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This article is taken from PN Review 171, Volume 33 Number 1, September - October 2006.

Towards a Definition of 'Baroque' Peter Davidson and Alison Shell

 The baroque is a permeable system, a set of infinitely flexible stock responses in literature, visual art and music, which make all arts potentially variations on a sequence of known, tested grounds. Personifications and mythologies, types and figures, strategies of rhetoric and imagery, are always at the baroque artist’s disposal, offering a ground-bass over which astonishment can be improvised. A cultural system so much in love with the remote and exotic that it draws strangeness unto itself, it is eager to explore and co-exist with extremes, at the same time that it is a daily, serviceable set of conventions for discussing and celebrating quotidian experience. Among the many features which distinguish baroque from classical art is the capacity to work in more than one artistic tradition at the same time – baroque inevitably embraces hybridity.

 Baroque is a cultural system which is supra-national, supra-confessional. Indeed, one of the functions, or characteristics, of baroque art, deriving from its deployment of a common verbal and visual language, was that it was the system through which enemies could communicate with each other at moments of truce (this is seen most effectively in masque and festival texts). It is not a system spreading out from European capitals in washes of dilution and enfeeblement. Each centre of cultural production worldwide produces its own baroque.

 We should now like to continue this re-examination of the concept of baroque art by setting forth twelve theses to try to create a definition of ...

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