Howard Caygill
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The Alexandrian aesthetic

Walter Benjamin's alignment of the allegorical aesthetic with the ascetic mortification of the body in the Origin of German Tragic Drama rehearses the Alexandrian origins of allegory. The parallels that Giuseppe Ungaretti draws between Alexandria and the landscape of modern warfare are most evident in the earlier versions of L'Allegria. The self-destructive movements of Christian allegory that Benjamin identified in the baroque prefigure the attempt to dissolve aisthesis into ascesis that informs modern aesthetics. Baumgarten introduced rational ascesis into modern aesthetics through the notion of the education of sensibility, a tendency advanced by Schiller in his Aesthetic Education. If Ungaretti's Alexandrian poems consummately explore the complex movements of exile, homelessness and return that are central to the Alexandrian aesthetic, those of his fellow Alexandrian C. P. Cavafy focus on the aspect of pleasure and its embalmment in art.

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