So my dissertation’s all done and turned in, despite the false start I had the day I submitted it. I’ve decided to publish the abstract online (full text available upon request) just in case there’s the off chance someone would actually read it. There’s more of a chance that someone would read it by stumbling upon it on the internet than when it’s actually published on microfilm or in book form. Whether the latter ever happens is another story.
I mean, I did spend almost three years working on it. Not that that makes it good. Anyway, hit the “read more” button for the abstract then a link to email me for the PDF of the whole thing.
My dissertation explores the Baroque articulations of literary and national identity in two peripheries of the Spanish empire: the viceroyalties of Catalonia and New Spain (present day Mexico). I study several authors who wrote in Catalan, a romance language spoken in eastern Spain, in light of recent scholarship on authors of the Spanish American Baroque, which stresses the subversive ways in which colonized peoples appropriated the discourse of their colonizers. The authors I study elaborate a critique of Spanish colonial power relations in order to stimulate local identities: in the case of New Spain, this resulted a Creole identity that mimics yet simultaneously subverts hegemonic imperial discourse, while in the Catalan case, I explore a highly politicized literary production that would revitalize Catalan as a literary language equal to the language of empire, Spanish. These authors are studied in relation to their use of emblems, a genre common to the Renaissance and Baroque that combined poetry with captions and an image—in a sense, an erudite editorial cartoon.
The Catalan Baroque has only recently begun to be studied within Catalonia, but not elsewhere. Its study can paint a fuller picture of the Spain’s process of internal colonialism that occurred alongside the conquest of the New World, and serves as another crucial site for investigating cultures of crisis and the upending of colonizers’ discourse. In the seventeenth century, especially, the similar responses of colonized intellectuals to imperial politics can widen our ideas about the Baroque to include other countries, peoples, and languages that appropriated the colonizer’s aesthetic for their own expressions of autonomy. In this sense, I aim to analyze a transatlantic rather than exclusively European or American Baroque. The case of Josep Romaguera (1642-1723) provides one excellent example for why the Catalan Baroque deserves study: an important politician, clergyman, and intellectual in the years between the Catalan revolt of 1640-52 and the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14) in which Catalonia tried to preserve its autonomy, Romaguera is still a virtually unknown figure. His work and that of Francesc Fontanella (1622-1690?) earlier in the seventeenth century echo the work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (ca.1648-1695), a Hieronymite nun living in New Spain, whose texts also lay the groundwork for a distinct, local identity that puts Spanish and patriarchal hegemony into question. My comparative analysis of these three authors identifies important commonalities in these colonial intellectuals and their appropriation of the imperial, Baroque esthetic.
My work goes beyond the formalistic analysis of these authors’ works in order to read them as a calculated appropriation of the Baroque esthetic that questions imperial hegemony in Catalonia or New Spain. My project thus depends on locating the works in their related historical and colonial contexts as products of viceregal culture in New Spain and Catalonia. In New Spain, a colonial elite came to voice its concerns about the viceregal and Spanish administration of the colonies; this Creole elite, which increasingly defined itself against Spanish hegemony, formed the basis for the movements towards independence in the nineteenth century. While New Spain was a conquered possession and thus subject to the laws of the Spanish kingdom of Castile, the kingdoms that made up the Crown of Aragon, especially the Principality of Catalonia, had a long tradition of autonomy that entailed distinct local institutions, laws, and the use (literary or otherwise) of the Catalan language.
The early modern period in Catalonia is usually known as the “Decadence,” which refers to the decline of the thriving commercial Mediterranean empire controlled by the Crown of Aragon; it also dismisses the Baroque literature of the Early Modern Period in contrast to the Romantic revival of the nineteenth century. After the union of the Spanish monarchies of Castile and Aragon, the latter became a satellite of the former and was equal only in name. Catalonia was governed, as was New Spain, by a viceroy that represented the monarchy’s interests in a foreign land. The viceroy of Catalonia was ordered to apply or impose the perennially absent monarch’s increasingly centralist and absolutist will. However, because of the Principality’s own set of laws, which every Spanish king swore to uphold, Catalonia possessed many exemptions from taxes, military duty, and other contributions. Increasingly under threat from viceregal administrations due to the Spanish crown’s financial limitations and constant armed struggles, the preservation of Catalan autonomy was a crucial concern of intellectuals like Fontanella and Romaguera.
