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Nine— Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Dreaming in a Double Voice
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Female Subject, Female Gaze

Despite his professed disagreement with Ludwig Pfandl's thesis concerning Sor Juana as psychological aberration, Octavio Paz's puzzlement at the phenomenon of the female gaze in Sor Juana's portraits causes him to devote a disproportionate part of his study to determining the nature of Sor Juana's sexuality. He vacillates between the ideology of courtly, neoplatonic, intellectual, and spiritual friendship and the anachronism of "lesbian" or "sapphic" overtones of the relationship between the nun and her patroness, the Condesa de Paredes.[22]

A more productive question than the nature of the poet's unknowable "sentimientos" would be the significance of her act of writing the transgressive female gaze. Her writing is a direct confrontation with the cultural constitution of the female as the passive object of contemplation. She constructs a trap of her own for the patriarchal reader, accustomed to the bad faith of Renaissance poetics of desire, taken for granted in its gendered standard of discourse. The female object of desire, treated as a passive statue in male poetic discourse, is revealed in Sor Juana's poetry to have been listening all along, and to be capable of mimicking the same discourse in a disconcerting way. Paz constructs a labyrinthine history of Western love leading occasionally through strictly male-defined Greek homosexuality, but he does not address the disruption caused by Sor Juana's writing about the female body from the point of view of the female gaze. Hardly another woman poet would write again so consciously of a named female body until the twentieth century, when the significance of such inscription would be inextricable from personal confession.

To Paz the central purpose of Sor Juana's life was knowledge, but in her cultural context knowledge was not neutral or merely acquired with no relationship to the structures of power. Learning Latin was a preliminary to the inscription of herself as subject in the structure of power. The search for knowledge was inextricably bound up with the mechanisms of power, and the modes of operation of these mechanisms in Sor Juana's life were linked directly to the act of writing. She represents herself as a questing mind, and in her portraits there are books, but there is also the hand holding the pen, a means of participation in theological debate and courtly ceremonies. In her Respuesta , Sor Juana argues that well-educated older women should teach


girls on a level higher than the "Amiga," and it seems clear that Sor Juana would have taught, had the conditions existed for her to do so.[23]

In her villancico "Víctor, víctor Catarina," Sor Juana praises the erudite St. Catherine not only for her knowledge but also for her use of it to confound the patriarchs and convince them that "el sexo / no es esencia en lo entendido" [to be female does not mean to lack wisdom]. Catherine, like Sor Juana, served the Church by defying the command to keep silent:

Estudia, arguye y enseña,
y es de la Iglesia servicio,
que no la quiere ignorante
El que racional la hizo.

[She studied, taught, and argued,
and thereby served the Church,
for He who created her a rational being
did not want her ignorant.]

Her writings in ink have been lost ("¡ oh dolor!"), but her example has been inscribed in blood.[24] Sor Juana's praise of St. Catherine is another self-portrait, conscious of its significance.

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Nine— Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Dreaming in a Double Voice
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