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BETWEEN “ALLÁ” AND “ACÁ”: THE POLITICS OF SUBJECT POSITIONING IN THREE EKPHRASTIC POEMS BY SOR JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ Kathryn M. Mayers Wake Forest University O ne of the primary veins running through the wealth of criticism on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is the attempt to understand the part her poetry played in the development of a Mexican national consciousness. While early- and mid-twentieth-century analyses of Sor Juana’s work tended to locate her aesthetic and political sentiments squarely within the Peninsular tradition, studies from the later part of the century often favored an Americanist reading of her life and writing.1 Recent scholarship has identified problems with both of these readings, showing that Sor Juana’s subjectivity in fact breaks into multiple subject positions that rarely involve complete identification with the Peninsula or with the Periphery.2 Efforts to understand this complexity can be extended by further analysis of one particularly rich area of Sor Juana’s corpus: a collection of ekphrastic poems that endow real or fictional portraits with political, social and religious attributes. The present essay builds upon recent criticism on literary self-fashioning by examining three portrait poems in which Sor Juana modifies conventions of literary and cultural representation by adapting certain techniques of the Peninsular writer Luis de Góngora. In “Romance 19,” “Romance 51,” and “Ovillejos 214” Sor Juana uses Gongoran innovations to position her poetic persona between “allá” and “acá” and transcend certain race, gender, and religious distinctions that ordered colonial society. In the pages that follow, I show how Sor Juana adopts Gongoran innovations in ekphrasis that claim for the poet a capacity to move beyond traditional concepts of mimesis, and how she adapts his expanded poetic function in a way that emphasizes the challenge such a new relationship represented to prevailing Colonial social structures. Ekphrastic works, by definition, focus intensely on an object, thereby bringing the relationship between the poem’s subject and its CALÍOPE Vol. 11, Number 1 (2005): pages 5-20 Kathryn Mayers 6 D D D D D object to the forefront of the reader’s attention.3 In Sor Juana’s portrait poems, this focus on the object also opens an overt intertextual dialogue with certain highly original ekphrastic works of Góngora. In several of her most famous portrait poems, Sor Juana borrows images from the Cordoban poet and redescribes them from her own point of view. By taking a stance toward the object that is in part a construction yet also in some measure a faithful reflection of her real position as a Creole at the periphery of the Empire, Sor Juana finds a vantage point beyond the limits of a Peninsular or American worldview that presents alternatives to existing patterns of social organization. In the seventeenth century, American-born colonials of European descent—Creoles like Sor Juana—found themselves in a dilemma with regard to their cultural and political relationship to the Metropolis. While Creoles bore no ethnic relationship to indigenous Americans, their birthplace at the periphery of the Empire associated them with the indigenous sector of society and generally divested them of the authority to hold top administrative and judicial posts (Leonard 40). Because of European practices of representation, Creoles found themselves suspended between Spain and America: while cut off from the origin of their cultural heritage for political reasons, they were socially segregated within their birthplace. Sor Juana, the gifted offspring of a Spanish father and a Creole mother, experienced this suspension particularly acutely. In her struggle against the limitations imposed on persons of her sex and station, she forged complex relationships across the spectrum of Colonial society. Some of these relationships involved ruling members of the Church and viceregal court, many born in Spain. Others involved people of little prestige or influence, generally born in America. In the revival of Sor Juana’s writings that has taken place over the past century, two features of her poetry have especially influenced the way scholars have understood her role in the development of a Mexican national identity. The first is the spirit with which she inserts herself into the culteranista and conceptista literary traditions of...


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