A baroque landscape. A desert mind.


Imagine two lines. Let me use these two lines to explain a fragment of my understanding of a (contemporary) baroque perspective as an omnipresent mode of thought and view on life in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, but which also pre-existed and continues to exist into the present. One line can be a body, the other a mind; one can be a thing the other the thing’s idea; one can be you and one can be me. The space between and around these two lines is what holds them together, rather than what separates them; it holds their coexistence. Perhaps this space represents the process of understanding, a constant learning of a sense of self among other selves, a site of translation of what we take in and what we are about to express, perhaps a place where one finds God, the touch of earth.



Passing below the sacred peak,

here prayers signified by rosary beads are futile.

Calling on the Virgin Mary is useless.


Instead, one must know the language of the land.

One must know the balance of the desert.

One must know how to pray

so that all elements of nature will fall into rhythm.


(from “Lost Prayers” by Ofelia Zepeda)



In the in-between is where I become(s). If we think of baroque as a point of view then I am baroque, and if the baroque is a fold then I am a fold, and if the fold is always between two other folds then I am between two folds. Gilles Deleuze in his book on the Baroque wrote, the “between-two-folds always seem to move about everywhere.”[1] So folds are nomadic. “Everywhere” seems an infinitely large space to navigate as well as infinitesimal for we cannot see outside ourselves, not beyond the between-folds place that we occupy though we receive senses of the beyond. An awareness of and moving among a multitude of folds––i.e. of other subjects and objects–– and their influence on our perception is what I believe constitutes a baroque point of view.  



A crow snaps beak over and over again:

the past is a blurry splotch of red crosshatched with neon light;

            on the drive south,

                                    windows pushed down,

                        you scoop pellets of canned air

            and ocean across sand dunes,

                        across the waning lick of moonlight on the dashboard

                        to crease the horizon

                                    between petals of carved snow.


(from Flood Song by Sherwin Bitsui)



The historical Baroque––in architecture, art, music, theater, literature––is often seen as excessive, dramatic, overwhelming our senses, and wrongly criticized for being so sensually loud without a reason or being socially or politically engaged. However, the abundance of light and dark contrast, private thought masked in allegory, marble and limestone curls, curves and columns, perhaps of seemingly showing everything imaginable whether through lavishness or deep nothingness are all well-considered methods and constructions drawing from the past and/in the present to show that you cannot see everything. A full image––other than, I think, an internal moment of understanding, which is always subjective and will never be set––is never visible (to another).



I must have passed by a hundred times and not noticed

these spindly twigs, drought and cold deciduous,

among the desert’s scraggle…so what

if I know baskets were made by the Seri people

the splints sewn into a star

the blood color of these branches


(from “Limberbush” by Rebecca Seiferle)



You have to move and continue to move in order to see the next thing, to see what is behind the curl; your eyes go back and forward between the dark background and highly lit parts that seem to be in the front of a painting, a recognizable figure; you walk along the edges of the trail up Tumamoc hill to see the petroglyphs. Moving and looking onwards you will not be able to see your previous perception ever again, but you carry its memory and the experience of it.



The subject cannot move without that movement affecting the vision of what she sees, and this implication of movements in the act of seeing is evidence of a bodily quality of seeing and the way the body “touches” the field of vision: “in principle all my changes of place figure in a corner of my landscape; they are recorded on the map of the visible.” If anything, vision makes the relation between two inseparable sites of the boundary more intricate, but also, more illuminating.


(from Quoting Carravagio. Contemporary Art, Preposterous History by Mieke Bal)



Mieke Bal continues to say, with help of the words of others, that while moving we learn about our own presence and the presence of others and things around us, as we are “enable[ed] to couch [ourselves] in the hollow of the absence that nature has carved out for [us].”[2] And so it is nature, the landscape, that has (always had) place for all of us, as long as we allow for each other’s possibilities in it. Alongside drawing two imaginary lines over and over again to understand the vacillating nature of subjecthood and objecthood and their mutual agency on each other, a conceptual process of learning baroque, the landscape made that visible to me in a tangible way. It shows that balance here, in the Sonoran desert, can be affected by a storm or a man overseas; this is how the earth has worked all along.


