Baroque Sovereignty examines the emergence of a creole archive of artifacts, history, and traditions of colonial Mexico, primarily curated by the polymath Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora. Anna More posits the centrality of this archive for understanding how a local political imaginary emerged from the ruins of Spanish imperialism.
2012 | 360 pages | Cloth $65.00
Literature | Cultural Studies
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Sigüenza y Góngora and the Creole Archive
1. Allegory, Archives, and Creole Sovereignty
2. "Nostra Academia in barbara": Building an Archive on the Imperial Frontier
3. Mexican Hieroglyphics: Creole Antiquarianism and the Politics of Empire
4. Counterhistory and Creole Governance in the Riot of 1692
5. Creole Citizenship, Race, and the Modern World System
Conclusion: The Afterlife of a Baroque Archive
Introduction: Sigüenza y Góngora and the Creole Archive
biombo: The Fissures of History
The Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City houses a decorative standing screen (biombo) whose magnificent double-sided painting strikingly evokes the tension between the imaginary order of seventeenth-century New Spain and the region's violent origins (Figure 1). On one side, the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan unfolds as a series of battles erupting simultaneously throughout the pre-Columbian city. Although a legend in the lower left-hand corner labels key moments of the conquest depicted in the painting, the composition itself is geographical and spatial rather than chronological. A strong chiaroscuro marks the events represented: while light bathes the depiction of the Spanish approach to the mainland and Moctezuma's reception of Hernán Cortés in the upper left edges, the darkened lower corners reveal indigenous families fleeing into the surrounding forests as well as the infamous "sad night" (noche triste), when the Spanish were temporarily forced to retreat from the city. Rather than a chronological narrative, the painting presents the conquest as a palimpsest in which Moctezuma's initial reception of the Spanish gives way to bloody battles that force residents to flee into the wilderness. The depiction thus actively undermines sixteenth-century accounts such as Francisco López de Gómara's official history, which narrated the Mexican conquest as an act of providence. Although the biombo includes stock events from this providentialist historiography, such as the appearance of Santiago to the Spanish conquerors and Moctezuma's death at the hands of his own vassals, these scenes are not given priority over what one critic has called the "motley banquet of violence" (abigarrada festín de violencia).Indeed, the overall impression is one of violent disorder in which bodies, spears, and horses point outward from empty buildings. Perhaps the most spectacular of these constructions, labeled the "temple that was in the central plaza of Mexico where the palace stands today" (cue que estaba en la plaza de México donde oi esta el Palacio), is fantastically represented as a hollowed-out octagon rather than the towering pyramid depicted in other colonial sources. The biombo, in short, portrays the conquest as a disordering event rather than the conclusive translatio imperii found in official historical representations.
The contrast between this representation and that of the second side of the biombo could not be greater. On this, a serene map of seventeenth-century Mexico City spreads out as if before the eyes of a traveler who has paused on his journey through the hills outside the city. As opposed to the violent chiaroscuro of the previous side, the viceregal buildings are homogenous in color and shape, differing occasionally in size and form and distributed symmetrically around the central plaza. This time, the legend identifies an ordered urban geography, naming all the buildings whose repetitive geometry and red roofs would be indistinguishable from one another otherwise. The soft and graceful wooded landscape that rings the city sets a bucolic tone and complements the gardens inside. The geometrical symmetry, which extends even to the watery canals that cut through the city, is broken only by the sweeping curve of the aqueduct that points a path to the heart of the city: the central plaza (zócalo) and the cathedral. But what is perhaps most remarkable, after the chaos of the previous side, is the complete absence of human figures from the urban scene, as if the order of the city depended on their exile. What embodiment may be found is funneled through the perspective of the viewer atop Chapultepec, one of the symbolic centers of the colonial government, whose hill provides the best vantage point from which to survey the city. In fact, the painting follows a generic chorographic perspective often used in seventeenth-century cartographic representations, in this case lifted directly from a popular Dutch atlas of the seventeenth century. The original drawing was completed in 1628 by Juan Gómez de Trasmonte, the architect of Mexico City's cathedral. This he made at the request of Adrian Boot, a Dutch engineer who was helping with the desagüe project, the perennial attempt to solve the city's flooding problems. The map sought to represent the city as it should appear after further draining of the lake. As the late seventeenth-century biombo was likely a gift to the new viceroy, the Conde de Galve, the incorporation of the map's chorographic perspective surely sought to symbolize the relationship between colonial governance and an orderly city, cleansed of any visual impediments to the sweeping gaze.
