21. 12. 2001
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ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
21. 12. 2001

Renaissance and Baroque Aspects of Labyrint světa a ráj srdce

Jan Amos Komenský is a figure chronologically poised between the Renaissance and baroque periods. In Czech literary history, the change of sensibility can be dated to the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. It was shortly after that, in the despair which followed the defeat of the Protestant forces, that Komenský wrote Labyrint světa a ráj srdce. The text is thus inevitably liminal, and combines facets of a Renaissance and a Baroque sensibility.

Walter Benjamin writes:

The Renaissance explores the universe; the Baroque explores libraries. Its meditations are devoted to books.

This draws a distinction between two conceptions of wisdom. On the one hand, interrogation of the universe by means of the senses; on the other, retreat into oneself, true wisdom coming from contemplation and relinquishment of the world. Both of these tendencies are detectable in Labyrint světa. The most obvious manifestation of the Renaissance exploration of the universe was the scientific advances made in the field of astronomy by such as Copernicus and Tycho Brahe. Copernicus’ revolutionary observations exploded the Ptolemaic concentric universe. Sublunary exploration of a more literal kind was also taking place, and a parallel shift of perspective was necessary even for the earthbound, with the navigational discoveries of the period. This brought about a ferocious appetite amongst educated Renaissance men for 'curiosities’: travel writings were enormously popular, and artefacts and exotic natural novelties were brought back from the newly 'discovered’ areas of the globe and spurred a mania for collection. Wunderkammer, Kunstkammer, royal and private collections and cabinets of curiosities proliferated, notably in Prague under Rudolf II. These displays were not merely for entertainment. They were also understood as an attempt to recreate and order the world in microcosm, displaying in miniature the relationship between all things. The same impulse can be seen in Labyrint světa. Chapter V is entitled 'Poutník se z výsoka na svět dívá’. The pilgrim is led to the top of a tower, from where he looks down on 'město jakési, na pohledění pěkné a stkvělé a široké velice... okrouhle vystavené...’ (20) . He is told by his guide, Všudybud:

...tu máš, poutníče, milý ten svět, na nějžs se podívati žádostiv byl. Proto jsem tě nejprve na tuto vysokost uvedl, aby sobě naň z cela nejprv prohleděl a jeho spořádání vyrozuměl... (p. 20)

The guide explains the arrangement of the city, where its various classes of people live and the significance of its gates. The sense of order and coherence is even as it is invoked however immediately undermined:

...líbilo mi se to spořádání pěkné, a počal jsem Pána Boha chváliti, že stavy světa tak ušlechtile rozdělil. Než to mi se nelíbilo, že jsem ty ulice na mnoha místech jako protržené viděl, takže leckdes jedna do druhé vbíhala: což mi se snadného zmatení a zblouzení znamením zdálo. (p.21)

Even as the pilgrim perceives order in the world, its disorder becomes apparent. Nevertheless, this scene of looking on the city from above exhibits the Renaissance urge to comprehend, in the double sense of understanding and encompassing. The city is a collection, a microcosm of the world. The impulse is simultaneously synthetic and analytic: to bring all the world together in one whole (the circular city), whilst simultaneously demonstrating its order and hierarchical system (the various streets, quarters and gates). Thus the city performs the same function as the Renaissance collection or cabinet of curiosities: bringing together and classifying otherwise disparate elements.

This could also be termed the 'encyclopaedic ambition’ of the Renaissance. Encylopaedia is a term immediately implied, etymologically, by the notions of encompassing and comprehension already discussed. It is the print equivalent of the Renaissance collection. Enormous projects were undertaken in the period, for example La Primaudaye’s L’Academie Francaise or Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. Komenský’s notion of pansophia, his enormous, ambitious De rerum humanorum emendatione consultatio catholica, his work on a Czech thesaurus, even his Orbis Pictus for children all exhibit this tendency. Encyclopaedic ambition is less immediately apparent in Labyrint světa, which seems not to be a book providing information, but rather consolation or an allegorical lesson. Nevertheless, the notion is fundamental. The first chapter is entitled 'O příčinách v svět putování’. We are told of the pilgrim’s uncertainty as to the path his life should take, and then of the course of action on which he decides:

...Až natrápě a navrtě se dosti sám v sobě, na toto jsem přišel, abych nejdříve všecky lidské věci, co jich pod sluncem jest, prohlédl, a teprv jedno s druhým rozumně srovnávaje, jistý sobě stav vyvolil... (p.14)

The allegory of the pilgrim’s wanderings in the city is initially prompted by precisely the encyclopaedic impulse: the stated aim is to comprehensively view everything the world has to offer. As with the idea of comprehensive collection, however, encyclopaedia is undermined even as it is established, with the echo of Ecclesiates in the phrase 'co jich pod sluncem jest’. This verse from Ecclesiastes I.14 prefixes the book:

Viděl jsem všecky skutky, kteréž se dějí pod sluncem, a aj, všecko jest marnost a trápení ducha.

Komenský places Baroque conceptions of the vanity of earthly life at the very heart of Renaissance ambition. Both the encyclopaedic and collecting aspects of the text feed into the notion of microcosm. The attempt to encapsulate the world in miniature is a particularly Renaissance tendency. The notion of man as 'a little world made cunningly’ was general. The human body and soul was supposed to contain within it analogies with the whole of the universe. The theory of microcosm was based on the belief that the universe is proportionate: that certain similar ratios underlie everything in nature and hence in art. This is significant in Labyrint světa less in terms of the human body, but in relation to the notion of allegory. Allegory is literary microcosm: the relation of part to part and part to whole is similar, in the mathematical sense, to some other referent. Labyrint světa exhibits its allegorical - thus microcosmic - aspects not only in terms of the soul’s search for God, but also on a narrower level. The book can occasionally read like a roman-ŕ-clef. In chapter 11, 'Poutník přišel mezi filozofy’, the pilgrim wanders through rooms observing the activities of various groups of people, who represent certain factions and trends of contemporary and historical philosophy. There are no explicit references, only the presentation of analogy, through which the reader is teasingly meant to assign names to the objects of Komenský’s satire. The very mention of figures such as Copernicus (with whom Komenský disagreed) and the Rosicrucians demonstrates Komenský’s familiarity with and participation in the Renaissance world. Although ostensibly, the aim is to undermine all these speculative philosophies, illustrating their vanity, there is an inevitable glee and humour in such philosophical games and tricks, which saves Labyrint světa from the risk of boredom inherent in more schematic allegorical works such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and draws Komenský closer as a writer to such satirists as Jonathan Swift.

A further aspect of Labyrint světa which demonstrates Komenský’s ties to the Renaissance is its reliance on human reason. In chapter 6, 'Osud rozděluje povolání’, the pilgrim is given the injunction 'Speculare!’. The text parenthetically explains 'to jest Dívej se neb Zpytuj'. The Renaissance was in Europe an interim period between the Middle or Dark Ages and the Enlightenment. Human reason emerged from its submersion under the authority of the church and became an instrument of understanding. 'Speculare’ carries inevitable connotations of speculate, and it is precisely this speculative intelligence, reliant on personal observation, which is the defining Renaissance characteristic in writers as disparate as Francis Bacon, Thomas Browne, Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus. There is also a relationship with the Latin 'speculum’, mirror, which in Labyrint světa functions as a metaphor for the mind itself. In chapter 10, 'Poutník stav učených prohlédá...’ Komenský states as one of the prerequisites for scholarship 'mozek ze rtuti’, because otherwise '[student] nebude z něho míti zrcadla’ (46). This figure was general in the Renaissance; it is found, for example, in Bacon:

...God hath framed the mind of man as a mirror or glass, capable of the image of the universal world, and joyful to receive the impression thereof, as the eye joyeth to receive light...

Bacon here demonstrates not merely the general presence of the metaphor of mind as mirror in the Renaissance, but also the positive, joyful attitude to the acquisition of learning and knowledge in the period. This cannot be said of Komenský’s attitude in Labyrint světa, where the gaining of knowledge is combined with vanity and suffering, in terms which recall medieval poems of students’ complaints.

