Baroque Modernity: An Aesthetics of Theater (Paperback)

Baroque Modernity: An Aesthetics of Theater (Paperback)

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A groundbreaking study on the vital role of baroque theater in shaping modernist philosophy, literature, and performance.

2021 Winner of the Helen Tartar First Book Award (American Comparative Literature Association)

Baroque style—with its emphasis on ostentation, adornment, and spectacle—might seem incompatible with the dominant forms of art since the Industrial Revolution, but between 1875 and 1935, European and American modernists connected to the theater became fascinated with it. In Baroque Modernity, Joseph Cermatori argues that the memory of seventeenth-century baroque stages helped produce new forms of theater, space, and experience around the turn of the twentieth century. In response, modern theater helped give rise to the development of the baroque as a modern philosophical idea.

The book focuses on avant-gardists whose writing takes place between theory and performance: philosophical theater-makers and theatrical philosophers including Friedrich Nietzsche, Stéphane Mallarmé, Walter Benjamin, and Gertrude Stein. Moving between page and stage, this study tracks the remnants of seventeenth-century theater through modernist aesthetics across an array of otherwise disparate materials, including modern opera, Bertolt Brecht's Epic Theater, poetic tragedies, and miracle plays. By reexamining the twentieth century's engagements with Gianlorenzo Bernini, William Shakespeare, Claudio Monteverdi, Calderón de la Barca, and other seventeenth-century predecessors, the book delineates an enduring tradition of baroque performance. Along the way, Cermatori expands our familiar narratives of "the modern" and traces a history of theatricality that reverberates into the twenty-first century.

Baroque Modernity will appeal to readers in a wide array of disciplines, including comparative literature, theater and performance, art and music history, intellectual history, and aesthetic theory.


"This wondrous work shows that modernism has been mistakenly and consequentially contrasted with the baroque in the service of a secularization narrative and a progressive narrative of periodization. The florid pre-history of spare modernism turns out never fully to fall away and, in Cermatori's splendid account, even the queer theoretical distinction between performative speech acts and theatricality turns out to be a result of that disavowal―and return―of the baroque. A brilliant and unsettling book!" — JUDITH BUTLER, University of California, Berkeley, author of The Force of Non-Violence: An Ethico-Political Bind


"Cermatori's book has the advantage of proceeding from a fact that is both readily acknowledged and traditionally undertheorized: that the quality of being 'baroque' still exerts tremendous conceptual thrall over the aesthetic production of modernity. Baroque Modernity is a deeply necessary and timely intervention―a genuine tour de force." — ADRIAN DAUB, Stanford University, author of Four-Handed Monsters: Four-Hand Piano Playing and Nineteenth-Century Culture


"Highly intelligent, lucid, and elegantly wrought, Baroque Modernity enlivens the history it describes and speaks to epistemological concerns. Cermatori has a good eye and ear for the languages of the stage, amply demonstrated in his discussion of baroquely modernist spectacle, a counter-Wagnerian take on total theater." — SPENCER GOLUB, Brown University, author of Heidegger and Future Presencing (The Black Pages)

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Johns Hopkins University Press (November 16, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 322 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1421441535
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1421441535
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.1 pound
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.73 x 9 inches

All copies are new.