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The Theater of Truth: The Ideology of (Neo) Baroque Aesthetics by William Egginton (review)

From: Hispanófila
Volume 170, Enero 2014
pp. 158-160 | 10.1353/hsf.2014.0002

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In recent years many scholars have debated the nature of the relationship between the historical Baroque and the work of contemporary “neobaroque” authors, especially those hailing from Latin America. Egginton’s work offers a fresh, philosophically-informed perspective on Baroque and neobaroque aesthetics. The author claims that the theatricality and extravagance we associate with both Baroque and neobaroque works are the expression of a “problem of thought” of modernity (1). Egginton explains this problem of thought as the relationship between the way the world appears via the senses and the way it actually exists apart from the senses. He builds on the thesis from his previous book How the World Became a Stage, in which he argues for a change in the vocabulary of modernity from one of subjectivity to one of theatricality. According to Egginton, Baroque works approach this fundamental “problem” with one of two strategies. The “major strategy” confirms the existence of a higher truth or authority hidden by the veil of deceiving appearances. The “minor strategy” (inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “minor literature”) applies to works that revel in representation itself, denying them the validity of the authority beyond the realm of those appearances. While the former perspective implies the promise of an essence that exists behind the curtain of representation, the latter limits that promise. Egginton draws attention to the ways that the minor strategy plays with the assumption of the major. In his introduction he looks at two critics of Cervantes and examines their different viewpoints, revealing that whether a work supports the major or minor strategy is in the eye of the beholder.

Throughout The Theater of Truth, Egginton provides case studies of these strategies in baroque aesthetics. Each chapter skillfully begins and ends with an elaboration upon the meaning of the major and minor strategies. In chapter 1 Egginton employs Baltasar Gracián’s work Criticón to refute Deleuze’s rejection of the Cartesian distinction between interior and exterior spaces, showing that Baroque artifice, as depicted by the character Artemia, expresses the minor strategy. When the hero Critilo observes Artemia creating a human being, Gracián depicts the incompleteness of human existence and the role of art in nature. In chapter 2 Egginton refers to Cervantes as the master architect of the Baroque. He employs Cervantes’ Novelas ejemplares to frame his position that Derrida’s notion of deconstruction is already at work in the Baroque, thus demonstrating that the minor strategy is born from within the major and explains that the baroque aesthetic is constructed in two ways, the first hides the truth behind representation, the second that our very access to that truth renders it false by corrupting it. In chapter 3 Egginton reads Juan Ruiz de Alarcón’s La verdad sospechosa, Augustin Moreto’s El desdén con el desdén and the anonymous La estrella de Sevilla to illustrate that, although canonical works are predominately in the mindset of the major strategy, the inherent doubt present in baroque writing leaves room for an interpretation in the minor strategy; the undoing of the major. Egginton suggests that baroque theater exploits the search for truth through appearances because the meta-theatrical structure at its center toys with the notions of a primary and secondary reality. He indicates that the theatrical nature of the Baroque reflects the duplicitous character of baroque society as a whole and that, as Lacan also argues, truth is constructed like fiction. In chapter 4 Egginton examines Góngora’s poetry which expresses the inherent complexity and “opacity” of reality, defying readers’ attempts to penetrate the surface level of appearances/language (56). Góngora’s rejection of an absolute authority threatens the promise of the major strategy and undermines baroque political discourse.

In chapter 5 Egginton develops his initial comparison between early modernity and the contemporary period, introducing the idea of the coloneobaroque, to link the aesthetic of the historical Baroque to that of the postcolonial neobaroque. Drawing on work by Maravall, Kaup, and Deleuze, he suggests that works from both periods share an aesthetic preoccupation with theatricality, but that the political uses of that aesthetic have changed over time. Quoting Kaup, he contends...



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