Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rethinking the Baroque

Helen Hills has edited a new collection from Ashgate called Rethinking the Baroque. Her introduction sums up the special problems in using this loaded word (a favorite of my own) to talk about art and architecture:

"The baroque is a thorn in the flesh of European art and thought, the grit in the oyster of art history. Within art history in recent years, the term 'baroque' has been delegitimized, ostensibly because it had no contemporary usage in the period to which it was subsequently applied. It is frequently treated on one hand as an inherently 'anachronistic' term and therefore to be avoided: and on the other as a stylistic term steeped in negative connotations, denoting immodest excess, moral dubiousness, the supposed insubstantiality of rich ornament, dangerous emotional indulgence, the wilfully bizarre, pernicious caprice, and bad taste. Many have opted instead for the term 'early modern'. But this term is doubly problematic in implying not only a conception of history as smoothly linear, but of the earlier period in subordinate and teleological relation to the 'modern'. ... This book aims at a reconsideration of baroque in relation to the visual arts, particularly architecture, while avoiding simple forms of periodization. It investigates what happens if we resist a conceptualization of art history as linear periodization to think of baroque as 'a conceptual technology' that does not simply allow retrospective understanding but actually provokes new forms of historical conceptualization and interpretation."

It seemed at first to me like something of a drawback that Helen Hills relies so heavily on academic jargon in her writing, but after a while I began to consider that her baroque syntax and abstruse repetitive vocabulary might actually furnish an appropriate mirror for the twists and turns of her subject.