1- Baroque Writing.
In the literature of the Spanish Golden Age there were two fundamental ways of being baroque. One of them was lucky enough to inspire an adjective, and it is thus the first one to come to mind when we speak of anything baroque: anything profuse, prolif-ic, exuberant and excessive, decorative more than architectural, in love with surfaces and gaudy display. In literature, this baroque style it fundamentally manifested on the level of the sentence and the phrase. The baroque sentence struts like a peacock on a stage, decks itself with neologisms and exotic words, twists and turns upon itself, is capable of spawning a seemingly endless procession of subordinate clauses; would as-pire, apparently, to exist as pure signifier, to feed wholly upon itself. The content, on the other hand, what is being said, once – and if - it is deciphered, often turns out to be dis-appointingly simple, or even banal, particularly when pitted against the verbal splendour of the phrase. Baroque excess is, above all, one of means over ends; of the language and the stylistic devices over what they designate. The beginning of Góngora’s Second Soli-tude will do as an example:
- The sea through a brief streamlet seeks to pass
- Which with a thirsty pace to meet it flows
- As from the natal rock itself it throws;
- Much salt not only in a little glass
- It drinks, but ruin too,
- A crystal butterfly
- - not winged, but wavy – who
- Begs that it may in Thetis’ lantern die .
After this verbal glory the reader might be justified in feeling himself cheated when he learns that these verses ‘merely’ describe a little stream running into the sea. Góngora is also capable of writing more direct verse, verse whose intellectual and emo-tional power register on a first reading; but what the Spanish adjective ‘gongorino’ usu-ally designates are these verbal tapestries in which the figure is concealed in the foliage of motives, a figure whose beauty often lies less in its intrinsic form than in the process of discovering it, of seeing through its verbal camouflage.
What Deleuze has to say about the baroque vestments can be readily applied to this literary style: “the fabrics, or the clothes, must free their folds from their usual sub-ordination to the finite body. If there is such a thing as a properly baroque garment, this garment will be ample, a billowing, tumultuous, bubbling wave that, rather than translate the folds of the body, will envelop it with autonomous folds of its own.”
Góngora’s rival, Quevedo, typically follows a different procedure. Instead of hiding the referent from the outset, he will present it clearly at first and then gradually dissolve it, disintegrating it in a centripetal fireworks display of elaborate conceits, puns and sallies of wit, until the object disappears and only language is left. Borges, in his essay “Quevedo”, suggests that: “Quevedo’s greatness is verbal. To consider him a phi-losopher, a theologician or a statesman is a mistake that might be excused by the title, but not by the content, of his works. His best pieces are pure and independent verbal objects.” This last sentence, of course, would apply to Góngora just as well.
This first way of being baroque, then, we will term, rather unoriginally, baroque writing or baroque style.
2- Baroque fictions.
The second manner of being baroque, as baroque as the first but not blessed in the same way by the same adjective, is typified by Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The typical Cervantean sentence, the usual Cervantean rhetorical strategy, is not baroque, not in the manner previously described at least. Unlike Góngora, Cervantes names his object form the outset; unlike Quevedo, he constructs it word by word, with morose delectation. This we can see, for example, in his description of the maid Maritornes, in chapter 16 of Don Quixote part 1:
“There likewise served in the inn an Asturian wench, who was broad-faced, flat-pated, saddle-nosed, blind of one eye, and the other almost out; true it is, that the come-liness of her body supplied all the other defects. She was not seven palms long from her feet unto her head, and her shoulders, which did somewhat burden her, made her look oftener to the ground than she would willingly.” (Thomas Shelton, 1612)
Here, every sentence adds a feature, a stroke, until the figure is, at the end, fully visible and complete. It little matters whether Cervantes is engaged in the realistic de-scription of a swineherd or in the artificial rhetoric of the locus amoenus: the referential devotion of his language does not depend upon the reality of the object described. Cer-vantes’ ideal is the sentence that will fit its object like a glove a hand, and his writing always ends up by fostering the illusion that it is in the world, rather than in the words, that life and meaning reside. All of his Don Quixote, after all, is a prolonged warning against the dangers of considering words, particularly the words in books, to be more real than the world itself.
