Do-it-yourself culture and… the Baroque!

‘Life has to be made and, therefore, it is important to know how one makes it.’

The above quote could well be the motto of any do-it-yourself movement. It recalls, for instance, Chris Kelty’s description of the making of ‘recursive publics’ among free software developers. The ‘public’ here is no simple moral or virtuous domain. One does not ‘do’ free software as a prescription of morality, the way, for example, one may opt for buying fair trade goods. Rather, we might say that as a recursive public, the culture of free software represents a ‘step from a morality to a system of morals, or let us simply say to a reflection on practical behavior’.

In fact, the two quotes above are citations from José Antonio Maravall’s  extraordinary work on the culture of the baroque. Baroque science has often been singled out for its culture of instrumentalia. Remember telescopes and microscopes, and the larger fascination with what Barbara Maria Stafford and Frances Terpak have called ‘devices of wonder’.

But today I would like draw attention, however, to the ‘do-it-yourself’ dimension of Baroque culture, as outlined by Maravall. I let the following passage speak for itself:

“‘all reality possessed this condition of not being done, of not having been finished, which undoubtedly facilitates our understanding of this new baroque taste for lines of loosely related words, unfinished painting, architecture that eludes its precise outlines, emblematic literature that requires the reader to bring the development of a thought to an end on his or her own account. One who contemplates a painting or reads some Empresas or follows the lines of a building with one’s gaze has to collaborate in finishing the work – or at least one’s experience of that work. In the same way, the human being – who in the singular, individual human being – has to proceed making his or her own self. “One is not born made,” said Gracián. And with that the fundamental condition of the plasticity or moldability of the human being remains affirmed: by encountering himself or herself always in a process of realization the individual can act on the self, and others can act formatively upon this individual. Life has to be made and, therefore, it is important to know how one makes it… Human beings work as potters on their own selves and on others… This is what represents a work such as Gracian’s and its most radical significance: the step from a morality to a system of morals, or let us simply say to a reflection on practical behavior.”

Maravall, J.A. 1986. Culture of the Baroque: analysis of a historical structure (trans.) T. Cochrane. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, p. 169

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