In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Theoretical and Critical Works
  • Recent Critical Approaches and Debates
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies

Latin American Studies Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
Michael J. Horswell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0004


The Spanish American Baroque, also known as the New World Baroque and the Barroco de Indias, has gone through an important critical revision in the last few decades as part of a wider reconsideration of colonial Latin American cultural production and, more recently, as part of a scholarly focus on transatlantic and hemispheric studies. An integral element of the Counter-Reformation in Europe, the Baroque traveled to the Americas to become one of the central literary and artistic expressions of the new identities being forged in the viceregal capital cities and as well as on the more remote frontiers of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. The exuberance of these aesthetic traditions is mirrored in the equally dynamic theoretical and critical paradigms inspired by the cultural production and the debates on the sociopolitical as well as cultural uses and consequences of the Baroque and Neobaroque representational styles. Critics have recognized the historical Baroque as both an imperial imposition on the subjugated Spanish colonies and as a more localized expression of resistance and creole consciousness, leading most scholars to understand that there are multiple Baroques in the Americas: those that reflect and mimic metropolitan power and prestige through the ornate literary and artistic styles of a “transplanted” European Baroque, financed by the exploitation of African and indigenous American labor, and the contestatory artistic interventions by marginalized Africans, Indians, Mestizos, and, above all, Creoles. The New World Baroque, then, is understood as the result of transatlantic colonization, slavery, and transculturation, and is often posited as the foundational literary movement of Latin America. If in Europe the historical Baroque was the aesthetic response to imperial crisis and religious schisms, in Latin America it became the mode by which colonial subjects began complex processes of identification, performative practices initiated in the 16th and 17th centuries and that continue to this day. The “return of the Baroque” in the 20th and 21st centuries, then, is often explained, in part, as an artistic and ideological reaction to the unfinished and continuing production and performance of identity in Latin America. Others see the recurrent Baroque elements in culture as an “ethos” or “spirit” that inevitably disrupts cyclical pulls to orderly, classical aesthetics, while other critics resist both this approach and the identity models to ground their readings in sociopolitical analysis of the early modern period’s Baroque and the later Neobaroque as a challenge to, or crisis of, that unfinished modernity.

Foundational Theoretical and Critical Works

Fueled by impulses of nationalism, and in some cases pan-Americanism, critics such as Picón-Salas 1994, José Lezama Lima, and Leonard 1959 (cited under Baroque of the Viceroyalty of Nueva España) directed our attention to nuanced ways in which Creole writers expressed a consciousness of difference in the creation of a unique cultural aesthetics in studies that captured the complexity of the New World Baroque societies and their cultural production with what might be considered proto-nationalist tendencies. Picón-Salas 1994 coined the term “Barroco de Indias” and introduced ideas that would be more fully developed by later scholars, including the recognition of indigenous contributions and transculturation to the cultural production of the period, cultural syncretism, the “hybrid” nature of the creole elites’ cultural production, and the important contributions of the Jesuits to the development of “creole consciousness.” Rama 1996 examines the role of “letrados,” those Lezama Lima famously called the “Señores Barrocos,” in the creation of elite cultures that excluded the popular classes. This approach emerges from Maravall 1986, a characterization of the peninsular Baroque culture as urban, appealing to the masses, and directed by elites, an understanding of Baroque aesthetics as the will to form an early modern hegemony in the context of the Counter-Reformation. González Echevarría 1993, in a series of essays on both peninsular Baroque masters and their American counterparts, argued that the Hispanic Baroque was the culture’s first expression of modernity, and that this modernity had its inception in the Celestina, whose motifs influenced writers of the historical Baroque and Neobaroque. Beverley 1988 and Beverley 1997 call into question the celebratory reception of the Baroque as the region’s foundational literature and reminds the reader of Rama’s central thesis on the elitism of the lettered city and goes on to suggest that by celebrating the Baroque as the original cultural tradition, continually renovated and reinvented over time, the exclusionary nature of the colonial Baroque is erased and we may therefore become distracted from contemporary ways Neobaroque aesthetics continue to be exclusionary. Ecuadorian philosopher Bolívar Echeverría explored the relationship between the Baroque and modernity in Echeverría 1998, positing a “Baroque ethos” that emerges with modernity and is resistant to capitalism and as potentially expressive of a utopian postcapitalist modernity. Moraña 1998 called for a rereading of the American Baroque that takes into account the relative independence of the vice regal societies and their unique cultural formations, to be interpreted on their own terms: as a discourse of rupture, vindication, and of “creole marginality.”

