mode of representation. In other words, the form and substance of allegory are of radically incompatible kinds. The paradigm for this view of allegory would be The Divine Comedy
and specifically the final cantos of the Paradiso
. There ‘Truth’, the transcendental One, is alluded to as that which eludes verbal representation or comprehension. Dante’s allusive goal is ‘there’, just outside the text, our textual grasp of it is always momentarily deferred, as all means of representation fail him.