Oddly perhaps, the term ‘baroque’ was apparently not used in connection with literature, as distinct from the visual arts and music, until the late nineteenth century and the publication of Renaissance und Baroque in 1888 by Heinrich Wölfflin (1964). However, it was only widely taken up in the 1920s and 30s, particularly in Germany (though Wellek  says that Valdemar Vedel, a Danish scholar used the term as early as 1914 – but this was, he thinks, ‘completely ignored’ due to its being Danish). Since then it has been applied both retrospectively to, for example, Shakespeare, Cervantes, the English metaphysical poets, Corneille and Racine and to modern and contemporary writers. Forkey (1959) says that Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Christopher Fry and W.H. Auden have all been labelled baroque; Shapiro (1993) places Nikolai Gogol within a baroque ‘milieu’. I would suggest that Jorge Luis Borges is quintessentially baroque as is the writer I discuss in more detail in this chapter, Thomas Pynchon10. Though there are certain stylistic attributes which turn up repeatedly in baroque writing such as parody, antithesis and oxymoron etc, Hatzfeld (1955, p.161) argues that to qualify as ‘baroque proper’ there must be a sense of the ontological doubt occasioned by the ‘tension between Galilean experience and Tridentine faith’, otherwise it is merely mannerism or what he calls baroquism. In contemporary terms this translates into a tension between a master narrative and its counter, for the baroque is always a subversion in some respect of a dominant orthodoxy. Baroque writing is characterised by ‘points of wit and quirks of epigram’ and other ‘puerilities’ as John Dryden (1693) famously said of the work of metaphysical poet Abraham Cowley in his Discourses on satire and epic poetry. Dr Johnson had it in for Cowley (and the other metaphysicals) too, writing in the Lives of the Poets (1905 , p.20): If, by a more noble and more adequate conception, that be considered as wit which is, at once, natural and new, that which, though not obvious, is, upon its first production, acknowledged to be just; if it be that, which he that never found it, wonders how he missed; to wit of this kind the metaphysical poets have seldom risen. Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they just; and the reader, far from wondering that he missed them, wonders more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found. Benedetto Croce (1946) calls it a ‘pestilant literature’, but this vulgar and excessive style, which frequently makes use of humour, witticism and conceit, rests on an
43 CHAPTER 4 intellectual basis that above all challenges orthodoxy. Jorge Luis Borges writes in the introduction to A universal history of iniquity (1988, p.4), ‘the baroque is intellectual, and Bernard Shaw has said that all intellectual labor is inherently humorous’ – though not always intentionally so. To the extent that qualitative research, can be said to involve intellectual labour, this legitimates the use of humour within a reflexive research methodology. In this chapter I discuss some specific rhetorical devices that are associated with baroque style and form but I also consider literary realism in relation to the vexed question of representation in qualitative research. I draw on this to establish a ‘baroque realism’ which informs the writing of research texts in participant self observation, exemplifying this through a discussion of the work of Thomas Pynchon, who seems to me to be the ultimate realist for the current age.
THE CRISIS OF SIMILARITY Forkey (1959, p.85) suggests that Wölfflin’s ‘five principles’ (a pictural rather than a linear development; convergence in time which brings together the complexity of subplots; an open and wide ranging form; a unity underlying the disparate themes; and a relative unclearness in the working through of these themes) can be brought together to give an ‘essence’ of the baroque ‘that could very well be reduced to one and expressed by the formula “unifying disunity”’ - a satisfyingly ambiguous term meaning both the denouement in which disunity is finally undone and/or a disunity which in its very lack of one-ness is unifying. There is in baroque literature a gathering of disparate elements in a complicated, enfolded convergence which however resists a unity of closure. The ‘unifying disunity’ ravels the threads – an enigmatic word meaning both to clarify by separating and to complicate by tangling. Baroque literary style represents the fold. A fold separates but juxtaposes an exterior and an interior, mediating between an outside and an inside. On the outside an excessive vulgarity of style, on the inside the interesting intellectual basis that is productive of and borne up by this excess; but also, in its very enfoldedness creating an oppositional tension between rational, classical, linearity and the complexity of the baroque world. The ontological uncertainty that haunts the baroque gives rise to a contest between illusion and reality that in the arts produces the trompe l’oeil and in literature theatricality and paradox, in both cases simultaneously fooling yet gratifying the senses. To the classical mind harmony, a sense of proportion, decorum, is everything. Rhetoric as a means to uncover truth demands that figurative language obey the principle of ‘suitability’ in order to preserve the greatest similarity between the trope and its referent. In this way, ‘suitability’ becomes an ideological constraint appealed to by the discourse of reason. The baroque transgresses this principle, producing an excess designed to bring about ‘sensations of heightened awareness which grasp the object in an ingenious fashion’ and in so doing produces an epistemological shift such that the baroque artist ‘compulsively views similarity as dissimilarity, harmony as disharmony’ (Spieker, 1995, p.277). Spieker goes on, ‘by representing the similar as that which is also dissimilar, the harmonious as that