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THE RHETORIC OF DESIRE AND MISOGYNY IN JARDfN DE VENUS Maria Cristina Quintero Bryn Mawr College In a lecture called "Spanish Literary Historiography: Three Forms of Distortion" (1967), Keith Whinnom affirmed that one of these distortions was the critical and editorial disdain for the rich tradition of early Spanish writing that deals openly with the representation of sexuality. In the intervening quarter of a century, the situation has changed somewhat with the publication of volumes such as the 1983 anthology, Poes{aer6ticadel siglode oro; and more recently, the 1990 issue of Edadde Orodedicated to the topic of "El erotismq y la literatura dasica espafiola." 1 In addition, feminism and gender studies have given new re~pectability, desirability (and perhaps marketability ) to the task of analyzing texts that were ·previously thought too prurient to engage the serious critic's attention. Nevertheless, for the most part, critics still practice a type of cultural platonism when approaching Golden Age poetry; and literature of an obscene nature is still placed at the periphery of our scholarly endeavors. While there is no denying that most readers are culturally conditione<;l.to experience discomfort in confronting texts that are frankly sexual in theme, we cannot ignore the fact that this type of literature, especially in verse form, was cultivated by many of the major literary figure~ throughout the Middle Ages and the Golden Age. Renaissance Spain in particular seems to have been tolerant of ribald discourse, as witnessed by no less a figure than Diego Hurtado de Mendoza who wrote a number of poes{as satfricasy burlescasthat circulated openly.2 Later in the seventeenth-century when the cultural and religious climate became much less tolerant, this type of poetry <2ontinued to flourish under the pen of all the major poets, notably Luis de Gongora and Francisco de Quevedo. The poetry that openly portrays sexuality cannot, then, ·be dismissed as marginal. It constituted an integral part of the poetic practice of the time, situated in the rather porous border between what was forbidden and what was permissible . In this article I deal primarily with the collection known as Jard{n de Venuspublished anonymously in the second, half of the sixteenth century.3 The allusion to Venus in the title of the anthology immediCALIOPE Vol. II, No. 2 (1996): pages 51-69 52 ~ Marfa Cristina Quintero nately alerts us to its erotic content. No less suggestive is the word jard{nwith its connotations of fertility and Edenic delight. The association between gardens and sexual activity was common at the time, as exemplified by Lope's celebrated ballad "Hortelano era Belardo" whose horicultural images are replete with salacious innuendo. What interests me is not just the overtly licentious nature of the verses but the fact that in the poetry of Jard{nde Venus,the careful reader will encounter a convergence of poetic discourses prevalent during the Golden Age. More importantly, these varied discourses are informed by attitudes toward the role of women and the· feminine body, 'attitudes that merit our attention. One of the problems with approaching a collection such as Jard{n de Venus is one of terminology. The poetry has been called "erotic" but the term proves singularly inadequate since, in the Renaissance, it could be applied to all amatory literature. In 1614,for example, the classicist poet Esteban Manuel de Villegas (1589-1669)'wrote a collection of culto poetry called Las Er6ticaso Amatorias,the title of which clearly establishes the synonymy and interchangeability of the terms "erotic" and "amatory." The eroticism of Jard{nde Venus is not, of course, that found in so much of the love poetry of the Golden Age. The eternal lament of the poet in Petrarchan lyric and its repertoire of images present a longing for a union with the beloved that can never be consumated. This "orthodoxy of frustration" 4 produces erotic tension and a language of desire in the poetry of a Garcilaso or an Herrera, but in ways that are very different from the open portrayal of lust and sexuality in Jard{ndeVenus. According to Deborah Shuger, it is misleading to presuppose that the longing for the absent lady that is found in so many early modern texts-is sexual desire (that is, based on genital arousal). Shuger claims that desire was not identified with sexuality until the late seventeenth century and thus, the erotic was not viewed as essentially sexual during the Renaissance.s The discourses of desire were informed rather by religion, philosophy , medicine, rhetoric, and politics. According to Shuger, "The history ,of eros (as opposed to a history of sex) concerns the changing functions of the discourses of desire with respect to the totality of available discourses, that is, with respect to a,specific culture" (273). Underlying the imprecise nature of the terminology and the multiplicity of the discourses of desire is the underlying question of whether we can, in the twentieth century, accurately identify what was or was not, erotic (however we may, understand I the term) in other eras and cultures. To phrase the question differently: is eroticism a transhistorical notion? In art, for example, we now view many Renaissance paintings through what can be called an aesthetizicing distance, ignoring the likelihood that some masterpieces by a Titian ~ THE RHETORIC OF DESIRE AND MISOGYNY ... ~ 53 and even a Velazquez may have been meant primarily for the private enjoyment and arousal of powerful patrons. 