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The Baroque: the intellectual and geopolitical reasons for a historiographical erasure

Jesús Pérez-Magallón


“The Baroque: the intellectual and geopolitical reasons for a historiographical erasure” highlights the need for a new way of conceptualizing the Baroque, taking into account the period’s plurality of discourses and diverging tendencies, specifically in respect to the modernity project conceived by the dominant European nations of the Enlightenment. As opposed to Antonio Maravall’s univocal paradigm of a guided culture of the masses, the Baroque was a much more multivocal period of time containing various emerging and subaltern discourses which greatly contributed to the rationalist and scientific thought of the Enlightenment. Despite this fact, the Baroque and the Enlightenment came to be seen as antithetical. Consequently, the Baroque and the Iberian Peninsula were erased from the grand narrative of European and Western modernity. Emphasizing its uncivilized character, Northern European nations metaphorically displaced the Spanish Empire to the periphery of modern Europe. Using propagandistic means to cast the Iberians to the margins, the nations belonging to the modernity project painted themselves as the “natural” heirs of the Enlightenment, consolidating their political hegemony. The process of writing the grand narrative of modernity involved appropriating several key criteria from the Baroque and consequently erasing their original place of belonging. Keeping this manipulation of history in mind permits a double reading of the course leading to modernity. My paper calls for a new way of interpreting this period of time which emerged at the end of the sixteenth century and continued until the Cádiz Cortes and the independence of the American colonies. This alternate hermeneutic would entail a coming together of the Baroque and the Enlightenment; a dynamic, complex, and conflicting process establishing a modernity which would continue into the modernity of today.

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1Upon hearing of the baroque, we see ourselves threatened with a shape-shifting monster, a reality pertaining to anti-hierarchical and even rhizomatic knowledge; most critics —some claiming the baroque exclusively for Art History and denying it to all other disciplines— have focused on classifications and clarifications based on aesthetic criteria, attempting to reduce the baroque’s diversity to a certain unity, criteria which, despite being tremendously useful when studying specific cultural objects, prove insufficient for understanding the baroque in all of its social and geographic extensiveness. Wölfflin, as well as Eugenio d’Ors, Emilio Orozco, and Helmut Hatzfeld, allude to supratemporal notions, to transcendental and aesthetic-metaphysical criteria which evade the historical conditions of concrete cultural formations. Obviously, these hermeneutic aesthetics are essential for speaking with some impunity of the various baroques existing outside the Baroque, but they also prove extremely useful for aesthetic readings of the baroque. Although we are currently both conscious of and unconcerned by the fact that the baroque’s timeline can be reversed and reinvented, René Wellek has long warned us that, in order to achieve a valid conceptualization of the baroque, one must consider both stylistic and ideological factors, even though separating these factors from their socio-historical context would result in dysfunction and, above all, confusion. In Barroco, Severo Sarduy began to employ more “modern” theoretical tools and offered new concepts, such as the culture of wastefulness, essentially developing the same aesthetic and formal processes as before. Nonetheless, his linking of science (cosmology) and art constitutes his most fruitful contribution to the field. In the same vein, we find Walter Moser speaking of the “cultural recycling” which explains the (dis)continuity of the Baroque in the Americas. And yet, the same can be said of Jacques Lacan’s reading of the Baroque who, by adding the concept of the exaltation of the body —jouissance—as a core element of the era, takes into account elements only partly belonging to this period of time, and not the era in its entirety. Not to mention the fact that he ignores all other aspects which openly and directly contradict these partly Baroque elements. The time of excess was also the time of contradiction. For this reason, Bernard Nominé does not hesitate to study Lacan’s baroquism —as seen in his work about Lacan and baroque painting— based on aesthetic concepts taken from d’Ors, Panofsky, and Wölfflin. Indeed, the Lacanian affirmation: “Je me range plutôt du côté du baroque” (97) is nothing more than a clever remark allowing him to approach the idea of the baroque paralleling Christianity and therefore, “le baroque, c’est au depart l’historiole, la petite histoire du Christ” (97). Thus, Lacan recycles Werner Weisbach’s idea of the baroque’s integral belonging to the Counter Reformation. From this point, we return to José Antonio Maravall —who synthesized various critical studies encompassing Western Europe— in order to speak of zeitgeist, a spirit determined by a society and its constituent social classes. For Maravall the Baroque was “una cultura que consiste en la respuesta […] dada por los grupos activos en una sociedad que ha entrado en dura y difícil crisis” [a culture consisting of the response […] given by active groups in a society which has entered a harsh and difficult crisis] (La cultura 55). In short, Maravall presents the idea of a guided, massive, urban and conservative culture, an idea followed by Isasi Angulo and Díez Borque, the latter owing his success to squeezing the juice out of Maravall’s ideas. Today, apart from the Baroque’s urban character, one could scarcely accept the three remaining descriptive terms. From a leftist perspective, the Maravallian vision did, however, come to indirectly consolidate the iconic vision of the Baroque as an incarnation of Spanish identity: a Catholic, monarchist, conservative identity, i.e., the embodiment of lived experience within Franco’s Spain countered by a very clear stance aligned with the Stalinism of the PCE (The Spanish Communist Party). This vision also stood in direct opposition to the appropriation of Golden Age Theatre carried out by intellectuals connected to Franquismo, such as Ruiz-Giménez (53) who argued that Golden Age Theatre served as a response to the errors propagated by Protestantism, thereby turning baroque dramatic arts into anti-Lutheran propaganda.

