Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

The Persistence of Presence. Emblem and Ritual in Baroque Spain

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

The Persistence of Presence. Emblem and Ritual in Baroque Spain

Article excerpt

Nelson, Bradley J. The Persistence of Presence: Emblem and Ritual in Baroque Spain. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2010. 288 pp.

Bradley J. Nelson connects the study of two essential elements of Baroque erudite culture, literature and emblems, to create an innovative approach to analyzing early modern Spanish culture. His thesis is that "emblematic structures are powerful tools for the creation of presence effects" (4). He defines "presence" as "the way which certain encounters or events compel us to transcend our mundane existence," allowing contact with "a higher, more universal- more real- experience of meaning and being" (3). Since emblems are a means for creating these experiences, they are "a primary indicator of the social and political functions of literary practices" (4). Reading through the lens of emblematics, Nelson makes a nuanced and novel analysis of works by Lope, Calderón, Gracián, and Cervantes.

The study is divided into three distinct, though cohesive, sections. The first is a study of early modern emblems books and their reception. Chapter 1 is dedicated to Spain's first original emblem book, Juan de Borja's Empresas morales. Nelson compares this work to Lope's Arte nuevo de hacer comedias in order to emphasize its theoretical nature. He views Borja as "an author who seeks to control the place and potential function of his enterprise in Counter Reformation Spain and Europe" (33). In chapter 2, he turns his attention to Juan de Horozco's Emblemas morales and their treatment of classical antiquity in order to demonstrate "how the definition and deployment of a remote literary and cultural corpus says as much or more about those who study it as it does about the object of study itself" (59). In other words, his analysis reveals the process by which early modern emblematists assigned new hegemonic significance to visual symbols completely unrelated to Baroque society.

In the second section, Nelson applies the concepts established in the first section to the study of Baroque theatrical works. In chapter 3, he analyzes Lope's El mundo nuevo descubierto por Cristóbal Colón. His central interest here is the "ritualistic-emblematic fragmentation and reconstitution of the central religious symbol of the Counter Reformation: the cross," as well as Lope's emblematization of the New World indigenous Other (78). …

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