Sor Juana's life and work: open texts
University of California, Davis—206→
Sor Juana & Vietra, trescientos años después. Anejo de la revista Tinta. Edited by K. Josu Bijuesca, and Pablo A. J. Brescia. Coord. Alejandro A. J. Brescia. Coord. Alejandro Rivas. Mexico: Center for Portuguese Studies, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, UC Santa Barbara, 1998. 193 pp.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz y sus contemporáneos. Edited by Margo Glantz. Mexico: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, UNAM; Centro de Estudios de Historia de México, CONDUMEX, 1998. 361 pp.
Sor Juana: la comparación y la hipérbole. By Margo Glantz, México: CONACULTA, 2000.
El sueño manierista de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. By Alessandra Luiselli. Mexico: Gobierno del Estado de México, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, 1993.
Los guardaditos de Sor Juana. By Sara Poot Herrera, México: Textos de Difusión Cultural, UNAM, 1999.
The Three Secular Plays of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: A Critical Study. By Guillermo Schmidhuber. Trans. Shelby G. Thacker. In collaboration with Martha Peña Doria. Lexington, KY: UP of Kentucky, 2000.
Las sombras de lo fingido: sacrificio y simulacro en Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. By Jean Michel Wissmer. Prologue Elías Trabulse. Toluca: Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura, 1998.
Octavio Paz's Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe (1982) marked a milestone in sorjuanine scholarship. Of biblical sweep, its genealogies, divinations, and prophecies gather into six books a canonical order of things that could have been published separately as monographs detailing the social, political, philosophical, theological, psychological, and aesthetic environment in which Juana Ramírez developed a passion for letters that inspired her to enter the convent, a sanctuary from which she produced what was to be the most astounding body of letters to —206→ come out of colonial Mexico. Despite its occasional gusts of hagiographic fervor and its lyrically serpentine discourse, Trampas was and remains a sophisticated interdisciplinarian achievement: a treatise worthy of its subject.
Approaches since then to Sor Juana's oeuvre have been enhanced by documentary findings that carry the field a considerable distance beyond Paz. In the present study, I will comment on a somewhat eclectic sampling of sorjuanine readings which, in themselves, epitomize the multifaceted methodology that Paz's Trampas had modeled for a critical consciousness newly aware of itself as postmodern. The seven books here reviewed develop along three principal exegetical axes -philological, semantic, and aesthetic- and with varied degrees of success. Together, they illustrate both what is new in the field and, at the same time, what remains constant more than three hundred years after Sor Juana's death, Paz's seminal work notwithstanding.
I refer to the fact that the goal of most sorjuanine scholarship now as before her death is to understand not the poetic voice but the woman of flesh and blood who confounded her peers and whose multiple volumes of writing set a hook into the collective imagination that continues to reel scholars in toward the center of what her life might finally be said to signify. It is a rare work of analysis even today that focuses on technical and aesthetic aspects of her writing as a sufficient critical end. Inevitably, Sor Juana's printed word becomes an oracle, a cave of mysteries that the erudite enter with flashlights, a Ouija board over which scholars tirelessly run their minds. Criticism as séance. Oh, for just one interview with the Tenth Muse! Paz himself explains the fascination that pressed his pen forward through nearly seven hundred pages: «La palabra seducción, que tiene resonancias a un tiempo intelectuales y sensuales, da una idea muy clara del género de atracción que despierta la figura de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz» (Trampas, 3ra ed., 12).
This erudite obsession with a seventeenth-century nun has been fueled in recent years by documentary discoveries and flurries of tricentenary conferences. These have added hitherto unknown dimensions to our incomplete understanding of forces that prematurely ended Sor Juana's publishing career after 1692 (she did not give up writing; see Elías Trabulse's La muerte de Sor Juana, 1999: 61-3). A notable theme of recent works is the unfinished nature of Sor Juana's oeuvre; archival patience and plain good luck have, since 1964, added to her bibliography some poems, an essay, a satirical «letter» of hybrid composition (poetry and prose) whose authorship is still under some discussion, a play most accept as co-authored, and the second version of a known profession of faith. It is a work still to be found; Sor Juana herself mentions —207→ a musical treatise that has yet to turn up in anyone's possession, and hope is unflagging for the discovery of what must have been a vast trove of correspondence between the nun and her admirers in Mexico, Peru and Spain. To speak only of a single letter, consider how the 1980 discovery of the Carta de Monterrey (1682), in which Sor Juana expressly fires her confessor for having publicly chastised her for the fame she was gaining, turned some facets of sorjuanine thought on its head.