2 For Maravall, baroque culture is a series of “recursos técnicos de captación” [persuasive technical resources] (La cultura 124) used along with physical repression by the powerful to stimulate social integration: an idea which, in general, is not exclusive to baroque culture, seeing as hegemonic discourse is employed in any society as a way of preserving the privileges enjoyed by the ruling class. However, as Raymond Williams indicates, not all cultural discourse is hegemonic; rather, marginal discourses do exist as well —whether emerging or residual—, even despite the fact that the integrative capacity of hegemonic discourse may have seemed to overpower every era. Moreover, it is crucial to consider that changing the balance of power within the ruling class or between different social classes, along with changes in the geopolitical system —the relation of forces on an international scale (or even at the regional level)—, can modify the relative position of various cultural discourses. Of even more importance for explaining the genesis of modernity is the highlighting of the epoch’s complex pluridiscursivity, which has been envisioned, read, and interpreted by Maravall in a univocal and monological way.

3In her recent book, The Inordinate Eye, Lois Parkinson Zamora resumes the discussion involving ideas thought of long ago by Alejo Carpentier. For Carpentier, the baroque could not be limited to one sole historical period nor to one location alone; on the contrary, the baroque was a collective spirit, a cultural way of being characterized by dynamic structures and polycentric perspectives that allowed for the recognition and incorporation of difference. Let us focus of the two following ideas: Latin American culture is baroque because it is about synthesis and because it recognizes difference, incorporating it into its cultural body; and the baroque is a cultural way of being pertaining historically to Latin America. The first statement forces us to ask ourselves: What culture is not derived from synthesis? And, if there did exist a culture whose creation did not involve synthesis, then, what would it involve? Moreover, synthetic processes entail the fusion of diverse and disparate elements: What would these elements be? With what conceptual criteria can one refer to such elements? On the other hand, is Latin America defined by synthesis? Has it ever stopped being this way? In this respect, I would like to note something that can only be justified by my first trip to Mexico during which I became conscious of a very striking (and silenced) classicist tendency within the Baroque. In Puebla’s Iglesia de la Soledad, there is a classicist retablo (altar) next to two extremely baroque side retablos. Why has no one at least suggested that (Neo)classicism plays a determining role in Mexican society and culture? The Palacio Nacional, part of the Catedral de México, the Colegio de Ildefonso, etc. are other exemplary cases. Moving on to the second idea: What does a cultural way of being mean? In La condition postmoderne, François Lyotard defines postmodernity as [in French] “l’état de la culture après les transformations qui ont affecté les règles du jeu de la science, de la littérature et des arts à partir du XIXe siècle” “un estado de la cultura después de las transformaciones que afectaron las reglas de juego de la ciencia, la literatura, las artes a partir del siglo XIX” [the state of culture following the transformations which, since the end of the nineteenth century, have altered the game rules for science, literature and the arts] (xxiii). However, can this vision be applied to the baroque? What is meant by the statement historically the baroque has been the cultural state of Latin America? Was it baroque at one time and now no longer is? Was it and does it continue to be baroque? Does this imply that the baroque cultural state is not a universal form? The fundamental problem posed by Zamora’s quote is that, on one hand, it extend the lack of definition and the universality of these aesthetic and artistic attitudes; on the other hand, it hold the baroque accountable for the imprecise history of Latin American existence. Eliminating the baroque’s identification with an extensive historical period spanning the 17th and 18th centuries (xvi) infers that the baroque is not a historical period, but rather, the cultural state of Latin America. In an attempt to escape essentializing identities, we fall into the very same trap we had tried to avoid. Coming from another perspective which is no more productive than the previous, Mabel Moraña reads the baroque as “la reproducibilidad alegórica de las luchas de poder inherentes al proceso de inserción del mundo Americano en el contexto del occidentalismo” [the allegorical reproducibility of the power struggles inherent to the process of the American world’s insertion into the context of Occidentalism] (242-242), a phrase which produces an aesthetic version of the baroque, appropriated by the Creole elites as a way of resisting the mother country, and which extends its political and identitary usefulness even into the globalized world. However, the most surprising part of Moraña’s approach is the fact that it seems to build a Great Wall between Peninsular and Latin American Baroques, as if to say that these two baroques existed in isolation.

4Suárez has written that “en América y en España la cultura se vuelve barroca porque el barroco se convierte en algo más que un estilo: se transforma en un forma de relacionarse y de organizar ontológicamente una realidad altamente compleja” [in the Americas as well as in Spain culture became baroque because the baroque turned into something much more than just a style: it transformed into a way of ontologically relating and organizing a highly complex reality] (66), thereby superseding what had previously been an essentially social vision —political, economic, social— with a perception focused primarily on information —deeply marked by ambiguity— and the pathways of communication and transmission pertaining to this information. In addition, this ambiguity was marked by a plurality of contradictory semantic levels. The Baroque is a cultural formation and, like all cultural formations, it is complex, and not so much in the scientistic sense which views cultural formations as cultural realities, which is to say, characterized by an excess of information, but rather because the Baroque involves the overlapping of divergent types of discourses which, at the same time, share core characteristics. For Maravall, however, the European Baroque is characterized by a situation in which

la economía en crisis, los trastornos monetarios, la inseguridad del crédito, las guerras económicas y, junto a esto, la vigorización de la propiedad agraria señorial y el creciente empobrecimiento de las masas crean un sentimiento de amenaza e inestabilidad en la vida social y personal, dominado por fuerzas de imposición represiva que están en la base de la gesticulación dramática del hombre barroco y que nos permiten llamar a este con tal nombre.
[The economy in crisis, monetary upheavals, credit insecurity, economic wars, and, in addition to this, the strengthening of seigniorial agrarian landholdings and the growing impoverishment of the masses generated a threatening and unstable feeling in one's personal and social life, a feeling dominated by the imposing forces of repression that underlie the dramatic gesticulation of the baroque human being and allow us to call him/her such a name]. (La cultura 29)

