This book begins neither by carving out a niche within baroque studies, nor by presenting a manageable scope of study, but, instead, by reveling in the excesses of baroque thinking that have illuminated the pages of so many notable works. Sprouting from a footnote in the chapter “The Inversion of What Can Be Thought” of The Writing of History, one finds (if one looks for it) an enigmatic definition of the baroque cultivated by the Jesuit psychoanalyst and historiographer Michel de Certeau: “[The Baroque:] a spectacle of metamorphoses which ceaselessly hide what they show” (de Certeau 145 n33). Within some pages devoted to seventeenth- century Christian mysticism, this definition limns the paradoxical nature of the baroque as an expression which hides what it shows and calls to mind the painful act of staring at the Sun. There, where the Sun shines brightest, a dark spot appears as if to cover one’s eyes from the power of the light. Even upon looking away, the dark spot lingers, both as a hole burned into our vision and as a negative of the cosmic shine.
Staring at the work of Cervantes, literary scholar and proponent of the neobaroque William Egginton sees a similar spectacle and asserts that, “The Baroque is theatre, and the theatre is baroque” (Egginton 39). Overcoming the tautology of that statement, he continues, in a thought reminiscent of de Certeau, by explaining the purpose of such theatre, which unfolds not organically but rather through a concerted strategy. “The major strategy of the Baroque [... ] assumes the existence of a veil of appearances, and then suggests the possibility of a space opening just © The Author(s) 2017
W. Daddario, Baroque, Venice, Theatre, Philosophy,
Performance Philosophy, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-49523-1_1
beyond those appearances where truth resides” (3). So many of the spectators viewing these performances, up to and including the performers themselves, know that they are watching a performance, but this knowledge only deepens the conviction that, “the artifice in fact refers to some truth just beyond the camera’s glare” (4). Ultimately, then, both neobaroque film and baroque theatre, a theatre much wider in scope than that which appears on a proscenium stage or in the pages of a novella, “undermines our ability to make this distinction [between appearance and substance] in the first place. Not, however, in order to lead us further astray from ‘reality itself,’ but rather to make us aware, to remind us that we are always, at any level, involved with mediation” (6).
Posing anti-philosopher Jacques Lacan, speaking of religion and the mediating role of the biblical Gospels in the play between fantasy and the Real, calls the baroque “‘the regulation of the soul by a corporeal viewing’ (XX 105), where scopie corporelle is at once a viewing of the body (Buci- Glucksmann) but also an embodied viewing, a sinking into the materiality of perception” (cit. Egginton Truth 74). Bruce Fink’s translation of the same passage from Lacan’s lectures adds another play on language to the analyst’s enigmatic pronouncement: “The baroque is the regulating of the soul by corporal radioscopy” (Lacan 116). The mediation at stake here transpires on multiple levels. First, on the level of media: sound waves (radio) become visual (scopie). The synaesthetic effect denoted by the word “radioscopy” mimics the attempted fusion of body and soul in the art of the CounterReformation, which Lacan, incidentally, had visited on this day (May 8, 1973) in a museum prior to beginning his lecture. Second, on the level of discipline: baroque art bleeds beyond the limits of its own form and thus exceeds its own structures, but it does this in order to regulate the soul ofall who come in contact with these excesses. Baroque regulation mediates the excesses of spirit and body while renouncing the strictures of its own form.
Such a definition summons the essays and poetry of Jorge Luis Borges who, aware of his own literary excesses, says, “I would say that the Baroque is that style that deliberately exhausts (or wants to exhaust) its possibilities and that verges on its own caricature. [... ] I would say that the Baroque is the final stage of all art when this art exhibits and dilapidates its means’” (cit. Egginton Truth, 75).1 Here, Borges raises baroque to a space of reckoning (“the final stage”) and identifies the corrosive effect of occupying such a space. Note that art itself, in Borges’s formulation, is not baroque; rather, art may enter the space of baroque in order to reveal its secrets in one final expression. Baroque, then, conditions the possibility of such an expression and becomes something like the arena that plays home to a cavalcade of grotesque finality.
