- Baroque Horrors: Roots of the Fantastic in the Age of Curiosities by David R. Castillo, and: Hyperboles: The Rhetoric of Excess in Baroque Literature and Thought by Christopher D. Johnson (review)
- Calíope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance and Baroque Hispanic Poetry
- Penn State University Press
- Volume 18, Number 3, 2013
- pp. 165-170
- View Citation
- Additional Information
RESEÑAS 165 Castillo, David R. Baroque Horrors: Roots of the Fantastic in the Age of Curiosities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010. HB. xv + 177 pp. ISBN 978-0-472-11721-5 Johnson, Christopher D. Hyperboles: The Rhetoric of Excess in Baroque Literature and Thought. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Department of Comparative Literature, distributed by Harvard University Press, 2010. HB. x + 695 pp. ISBN 978-0-67405331 -1 (cl.) The use of the Baroque to designate a literary style and, at the same time, a whole period of Spanish Golden Age culture has flourished steadily in the last few decades. It gives no sign of losing ground as the dominant category for thinking about Spain’s long seventeenth century in all itsTransatlantic, early modern, and Counter-Reformation complexity. Indeed, the two books under review here appeared the same year that Lois Parkinson Zamora and Monika Kaup published a wide sampling of theories on the Baroque in Baroque New Worlds: Representation, Transculturation, Counterconquest (Durham: Duke UP, 2010). Like the authors collected in that volume, David R. Castillo and Christopher D. Johnson celebrate, defend, and interpret some of the most salient aspects of the Baroque—in Castillo’s case, the proliferation of the sensational and shocking; in Johnson’s, the penchant for hyperbole and rhetorical excess. Although their books diverge greatly in method, scope, and critical stance, both scholars take as a given the validity of the Baroque as a category, while at the same time both aspire to make significant contributions to the way we understand the term. Therefore, neither author engages in a lengthy discussion on what the Baroque is, let alone subscribes to an exclusive definition. Their books do succeed in providing us with new insights into the Baroque; yet they also unwittingly serve as cautionary examples of an all-too-frequent reliance on the concept. In Baroque Horrors: Roots of the Fantastic in the Age of Curiosities, Castillo proposes an exploration grounded in Walter Benjamin’s materialist historiography of the “roots/routes” of the fantastic, from the Spanish Baroque to our postmodern times. Castillo focuses on a number of texts that uncover the fears of invasion and contamination REVIEWS 166 intrinsic to the Spanish ideals of purity of blood, honor, and imperial destiny. While affirming the specificity of the Spanish Baroque, Castillo contends the texts he studies are actually “representative of the panEuropean constellation of curiosities” (xi), and that interpreting them will constitute a probe into “the origins and meaning of the modern episteme” (xiii). In the Introduction, Castillo attributes the “roots” of the postmodern commodification of nature, as exemplified by Gunther von Hagens’s infamous BodyWorlds exhibitions, to early modern displays of monsters and curiosities. According to Castillo, the Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosity that became popular in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, organize many of the pressing issues that define the Baroque and our postmodern age as well: the moral issues concerning representation, the value of the artificial over the original, and the tension between rational inquiry and irrational curiosity. Chapter one explores the connection between wonder cabinets and literary miscellanea as warehouses of marvels that, while purporting to advance knowledge and instruct the public, made entertainment and shock value their real ends. With respect to Antonio de Torquemada’s Jardín de flores curiosas (1570), Julián de Medrano’s La silva curiosa (1583) shows a marked turn in miscellanea toward incorporating contemporary sources and folkloric material. For Castillo,Torquemada’s Renaissance garden becomes Medrano’s Baroque graveyard, where a lack of order and vast openness point towards H. P. Lovecraft’s “terrifying vistas of reality” (“The Call of Cthulhu,” qtd. 45). The sensationalist nature of Medrano’s text draws Castillo’s attention to how Baroque culture (understood along José Antonio Maravall’s lines as a “cultura dirigida” by the state) instrumentalized the shock value of prodigies and horrors for pedagogical purposes. Interested in uncovering the logic behind using the sensational for edifying purposes, chapter two turns to exemplary novels, especially those by Cervantes. For Castillo, El casamiento engañoso and the Coloquio de los perros undo any moralizing that the Novelas ejemplares might accomplish: by forcing readers to...