Return Of The Baroque In Modern Culture: Art, Theory and Culture in the Modern Age by Gregg Lambert (Continuum International Publishing Group) explores the re-invention of the early European Baroque within the philosophical, cultural and literary thought of postmodernism in Europe, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Lambert argues that the "return of the Baroque" expresses a principle often hidden behind the cultural logic of postmodernism in its various national and cultural incarnations, a principal often in variance with Anglo-American modernism. Writers and theorists examined include Walter Benjamin, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Octavio Paz and Cuban novelists Alejo Carpentier and Severo Sarduy.
A highly original and compelling reinterpretation of modernity, Return of the Baroque answers Raymond Williams' charge to create alternative national and international accounts of aesthetic and cultural history in order to challenge the centrality of Anglo-American modernism.
Throughout this study, Lambert has implicitly posited an analogy between two principal categories: baroque and postmodern. He has developed an immanent critique of the function of analogy within this critical and literary tradition as well, as perhaps the weakest and most formally strained of all logical relations. Consequently, it may strike some as odd that he would posit a relation only to tear down (or to `deconstruct', perhaps) the very mechanism for establishing this relation in the first place. If this appears like a contradiction, perhaps this is because it is.
If, as Paz says, `Modernity is a polemical tradition which displaces the tradition of the moment, whatever it happens to be, but an instant later yields its place to another tradition which in turn is a momentary manifestation of modernity', we might conclude that the baroque can be located precisely at the end of modernity, or rather, in the middle, between the tradition of modernity that precedes `the return of the Baroque' and tradition that inevitably comes after it. Therefore, it follows that because there has been more than one tradition of modernity, there have been just as many baroques. (This can be understood as one of the principal meanings of the tide of this book, which is written at the end of the current tradition of modernity that has been named, for better or worse, though usually for the worse, the postmodern.) Does this mean, however, that the baroque of Benjamin is the same baroque for Foucault, or Lotman; or that of Sarduy or Carpentier, or even of Borges himself? Absolutely not Rather, each to their own baroque! And if only because they did not share the same tradition of modernity, which is to say, they did not share the same sense of humour. Although I recall that Foucault's magnum opus of postmodern sensibility, The Order of Things, first arose from a moment of anxious laughter in response to an earlier passage from Borges' baroque encyclopaedia.
Some might argue that here I am simply conflating the term baroque with a generally accepted and `canonical' form of modernity, defined by a spirit of self-negation, as being `a tradition against itself' (Paz), as a result of which the term would be destined to always serve as modernity's Other, whatever this happens to be at the moment. I will return to this possible objection below. Aside from the similarity, if not the uncanny identity, of the various problems that have beset both terms respectively in naming distinctly coherent historical phenomena, if there is one principal trait that could be found to link both terms closely with one another, we can find a hint of this in Frank Warnke's description of a fundamental mood that characterized the artists and poets of the original Baroque period.
For the artists of the Baroque period, [the] relationship between appearance and reality has broken down. The old symbolic cast of mind, with its assumption of an ordered and hierarchical cosmos, operates well into the second half of the seventeenth century, but an irritable doubt as to the precise relationship between seen and unseen worlds informs the Baroque, in both its typical works and its masterpieces. A thirst for a single reality behind disparate appearances of experience is characteristic; no longer content with a double vision of reality, the Baroque poets and prose writers seek not to reconcile the two worlds but to reduce them to one.
We might compare this statement to a later passage by Foucault from The Order of Things:
At the beginnings of the seventeenth century, during the period that has been termed, rightly or wrongly, the Baroque, thought ceases to move in the element of resemblance. Similitude is no longer the form of knowledge, but rather the occasion of error, the danger to which one exposes oneself when one does not examine the obscure region of confusions. `It is a strange habit,' says Descartes, in the first lines of his Regulae, `when we discover several resemblances between two things, to attribute to both equally, even on points in which they are in reality different, that we have recognized to be true of only one of them.' The age of resemblance is drawing to a close. It is leaving nothing behind it but games. Games whose power of enchantment grows out of the new kinship between resemblance and illusion.