5The fundamental shortcoming of Maravall’s proposal rests in the fact that presenting baroque cultural formation as a perfectly planned unitary whole defending monarchical-aristocratic interests leaves no room for the potential interstices through which alternative cultural possibilities, however subaltern, may emerge. Nonetheless, within this reality of historical flux, such gaps did exist and by passing through them, intellectual and artistic reflection and exploration achieved the advances characterizing the culture of an enlightened modernity which co-existed alongside the Baroque and constituted an integral part of its complexity. At this point, it is clear that the baroque is a contradictory paradigm which is unquestionably complex, quite complex, with tendencies pushing in diverging paths. Consequently, it is necessary to speak of the pluralities of the baroque, as opposed to its monological and univocal envisioning. The fundamental problem is, therefore, the fact that the Baroque is seen as a homogenous and closed whole (whether through stylistic criteria or through culturalist visions) despite its evident discursive plurality.

6Wrestling with Leibniz’s thought in Le pli. Leibniz et le baroque, Gilles Deleuze builds upon a vision of the baroque which does not diverge from the aesthetic or artistic vision advocated by Wölfflin and recycled by d’Ors and other authors. Such is the case when Deleuze states that Wölfflin “a marqué un certain nombre de traits materiels du Baroque: l’élargissement horizontal du bas, l’abaissement du fronton, les marches basses et courbes qui avancent” (7) etc. or, for example, when he argues that “il est impossible de comprendre la monade leibnizienne, et son système lumière-miroir-point de vue-décoration intérieure, si on ne les rapporte pas à l’architecture baroque” (39). As a matter of fact, Deleuze’s study involves the aesthetics of thought and not its materiality, nor even an aesthetic way of thinking. Of course, Alain Badiou (117-37) reads the concept of the Deleuzian fold (le pli) in terms of its relation to the notion of being, which to me seems to be more an invention of Badiou than a reflection of Deleuze. Nonetheless, when he writes in chapter one: “Le trait du Baroque, c’est le pli qui va a l’infini” (5), Deleuze finds a concept which metaphorically summarizes to perfection the complexity of the Baroque’s social and cultural formation, a formation which embraces the Iberian peninsula as well as the viceroyalties of the Americas and even Europe. However, unlike Badiou’s anti-Cartesian envisioning of the pli, in its folding or unfolding or refolding, the fold includes (hidden or not hidden) the Cartesian face of the baroque. This not only brings us back to Maravall’s magnificent contribution to baroque studies, but also to its shortcomings in conceptualizing the baroque’s complex breadth of diversity. When Maravall writes:

Apariencia y manera son la cara de un mundo que para nosotros es, en cualquier caso, un mundo fenoménico, respecto al cual nuestra relación es conocerlo empíricamente y usarlo. Galileo y Descartes estaban en ello, más por racionalistas y científicos que por barrocos, claro está; pero los escritores barrocos vislumbraron confusamente ese oculto camino,
[Appearance and manner are the face of a world that for us is, in any case, a world of phenomena that we relate to by knowing it empirically and utilizing it. Galileo and Descartes were aware of this, though more as rationalists and scientists than simply because they were baroque, of course; but baroque writers confusedly glimpsed this hidden path] (La cultura 397)

7he openly opposes the Baroque and rationalism, as well as the Baroque and science, despite the fact that elsewhere he establishes similarities between the two, however limited. The same idea is expressed by Rosario Villari when he writes: “algunas personalidades de excepción han sido tenidas más por precursoras que por auténticas expresiones de su tiempo: Bruno, Galileo, Bodin, Bacon, Descartes, Harvey, Sarpi, Spinoza...” [some exceptional personalities have been held more as precursory than as authentic expressions of their time: Bruno, Galileo, Bodin, Bacon, Descartes, Harvey, Sarpi, Spinoza...] (14). Moreover, referring specifically to theatre, Maravall has no qualms about claiming that

Shakespeare y Ben Jonson no representan una cultura que hiciera imposible la revolución industrial. Racine o Molière tal vez contribuyeron a preparar los espíritus para la fase renovadora del colbertismo. Pero de las condiciones en que se produjo el teatro de Lope o el de Calderón y que en sus obras se reflejaron —con no dejar de ser ellos modernos— no se podría salir, sin embargo, hacia un mundo definitivamente moderno.
[Shakespeare and Ben Jonson did not represent a culture that would make the Industrial Revolution impossible. Racine and Molière may have contributed to preparing minds for the renewal phase of Colbertism. But from the conditions in which was created the theatre of Lope or Calderón, and which their works reflected —though they were no less modern because of them—, the country could not move toward a definitively modern world]. (La cultura 77)

8In this respect, Maravall wrongly compares the fictional worlds of English and French playwrights with the real world —the conditions surrounding the production of Spanish theatre— in order to arrive at the conclusion/confusion that 17th century Spanish society could not move toward modernity whereas English and French intellectuals did in fact foster this modernity.