Although it would be easy to read the biombo's antipodal sides as depicting the civilizing triumph of Spanish urbanity, the lack of providentialism in the representation of the conquest and the absence of bodies in the viceregal city force us to question such a clear moral conclusion. In fact, the pairing of urban order with violent conquest produces not so much a teleology as the uncomfortable meeting of two planes of history around sites in the city. The biombo's physical structure further suggests the fragility of a viceregal order built on conquest. Although modern reproductions customarily represent the screen in its full extension, the material object in the Museo Franz Mayer is not one solid plane but rather a series of panels, fissured to allow it to stand freely in space. In this way, the voids that interrupt the screen negatively register the presence of the opposite side. In fact, if we imagine walking around the freestanding object, its very structure denies a clear chronological order. Instead, past and present are locked in a dialectical embrace suggesting as much the desire as the impossibility of overcoming the Spanish conquest at the end of the seventeenth century. Although the legend on the first side orients the viewer by noting the viceregal transformation of several pre-Columbian buildings, the absence of bodies in the viceregal city abstracts its order from any human chronology, as if the human form would be the most palpable point of connection to the violence displayed on the other side. Rather than a document of historical transformation, then, the biombo appears to retreat from history into an idealized urban plane. If nothing else, the biombo presents the problem of relating an imagined seventeenth-century viceregal order to its historical foundations in violence nearly a century and a half before.
As a material object, the biombo is a salutary reminder of the specificity of historical artifacts, even those whose representational power transcends their immediate history of production and reception. A decorative art form initially imported from Asia, the colonial biombo is an excellent example of the hybridity of cultural production in seventeenth-century New Spain. In fact, it is possible that biombos became popular in the houses of the colonial elite precisely because their form condensed a history of cultural incorporation that was itself an essential characteristic of New Spain. The Franz Mayer biombo suggests this history by framing the battle scenes of the first side with a golden arabesque arch, a Moorish motif that gloriously remembers the Reconquest of Spain. On the reverse side, however, this frame has been replaced by a border of flowers, a common trope for America as an earthly paradise that avoids all reference to the violence of conquest. While framing the transformation of urban space after the conquest in moral terms, these juxtaposed motifs do little to provide a historical account of that transformation. If the Franz Mayer biombo thus suggests the problem of representing the history of New Spain after the conquest, it is important to remember that it was very likely given by a member of the local elite to the highest Spanish official in New Spain. Rather than expressing a universally held problem, the biombo suggests that at least part of the Mexican elite believed that at the end of the seventeenth century the viceregal order was still fragile, subject to reversals and an unresolved violent foundation. Thus, while the biombo's representation of urban order was perhaps at some level satisfying to the viceregal official to whom it was presented, its mixed cultural references and memory of violence also implied that a conclusive viceregal order in New Spain was a task still to be accomplished, despite a century and a half of Spanish rule.
This book will argue that in the second half of the seventeenth century, precisely at the moment when Spanish Habsburg rule entered into its definitive period of decline, it was this task that most concerned the Novohispanic elite, or Creoles. It will also argue that Creole solutions to the problem of local governance entailed far more complex archival politics than that which the biombo's idealized planes suggest. On the one hand, Creoles imagined themselves as heirs to a continuous genealogy of conquerors and indigenous nobility leading back to the conquest. On the other, they were also acutely aware of the social fragmentation that had occurred in the intervening century as these same lineages entered into decay and a new racially mixed society developed in urban centers of the viceroyalty. Despite the façade of unity that the New Spanish elite and viceregal administrators presented at official events, moreover, many in the viceroyalty were conscious of the problems facing the Spanish Empire at the end of the seventeenth century. The numerous reports of political disarray in Spain and pirate attacks in the Caribbean exposed a weakened Spanish Crown and augmented a general sense of crisis. For many Creoles, historical continuity became the key to restoring order to late seventeenth-century New Spanish society. The history they imagined, however, was not a providential teleology confirming the justice of the Spanish conquest. Rather, Creoles conceived of history on a much more parochial and regional level, as an archive of deep history that predated the Spanish. In expanding their archive beyond the conquest, they tapped into a project that had begun virtually simultaneously with the conquest itself: the registering, decoding, and preserving of the pre-Columbian past. But while seventeenth-century Creoles inherited the projects, and at times the archives, of early mendicant and indigenous historians, they did so under distinct auspices. Friars, from Bartolomé de las Casas to Juan de Torquemada, had been principally interested in studying the indigenous past in order to eradicate its persistence in the present. While they often worked closely with these mendicant projects, indigenous and native-identified mestizo historians, such as Juan Bautista Pomar or Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, had the additional objective of preserving a genealogical record of ethnic kingship.