Sor Juana: la comparación y la hipérbole (2000), the most recent of many books that Margo Glantz has written or edited on the nun's work, is a compilation of previously published articles that invites study as an exemplary mixture of philological, semantic, and textual analysis. Among other documents, Glantz examines the rippling effects of the Carta de Monterrey on Sor Juana's life and writing. In the context of that discussion she endorses historian Elías Trabulse's persuasive demonstrations that the recently acknowledged Carta de Serafina de Cristo (dated a month before the nun's famous Respuesta of March 1, 1691) was written pseudonymously by Sor Juana. Glantz also shares Trabulse's belief that Sor Juana was the object of a secret inquisitional tribunal, which effectively silenced her (105-6, note 17).
With admirable frequency and subtlety, Glantz cites recent scholarship not only outside the sorjuanine circle but outside of Mexico. Bringing to bear psychosocial points of view that could apply to any discourse anywhere -such as Peter Brown's The Body and Society or Michael Carroll's The Cult of the Virgin Mary- lends complexity to Glantz's interpretations of such genres as the villancico, leads her to query texts in refreshing ways and confirms other readings which, similarly, have recognized that Sor Juana preaches heterodox theological and sociopolitical notions behind the mask of «sus obras más "ortodoxas" (los autos y los villancicos» (Linda Egan, in Y diversa de mí misma entre vuestras plumas ando, ed. Sara Poot Herrera, 1993: 330). Throughout Comparación, Glantz generously shares her own vast reading, especially in frequent and lengthy footnotes.
In the thematic arena, she manages to overcome much of the repetitiveness and circularity that can obtain in such compilations. Glantz appears to have made an explicit effort to organize the chapters and to retouch each original text so as to achieve a noticeable fluidity and narrative progression. In the first part, a trio of analyses extracts a kind of authorial biography centered especially on the letter Sor Juana wrote to her confessor in 1682, the more famous letter she penned in self-defense to the bishop of Puebla in 1691, a selection of her self-referential poems, and the reviews, defenses and praises of important clerics and secular powers who contributed to various Spanish editions of Sor —208→ Juana's works (1689, 1692, 1700). All this is more or less well-traveled territory, but Glantz's talent for narrating the curious detail makes it seem new and fascinating.
The second part's two chapters give us closeup views of the aspect of the upstart nun's theological and gender positions that most vexed the misogynist men of the Church. Her readings of sacred works that are less frequently objects of literary analysis -the villancicos and Sor Juana's «Letras de San Bernardo»- could serve as teaching models for textual analysis while also providing gifted insight into the political uses of religion in colonial New Spain. The third part delves deeper into the same theme, now focusing on the fateful Carta Atenagórica, the treatise in which Sor Juana deconstructs a sermon that the Portuguese Jesuit Vieira had written forty years earlier; in challenging Vieira's views on the loving acts of Christ, Sor Juana not only trespassed on proprietary male theological terrain, but imprudently declared her own less than orthodox views on free will and human intelligence. The bishop of Puebla was prompted to publish her text as a «letter» to which he first, under the pseudonym Sor Filotea de la Cruz, appended a reproving criticism of her literary adventurism. In taking her readers step by step through the multifarious and subtle implications of the Atenagórica and the end, soon after, of Sor Juana's publishing career, Glantz fruitfully deploys her most pointed analyses of Sor Juana's and the baroque mind's reliance on comparison and hyperbole. Emphasis on the aesthetic image illustrates a facet of this book's organizing trope.