9Returning to Deleuze’s idea of the fold, we find in its countless folding, unfolding, and refolding (García Malpica) a spiritualistic vision, a scientific perception, the imagination, the death drive, appearances, the exaltation of the body and of pleasure, reason, reality, the life drive (libido), empiricism, sensationism, corporeal repression, all tendencies which were already in the process of incubation and development beginning in the 17th century and continuing into the 18th century. Hence, these folds and interstices allowed for the construction of the discourse of enlightened modernity during the Baroque, albeit more obvious during its later phase, i.e. during the time of the novatores (second half [only the second part? What about Bacon, Gassendi, Descartes, Galileo ?] of the 17th century). The rationalist, scientific, and experimental modernity —the only one that would end up being accepted by the grand narrative of European and Western modernity— coexisted with baroque modernity, forming part of it instead of standing in opposition to it.

10Apart from the many Golden Age theatre scholars who reject Maravall’s interpretation of cultural production as a hegemonic device which served only to indoctrinate the “masses,” R. de la Flor noted in Barroco that, given the limitations of Maravall’s core study, it was necessary to reintroduce into Baroque studies

lo que con más energía y singularidad muestra una cultura como la española del Seiscientos [...] la apertura a representar una pulsión de muerte y un principio de ir más allá de todas las determinaciones, entre ellas las de la misma razón, llámese razón práctica, razón experimental o, incluso, razón de Estado.
[that which a culture, such as the Spanish culture of the sixteen hundreds, most energetically and uniquely displays […] the openness to representing the death drive and the principle of going beyond all purposefulness, including that of reason itself, be it practical reasoning, experimental reasoning or even raison d’état]. (19)

Clearly, R. de la Flor has chosen to explore, to borrow one of Guillermo Carnero’s titles, la cara oscura del barroco [the dark side of the baroque], the nostalgic baroque. Nonetheless, in my opinion, these elements which were undoubtedly active during the 17th century, fail to take into account the diverse aspects of the time, since, despite his confession, De la Flor does not escape Maravall’s temporal and hermeneutic framework.

11On the other hand, the idea of a baroque contained within the parentheses of a century (1580-1680) as stated by R. de la Flor (and agreed upon by Maravall and other scholars), or one which overlaps and leads to the time of the novatores, the beginning of Spanish enlightened modernity (as I have stated in Construyendo la modernidad), raises some obvious problems. For this reason I find Claude-Gilbert Dubois’ work both illuminating and necessary. Considering that national stylistic approaches have remained overwhelmingly dominant in France, Dubois argues for the reinstatement of the Baroque into history, within whose framework the Baroque “ne renvoie pas seulement à des formes d’expression, mais aux substrats sociaux et politiques qui ont permis la production de ces formes” (2). According to Dubois, the historic baroque started as a reaction to 16th-century reforms and continued until the end of the 18th century, with key symbols such as the American Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. What characterized the Baroque age at the political level was the model of the absolute monarch by divine right, enlightened despotism being only a variation adapted to the circumstances of the time. Contrary to the model of Renaissance harmony, the baroque model encapsulates the imaginary course towards what could be defined as a utopia of impossible unity. Thus, the baroque proposes a model which is at once unitary and binary, authoritarian and schizoid. In short, for Dubois, “Le Classicisme et les Lumières sont les résultats d’un traitement français du baroque européen” (8). Moreover, from a purely historical angle and sharing Maravall’s concept of the Baroque as an epoch, Carlos Alberto González Sánchez argues for extending its timeline: “cabría ampliarla entre el último tercio del siglo xvi y la primera mitad del xviii” [it could be extended to include the last third of the 16th century and the first half of the 18th century] (152). Thus, this view allows for the inclusion of contradictory aspects which had remained marginalized in previous timelines, which is of particular value for the Hispanic cultural context. In fact, Maravall establishes a socio-economic continuity (which is also political and cultural) which spans from 1600 —with his montée seigneuriale—to “la segunda mitad del siglo xviii” [the second half of the 18th century] (Teatro 24), but fails to draw the necessary conclusions. If we recall what Lezama Lima wrote: “Ese barroco nuestro, que situamos a fines del XVII y a lo largo del xviii, se muestra firmemente amistoso con la ilustración” [This baroque of ours, which we place at the end of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century, is shown as being a strong friend of the Enlightenment] (231), an idea taken up again by Parkinson Zamora to claim that “the production of New World Baroque art and architecture continued until nearly the end of the eighteenth century, when the Churrigueresque style reached its most flamboyant expression in Mexico” (xvi), we can agree that the Baroque saw the coexistence of a dominant culture —as Maravall says, “pueden descubrirse manifestaciones barrocas que se cuentan entre las más extravagantes y extremadas, pero bien se sabe que el sentido de la época es otro” [one may discover the most extravagant and extreme baroque manifestations, but the sense of the epoch is different] (La cultura 24; emphasis mine)— and a socially non-hegemonic culture, which was of undeniable significance for the socio-cultural evolution of the time. From our point of view, the Baroque age emerged at the end of the 16th century and continued until the Cádiz Cortes and the independence of the American colonies.