So if Cervantes’ baroque affiliations are not evident in his sentences, or in his use of language, then where are they to be located? To find them we must climb a few structural levels: to those of the characters, of narrative structures, of the construction of a referential world. In these levels, what is characteristic of the baroque is its tendency – some might even call it, its addiction – to interchange, fold or shuffle – in the sense in which we shuffle the cards in a pack – the different planes into which reality is divided. These planes are, in the Spanish baroque, basically the following:
PICTURE / MODEL
REFLECTION / OBJECT
THEATRE / WORLD
WORK / AUTHOR
IMAGINATION / PERCEPTION
DREAMS / WAKING LIFE
MADNESS / SANITY
FICTION / TRUTH
ART / LIFE
SIGN / REFERENT
As you have surely noticed, the items of the second column are more material than those of the first; in most cases they correspond, roughly, to the realm of things, whereas those in the first column correspond to the plane of the signs, or the images, that represent them. One might be tempted to apply the term ‘reality’ to the items in the second column, but one should be cautious about indulging in this temptation. Baroque reality is never the ‘reality’ of the object pitted against the ‘unreality’ of its reflection in the mirror, but the hiperreality of the multiple combinations into which both can enter.
Because the Baroque is not so much about the opposition between two planes of reality, as about the continuities and exchanges between them, Deleuze offers the gen-eral image, or trope, of the fold. The baroque fold is not an opposition pure and simple, as in the two sides of a coin, but a reversal-in-continuity. Another obvious image for this – one of the many ways of folding the deleuzian fold – is the figure of the Moebius strip.
And it is in this sense that Cervantes’ Don Quixote is as baroque as they come. His hero is a man who will not resign himself to the fact that life does not conform to what his books dictate, and sallies forth into the world to correct its faulty text, to force the referents to bow down to the signs. He is a madman of course, but a madman who alternates moments of insanity with those of sanity and even wisdom; one who is often conscious of his madness, and is well able to reason the need thereof; and to the natural difficulty of telling real madness form feigned madness – a crucial crux in Hamlet, an-other model baroque text – is here added another dimension: who is the craziest, he who would bring back the ideals of chivalry to a fallen world, or those who have forgotten them? Medieval fantasies give us knights that dive into lakes of bubbling tar to find submerged castles with topaz towers and walls of gold, inhabited by maidens dressed in silver and silk. The baroque fantasy turns these inside out: the enchanters turn the giants into windmills, the armies into bleating folds of sheep, they trick us with the everyday at its most prosaic. A similar degree of topsy-turviness affects the fictional levels. In part 1, the author enters his fictional world: one of the characters talks about Cervantes, while he holds in his hands his Galatea, judging it not too bad a book. In later chapters this ‘Cervantes’ appears in person, finds the complete manuscript of Don Quixote in Arabic, and has it translated into Spanish: now both the author and the translator have entered the work, and soon the readers will join them: Part two is peopled with characters who have read part I, and don Quixote and Sancho find themselves to be characters in a published book (part 1) and in a book in the process of being written (part 2). And these readers will now devise, in ‘reality’, adventures they have modeled on those of part 1: Sansón Carrasco dresses up as a knight; the dukes stage, with the stuff of don Quixote’s fantasies, pageants and masques. Now don Quixote’s eye does not need to translate a carrier or a merchant into a knight: the knight in armor is really before him, only this ‘reality’ he sees has been copied from his own fantasies, and these fantasies from art. Notice, by the way, that this juggling with different worlds does not require a fantastical explanation: as Borges put it in his essay “Magias parciales del Quijote”: “the plan of his [Cervantes’] work proscribed the fantastic.”
The baroque shuffling machine, once set in motion, is hard to stop: its gradually expanding circles will eventually escape the interplay between fiction and life within the book, and affect the real world without quotes, the world of Cervantes the author: while he is hard at work on part 2, a mysterious author concealed under the pen name of Avellaneda publishes his own part 2 of Don Quixote. As in a Philip Dick fantasy, the copy precedes the original and, what’s more, influences it: Cervantes makes his charac-ters change their course from Zaragoza to Barcelona in order to give Avellaneda the lie; and in a later, magnificent chapter, Cervantes’ don Quixote and Sancho meet one of Avellaneda’s characters, don Álvaro Tarfe, and ask him to declare, before a notary, that Avellaneda’s don Quixote and Sancho are fakes.
