Horror and the Baroque
[a short story]
I couldn’t take my eyes off it at the Met, he said his friend had said. He did, he said this, my friend said this, he said. How long ago now I should be able to say, he said his friend had said, but did not say where he said it or when he did. Caravaggio’s dead Christ, he said his fiend had said, an enormous greater than life-sized Christ in his Deposizione, he said his friend had continued. The visiting Vatican Collection was in New York, at the Met, only representative pieces, the whole of it in the Vatican, impossible to let loose.
Yes, it was tremendous, both in size and impact, he said his friend had said. The painting was of course huge. It was taller than I was, he said. It was wide enough to hide two of me or more, he said. He said he had seen it too. Have you ever seen it even in reproduction—I cannot imagine continuing to talk to anyone who had no idea what the hell I was talking about when it came to what interests me, what I know, what I like love have passion for, interests too remote for anyone I knew before . . . it does not matter to this telling when; it could not be significant for anyone reading this just what time I am talking about. Everyone who does not stagnate in living has a number of times in one’s life where the point of no return has been reached, where there is no going back, the prodigal cannot come home, not really, not if his prodigality has amounted to anything . . . I think, sometimes believe with a conviction that substitutes for knowledge.
Christ was so tremendous, as I have said herein that he said his friend had said, walking into that gallery at the Met, how big it was, is, the dimensions of him on that canvas . . . Larger than life-sized, his friend had said. And strangely vibrant although dead, I recall he said his friend had added after a sufficient pause for greater effect, or so we might assume.The vitality of Christ represented dead on that Canvas—there was no mistaking that He was dead, but also no mistake in seeing feeling knowing His vitality still.
The naturalism of the figures was astounding, and nothing like it had ever been achieved in painting before him, Caravaggio, I said. In statuary, perhaps–but then statues were three-d, I remember having added one time in a conversation with whom I forget.
The spiritualism–what could this mean to the age of the Baroque, not ours, where the term means nothing and too many things, no handle on our words, our use of language a lot like throwing dice? The mood–what could mood mean other than mode, from which it comes? There are declarative moods and moods of doubt we call subjunctive; but then these are linguistic references, overly determined. Chiaroscuro painting meant what–light and dark, opposing forces, oppositional placement? Contrapuntal arrangement, as in Vivaldi and Bach? They were later, both composers. Does chiaroscuro have anything to do with point counterpoint composition in music?
The dead Christ, as I have said he said his friend had said, was enormous; the light, the use of shadows, a dark circumambient perimeter, black, all fades to black as in German Expressionist cinema, he recalled his friend having said one time or another, in these or words similar to these, as he would have repeated himself may times about this. As in Gothic horror novels, I recall him having said he is friend had said–yes, he said his friend had said that there was a lot of blacking out in Gothic horror from the 18th century.
Caravaggio uses black in his paintings in a way reminiscent of the dark, or the areas of black, used by De La Tour in his “Penitent Magdalenes”–there are more than one–and later by Fritz Lang, particularly in his film M, I say, have said I cannot tell you how many times about Lang and Toland . . .
Is there something Gothic about the crucifixion? I have asked. Of course there can be, I imagine I remember thinking I have said.
Something Gothic (as we understand the word from the fiction of the late 18th century, the style, the form, the genre-determined delineations that we find in works such as The Castle of Otranto, Vathek, Manfred, The Cenci, Frankenstein, even large swaths of Wuthering Heights) is present in German Expressionist films of the silent 20s, recurring in American films of the 30s, particularly horror films such as The Mummy or Dracula, itself from the Late Victorian Gothic revival which was a manipulation of the aesthetics of the High Middle Ages, in architecture, particularly. This, of course, was in another and earlier animation, present in the cult of sensibility of the 18th century, a kind of medievalism present in what was later called Gothic fiction. Of course, this medievalism was a contrived sense of what it might be to be medieval or use medieval motifs, a number of them remaining and persisting throughout what we call Romanticism. Do you need to know that this is me thinking in exposition others might find unnecessary or intrusive, as divergent from any narrative thread you could find, if you used a microscope.
But Dracula finds itself firmly in fin-de-siecle Victorian English/Irish literature as it also does in a continuum of Gothic fiction, perhaps even as a precursor to all horror stories as we understand the genre of horror today, or over the last century? Moreover, the overlap we see among these artistic currents? movements? negotiated agreements among artists of particular times and places, worldview and spirits of the time, whatever have we in words to express that Gothic Horror of the 18th century and the Baroque in painting and German Expressionist films all share certain features that are alike, motifs, metaphors, signs and symbols . . . I say with conviction.
I insist on we when I want you to consider opinions I conceive in a posed omniscience; of course, I do not want you to side step my intellectual manias; I want you and I together in the more comfortable, and perhaps the more usefully rhetorically editorial we–yes, you and I see these overlaps among the movements (?) I have herein listed.
We understand they have points of contact, even if you have never before considered them or even imagined them, I say and say as I do myself from myself actually to myself in one or another journals entries like these everywhere, collect my journals and find my aesthetic philosophy, you could say, as my friend has said, but has not said that his friend, not mine, had said.
Caravaggio and me . . .