- Baroque Sovereignty: Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora and the Creole Archive of Colonial Mexico by Anna More
Erin Graff Zivin, Anna More, Creole, Archive, Colonial Mexico, Baroque, Sovereignty, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, Triumphal Arches, Riot of 1692
Those readers who, like me, are not specialists in Anna More’s areas of expertise—seventeenth-century Mexico, Sigüenza y Góngora, the Baroque, and Creole governance in Spanish America—may find themselves unexpectedly drawn into the complex theoretical arguments of Baroque Sovereignty: Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora and the Creole Archive of Colonial Mexico (University of Pennsylvania, 2013), which received an honorable mention for the LASA Mexican Studies Humanities Award. In this book, More diplomatically yet forcefully argues that “identity and subjectivity, insofar as they suggest psychological conditions of consciousness, are insufficient analytical categories through which to interpret seventeenth-century Creole writings” (10). She advances the audacious theory— over and against dominant identitarian readings of Creole subjectivity—that [End Page 351] an affective bond with what she terms Creole patria was fashioned through the elaboration of a local archive, an archive that, she convincingly demonstrates, established a regional sovereignty that “became an answer to the impasse of seventeenth-century Spanish imperialism” (15). Allegorical hermeneutics, then, trumped genealogical claims in the constitution of a local authority in seventeenthcentury colonial Mexico.
The book is divided into five chapters, each of which proposes a thematic or conceptual entryway into the problem of Creole sovereignty. While the introduction outlines the principal argument of the book, Chapter 1, “Allegory, Archives, and Creole Sovereignty,” fleshes out the thesis she proposes in the introduction by tackling the triangular conceptual relation between “Baroque,” “allegory,” and “archive” that will be central to the following four chapters. Focusing upon a relatively understudied period in colonial history—the seventeenth century— More insists that the multiple crises of this epoch (the decline of the Habsburg monarchy, the surrender of Jamaica to England, the emergence of explicit ethnic divisions) exposed the cracks in the sixteenth-century colonial project, which was built upon the double fiction of the peaceful conversion of non-Christians, and the creation of two republics, one Spanish and one Indian (30). This cluster of crises provided an opportunity for local elites, who were able to take advantage of the power vacuum created by these circumstances. Creole patrimonialism emerged not as a way to rebel against Spanish imperial authority, but rather “to confront and overcome the paradoxes of Spanish imperialism itself” (44).
It is the archive—defined here as both “material collection and epistemological privilege” (45)—that allowed the Creole elite to emerge, grounding itself in a local past as a way to compensate for the trauma of the conquest. While the contents of the archive are largely (although not entirely) inaccessible to the contemporary scholar, writings about the archive provide clues to the way in which the “toponomological” structure of the archive (to borrow from Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever)—its marriage of place and of law—served as the condition of possibility for the Creole sovereign who would hold the key to the interpretation of a local past. More turns to Walter Benjamin’s work on Baroque drama, specifically, allegory as the art of collecting of profane objects “to create the spark of redemption” (Benjamin qtd. in More, 51). The collection of such objects assigned redemptive potential to the humanized sovereign, whom Benjamin describes as a melancholic figure “incapable of decision” (51). In the particular case of colonial Mexico, the viceroy functioned as a supplementary simulacrum of the absent body of the king, adding another layer of complexity to the figure of the melancholic sovereign.
Basing herself upon the conceptual framework developed in Chapter 1, and always careful to insist upon the formal (conceptual, topo-nomological) and material aspects of archive-building, in Chapter 2, “‘Nostra Academia en Barbara …’ [End Page 352] Building an Archive on the Imperial Frontier,” More details the creation of a Creole archive in the seventeenth...