From first to last, Glantz's will to focus on sorjuanine texts as text -as verbal confection- lifts to a distinctive height what might otherwise be a particularly able summation among many of the salient biographical and literary facts that define an exemplary historical figure. There is implicit in Glantz's virtuous attention to lexical patterns a parallel course that runs between Sor Juana's hyperbolic anecdote and her elaboration of a «dialéctica de lo alto y de lo bajo» (71), perceptible in her insistent recurrence to pointed, triangular shapes whose apex reaches skyward. Having fashioned a ladder for her readers, we, like Glantz in this text, can scarcely resist the temptation to climb Sor Juana's scale, and thence survey what critics keep discovering, over and over again: «Sor Juana ha subido el escalón más alto, ha sobrepasado a la majestad, y aunque pueda parecer sacrílego, su inteligencia, su sabiduría la enaltece, casi la diviniza» (81). In the facts of this particular journey of discovery, Glantz adds a provocative angle from which to consider the political uses to which Sor Juana's own defenders put her spectacular achievements. Comparing her to other women led naturally to the systematic «hiperbolización» (211) of Sor Juana herself, a process that must be read today less as genuine admiration and more as a verbal strategy that made of the brilliant —209→ and brave woman a pawn in a primarily masculine game of transoceanic power plays.
In a similar manner, Sara Poot Herrera's faithful attention to philological detail throughout the thirteen essays she gathers in Los guardaditos de Sor Juana (1999) slowly adds brushstroke upon brushstroke to paint Sor Juana from an angle that blurs a traditional image of her as victim. The organizing trope for this series of textual studies is the revealing play between public and private, between known works of the nun and those that Poot Herrera characterizes as the nun's «guardaditos», or texts which, figuratively speaking, she hid in the folds of her habit and held secret, perhaps as weapons of offense or defense. At the same time, Los guardaditos offers a narrativized bibliography -complete to the last detail- of all that Sor Juana published and the history, from discovery to authentication to publication, of previously private texts that have, since 1964, been brought to light and attributed to the poet. Two of the book's essays and most of a third, additionally, gloss romances that can be shown to be «literal y metafóricamente archivos del tiempo» that the nun marked from her convent cell (246).
In presenting the selection and organization of her compilation, Poot Herrera places particular emphasis on the most recent discoveries, which include the ending to a play attributed to Sor Juana and found in 1990 (La segunda Celestina) (two essays in Guardaditos rehearse every phase of the controversy surrounding its authentication) and the above-mentioned Carta de Serafina de Cristo, widely accepted as written by Sor Juana in 1691, discovered in 1960 and then made public in 1995 by Elías Trabulse after a long authentication study (all or part of seven Guardadito essays are devoted to this text and others that precede or succeed it). The Serafina finding alone has inspired several books by Trabulse, many articles and a controversial book that challenges Trabulse's attribution of the letter to Sor Juana (Antonio Alatorre and Marta Lilia Tenorio, Serafina y Sor Juana (con tres apéndices), 1998), after which refutation, Poot Herrera's statements on Serafina's authorship soften. In Los guardaditos, she states accurately that the mere existence of the text, no matter who might have written it, considerably enriches the complicated court, church, and convent drama that played out around the scandalous publication of Sor Juana's Carta Atenagórica in November of 1690.
Los guardaditos contributes valuably to ongoing assessment of several essay-letters that are the only written evidence available to solve the mystery of why Sor Juana dropped abruptly from public knowledge after 1692. A survey of the critical literature since 1995 collectively calls to mind a vast Library full of heads bent low over faintly illuminated manuscripts. Sara Poot Herrera coaxes from the ink's mute witness a detective —210→ story that would seduce Umberto Eco. Much of the proof of crimes committed against Sor Juana by the churchmen (especially by her deeply angry former confessor, Núñez de Miranda) is circumstantial, but anyone who watches «Law & Order» knows that is all a prosecutor can count on most of the time. Working with the facts that chief investigator Elías Trabulse has brought to the table in this instance, Poot Herrera applies her extraordinary capacity for noting, orchestrating, and (re)presenting facts in revealing ways.