When a work of fiction presents at least two distinct planes of reality, when the-se two planes are of equivalent entity and can thus be interchanged, twisted, folded, pleated or braided; when the habitual causal relationships between these two planes are subverted or even inverted; and particularly when one of them corresponds to the world of objects and the other one to the plane of images or signs, we can speak of a baroque fiction.
These two ways of being baroque (playing with words, playing with worlds) are also present in the visual arts: the language of Góngora and Quevedo has its visual counterpart in Rubens or Churriguera; the creation of a hiperspace that projects both backwards through the wall, and forwards to include the model and the viewers, the construction of a hiperreality that can include the artist within the work, and the viewer as well (who knows if Velázquez, instead of painting the kings, is not painting us?) is to be fully realized in Las Meninas, which can be considered as a translation of the of the literary devices of Cervantes’ don Quixote into the visual medium.
These two different modes of being baroque are manifestations of a terminal crisis that dissolves the episteme of the Renaissance. As Michel Foucault points out in the opening chapters of The Order of Things (to which most of the opening section of this talk is indebted) Renaissance knowledge was optimistic inasmuch as it relied on the certainty that not only words but also things were signs, carefully inscribed by God on the pages of His world, so that one of his creatures – us – would decipher them. Until the end of the Renaissance, the world is a text in fundamentally the same ways in which a book is a text. Today, in order to establish the medical properties of a plant, we pro-ceed through trial and error, or analyze it chemically; the Renaissance healer would be able to look at a nut and discover, through its analogy with the human skull and brain, that it was good for headaches (the example is Foucault’s). Renaissance knowledge fol-lows that similarity that makes every part of the universe into a symbol of some other part, and is therefore magical in its functioning. In the Renaissance, the representational power of signs, whether linguistic, pictoric, or natural, was not so much questioned, or rendered problematic, but effected. When this confidence starts fraying, or cracking, we begin to enter the Baroque. Now, words belong to men, and things to the world, and the world does not belong to men. When men try to relate words to things, they often err: there no longer is any divine guarantee. Similarity, the basis of Renaissance knowledge, is now an illusion, a potential pitfall. The unified world of the Renaissance has split into two. This discovery, this consciousness of the gap between the sign and the referent, between the world and our representations of the world, made Baroque art wary and ultimately pessimistic, and led it to search out and even to exaggerate the distance and differences between the different planes of reality, particularly the planes of the repre-sented and its representations. Góngora’s words, which envelop their objects in folds solely of their own making, Quevedo’s phrases, which make it vanish before our eyes in a metaphorical disappearing act; Cervantes’ characters, exchanging the signs of madness for those of sanity and viceversa, believing in what they read and disbelieving in what their eyes see, are different manifestations of the crisis in which Western man becomes fully conscious of the arbitrariness of the sign, comes to suspect the certainty of all knowledge and begins the scientific exploration of a world no longer a text written for him.
3- The neobaroque.
The baroque style of Góngora, mainly, was a model and inspiration for a number of Cuban writers such as José Lezama Lima, Severo Sarduy and Reynaldo Arenas, which would be grouped under the general label of the neobaroque. Before them, the baroque had inspired the Latin American Modernism of Rubén Dario and Leopoldo Lugones, whom Borges repeatedly calls “our (i.e. the Argentinean”) Quevedo”. The idea of a Baroque style has also been closely linked with the magic realism of Alejo Carpen-tier and Gabriel García Márquez. Indeed, a long standing critical argument, or critical myth, has consistently regarded the baroque style as connatural to the exuberance of tropical nature, both vegetable, animal and human. This assumption, apart from its obvious stereotyping, is historically inaccurate. The baroque frondosities of style were not born in the tropics but in the bare Castilian plains, if they had any relationship with nature, it was one not of imitation but of compensation. Severo Sarduy always insisted on the artificiality of the baroque style, his dominant metaphor being not the plumage of the jungle birds but the plumage of the female impersonator. But the temptation of a direct analogy is difficult to forego, and Borges himself falls prey to it: when commenting Lugones’ El imperio jesuítico, a study of the baroque Jesuit missions in the tropical region of Misiones, he says: “In his other books, his baroque style is not suited to his subject; in this one there is a natural affinity between the exuberance of the land-scape and that of his prose.”
