- Poétique du secret: Paradoxes et maniérisme
Poétique du secret offers a sweeping comparative cultural analysis of the relationship between light and shadow —or transparency and secrecy —in European [End Page 976] painting and literature, with particular emphasis on Mannerism and the Baroque. Covering a vast terrain stretching from antiquity to the late twentieth century, the author discusses writers as diverse as Virgil, Augustine, Petrarch, Ripa, Gracián, Rousseau, Leopardi, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Char, Butor, and Milosz, to name but a few. The early modern painters treated include Van Eyck, Botticelli, Bellini, Dürer, Parmigianino, Correggio, Pontormo, Bronzino, Arcimboldo, Veronese, Caravaggio, de la Tour, Velázquez, and Rembrandt, but these are freely intermingled with moderns such as Manet, Van Gogh, Lega, Degas, Caillebotte, Redon, Boccioni, Dalì, and Norman Rockwell. Poétique du secret is in any case organized not around individual artists or works, but rather around themes and figures. Tripet, honorary professor of literature at the University of Lausanne, thus adopts an approach to poetics that seems principally indebted to Gaston Bachelard and Hans Blumenberg. The seven loosely connected chapters meditate on such topics as ut pictura poesis (chapter 2), anamorphosis and optical paradoxes (chapter 3), representations of secrecy such as masks (chapter 4), elements of landscape like gardens, mountains, and caves (chapter 5), reflections in water, mirrors, and echos (chapter 6), and revelations through windows and other openings (chapter 7).
The book aims to show how "that which offers itself to the light" and "that which stays in the shadows" (223) interact in artworks, standing in a relationship of complementarity rather than reciprocal negation. Although a series of binary oppositions —light/shadow, presence/absence, speech/silence, exterior/interior, unveiling/veiling —appears to inform this poetics of secrecy and transparency, the boundaries between them are consistently collapsed into verbal and visual figures of chiaroscuro, through the subversive aesthetic gestures of writers and artists. In the Baroque, Tripet contends, "shadow enters much more actively in the representation of objects" (224) than in previous eras of Western art. Chiaroscuro alone reveals the complexity of objects in early modernity, which are no longer able to present themselves to us, or to speak to us, as if their truths were evident or univocal: secrecy and shadow (the latter being a metaphor for the former) become the very "conditions of revelation" (224) itself. Light no longer has precedence over shadow, in other words, but must paradoxically depend upon darkness and mystery in order to show or unveil what would otherwise be hidden to the spectator. In the act of representation things no longer shine forth as what they are, but rather appear to us in non-mimetic and unnatural ways. This dynamic, in which the artwork "plays hide and seek" (80) with the viewer or reader, draws the latter into active collaboration in the production of meaning, which is itself the secret of the great art and literature of all phases of modernity.
What is here for the scholar of early modern Europe? Regretfully, I must say: not much. Although there is a good deal of erudition in it, one gets the distinct sense that this book was built hastily out of blocks of course or seminar notes, rather than a program of advanced research. Tripet asserts the centrality of Mannerist and Baroque culture, but these are in fact given short shrift by him. The choice of themes concerning secrecy is arbitrary, and the book's arguments form [End Page 977] a collage of superficial fragments and aperçus without a governing design or unifying theory. Lacking the latter, the poetics of the secret ultimately becomes everything . . . and nothing.
For those seeking up-to-date information on the topic of secrecy, this is not the best place to look. There are but a handful of widely scattered notes, the bibliography has less than fifty entries, and only two of these are scholarly works of this century. Champion must be taken to task for the...