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Baroque Modernity with Joseph Cermatori

Joseph Cermatori is assistant professor of English at Skidmore College. He specializes in the fields of comparative literature, modern and contemporary drama, performance studies, and critical theory. Beyond his research in twentieth-century modernism, his scholarship encompasses the broad history of art and ideas in Western culture from 1600 to the present, focusing on the philosophical […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
Conrad Wallace Stevens says, "When must have a mind of winter to stand in the snow,
and not to think of any misery in the sound of the wind,
in the sound of a few leaves in a bare place,
where the listener, nothing himself,
beholds nothing that is not there,
and the nothing that is."
This is the stripped-down landscape of a disabused modern mind,
where the real gets distilled to as denuded essence.
The only ornaments on the December tree are snow and shags of ice.
It's a scene from which the gods have flown
withdrawing into a vacancy that makes one wonder.
Is this vacancy?
Namely, the nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is
the hiding place of the vanished gods.
Is it only a mind of winter that can hear them in the sound of a few dead leaves in wind?
I have tried to write paradise, do not move, let the wind speak, that is paradise.
The modern mind has different seasons, however,
by which I mean it has different ways of relating to the void.
One strain of our modernism holds fast to the bare, the barren, the silent,
the desolate, what hide-a-gir called the default of being,
and Samuel Beckett called the precious little.
Yet if the guest who joins me today is right,
there is another strain of modernism that has always been intent
on repopulating the void,
filling it with marvels, magic, deities, and extravagance,
with dramatic gestures of transport and transfiguration.
This other strain looks up at the night sky,
and hears not the eternal silence of those infinite spaces,
but sister Rosetta singing in the dark.
It hears echoes of light that shines like stars after they're gone,
and finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, the miraculous in the everyday.
Strange things are happening,
past me, I've been losing my losing my own.
Through the side of my heart has left me again.
I hear music of music.
Though the sound of hope has left me again, I hear music up above.
I hear Rosetta singing in the night.
Echos of light that shines like stars after they're gone,
and tonight she's my guide as I go alone with the music above.
The modern era may have disabused us,
yet we still hear that music, and we still have an irrepressible need to bring what is not there into the nothing that is.
Good luck trying to stop us from re-enchanting the real with costumes, masks, and the livery of dreams.
Our will to wizardry, our taste for thaumaturgy, for congery, and horoscopy,
take any number of forms in the modern era, or so claims my guest today.
His name is Joseph Sermatore, an assistant professor of English at Skidmore College,
and the term he proposes for this other strain of the modern period is Baroque Modernity.
That's also the title of a book he published this year with Johns Hopkins University Press.
Joseph Sermatore, welcome to entitled opinions.
It's a pleasure to be here.
So strange to say, but after all these years and episodes of entitled opinions,
I've never done a show on the Baroque before.
So before we talk about Baroque Modernity, maybe it would be useful if you could start just with a term, Baroque,
where it comes from and what it traditionally refers to.
All right, we glad to.
We tend to think of the term Baroque as a kind of a chronological period in art history or architecture or music,
often refers to a period, roughly between say, 1670.
But prior to it's being a period term, it actually had a prehistory in the use of rhetoric and in logic.
Originally, the term seems to have meant a kind of a syllogism that is to say a kind of a philosophical proof in three parts,
two premises and a conclusion.
And this particular classification of an analytical proof was thought to be just a little bit elaborate or sophisticated,
maybe. Montania uses the word in this way.
It takes the form, all PRM, some S are not P, therefore some S are not M.
And one of the classical demonstrations of this form of the Baroque proof would be something like,
all gold is valuable.
Some things that glitter are not valuable.
Therefore, some things that glitter are not gold.
And we get this bit of wisdom repeated to us in Act 2 of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, of course,
with the casket scene and all that glitter is not gold.
We learn in that scene.
Sometime around this same time, this kind of 16th, very late 16th, early 17th century moment,
the term starts to be getting used by Spanish and Portuguese jewelers to designate a non-spherical pearl.
A kind of a beautiful, but somehow strange whimsical or odd piece of jewelry.
From there, it starts to develop a set of associations simply meaning something strange or irregular or overly complex.
By the 1760s, Rousseau is using it as a term of disparagement for overly complex musical forms in his dictionary of music.
It's around the same time he and Gloque are introducing different reforms into the opera to simplify musical rhetoric.