By the dint of sleepwalkers, many of the critical descriptions of the postmodern echo - in an uncanny manner, perhaps - this strange anxiety that hails from the original seventeenth-century Baroque: the anxiety over resemblance itself. We should recall at this point Foucault's thesis concerning the shattering of the tables of representation as a point of comparison with the above statement regarding the original Baroque. It is interesting to remark further that Foucault makes this `baroque thesis' even more relevant in that he locates this event sometime in the mid-seventeenth century - Genette is even more precise, 1653-- but argues that its real effects would not fully emerge until late in the nineteenth century and mould continue to dominate several traditions of modernity all the way up to the present moment. On the basis of this argument, could we see something here that runs parallel to the recent development of the eighteenth century as a historical period concept, and suggest - not without humour, of course - a new field of study in `the Long Baroque Century'?
What is interesting about Foucault's passage is that it reveals something quite striking concerning `the return of the Baroque' as a modern category in cultural history, which is that it continues to move within an element of resemblance and is a product of a `strange habit' that Descartes first refers to, of comparing two very different things on the basis of resemblance, even though we have already recognized the analogy to be baseless - that is to say, it cannot be grounded historically, but only textually - in so far as this analogy truthfully reflects only one of the objects being compared. We could apply this observation to any one of the modern representatives of the baroque, and even to the very mechanism of `the text within the text' (or `inter-textuality') that has been championed by many of the writers and philosophers discussed throughout the course of the study. (After all, what is the principle of `intertextuality' but the product of a strange habit of establishing a relationship between two very different things on the basis of resemblance that truthfully belongs to only one object?) This would imply that Foucault's historical break would apply to everything but the baroque itself, or that the baroque (as `a strange habit') resists a manner that has become `typical' or `characteristic'. We might even infer from this description a certain Marxist (specifically, Althusserian) determination of `uneven development' that might account for the history of the concept in
modern scholarship, but would also explain the incredible amount of anxiety and conflict around the term `baroque'. But we must ask, first of all, what is this strange habit that has assumed the name of the baroque? What is this strange element of resemblance that still attracts us to this moment as a point of comparison with the contemporary moment and in such wildly different contexts - Berlin and Madrid in the 1930s, Buenos Aires in the 1940s and 1950s, Paris, Havana and Mexico City in the 1960s, Moscow and New Haven in the 1970s and 1980s?
As Lambert has discussed in relation to Segel and Maravall, as well as in my commentary on Eugenio d'Ors' theory of the `baroque eon', one of the key features of this frequent comparison can be derived from the early `international' (or `pan-European') character of the original Baroque period itself, as well as the primary relation that was installed between Europe and the former colonies (something that Carpentier returns to in his allegory). If there has been a fundamental distortion within the category itself, this is often due to the representation of the early Baroque only within the context of one national tradition. In fact, it is already inaccurate to speak of the Baroque in terms of modem nation-state, since it properly belongs to a period that immediately precedes the nation-building projects on the continent, even though it could said to correspond to an early phase of these projects of national culture, as described above in the discussion of Maravall. Consequently, it would be a platitude to say that there are several conflicting definitions of the Baroque as a period concept, or as a style of cultural expression, since, given that its origin itself is multifaceted and precedes a certain determination of Culture as reflective of national or the linguistic particularity of a people ('the song of the people' after Herder), the concept is already fated to become confused when it is viewed from this later definition of Culture At the same time, one cannot simply ascribe these multifaceted appearances of the baroque concept in all of its modern contexts
something that this study has attempted to illustrate by selecting examples from extremely divergent cultural and national traditions - as being only `a symptom of the dynamics of the international capitalistic system', as Jameson has argued recently concerning the complimentary notion of `the modem'. Ironically, what this reductive gesture betrays is perhaps the same `thirst for a single reality behind disparate experiences' that Warnke diagnosed above with regard to the sensibility that was characteristic, even `typical', of early Baroque period. However, in place of the single reality in the Baroque period being the theological drama of the creature oppressed by the impenetrable and blinding power of God, as dramatically illustrated in Caravaggio's The Conversion of St Paul, today this theological reality has been replaced by no less an imposing and monumental form, which is the `single reality' of late capitalism. However, to echo an earlier statement by Foucault, we could say that the notion of `a singular Modernity' (Jameson), or even earlier, of a single and unified field of Culture that is bound to the origin and destiny of the nation-state is of very recent origin,and that today in view of the emergence of `globalization' as a new theme with which to rehearse all the old questions of modernity, that this origin is already showing signs of vanishing just as suddenly as it appeared, along with the figure of a Subject who Foucault once described as merely a face drawn in the sand in the interval between two great historical tides.
