The Allegorical Impulse  

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"This deconstructive impulse is characteristic of postmodernist art in general and must be distinguished from the self-critical tendency of modernism. Modernist theory presupposes that mimesis, the adequation of an image to a referent, can be bracketed or suspended ... When the postmodernist work speaks of itself, it is no longer to proclaim its autonomy, its self-sufficiency, its transcendence; rather, it is to narrate its own contingency, insufficiency, lack of transcendence." --"The Allegorical Impulse", Craig Owens (critic)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Allegorical Impulse (1980) is an essay by American art critic Craig Owens.

It is a two part essay in which he explores the allegorical aspects of contemporary art. The two parts were published in the journal October in Spring 1980 and Summer 1980. In the first part Owens says that, "Allegorical imagery is appropriated imagery" (Owens, p54) and discerns an allegorical impulse at work in the appropriation art of artists such as Sherrie Levine. He describes the postmodernist artist as one that "lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as its interpreter... If he adds, however, he does so only to replace: the allegorical meaning supplants an antecedent one; it is supplement" (Owens, p54). These inclinations can be seen in works such as oil-barrels of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye and bullets of a gun by French artist Philippe Perrin.

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