Baroque, meaning imperfect pearl, is a word given to a re-understanding of coexistence and codependency in the thought and creation of a time dominated by war, disease, the Counter Reformation, and colonialism. “For Foucault (1973), the Baroque inaugurated the split between words––representations––and things, a split which, as Panofsky (1995) understood, makes self-reflection, including irony, possible.”[3] It was a vulnerable Western psyche then, but it too shares a way of looking and feeling with and is a representation of life of prior and present times and in multiple places. And I imagine, the split was (always) already there, but perhaps not seen in a while or written down by those who "mattered."


[…]—everyone knows angels are white.

Quit bothering with angels, I say. They’re no good for Indians.

Remember what happened last time

some white god came floating across the ocean?


(from “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” by Natalie Diaz)



The landscape has become a site where I can feel how perspective works, and through words by people who know the same or different landscapes I receive other perspectives. Seeing what you cannot see through reading, listening, feeling, is moving too, and so we navigate this movement together. We remain in this in between space; it both separates and connects every body, like our skin for does us and our flesh. My skin touches me when I touch you, there is the feeling and the feeling. “[…] the eye, like the skin, is another site where culturally constructed opposites turn out to be inseparable, where mind and body collaborate.”[4] Thus, these (conceptual) folds are also physical: mountain ridges, sand dunes, saguaro cacti, a lover, blankets of rain, mesquite branches hanging low, a broken down adobe wall, a dog chasing doves, no longer functioning telephone polls, or a tall glass office building in which the sun sets, too.



Flicking off the light switch.

Lichen buds the curved creases of a mind

pondering the mesquite tree’s dull ache

            as it gathers its leaves around clouds of spotted doves–

                        calling them in rows of twelve back from their winter sleep.


Doves’ eyes black as nightfall

shiver on the foam coast of an artic dream

            where whale ribs

                        clasp and fasten you to a language of shifting ice


(from Flood Song by Sherwin Bitsui)



We love views. A room with a view or a stop at a viewpoint because views make it seem as if you can see it all. The whole world from just one place. But of course you cannot, it would be a lie. A view is a kind of metonymy, it is manipulative in tricking you into feeling the power of being omniscient. Even its concept is beautiful and luring, like a lover she places herself in front of you for you to take her in and gasp at. But she could never love you back. A landscape will show you that you cannot see it all at once, it shows you to move in closer, to move away and to return. Last summer, driving and walking through Capitol Reef, rock formations sloped around me, sharing just the edges of their coves. Only if I followed the windy road following their shape would I see what was behind one cliff and not see what was coming next or came before. Collaboratively we can see and live more.


The desert, seemingly vast empty stretches of land, but so full of life and death and too big to call one of them one place, provides a space, conceptually and geologically, as well to think about cohabiting, nomadic folds, exchange of influence, and making thought boundaries permeable. We zoom in and out between what is outside of us and transient, and our understanding of that internally, creating our own and adding to a shared history, leaving a footprint somewhere in between.


I have always found space the most generous thing on earth, letting us pass through.





Like a story that never ends,

a song stuck in your head.

A rainstorm disturbs the settled words.

They move in a breeze.

A waxy sheen glistens

and creates a passage.


Ṣeṣgei, s-ap u:w

The aroma of the story imbeds itself in

our memory like the pain of a broken heart.

A memory cut fresh by a summer rain.


(from “Creosote” by Ofelia Zepeda)


[1] Deleuze, Gilles, The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque, Minneapolis, 1993: 13

[2] Bal, Mieke, Quoting Carravagio. Contemporary Art, Preposterous History, Chicago, 1999: 234

[3] Bal, Mieke: 231

[4] Bal, Mieke: 234

Lara Schoorl is a poet and art historian from the Netherlands and lives in Los Angeles. She is the publicity manager at The Green Lantern Press in Chicago and works at the Museum of Jurassic Technology and Hat & Beard Press. Her writing can be found in or is forthcoming with The Conversant, The LA Review of Books, Dream Pop Journal, FOUNDATIONS, and the anthology Sisternhood. She is a co-author of the end of may