Concerning this thirst for a single reality behind a multiplicity of disparate appearances, it would seem odd to apply this statement to the postmodern as well, which is known for its celebration of heterogeneity, fragmentation, multiplicity and especially its hatred of unity and of the universal. And yet, behind this celebration there is still a tangible feeling of longing for `one reality', and this is something that can be ascribed to the major concepts concerning a hidden core of `the Real' (or `Totality') operating behind appearances, whether this core is identified by Language, Ideology or the Unconscious. One wonders if the postmodern celebration of fragmentation is secretly nostalgic, and its desire is to reveal, in all the disparate phenomena and shifting identities it takes up, simply yet another hidden plane of organization. Even in Sarduy's treatise Barroco, the primary movement of a baroque cosmology is described as the passage from 'the One to the Many. `The passage from Kepler to Galileo is data the circle to the ellipse, the passage of that which is traced around the One is traced around the plural: from classicism to the baroque. In his of the significance of this passage, Sarduy goes on to frame its significance psychoanalytic terms of the displaceinent of the One would be identified with the Name of body that is fragmented and multiplied. Thus line traced by multiple and partial bodies (`sexual relates are always at least two') already prefigures Deleuze and .' description of the multiple and `non-unified' figures of schizothyme desire. Whether this `thirst for a single reality' assumes the form of `the One' or `the Multiple', one wonders if the all too frequent characterization of the rift or conflict between what Derrida once called the two forms of play, or Lyotard the opposition between `Grand narrative' and `multiple language games', is and always has been a patently false opposition, one which hides the essential and underlying identity between these two critical representations of the modern age. In fact, this recalls the criticism that French philosopher Alain Badiou has made of Gilles Deleuze's philosophy of multiplicity, which is that it hides the good old category of scholastic philosophy, in its ancient taste for `the One'. Again, as Warnke diagnosed, this was also an underlying factor of the early Baroque, that `[t]he compulsive search for the One enmeshes the poet [the philosopher, and the critic] in the complexities and contradictions of the Many'.
This returns us once more to the question that opens this study: `Why the baroque?' But then, Lambert asks, what is this `strange habit' of resemblance that Descartes refers to, or what Foucault calls the game of representation, if not something that has emerged in the modem age under the name of literature? Could it not be said that what had earlier been understood as a mere device, an artifice, a mechanism or a trope has come to be identified in the modern period as the very principle of literary representation, the principle of resemblance that is established by `the text within the text'? This would imply that what had earlier been an aspect of neoclassical rhetoric has metonymically come to signify the genus of `literature' in the classification 'of `modem literature'. And what is literature in the modem period but the very `being of Language', a being that continues to swim in an element of resemblance - that is to say, a being that continues to establish its relationship to `real things and events' by means of that `strange habit' of producing resemblance between two very different things, or between the order of words and representations and the order of things and events. Suddenly Foucault's `baroque thesis' is not so mysterious or obscure, as many have defined it, since it simply implies that the early invention . of this mechanism that has been found to be absolutely emblematic or even `characteristic' of a certain baroque style - much in the same way that Las Meninas could function in Foucault's work as exemplary of this style, or as `typically baroque' in Genette or Sarduy later on - could suddenly return at the close of the nineteenth century to represent, according to Foucault's argument, `the Being of Language' itself. However, rather than announcing the liberation of Language from Representation, or rather the `freeing up' of representation itself (in a moment of freedom and playfulness), this introduces a force of finitude into language and announces the moment when Language withdraws into itself and no longer opens out onto the order of things (which, according to Foucault, are suddenly found to belong to another order that is located beyond the powers of representation).