And then by the 1870s, it really starts to be getting used by architecture and by music historians as a more descriptive term for the period immediately following the Renaissance.
So the architecture and sculpture historian, Jacob Burkhart, used it to mean the kind of late decadent stage of Renaissance art in the context of counter-reformation Catholicism.
So that's the kind of capsule history term that I could give you.
And it's really there in that kind of 1870s, 1880s moment that my own research starts to pick up.
Well, that's an important thing that you mentioned about Jacob Burkhart because you mentioned the counter-reformation.
And this is a moment of a greater crisis in European and cultural history as well as, let's say, intellectual history.
And theological history where you have now the whole traditional role that God had played has an unquestioned, stable foundation for all of Western culture has now starting to feel the tremors of a concussion.
And perhaps even a kind of withdrawal of God from the scene.
And you do in your book draw attention to the void, this sort of empty place that was full of the Christian sacred, the Christian divine.
And that the counter-reformation perhaps was a reaction that attempted to fill that void with a kind of plenitude, you know, deploying all the senses and the effects and the gestures and everything that we associate with the grand gesture of the Baroque.
Would you like to say something about that, the importance of the counter-reformation and the religious concussions that took place in this period?
I see the counter-reformation as being the defining context in which Baroque style is begins to assert itself.
It's a fairly, I think, traditional historiographical viewpoint.
A wonderful mentor of mine, the theater theorist Eleanor Fuchs once said that the theater during this time period becomes a kind of a philosophical life raft for anyone seeking to flee the shipwreck of Western theological metaphysics in the early 17th century.
That seems right to me with something like the Council of Trent, which was convened after the rise of Protestantism in northern Europe, with something else made of like the foundation of the Jesuit orders.
What gets asserted in the Roman Church is really the usefulness of art for persuading the faithful to stay Catholic rather than confer to the new Protestantism.
This kind of idea of artistic effects is really very much influenced by Saint Ignatius of Liola, his kind of militant writings on spiritual meditations, his spiritual exercises, in which the point is to kind of create a meditative scene in the mind of the faithful that one can sort of speak enter.
By imagining the various sensory details of that scene, the nails of the crucifixion, for example, the sight of the nails.
We see this actually happening in a very literal way in the Jesuit theaters of the time, and that use all the different sensory media of the stage to create this extremely spectacular and can lavish set of effects upon the viewer.
We see these conno forms of theatricality and spectacle that were really intended to excite the viewer.
And actually, you know, that's also not just happening in theaters, but it's happening across all the ecclesiastical arts, it's happening in music, it's happening in architecture, sculpture, stained glass, painting, and so forth.
So I think I see the counter-reformation as being kind of the defining context of the Baroque's origination.
Yeah, it sounds like Proto Hollywood to me with all the special effects going on, and we'll talk about that.
And also, this premium on spectacle, effect, gesture, it also brings us to Nietzsche.
We're not going to talk about right now, we're going to talk about it in a little bit, but Nietzsche's critique of a certain decadent strain in the search for effect at all costs associated with Wagnerianism.
But we'll get to that in a moment because Nietzsche is one of the main protagonists of the Baroque modernity that you write about, no?
But let's kind of give our listeners a sense of just how theatrical the Baroque period, the aesthetic, and especially the theater, could be by bringing in Bernini,
whom I always thought of primarily as an architect, a designer of the beautiful Bessenovona, you know, the fountains and so forth.
But he was really also very committed to the theater, and he had what one might call a total theater concept, no?
Can you say something about Bernini and theater?
Yeah, Bernini is one of these in many ways, a kind of a very typical Renaissance man, you might say late Renaissance man, virtuosic across many different arts.
And certainly we can see in his use of architecture or in sculpture a set of theatrical impulses that were actually, you know, it's often forgotten these days, were actually tested and experimented within the literal theater itself.
He was the kind of court impresario for the the Baroque really court and Rome, kind of something like the kind of equivalent of what we might describe someone like Enigo Jones in England doing in his collaborations with Ben Johnson.
And he's a very accomplished both architect and stage designer of the theater and also a playwright in his own, in his own right.
We also have a play that exists from Amorra, Franklin to the play, a Gomédia Emitra that was discovered in the Vatican archives on the back of some receipts for the translocation of the Travi Fountain.
So he was a writer as well, a kind of a total theater intellect in a sense. I could say a bit more about that actually.