The seventeenth-century Creole archive, by contrast, was at once more secular and less genealogical than these earlier projects. Rather than being a reflection of the discrete interests of one particular lineage, history became tied to problems of governance, a sense of political crisis, and the racial insecurities of the local elite. Despite drawing on previous archives, therefore, the Creole archive required a hermeneutics distinct from those that had preceded it. This meant not only gathering objects and documents that had not previously figured in Spanish writings but also reinterpreting those already found in earlier works. Forming a regional history, furthermore, entailed plotting the territorial and social boundaries of a local citizenry that would receive the truth it documented. Through a language of republican patriotism Creoles introduced the notion of citizenship even as they limited this to a small minority of Spanish descent. Indeed, appealing to their own virtue, purity of blood, and local knowledge, Creoles placed themselves on the top of the racial hierarchy that was beginning to define viceregal society during this period. To the authority of the humanist historical practices they inherited, therefore, Creoles added their unique access to local knowledge. This knowledge, moreover, was closely related to the Neoplatonic rhetorical form in which it was often expressed. From the Creole vantage point, the cultural landscape of seventeenth-century New Spain became a cipher for a hidden and secret past. The hope for New Spain's future lay in these arcane local truths, inaccessible to Spanish peninsular administration. Without overtly breaking with Spanish administration, then, by the end of the seventeenth century Novohispanic Creoles had begun to invent a deep history extending beyond the Spanish conquest. Through this body of knowledge stored in writings, collections, and visual artifacts, they began to set the foundations of a local patrimonial order that could stand in for a distant monarch who appeared increasingly unable to secure his faltering empire.
The Invention of Creole Tradition
The subject of this book, the concept of a local community in New Spain as it developed in Creole writings over the course of the seventeenth century, has most often been addressed as the emergence of a "consciousness" or "identity." One of the strongest sources of evidence that members of the seventeenth-century Spanish American elite increasingly thought of themselves in collective terms was their appropriation of the term criollo (Creole). Employed as early as 1563 to describe persons of Spanish descent born in the Americas, the term criollo originally carried the connotation of degeneration among American-born subjects. By the mid-seventeenth century, however, in a clear attempt to reverse the association of the American climate with degeneration, the American-born colonial elite began to employ the term as a more positive form of self-identification. Etymologically related to the term criar, and thus connoting local cultivation, in Spanish the adjective criollo was used to designate any person born in the Americas of nonindigenous heritage. Although its use for subjects of African descent remained an oppositional qualifier—for instance a negro criollo was distinguished from a negro bozal born in Africa—in the case of persons of Spanish descent the term "Creole" came to stand alone. Through its association with persons of Spanish descent, "Creole" thus became defined by the combination of racial purity and an attachment to local origins. During this period, Creoles also began to employ the term patria to designate a homeland or polity that encompassed a geographical area beyond that of an individual birthplace and the term nación to refer to a collective Creole citizenry. Together with these linguistic changes, seventeenth-century Spanish American writings wove a range of themes and topics into regional patriotic imaginaries. These themes included the representation of the American landscape as a new paradise, an antiquarian interest in the pre-Columbian past, and the promotion of local apparitions and saints such as the Virgin of Guadalupe and Santa Rosa of Lima.
