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  • Deviant and Useful Citizens: The Cultural Produciton of the Female Body in Eighteenth-Century Peru by Mariselle Meléndez
  • Alcira Dueñas
Meléndez, Mariselle. Deviant and Useful Citizens. The Cultural Production of the Female Body in Eighteenth-Century Peru. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 2011. 259 pp.

The late colonial lettered culture was a productive scenario for the textual expression of much speculation signaling the advent of modern times in Peru. Mariselle Meléndez adds an important dimension to the discernment of such expression by exploring the definitions of female bodies in various intellectual arenas. From a post-structuralist perspective, she analyzes colonial views on women and discusses how the female body was to be read in a variety of historical documents, which she treats as cultural texts that construct colonial discourses. [End Page 199]

The book starts with an essay examining the cultural constructions of the rebel leader Michaela Bastidas’s body as they appear in the judicial documents of the Great Rebellion in the Cuzco area. Meléndez analyzes fear and violence as rhetorical devices in Bastidas’s letters and in the death sentence, and advances a reading of the female body in the carrying out of her execution. She argues that Michaela’s body and character were rendered as particularly monstrous and her actions as the most execrable. The execution and dismemberment of her body offer an image of both insurrection and its annihilation. The gender base of these images and the reading of corporeal punishment, however, would have been better discerned had the author contrasted them with other available colonial representations of male rebels. Thus the extent to which such images were uniquely applied to Michaela because of her gender should be reassessed. As quick examples, the Franciscan missionaries from the Santa Rosa de Ocopa missions in 1750 also rendered the rebel Juan Santos Atahualpa as the “most abominable monster,” “apostate,” “devilish,” “heretic” and “antichrist” (AGI. Lima, 541). In 1780, Cuzco officials described Túpac Amaru II as “traitor,” “abominable criminal,” and about Michaela they would also say she was “as cruel a monster as he is” (Stavig & Smidt, 2008, 65–66). As a result, Bishop Moscoso ordered the single excommunication of Tupac Amaru after the atrocities committed in the church of Sangarará, in which Michaela had certainly contributed.

Focusing on a section of the watercolors series commissioned by the Bishop Baltazar Martínez Compañón (BMC) in 1790, which illustrates human types in Trujillo, the second chapter attempts a reading of visual discourses on the female body within the context of the imperial modernizing reforms of the Bourbons. Here Meléndez argues that BMC’s visual texts accomplished a conversion of the native female body into a commodity, a productive object and source of information. As the epitome of an orderly nation, females were rendered as useful bodies for mothering and working roles, in whose capacity they required close supervision. In spite of their pertinence and usefulness for illuminating enlightened discourses on the female body, images by themselves do not usually tell the whole story. Supplementary information not captured in these watercolors is much needed on BMC’s views on Amerindians, the crisis of Trujillo in the 1790s and, very importantly, his own proposals for reform. Although the chapter emphasizes the quality of Trujillo del Perú as a strictly visual text, it is important to remember that visual images usually interact dialogically with other texts, which remain as meaningful components of the “complete text.” The inclusion of other important and available written documents by BMC about the need for the creation of public schools for indigenous peoples in Trujillo in order to curve native insurrection and relapses into idolatry would have enhanced substantially Meléndez’s analysis. Susan Ramírez has utilized documents of that kind in “To Serve God and King” (brief title). She cites and analyzes contemporary views and proposals of the bishop from written texts extant in AGI (Seville), AAT (Trujillo) and AAL (Lima).

The tensions between Church and State provide the background for chapter three, in which the author analyzes the monastic writing of Maria Josefa de la Trinidad as an intersection between the religious and the sociopolitical, and...


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pp. 199-201
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