12However, if the Baroque continued into the 18th century and coexisted with the Enlightenment, the question that arises is this: why and how was it established that the Enlightenment existed in modern Europe while the Baroque only marginally existed or did not exist at all? Yet another question arises: Why is it that in the Anglo-Saxon world —and spreading— the idea of Early Modernity, applied overwhelmingly to the Hispanic world, is replacing the concept of Renaissance, abandoning definitively the concept of Baroque? From the standpoint of a not so faraway present, one must not forget the way in which Western hegemonic powers have symbolically represented their past through the grand narrative of modernity. Not long ago David Kelley stated: “the Enlightenment culture was America’s founding culture.” According to this viewpoint, the culture predating the Enlightenment was characterized, according to Kelley, by its religious vision, “The pre-Enlightenment view is essentially the religious view: reliant on faith, otherworldly in its understanding of this life, and duty bound in its ethics.” The author associates this perception with the American religious rightwing, for whom the Enlightenment remains linked to a “progressive” positioning in relation to the country’s present situation. Since Enlightenment thinkers carried out their self-examination, self-description, and self-labelling, many conceptualizations of this era exist which, for the sake of escaping excessive anthologizing, I will avoid both listing and discussing. Nonetheless, Foucault sees the Enlightenment “plutôt comme une attitude que comme une période de l’histoire” (67), an attitude that cannot be understood in the eclectic way in which T.S. Eliot characterizes the modern mind “que incluye todos los extremos y matices de opinión” [which includes all of opinion’s extremes and nuances] (135), but rather, in the words of Foucault, as “un type d’interrogation philosophique qui problématise à la fois le rapport au présent, le mode d’être historique et la constitution de soi-même comme sujet autonome” (68-69); seeing the thread that connects us to the Enlightenment in “la réactivation permanente d’une attitude; c’est-à-dire d’un ethos philosophique qu’on pourrait caractériser comme critique permanente de notre être historique” (69). The importance given to this attitude makes it compatible with other attitudes, especially with the prevailing attitude, which could be called baroque. In shaping the modernity —which is to say, contemporaneity—of the enlightened attitude, Foucault refers to a historical and critical ontology, in which the individual is both the subject and object of his/her inquiry, inseparable from her/his ethical commitment to it. But, what tools do human beings possess for this permanent criticism of our historic being? Those which articulate the modern discourse of the Enlightenment. But, are these tools not found in the Baroque? Certainly, but the process of writing the grand narrative of modernity has taken the key criteria of rationalism, empiricism, sensism and (Protestant) subjectivity for itself, simultaneously erasing their presence from the Baroque. From here we can see one of the elements capable of permitting a double reading of the process leading to modernity. And this explains why Maravall and Villari affirm that Descartes and Bacon, coming from this perspective, are exceptions to the Baroque.

13The key question which arises —which is to say, the “naturalness” with which similar claims can be issued— refers us to the long complex process that, between the second half of the 17th century and the end of the 19th century, led to the reinterpretation of the European past to conceptualize a modern Europe established by France, England and Germany, and in which the Iberians were displaced to a non-modern periphery. Faced with the consecrated modernity of this (limited) Europe, the Hispanic world is left with Early Modern Europe, the first modernity in which the Iberian Peninsula’s role can be deformed without erasing it altogether, because it cannot be seen as these countries without history, of which Eric Wolf speaks. Let us provide some examples from the cultural milieu. The Spanish “realist” novel (Lazarillo, the picaresque novel and even Cervantes) were rewritten in the modern style by 18th-century English novelists (Fielding, Sterne); Baroque Spanish theatre was rewritten in modern fashion by Corneille and Molière; the first encounters with the indigenous Other narrated by countless chroniclers was reinvented by Rousseau in his image of the noble savage; honour,which had been present in all Western European literatures and societies, was exclusively allotted to, due to some dramatic exaggerations, the Iberian Peninsula (based on honour and faith, Arnold G. Reichenberger spoke of Spanish theatre’s unique character opposed to the universal character of Shakespearian theatre), associating it with its Moorish blood and its inherent barbarity, while in England its presence was erased —though it was still there— and in France it became a duty (of course, there are studies that show the falsification of all this, but common places die hard); the practices of all Baroque culture were incorporated into modern culture by ascribing Spain with an apparently central role though justified by its marginalization from modernity. Everything was rewritten to change the leading roles and to design new genealogies. This new conceptualization is important in the sense that, as demonstrated by Michael Iarocci (1-29), Kant, Hegel, and Weber’s participation is essential. In fact, there is a clearly marked qualitative change between The Black Legend (sometimes confused with the White Legend as, for example, in Madame d’Aulnoy’s travel writings) and the metaphorical displacement of the Spanish Empire to the periphery of modern Europe.

14There are those who believe that, as stated by Juderías, everything that was written against Spain from the Middle Ages until the present falls under the Black Legend (see García Cárcel, who denies the very existence of the Legend). However, The Black Legend as such was merely a set of mechanisms for producing political turmoil and propaganda set into motion by emerging powers aspiring to gain independence or to compete with the Spanish Empire. It served to confront the superpower of the time and to stimulate the proto-national processes of reinforcement and unification, for which we have some fairly defined dates linked to their deployment and operation: from the time Carlos I is crowned emperor, and beginning above all with the reign of Felipe II, until the mid 17th century, when Spanish hegemony comes into question and the new powers begin to occupy spheres of influence previously held by Spain. The words of Oliver Cromwell at the opening of Parliament on September 17, 1656 are enlightening: Spain is the land of superstition and submission to the Holy See of Rome (392), making it the natural enemy of the British especially because of its contempt for all that belongs to God, or rather, to the pure God imagined by Cromwell and his people. Cromwell, in a sense, recycled a very démodé anti-Spanish sentiment, completely different, for example, from the attitude with which Francis Bacon justified the need for a war against Spain to Charles [James] I of England. Aware of the possibility that England, as did Rome and Spain, could one day build its own empire, Bacon does not hesitate to propose such a war. However, another kind of discourse begins to circulate. For example, Chapelain, the translator of Guzmán de Alfarache, wrote in 1662: [quotation in French] “Hace cuarenta años que tengo claro que esta nación valiente [España], hablando en general, no tiene gusto para las bellas letras y que es un prodigio el que produzca un sabio entre mil con alguna idea racional para las composiciones justas” [For forty years I have clearly seen that this brave nation (Spain), generally speaking, does not have a taste for the literary arts and it is a miracle to produce one wise and learned person out of a thousand who has some sort of reasonable idea about writing correctly] (cited in García Cárcel 59). Here begin the comments that would gradually build an image of Spanish culture —first— as existing outside the canons that the Académie and its newfound alleged rationalism would establish as core criteria for determining whether a culture is modern or not. The widespread questioning of the value of Spanish culture occupies the activities of ancients et modernes, but develops mostly in the Académie. We can wager that, from this moment on, we are no longer dealing with a propaganda-based program used for fighting the great power of Western Europe. The process that started up at that time, which is no longer the Black Legend, and the one that is doubtlessly connected to the previous phase through the use of similar rhetorical resources, is a process which could be termed as the displacement of Spain and its empire to the periphery of a modern Europe in the making. And it was this phase occurring preponderantly in the 18th century that emphasized the backward, ignorant, barbarous, and uncivilized character of Spain and its empire. I would like to recall the question posed by Masson de Morvilliers, Que doit-on à l’Espagne?, in the Encyclopédie méthodique—though before him other “European” characters (Montesquieu and Voltaire, to mention only two) implicitly or explicitly questioned the role of Spain—symbolically pointing out the end of this process of displacement and, at the same time, triggering a campaign of apologetic texts which issued from Spanish spheres of influence.