Borges’ stylistic evolution decidedly took him away from the baroque style which he practiced in his early essays and in his first tales of A Universal History of Iniquity, towards a measured, economical style which can be aptly termed classical. As he says in his Conversations with Osvaldo Ferrari: “I have gradually drawn myself apart from Quevedo, and also, in the same manner, from Lugones. In both of them you can perceive their effort, it is as if they never flowed.” More often than not, his attitude to-wards baroque writing verges on animosity: “I have never found a sonnet by Quevedo or by Lugones without some ugliness in it; without at least one line in which the author had not incurred in the sin of vanity; because the baroque can be condemned on ethical grounds, it corresponds to the sin of vanity.” His famous definition of baroque style in his prologue to A Universal History of Iniquity: “I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities and borders on self-caricature… I would venture to say that the baroque is the final stage in all art, when art flaunts and squanders its resources.” has been taken by the Argentine neobaroque writers (notably the poet Néstor Perlongher) almost as a personal attack, as if Borges were using his portentous influence to disavow them.
But while Borges disaffiliates himself from baroque writing in so radical a way, he deepens and multiplies his baroque credentials in the level of what I have called ba-roque fictions. Many of Borges’ stories, and what’s more important, most of his best stories, make themselves at home in the multiple folds of the baroque, recreating Cer-vantes’ games and adding a few of his own to the list.
“Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote” is the most explicit of Borges’ homages to his master, and the first of his stories that can be termed a baroque fiction. The notion of a French writer of the XXth Century attempting to write an original work which is at the same time a verbatim replica of Cervantes’ text adds another fold to those envelop-ing both Cervantes’ and Avellanedas’ Don Quixotes, and adds another twist to the no-tion of a replica that might be more vivid than the original.
But Borges’ use of Cervantes’ baroque narrative dynamics is, as I hope to show, more widespread. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, for example, winds it way along the fiction/truth and reflection/object folds. Successive generations of scholars put together an encyclopedia of a parallel, imaginary world; eventually objects from this world start entering our own, eventually the fictional world will replace our own. The mere presence of motifs such as mirrors or pictures, by the way, is not enough to speak of baroque fictions: these motifs must also be structural plot devices, shifters between one world and the next. Dreams have of course been featured in literature from antiquity onwards, but what is properly baroque is the idea of dreams and waking life as narrative levels of equal entity, and thus interchangeable; the situation of a character who thinks he is wak-ing and is really dreaming, or vice-versa; a confusion in which the reader or spectator might also participate. It is unnecessary to emphasize the importance of dreams in Bor-ges’ work, so what I’d like to point out is the variety of figures he weaves with the twin strands of dreams and waking life, going from the chain of dreamers who are them-selves being dreamed by somebody else, as in “The Circular Ruins” and “The Golem”, to the Moebius strip of the two dreamers who dream each other into being, as in “The Other” and “August 25, 1983”.
The triple analogy between dreams, the theatre, and life, was a baroque topic ex-posed by Góngora, and Shakespeare, and presented on the stage by the latter, and also by the last of the great baroque Spanish playwrights, Calderón de la Barca. Borges as we all know wrote no plays, but at least two of his stories include dream plays, plays in which two successive acts present two successive levels of illusion (the action of the first act being revealed as a dream in the second act) and this within the encompassing illusion of the stage (these are “A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain” and “The Se-cret Miracle”). Baroque fictions have a weakness for dreams because these, together with a few other states (certain hallucinations, drug induced or not; extreme forms of psychosis) are one of the few forms of complete immersion in another plane of reality: while we dream we cannot become conscious of our waking life, if we do, we wake up; whereas when we participate in the illusion of the theatre, of the book, of the picture, of the reflection or of the daydream, we are simultaneously conscious of both planes.
