I was reading a book today called Neo-Baroque: A Sign of the Times by Omar Calabrese (Princeton, 1992). Calabrese, an Italian semiologist, gives numerous examples of a prevailing ‘neo-baroque’ taste in today’s culture. Here are a couple of quotes that stood out as I was reading:
Early on in the book he defines ‘variation on a theme or style’ to be the ‘first principle of the neo-baroque aesthetic’. He elaborates by saying that ‘[Variation on a theme of style] is based on the general baroque principle of virtuosity. In every art virtuosity consists in the total flight from a central organizing principle, by means of a closely knit network of rules, toward a vast polycentric combination and a system based on its transformations.’
The book is full of these interesting observations on trends and taste and would be of interest to anyone involved in art, music, literature and media. The following quote is not only relevant to the past articles about time and music but, interestingly, relates directly to Photography too:
‘Another example of how we have moved beyond a threshold in out perception of time can be found in photography. We have become indifferent to so-called instantaneous techniques. And yet the ‘instants’ of our instantaneous photography are not what they were, but exist distinctly beneath our level of perception. Taking a photograph at a thousandth of a second makes it quite impossible to forecast the final photograph from what is seen through the lens. Nevertheless, having accumulated competence with this kind of technology, we are able to imagine the existence of a time and movement that are beyond our physical capacity of perception.’
Naturally, being a photographer, I found this intriguing – not least because the book was written in 1987 before the advent of the consumer digital camera, which has made photography more popular than ever – but because that ‘Baroque’ sense of time is something that links my interest in photography to music.
The rest of the book touches on various phenomena of contemporary culture including television series, break dancing and video games and highlights the overriding attitude of our age. It is undeniable that the rhythm and repetition of mass media and technology has influenced all of our thinking and all of these things affect our aesthetic choices, ‘however isolated we might consider ourselves to be in the ivory towers of the university campus, immune to the charms of Coca-Cola, more attuned to Plato than Madison Avenue’, as Umberto Eco puts it in his foreword!