15The case of the American viceroyalties is different, although they shared Spain’s “exteriority” in reference to modernity. By the end of the 17th century, Louis XIV had already announced that the Spanish crown was worthless without America. But, what America? Not an educated America, with its history and civilization, not an America inhabited by subjects as respectable (and little respected) as those from Europe. Louis XIV’s view, shared later by politicians, rulers and intellectuals, envisioned America as a territory inhabited by indigenous peoples as well as Creoles (in particular those of Spanish origin, as indicated by Cañizares-Esguerra [3]) who were inferior to other Europeans —the northern climate, as stated by many including Montesquieu in his L’Esprit des lois which recycled ancient Greek thought, produced resilient and productive beings, while the south produced lazy and indolent ones— but they envisioned, above all, a empire badly run by the Spanish, an empire that deserved good administration. And once Spain lost its hegemony in Europe, its empire had to be passed on to new imperialist powers: France and England and, to a lesser extent, Holland (Germany still had not presented itself as a candidate for neo-imperialist power). It was a matter of proposing a new colonization, but one carried out by modern European powers, and not by a superstitious, irrational, lazy, gothic (or baroque) and backward country. Situated within this context is what Antonello Gerbi called “the New World dispute,” which included the participation of Buffon, Robertson, De Pauw, and Raynal as well as the vital responses written by Hispanic American authors, such as Clavijero or Juan de Velasco (see Cañizares-Esguerra). These powers would become responsible for writing the global history of Europe, relocating the Spanish Empire to a peripheral, subaltern and non-modern space. And in order to finally complete this circle of arrogance (which always accompanies the helplessness of the other), in the early nineteenth century this modern Europe, with the Schlegels as its protagonists, would definitively write the role reserved for Spain: an exotic but not-so-faraway place, exalting its peripheral subalternity under the label of its essential historical romanticism. Its exoticism was exalted —reinforced by the skin colour symbolized by Carmen— which, absent from modernity, was incorporated from the outside in, from the periphery, purged of the inherent dangers of the truly exotic. Of course, I will avoid commenting on the way in which the Spanish and Hispanic peoples themselves internalized and appropriated the role that others had written for them. In a sense, this work aims to recover a reality that neither belongs to national apologists nor to the authors of a narrative that bereaves us of our identity. And may we say in passing that there is nothing more untrue and sterilizing than the Ortegan statement that “la historia de España entera [...] ha sido la historia de una decadencia” [the entire history of Spain (…) has been a history of decadence] (España 104).

16In this context, the Enlightenment could be incorporated into a genealogy of modernity characterized by empiricism, rationalism, and Protestantism. This exclusive grand narrative of modernity offered no room for the Baroque (Gothicism), a defining feature of superstitious, barbaric, uncivilized peoples incapable of reason. Falling under the term Early Modernity, however, some Iberian works can be accepted and embraced —a Cervantes purged of his baroque baggage, for example—, without significantly modifying a history which excludes the Hispanic world from the genesis of the “true” modernity. This perception somehow lies beneath Gie’s interpretation of Forner’s stance, the former responding in opposition to Masson: “nuestro ser es un ser barroco” [our way of being is a baroque way of being] (“Dos preguntas” 310). What is understood as synonymous with the rejection of contact with the outside world and the exaltation of philosophical and scientific ignorance turns into “una marca de grandeza” [a mark of greatness] (“Dos preguntas” 310).