Another form of total immersion is the fever-induced delirium, as in the poem “Isidoro Acevedo” in which Borges’ grandfather, dying in bed, gives himself a death more in accordance with what ought to have been, and imagines he is leading his men in a last cavalry charge. In “The Other Death”, Pedro Damián, who behaved like a coward in battle, asks God to send him back and give him a hero’s death. God cannot change the past, but he can change our memory of the past: those who remember Damián’s cowardice either die, or forget, or make up stories; and God’s fiction becomes our truth. Akin to both is the famous “The South”, in which the bookish Juan Dahlmann is, per-haps, spared a hospital death, to be, perhaps, awarded a death in duel: in this case the reader is also caught in the fold of delirium and waking consciousness, because in this reversible story, modeled on Henry James’ A Turn of the Screw, we can’t be sure if his heroic death takes place in the outside world or in his feverish brain.
The paradox of a memory so powerful that it can vie with the actuality of per-ception informs “Funes, His Memory”; and “The Immortal” explores the relationship between memory and personal identity in a man living for so long that he forgets who he was and remembers another man’s stories (and thus, the other man’s self) as his own.
A related paradox, that of a representation so complete that it either vies with the object or replaces it, is present in the map that covers the empire in “On Exactitude in Science”, and in the poem The Earth which Carlos Argentino Daneri tries to write in “The Aleph”. This story also includes that darling of baroque representation, the mise en abîme: “I saw the earth in the Aleph, and the Aleph once more in the earth and the earth in the Aleph.”
The “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero” plays three baroque games on one board. The Irish conspirators discover their leader is a traitor, and with his consent de-cide to turn him into a martyr. Consequently a play is written and performed, a play rich in elements lifted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Macbeth, a play in which the city becomes a stage, life a play and its inhabitants, knowingly or unknowingly, become its actors, and the incidents of this representation go down as history. In this story at least three baroque folds interact: Life copies art, the world becomes a stage and fiction becomes history.
Life also copies art in “The Gospel According to Mark”, in which a family of gauchos decide to bring the Passion of Christ to life by crucifying the young man who read passages of the New Testament to them.
Another baroque figure that is presented but not systematically exploited by Cervantes involves the folding of different planes of time, or space, or time-space conti-nuities, the dream sequence of the Montesinos Cave being perhaps the best example. Borges, on the other hand, offers a great variety of figures: time bifurcates in “The Gar-den of Forking Paths”, creating a number of parallel, convergent and divergent times, i.e. worlds; in “Truco”, in “Feeling in Death” and in “A New Refutation of Time” the opposite happens: two different moments in time, being undistinguishable, become one. “The Secret Miracle” explores the divergence between personal or subjective time and chronological time; in “The Other” and “August 25, 1983” time folds on itself, allowing two Borgeses of different ages to meet face to face.
These two latter stories center on a motive that Borges took not from the Ba-roque directly, but from its derivations in the Romantic movement: the motive of the double. In “The Other” an older Borges and his younger self sit on two ends of a bench which is at the same time in 1918 and 1969, in Geneva and in Cambridge, Massachu-setts; to add another fold to this time-space warp, one of them is dreaming and the other one is awake. It might be noted that the interest in the figure of the double is in the XIXth Century mainly moral or ethical: what fires the imagination of Stevenson, Poe, Dostoyevsky, Wilde and Conrad is the discrepancy between our private or instinctive self and our public, civilized or domesticated persona. In Borges, on the other hand, the interest is mainly metaphysical, and concerned with personal identity: Are the different selves we don over time one person or many? Can the ‘I’ hold over time? (“The Immor-tal” offers a taxative answer: given a period of time longer than the usual human lifespan, it can’t). Baroque fictions typically subordinate the ethical to the metaphysical: before determining whether my behavior is correct or incorrect, I have to decide in what plane of reality I stand. The ethics of action are not the same as the ethics of representa-tion; sins committed in dreams do not merit the same hell as those committed in waking life.
