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Reviewed by:
  • Ryan D. Giles
Fernández, Enrique. Anxieties of Interiority and Dissection in Early Modern Spain. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2015. 288 pp.

In his fascinating new book, Enrique Fernández examines what he defines in his Introduction as the "dissective narratives" of early modern Spanish literature. In the context of an increasingly absolutist, probing, and inquisitorial state, these texts draw on the language and emerging techniques of anatomy and dissection as a means of expressing anxieties surrounding the interiority of male and female bodies and the inner lives of individuals—invaded, sacrificed or self-exposed. Fernández is influenced by Jonathan Sawday's work on the Renaissance dissection, as well as a number of theorists, including Michel Foucault, René Gerard, and Stephen Greenblatt. At the same time, his interdisciplinary book is deeply engaged with historical and cultural contexts, as it relates images in literary texts to Latin and Spanish books from the period that describe and visually represent the inside of human bodies and methods of dissection. A number of early modern engravings [End Page 716] appear in the book, helpfully illustrating connections between a "culture of dissection" and interiorities in Golden Age fiction (33). Fernández begins by considering developments in Spain and early modern Europe more broadly, such as the interior spirituality known as the devotio moderna and the exercises of Ignatius Loyola in which traditional forms of "body-centric," Christological piety were systematized and placed under control, in keeping with the aims of the Counter-Reformation (33). He shows how "anxieties over interiority" were heightened in particular ways by the power and reach of the Spanish Inquisition, investigating non-conformist beliefs and hidden identities, and encouraging witnesses and the accused to expose themselves and others (35).

The first chapter describes different approaches to understanding what is meant by interiority and corporal materiality, to include pious, scientific, and political conceptions of inner spaces. Fernández here provides a solid framework for the rest of his study, which is focused on bodily spaces in the works of four well-known writers, working from the late-sixteenth to the seventeenth century: Fray Luis de Granada, Francisco de Quevedo, Miguel de Cervantes, and María de Zayas. Chapter two demonstrates how Fray Luis de Granada, unlike other pious writers of his day, applies "anatomical dissection" to the subject of bodily sacrifice and martyrdom, "an interior that can be scrutinized, pierced, and torn to pieces" (67). In doing so, the sixteenth-century author employs potentially dangerous imagery of vivisection to reveal the inner purity of bodies as evidence of a divine "transparency… in which only God's truth is to be found" (67). Fernández then explores how this notion of transparent purity would turn out to be counterfeit in the infamous case of María de la Visitación, a nun whom Fray Luis had praised in his writings, but who later admitted to faking her stigmata.

In the third chapter, Fernández discusses Quevedo's preoccupation with private, inner spaces posing a threat to the body politic in a decadent Spain. His interpretation of El Buscón and other satirical works sheds light on this early modern author's interest in displaying organs, entrails, and digestive systems in distress. As Fernández convincingly shows, Quevedo exposed "citizens' interiorities" as "surpluses" and "potentially toxic by-products" that were endangering the health of the embodied state and the maintenance of its ideals (103). In chapter four, the book turns to the classic Novelas ejemplares of Cervantes, followed by the novelas of María de Zayas, which have received increased attention in recent decades. Fernández examines how Cervantes—notably through El licenciado Vidriera, La cabeza encantada, and his portrayal of the witch in El coloquio de los perros—imagines bodies as mechanized, publicly exposed, transparent, and subject to inadvertent and deliberate malfunctions and breakdowns that can be related to societal ills. Social pressures are especially central to the later prose works of Zayas, depicting the resistance and victimization of women whose innocent bodies are scrutinized, tormented, and broken by males obsessed with defending an unjust and monstrous honor code that revolved around paternal and marital control of female sexuality...


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pp. 716-718
Launched on MUSE
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