Peripheral authors made fascinating use of the emblematic mode in the Baroque. The emblematic literature I study includes both books of emblems and literature that uses emblematic imagery. By “emblem” I mean the allegorical word-image structure in which a motto (inscriptio) is placed above an image (pictura) and followed by a short text (subscriptio) that glosses the pictura. This tripartite word-image structure was codified by the hugely successful printing of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber in 1531. The themes of emblems are usually allegorical in nature (“Justice,” “Virtue,” or “Peace,” for instance). Alciato and later emblem book writers drew on a variety of traditions, both European and non-European: Egyptian hieroglyphs, classical mythology, medieval heraldry, and biblical exegesis. Furthermore, the emblematic mode of allegory became common in poetry, theater, architecture, and other arts. As the seventeenth century progressed, the emblematic mode developed into an important shared discourse among intellectuals throughout Europe and the New World.
Romaguera’s 1681 emblem book, Atheneo de grandesa [Athenaeum of Greatness], is the only emblem book published in Catalan. Romaguera’s text attempts to restitute literary Catalan as a tool capable of negotiating a space for Catalonia and Catalan writing within the wider context of the Habsburg empire. The Atheneo is both a manifesto and an execution of the kind of writing in Catalan Romaguera proposes: easily identifiable with metropolitan Baroque discourse (the emblematic mode), it simultaneously reaffirms the need to intensify and foster Catalan contributions to and differences from that metropolitan discourse. The Atheneo self-consciously imitates the work of the Spanish Jesuit author Baltasar Gracián, especially his first work, El héroe (The Hero, 1637), in order to contradict those who believe Catalan to be a “base” or “vulgar” language. Romaguera’s translation of Gracián’s hero highlights intellectual rather than political virtues and champions Catalan as a literary language.
Fontanella, meanwhile, a participant in the 1640-52 Catalonian revolt against Castile, adapts the pastoral geography of canonical Spanish poets to the Catalonian landscape, in Catalan. Fontanella’s work, like the Atheneo, vindicates literary production in Catalan as a remedy to the centralizing tendencies of the Spanish monarchy. As civic poetry (such as the poems dedicated to figures such as the Catalan revolutionary Pau Claris) constitutes one of Fontanella’s most cultivated genres, the dissertation necessarily discusses the connections between his revolutionary activities and his writing, which sought to find an equal in Catalan to popular Spanish genres such as theater, pastoral poetry, and the panegyric.
Sor Juana turns to the emblematic mode in several of her works that critically engage viceregal authorities, such as the 1680 Neptuno alegórico [Allegorical Neptune], which welcomes the newly arrived viceroy and vicereine while stressing Sor Juana’s own erudition and the importance of American experience. Likewise, her prelude to the religious play El divino Narciso [The Divine Narcissus] highlights the similarities between indigenous American and Spanish religious beliefs, thus questioning an important justification of the conquest of the New World. Moreover, Sor Juana’s most autobiographical poem, the Primero sueño [First Dream], mobilizes several emblematic images to highlight the quest for knowledge undertaken by the poem’s narrator. All in all, Sor Juana’s use of the emblematic mode aids in her own appropriations of canonical texts to construct an American and literary identity.
Contributions to Hispanic and Early Modern Studies
Within Hispanic Studies, the fields of Latin American, Catalan, and Early Modern Spanish studies often restrict their inquiry to one geographical area. For example, many scholars of Catalan literature are conversant with the literary movements of Spain, but not necessarily with those of Colonial Spanish America. Likewise, scholars working on the colonial period are familiar with Spanish literature but not Catalan, perhaps due to linguistic and disciplinary restrictions. Yet, both of these fields could benefit from studies of the other since similar literary reactions to colonial domination occurred in both viceroyalties. The recent “Transatlantic Turn” of Early Modern Studies has focused mainly on issues of race, nation, and Spain’s relationship to her colonies, but has not fully explored Spain’s own internal process of colonialism of kingdoms such as Catalonia that were subject to Castilian domination.
More generally, my research highlights the contestations of Spanish hegemony in geographically distant but intellectually similar peripheral regions. In this sense, my project serves as a case study for other imperial contexts, as I show how intellectual resistance to empire in peripheral regions utilizes preexisting, hegemonic discourses: the Baroque and the emblem tradition. The cases of Catalonia and New Spain provide fascinating parallels to other colonized peoples’ literary and artistic appropriations of the colonizer’s discourse and the resulting creation of local identities that question foreign political control.