Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology arrow Baroque, Venice, Theatre, Philosophy

Shape of the Study

The body of this book contains two parts. In Part I, I excavate the ground on which the subsequent chapters stand, a ground to which I refer as “baroque pastoral.” Chapter 2 tends to this ground by discussing the intertwining, but frequently overlooked, pasts of baroque thinking and pastoral literature. I offer two critical models to demonstrate this entwine- ment. Sprouting from Leibniz’s baroque fantasy of the world as a densely packed enfoldment of gardens within gardens, I offer a reading of Valsanzibio, the allegorical botanical masterpiece designed by Luigi Bernini in the hills of Padua, and Bomarzo, a phantasmagorical garden of delights planned by Vicino Orsini outside of Rome. After visiting those gardens, I propose that worldviews found in archetypal works of pastoral literature and drama take cues from the baroque thought underpinning these gardens, what I call “garden thinking.” I turn first to Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii and then to Torquato Tasso’s I’Aminta, the most exemplary model of the pastoral theatre genre. Colonna’s work persists in the present as an unwieldy and overgrown work of imagination. Endeavoring to write the dream world of his protagonist Poliphilo, Colonna sews a wild terrain of his own making with nymphs, ornate temples, maps and diagrams, and erotic longing. In many ways, the work’s formal excesses upstage the book’s content. Moving from these excesses to the rigorous discipline of Tasso’s writing, I examine a play renowned (during its time as well as in the present) for its mastery of the pastoral mode. Educated by the Jesuits before turning to a life as poet and playwright, Tasso created a theatrical landscape bursting at the seams with allegorical messages, each one offering clues about how to discipline the forces of love and attain happiness in life. Together, the two works present an opportunity to view the play between discipline and excess rumbling beneath the surface of many baroque artifacts.

In Chapter 3, “Ruzzante’s Pastoral,” I scrutinize Ruzzante’s negation of Tasso’s worldview by historicizing his first theatre work, Pastoral (1521). Serving as an introduction to the historical figure of Ruzzante and the world of early sixteenth-century Padua, this chapter presents a detournement of the traditional pastoral mode in which Platonic philosophical principles ensure a life of happiness. Exposing the inescapable miscommunication of a world in which each word and idea functions as an allegory for something else, Ruzzante offers a materialist critique of pastoral poetry. Next, in Chapter 4, “Jesuit Pastoral Theatre: The Case of Father Pietro Leon da Valcamonica,” I offer a third and final understanding of the baroque pastoral through an analysis of the pastoral power of the Jesuit Order. While scholarship on pastoral power has not yet met up with scholarship on pastoral theatre, I contend that, by making visible the dramaturgy of a condemned priest’s public execution in Piazza San Marco, it is possible to understand how Jesuit pastoral power exposes another facet of pastoral performance, one based on subservience to shepherds but in an altogether different sense than the same subservience hinted at by Tasso. The shepherd under discussion here comes into view as the shepherd-priest, a role played exquisitely by the Jesuits in Venice during the sixteenth century.

At the end of Part I, I will have articulated baroque pastoral as the ever- shifting ground of sixteenth-century aesthetic and intellectual production in Venice, a ground constituted by theatre and performance practices and resulting in a deft but unfinished merger of nature and culture. Against the background of that baroque terrain, Ruzzante and the Jesuit order pop into stark relief as the poles of a dialectical pairing that derives its dynamism from the competing principles and practices of discipline and excess. Part II adds nuance to this understanding. Chapter 5, “Ruzzante Takes Place,” presents a method of philosophical engagement directly opposed to that of the Jesuits, one that aims not for spiritual harmony but rather for physical satiety and an attunement with nature. Reading across Ruzzante’s performance pieces most resistant to genre classification, I cast him as a kind of gardener capable of rooting himself where he does not belong so as to open lines of sight into the difficult world of the rural peasantry for the people who have the means, at least potentially, to improve the lives of the poor. By focusing on his dialogues and not his five-act plays, I also demonstrate how his creative blurring of the line between onstage and offstage amounted to a political agenda.

Chapter 6, “The Enscenement of Self and the Jesuit Teatro del Mondo,” builds on the theory of psychagogical (pace Foucault) dramaturgy developed in Chapter 4’s analysis of the public execution. I develop the idea of a Jesuit theatre of the world through careful consideration of the work of Giovanni Domenico Ottonelli S.J. Read beside Ottonelli’s treatise on theatre, floating theatres on the canals of Venice, and plans for a utopian theatre space proposed by Ruzzante’s patron Alvise Cornaro, the spiritual exercises conceived by Ignatius Loyola then reveal themselves as a peculiar form of actor training and portray the Jesuits not as anti-theatricalists (a term so often affixed to them) but as cunning dramaturgs of the performance of everyday life. Finally, in Chapter 7, “Baroque Diarchic Self,” I think through the dialectical pair of the Jesuit order and Ruzzante in order to develop an understanding of the baroque as an internal tension produced by discipline and excess and articulated through everyday performances of the self. This chapter circles back on and ties together the threads spun out in the previous chapters while also communicating directly with the claims of neobaroque scholars about the subversive world-making potential of a baroque subjectivity.

Conceived as a baroque book (i.e. a book whose structure, form, and content overwhelm the senses through a barrage of details and intricate conceptual creations), the arguments contained in these pages will provide not a re-periodization of the baroque but a re-conceptualization of the ways in which baroque thinking continues to shape worldviews and aesthetics in the present. With this aim, I concur with Egginton’s characterization of the baroque as “the aesthetic counterpart to a problem of thought that is coterminous with that time in the West we have learned to call modernity, stretching from the sixteenth century to the present” (Egginton 1). By shifting attention away from the well-traversed literature of the Spanish Golden Age and decolonizing tactics of so-called Latin America, however, I hope to encourage others to seek out abstruse and seemingly banal historical objectiles and to revisit and read anew the theatrical and performance histories whose origins have been obscured by genre-defining acts such as, in this case, the commedia dell’arte. Furthermore, by siding explicitly with the field of performance philosophy, I would like to encourage more historical studies into the mutually constituting forces of philosophy and performance so as to discover modes of thinking that have slipped into obscurity but, due to their disciplined excesses, may provide guides for contemporary praxis.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics