The Baroque as the Renaissance?
In the draft “Introduction” (“Einleitung”) to the Mnemosyne Atlas, not published during his lifetime, Warburg describes the central goal of the project: the tracking of the dueling forms that characterize human responses to potential threats from within and from the outside. Juxtaposing agitated and potentially merely reactive, “phobic-kinetic” responses to these stimuli, on the one hand, to the deliberate, controlled, even “artistically” contained moment of reflection prior to (defensive) “shaping” “action” (“Handlung”), on the other, he explains that the Atlas will display the tension between these two Nietzschean – Dionysian and Apollonian – responses as it is visible, first, in the pathos of antiquity’s earlier language of gesture (“Gebärdensprache”) and, second, in the afterlives of that language in the Renaissance (3; on the evolution of Warburg’s notion of “pathos formulae,” see Warnke 61-8). Both here and throughout Warburg’s oeuvre, it was thus the achievement of a specific period, namely, the Renaissance, to have taken up the battle previously fought by the Ancients between forces capable of overcoming, possessing, and thus enslaving humanity, and the powers of human reason and self-control, which signify both personal and civilizational freedom. Because the permanent “schizophrenia” of the “West” perpetuates the possibility of the return of un-reason, as Warburg writes in his “Notes on Mnemosyne” (“Mnemosyne I. Aufzeichnungen,” 645), it was to be the task of the Atlas to tell the story of the return of sophrosyne to pre-eminence in Europe during that period, indeed, to lock this version of the history of the “pathos formulae” securely into place, via a series of panels that moved from ancient through medieval to Renaissance artistic forms.