American Folklife: A Commonwealth of Cultures by Mary Hufford

By Mary Hufford

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For example, Descartes employed baroque strategies of hyperbolic doubt — reality may only be a dream — to make the case for ­refounding modern knowledge exclusively on reason. ”28 Discussing the specific impact of modern science, Eco speaks for many when he argues that the “openness and dynamism of the Baroque . . reflects the rising interest in a psychology of impression and sensation, in short — an empiricism which converts the Aristotelian concept of real substance into a series of subjective perceptions by the viewer.

But the twentieth century reversed the rationalist hierarchy between classicism and the baroque. Around 1900, intellectuals in Europe and the Americas rediscovered the alternative ­modernity of the Baroque, newly appreciating the baroque’s idiosyncratic, ­nondualistic, and nondissociative response to the scientific and religious upheavals of the modern age. Dissociationism is the operative term here: narratives of modernity typically hinge on the related concepts of (multiple) breaks and new beginnings.

The indeterminacy of the open work reflects the modern sensibility of crisis and instability that pervades the baroque and that results from the cumulative intellectual, political, and religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the scientific revolution, the “discovery” of America, and colonial, civil, and religious wars. In electing the subjectivist, impressionistic, and theatrical baroque style as its preferred instrument of propaganda, the post-Tridentine Catholic Church consciously embraced an anti-objectivist representation perfectly suited to the deep schisms that divided Europe.

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