An essay worthy of any critical anthology, the second chapter of Los guardaditos, «Sor Juana y su mundo, tres siglos después» (first published as the introduction to an eponymous anthology that Poot Herrera edited in 1995), is a model of erudition and philological precision. A primary goal of the bibliographical genealogy she traces is to find answers to «cómo había vivido Sor Juana en el convento; o sea, ver sobre todo esa parte de clausura, de intimidad, respecto a la escritora y su creación» (11). Her orchestration of voluminous and minute detail eventually becomes a biographical narrative which, when combined with the autobiographical narrative that Poot Herrera reconstructs from Sor Juana's letters of 1682 (to her confessor) and 1691 (to her accuser, the bishop of Puebla), breathe life into dead library facts. We see rise before us a configuration of Sor Juana who is here not a pawn of men but star of a transcendent psychopolitical drama, a careful and yet, in the end, reckless contender in a manly game whose rules she dared challenge, aware that she could be dealt a crippling blow in retaliation.
One of the essays in Los guardaditos had first appeared in the collection Sor Juana & Vieira, trescientos años después (1998), insightfully edited by Josu Bijuesca and Pablo Brescia and coordinated in Mexico by Alejandro Rivas. These eleven studies are versions of conference papers; the volume also includes the first English translation of the Carta de Serafina (by Alfonso Montelongo), printed alongside Elías Trabulse's Spanish transcription of the text, and an intriguing theatrical work by Rosabel Argote that interweaves Sor Juana's autobiographical and professional voices.
If read from first essay to last in order, this multi-author volume achieves something like the suspense effect of a detective story, a characterization all the more remarkable for being applied to some footnoted essays which, more than most on the subject of Sor Juana, deal with exceedingly arcane documents and historical figures. However, proceeding one text at a time, we can detect an unfolding investigation into what might be seen as The Case of the Hidden Victim in Sor Juana's Carta Atenagórica, a sermonesque treatise whose stultifying theological argumentation had long discouraged scholarly attention. But the discovery in 1980 of Sor Juana's letter of dismissal to Núñez de Miranda and —211→ the 1995 unveiling of the satirical Carta de Serafina, which might be taken as a roman à clef rehearsal for the Respuesta that Sor Juana penned a month later, vectored multiple critical gazes onto the start of it all: the smoking gun, the Atenagórica.
As the successive arguments of Sor Juana & Vieira implicitly reveal, under cover of its evident focus on Father Vieira's old sermon, the Atenagórica is really aimed at the Jesuit who had publicly embarrassed Sor Juana after she wrote the Neptuno alegórico (1682) to welcome a new viceroy to the capital, the confessor whose services she would shortly after dispense with, the inquisitional censor whose chief claim to fame was writing instruction manuals for nuns, the mentor whose would be model of self-effacing obedience instead wrote herself into the secular world's book of fame, a feat that Núñez de Miranda, who prided himself on his eloquence, must surely have envied. To coax this hypothesis from its interdiscursive hiding place, Sor Juana & Vieira shows how the Serafina text dialogues in code with the Atenagórica and the pseudonymous commentary that Bishop Fernández de Santa Cruz had published with it two months earlier. Readers are primed to accept the logical conclusion -that this book is less about Sor Juana and Vieira than it is about her and Núñez de Miranda- after patiently connecting the dots from beginning to end of the series of essays.
The trail at times seems to lead quite far from the subtext that becomes the primary narrative argument. But the next-to-last essay, Sara Poot Herrera's, provides a meticulous recapitulation of texts and chronologies that help us reconsider all the clues we had so far gleaned in our reading. Poot Herrera all but orders us to henceforth erase Vieira's name from the title of this book and substitute that of its true co-protagonist: Father Antonio Núñez de Miranda, At the end, Elias Trabulse gathers us all in the parlor to limpidly summarize the outlines of the crime -the censorship of Sor Juana and extortion of her library- and the cumulative weight of the clues that reveal it. The sum of these persuasively discredits the traditional pre-Paz version of Sor Juana's retirement as a genuine spiritual conversion and a return to the fold of the Church's obedient little women. According to Trabulse, that was a view of events that Archbishop Aguiar y Seijas, archvillain of this academic melodrama, had fostered in an effort to put a favorable spin on the Mexican church's machiavellian plotting against the nun. Trabulse's summation represents a satisfying proof of what many had long suspected, including Sor Juana herself: «que mi tintero es la hoguera / donde tengo que quemarme» (Romance 49, Obras completas 1: 146).
