Sor Juana, Octavio Paz, and Poetics of Restitution

  • Enrico Mario Santí
Part of the New Directions in Latino American Cultures book series (NDLAC)


Toward the end of Sorfuana, or the Traps of Faith (1988), Octavio Paz sums up his insights into the life and works of Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz (1648–1695), the seventeenth-century New Spanish poet and nun, by stating that “in the light of her work, it is her defeat that takes on a new meaning … her writings, especially her Reply and First Dream, are the best antidote for the moral righteousness that would make an edifying example of her fall.”1 “The moment we begin to weaken,” he then adds on a more personal note, “seduced by guilt and punishment, we remember those texts and, as if questioning a mirror, we ask them, what was the real meaning of her defeat?” (488). At the heart of Paz s multifarious book—biography, critical study, and historical treatise, a work whose monumental size and range (650 pages long in its first Spanish edition) rivals classics of philology—therefore lies a moral intent. Like Phaeton, the myth of transgression that Sor Juana invokes defiantly at the end of First Dream, she falls defeated, but despite that defeat her last two major works still uplift us, her modern readers, with the moral strength to overcome those obstacles to which she succumbed while waging her embattled last years. Indeed, like Phaeton, for Paz an emblem of paradox—“the paradoxical image of freedom: flight and fall, transgression and punishment” (38)—Sor Juana was both transgressor and victim. Yet her actions at the end of her life openly belied, and even contradicted, her last works, thus forming an antithetical bond. In the abyss that opens between Sor Juanas final years and her two testaments one can therefore read the enigmatic text that constitutes what Paz calls the “real meaning” of her life.2


Conspiracy Theory Moral Righteousness Critical Practice Moral Intent Rightful Owner 
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© Enrico Mario Santí 2005

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  • Enrico Mario Santí

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