Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Baroque Notebook, Part Two

From Stephen Little's ...isms: Understanding Art: "What distinguishes the Baroque is its insistent movement and transformation—of bodies and emotions in particular." "drama; transformation; conflict; manipulation; rhetoric; allegory; meditation; absolute power; new genres" "To convince, to transform, to deceive through illusion: all these are hallmarks of the Baroque. It seems to move in all directions, attempting to overwhelm any psychological distance between itself and the viewer... Baroque art is often associated with political absolutism and with the Catholic Counter-Reformation... many of its masterpieces are celebrations of power and spiritual orthodoxy." Also notes the new prevalence of art in domestic interiors and painted for private collectors. Rise of the bourgeois. And a reminder that "Baroque" was originally a term of opprobrium from later critics and artists who abhorred its departure from classical style.

"A / Round of fiddles playing Bach. / Come, ye daughters, share my anguish— / Bare arms, black dresses. / See Him! Whom? / Bediamond the passion of our Lord, / See Him! How?" Zukfosky's fascination with Bach's Matthäuspassion. In which an orthodox, though Protestant, retelling of a Christian story is folded and refolded (c.f. the famous double chorus) so that the layers of music overwhelm and persuade ("bediamond") as music, far in excess of the ostensible content. Orthodoxy bends, flickers, becomes malleable.

Rebecca Loudon suggests, "It's easy, think fractals." Easier for someone who really understands math, but here's what I take from that: infinite extensibility, geometric increase of complexity, literal and Deleuzean folding, a line that exceeds what's topologically describable, rendering all maps unfinished and unfinishable. The individual fractal unit contains the whole in germ: isn't that the soul of excess, a fragment that blooms into a totality?

And Josh Hanson poses the question-fragment: "Charles Mingus' relationship to dixieland?" Yes: Mingus excess-orizes Dixieland jazz, not to mention big band and swing, with layers of sound, wild energy, a renewed emphasis on the bassline—reclaiming the blackness of what had become a bleached mode of jazz. "Fables of Faubus": overtly political, a Kurt Weill-sort of rhythm, a jeremiad you can dance to.

Deleuze's The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque resists my full understanding, but seems to be the single most influential text in current baroque theory. Leibniz's monad is the main character, conceived of alternately as an organism or an allegory of the soul as a two-story dwelling: the bottom floor is the "common room" with five windows (the senses); the upper floor is closed, private, decorated with folded drapes (evoking inevitably to my mind David Lynch's blue and red velvets). "In the Baroque the soul entertains a complex relation with the body. Forever indissociable from the body, it discovers a vertiginous animality that gets it tangled in the pleats of matter, but also an organic or cerebral humanity (the degree of development) that allows it to rise up, and that will make it ascend over all other folds" (11). Sounds like a Hegelianized body without organs in which the folded soul represents desire unbound by everything but its own nature, which is to attach itself to objects. Fractals again: "As an individual unit each monad includes the whole series; hence it conveys the entire world, but does not express it without expressing more clearly a small region of the world, a 'subdivision,' a borough of the city, a finite sequence" (25, italics original). Again I think of the task of mapping: fractal lines are excessive but not without losing contact with local facts: they are accurate.

E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, on the facade of a sixteenth-century Jesuit chruch: "The most striking feature in this facade is the doubling of each column or pilaster, as if to give the whole structure greater richness, variety and solemnity.... In Della Porta's facade of the first Jesuit church everything depends on the effect given by the whole. It is all fused together into one large and complex pattern" (389). Ornament which only looks like ornament: "it is these curves and scrolls that have been responsible for much of the censure showered on Baroque builders by the upholders of pure classical tradition. But if we cover the offending ornaments with a piece of paper and try to visualize the building without them, we must admit that they are not merely ornamental. Without them the building would 'fall apart'" (389-390).

Deleuze: "And when the folds of clothing spill out of painting, it is Bernini who endows them with sublime form in scuplture, when marble seizes and bears to infinity folds that cannot be explained by the body, but by a spiritual adventure that can set the body ablaze.... folds of clothing acquire an autonomy and a fullness that are not simply decorative effects. they convey the intensity of a spiritual force exerted on the body, either to turn it upside down or to stand or raise it up over and again, but in every event to turn it inside out and to mold its inner surfaces" (121-22, italics original)

Velazquez's Las Meninas. Impossible not to think of Foucault's dramatic analysis of the painting in The Order of Things: a critique of representation and the impossibility of representing representation. We the viewer stand impossibly in the mirror, confronting our shady reflections as the king and queen of Spain. So many eyes, including the eyes of the grotesque (a female dwarf kept no doubt to amuse the royal court) and the no-less-direct gaze of Velazquez himself, dressed as the courtier he was. The shadowy heights of the ceiling, and the presence of numerous other paintings on the walls. The mirror gleams like a movie screen or the screens that monitor The Matrix ("Do you always look at in code?"). Looking is folded that we might behold it, or mapping.

Maps are produced by a combination of imagination, which is a form of power, and local knowledge, which is a counter-power.

The spirit incorporates and responds to the pressures exerted on the body: it draws a map.

Your imaginary relationship to the real conditions of your existence.

Poems of mapping.

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