Finale: The Radical, the Uprooted, and Art that Baroques

Numerous concrete dwellings and concepts of home emerge through an historico-philosophical study of Ruzzante’s theatre practice. Frequently, Ruzzante’s dialogues, and even some of his works that might register as more traditional plays (with a plot, multiple characters, and so on), featured a character who had been displaced from his home. In the Moschetta, Ruzzante fought to win back the heart of his lover whose empty stomach has led her to other men. Unfortunately, he ends up locked out of his own house while his lover and one of those other men have sex and mock him. As a soldier in the Reduce, Ruzzante’s conscription into the army destroys any semblance of a stable life and, even when he finally returns to his house, the scars of the horrible scenes from the battlefield leave him with a permanent sense of disorientation. Then there is the one remaining sketch from Betia that features three houses standing side by side, thus drawing attention to, among other things, the ways in which local Paduans negotiated the complicated relationship between public and private space, between quotidian, civic performance and domestic politia.

In addition to these formal attributes that run through Ruzzante's works and spring to life through an aesthetic and theatrical act of creation, historical and material places such as the Palazzo Ducale, Ca’ Trevisan, and the Villa Barco, accompany each of his performances. The merger of the aesthetic dimension of the home, which appears repeatedly as an insecure interiority left open to the exterior not only by windows but by social crises, and the historical dimension of the private house, which became the locale for the political act of taking place, produces a tension between Ruzzante’s mobility and his rootedness. Forced into a kind of perpetual mobility by the demands placed on itinerant acting troupes during the sixteenth century, Ruzzante also worked to root himself and thrive wherever he was invited by inflating his portable territory. To phrase this claim as a question: is there anything radical about Ruzzante’s theatre practice? Was this Paduan performer a kind of dissident? Did his theatre practice have any impact on the numerous social injustices plaguing his constituents?

The idea of radicality itself presents a problem. In the present day, the radical is one who flings him or herselfto the fringes ofthe acceptable. The radical is the avant-garde, the marching frontlines of a politically conscious art movement. But, as Raymond Williams reminds us, the radical was once something entirely different. Its earliest usage was linked to its etymological grounding: thus, in Italian (via Latin), radicare was (and still is) to root (Williams 251-252). In that framework, dogma can be radical because it is the set of foundational beliefs that grounds a religious sect to its Faith, but an innovator or “liminoid individual,” pace Victor Turner, carving out new means of expression is something altogether different. Instead of grounding anything, those innovators clash with dogma and seek to set a new course through whatever practice in which he or she engages. I argue that, in a peculiar way, Ruzzante belongs to the oldest meaning of radical. He roots, thereby setting foundations that will support a territory in which he can dwell. In the scenographic and scenobotanical dimensions of his theatre practice, Ruzzante sews (and sows) himself to the land of his birth, Padua. Thus, whenever and wherever Ruzzante took place, he rooted himself and inflated around himself his portable territory, thereby reclaiming either land for Padua or a freedom of movement that belonged to a way of life that Padua had once extolled.

Yet this rooting that made Ruzzante radical, in the sense of radicare, doubled as a gesture that indexed the uprooting of all that Ruzzante held sacred. Ruzzante’s acts of taking place were conditioned by a world turned upside down. Not accidentally, this very image appeared in the Prima Oratione when Ruzzante told the Cardinal that, even if he had the power to choose, he would never take the job of Pope since he would not want to be the master of this “whole reversal world” (Ruzante, Teatro 1194).29 Ruzzante painted the same picture again in the Seconda Oratione when he explained that, no matter what, man, woman, and “all the reversal world” would collaborate to ensure that all necessary natural events come to fruition, even when the event seemed unnatural like the onset of freezing weather in the middle of August (1208).30 In the prologue to his play L’Anconitana (c.1534), Ruzzante discussed with his audience the importance of loving one another during times of war because without love no animal in “the whole upside down world” would ever be fruitful, and therefore everything would disappear (Ruzante, L’Anconitana40-41).31 And the phrase appeared in its most insidious invocation coming from the mouth of Bilora, the character from the dialogue ofthe same name, whose anger as a cuckold drives him to murder an upper-class Venetian man onstage. In that performance, perhaps the only one to display a murder onstage at any time during the sixteenth century (with the possible exception of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1599), the main character worried that his lover and his nemesis had conspired to turn everything upside down on him and eventually succumbed to his worry and descended into the mad rage that led to the murder (Ruzante, Teatro 574). Whenever Beolco rolled out that picture of the world upside down, the image designated a state of affairs that caused all certainty to dissolve beneath uncertainty, all permanence to cede to impermanence, and every rooted belief to fall out of the very ground in which it was lodged.

According to Jose Antonio Maravall, this image of the upside down world lay at the heart of the culture of the baroque. He seized on the image because “if one [could] speak of the world upside down it [was] because it [could] be right-side up” (Maravall 152). The view of the world arose with a type of historical consciousness that Maravall found in seventeenth-century Spain where the social disturbances “certain groups underwent in their position and function created a feeling of instability, which translated into a view of a staggering disorder” (152). This same worldview accommodates Ruzzante’s affinity with the peasants who had become displaced in the first few decades of the 1500s after Venetian merchants shifted their attentions from sea routes to land holdings and began to acquire land in the Veneto at extremely low cost because famine and drought had forced the laborers who owned that land to sell. The peasants who had built their identities on the land itself lost those identities when they sold the farms their families had worked for decades. Ruzzante’s peculiar act of taking place that simultaneously enacted a rooting within the innermost private spaces and registered an uprooting of a rural way of life would be, in Maravall’s terms, a baroque phenomenon.

