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  • Making Love: Celestinesque Literature, Philology and “Marranism”
  • Joachim Harst

“¡Ay, ay, noble mujer, nuestro gozo en el pozo!” (Rojas 336). Having witnessed her spectacular suicide—Melibea has just killed herself by jumping from a tower—Pleberio imparts the terrible news to his wife in astonishingly inadequate terms. The fall to death of his only daughter—a literal rendering of the exemplary tragic fall of Fortune—is transformed into a commonplace of shattered illusions, devoid of any personal expression. This is true for most instances of passion in La Celestina, be it love, grief or greed: The language of its characters often rings hollow, because of its excessive use of popular phrases and commonplaces—almost every sentence has already been said a thousand times before.

This is certainly not a very original observation. It has, in fact, often been noted that the art of La Celestina consists in its ingenious arrangement of commonplaces. Hearing the utterance of Pleberio which seems to betray his feelings in the double sense of the word—it communicates them precisely by distorting them unfaithfully—it is also not astonishing that Celestina is often read as a document of Early Modern alienation, or more precisely: as the masked expression of alienation and secularization experienced by its supposedly converso authors.

However, this contextualization of La Celestina—vividly described by Stephen Gilman and implicit still in many recent readings of the text—is not free of contradictions. Indeed, Gilman’s representation [End Page 169] of marranism as alienation and loss of identity encounters serious problems when it is confronted with a close reading of the text itself.1 But even if Gilman’s interpretation cannot be the last word on this matter, it does conduce to the discovery of an important strategy of La Celestina, namely the subversion of the concept of identity which remains essential for any notion of marranism as alienation. In working against any presupposed identity, the text rejects both the idea of marranism as alienation and the tendencies of philological commentary, as long as they intend to identify the author’s masked beliefs or opinions (sections 1 and 2 of this essay).

If La Celestina criticizes certain strategies of philological commentary, one might ask further whether celestinesque literature2 in turn develops its own philology, drawing upon the radical sense of the term’s roots, namely “love/desire” and “logos.” Hence, in a second part of this paper, I read Diego de San Pedro (section 3), Feliciano de Silva and Francisco Delicado (section 4), and point out how the individual texts represent love in language. Here, my main focus is the question whether celestinesque literature, working with traditional topoi and subverting patterns of courtly (and Christian) love, attains a notion of desire that is more complex than love-making, the ostensible goal of its protagonists. In La Lozana andaluza, for example, sexual desire is also desire to read—namely, La Celestina. In a quite complex sense, the intertextual relations inherent in celestinesque literature are making “love”; the text enacts philology as an erotic passion, but it also spiritualizes desire in a way that will, in the course of this essay, be determined more precisely.

I. Literature and philology

1. Cutting bonds

The general philological problem that inheres in the term “marranism” lies in its implicit discursive framework: the very notion “marrano” or “converso” refers not so much to an independent fact, but to its social and religious framing. It is therefore impossible to talk about conversos and their “loss of identity” from a perspective that does not already presuppose this framework. Indeed, every philologist knows this problem of framing, insofar as his interpretive commentary [End Page 170] establishes a framework that produces the history and meaning of the text, thereby retroactively constituting the text itself. In order to show that this analogy between marranism and philology is not a mere coincidence, I will turn briefly to the first known philological engagement with Rojas’ text, namely, Celestina Comentada. This work by an anonymous man of law provides the dialogues of La Celestina with learned annotations, citing abundantly from the treasures of classical literature and, more specifically, from collections of legal texts. Certainly, this “commentary” is not...