I mean, we should talk about what the sense of his theater was like.
Well, yeah, because he was also looking to create that effect of Medavilia, wonder amazement and shock.
And here you quote the historian Pamela Smith who just describes the special effects of one of his plays called the inundation of the Tiber, performance 1638,
where Vittinini, I'm reading from her, sets boats out to sail on a flooded stage.
Suddenly the retainers holding back the water collapsed under the pressure and the water flooded over the audience, toward the audience, not over the audience.
The audience panicking and rising to flea before the on-rushing waters were amazed to see the barriers go up and the water drained before their eyes.
All the audience had experienced the flood, but not a single onlooker had gotten wet.
Not long after this spectacle of deception, Vittinini staged the fair in which a torch bearer apparently accidentally lit the scenery ablaze.
But before the audience could quite trample each other to the doors, a rainstorm began on stage and extinguish the flames.
That sounds like real theater to me.
It's really like you said, the marvelous in a sense in performance, right?
I know what's on the stress.
Yeah, the kind of illusion and the real, he probably went as far as he could go in making the audience believe that this was real thing happening and then all of a sudden you realize, wait, you just take one step back from the brink of the abyss.
Yes, I want to stress that last point.
The art history in Irving, Leaven made the observation that technically speaking, what Vittinini was accomplishing was nothing particularly new.
The ability to say, flood a stage, for example, for spectacles of naval warfare or something like that, that goes back quite a long time.
But what Vittinini introduced and what seems to have become his signature in many ways was this moment when the stable boundary between the spectator and the spectacle seems to collapse.
It seems to get flooded over, inundated, or almost burned down threatening the lives of the spectators.
It's very important, I think, for my own understanding of broke the after-cality.
And then on top of that, I also just note that in 1644 we have the English traveler John Evelyn visiting Rome.
And he writes in his diarist as well, and he writes in his diary, sometime in 1644 that he attended a public opera here, I'm quoting him now, in which Vittinini, "painted the scenes, cut the statues, invented the engines, composed the music,
Rick, the comedy, and built the theater all himself."
It's a little hard to know whether he's exaggerating what he saw or what he heard, but if he's not, that seems to suggest that Vittinini was in many ways seeking a certain kind of total control over the theater medium or the theater mechanism that was really in many ways unprecedented in Europe until that time, and certainly not surpassed until the 19th century with some of my great partner at Biorel,
which is where I pick things up in my own studies. Exactly, the total theater, you know, and that collapsing or attempt to go to that threshold where the distinction between audience and spectators is abolished.
It also seems to suggest things you get in the 20th century with things like the living theater with Julian Beck where there was this, and best told,
he liked and the idea of the defamiliarization of the spectator and so forth. These are all effects and I think you mean by Baroque modernity, at least part of what Baroque modernity means in your understanding of it is the ongoing life of this urge to create a special effects and to perhaps even re-enchant the world after its complete disenchantment to reintroduce,
if not the gods themselves, at least the images of them, the, you know, simulacra of them, the effect of them, if not the thing itself.
Maybe though at the same time, you know, you're mentioning Brecht, for example, the living theater, you're also making me think of someone like Antonin Arto, the kind of theater of cruelty, the plunging the spectator into both an emotional and physical and a metaphysical crisis and some kind.
What Vermini was doing was a kind of an impish, maybe prefiguration of the theater of cruelty, I think. And part of what I'm interested in this book in particular is the long afterlife of this instead of instincts in the theater.
So you begin your introduction with Thornton Wilder, it's not the most obvious candidate about Baroque modernity, but nevertheless he had some very interesting things to say about the Baroque and I won't read the quote at length, but maybe you could summarize very briefly for our listeners, what Thornton Wilder was claiming in this essay of his, which as I gather, was never published during his lifetime and is that correct?
It's really kind of lay, I'm discovered in his papers at Yale University for many decades.
And what did I say? I'm sorry, what is the name of that essay again? I'm looking for the essay.
The essay is titled The Baroque, it's actually the Baroque B-A-R-O-C-K is the German spelling in the title, though in the rest of the essay it's all with the typical friend, Janglish, with the cue.
The Baroque or how to recognize a miracle in the daily life. There you go. Strange things are happening every day indeed.
That's, that's, I've heard the song I played there by Allison Kraus and Robert Plant, if anyone out there was curious about what that song was.
