Genealogies of Modernity and Transhistorical Studies: The Baroque and the Neobaroque
Put most broadly, the goals of this course are to deepen our understanding of transhistorical continuities in English studies (and related studies in Comparative Literature and Culture) and of the multiple genealogies of modernity. We do this by examining the Baroque, a fascinating phenomenon because of the prolific afterlife it has had in generating “new” Baroques, both in the 17th and 18th centuries and again in the 20th and 21st centuries. This seminar traces the changing nature of Baroque representation in Europe and the Americas across four centuries, from its 17th-century origin in the European State Baroque of Absolutism and the Counterreformation, to its subsequent and contemporary function as (among other things) a postcolonial and counter-institutional expression. Milestones of the Baroque’s wayward trajectory are the Neobaroque (the 20th - and 21st-century recovery of the Baroque in modern and postmodern literature, visual arts, film, and cultural theory), and the New World Baroque (a transculturated mestizo Baroque produced in the Iberian New World colonies in the 18th century by African, indigenous, and mestizo artisans who built and decorated Catholic art). After four centuries of non-linear development, the Baroque today is a poster child of inter-artistic, inter-disciplinary, transhistorical and transcultural expression. Baroque forms are exuberant, dynamic, and porous, allowing for the expression of the different and the strange, which is why few representational styles bend so well—and in so many ways—as the Baroque. We will focus on how the “same” Baroque aesthetic strategies—for example, hyperbole and excess, the “open” work of art (the idea of fragmentation, the broken whole, the impulse to spill beyond set limits), or the systematic impulse to bend the rules (e.g., to turn structure into ornament)—are found in both Baroque and Neobaroque works. Concretely, this means, for example:
- reading Baroque lyric (including John Donne and the English Metaphysicals) before turning to the renaissance of the Metaphysical conceit in T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” and Eliot’s theory of the dissociation of sensibility in The Clark and Turnbull Lectures.
- reading Djuna Barnes’ Ladies Almanack and tracking its Neobaroque and queer adaptation/parody of early modern hagiography and saints’ cults and the discourse of Renaissance melancholy, via Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.
- reading W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn while attending to his parallel recovery of Renaissance melancholy and Baroque prose (Burton and Sir Thomas Browne)
- studying Calderón’s Spanish Golden Age play Life Is a Dream alongside Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz’ irreverent adaptation of Calderón’s play about Absolutist sovereignty and tyrannical rule as a critique of state terror under Pinochet in his Neobaroque film Memory of Appearances; or Life Is A Dream.
We will be looking for the Baroque in lowbrow as well as highbrow expression, literature, film, philosophy, and visual art—for example, in Chicano lowriders and the Hip Hop Baroque in Luis Gispert and Kehinde Wiley.
Secondary readings (by Walter Benjamin, Wellek, Irlemar Chiampi, Severo Sarduy, José Lezama Lima, Haroldo de Campos, Alejo Carpentier, Edouard Glissant, Heinrich Wölfflin, Foucault, Deleuze, César Salgado, Angel Rama, and others) will be theorizing the transhistorical and transcultural continuities of the Baroque, New World Baroque, and Neobaroque. We will examine the claim that the Baroque constitutes an alternative modernity, a modernity without an irreversible break with the past. Looking both forwards and backwards, the Neobaroque in particular is defined by constitutive anachronisms, suturing futures to pasts rather than expanding the distance between them. The Baroque and Neobaroque’s alternative modernity beyond the logic of rupture is appropriately expressed in the prefix –neo, contrasting with the dissociative –post. Throughout its history, an antagonism between classicism/rationalism and Baroque has underpinned the use of this term: first, when “Baroque” was coined as a pejorative term (Baroque = bizarre) by 18th-century Neoclassicism and Enlightenment (which successfully expunged the Baroque from artistic canons, sending it into purgatory for two centuries); second, when the Baroque was revived at the beginning of the 20th century, as a direct response to the crisis of Enlightenment modernity.
Ideally, this course would attract both specialists in 20th and 21st studies and early modern studies. There will also be a section on Neobaroque cinema, and opportunities for research projects on Neobaroque cinema and the Baroque in contemporary media cultures. I encourage students to contact me before the end of the quarter about their individual research interests. Assignments: 10-15 page research paper; mock review of journal article; presentation on course readings.
Required works: Djuna Barnes, Ladies’ Almanack (Dalkey Archive, 1992) T.S. Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry: The Clark and Turnbull Lectures (Harcourt Brace, 1993) Alejo Carpentier, Baroque Concerto, trans. Asa Zatz (Andre Deutsch; out of print, please await further notice on copies) Raúl Ruiz (dir.), Mémoire des apparences (Memory of Appearance; or, Life Is a Dream) W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (New Directions, 1999) Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La vida es sueño / Life Is a Dream (Dover Publications, 2002) Lois Zamora and Monika Kaup, eds. Baroque New Worlds: Representation, Transculturation, Counterconquest (Duke, 2010)
A (small) course reader with readings by Deleuze, Foucault, Angel Rama, Jorge Luis Borges, César Salgado, Baroque poetry. Visual art by Rubén Ortiz Torres, Luis Gispert, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Kehinde Wiley and others will be made available via links to the course website.