Anxieties of Interiority and Dissection in Early Modern Spain by Enrique Fernández (review)
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Reviewed by
Enrique Fernández. Anxieties of Interiority and Dissection in Early Modern Spain. University of Toronto Press. x, 278. $70.00

Relying heavily on Jonathan Sawday's work on the Renaissance's culture of dissection, Fernández defines a set of discursive practices he calls dissective narratives. These are texts that resort to anatomical processes of dissection to "expose the interiority of a fabricated Other that is to be sacrificed." This set of discourses is limited to a specific context: sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain. One of his fundamental theses is that dissective narratives are both a motivation and a proof of a pervasive awareness of a complex interiority which is intrinsically problematic given the "oppressive ambience of the early modern Spanish State." Fernández understands anxiety as a state close to fear and sees it represented metaphorically in a process of anatomical dissection that exposes the complexity of not fully controllable or understandable interiors. [End Page 253]

In the first chapter, Fernández grounds his theoretical framework to the peninsular Spain. Of particular interest are detailed analyses on anatomical treatises, particularly their illustrations. The author shows the differences between the Spanish and other European treatises as well as their relationships with the "embodied interiorities" specific to Spain. The roles played by the Inquisition and its practices of control of interiority of its subjects are skillfully interpreted as constituents of a Spanish culture of dissection. An excellent example is the practice of self-denunciation imposed by the Catholic establishment and its graphic representation in the illustrations of anatomical texts for the Spanish market.

The second chapter examines the texts of Fray Luis de Granada. Fernández understands Granada's work as the representative of an "old form of religious interiority," where the soul is an "inner space of scrutiny." This dissective narrative serves to pacify the anxiety of interiority by presenting the inner soul's complexity as a proof of God's great design. Fernández carefully analyzes Granada's approach to martyrdom. A martyr fits perfectly as a sacrificial "Other" for Granada because, once dissected, only God's truth and faith can be found. The chapter ends with a study of the case of Sor María de la Visitación, a false martyr that Granada defended throughout his life until it was proven fake. This results in Granada's retracting his own words, which in turn makes his dissective narrative all the more evident.

In the third chapter, Fernández exposes dissective narratives found in Francisco de Quevedo's works. Don Francisco represents the anxiety produced by the interplay of the individual interiority of the citizen and that of the Spanish state, the interiority of the body politic. Fernández analyses Quevedo's dissections on two character-types: el pícaro and el privado. Both characters represent the arrogance of an individual who wants to surpass the established social order based on his or her own humorous interiority and needs. Their interiority is exposed in order to model the danger they represent but also to ridicule its intentions. In this dissective punishment Quevedo also shows the interiority of the body politic and the necessity of its coercive methods.

The fourth chapter presents the cases of Miguel de Cervantes and María de Zayas. Cervantes' texts showcase the anxiety of interiority that comes from "the realization that people can neither understand nor control their innermost fabric, which can be altered in unpredictable directions." Fernández analyses in depth the case of El licenciado vidriera and La cabeza encantada. Zayas' case depicts the anxiety of noble-class women about their complex position in the social system. The female body is the guarantor of the legitimacy of the nobiliary system, hence its interiority is continuously scrutinized and dissected to prove its purity. The chapter closes with an example of an interiority narrative in the works of Gracián [End Page 254] that is not a dissective narrative. This final example serves to clarify to the reader the concept of dissective narrative by showing something that resembles it, but it is not a dissective narrative in Fernández's terms.

Fernández's book is essentially a literary...