So what is he claiming that essay of his very interesting stuff actually?
It's right, so it's a very rich, interesting essay on intellectual and artistic history.
One of the things that he claims is for anyone living during this period, the age of the Baroque, that every day life was saturated with a sense of the miraculous.
It comes to us from a notion of the way in which God represents himself daily of the hour of the mass in the form of the consecrated eucharist.
What he argues in that essay is that, you know, with over the course of the 18th century with the closures of the Society of Jesus, with, you know, maybe just what we would more generally today call enlightenment, with the closure of the Jesuit theaters as well.
What we get is this kind of secularization of the theater to put it shortly. But he says that the Austrian soul is particularly interested in Austrian group.
The Austrian soul could not forego. It's a lot of the marvelous. And so all of those energies, as he puts it, kind of lived on and had to find different forms.
So we don't have, for example, Jesuit religious theaters any longer, but we have a kind of theater of magic and wizardry that culminates, for example, in Mozart's magic flute or in Wagner's Parcifal.
He says that Wagner's Parcifal is in many ways the last Jesuit play.
Now, it's interesting to think about while there is somebody who is perhaps passionately devoted to the idea of the Baroque, because his own theater from that time really bears no obvious resemblance to it in a way.
He talks in that essay quite excitedly about how during that time you would have saints writing by unclouds and the pothioses and, you know, hellfire and various miracles happening on stage.
Nothing could really be farther from the very, very stripped down a denuded stage of our attempts, kind of what you were describing before with all the Stevens snowman.
And yet, part of what I argue the introduction to my book is that if you look at a play like our town alongside this rediscovered Baroque essay, which actually he wrote hand wrote in the same journal where he sketched the first scenes of our town.
It becomes clear that that last active hour town in which Emily Webb is brought back from the dead to relive her 11 birthday functions as a kind of a modernist secular Baroque apotheosis of some kind.
She dies, the third act she kind of appears in the realms of the dead, the shadowy kind of underworld space where everyone engravers corners is just seated in rows you probably remember this very famous scene from this play.
She's seated in chairs on stage looking like they were waiting something like the last trumpet.
And she asks the stage manager of the play as she can go and relive her 11th birthday.
She's warned not to try to do that.
And when she goes back, she's immediately overwhelmed by the speed of life, the pace of life, my the fact that she can't get her mother to look at her and actually see her by some flowers and the sound of clocks taking in the
No coffee and hot baths and all of these kind of sensory stimulations that don't add up to a sense of full presence ultimately, but our disorienting.
And thus she asks to be taken back to the realm of the dead.
And in that moment, what while there seems to be staging is a kind of a modernist Baroque apotheosis, I think, a kind of an understanding of a modern version of the Baroque relationship to the everyday has being in itself miraculous.
Yeah, perfect sense to me, and it's almost as if there's an insight there crucial insight that if we only could take a step back from our everyday being in the world in our bodies, we would realize that the condition of embodiment is thoroughly Baroque in this sense that it's a planetude of a sensurium, which is always a surplus of sense perceptions and colors and vivid miracles.
These everyday, you know, hourly miracles that constitute the very essence of being in the world in one's own body. Yeah.
She asks the stage manager, you know, did any human being ever realize life every every minute? He says the saints and poets maybe they might some they do some, you know, there's no way to live and look to be in the world really, such as it is, with unawareness of this fullness of things.
In fact, I think even in philosophy you get like someone like Emmanuel Kant, maybe far from the Baroque, but the idea is that the data of sense intuition is so overwhelming is so much in excess of our and then therefore you need consciousness and the forms of the categories in order to contain and domesticate this otherwise wild overwhelming sort of influx of perceptions that are blasting at you a second by second.
And yeah, I think that if we could see the world for what it truly is, it would be as Blake once said infinite and the Baroque seems to have some impulse to remind us that it's taking place every day at every moment if we only could become aware of it. However, we are in this strange sort of, if not paradox of fullness of the world.
Fullness on the one hand and the void, this emptiness on the other, which is you talked about it in the counter-reformation, the withdrawal of God from the scene, the sense that there's been a disenchantment of the real in the modern era.
And here also it's not the only, it's not the first time it's happened in Western cultural history because you devote a substantial amount of attention to the tradition of softism in ancient Greece by way of your discussion of Nietzsche, which we'll get to, but the surface you mentioned something I'm going to read what you say about the softest tradition because it relates all sort of the syllogism and this need for persuasion.
