Escribiendo desde los márgenes: colonialismo y jesuitas en el siglo XVIII (review)
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Reviewed by
Del Valle, Ivonne. Escribiendo desde los márgenes: colonialismo y jesuitas en el siglo XVIII. Mexico, DF: Siglo Veintiuno, 2009. 301 pp.

Escribiendo desde los márgenes: colonialismo y jesuitas en el siglo XVIII confirms Ivonne Del Valle's place as one of the clearest recent critical voices to apply postcolonial theory to Spain and Latin America. Del Valle employs a "postcolonial perspective" on Amerindian epistemology that evolves the ideas of Foucault and Taussig and adapts the theoretical constructs of Bhabha and the Jesuit de Certeau to the particularities of eighteenth-century transatlantic Spain. This theoretical context, as well as a broad sampling of scholarship on colonial Spanish America ranging from Ángel Rama and Walter Mignolo to Maureen Ahern, Antony Higgins, [End Page 500] José Rabasa, Gustavo Verdesio, and David J. Weber provide the foundation for her study of Jesuit texts about colonial New Spain that reveal indigenous acts of self-preservation and resistance to colonialism. Escribiendo desde los márgenes entails a particularly productive manipulation of the theoretical dyad of center/ metropolis and peripheries/borderlands. Del Valle's book makes a substantial contribution to the study of Jesuits and colonialism and is especially welcome to transatlantic Hispanic eighteenth-century studies.1

Within the history of science, scholars struggle against a traditionally unilateral vision in which agents of Western epistemology go forth from European "centers" and, in the process of colonizing peripheral sites, appropriate and erase local knowledge. However, the task of recuperating Amerindian, African, or Asian practices and knowledge and altering traditional conceptualizations of the evolution of global scientific modernity presents distinct challenges. As Del Valle points out when glossing Edward Gibbon, it is easy to demonstrate ways that agents of empires (first Roman, then Spanish) expanded European technologies and epistemologies (hacer and saber) into imperial "margins." The more difficult task for scholars of the eighteenth century is to question the totality of European "universalizing pretensions" and reveal instead "the effect of other universes on enlightened colonial discourse" (book jacket).2 Few scholars are linguistically equipped to hear other universes' voices directly, although in the case of New Spain, some recuperate Nahuatl source texts not yet translated into Spanish. Most look to the scientific writings of Spanish, Spanish American (criollo), and/or Jesuit authors to suggest how understanding European adaptations of alternative ways of knowing might be central to re-evaluating the history of science. In the Introduction to Escribiendo desde los márgenes, Del Valle acknowledges the complexities of unearthing from European "scriptural tombs" silenced voices that "evoke the fragments of other cultures and peoples" (35). She hopes that perhaps, "by trying to recuperate their voices," we might disturb rigid notions of the past (36).3 Del Valle explores [End Page 501] the "scriptural tombs" of Jesuit historiography on the Nayar, Sonora, and Baja California regions first written in Spanish, Latin, and German. Reading eighteenth-century Jesuit narratives against their grain, Del Valle looks for textual gaps in their official burial of local sources when appropriating peripheral knowledge into a global, universalizing scientific discourse. She concludes that in the process of mining natural historical and ethnographic data from these three peripheral regions to enrich European "centers" of knowledge (Mexico City, Madrid, and Rome), these Jesuit texts simultaneously elide and reveal alternative ways of knowing and doing. In New Spain's contact zones, tensions between European and borderland epistemological universes cause the "complex processes of redefinition of Jesuit subjectivity [that are] legible in Jesuit texts" (39). Before presenting individual case studies from these three regions that detail "pressures that borderlands exercised on their new inhabitants" (39) and the Jesuits' frustrated quests to impose Catholicism and their "universal epistemology for global colonialism" (40), Del Valle describes the mid-eighteenth-century context within which she reads Jesuit historiography as "textual peripheries" that unveil the "eccentric" (37). She compares an increasingly secular rhetoric that rationalizes peripheral wonders in the public, Jesuit mission historiography with the private reports and less optimistic, personal letters that detail Jesuit failures of Christian occidental self-preservation. In the process, Del Valle finds epistemological slippage in the writings of Jesuits affected by other forms of knowledge that constitute religious, political, and scientific resistance...


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