The mere presence of a double, by the way, does not automatically turn the work into what I here call a baroque fiction. Jekyll and Hyde are two aspects of one person, but they inhabit the same plane of reality: waking life, London, the XIXth C. But if the double appears in a mirror world, as in “William Wilson”; in a picture, as in the story of Dorian Grey; if the meeting of doubles involves the braiding of two times, two spaces and two mutually exclusive planes of consciousness, as in Borges’ “The Other”, the stories are typical baroque fictions.
Notice, by the way, that not all the stories I have mentioned can be classified as fantastic: neither “The South”, “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero”, “The Gospel Ac-cording to Mark”, “Feeling in Death” or “The Garden of Forking Paths” can be consid-ered fantastic according to any of the criteria current in their or our day. The model is once again Cervantes, who wrote the most complex, multy-layered and elaborate ba-roque fiction, the model for all the baroque fictions to come, without once resorting to the fantastic or the supernatural. This is not an unimportant distinction. Because at the core of my thesis lies the suspicion that what characterizes the work not only of Borges, but also of his friends, collaborators and followers Adolfo Bioy Casares, Silvina Ocam-po and Julio Cortázar is not the practice of fantastic literature, but the writing of ba-roque fictions.
Of these three other writers, the first two collaborated with Borges in developing this matrix, all three in expanding it into other fields. Bioy Casares, for example, would decidedly cross the line into science fiction, exploiting the paradoxes inherent in me-chanical reproduction in Morel’s Invention, in which the replica replaces the model; and, less successfully in A Plan for Escape. The story of his “The Celestial Plot” follows Leibniz and Blanqui in postulating the existence of multiple worlds, of parallel times and spaces, and explores the possibility of jumping between them. In stories such as this, the folds are so precise that the image that comes to mind is not that of the folds of cloth but that of the folding of paper in origami. Bioy Casares’ novel The Dream of Heroes explores the paradoxes inherent in divination, adding new twists to those al-ready offered by that most baroque of fictions the Ancient World bequeathed us: Oedi-pus Rex. In Bioy Casares’ novel, the time fold interacts with the dream/waking fold: the avoided future haunts the character’s dreams, and drives him to seek the fate he had initially and inadvertently escaped.
Bioy Casares took the opposition between baroque writing and baroque fiction further than Borges. In his case, the rule seems to apply that the more baroque the fic-tion, the less baroque the style and the more devoutly referential the language. Bioy Casares’ formula typically includes a mystery that grows more and more complex, and lengthy explanations at the end, often by a second narrator, in which every question is painstakingly explained, in the manner of the detective fiction of Poe, Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie. The Bioy Casares formula can be summed up as the conjunction of the world and laws of fantasy and science fiction, and the narrative devices of classical de-tective fiction.
Silvina Ocampo did not include a single fiction we could classify as baroque in her first book, Forgotten Voyage; her second book, The Autobiography of Irene, sug-gests a deliberate apprenticeship in the formulas developed by her husband Bioy Casares and in the fictions of their mutual friend Borges; one of them in particular, “The Impostor” is painstakingly written in the manner of Bioy. From The Fury, her third book, onwards, she develops her own type of baroque fiction: Ocampo’s folds are soft-er, more flexible; the borders between her worlds less clearly defined: fadeouts and fog predominate over pleats and dotted lines. Consistent with this is another difference: Ocampo does not explain at the end, and when she feels compelled to, does so in a few words. More often than not, neither the character nor the reader are able to decide whether their experience took place in a dream or in waking life, in a book or in life, in an imaginary or in a real world. Of these unreal worlds, the one she explored above all the rest was one shunned by both Borges and Bioy Casares, that of children’s fantasies and imagination: her fictions lodge themselves in the fold connecting the imaginary, magical, animated universe of the child – particularly within the sphere of games and play – and the objectified world of the adult. If in Borges’ writing the model for all ba-roque fictionalizations seems to be the dream, and the underlying logic of Bioy’s explo-rations is to be found in the logic of mechanical reproduction, in Ocampo the child’s imagination is the ultimate ratio of all her shufflings of the world of objects with the world of representations and signs.