Far from being a story of Language's transcendence over `the Real', as has usually been associated with Foucault's triumphal `post structuralist' narrative of the emergence of `language-centred' epistemology, it is the exact opposite! In fact, Foucault states quite explicitly that what he is narrating is the story of Language's `demotion'. In the so-called `modern period', it is `the Real' itself that assumes the position of transcendence over language. This movement of transcendence becomes the condition for us today to distinguish `the Real' from `reality', even though Foucault himself would not employ this opposition; rather, `the Real' would be designated by what Foucault names as the `empirico-transcendental doublet' that now corresponds to the position from which reality is ordered beneath or outside the powers of representation, and which would also correspond in Foucault's analysis to the position of the `mode of production' in Marxist theory or to `the Unconscious' in Freudian theory (understood as the two historically dominant representatives of the `empirico-transcendental doublet' in the modern age). This is the precise meaning of Foucault's use of the term `finitude', which now applies to Language and no longer to `man' defined as ens creatum, which precisely limits its powers and instead destines it to repeatedly, if not obsessively, represent the withdrawal ofthings into their= own stubborn density. Thus, the mise-en-dbime, the `baroque mechanism', would be the precise figure of this withdrawal whereby representation suddenly discovers that external to itself are not things themselves, but rather another order of representation that is consequently much older and more dense. The window of language opens to a mirror that reflects back into the enigmatic space language itself, at least into the depth of its historical sedimentations, all the way to its ever receding and inaccessible origin. It is by no accident that Foucault pinpoints this moment as occurring late in the nineteenth century, and precisely around two principle figures: Nietzsche and Mallarmé.
Perhaps this is also why Foucault seems to mock the category of the baroque even while employing it to designate the historical origin of an event that comes to determine the mode of `Literature' in the modem period. This is because, rather than employing it in its usual and most contested sense as a historical period concept, he merely uses it as an index to designate the invention of a certain series of transformations that occur first at the level of representation, on its surface, the determination of which comes to designate, from the nineteenth century onward, `a form of language that we now call "literature"'
The age of resemblance is drawing to a close. It is leaving nothing behind it but games. Games whose powers of enchantment grow out of a new kinship between resemblance and illusion; the chimeras of similitude loom up on all sides, but they are recognized as chimeras; it is the privileged age of trompe-l'oeil painting, of comic illusion, of the play that duplicates itself by representing another play, of the quid pro quo, of dreams and visions; it is the age of the deceiving senses; it is the age where the poetic dimension of language is defined by metaphor, simile, and allegory.
But we must immediately ask what age is Foucault referring to here if not what is loosely called the `modem age', or the age of `modernity' that we are just now in the process of quitting, but still have not quite left. After all, we are still caught up in games `whose powers of enchantment grow out of' what is now for us a very old and steadily aging `kinship between resemblance and illusion'. And yet, something has changed between the time of Foucault's pronouncement and our own, which we may be now in the position ' to notice: that `literature' no longer occupies the privileged place of our attention; or, in Foucault's words, it no longer `shines in the brightness of its being'. This is not only because it no longer gives us access to the `Being of Language', but because it is a form of language that perhaps, to paraphrase Borges, has finally managed to exhaust all its possibilities, including I might add, the possibilities and the powers first introduced into Representation during the period of the Baroque through the invention of `the baroque media nîsam'(`the text within the text.'), which today has come to resemble a game. In short, the game is over. Or, is it?
