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Nine— Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Dreaming in a Double Voice
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Rewriting the Female Script

In the dangerous project of constituting a female subject in the context of Counter-Reformation Hispanic discourse, who are Sor Juana's precursors? Her point of view as the illegitimate child of a Mexican-born mother and her position outside the institution of marriage, chosen to enable her to pursue her intellectual interests, place her on the margins of the culture whose discourse she so expertly manipulated, and this point of view makes her in some senses unique. In her Respuesta she cites biblical heroines in the defense of women's right to intellectual development, but a key precursor is St. Teresa of Ávila, who never claimed the right to study and who sought anonymity as a solution to her problems with the religious authorities of the late sixteenth century. Teresa did not write until her fifties, when she could no longer be accused, like so many other women mystics who were discredited, of being a hysterical female. When she did write about her mystical experiences, Teresa attributed them to "una persona que conozco," someone she happened to know. She constitutes herself invisibly as the "persona," a valid subject whose experience is an example of the relationship of the soul to God or of spiritual methods others can imitate. And yet, the presence of the nun speaking from experience to her religious sisters is unmistakable in Teresa's oral style.

In her Sueño , Juana's solution was androgyny rather than anonymity. It is the only poem she claims to have written for her own pleasure. The Sueño 's


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development is ultimately toward an exaltation of the range and power of human knowledge, followed by the simultaneous recognition of the limits of possible modes of that knowledge and the reawakening to the dreamer's female identity. Androgynous and freely exploring the microcosm and macrocosm, the self can only temporarily transcend the limits of knowledge, just as Sor Juana's transcendence of gender in the poem, as well as in life, was only temporary. Juana refers to her own futile attempts at anonymity, "veiling the light of her name," in her Respuesta , but the continuation of her intellectual life depended in part upon the recognition and protection of important public figures. She had chosen to reflect on the very problems of self-depiction that were a major philosophical preoccupation of her male contemporaries. Her poetry defies the traditional objectification of women by constituting herself as subject, and as subject and object of a dream that fuses a poetic voice with a philosophical vision. Her affirmation of the validity of her life and thought inspired generations of Hispanic women to look for innovative depictions of woman as subject, to depict the conflict between her vision of herself and the appealing portraits painted to silence the expression of that vision.


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