For Walter Benjamin, in the Origin of German Tragic Drama, the baroque tragedies of counter-reformation Germany represented a new kind of allegory: the traditional scripture-inflected tropes of catastrophe and melancholy were now used as a way of allegorizing the trauma of a country riven by religious wars and violent dynastic conflict. The use of the classical trope of the ruined church or castle, for example, finds a correlate in the pervasive feeling of uncertainty and impermanence brought about by the Thirty Years War. In this constant state of emergency, to use Benjamin's term for seemingly irremediable political crisis, a materially felt melancholy begins to permeate everything. It is this concern in Benjamin—in which allegorical tragedy, shorn of its providential dimension, encounters history—that I link with certain themes in Cormac McCarthy's novels of the Southwest, particularly, the recursive use of ruined buildings, desiccated landscapes, broken bodies, and broken minds that scar All the Pretty Horses (1992) and The Crossing (1994), the first two novels of the Border Trilogy. The primary assertion is that Benjamin's reading of the mourning drama finds a correlate in McCarthy's allegories of fragmentation.

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