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Reviewed by:
  • Sigilosos v(u)elos epistemológicos en Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  • Pablo Brescia
Verónica Grossi, Sigilosos v(u)elos epistemológicos en Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Frankfurt: Iberoamericana Vervuert. 2008. 187 pp. ISBN 978-84-8489-310-3.

This book engages in an allegorical-inter-textual reading of some of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz's most important works (the auto sacramental The Divine Narcissus; the triumphal arch The Allegorical Neptune; and the 975-verse epistemological poem First Dream). Such an approach renders an effective contribution since it attempts to de-codify 'a series of hidden, surprising messages which point toward the search for feminine knowledge and power through the poetic word' (133; all translations are mine). According to Grossi, Sor Juana employs political allegory in The Allegorical Neptune, divine allegory in The Divine Narcissus and conceptista allegory in First Dream. All of them are contained in the 'poetic allegory' that, according to the author, allowed Sor Juana's writing to venture not only into philosophical enquiries but also into her body and spirit.

Two chapters are dedicated to the auto, one to the long poem, and one to the triumphal arch. Adding her name to a list of illustrious sorjuanistas (among others, Octavio Paz, José Pascual Buxó, Rosa Perelmuter and Georgina Sabat de Rivers), Grossi reads First Dream alongside the Answer to Sor Filotea de la Cruz. According to her, while critics understood the text to be about the impossibility of knowledge, it can also be interpreted as the making of an 'alternative' reality through the written word. For that reason, Phaeton is the most important symbol in the poem; he is punished for a transgression that also represents his triumph. The next two chapters study The Divine Narcissus. In order to discuss the loa, Grossi needs to explain the rhetoric of sacramental theatre, which purports to equate divine and human allegory. She then declares that Sor Juana not only delights in artifice but also unmasks such system. For example, the ideology behind this composition, says Grossi, shows the customary syncretism between Christian and native world views, but here Sor Juana also argues with imperial and theological discourses. When she turns to the auto itself, she explains its allegorical meanings and focuses on the rebellious practices of the female characters (Echo, Synagogue, Gentility, Human Nature, Grace, Arrogance, Music, and the symbol of the virginal fountain). For Grossi, it all comes back to the power of language which, incidentally, was condemned to the tower of Babel. Such punishment, paradoxically, calls attention to the 'symbolic potential of poetic writing' (89). When Grossi takes on The Allegorical Neptune, she underlines the fact that its complexity requires a semiotic approach that should combine textual, cultural and pictorial dimensions. If the official objective of the arch is to demonstrate the moral perfection of the viceroy, the games of simulacra established through hieroglyphics and hermetic [End Page 1024] texts also include an allegoresis, or interpretation, that is more personal. In this mental fantasy, Grossi states, 'Sor Juana shows a total control of the allegorizations that run through the arch' (100).

Together with the importance of the senses, this last concept is what provides the basis for Grossi's main argument in the book. Fantasy, according to her, allows Sor Juana to formulate a feminine space within the audio-visual rhetoric of the time. Certainly, in these compositions the visual element is often re-created in the written text. Grossi contends that the 'official' tone of particular texts primordially directed to the eye cannot hide the presence of 'an epistemological model ciphered in the allegorical disguise' (113). In First Dream, for instance, the hierarchy of the senses is completely subverted. Silence becomes a main character and 'the diversity and immensity of creation provoke confusion in our gaze and in our will, blocking our path to intellectual understanding' (127).

Both the introduction and the conclusion of Sigilosos v(u)elos epistemológicos en Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz refer to a side of Sor Juana's criticism that has privileged an image of the Mexican writer as a self-sacrificing martyr, and has also...


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