Sor Juana: Or, The Traps of Faith

Sor Juana: Or, The Traps of Faith

Octavio Paz

Language: English

Pages: 568

ISBN: 067482105X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

thanks to everyone for dual language poetry! here's my first offering of Paz on the tracker, I think. not dual language.

trans Margaret Sayers Peden

Mexico's leading poet, essayist, and cultural critic writes of a Mexican poet of another time and another world, the world of seventeenth-century New Spain. His subject is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the most striking figure in all of Spanish-American colonial literature and one of the great poets of her age.

Her life reads like a novel. A spirited and precocious girl, one of six illegitimate children, is sent to live with relatives in the capital city. She becomes known for her beauty, wit, and amazing erudition, and is taken into the court as the Vicereine's protégée. For five years she enjoys the pleasures of life at court--then abruptly, at twenty, enters a convent for life. Yet, no recluse, she transforms the convent locutory into a literary and intellectual salon; she amasses an impressive library and collects scientific instruments, reads insatiably, composes poems, and corresponds with literati in Spain. To the consternation of the prelates of the Church, she persists in circulating her poems, redolent more of the court than the cloister. Her plays are performed, volumes of her poetry are published abroad, and her genius begins to be recognized throughout the Hispanic world. Suddenly she surrenders her books, forswears all literary pursuits, and signs in blood a renunciation of secular learning. The rest is silence. She dies two years later, at forty-six.

Octavio Paz has long been intrigued by the enigmas of Sor Juana's personality and career. Why did she become a nun? How could she renounce her lifelong passion for writing and learning? Such questions can be answered only in the context of the world in which she lived. Paz gives a masterly portrayal of the life and culture of New Spain and the political and ideological forces at work in that autocratic, theocratic, male-dominated society, in which the subjugation of women was absolute.

Just as Paz illuminates Sor Juana's life by placing it in its historical setting, so he situates her work in relation to the traditions that nurtured it. With critical authority he singles out the qualities that distinguish her work and mark her uniqueness as a poet. To Paz her writings, like her life, epitomize the struggle of the individual, and in particular the individual woman, for creative fulfillment and self-expression.

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and Judaizers). Orthodoxy created a dualism, a definitive line of demarcation. Its authority relied on both the law and the sword, the Church and the state. Spain was, at the dawn of the modern age, again different from other European states. In them central power was strengthened, and in them, in one way or another, state and nation— two separate entities until then— became one. But no other nation-state identified as totally as Spain with a single religion. Spanish orthodoxy fed on the

—1668 by the circular movement of tropes and metaphors: the imaginary space of solitude. A double solitude: the reader's and the self-taught writer’s. In the Response Sor Juana complains again and again that she studied alone, she had no teachers, her only confidants were mute books. And mirrors, she could have added. Her poetry is filled with mirrors and the companions to mirrors, portraits. True, mirrors and portraits are ba­ roque commonplaces and appear in all the poets of the period; even

pension. The royal pension was but a drop in the ocean: Fray Payo was a member of the highest nobility (the house of the Dukes de Alcalá) and his family was one of the richest in Spain. His aunt, the Duchess de Alcalá, was the mother of the Duke de Medinaceli, appointed just about that time (1680) to be prime minister to Charles II. Since he was a brother of the Duke de Medinaceli, the new Viceroy, Don Tomás Antonio de la Cerda, the Marquis de la Laguna, was also Fray Payo’s cousin. Don Tomás de

Brun, Racine, Molière, all created triumphant forms destined for im­ molation at the precise instant of their triumph. Apotheosis and sacrifice of form. Many aspects of the baroque festival are mysterious to us. Perhaps by comparing it to the “'happening,” a festival in vogue two decades ago, we may understand it better. What the baroque festival and the “ hap­ pening” have in common is their fascination with death, although their responses to this fascination differ. The “ happening” is intended

gentilium (On the Genealogy o f the Pagan Gods) and De claris mulieribus (On Famous Women). We do not know whether Sor Juana read those works, but through Vitoria, Cartari, and others she surely had knowledge of their contents. The most complete anthology of texts on Isis is found in those works by Boccaccio.3 The transformation of Io into Isis appears in both. Boccaccio’s sources were Ovid and Macrobius, two authors well known to Sor Juana; part of the theme of First Dream, as will be seen, is

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