  • Beverley, John. “Nuevas vacilaciones sobre el barroco.” Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 28 (1988): 215–227.

    DOI: 10.2307/4530398

    Article in which Beverley questions the arguments of those early critics who see the Baroque as a foundational literature and expression of collective identity in Latin America by pointing out the contradictory nature of the Baroque as both an “instrument of alienation and liberation” (p. 225).

  • Beverley, John. Una modernidad obsoleta: Estudios sobre el barroco. Los Teques, Venezuela: Fondo Editorial ALEM, 1997.

    Collection of essays that lays out the two major alternative interpretations of the Baroque: a structure of control versus an expression of heterodoxy. Beverley shows how Góngora’s Soledades was a heterodox take on Spanish imperialism, an aspect of Gongorismo that becomes attractive to New World writers and offers them an imperial language of differentiation that founds the elite “Lettered City.” He concludes with reflections on the crisis of literature as representation and its relationship with the New World Baroque.

  • Echeverría, Bolívar. La modernidad de lo barroco. Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 1998.

    Philosophical essay in which Echeverría develops his notion of the “Baroque ethos” that emerges from Latin America’s colonial period of cultural mestizaje as a transhistorical worldview that is creatively resistant to capitalism.

  • González Echevarría, Roberto. Celestina’s Brood: Continuities of the Baroque in Spanish and Latin American Literature. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.

    With a penetrating focus on language and identity, the monstrous and the bizarre, originality and tradition, this book explores the Baroque as an expression of modernity in Hispanic culture on both sides of the Atlantic. González Echevarría’s itinerary encompasses the historical Baroque and the Neobaroque from the Celestina to Severo Sarduy.

  • Maravall, José Antonio. Culture of the Baroque: Analysis of a Historical Structure. Translated by Terry Cochran. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

    Translation of La cultura del barroco (Madrid: Ariel, 1975). An indispensable touchstone for theorists of the Baroque, Maravall expanded the term’s until then primary application as an artistic and literary style, and redefined “Baroque” as a way of understanding the entire culture of the historical period of 17th-century Spain, one which he understood as subjugated to the power centers of the times, notably the Spanish aristocracy, the state, and the church.

  • Moraña, Mabel. Viaje al silencio: Exploraciones del discurso barroco. Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México, 1998.

    An important theoretical reconsideration of the Spanish American Baroque grounded in readings of how colonial subjects negotiate imperial hegemony from subaltern positions. Moraña concludes the book with an appraisal of these and other Creole writers’ own reception and construction of what would become the “colonial canon,” which she theorizes as expressions of autonomous processes of identification and fundamental to an independent counterdiscourse in colonial historiography.

  • Picón-Salas, Mariano. De la conquista a la independencia: Tres siglos de historia cultural hispanoamericana. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1994.

    A precursor of the cultural criticism practiced by many active scholars of the Baroque, Picón-Salas not only coined the term “Barroco de Indias” but also presented the thesis that would later be developed by many critics that this literature expressed a “creole consciousness” that led to the 19th-century independence movements. The fourth chapter of the book, “From European to Mestizo: The First Forms of Transculturation” (pp. 48–74), is an early application of Fernando Ortiz’s concept to the understanding of the New World Baroque. Originally published in 1944.

  • Rama, Angel. The Lettered City. Translated by John Charles Chasteen. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

    A now classic explanation of how the cities of colonial Latin America became the sites for the production of the New World Baroque by literate elites and an early characterization of the power relations at work in the Baroque, the marginalization of non-alphabetic forms of cultural production, and the recognition of the “diglossia” and “heterogeneity” at the heart of Latin American colonial literature and culture.

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