6 The seventeenth-century painter Francisco Pacheco certainly implies that this was the case when he denounces those artists "que se han extremado con la licenciosa expresi6n de tanta diversidad de fabulas ... cuyos•cuadros ocupan'los salones y camarines de los grandes sen.ores y principles del mundo."7 Some historians and critics have dated the origins of modern pornography in the Renaissarrce.8 In the last century, Jacob Burkhard, for one, suggested that the humanist embrace of classical culture led ultimately to a form of paganism. This paganism would in the long run manifest itself in texts that can be designated as obscene or pornographic. After all, the imitation of classical authorities would not have been limited to only proper, respectable works with an ennobling and didactic intent. There was the tantalizing example and authority of Ovid, Lucian, Martial and Catullus, to mention only a few. The evocation of classical models provided a way of escaping censorship, as the following passage from the Canonsand Decreesof the Councilof Trent(1563) suggests: Books which professedly deal with, narrate or teach things lascivious or obscene are absolutely prohibited, since not only the matter . of faith but also that of morals, which are usually easily corrupted through the reading of such books, must be taken into consideration , and those who possess them are to be severely punished by the bishops. Ancient bookswritten by theheathensmay by reasonoftheireleganceand quality of style bepermitted,but by no means read to children . (qtd. in Findlen 55, emphasis added). As this passage indicates, the imitation of classical models in the pursuit of elegance and quality of style afforded a respectable cover or pretext for composing literature with a·libidinous content. Again, we find an analogy in the visual arts produced during the Golden Age. As Pierre Civil has shown, subjects taken from classical mythology were often used in painting as a pretext for lascivious display: "Ya en el siglo XVI se percibi6 la utilizaci6n de la mitologia como un simple pretexto y un soporte privilegiado del erotismo" (41). The cultivation of texts with a pornographic content may be considered part of the humanist endeavor. Nowhere is this clearer than in Italy, where we have the colorful example of Pietro Aretino, a man celebrated·by some as a supremely learned man (he was the author of religious treatises, meriting even the title of "the Divine Aretino"), but also known as "the most horrible, vituperous and ribald tongue 54 ~ Maria Cristina Quintero ~ ever born." 9 Indeed, the most famous work associated with Aretino is a collection of sonnets t,hat verbally supplements engravings depicting various sexual poses. Aretino' s illustrated sonneti lussuriossi (1527) originated in Venice but were very likely circulated in Spain by noblemen such as Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, whose p?,tronage and friendship Aretino assiduously courted. Another humanist who indulged in prurient textual pursuits was Scaliger who became the commentator of the CarminaPriapeia,a work attributed to Virgil during the fifteenth century. This was an anthology of poems dedicated, as the title indicates, to Priapus, the guardian god of gardens and the ,personification of the erect phallus. In Italy, poets who wrote lascivious verses were said to be cultivating the garden of Priapus, as Niccolo Franco says of Aretino in Lepistolevulgar(Findlen 82). The Spanish anthology Jardinde Venusforms part of what we can consider an alternative Humanist activity. The poetry of this.collection provides ,a good example of the ambivalent use of classical and cultosources that so often characterized obscene literature. Whoever the author or authors of this anthology may have been, it is clear that they were well versed in Classical, Italian, and Italianate traditions. The parody and transformation of elements taken from various sources, from cancioneropoetry to the Petrarchan repertoire, could only have been executed by one or more authors intimately acquainted with the learned poetic practices of the time. The most obvious difference between the poetry of the Jardinde Venus and "serious" amatory poetry has to do with the depiction and function of desire. In Petrarchan poetry, as we know, the lady's disdain becomes the inspiration for the poetic "sospiros" or sighs of countless frustrated lovers from Petrarch's "Francesco" to Garcilaso's "Nemoroso" and "Salido." If the possession of the beloved were. possible, their lqments- their poetic performance-would be necessarily silenced. Thus, it may be said that the creation of the masculine poetic subject depends on the suspended desire caused by the absence and silence of an unattain~ble woman. In the frankly sexual poetry of Jardinde Venus,there is an apparent reversal of this fetishization of poetic discourse . The poems contained in the anonymous qnthology deal with the physical possession and enjoyment of a feminine body-a mujer de carney htf-eso-who is neither inaccessible nor mysterious, thereby countering the orthodoxy of frustration of more conventional amatory poetry. These poems address not just textual pleasure but also sexual enjoyment. Whereas the Petrarchan tradition needed to supplement absence with elaborate poetic constructs-what has been called the "rhetoric of presence"rn-the language of [ardinde Venusis curiously devoid of ostentatious imagery and metaphors. This is in keep- ~ THE RHETORIC OF DESIRE AND MISOGYNY ... ~ 55 ing with Findlen's assertion that "Renaissance pornographers often presented their work as the end of metaphor, a negation of the eloquence and erudition that defined humanist culture. They loudly proclaimed that their. works laid bare the truth, 'Stripped of all the metaphorical witticism or allegories that characterized the contemporary culture of learning" (79). In'fard{nde Venus,physical presence and possession are indeed communicated through a self-conscious metaphorir.;:alabsence. In the introductory poem, the anonymous lover, the poetic "I" states: "Aqui no hay enigmas ni figuras / rodeos, circunloquios, indiretas, / sino la claridad destinta,y- pura" (3). With