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from the March 2015 issue

Sor Juana and Other Monsters

All Sor Juana scholars differ on something. Differ
among themselves. Differ
on something, usually everything. For example

The reasons Sor Juana took the veil.
The reasons Sor Juana wrote the Carta Atenagórica.
The reasons Sor Juana finally recanted.

Or also, for example:

The real last name of Sor Juana.
The real meaning of “Primero sueño.”
The real nature of her relationship with the Marquesa de Paredes alias Lysi.

Mainly this:

all Sor Juana scholars tend to differ in regards to the nature of the relationship
between Sor Juana and the Marquesa de Paredes
alias Lysi.

And also about almost everything else,
from which it is possible to deduce

that the essential task of Sor Juana scholars
is to differ with what other Sor Juana scholars say.

In order to rehearse their differences in regards to what other Sor Juana scholars say,
Sor Juana scholars organize conferences about Sor Juana

where they differ, for example, on

The authorship of the “Carta de Sor Serafina de Cristo.”
The date of the drafting of the humorous sonnets.
The existence/inexistence of an inquisitional process against Sor Juana.

And, quite especially,
about the nature of the relationship
between Sor Juana and the Marquesa de Paredes alias Lysi.

Sor Juana scholars organize conferences.
Sor Juana scholars write books.
Sor Juana scholars prepare annotated editions.

Sor Juana scholars publish articles, essays, papers, rebuttal letters
in specialized magazines, on personal blogs, in the proceedings
from conferences that they themselves organize in order to differ with what other Sor Juana scholars say.

Sor Juana scholars are very busy people.
Sor Juana scholars are very strange people.
Sor Juana scholars tend to have their own separate cubicles.

But even among Sor Juana scholars,
whose essential task is to differ with other Sor Juana scholars,

there are some points of convergence:
almost none:
one:

all Sor Juana scholars concur that Sor Juana was a monster.

The majority of Sor Juana scholars
don’t like to admit it
but

there comes a paragraph
in the doctoral dissertation of every Sor Juana scholar
in which it becomes impossible to go on without first admitting

that Sor Juana was a monster.

And then,
the Sor Juana scholar in question admits,
like all the other Sor Juana scholars,
that Sor Juana was a monster.

For example, Margo Glantz.

The majority of Sor Juana scholars reluctantly admit
that Sor Juana was a monster

and attempt to play down its importance

in the next paragraph,
but they admit it.

For example, Margo Glantz.

The majority admits it while attempting to make it understood
that they admit it in a metaphorical sense,
but they admit it.

For example, Margo Glantz:

“Her fame increases, people timidly begin
to grant her the rank of muse, later
she will be called Phoenix, and she herself will warn
that all those epithets turn her
into a monster.”

Or, for example, Stephanie Kirk:

“...in these poems Sor Juana displays
the full range of her feelings
on the topic of her monstrous offspring
and, thus,
her own monstrosity...”

Or, for example, David Solodkow:

“...as the Respuesta progresses,
Sor Juana continues to provide evidence of
the particularities of her monstrosity...”

Yes: Sor Juana was a monster:

sooner or later, every Sor Juana scholar admits it: they concur
with what other Sor Juana scholars say
who in turn concur

with what was said
about Sor Juana by Sor Juana’s contemporaries:

that Sor Juana was a monster.

For example, Peter of the Blessed Sacrament,
in one of the prologues to the second volume of Sor Juana’s works,
without the modesty typical of modern Sor Juana scholars, calls her

“Monster among women and Mexican prodigy.”

Yes, that:
a monster.

Sor Juana herself writes:

What the wily tricksters would give
just to be able to seize me
and parade me, like a Monster
through those backward localities
of Italy and France, which are
lovers of all these novelties
and would pay their money to see
the fantastic Head of the Giant,
saying: To see the Phoenix, we’re
at your orders, just two quarters...!

Was Sor Juana a phoenix?

All the Sor Juana scholars concur that Sor Juana
was a monster; where they differ
is

on what kind of monster she was.

Some Sor Juana scholars read “Phoenix” and repeat “Phoenix”
Some Sor Juana scholars read “Phoenix” and say nothing.

But was Sor Juana a phoenix?

Probably there was a bit of feathers, a bit of wings, a bit of bird
under her habit, but a phoenix,
what is called a phoenix,
no.

It’s enough to look at her portraits to know
that Sor Juana was no
phoenix.

The Sor Juana scholars have love,
(an immense love inside themselves),
but for some strange reason
(in no way inexplicable)
at a certain point in their unfortunate lives
(what life isn’t?)
they decided to hand over all that love to Sor Juana.

For some Sor Juana scholars, the immense love
they have for Sor Juana
prevents them from seeing Sor Juana clearly:

some Sor Juana scholars read “Phoenix” and transcribe “Phoenix,”
but it’s enough to look at her portraits
to know that Sor Juana was no phoenix.

If Sor Juana was not a Phoenix
Bird,
what kind of monster was she?

Sor Juana scholars aren’t of much help in this regard.
In general
Sor Juana scholars aren’t of much help with anything.

Except some, of course:
Méndez Placarte (despite it all), Dorothy Schons (some years back),
Octavio Paz (even him), Margo Glantz (at times), Antonio Alatorre (always):
I dedicate this humble homage to them.

Except for some and except for those
who every thirty years discover
an unpublished work by Sor Juana,
Sor Juana scholars aren’t much help in general

and even less at the moment of discerning what
kind
of
monster
she
was.

What kind of monster was Sor Juana?

Enigma.

An enigma who poses enigmas.

One of Sor Juana’s enigmas:

Who is that murderess, tell me¬—
so graciously ungrateful she—
who kills at once when comes alive
and, having given life, she dies?

Sor Juana scholars: watch out.

What kind of monster poses enigmas?

What kind
of monster is it whose power
resides in language?

A sphinx?

Was Sor Juana a sphinx?

Sor Juana scholars: I have here a topic for your next conference.

I can already imagine the papers,
for example:

“Oedipus in Light of Sor Juana: The Tragedy of the Reader”
“Deconstructing the Dream of the Sorjuanian Sphinx”
“The Sorjuanesque Transit from Thebes to New Spain”

And,
of course:
“The Enigmatic Relationship
Between the Sphinx and the Marquesa de Paredes alias Lysi.”

Sor Juana scholars: be careful!

Because Sor Juana’s body
has still not been found.

Sor Juana scholars: be careful!

And
once again:
Sor Juana scholars: be careful!

Because one night, a shadow—
pyramidal, disastrous—will hover above us:

Sor Juana will unfurl the wings hidden for so long beneath her habit

and in light of the inability of Sor Juana scholars
to respond coherently to her enigma
she will devour the Sor Juana scholars, now with no metaphors to mediate.

Sor Juana will devour the Sor Juana scholars:
some Sor Juana scholars and other Sor Juana scholars: all the Sor Juana scholars

except Margo Glantz
because she’ll be out of town and she is eternal: Margo Glantz has a lot of
explaining to do.

Yes, except Margo Glantz, Sor Juana will devour all the Sor Juana scholars:
unfinished theses splattered with blood!

The next morning, the police will not know how
to explain the massacre and the press will attribute it,
for example,

to political paybacks,
to fanatical literature students,
to hitmen settling scores:

Sor Juana scholars: be careful!

A shadow will hover above us: Sor Juana
will open her wings like a book opens

and she will fly above the night, ascending—
gorgeous and monstrous—
once more toward the spheres.

"Sor Juana y otros monstros"  © Luis Felipe Fabre. Translation © 2015 by John Pluecker. From Sor Juana and Other Monsters, forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse. By arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

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