Julio Cortázar shares Bioy Casares’ penchant for passages, galleries and bridges which allow us to pass from one world to the next, and also in the possibilities which mechanical reproduction opens up (as in “Blow Up” which inspired Antonioni’s very baroque fiction of the same title); he also shares Ocampo’s interest in the imaginary worlds of children, and her reluctance to provide lengthy explanations at the end: typi-cally Cortázar’s stories will include an ending at one time surprising and self explanato-ry, in the manner of Poe. Cortázar’s main interest is not so much in the nature of the two worlds in contrast, but in pinpointing the point where the fold folds, in the passages, or portals, between two worlds, and in the manner of bridging them. His transitions are often the most fluid, as exemplified in the masterly “Continuity of Parks” in which one of the unspoken and probably unconscious possibilities of the detective novel is finally realized: in truly Cervantean sense, Cortázar includes the man who holds the book in his hands into the text, and manages to write a crime story in which the reader is murdered.
Enough examples for the moment. Time for conclusions.
1. The first one has already been stated. What characterizes Borges and the three other Argentine writers I have centered my talk on is not so much the presence of the fantastic element, but the use of one or many baroque folds in the structuring of the plot. But it must be granted that baroque fictions, by putting two worlds in contact, and inverting our assumptions about the hierarchies and the causalities governing them, al-ways generates the sensation, the feeling, the flavor of the fantastic.
2. Baroque fiction tends to be in opposition to baroque writing. The ideal of the writers I have called ‘the fantastic four’ but now should start calling ‘the baroque four’ is a referential, economical, functional use of language. There is little or no room for language for its own sake, word play, or verbal excess. Exceptions, of course, exist. Calderón combines baroque writing with baroque fictional plots; in the neobaroque this combination can be found in the novels of Severo Sarduy.
If the influence of the Spanish Baroque on the Latin American literature of the XXth Century were to be measured solely in terms of baroque writing, the animosity or indifference shown towards it by Borges and his group would put this influence in ques-tion. But if we take baroque fictions into consideration, the close relationship between the two most important moments of literature in the Spanish language, the Spanish Golden Age and the Latin American XXth century, becomes even more evident.
3. Studies of the Argentine fantastic genre usually begin with the nineteenth century precursors, such as Juana Manuela Gorriti, the turn of the century practitioners such as Leopoldo Lugones and Horacio Quiroga, and try to move from these into Borges, Bioy Casares and the rest. In my opinion there is no such continuity or evolution, if I am right in supposing the defining factor in the literature of Borges and his followers is not the fantastic but the baroque element. It makes much better sense to pursue a discontinuity that jumps from Cervantes to Borges that a continuity that segues from Lugones and Quiroga into Borges and the rest. The matrix of the XXth Century Argentine fantastic is not the XIXth C. Argentine fantastic, but Borges’ reading of Cervantes. This net or ma-trix of baroque fictions drags in protobaroque fragments of more ancient literatures, such as the Chinese, or the Arabic; or postbaroque motifs from the German, English and North American romantic traditions, Orientalism included. The compilation of The An-thology of Fantastic Literature by Borges, Bioy Casares and Ocampo, in 1940, probably helped to put this matrix together, so that they could put it to work in creating original fictions.
4. The concept of baroque fiction might also help to clarify the difference between the Argentine fantastic and magic realism, two wholly different genres which sometimes are conflated or confused. The world of magic realism is not a divided world. It is always one: the ordinary and the fantastic do not exist as two separate, albeit interconnected planes of reality: they form a unified continuum: the cloth of magic realism is taut, it has no folds. That is why the fantastic appears without surprise: it is not an irruption but habit. It is not uncanny or strange, but familiar and pleasing. The world in which magic carpets are possible, girls float off into the sky and men with wings can land in your backyard is the same one in which we live our everyday lives. In a baroque fiction there are always two worlds at least. Furthermore, magic realism typically bypasses the question of the difference between the world and its representations: as a matter of fact, in most of the justifications offered, from Alejo Carpentier onwards, it is suggested that it is Latin American reality that is magical, and that these novels are a direct and unprob-lematic representation of it (thus the use of the word ‘realism’ or ‘real’ in the formula). Also, magic realism typically goes down with strong doses of baroque style.