Gender and the Gaze: Sor Juana, Lacan, and Spanish Baroque Poetry
- Calíope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance and Baroque Hispanic Poetry
- Penn State University Press
- Volume 9, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 61-74
- View Citation
- Additional Information
GENDER AND THE GAZE: SOR JUANA, LACAN, AND SPANISH BAROQUE POETRY Matthew D. Stroud Trinity University T here are few motifs more ubiquitous in Renaissance and Baroque poetry than those that link falling in love to the eyes. Based at least in part on Theophrastus, as Halstead has pointed out (11320 ), this notion of love describes a process by which one is captivated by looking at the object of desire, prompting an exchange of humors or spirits. If the love is returned, both lovers feel complete and satisfied, but if the object of desire does not reciprocate, one feels empty because one has given one’s soul to another while receiving nothing in return. Garcilaso’s Soneto VIII is a splendid illustration of this relationship between love, eyes, and the soul: De aquella vista pura y excelente salen espíritus vivos y encendidos, y siendo por mis ojos recebidos, me pasan hasta donde el mal se siente; encuéntrase el camino fácilmente por do lo míos, de tal calor movidos, salen fuera de mí como perdidos, llamados d’aquel bien que ’stá presente. Ausente, en la memoria la imagino; mis espíritus, pensando que la vían, se mueven y se encienden sin medida; mas no hallando fácil el camino, que los suyos entrando derretían, revientan por salir do no hay salida. (Rivers 44) Here the love object is clearly feminine (“la imagino,” “la vían”). Traditionally, because most poets of the time were men, it is assumed that the point of view is masculine and that the relationship between love and the eye most often described is that of a man captivated by the sight of a woman. In recent decades, the study of the optics of love has been taken up by both feminist theory and psychoanalysis, with extraordinarily insightful results. One of its most important contributions has been CALÍOPE Vol. 9, No. 2 (2003): pages 61-74 62 Matthew D. Stroud D the (now self-evident) insight that the gaze of the man and the gaze of the woman are not equal, but are rather a function of the hierarchical relationships between the sexes and the structures of power. Thanks to the contribution of feminist readings, it is now apparent that the male gaze, granted preferential status by society, subjugates women, reducing them to a focal point or an object of representation. When viewed by a man as the object of his desire, woman is turned into an “uncanny stranger on display,” to paraphrase Hélène Cixous (“Laugh” 250); as Laura Mulvey asserts (27), she is represented as the fantasized object of the gaze. Woman is always in representation as the object of masculine desire: “on est toujours dans la représentation et, quand on demande à la femme de prendre place dans cette représentation, on lui demande, bien sûr, de représenter de désir de l’homme” (Cixous, “Entretien” 487). At the same time, masculine domination is selfreinforcing because men get pleasure from their position of authority over the woman-as-object and, especially in literature written by men, which is the vast majority, literary content itself is derived from imaginary male fantasies that view women in order to exploit them (Freedman 59). This authoritarian, if not totalitarian, gaze lies at the heart of the repression of women; as Stephen Heath notes, “If the woman looks, the spectacle provokes, castration is in the air, the Medusa’s head is not far off” (“Difference” 92). According to this perspective, the look of any man is an effort to objectify, subjugate, and fetishize any woman who is the object of the masculine gaze, and such a look is part of the larger symbolic universe of male dominance and erasure of “Woman” if not women. As an example drawn from Golden Age poetry, consider the following sonnet by Góngora: De pura honestidad templo sagrado cuyo bello cimiento y gentil muro de blanco nácar y alabastro duro fue por divina mano fabricado; pequeña puerta de coral preciado, claras lumbreras de mirar seguro, que a la esmeralda fina el verde puro habéis para viriles usurpado; soberbio techo, cuyas cimbrias...