Borges’s insights have appealed to the scholars of neobaroque artifacts and phenomena who have located just such a space in the New World. Cinema, new media, and literary scholar Angela Ndalianis clarifies the findings of Italian semiologist Omar Calabrese, in particular, by stating that, “Baroque and Latin American neobaroque forms unfurl into a play of borders, where the ‘the border articulates and renders gradual relations between the interior and the exterior, between aperture and closure’” (cit. Ndalianis 19).2 Neobaroque advocate Monika Kaup cites novelist Alejo Carpentier’s assertion that the neobaroque entails, “a transformative force of ‘life’ that recurs through history as the Manichean counterpart of the ordering force of ‘reason’” (cit. Kaup, “Becoming” 129).3 By recognizing the productive potential of borderlands and a Manichean, dual subjectivity, indigenous artists cut through the historical thicket planted by European colonization and move toward a clearing. As poet Jose Lezama Lima infers, such an American perspective “allows one to occupy the pivotal point such that one experiences both the convergences ofknowledge and its dispersions, the bursting of the image onto the landscape of the unknown” (cit. Egginton 74).4 Mexico’s great novelist and essayist Carlos Fuentes has understood both the promise of such “unknown” landscapes as well as the anxieties they provoke: “The Baroque, Alejo Carpentier at one time was telling me, is the language of peoples, who, ignoring truth, seek after it eagerly. Gongora, like Picasso, Bunuel, Carpentier, or Faulkner, did not know: he encountered” (cit. Egginton 73; emphasis in original).5 Equipped with this alethurgic language, what does the speaker encounter?6 Again, as inferred by Lacan, the speaker will encounter the limit of self. As the prolific Latin American scholar Mabel Morana tells it, “[The Baroque] is the expression of the limit: an expressivity situated at the abyss of representability [... ]it constitutes, at the same time, a process that transforms the negativity ofwhat is missing (the lack, the desire, the abnormality) its original impulse, [into] the locus of the initial suppression/repression that can be hyperbolically filled with meaning and saturated with signs” (260; emphasis in original). That which lies beyond the veil, as Egginton has suggested, that unseen and unknown force, takes place in the realm of the rational and sensible as the stage upon which all expression will play out. Perhaps this situation explains the aesthetic of baroque and New World, or neo-, Baroque cathedral architecture, which assaults the viewer with mute claims to the power of God’s presence buttressed by evidence offered in the form of the intricate carvings, fearful symmetry, and chiaroscuro frosting facade after facade.
The list of what the baroque is, what it does, what it produces, and what it claims as truth can go on and on. It will, in fact, go on as this book unfolds. Already, though, one gets a sense of the labyrinthine form of baroque thinking, a thinking that comes into being through an encounter with a specific object or artifact (the writing of mystics, a religious icon, a painting, a film, poetry, prose, an open space housing a performance) and that labors to index that encounter. To enter the baroque, one must prepare to enter such a labyrinth. To enter baroque theatre, with its “spectacle of metamorphoses” and conjuring of essence through appearance, and to make that entrance with the help of writings on baroque theatre, one must acquiesce to enter that particular labyrinth with a map that is itself a labyrinth of signs that needs unriddling. To enter baroque theatre in sixteenth-century Venice, as this book intends to do, one must with aplomb welcome the seasickness of historical uncertainty and equip oneself with a disciplined rigor, while also keeping in mind the excesses that abound within such rigor. Again, Borges:
In the Empire in question, the Cartographer’s Art reached such a degree of Perfection that the map of a single province took up an entire City, and the map of the Empire covered an entire Province. After a while these Outsized Maps were no longer sufficient, and the Schools of Cartography created a Map of the Empire that was the size of the Empire, matching it point by point. Later Generations, which were less Devoted to the Study of Cartography, found this Map Irrelevant, and with more than a little Irreverence left it exposed to the Inclemencies of the Sun and Winter. In the Western desert there are scattered Ruins of the Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars. No other relics of the Geographic Discipline can be found anywhere else in the Land. (Borges 139)
The labor of the historiographer (allegorized as the Cartographer’s Art) encounters problems straight away: are we grappling with the objects and places themselves, or have we instead picked up the narratives and maps of those objects and places left behind by others who came before us? This question pertains equally to the work of writing history and the work of encountering baroque theatre history.
Fortunately, as the baroque scholars above have noted, the study of this topic (i.e. topos, place) does not benefit from acts of “making sense;” rather, students of the baroque make their way through the labyrinths by allowing their findings not to add up, by resisting the urge to recreate a whole, and by giving up the effort of inscribing a well-groomed and traceable area for the benefit of future explorers. Mess, fragments, shifting ground, scribbled findings: these are the markers of encounters with baroque acts. With this in mind, the following pages offer an excited survey and set of provisional charts of this shifting ground by metastasizing baroque signs instead of limiting them and by developing a baroque mode of thinking commensurate with the objects of study that the thinking would like to assess.