Baroque it was, but in the case of Ruzzante and the view of the world his theatre practice makes visible, Maravall’s thesis does not go far enough. For Ruzzante, the upside down world was not simply a reminder that things had once been right-side up. For him, the new order of things obliterated any notion of a world right-side up. The images of the reversal world offered by Ruzzante stemmed from an even more complicated and topsy-turvy concept of snaturale, discussed in Chapter 3. Invoked to identify the overtaking of Padua’s nature by Venetian culture, snaturale also marked the rejection from the earth of everything that was meant to exist there, including Beolco/Ruzzante himself since his theatre practice had roots in Paduan territory. In Beolco’s scenography of the world turned upside-down, the more permanent and necessary one’s link to the land, the more tenuous and superfluous that link became.32

As Maravall’s theory suggested, it is possible that the appearance of the upside down world throughout Ruzzante’s works registered a type of budding historical consciousness in the performer. Following Theodor W. Adorno, I define that consciousness as that thinking which was “concentrated in the indispensable reflection on what [was] and what [was] no longer possible, on the clear insight into techniques and materials and how they fit together” (Adorno, “On Tradition” 81). Those techniques were the specific disciplinary practices enforced by ecclesiastical law and Venetian Republican overreach that Ruzzante pointed out and attempted to reform in the Prima Oratione, and the materials were the lives and bodies of a specific swath of the population on whose behalf Ruzzante addressed the Cardinal.

What makes Ruzzante’s theatre and even his historical consciousness baroque is not, however, simply the visual schema one can analyze within his scenography; rather, the baroque dimension of Ruzzante’s performances emerges by thinking through his entire theatre practice, his sce- nobotanical theatre practice, as an historical objectile. To treat Ruzzante’s life and works as a bundled and static object, sutured in place by the collated and bound texts of all his works, is to stabilize a much more dynamic historical process. To re-animate his life and works, to excavate the complex spatial multiplicity of theatres within theatres and gardens within gardens embedded there, and to understand Ruzzante’s signature method of acting out by tactically taking place, one must stitch together a wily assortment of historical sources. By collecting the first-person accounts of Carnevale parades, the clothes on the marching performers, the patches on sleeves, the spatial layouts of palaces and villas, and the gestures of reform produced by Ruzzante’s letters and orations, it is possible to inject movement back into Ruzzante-as-historical-subject. That moving subject, who is also the object of analysis here, becomes the Baroque objectile.

Deleuze theorized the objectile as the density from which erupted the baroque point of view:

The new status of the object no longer refers its condition to a spatial mold— in other words, to a relation of form-matter—but to a temporal modulation that implies as much the beginnings of a continuous variation of matter as a continuous development of form. [... ] The object here is manneristic, not essentializing: it becomes an event. (Deleuze, The Fold 19)

To triangulate these moving objects that have become free of their spatial molds, Deleuze implemented a line of thought that lead him to the formula “something = x (anamorphosis),” cited in the previous chapter (20). Again, through this formulation, any “point” of view becomes “a place, a position, a site, a ‘linear focus’,” or a space of unfolding (19). The baroque point of view is not something that someone possesses but rather an active milieu at which one arrives. “The point of view is not what varies with the subject, at least in the first instance; it is, to the contrary, the condition in which an eventual subject apprehends a variation (metamorphosis)” (20).

This metamorphosis shimmers within Ruzzante’s scenographic (de)terri- torialization(s). After Ruzzante marched into the Palazzo Ducale or into the Villa Barco, he put his root down. Once planted, by way of the Paduan dialect, Ruzzante delimited a separate space for himself within the private space ofthe home in which he performed. This spatial production unfolded a viewpoint that, frankly, no member of his audience wanted to see or to occupy for themselves. The viewpoint he produced within those spaces revealed an entire territory, a melodic landscape that produced a dissonant counter-point for the benefit or discomfort (depending on how one perceives it) of those in attendance, a cutting satire, a Ha-Ha, a redesigned spalliere a verdure. Through his direct addresses, a line of sight or linear focus opened out onto the world beyond the urban space of Venice proper or the massive wall surrounding, for example, Caterina Cornaro’s villa. From Beolco’s subject position as Ruzzante and through the viewpoint he opened through this theatre practice, one sees the ejection of peasants from the land they worked, the lives of enforced sobriety in which even the permitted times for eating were prescribed by absent authority figures, in short, an expansive vista of a world transfigured by Church and State powers. In addition to opening that viewpoint, Ruzzante also attempted to create a new one, one that depicted a utopian world modeled on the seven points of reform offered in Prima Oratione. Of course, that utopia never materialized because, from the subject position of Cardinal Marco Cornaro and those in power, the transfiguration of the world proposed by Ruzzante was simply laughable.

For us in the present, however, what precisely do these performances make visible? By considering the events of Ruzzante’s taking place as the aggregate or collage of his theatrical offerings, I argue that the name for Ruzzante’s brand of theatre deserves not a noun but a verb, and, more than that, an infinitive verb capable of registering the infinite potential of his theatre’s effect. Perhaps “to produce-alternate-viewpoints,” or, as I have been saying in this chapter, “to take-place,” or even “to baroque.” With the latter, I would add that Ruzzante did not make baroque art; rather, the historical conditions of the art made him and, as such, his art baroque.

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