But you say that the softest starts from a tragic insight, namely that accessible and transcendent truth is lacking and proceeds from this lack to an excessive, luxuriating mode of speech and so forth. Plato had his problems with that, I guess Socrates did too, because rhetoric was unfounded, it did not have a reliable foundation and it was all the same.
And it was all about effect and persuasion without a regard for truth. But if there is no ultimate truth, transcendent truth, then we are left in this place where we fill the void with these sorts of arguments or these sorts of effects and so forth.
So you're making me think of a meme, I saw recently the discussion between Socrates and Gorgias where Gorgias, it's structured in the form of a dialogue, the selfist Gorgias says there's no such thing as truth to which Socrates replies, is that true to which Gorgias replies, it's absolutely true to which Socrates replies.
And so this is a philosophical position that has some perhaps contradictions to it. If there is no such thing as an absolute truth, then perhaps what remains is what persuades us, as you've said, what feels like truth and then ultimately also I think the reality of power relations, who's ultimately stronger in any given debate perhaps.
I don't want to go all out in favor of the Baroque, because as part of me that also is very sympathetic to the snowman, the denuded, the looking for the real in its most minimalist form where it's not contaminated by illusion.
And even the philosophical quest for truth to, I'm not ready to surrender it all and say everything is a play of signs and a kind of unvetered, unanchored, signifier going crazy.
I think Nietzsche, though he's often mistaken for a kind of a flat-footed nihilist of various kinds, I think he would agree with you that the purpose of philosophy would be to overcome that kind of nihilism, or it actually takes seriously the meanings of that sophisticated proposition in the absence of something like God.
Thank you for saying that and mentioning, because I'd like you to talk about Nietzsche because he's the first main protagonist that you deal with, and it's precisely around this question of rhetoric and
the solism and how it relates to his distinction between the Apollonian and the Dionysia.
So, you know, in some ways our modern, kind of shorthand the way of thinking about the Baroque appears really deeply marked with Nietzsche's way of thinking, the art historian Heinrich Wolflin, who is really one of the first art historians to start popularizing the term Baroque and whose framework for thinking about Baroque has been very influential.
Both Lin would describe the Baroque as being the antithesis to Renaissance classicism. He was a kind of a misbeying a colleague with Nietzsche at the University of Basel, by just a few years, but he certainly knew his Nietzsche and that, you know, a classical Baroque dyad is in many ways re-purposing of Nietzsche's Apollo Dionysus dialectic.
I think Nietzsche had an awareness of the Dionysian capacities of Baroque style as being related to the form of the Dionysian d'Ithram, we also know he wrote the Dionysian d'Ithram's way called, "Dionysian d'Ithram's."
I did the Ramb being a kind of an ecstatic form of Greek poetry, song, performance. He saw himself as a kind of a new form of the Greek d'Ithram's.
But my interest in Nietzsche is that I see him as really the first philosopher to take seriously the term Baroque, the Baroque itself as an aesthetic concept with the density unto itself. He has a long philosophical explanation of Baroque style in the second book of human, all to human, that I spend quite a bit of time within the first chapter of my book.
I sense he started out with a kind of a received disdain about Baroque opera that he likely inherited from Wagner. There are some endemulatory comments in the birth of tragedy that he aims at the Florentine aristocracy of the late Renaissance. He condemns them for their rarefied luxurious tastes. Sounds totally like something out of Wagner's combination of an opera.
But in this first chapter of my book, I argue that he ultimately came to see the Baroque as a kind of a complex of modern forces and modern conditions that it's impossible for anyone to escape fully himself over Wagner.
I spend a lot of time in that chapter describing how he saw Wagner as a new form of Baroque.
But towards the end of that chapter, I start thinking more about the ways in which he sees himself bound up in a set of Baroque contradictions.
So he's making a kind of imminent critique, I think. That's the interest that Nietzsche has for me.
Yeah, would you say that Wagner is one of the great modern Baroque artists and that Nietzsche's complex relationship to Wagner is the best place to understand what Nietzsche is thinking about the Baroque is all about?
He definitely think Nietzsche saw Wagner that way. He complains about the Baroque steel of Baroque style of Baroque. He compares Wagner to Bernini, often explicitly in his private writings.
He says at the start of the case of Wagner, both Wagner and I are decadence. It's just that I resisted it. The philosopher in me resisted it.