In a certain sense, what I am announcing should come as no surprise to anyone and seems so obvious as to require little argument - I even feel a little embarrassed in having to say it - that a certain tradition of modernist experimentation is no longer possible. This tradition begins precisely in the period that Foucault announces, late in the nineteenth century, and as Paz observed, has continued to reinvent itself all the way through to the period when literature itself dissolves into the pure gesture of writing (l'écriture). Of course, representation is no less of a game for us today, but one whose rules are now in the process of being rewritten, and most importantly, it now appears that the literary process is not the privileged place where these rules will first emerge into being. This just reflects the fact that the historical traditions of modernity - `modernité', modernismo, modernism, symbolism, futurism, `ultraismo', and, of course, the various French avant-garde movements from surrealism to nouveau roman, but also the postmodern traditions that followed these such as Tel Quel and Oulipo, even the more recent tradition of `LANGUAGE poetry' in the US — emerged around the programmatic re-inventions of a mode of writing identified by the different modern notions of `literary representation', broadly defined also to include other forms of discourse in the postmodern theoretical traditions that followed. This is true from the period of Mallarmé and Baudelaire (or Rimbaud) all the way through more contemporary writers discussed here such as Sarduy and Carpentier (at least, the Carpentier who was the inventor of the tradition of `Magical Realism'). Consequently, it is by no accident that I end my study of the different incarnations of the `baroque mechanism' with the late novel of Carpentier, which functions in the classical tradition of allegory. In the end, what this allegory reveals however is perhaps the most severe `literary renunciation of literature itself'. The 'criollo' (Carpentier himself?) returns from the former source of his cultural identity, after having discovered the allegorical bastardization of his country's own history in the theatre of Vivaldi, in order to learn once more `the literal names of things'. If Carpentier chooses to name his novella Concierto Barroco, perhaps it is to call attention to its overtly artificial structure, to the tinny and antiquated, and even ultra-academic, style. It comes off as exactly what a baroque concerto would sound like today, a historical `curiosity', an artificial piece of chamber music performed for a highly selective audience. Thus, it is significant that Carpentier does not end his novel by again modernizing the baroque, as Sarduy and Lezama before him, but rather by referring the notion of the `modern' to the path that Philomène ('the black') chooses to follow alone - to a concert hall in Paris where he listens to the first stirrings of a thoroughly modern music through the trumpet of Louis Armstrong.
Lambert concludes this study of `The Return of the Baroque in Modern Culture' by making some reference to its last historical incarnation in the `post structuralist' traditions in France between the 1970s and the 1980s. If, as Lambert commented in relation to the writings of Sarduy, these movements began with the hope of inventing a `revolutionary theory of writing' in alliance with the political conflagrations of postcolonialuprisings in the Third World, it goes without saying that this hope was repeatedly placed in crisis with the arrival of neocolonial formations, new forms of racism, the resurgence of old feudal models, or tribal and family alliances; militarization and global capitalism, environmental devastation of resources and the widening of poverty, famine and hunger. As Elizabeth Roudinesco has observed, what followed the jubilant and exalted period of post 1968 that spiralled through the culture of the 1970s, marking perhaps the most fertile period of its cultural and intellectual criticism, and which was transplanted to the United States and other First World countries during this period as well, became by the mid-1980s in France what she defines a general re-conversion to the `somewhat Christian ideals of an antiquated Europe'. (It is clear that Roudinesco is referring here to the general pessimism and world-weariness that belongs to a version of the baroque associated with the period of the Counter-Reformation.) This would also encompass the same period that Lyotard first designated as the `period of slackening' - again, the theme of `exhaustion'!
