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The Baroque D_Effect

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Centre de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona,
Nov 09, 2010 - Feb 27, 2011
Barcelona, Spain

The Baroque D_Effect
by Joaquí­n Barriendos

But is it necessary to inoculate, anaesthetize or directly deny the disruptive and communicative capacity of the baroque in the transatlantic cultural space to make the critique or the dismantling of the myth la Hispanidad? Conversely, what if the myth can only be dismantled by recognizing that the baroque should be understood as a wholly political space (in content and form) and not just as deceitfulness or a spectacle of politics? Furthermore, what are the consequences of grouping together the Spanish and American forms of baroque - as a means of engaging in homogenous politics - in opposition to the styles derived from other baroques (such as the German protestant or the French absolutist) or "classic" political forms such as the Anglo-Saxon economic rationalism or the manifest destiny of the American self-made man? Are we really prepared to radically discredit the arguments put forward by Lezama Lima, Severo Sarduy and Haroldo de Campos of the American or creole baroque as an art and a counter-conquest policy and accept that such statements are just another fantasy of the hegemonic myth of a singular, homogenous and alluring Hispanic imaginary? Ever since Eugeni d’Ors we have ceased to interpret the baroque style in the light of neoclassicism as an imperfect, defective and Gongora-like pearl. So why should we update and accept an immovable eighteenth-century reading of the political form of the baroque as a distorted, ventriloquous, irrational, sensationalist, theatrical style that stamps the mark of decadence on all things Hispanic? What kind of adamant reverie based on classicism and the rationality of political form seems to resonate in this blending of all forms of Hispanic baroque into a single distorted, distorting, impotent and intransigent type of baroqueness? Might it not be that that the false problem of the flawed uniqueness of Spain —expanded as a criollo problem across the Spanish America by means of La Hispanidad, has come in through the back door in our attempt to do away with the farce of the Hispanic image?

On reading in the exhibition catalogue that "the baroque is expressed as much by the Mexican Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz as by Diego Velázquez, by an Indian chapel as by Flamenco dancing" without finding the necessary distinctions and contextualization of what the baroque is to each and what its purpose may be, we are tempted to think that in the endeavor to debunk the myth of the Hispanic, the different aspects of the baroque (and its historical circumstances) have been lumped into an esthetic abstraction: the baroque as a patronymic name. In that case, the baroque in Quevedo would be the same as the baroque in Gregorio de Mattos, even though the baroque in the former inoculated the baroque in the latter for more than two hundred years, branding it as plagiarism. This monolithic baroque does not seem willing to acknowledge that if a Bolivian museum director uses the baroque to say "this is who we are" (i.e., to extol the exceptional nature of Bolivian national identity), he does so, doubtless chauvinistically, for reasons and with different references to those employed by a museum prince-guide when he attempts to justify the exceptional, monumental nature of the Spanish baroque at the Prado museum. This is so true that the Bolivian, in his "baroqueness", will include an explicit denunciation of Spanish colonialism propped up with anti-Spanish rancor, while the Spanishness of a curator from Valladolid will always take the shape of the specific nature of the Spanish baroque viewed as a universal legacy.

In other words, even if we accept that the policy of the baroque tends to interpret its style as the leitmotiv that identifies all Hispanics around the world, you must then recognize that said "style" is viewed by some as being part and parcel of the national myth of identity while others look on it as being their own and yet imposed at the same time, and is therefore accepted and rejected ambivalently. Thus while Spain assumes that the baroque was born/arose in its cultural and linguistic bosom from the very roots of the Cantar del Mio Cid to enable it to express its national being and unity, as Haroldo de Campos states, the baroque in America has no background or roots, since it reached the continent as a mature "style" that had to be incorporated with gusto, or by force, as an eccentricity. What is innate to a Spaniard had to be assimilated in Hispanic America. It is in this difference that the coloniality of the baroque is woven, rather than in that supposed Hispanic aesthetic communion with the distorted politics of the baroque. If this difference is not acknowledged, it is easy to advance the idea that the American baroque arose in a non-Hispanic world that was there, quiet and immutable, proud but ahistorical, awaiting the arrival of its conquerors to be melted into a new race and a new style.

It is, as the baroque itself seems to suggest, a problem of focus: either the baroque is understood as something that arrives at a place where it has to negotiate its meaning and form with a world and cultural diversity that has already conquered America and is in full political, esthetic and epistemic flux, or the baroque is perceived as something that stems from a well-defined cultural territory with the intention of establishing itself in an unknown, distant and ahistorical container. Symptomatically the video El Primer Ángel (The First Angel) shown at the exhibition features a story of the Spanish baroque in which everything begins with the arrival of the Spaniards in America: there is a Spanish being that expands from a specific past but there is no "before" as regards to the non-Hispanic world. The world "beyond" the Spanish is the abyss and the natural receptacle of the baroque. As can be seen, we face the danger of propagating the myth of the linguistic/colonial/umbilical cord that Octavio Paz turned into universal literature in his Eurocentric view of the labyrinth of solitude as an ontological problem of Mexicans (read Hispanic Americans). This seems true even though conversely the problem of mixed American heritage gives rise to many identity myths and equally problematical pro- or anti-Spanish essences (i.e. magical realism or Bolivarian populism) whose own baroqueness runs counter to Spanish baroque.

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