these lines, the anonymous poet clearly sets his anthology in opposition to contemporary poetic practice thatfavored a culto or "high" literary discourse. We can discern this defiant tone also when the poetic persona of Jard{nde Venus addresses his. lectoresdiscretos: "Cualquiera que lo es {discreto], o serlo quiere, terna licencia de mirar mis flares ... Mas las escrupulosos grufiidores / no quiero ni consient0 que las vean" (3). :fhe "escrupulosos grufi.idores" would presumably refer to those who would object not only to the prurient content but to the abandonment of literary decorum. We have here the author/compilator's attempt to limit his readership and to control any possible criticism directed to either the content or the formal liberties of the collection. At the same time, the language of Jard{nde Venus often invokes the rhetorical strategies of other love poetry: the conventions of courtly love--"la duke mi enemiga cautelosa" (47) or "Querellas vanas, vanos pensamientos" •(17), and even the poetry- of the mystics -"jO duke noche! jO cama venturosa!/ Testigos del deleite y gloria mia" (47). This is not simple, colloquial, or spontaneous poetry.• The poets clearly embrace the principles of imitatio,that is, the imitation of prestigious models but only to transform or subvert them. There are throughout, for example, constant p.llusions to Classical mythology, beginning with the title qf the collection. Women are at times described in typically culto or elevated terms; "Es una Venus, es una Sirena,/ un blanco lirio, una purpurea rosa" (27). These allusions taken from h,igh literary culture are here divested of their sublimity by virtue of being applied to an available carnal woman often depicted in the throes of pa&sion. , The poetry of Jard{nde Venusdoes not adhere to any rigid restrictions of decorum, as defined by preceptistas. There is no attempt to match the licentious content that would seem to belong to the popular low tradition with an appropriate poetic form, such as the villancicoor the letrilla. On the contrary, the poems of the collection consistently invite comparison with "serious" amatory poetry as they partake of the very conventions they claim to avoid. As such, they 56 ~ Maria Cristina Quintero ncan be said to be parodic in intent and burlesque in tone. One of the curious features of Spanish amatory poetry, as the editors of Poesia erotica del siglo de oro have observed, is that whenever sexuality becomes overt, the result is almost always·a burlesque poem. 11 The poetry of this collection would seem, then, to belong to one of the comic subgenres which proliferated in the Golden Age but which have received scant critical attention since.· The terms burlescoand de burlasoften had the connotation of "lewd" or "obscene" during this time. Furthermore, one of the categories that Cascales identifies as proper for .comedy is "cosas del cuerpo." 12 This is different from the Renaissance poetry of France and Italy, where the explicit evocation of sex is possible in the serious, "high" poetry of a Ronsard, for example . By contrast in Spain, it is almost exclusively within low, comic, burlesque genres-those that deal with the portrayal of a world upside down-that the frank representation of sexuality was allowed to appear. There are, of course, exceptions and, as stated before, the borders between what was proscribed and what was allowed were fluid. The language of JardindeVenusis, however, not exclusively that of low popular culture, nor is it truly carnavalesque in the Bakhtinian sense. That is, while it does emphasize what Bakhtin calls the lower bodily stratum, it is not truly a manifestation of popular -culture but is produced rather within the same social/intellectual context that produced respectable, canonical verse. Its purpose is laughter, yes, but it is not the laughter of the marketplace since the wit of these verses is determined by their stance vis-a-vis the canonical model of lyric love poetry. At work is a type of imitatio that would have its culmination in the Baroque. As Aurora Egido puts it: En el campo burlesco, el rebajamiento de los materiales nobles opera cambios espectaculares, gracias a la ruptura estiHstica o a los encuadres ... La poesfa barroca es una constante busqueda de temas y formas nuevas, pero el hallazgo reside, en numerosas ocasiones, en el desafio de transformar los materiales previos gracias a las tecnicas de yuxtaposici6n ode fundido que rompen la rotaestilistica o la tradicional division de los generos. (88-89) The poetry of Jardinanticipates the poetry of the Baroque in the manner in which it dissolves the boundaries between high and low culture , and explores new genre territories. This poetry, then, represents not so much a repudiation of sublime verse but rather an alternative, parallel or supplemental discourse,,reminding us of the etymology of the word "parody." Parodea can mean either "countersong" referring to a composition written in opposition to a previous one, or it can ~ THE RHETORIC OF DESIRE AND MISOGYNY ... ~ 57 describe a composition meant to parallel or complement another text (Hutcheon 32). The ambiguity of discourse and the resulting instability of genre are important t:onsiderations, but not more so than the attitudes toward women and sexuality reflected in this poetry. Barbara Johnson has said that literature is "not only a,thwarted investigator but also an incorrigible perpetrator of the problem of sexuality"(13). Renaissance poetic practice is certainly no exception, Indeed, the love lyric of the sixteenth century, according to Ann Rosalind Jones, centralizes socio-sexual difference as no other literary mode does (7). The

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ISSN
2377-9551
Print ISSN
1084-1490
Pages
pp. 51-69
Launched on MUSE
2017-11-06
Open Access
No
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