So I definitely think he saw Wagner as being in chained within the long afterlife within the historical dialectics of Baroque style, for sure.
But I also think that he saw himself in that regard too.
Wagner is a little weird and insofar as when he went to Baroque, I think, and he saw the Italian theatre. He just wanted to completely redo it. He did not like the ornamentation and all those Baroque effects.
He wanted a rather denuded theatre, which is kind of bizarre, isn't it?
It is, you're describing, I think, the Margreville theatre in Baroque, which is an aristocratic courtly theatre, which is designed by one of the Golly and Dubuque Biena Baroque's inaugural version of the middle 18th century.
He arrived at Baroque and was assessing it as a potential site for his future ring cycle festival. And just as you say, he didn't really care for it. It was too plaw-rated and overly ornamented.
And as he was designing his own stage for Baroque, his own theatre building, again, a bit like Bernini building the theatre hall himself.
He wrote his architect that he wanted all the ornamentation taken away, just as you've said, he had written on the draft manuscript of the architectural plans of the German words, the ornament of fort, away with the ornaments.
What I say in the book is that you don't need to be a psychoanalyst to say that anything that tries to get banished with this imperious kind of demand of fort, and find ways to reappear and be suddenly there again, there's a kind of a fort-dah kind of traumatic repetition that seems to be happening here with Baroque style.
So I encourage our listeners to go and read you on Nietzsche as we move on to the other artists poet that you put squarely in the Baroque modernity, which is Stefan Malachme, the French poet.
He devoted a whole chapter to him after your Nietzsche chapter. Malachme, sometimes you could imagine him being unbaroque because he was always looking for an essentialist trying to reduce things down to a very bare essence of the real.
And yet at the same time, he enlists and deploys the sonorities of poetry, the effects of theatre and imagery and myths and nymphs and all this whole army of effects in his essentialistic minimalist poetry, but it's a poetry that's looking for a simplistic reduction to something essential.
Kind of poetry in a sense, maybe setting itself up as a competitor to Wagner's total theatre, maybe.
You know, Malachme, some of your listeners may know that he's less, I think well known among English language readers of poetry.
His name is in many ways, I think synonymous with the emergence of French modernism alongside someone like Rambo.
He's known for a number of innovations in poetic form, the experiment with free verse, with concrete poetry that is to say with shaped poetry, poetry that forms an image on the page printed rather than taking typical stands and verse structure.
He experimented with prose poems as a genre and with introducing chance procedures into his composition and into the performance of the poems.
I think you're right that in some ways he seems on the face of things to be a kind of minimalist in that he seems to be stripping things down, tripping things away.
He wrote one poem, sometimes called the sonorical of itself, that in some ways seems to be trying to completely do away with any reference to any outsider reality whatsoever.
But at the same time, towards the end of his life he gave an interview where he described himself as a syntaxer.
And he compared the form of his thinking to the decorative scroll work that adorned the political apartments on the inside of the political apartments at Versailles.
He said it's like my thinking is going to full of shells and foliage and coils and curvatures of thought that's the thought appears to me when I throw it out on the page.
And then it's only through a process of synthesis and reduction and purification and I get to the final product.
That sounds like a quintessentially minimalistic thing to say, but the point that I try to make in my own argument is that for Meloramé, the scroll work of thought is irreducible that takes this kind of brogue or rococo form.
But interestingly, I mean, you think maybe the closest connection that you get with Meloramé and Baroque is that he took for his credo, his poetic credo, the idea that the poet should depict not the thing, but the effects that it produces.
So paint not the object, but the effects that it produces somehow, the thing or the object that has been lost and is no longer available for representation.
Maybe that gets to your conical comments earlier, I wonder.
That that credo, I actually think is very close to how Heinrich Wulflin described what the rope painting is doing compared to Renaissance painting.
It depicts not the object proposing stably and confidently in itself, but depicts this kind of dynamic fluctuation where things are bleeding into each other.
Now, am I interested in his writing and he also wrote for the theater, either of this kind of an unstageable theater you might say that in certain significant ways, it was pretty clear that to the Baroque stage in France, he has a poem called the Ivo diad, her rhodiad, that's his adaptation of the biblical salamé story.
In many ways, a kind of radical rewriting over a scenes play Fader from the late 1670s.