The metaphor of the mirror is connected with the general Renaissance preoccupation with vision symbolic and actual. This is reflected in experimentation with lenses, such as that undertaken by Leonardo da Vinci, and in such imagery as found in the quotation from Bacon above. In Komenský this tendency is strongly present. Most obviously, the central device of the allegory is the glasses given to the pilgrim by Mamení, and worn enough askew to give him double vision. Interestingly, Christ in the 'ráj srdce’ section of the text does not simply take the glasses of confusion from the pilgrim’s eyes, but replaces them with a new pair. The theme of the world viewed through a lens is repeated: the pilgrim sees the dialecticians grinding and selling lenses, and in the chapter 'Poutník mezi novináře trefil’, the starkly differing reactions to the news are the result not of informational content, but perception of it. Thus once more we see the ambiguity of Komenský’s Renaissance aspect: while on the one hand he demonstrates the interest of the period in lenses and questions of vision, his attitude is not the enthusiasm of Bacon. For him, the senses were 'reporters... to the mind of man’ (Bacon, p7). For Komenský, these sources are irretreviably corrupted.

It is not only the senses which are not to be trusted in the labyrinth of the world; all physicality is disgusting. Men are frequently figured as insects. On first entering the marketplace, the pilgrim, with his double focus, sees people deformed:

...všickni nejen v oblíčeji ale i sic na těle rozličně jsou zpotvořeni. Napořád byli trudovatí, prašiví či malomocní; a mimo to některý měl svinský pysk, jiný psí zuby, jiný volové rohy, jiný osličí uši, jiný baziliškové oči, jiný liščí ocas, jiný vlčí pazoury... (p.24)

The revolting, corrupted human body is a typically baroque trope. It appears, for example, in the poetry of Bedřich Bridel. The body is humiliated. In Labyrint světa, this is schematised and becomes the very allegorical structure of the book. The pilgrim saves himself from despair and death by literally returning into himself, into his own heart. This is Biblical: in Ecclesiastes it is written that God 'hath placed the world in man’s heart’. Solomon, who appears as a character in Labyrint světa, is the patron of the recognition of worldly vanity which we have seen throughout the text, and which is another defining feature of the Baroque. The acceptance of the vanity of the world and revulsion at the body are the double indication of the relinquishment of the world which forms the structure of the book, as is immediately apparent from the title. Incidentally, this archetypal structural motion from engagement with the world to relinquishment of it we find again in Czech literature in Bohumil Hrabal, in texts such as Příliš hlučná samota or Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále.

After the dystopia of the labyrinth of the world, comes the paradise of the heart. 'Ráj srdce’ is utopian in the strict etymological sense: it is no place. It has no extension and no time. In the labyrinth of the world, verbs of motion proliferate in lists:

...tu [na ryňku světa] ze všeho světa jazyků a národů, všelijakého věku, zrostu, pohlaví, stavu, řádu a povolání lidé byli. Na něž nejprv hledě, vidím předivné jich sem tam motání jako při rojení včel a mnohem divněji. Nebo jedni chodili, miní běhali, jiní jezdili, jiní stáli, jiní seděli, jiní leželi, jiní vstávali, jiní zas léhali, jiní se rozličně vrtěli... (p.23) In paradise, on the other hand, there is no motion and no scenic description. A labyrinth is inevitably confusion, and this comes across even on the lexical level. Mamení is one of the pilgrim’s guides, and words such as 'zmatení’, 'zblouzení’ and 'vrtět’ are insistently frequent. In 'ráj srdce’, however, all is resolved:

...spatřím obrázky ty, kteréž jsem prv ošoustané a oblámané viděl, celé již, a patrné, a krásné, nýbrž hýbati se tu před očima mýma začínající. Tolikéž ta rozmetaná polámaná kola v jedno se spojila, a z nich ušlechtilý jakýsi nástroj jako hodiny, běh světa a divnou boží správu vyobražující, se udělal. (p.144)

The repetition of 'ušlechtilý’ is important. It was first used in the quotation from chapter V above, where the pilgrim begins to praise God for the arrangement of the city, before noticing its confusion and incoherence. Thus here, in the pilgrim’s heart, we see the apotheosis of the original longing for order and coherence which was a typical feature of the Renaissance. The workings of the universe become comprehensible, in the double sense already noted, ironically only once the physical universe has been rejected. This falls precisely along the lines of the split identified by Benjamin between the worldly Renaissance and the internalised Baroque. The neatness of this correlation prompts a potential new reading of the text. The allegorical motion is from engagement in the world to relinquishment of it. These terms can be substituted respectively by the Renaissance and the Baroque. Thus Komenský does not merely exhibit various contradictory features of these sensibilities. Labyrint světa a ráj srdce can ultimately be read precisely as an allegory of the metamorphosis of a Renaissance man into a Baroque personality.

(Kathryn Murphy is a student of Czech and English at Glasgow University.)

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