17Therefore, let us once again attempt to answer the question: Why does the Enlightenment, to recall the words of Kelley, genealogically form an essential part of modernity whereas the Baroque remains on the margin, on the outside, while accepting at best that a few thinkers, scientists, and artists escaped the limits of their time and cultural environment to join modernity’s mainstream? Because, in the simplification, reduction, and erasures imposed by the grand narrative of European modernity, the past can be summarized as such: baroque = archaic; enlightened = modern. Something similar was implied by Walter Benjamin, whose vision of the Baroque was transformed by R. de la Flor into “esa suerte de espacio ocluido y encriptado, depreciado por su nula consecuencia para el presente” [that luck of occluded and encrypted space, depreciated by its lack of consequence for the present] (“Revival” 114). Lack of consequence for the present? Recently, Pimentel and Marcaida wrote: “Y sin embargo, la etiqueta ‘ciencia barroca’ encuentra resistencias para su empleo: ¿será porque remite al espacio cultural y al universo simbólico de la contrarreforma, es decir, a una geografía periférica respecto a los centros donde se forjó el relato de la revolución científica?” [And yet, the label ‘baroque science’ encounters resistance in its use: could it be because it refers to the cultural space and to the symbolic universe of the Counter Reformation, or rather, to a peripheral geography in respect to the centers in which the narrative of the Scientific Revolution was forged?] (141). Science appears, as affirmed by these authors, “en la idea de progreso” [within the idea of progress] (138). And the narrative of this idea, equivalent to the grand narrative of modern Europe, is where the Baroque suffered erasure —not because it did not participate in this process, but rather because in the political and military struggle between the European powers, the propagandistic association between the Inquisition, barbarity, the denial of freedom and the contempt for knowledge worked like a charm—, turning it into the opposite of science, liberty, progress, and modernity. The Baroque, therefore, had no chance of producing its own baroque science; science could only belong to Protestant countries, where Protestantism was not only the equivalent of the freedom of belief but of, above all, the freedom to think, effacing all social, religious, and political conflict from the Protestant north. The course followed by science is equivalent to the course followed by other realities and concepts. Our position, therefore, is not exactly one of postcolonial discourse, because Spain was never a colony but was an empire that had colonies, creating overlapping and conflicting discourses. The purely postcolonial discourses applied to Hispanic America and countries such as Spain fall on the border between a colonizing and a postcolonial nation. Rather, we locate ourselves within a post-imperial discourse that necessarily rationalized and conceptualized its position in relation to international forces beginning from the loss of its hegemonic status. From another point of view, José Luis Comellas stated not long ago: “La ilustración no es el liberalismo, ni siquiera necesariamente su causa, pero diríase que existe consenso acerca de que, sin un paso previo como el que la ilustración pudo significar para occidente, la desembocadura en el liberalismo, tal como se produjo, hubiera sido muy difícilmente explicable” [The Enlightenment is not Liberalism, nor even its cause, but one would say that there is a consensus that, without a previous step such as the one that the Enlightenment meant for the West, the unflowing into Liberalism, such as it was produced, would have been hardly explicable] (108). This seems to assume that liberalism could not have been reached from a Baroque starting point, establishing purely fictional incompatibilities. This point calls for an explanation: without the Enlightenment which led —in a sense—to liberalism, there could not have existed the nation state; the nationalisms that would have given rise to modern nations. In Spain, however, the relationship between Enlightened and liberal people, passing as Francophiles, has been the topic of endless debate (see Dufour; Pérez-Magallón, “Perfidious”).

18 Thus, my tentative answer is the following: in the process of culturally consolidating their political-economic hegemony by means of the grand narrative of modernity —a new symbolic representation—, Northern European cultural agents have associated the Baroque, or Gothicism, with the cultural world of the backward, barbarous, superstitious, anti-rational, absolutist and despotic Catholic south. On the contrary, modernity —embodied in the Enlightenment, into which naturally entered Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, Hobbes, etc. — is a “naturally” Northern phenomena established by rationality, experimentalism, and lastly, liberty —mythologized and reinvented in hindsight— as its main pillars. Consequently, the Enlightenment is only recoverable because the Baroque is not. Moreover, based on what Weber (in Iarocci 11) would assert, out of the pre-Baroque period —the Discovery of the Americas, the Renaissance and the Reformation—only the Protestant Reformation would be integrated into the genealogy of modernity, due to its avant la lettre embodiment of reason and modern subjectivity.

19The origins of this modernity is another issue. Of course, I will avoid the debate studied by Maravall involving the anciens et modernes, as well as Jürgen Habermas’ conception of modernity as an unfinished project (3) or part of an interminable discussion about postmodernity. Alain Touraine described the great rupture of modernity, counterposing the intellectual program of Humanism-Erasmism with the rationalism and empiricism associated with the scientific appropriation of natural reality (265-266). Stephen Toulmin, in turn, questioned the idea that the one true modernity came from a single origin which owed its existence to the rationalization of philosophical and scientific thought that had begun with Descartes and Bacon (14-16). For Toulmin, the inherited vision of the origins of modernity should be rejected once and for all, offering the possibility of a double origin for the modern period. Out of these two origins, one would continue to be undervalued until now, being seen as belonging to an archaic world order. The problem is that Toulmin does not seem to capture the geopolitical causes underlying the erasure of the humanist phase and which renders it inevitable, given that humanism is essentially a southern phenomenon which must “disappear” —be erased— from the version of modernity constructed by Northern and Central Europe. Ernest Cassirer, nevertheless, is incapable of imagining an Enlightenment without Renaissance humanism. The position of rationalist scepticism and Baconian empiricism in the European intellectual sphere accompanies Erasmian humanism within an excessively complex cultural reality which also includes all hermetic philosophy, which, as demonstrated by Westman and McGuire, was essential for the Scientific Revolution. The rift between the humanist era and the modern era is only the result of the cultural agents responsible for the historiographical narrative in which even today the dominant categories remain fossilized. Of course, we could follow Antoine Compagnon and view the tradition of modernity as a set of ruptures, each one of which —the new modernity— is constructed on top of the obscurity of its predecessors, though it is curious that not all of its predecessors have been forgotten equally (7-13). In any case, in such differences and located within this interstice, the reason for these diverging modernities lies in the specific ways —unequal and combined—in which each community has accessed its own modernity. That is why, recuperating the works of the novatores of the Spanish and Hispanic Enlightenment are of vital importance, as long as novatores’ works are not compared to those which are authentically baroque; both are baroque, both are products of the same social environment, historical reality, and developmental perspective. Or, perhaps it all comes down to proposing a new hermeneutic in which the Baroque and the Enlightenment would join together and conflictingly fertilize and establish a modernity that, passing through 20th century recycling, would be the same modernity of today.