Also in 1998, Jean-Michel Wissmer's thematic study, Las sombras de lo fingido: sacrificio y simulacro en Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, plumbs certain aspects of the sacrificial nature of Sor Juana's life and works. Wissmer's —212→ central thesis illustrates how Sor Juana managed to reconcile her love of profane letters and her religious vocation through (1) a fake sacrifice (an artistic simulacrum of being «dead to the world», as a good nun ought to be) and (2) the real sacrifice she made in cloistering herself in order to enjoy the life of her mind. The wistful tone of many of the epistolary romances she sent to her friends at court testifies to a dimension of the personal sacrifice she made in order to gain for herself a relatively safe and quiet space for intellectual work. In producing this work, she practiced what Wissmer calls an «estética del sacrificio».
Although his textual analyses are of uneven consistency and at times frankly stretch credibility, Wissmer makes a generally convincing case. According to his reading of sacrificial imagery in her work, Sor Juana rejects notions of the bloody, penitential and physical sacrifice inherent in sociopolitical and religious oppression. In order to subvert and refunction misogynist codes, she cites them in an exaggeratedly elegant style that Wissmer defines as mannerist, following Luiselli (99, 149-53, 185) (see my comments on her book, below). In Wissmer's view, Sor Juana posits this aesthetically stylized imitation of sacrifice as a bloodless defense against the accusations of men like Núñez de Miranda. Her word-deep affectation of penitence did not, in fact, persuade her persecutors (139). Still, caught between an irresistible desire to write and the necessity, therefore, of making her discourse double as an ideological defense of itself, Sor Juana elaborated what Wissmer sees as a typology of sacrifice and suffering «bajo todas sus formas. No deja una ocasión para expresar este tema que parece fascinarle, y al mismo tiempo repugnarle» (169).
Among the outpouring of anthologies occasioned by the third centenary of Sor Juana's death, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz y sus contemporáneos (1995) resulted from a conference organized to delve into the extratextual context of Sor Juana's writing. The book is divided into three sections: the Church and its prominent figures, Sor Juana and other poets of her time and the series of letters to which the books reviewed above have referred, together with the major participants in the scandals they provoked.
Five of the six essays comprising part one repeat historical and sociopolitical data that were already more than well known from extant sources. Elías Trabulse, however, presents new information on Sor Juana's shrewdness as an investor and the steps she took in defiance of Church authorities to safeguard her personal wealth and rebuild the library she had been forced to hand over to Aguiar y Seijas (21-8). Among the second part's six essays, Raúl Dorra's provides a useful context for reading Sor Juana's impudent ovillejos on Lisarda, although I do not agree entirely with the conclusions he reaches when applying mannerist theory —213→ to the poem (133-7); Enrique Barrón Aguirre's detailed look at «Los corresponsales peruanos de Sor Juana» (139-99) provides helpful exegetic clues for a number of romances, and Georgina Sabat de Rivers's «Contemporáneos de Sor Juana: las monjas portuguesas y los Enigmas (con soluciones)» (215-44) concentrates on some poetic puzzles that we have known about since Enrique Martinez-López's 1968 discovery of them. Besides giving purveyors of footnotes a refreshing opportunity to just have fun with the playful side of Sor Juana, Sabat elegantly reminds us that the poet's fight for intellectual equality earned accolades from many of America's and Europe's leading artists and powerbrokers (217), I am hoping someone takes up the challenge Sabat issues for someone to solve the enigmas not treated in this essay.
