A Foreign Country

Before the baroque it was, however, still possible to say whether the artistic approach of an age was fundamentally naturalistic or anti-naturalistic, making for unity or differentiation, classicistic or anti-classicistic—but now art no longer has a uniform stylistic character in this strict sense, it is naturalistic and classicistic, analytical and synthetic at the same time. We are the witnesses of the simultaneous blossoming of absolutely opposite tendencies…

– Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art

The baroque is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

– John Law, Assembling the Baroque

In the Neo-Baroque on the other hand we see another tendency: the hidden dance of material and idealist discourses, ontological and epistemic, anti-representational and representational, realist and anti-realist worlds all enmeshed in modes of being and becoming that are neither one nor the other but both at the same time, and sometimes within the same person, thing, or object. We all feel that the Age of Self is over, the great battles of the inner-life of humans is at an end. We all feel that something new is emerging, wandering round us in tentative measures of silence, muteness, and the patter of both philosophical and nonphilosophical discourse and nondiscourse. In fact that is the key: no one will speak what this thing is, no one will ‘name’ it, reduce it to some simple sign or significant figure or form, tie it to something that will not waver and vanish before our very eyes in the moment of its appearance.

Beware of philosophers baring gifts, my friends, those gifts may be bombs… Deleuze tells us that psychosocial “types are historical, but conceptual personae are events” (110, What is Philosophy?). History is death, but the event escapes history. So goes the myth. The Event is an ‘experiment in thinking’ (111). Events are the new, remarkable, and “replace the appearance of truth and are more demanding than it is” (111). History is devoid of experimentation, it holds within its dark negativity the conditions for the possibility of freedom, for the “experimentation of something that escapes history” (111). The Event and Experimentation together comprise the philosophical gesture. The Cheshire’s smile withdraws in the moment we recognize it for what it is: it is this aftering that philosophy philosophizes. Death is inherent in this enterprise. Laruelle tells us that it is the “World and History that are imaginary and have a terrible materiality…” (18, Struggle and Utopia).

I will say that Deleuze belongs to the tribe of Spinozists, but with a difference: he came to correct the master not to live in his shadow. He believed that the master had not gone far enough. As he tells us:

All that Spinozoism needed to do for the univocal to become an object of pure affirmation was to make substance turn around the modes – in other words, to realize univocity in the form of repetition in the eternal return” (304).

This pure affirmation is the state of excess of the multitude where the singular ‘clamour of Being’ for all beings steps beyond itself unveiling those traces of identity that for so long have displaced and disguised the difference that is the kernel of this singularity. In the moment of this unveiling, on the “mobile cusp” they begin to turn, to return again, to dance the dance that never ends:

“…the eternal return is indeed Similar, repetition in the eternal return is indeed the Identical – but precisely the resemblance and the identity do not pre-exist the return of that which returns” (300).

That in one dark insight is the crux of Deleuze’s freedom. The metalepsis or turning that is a return is one that is not founded on a pre-existing representation or identity, but of a breaking of representation; neither mirror nor lamp, but a turning that is a “complete reversal of the world of representation, and of the sense of the ‘identical’ and ‘similar’ had in that world” (301). Meaning is what escapes representation. The philosophy of difference is a baroque turn, what Ocatavio Paz once called the “transgression of the art of the metamorphosis of the object” (53, Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith). He goes on to say that the baroque is intellectual and active, in the baroque transgressions lead to the appearance of an unheard-of-object; in fact, the subject vanishes into the baroque object (53, ibid). Paz also concluded that poetry reveals a world within our world, the other world that is this world. We seem to be in a time when that world is pulling and tugging at us, letting us know that it has things to say if we will only listen and see what it is offering both within its world and in the other world of this world. Matter and Idea may never merge into an identity, just like thinking and being will never be one either. For if they ever did come together, merge into a unity of thinking/being where would difference be found? Maybe the ‘Concept’? Maybe in that bridge between two worlds: those worlds of thinking and being no longer bound to their respective domains, but caught in the net of the concept, riven of their blankness, a fusion of otherwise disparate worlds. Maybe in this strange heterotopia of philosophy the world begins to know itself… let the agon begin! A war of worlds that can never fuse, but are always in movement-through-concept between a past that is forever dead and a future that is always coming toward us out of that nonphilosophical horizon of chaos.

1. Hauser, Arnold (2007-04-16). The Social History of Art: Volume 2 – Renaissance, Mannersim, Baroque, (Kindle Locations 3909-3913). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

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