And so that work where I'm kind of zeroing in on Malormé as someone who's reimagining Baroque theater in an era for free verse.
I argue that that work was really important to him in developing a new kind of art that would be foundational for many modernists and for example, the futurists you might say, or anyone who came after him shortly thereafter.
And you know, that's interesting, Joseph, because Malagmy was one of the great promoters after Bud Leid of Edgar Allen and Poe, who's, you know, he had a philosophy of composition did Poe about the stresses affect effect that the writers should always have the effect on the reader in mind when composing.
So you can imagine how and why someone like Malagmy would find in Poe a sort of father figure for us that kind of aesthetic that you've just described, you know, and of course I'm sure we're not in large the concept of the Baroque so much that it's going to subsume something like the Gothic within it, but nevertheless, there are these family resemblances between those two different scenes.
So, you know, I think so.
One other character we want to bring in is,
Arthur Benjamin, who is another one of your protagonists and maybe you can tell our listeners a little bit about his,
trouwer spiel and the way in which he is finds his proper place within this landscape of Baroque modernity.
So, Benjamin, Benjamin's become quite, I suppose, popular in literary and cultural studies and performance studies as well.
Great many people admire his writings on the work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility, or his thesis on history on the concept of history.
But what's I think less known about him in theater studies, which is my home discipline, is that he wrote this enormous failed post-addoctoral dissertation in German.
It's called the hab-de-tutsilum shift, so after the second dissertation after you've gotten your PhD in order to be credentialed for academic work.
The subject of his postdoctoral dissertation was on the origin of what's getting tran, what gets translated as tragic drama in the time of the German Baroque.
It's not a great translation that the German word is "tau-ish-biel", as you said, means something like the play of mourning or the mourning play when a mournful play.
My effort in the third chapter of my book is to really examine that work for the concept of Baroque that it entails.
He spends quite a bit of time in that book distinguishing between ancient Greek tragedy and modern German tau-ish-biel, which he sees as connected to Shakespeare and to call that "Onde-la-bá-bá-d'e-d's-bain".
A key distinction between the two for him is the primacy of allegorical devices in modern drama, starting in the 17th century.
And to my mind, that description or that discussion of Baroque allegory is also meaningful for our understanding of Baroque theatricality.
There is a theatrical dimension that allegory has in the period of the Baroque.
So that's my interest in Benjamin, writ large.
And I spend a bit of time describing how he sees, I think, also Brecht as an inheritor to this kind of tradition of Baroque allegor-e-sus.
Do you agree with him on that?
Yeah, you know, I do, in fact.
And I think that it gives us a different way of seeing Brecht.
It makes maybe draws to our attention the fact that the longer Brecht's plays were set during the counter-reformation or during the Inquisition.
For example, I said during the 17th century, like Mother Courage and Mother Golden, that during the counter-reformation wars of religion.
But it also maybe gives us a sense of the kind of prehistory to what Brecht was doing in the theater.
The kind of forgotten prehistory, genealogical prehistory.
Well, because if you mention allegory, and I'm going to refer you to something that you write in your Benjamin chapter,
where you say that allegory may seem a mostly rhetorical or philosophical category, but it also maintains special importance for the practice of theater in the Baroque period.
Would you say that that is the case even going back now to Bernini, for example, as having an allegorical dimension?
I do see it as an important component of Bernini's theater with Brecht and with Bernini.
My way of thinking about allegory is particularly with respect to this kind of frame-breaking moment that we described before.
It was a kind of an important principle for Brecht to be able to do that, so we think of with respect to the notion of the defamiliarization effect.
One way of doing that was to have the performer, so to speak, step out of the role of the character and common critically upon the role that the character has, and to speak directly to the audience in a way to break the fourth wall in that sense.
In my general sense of these moments is that they function a bit like allegories of spectatorship itself, that they reconfigure our spectatorial relationship to what's happening on the stage.
They call attention to the fact of its staging, they're about staging itself.
You see that already in Bernini, I cite in the introduction to the book, a play that Bernini wrote, this is the play that we have from the back of the receipts for the Trevé Fountain, about an impresario, so to speak, someone who's very clearly modeled after Bernini himself, who's been commissioned by papal authority to put on a spectacular performance, and much of the play takes place in this theater and present,
those foundry workshops, and actually we think it might have actually taken place in Bernini's own workshop in a kind of what we today would describe as a kind of site-specific maneuver.