Here we might discern in both these assessments something that marks the entrance of a second phase in `The return of the Baroque', which emerged more prominently in France during the 1980s. In 1983, a colloquium was conducted in Ceresy on the baroque, which combined both Christian and ancient baroque hermeneutics with the language and stylistic analysis of deconstruction and Lacanian psychoanalysis. The Gramsci and Benjamin scholar, Christine Buci-Glucksman, published two texts on the baroque aesthetic in modernism: La Raison baroque (1984), and La Folie du voir (1991); in these works Buci-Gluckman analyses Benjamin's baroque ideology of modernism, and the `rhetoric of visibility' in terms of Merleau-Ponty's chiasme and the Lacanian concept of `feminine jouissance'. Roudinesco would certainly evaluate this emergence of the baroque as a visible evidence of her thesis of the resurgence of Christian ideals and the return of an ancien régime, and perhaps her comment is an implicit reference to the style of criticism that was taking place during this period. But perhaps we can best illustrate a general feeling of capitulation and loss of hope in the following passage by Julia Kristeva, written in 1983 after her period of participation in the Tel Quel:
At a time when Latin American Marxist revolution threatens at the gates of the United States, I feel closer to freedom in the space of that contested giant who is about to turn into a David in the face of the growing Goliath of the Third World. Lambert dreams that our children will prefer to join that David, its errors and its impasses, armed with our own wanderings, linked to Ideas, to Logos, to Form: in brief, to Old Europe.
Earlier on Lambert defined `the baroque' as occupying the exact middle of modernity, in the sense that it can be understood to recur historically precisely in the moments when one tradition of modernity exhausts its own possibilities and fronts into another, and even as the symptomatic principle of this exhaustion. It is important to note, however, that the signs of exhaustion and decay - which have been ascribed to the term `baroque' from the very beginning - are not marked by attrition and lethargy, but rather by the sudden burst of frenetic and frenzied creativity and by the tendencies that Foucault refers to in the passage above; in particular, by the taste for metaphor, simile and allegory. According to Sarduy's metaphor, the end is always announced by `a Big Bang'; it is the beginning that is actually silent, empty, or utterly `blank', and which first moves by a slow and almost imperceptible pace of accretion. To his great credit, this is something that Derrida first observed in his early essay `Force and Signification' specifically in reference to the sign of the baroque that had emerged in the 1950s in France as a theme identified with the early structuralist concept of literature:
By way of analogy: the fact that universal thought, in all its domains, by all its pathways and despite all its differences, should be receiving a formidable impulse from an anxiety about language - which can only be an anxiety of language, within language itself - is a strangely concerted development; and it is the nature of a development not to be able to display itself in its entirety as a spectacle for the historian, if, by chance, he were to attempt to recognize in it the sign of an epoch, the fashion of a season, or the symptom of a crisis. [...] It is during the epochs of historical dislocation, when we are expelled from the site, that this structuralist passion, which is simultaneously a frenzy of experimenta-tion and a proliferation of schematizations, develops for itself. The baroque would only be one example of it. Has not a `structuralist poetics"founded on rhetoric' been mentioned in relation to the baroque? But has not a `burst structure' also been spoken of, `a rent poem whose structure appears as it bursts app'?
As Derrida comments elsewhere in this brilliant and perhaps even prophetic early essay (first published in Critique in 1963), `the Structuralist poetics', which `has been mentioned in relation to the baroque', is remarkable not for its bravado and modernity, but for introducing a thoroughly weak form of repetition into History, for a critical force of weakness and impotence that `separates, disengages, and emancipates'. In this phrase, we can find another iteration of Borges' famous formula that the baroque designates the moment at the end of a tradition, an exhaustion of all of its possibilities and its possible resources.
And yet, finally, to say that `literature', like `the baroque', has become a purely academic form of culture - the historical artifact of the culture(s) of modernism that reproduced it obsessively as a recurrent `theme' (in de Man's sense) - is easy enough. One can easily say `no more literature', perhaps even `no more modernity', just as easily as one might say 'no more baroque'. All these things have been said before, and more recently, with a frequency and even a redundancy that marks our contemporary moment as being one of profound Repetition, of having nothing `new' to say, except that we have heard it all before and have become dreadfully bored `(andperhaps boring as well). Have we lost our' sense of humor That is, of rapacity for literature'? In either case, this is the curious mood in which we find ourselves today, as if we are just now realizing, following Derrida's observation, that `we have been expelled from the site'. Perhaps this is the final meaning we might attribute to `The Return of the Baroque in Modem Culture', as being the last sign of our own fading modernity, which, in or at the end, can also be compared to a flawed and imperfect pearl.
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