Baroque as a World Philosophy

By Glissant, Edouard | UNESCO Courier, September 1987 | Go to article overview
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Baroque as a World Philosophy

Glissant, Edouard, UNESCO Courier

Baroque as a world philosophy

THE baroque style made its appearance in the West at the very moment that a certain idea of Nature--that it was homogeneous, harmonious and comprehensible--was gaining ground. Rationalism refined this concept which fitted in well with its growing ambition to dominate reality. It seemed, moreover, that Nature could be artificially reproduced, imitation of reality going hand in hand with knowledge of it.

Imitation of Nature as an objective assumes that, underlying outward appearance and inherent in it, there is a "profundity', an unassailable truth, artistic representations of which approximate more closely as they systematize their imitation of reality and discover its rules. The revolution represented by the introduction of perspective during the quattrocento can thus, perhaps, be seen as part of the search for this profundity.

It was against this current that the baroque "diversion' began to make itself felt. Baroque art was a reaction against the rationalist claim to penetrate the mysteries of the known in one single, incisive, uniform movement. The stone with which baroque art disturbed the rationalist pool was an affirmation that knowledge is never fully acquired, a fact that gives it all its value. Thus the techniques of baroque art were to favour "breadth' to the detriment of "depth'.

In its historical context, the baroque diversion thus presupposes a new heroic quality of knowledge, resolutely turning its back on the goal of attempting to epitomize the substance of the world in a series of representative (or imitative) harmonies. On the contrary, baroque art or style was to turn to contrast, to circumvolution, to proliferation, to everything that contradicted the soidisant oneness of the known and the knower, to everything that exalted quantity repeated to infinity and totality eternally renewed.

In its historical setting, therefore, baroque art is a reaction against a natural order, naturally proffered as evidence. When the conception of Nature evolved, at the same time that the world was opening up to Western man and that science was bringing the splendid ordering of Nature into question, the thrust of baroque art was itself also to become generalized, ceasing to be no more than a reaction. Baroque art, the art of expansion, was itself materially to expand.

The first manifestation of this expansion was undoubtedly to be seen in Latin-American art, so close to Iberian and Flemish Baroque, yet so intimately interwoven with indigenous elements, daringly introduced into the baroque concert. These elements were no longer seen to enter as revolutionary disfigurements of reality, but as inputs of a novel kind. No longer simply the negation of a concept, baroque art has given its sanction to a new schema (soon to be a new concept) of Nature, to which it is attuned.

Cross-fertilization is the determinant of this evolution, and the pursuits of baroque art are at one with the dizzying adventure of cross-fertilization of cultures, styles and tongues. With the generalization of this cross-fertilization, the Baroque has finally achieved its "natural' condition. It announces to the world the growing contact between a diversity of "natures'. It is in sympathy with this world movement and is no longer content to be merely a reaction against a philosophy or an aesthetic. It is the sum and result of all aesthetic theories, of all philosophies. In short, Baroque is neither an art nor a style, but a being-in-the-world.

The modern scientific view of reality coincides with and confirms this expansion of the Baroque. Science does, indeed, assert that reality cannot be defined in terms of outward appearances and that it has to be examined "in depth', but it also accepts that knowledge is never wholly acquired and that it would be absurd to claim that its essentials can be grasped at a single stroke.

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