20Opposed to the traditional genealogy of modernity experienced by the Enlightenment and its precursors, authors such as Antonio Regalado and Bolívar Echeverría have pointed out another relationship between the Baroque and modernity. Placing his reflection within the framework of what he considered to be a civilizing crisis lasting for more than a century, Echeverría described this crisis as the “proyecto de modernidad que se impuso en este proceso de modernización de la civilización humana: el proyecto capitalista en su versión puritana y noreuropea, que se fue afirmando y afinando, lentamente, al prevalecer sobre otros alternativos” [modernity Project which was imposed during the process of human civilization’s modernization: the Puritan and Northern European version of the capitalist project which gradually became affirmed and refined until it prevailed over all other alternatives]  (“El ethos barroco” 15). Moreover, thinking of the baroque ethos implies thinking about a post-capitalist modernity suspected as being a “reachable utopia” under certain circumstances (“El ethos barroco” 17). For this reason, Echeverría considers the baroque ethos as one of the four ways of “interiorizar el capitalismo” [internalizing capitalism] (“El ethos barroco” 20), contrasting this ethos with the classical ethos. Thus, the baroque ethos, being an approach “tan distanciada como la clásica ante la necesidad trascendente del hecho capitalista, no lo acepta, sin embargo, ni se suma a él sino que lo mantiene siempre como inaceptable y ajeno” [as distant as the classical approach when faced with the transcendental necessity of the capitalist fact, it does not, however, accept nor add to it but instead keeps it unacceptable and alien] (“El ethos barroco” 20). Ultimately, the baroque would serve as a reference for a future alternative to the reigning capitalist system. Nonetheless, referring more directly to what is baroque, Echeverría welcomes Adorno and his vision of the baroque as a decorazione assoluta, or as a vacuum in which only the form has been preserved; such as with theatricality (a notion that, at least, had been fully developed by Emilio Orozco), or as an everyday aesthetic. In short, his idea of the baroque being the equivalent of a “combinación conflictiva de conservadurismo e inconformidad” [conflicting combination of conservatism and nonconformity] or his concept that “el comportamiento barroco parte de la desesperación y termina en el vértigo” [baroque behaviour begins with desperation and ends with vertigo] (“El ethos barroco” 26) demonstrates the difficulty of establishing a coherent connection between the Baroque and modernity. Moving on to Regalado, his methodology simply produces connections between Calderón and other times and movements, diving acrobatically above the constraints of chronology. Calderón is thus linked to Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of the Absurd, demonstrating an indisputable relation between the Baroque and modernity.

21The question to answer in this context would be: When did this fusion take place; when did the Baroque and its specific way of modernity disappear? I am inclined to say that it happened during the period in which Eric Hobsbawn located the two great revolutions: the Industrial and the Bourgeois Revolutions, a period of time which generated Romanticism. Nonetheless, this fact will not alter the grand narrative of modernity written by Northern and Central Europe. However, in claiming a postcolonial and anti-imperialist dimension for their concepts of the baroque, perhaps Carpentier, Lezama, and Sarduy —and all of their followers— were heading in a direction full of promise, not so much because of their baroque essentialism, but rather, because of their way of devising alternatives to the dominant genealogy.

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Jesús Pérez-Magallón, « The Baroque: the intellectual and geopolitical reasons for a historiographical erasure », Les Dossiers du Grihl [En ligne], 02 | 2012, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2012, consulté le 26 juin 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Jesús Pérez-Magallón

Jesús Pérez-Magallón (Lic. Fil. Esp., Barcelona, 1983; Ph.D. Penn, 1990) is Professor of Hispanic Studies. His publications include monographs such as En torno a las ideas literarias de Mayans (1991), El teatro neoclásico (2001), Construyendo la modernidad. La cultura española en el tiempo de los novatores (1675-1725) (2002), and Calderón. Icono cultural e identitario del conservadurismo político (2010), as well as editions of La comedia nueva. El sí de las niñas (1994, 2001), and Poesías completas (1995), by Leandro F. de Moratín, Teatro completo by Nicolás Fernández de Moratín, Los Moratines, the complete works by Nicolás and Leandro Fernández de Moratín, and Escritos literarios (1994), by Gregorio Mayans. His edition of Calderón’s La dama duende has been recently released by Cátedra (2011). He has edited Del Barroco a la Ilustración (1997), and co-edited La cultura española de entre siglos (xix-xx) (1996), Luz vital. Estudios de cultura hispánica en memoria de Victor Ouimette (1999), El hombre práctico, by Francisco Gutiérrez de los Ríos, conde de Fernán-Núñez (2000), and Ayer y hoy de Calderón (2002). Prof. Pérez-Magallón contributes regularly to European and American scholarly journals on the Golden Age, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and contemporary Spanish novel. Since 2003 he is General Editor of Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos. He has received the Faculty of Arts Award for High Distinction in Research (2000). Prof. Pérez-Magallón has been awarded several grants from FCAR (now FQRSC), SSHRC, Spanish Ministry of Education, and McGill University. Now he leads a research line on conflicting identities within the interdisciplinary and international research team of “The Hispanic Baroque,” generously funded by SSHRC-MCRI.
Professor Pérez-Magallón may be reached at the phone number (514) 398-6684; or by e-mail at

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