Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Defining the Baroque I

From Ruth Gambles, "Redeeming the Sound . . . "

The Baroque signifies an attempt to bridge the gap between man and things implemented by the mechanism of the scientific revolution[.]

The Baroque as a proto-Romanticism, then? Or, perhaps, a proto-Modernism? Either makes sense within the context of the passage quoted here.

But is this in fact true of the Baroque as a philosophy? Was there at that time a cultural anxiety regarding increased mechanization?

UPDATE: A basic principle behind the idea of mechanization is that people know how things work--not just machines, but the cosmos. Caribbean intellectual Edouard Glissant notes that the Baroque (as artistic expression) emerged as a response to Rationalism's claim to contain and codify all knowledge. Those with a greater knowledge of "the modern scientific view of reality" might have some questions about Glissant's claims (I myself know only enough to wonder if what he says is so):
Imitation of Nature as an objective assumes that, underlying outward appearance and inherent in it, there is a "profundity', an unassailable truth, artistic representations of which approximate more closely as they systematize their imitation of reality and discover its rules. The revolution represented by the introduction of perspective during the quattrocento can thus, perhaps, be seen as part of the search for this profundity.

It was against this current that the baroque "diversion' began to make itself felt. Baroque art was a reaction against the rationalist claim to penetrate the mysteries of the known in one single, incisive, uniform movement. The stone with which baroque art disturbed the rationalist pool was an affirmation that knowledge is never fully acquired, a fact that gives it all its value. Thus the techniques of baroque art were to favour "breadth' to the detriment of "depth'.

[snip]

The modern scientific view of reality coincides with and confirms this expansion of the Baroque. Science does, indeed, assert that reality cannot be defined in terms of outward appearances and that it has to be examined "in depth', but it also accepts that knowledge is never wholly acquired and that it would be absurd to claim that its essentials can be grasped at a single stroke. Science has entered the era of the uncertainty principle, retaining, nevertheless, a form of rationalism which henceforth abjures paralysing, mechanical, once-and-for-all dogmatism. Its conceptions of Nature are "expanding', becoming relative, problematical. It is moving, that is, in the selfsame direction towards which the Baroque tends.

16 comments:

R. Sherman said...

I'm probably too ignorant to comment, but I wonder whether or how much the political events of the time, i.e. the Thirty Years War contributed? Certainly, German literature of the time reflects a tremendous anxiety about life and deals with Man's ability to cope with adverse circumstances.

Cheers.

John B. said...

Well, yes. And just yesterday I was talking with two students about some Brueghel paintings, The Triumph of Death and Landscape with the Fall of Icarus among them, and it's difficult not to see those works as expressing, respectively, more than a little anxiety about what the Reformation and Counter-Reformation hath wrought and, on the other hand, how the lives of ordinary people can and must go on even as great, momentous events occur.

If it's true that the Baroque is at heart an emotional medium (in contrast to the Renaissance's appeal to the intellect), then yes, it seems a bit early to be worrying about an increasingly-mechanized world. Now: anxieties about an increasingly-mechanized view of the cosmos and competing visions of political power arising from that--that seems more likely.

It'll be Blake who coins the phrase "dark Satanic mills."

Gawain said...

i havent yet seen a good definition and wonder if one is at all possible

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