By combining history and literary criticism, Kathleen Ross in this book reevaluates the concept of the baroque of the Indies. She undertakes a deep and thorough analysis of Parayso occidental (1684), an account of the history of the Convent of Jesús María (founded in 1580 in Mexico City) by Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, the celebrated seventeenth-century scholar of New Spain. Ross considers that Parayso portrays Sigüenza’s concerns and anxieties about two issues: the possibility of a criollo historiographical consciousness and the place of criollo women as preservers of the criollo group in a multiethnic society. Thus, Sigüenza’s book is especially appropriate for examining how gender and history interrelated in colonial Spanish America.
Ross adopts a critical stand toward the historiography and literary criticism that has tried to separate Sigüenza from the baroque by making him either a hero of modernity or a symbol of resistance. She seeks a third interpretation, using the concept of colonial discourse to examine how Sigüenza recycled previous narratives to give a voice to the colonial subjectivity. Her exploration shows many important aspects of Sigüenza’s criollo vision by uncovering the tensions in his work. According to Ross, Sigüenza had to address his book to both the king of Spain and the feminine readership of the convent. He solved the problem by using “a baroque language, a lack of critical references, and a wealth of excess layering.” As a result, Parayso shows an oscillating and unresolved pattern, in sharp contrast with the “standard boundaries and genres” apparently privileged in Europe.
Sigüenza also wanted to depict the Convent of Jesús María as a New World paradise; but the rise of Carmelite reformers, who struggled to abandon it to pursue a truly ascetic life, suggested that the convent was far from being such a paradise of virtue. In her exhaustive analysis, Ross points out that despite his suppression of women’s testimonies regarding the creole-peninsular conflict and other political confrontations, Sigüenza could not avoid a “rhetorical crisis” in his text.
Ross contributes to a more comprehensive analysis of the condition of women writers in the colonial era with the concept of mediated authorship. Challenging the assumption that writing is a subversive act in itself, Ross underscores the various dimensions of female subjectivity as firmly grounded in history and a concrete social structure. One of the most suggestive topics Ross develops is the intertwining of different temporal dimensions in women’s writing (the time of ritual, the mystical time of visions and miracles, and the time of political events), and Sigüenza’s efforts to subject them to his project of historical narrative.