a) tragedy b) tragicomedy c) comedy d) a cryptographic exercise e) a horror movie f) a triumphal march g) mystery h) a dir...more It begins as a comedy and ends as?*
a) tragedy b) tragicomedy c) comedy d) a cryptographic exercise e) a horror movie f) a triumphal march g) mystery h) a dirge in the void i) a comic monologue j) none and all of the above
And in the middle, we have art and youth and menace and freedom and the devil and writing and mystery and voices and searching and losing and screwing and poetry and politics and madness and loving and forgetting and age and mess and escaping and returning and the world.
What a consuming labyrinth this book is. I’d feel like a total fraud if I tried to say anything conclusive about it, because Bolaño’s pushed me in way over my head. But I definitely want to stay in.
_______ *Options a) – i) kindly provided by chapter 23. (less)
Juana Inés de la Cruz, born in Mexico in 1648, was a scholar, poet, musician, courtier-turned-nun and defender of reason and women’s rights, which thi...more Juana Inés de la Cruz, born in Mexico in 1648, was a scholar, poet, musician, courtier-turned-nun and defender of reason and women’s rights, which things she did quite exceptionally well, in spite of humongous obstacles like her illegitimacy and ecclesiastical impediments to secular study particularly by a woman…and all this before dying at 47 while nursing other nuns through a plague. Pretty intriguing woman, no?
Well, want to know what’s embarrassing? This is embarrassing: I lived within a two-hour drive of Mexico for 22 years, and I had never even heard of Sor Juana until reading The Savage Detectives this January, much less read any of her work.
Clearly a problem I needed to fix.
Since I can’t read Spanish, I decided to start with Poems, Protest, and a Dream, as it contains English translations of one long poem, a bunch of short poems, some plays, and her blockbuster essay on her intellectual journey and why other women should be able to do the same – a sort of Sor Juana sampler platter, if you will. And wow. She kind of blew me away with her diverse treatments of reason and faith; intellect, beauty and gender; the human and the divine.
Here are some highlights:
Long poem: ”Primero Sueño” (“First Dream”) This is a pretty spectacular poem: far-reaching and personal at the same time. In it, a Soul goes on an epistemological quest that actually reminded me of Dante’s Divine Comedy. But this Soul has no Beatrice or Virgil to guide it. It’s questing alone, with tellingly ambiguous results.
Short poems These were a real grab bag: some secular, some sacred, some even saucy. It’s pretty tough to know how much Sor Juana I was getting in these short gems, though, since she uses elaborate word play in the Baroque style, and a lot of the poetry of poetry gets lost in translation. In the note for one poem, the translator flat-out says, "This is admittedly an imitation, not a translation."
Theater I loved the deceptively simple The Divine Narcissus, an allegorical meeting between the religions of native peoples and the encroaching Spanish. Sor Juana approaches her subject with humanity, a lack of dogmatism, and more complexity than initially meets the eye. Plus, this play has what may be the first concern with environmental degradation due to Spanish activities in the continent’s recorded history. A lot there.
Response to the Most Illustrious Poetess Sor Filotea De la Cruz This one’s crazy fascinating. It’s Sor Juana’s response to a letter from the nun, "Sor Filotea De la Cruz," who lovingly enjoined Sor Juana to abandon reason and apply herself to the spiritual. It gets especially weird, because the letter was actually from a (view spoiler)[backstabbing (hide spoiler)] male bishop who’d previously published one of Sor Juana's works (which she knew he knew she knew), who just signed himself a nun, and both parties, apparently, had every expectation their letters could be made public. So much intrigue.
Sor Juana’s response opens with her personal history as a girl thirsty for knowledge, so thirsty that she’d hack her hair off short if she hadn’t learned something by a time she set, "for there seemed to me no cause for a head to be adorned with hair and naked of learning." In spite of admonishments (girls shouldn’t learn, learning should be confined to spiritual matters, etc.), teacherless Juana read widely in humanist arts and sciences. And wrote. To close the essay, she marshals various religious and historical arguments why women should be free to learn and to teach.
It’s all brilliant and not a little heartbreaking. I don’t know quite how to take it. Is this essay a reasoned clarion call? A cry for help? Apologetic? Defiant? Could be all of the above.
But throughout this anthology, what struck me again and again is the discontinuity between seventeenth-century Mexico, which was a rather hostile environment for her, and other times and places in which her talents may have been valued more. As she described how her studies in the convent environment were inhibited by:
“all the attendant details of living in a community: how I might be reading, and those in the adjoining cell would wish to play their instruments, and sing: how I might be studying, and two servants who had quarreled would select me to judge their dispute; or how I might be writing, and a friend come to visit me…”
I thought of nothing so much as college dorms, where Sor Juana would have thrived. And where her most pressing obstacle might have been whether the R.A. had addressed those noise complaints yet. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)