There was a moment in that play where clown speaking directly to the audience is pointing to the various machines that Bernini's character will use to create this overwhelming effect of realistic clouds upon the stage, and he says, whenever something looks truly natural, there's got to be some craft behind it.
In this sense, he's kind of exposing the means of spectacle production for the audience, telling the audience, basically anything that looks too real, don't believe it.
It's artificial somehow. This could be a kind of a password for how we think about what the familiarization means in the Brechtian theater.
It's trying to kind of interrupt the audience's ability to believe that what's happening on the stage is real, trying to remind the audience that it's all an artifice.
And that has ramifications for how we understand politics as well.
Well, for sure, if anything is Baroque, it's our contemporary politics, it's kind of a stage of conflict. But this makes me think we did a show some years back with the musicologist Stephen Hinton on Kurt Vile, who composed for Betel Brecht and his plays, and then migrated to Los Angeles and then started working with Hollywood.
That raises the question that I want to bring in here before we terminate our show, which is the degree to which Hollywood is a place which has maybe inherited the Baroque modernity, more than any other place, even more than our contemporary American politics in this kind of age of distortion and extravaganza.
But Hollywood is, in many ways, a certain part of the Hollywood production is all about special effects and having the construction of the theaters and the surround sound and just blasting the movie viewers as much as possible.
And then you have the more interesting counter-Hollywood artists, a lot David Lynch, for example, who will use defamiliarization techniques, just consistently throughout his movies in order to unsettle the movie viewer, not just through special effects, but the assumptions of what it means to spectate.
And I think you need a follow-up book by May Seisau on Baroque modernity that would take us into this domain.
That's great kind of your, and I'm glad you're seeing those connections.
Definitely action adventure movies, thrillers 3D film, that sort of stuff CGI, I'm thinking now of movies like Avatar or maybe Dune much more recently.
They demonstrate what might be described as the kind of afterlife of Wagner's, a Wagner's Baroque, I think, or what Nietzsche saw as Wagner's Baroque.
But also the science fiction, wouldn't you say, is an attempt to re-enchant or imagine enchanted worlds where all sorts of incredible things actually happen.
And all the magical forces and local deities and so forth that have left the scene can now come back into different guys.
I never thought of it that way, but for sure, definitely. I think that the, with someone like Lynch who you mentioned a moment ago, not a science fiction director, definitely not.
But there is a kind of an interest again in myth or an allegory that's that's very clear in that kind of film.
And also maybe thinking of someone like Charlie Kaufman, the kind of me's on a beam of some of those films, or maybe even more obviously someone like Peter Greenaway, I feel like the Draftsman's contract or Prospero's books, these are maybe obvious connections perhaps.
But I do see that there would be a way of extending this kind of argument into the, into the realm of film.
Hitching up in the wood hitchcock.
When I think I think you definitely is right in the wheelhouse.
Someone with movies.
I haven't given hitchcock much thought, but I'm also, you know, in the closing of my book, I make a lot of space for Jack Smith as an underground filmmaker of the 60s and 70s, as someone who I think is a really inheritor to some of Nietzsche and Benjamin's positions on the role.
A queer filmmaker was also kind of making film in the most expanded of senses, filming and then displaying and cutting in real time, the actual film itself with live music and performance and various other elements in a kind of total theater of us, of a so-o-loft.
And you see that that may be a kind of a pathway that this more dissident, say Nietzsche and Baroque might follow, you know, as a kind of a counterpoint to the kind of more commercial mainstream, you know, dune avatar, total spectacle of kind of theater that we see in modern Hollywood.
So I definitely think that there would be ways to, to, to drop that argument out further.
To persuade everything that we've been discussing seems to very happily confirm a statement I made earlier in, you know, in the intro that good luck to those of us, you know, who would attempt to prevent us from re-enchanting the worlds in one way or another through one effect or another.
I think that our conversation over the last hour has shown, you know, all the rich potential for this sort of Baroque modernity that you deal with in this book that goes by that very same title, Baroque modernity by Joseph Sermatori, with whom we've been speaking and assistant professor at Skidmore College.
So, Joseph, thank you for coming on and when you do follow up into the next chapter then we'll maybe have you back on entitled opinions to continue the conversation. Thank you for joining us.
I love that and thanks so much for having me.
I'm Robert Harrison for entitled opinions. Be with us next time. Bye bye.