Aesthetica Preprint, 68 (August 2003)

Salvatore Tedesco: The Sirens of Baroque

The present study argues that the complex discussion that in 17th-century Italy surrounded the relationship between the disciplines of rhetoric and dialectic, represents a most significant prelude to the birth of modern aesthethics.
The analysis of some of the key figures of the Italian baroque period (Pellegrini and Tesauro in particular) shows the nexus between the above-mentioned theoretical debate and the great 16th- and 17th-century concern with the systematization of knowledge. At the same time, the study of some of the most representative Italian baroque theoreticians who focussed on the issues of wit, sharpness, and paralogism, foregrounds the dramatic change in the functions that Italian baroque authors attributed to rhetoric. More specifically, in the case of Tesauro this change led to a new, "witty" rhetoric with complex philosophical valences.
Ultimately, it can be argued that, because of the fundamental importance of rhetorical and argumentative strategies, the same new theoretical space imagined by 17th-century Italian authors came, essentially, to be shared in the following century by the paradigmatic exponents of modern aesthetics.