Paul Banham, one of my music professors at the University of Utah, once said that baroque music sounded like an attempt to get somewhere one has always been. This sentence has stuck with me for over 40 years because it describes so much of my personal journey.
I've always looked for new ways to experience the world, get closer to nature and understand relationships on a deeper level, but every advancement I've made, in retrospect, seems superficial. All of these attempts were like getting in touch with things that were always there. In trying to go beyond mere existence and find new ways of being and experiencing the world, I think I have become quite baroque.
Baroque artists between 1550 and 1750 had to look beyond themselves for expression because they were following such impressive "acts" as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. To "reach beyond themselves" in an artistic sense, meant to revolt against Renaissance ideals; to depart from an established order, much as I have done by rejecting certain aspects of my society in search of a more meaningful one.
The baroque period has been described by William Fleming in Arts and Ideas as one "...in which the artists cultivated eccentricity and reveled in their inner conflicts. They found excitement in breaking established rules and violating artistic assumptions. For the baroque artist, the adaptation of an affected manner arose out of the breakdown of an ideal order."
To me, much of this description sounds like a diagnosis of schizophrenia. In describing the baroque style, Fleming says, "Naturalism gave way to the free play of the imagination; classical composure yielded to nervous movement; a clear definition became a jumble of contorted figures; symmetry and focus on a central idea were replaced by off-balanced illusions."
Any wikipedia definition will tell you that schizophrenia is a distorted sense of reality, bizarre thought patterns, disturbance of thought and language, and withdrawal from society.
In the baroque era, the notion that space on a canvas or notes on a staff could be filled with such varied, eccentric possibilities may have been the result of Copernicus's revolutionary theory of a solar system in which the earth revolved around the sun. Galilea's telescope further enabled baroque man to hold a new view of himself in the universe. This strange, new, moving universe did not have man (or earth) as its center. Faced with the dissolution of the framework from which baroque man existed, he was forced to conclude that he was not the center, only a part. This fragmentation was expressed in his art.
In this respect, the excessive ornamentation seen in baroque art and heard in music of the era, could be an expression of that vain attempt to get someplace man has always been. Baroque man in the universe was a fragmentation of a whole, not a central theme. Instead of writing single notes of music, he wrote florid passages of trills, turns, and countrapuntal diversities in a frantic attempt to distinguish himself in a nebulous world. As an artist, he painted obscure, ill-defined forms, reflecting his status in the universe.
Many of my friends have described me as being "all over the place" with my artistic and literary expressions. My baroque, schizophrenic reaction to the world may be a reflection of my status in the ever-expanding universe; a universe that, as physicists tell us, is steadily becoming more disorganized; gradually moving toward chaos. Cosmos aside, I have wanted to escape the chaos of a society that seems at odds with my search for esoteric truths.
My library is full of books that talk about ego death and mystic oneness with all things. Could mystic oneness be finally getting to that place we have always been? On the days I come close to feeling "at one" with my surroundings and relationships, everything seems to come together. My family is good. My friends are good. Everything is exhileratingly complete. Then things inevitably begin to break down. How do you sustain bliss? What happens after the all-time, end-it-all culminating experience? If you'll pardon the pun, after The Big Bang in the universe, didn't everything break apart, become the random stability that we know as the universe today? Isn't it natural for elation to fracture after culminating moments of oneness with earth, friends, and self?
Man has always had schizophrenic reactions to his environment, whether or not someone was there to label the symptoms. We're all mannered, ornamented and baroque in our reaction to life. Our "place" while peripheral in the universe, is central in our consciousness and therefore, open to vast and diverse interpretation. Perhaps the challenge is to find a stabilizing grace, symmetry and perfection to all this disorder. Like baroque artists, we can express, in our own schizophrenic ways, that there is no single "correct" reality; that distortion is as natural as the normal appearance of things.