The last section of Contemporáneos contains the best of the book, starting with Dolores Bravo Arriaga's proffer of straightforward information on Antonio Núñez de Miranda, on which other scholars have since capitalized (259-70). Sara Poot Herrem's «Las cartas de Sor Juana: públicas y privadas» (291-317) is a masterful recapitulation of the topic that in fact serves as the organizing metaphor of her 1999 book Los guardaditos, as described above. Mabel Moraña's scrutiny of Sor Juana in relation to a series of Others postulates a Sor Juana constructed of absence, desire, censorship, silence and artifice, a Literary Self who is as much a phantom as that alluded to in her famous sonnet, «Detente, sombra de mi bien esquiva» (323). A clear irony emerges from Moraña's reading of the almost coquettish skirmishing between Sor Juana and Núñez; The confessor hustles his prized nun into precisely the safe, quiet place she was longing to find for study and writing -and then spends the rest of his life trying to control the monster he had helped create (325). Studying another case of irony, Emit Volek provides an unusually detailed analysis of Bishop Fernández de Santa Cruz's letter as Sor Filotea (333-57); it's too bad Volek fails to point out that the ironies he notes are inevitable in a patriarchal discourse, which must be seen as an inherent self-parody that is always heading for destruction at its own hand.
Margo Glantz's contribution is perhaps the most original take on the bishop of Puebla. In her reading of his person and relationship to Sor Juana, Santa Cruz is a metonym of the baroque obsession with the body. Glantz's writing here, as elsewhere, goes provocatively beyond description. However interesting the facts amassed in this and other collections may be -and often are-, they tend to lie as inert objects when not deployed in the service of literary criticism. When a theoretically informed reader such as Margo Glantz lifts her wide-reaching lantern, debate casts its beams into far corners where provocative new insights can be apprehended. In this particular essay, to note the inherent contradiction of a well-cared-for prelate's body being martyrized with self- mortification —214→ -an incongruous asceticism angled against the baroque's curvaceous sensualism-, is to justify the suggestion, however quietly implicit in Glantz's discourse, of a sublimated or secret economy of desire (277). Her theory -enriched discourse yields a high-octane image: chaste men who collect the unused bodies of women- and of one nun of rare brightness and beauty pinned like a butterfly under the yearning gazes of men like Núñez, Santa Cruz, and Aguiar y Seijas. The image is literary, and productive.
Alessandra Luiselli's El Sueño manierista de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1993) is a genre study that grew out of her doctoral dissertation and is positioned within a narrow scholarly debate: When is the baroque not baroque but instead mannerist? She develops this thesis in the first three-fourths of the book. Luiselli's approach is unique in that it inserts Sor Juana's work -traditionally positioned without hesitation in the baroque camp- into the midst of this debate and concludes that, while popular works such as her villancicos may be read as baroque, her most severely intellectualized writing (especially her long philosophical poem Primero sueño) must be viewed as mannerist.
Luiselli is clearly a discerning reader, but, in this early book, she seldom notes or resolves apparent contradictions in supposedly contrastive characterizations of the baroque and the mannerist. Overall, the interpretative and theoretical conclusions she reaches are often unclear or questionable. She contrasts, for example, the triumph of the individual artist of mannerist persuasion with what she asserts is the collectivist aspirations of renaissance and baroque art, an assumption that appears reductionist. Her tendency to cite a series of traits or textual details and summarily position them in one or the other aesthetic camp is emphasized in the close reading she offers in the last fourth of the book as a proof of the study's theoretical assertions. This is an analysis of the poem that Sor Juana, in her famous reply to the bishop of Puebla's criticisms, claims to be the only text among all her writings that she produced for her own pleasure, «un papelillo que llaman El Sueño» (Obras completas 4: 471). Luiselli intends to make a case for reclassifying Sor Juana's greatest poem as mannerist rather than baroque, in principal because the writer had spent years in a courtly environment (143).
Further, she describes the Sueño's intellectualism as cold and complex, traits she says automatically classify the work as mannerist. However, the terms cold and intellectual are subjective. This discourse further leaves out the question of a esthetic distance and manipulation of point of view, as well as evidence that Sor Juana can be as raucously popular as Rabelais or excruciatingly elitist, at will. The details in Sueño that Luiselli isolates for discussion are important and of such semantic weight that they escape her attempts to make every one of them fit into her —215→ thesis. Sor Juana herself and certainly this poem are too subtle to be comfortable in a single artistic and philosophical mold. It would not hurt the case Luiselli is making for a mannerist reading of the Sueño to acknowledge the ambiguities that are inherent in her own definition of the targeted aesthetic, and to permit a reading that recognizes without reducing the polyphony encased in every trope of Sor Juana's most multivalent work.
