Friday, December 02, 2011

I'll fix it later if I get around to it, and maybe add some images.

There's kind of artist who gets derives his politics from his fictions. The actor Gary Sinise plays a cop after Jack Webb, [link jumping forward to 2013] his politics out of a cardboard character. Watching him you can sense he believes his own lies. I get the same sense from Borges, who conflates winkingly his ability as a story-teller to bring fantasies into existence, with his wish to make the fantasies come true in the world. But his work is decadent in a knowing way: that's the wink, but the irony is thin. At the end of The Rose of Paracelsus, he wants you to be surprised, to inhale a little sharply, at what is in fact no more than a simple language trick. Like a story by Saki but with metaphysical pretensions.
Before putting out the lamp and returning to his weary chair, he poured the delicate fistful of ashes from one hand into the concave other, and he whispered a single word. The rose appeared again.
Sinise is a liar who wants to believe his own lies; Borges is much smarter and hedges. But hedging is not honesty.

Borges
I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self-caricature. In vain did Andrew Lang attempt, in the eighteen-eighties, to imitate Pope's Odyssey; it was already a parody, and so defeated the parodist's attempt to exaggerate its tautness. 'Baroco' was a term used for one of the modes of syllogistic reasoning; the eighteenth century applied it to certain abuses of seventeenth-century architecture and painting. I would venture to say that the baroque is the final stage of all art, when art flaunts and squanders its resources. The baroque is intellectual, and Bernard Shaw has said that all intellectual art is humorous. This humor is unintentional in the works of Baltasar Gracian, but intentional, even indulged, in the works of John Donne.
That's the best description I've read, both of Borges' work and the culture that promotes it.

Panofsky: "Barbara and Baroco"

Two recent posts here:
"The decadence of mannerism presents as the self-narrativizing of a concrete idealism, attempting to inoculate itself against increasingly dominant narrative (relativist) culture. Mannerism is the model of aristocratic art in an age of incipient democracy. The baroque is the same model of conservatism in the age of a fully ascendant democracy: the age of theater."

"Mannerism describes the aristocratic sensibility in an age of incipient democracy. The baroque is the same model of (describes) conservatism in the age of a fully ascendant democracy: the age of theater.
History shows that in art as in democracy (as in all culture whether wise men approve or not) practice precedes theory."

Compared to Borges, the conservatism of Clint Eastwood and the reactionary confusion of Mel Gibson are both fully theatrical, as opposed to baroque, and honest. But that's too simple. Rubens is conservative and baroque in the age of Rembrandt, but he is liberal (as Velazquez is almost in secret) in the context of his own conservative world..

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