Another study predicated on textual values is Guillermo Schmidhuber's examination of The Three Secular Plays of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (2000) (a topic sufficiently handled in the article he published in Cuadernos de Sor Juana, ed. Margarita Peña, 1995:199-230). Schmidhuber aims his book at scholars and graduate students first coming into contact with Los empeños de una casa, Sor Juana's most cited secular drama, Amor es más laberinto, of which she is credited with having written two of the three acts, and La Segunda Celestina, a play Schmidhuber found in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania in 1989 and whose co-authorship he has since attributed to Sor Juana, without acknowledging the skepticism that lingers faintly among some sectors of the sorjuanine community.
Schmidhuber's disingenuous stance on the play's authorship may constitute imprudent hubris or scholarly misdirection; it certainly counts among Secular Plays's most annoying drawbacks. Speaking sometimes in a natural first-person authorial voice and other times in a disconcerting third person, Schmidhuber repeatedly announces -but each time as though for the first- his achievement as discoverer of the Celestina play (ix, 1-2, 16, 71-3, 154, 157) and his finding, also, of a previously unknown version of one of the professions of faith Sor Juana was obliged to make at the end of her career (21-2 and 161, note 14).
The types of evidence he offers to bolster his authorship study -«Documentary and Factual» (71-8), «Ideological and Thematic» (78-83) and «Linguistic and Statistical» (83-88)- are presented in such a way as to undermine, rather than solidify, his posture. This is unfortunate, as I believe most scholars would like to be persuaded by the «irrefutable proof» (74) of Sor Juana's authorship that Schmidhuber categorically asserts. In this section and throughout the book, one grows impatient with the author's apparent conviction that shouting a thought makes it a fact by virtue of its volume and persistence. In the sixteenth century, something was held to be true if the speaker pronounced it beautifully and with authority, but rhetoric has not been the prime proof of truth for quite some time since.
Another goal of the study is to extract a poetics of drama from close readings of Sor Juana's plays. The analyses, as well as an attempt to codify them in little semiotic boxes, seem to be of little utility. Readings here —216→ routinely strain the texts and unnecessarily complicate what are in fact straightforward literary situations. Schmidhuber makes an interesting point when emphasizing that her plays were probably «read» in Sor Juana's day from a visual standpoint, whereas today they may be read from a textual (ideological) perspective (48, 52).
To be fair, what appears as writing that is stiff and clumsy may perhaps be evidence of a weak job of translating his Spanish into English. It is also quite reasonable to assume that the May 1, 1691, date ascribed to Sor Juana's writing of her famed Respuesta (163, note 18) is one of those typos that make us wince (It's March 1). But one can only ascribe to an outdated and interested knowledge of Sor Juana's oeuvre the categorical statement that her theater is more important than her prose (9). In general, Schmidhuber's study of the nun's secular theater is lacking in rigor and precision, although it does provide a useful topic index and glossary and efficient plot summaries.
The books assessed in this sketchy panorama reveal, all views considered, that Sor Juana was not only a protean writer and proto-feminist figure of exemplary talent. She was also a savvy queenpin, a «player», as we say, someone to be reckoned with. She tied monarchs and church potentates in knots, and inspired teams of influential policymakers to defend or plot against her across an ocean and in the capitals of two worlds. An illegitimate girl from an Indian village accepted the gift of twenty lessons in Latin (from a priest who would rue the day he paid for them) and then used them to acquire knowledges that she would turn against the makers of those knowledges. In so doing, she earned a powerful and outspoken following, and that made her a threat to the social and political order. She had to be muzzled, and the deed had to be done secretly: to admit a danger is to confess a weakness. That silent silencing is the truest testimony we have of the fear and wonder she awakened then, and of the de sire she yet inspires to give Sor Juana the full and fair hearing that history denied her. This is the literary seduction that compels sorjuanine criticism into the twenty-first century.