Because seventeenth-century Creole patriotism harbored no desire for political autonomy from the Spanish Crown, scholarship has tended to see it as a defensive reaction to Creoles' exclusion from viceregal administrative privileges and rights of citizenship. Whether historical or literary, studies have thus tended to present seventeenth-century Creoles as conflicted subjects, torn between loyalty to Spain and resentment at their unequal treatment by the Crown. According to this line of reasoning, Creoles expressed this contradictory subjectivity in racial and ethnic terms by insisting on their Spanish descent even while they claimed to be "patrimonial sons of the land" (hijos patrimoniales de la tierra). Creoles also tended to denigrate present indigenous culture even as they projected and appropriated a glorious indigenous past. Most studies conclude that after several generations of Spanish immigration to the Americas, Creoles were unable to identify fully with the two major social groups of early colonization: Spaniards or Amerindians. Meanwhile, their desire for inclusion in the Spanish monarchy as a "kingdom" (reino) with full standing was matched only by their equally strong desire to differentiate themselves from Spain through patriotic pride in regional homelands. Finally, while they presented themselves as heirs to the first generation of conquistadors, whose right to self-rule had been sharply curtailed by the rationalization and centralization of Spanish imperial administration, seventeenth-century Creoles couched their politics in the language of recognition rather than political autonomy, as had their sixteenth-century forebears. It has been difficult to assign a priority to or at times even to find a relationship among these competing demands upon Creoles. As a result, Creole identity has been called "ambiguous," "hybrid," and "oscillating" and Creole politics "confused," at best the sign of a strategic ploy to work within a system stacked against American-born subjects and at worst a sign of indecision and political immaturity.
Both literary and intellectual historians have further related this divided Creole subjectivity to Baroque aesthetics, the dominant style of Spanish American writing at the time. Although the literary Baroque took several forms, it was the rhetoric and poetics of Gongorism that was most prominently institutionalized in seventeenth-century Spain and Spanish America through university training and court culture. Indeed, historical and literary studies have tended to equate Baroque aesthetics with this common stylistic form, whose hallmark was excessive ornamentation, classical references, Latinisms, and obscure metaphors. Their assessments of its value have differed, however. While historians have often associated Baroque aesthetics with Neoplatonism, scholasticism, and Jesuit universalism, and have questioned its intellectual merit, literary studies are more prone to defend the Creole Baroque as an appropriate medium for the expression of Creole identity. In his study of the New Spanish nun and poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, for instance, Octavio Paz asserts:
the aesthetic singularity of the Mexican Baroque corresponded to the historical and existential singularity of the Creoles. Their relationship to Baroque art was not one of cause and effect, but of affinity and coincidence. Creoles breathed naturally in a world of strangeness because they themselves were, and knew themselves to be, strange beings.
(la singularidad estética del barroco mexicano correspondía a la singularidad histórica y existencial de los criollos. Entre ellos y el arte barroco había una relación inequívoca, no de causa y efecto, sino de afinidad y coincidencia. Respiraban con naturalidad en el mundo de la extrañeza porque ellos mismos eran y se sabían seres extraños.)
By contrast, this book begins with the idea that identity and subjectivity, insofar as they suggest psychological conditions or consciousness, are insufficient analytical categories through which to interpret seventeenth-century Creole writings. Not only does the language of paradox and ambivalence foreclose the possibility that Creoles' political perspectives on Spanish rule were directly related to historical circumstances, but it does little to relate the racial or patriarchal overtones of Creole patriotism to the juridical and political structures of Spanish imperialism. In fact, the ideals of Spanish imperialism were an important factor in defining seventeenth-century Creole political discourse. Any account of Creole political ideas must therefore be placed within a history of colonial social categories and the daily and institutional practices related to them. These, in turn, were closely tied to the issue of Spanish sovereignty in the Americas, the full contradictions of which became most pronounced with the crisis of Habsburg rule in the second half of the seventeenth century. Although active debates on Spanish imperial sovereignty were for the most part concluded by the end of the sixteenth century, the issue continued to vex the Crown throughout the seventeenth century. One only has to note that in 1681 the Spanish Crown finally printed the Recopilación de leyes de los reinos de las Indias [Recopilation of the Laws of the Kingdoms of the Indies] to realize that the Crown sought to preserve the juridical language of early colonization even as it entered its late seventeenth-century crisis.
What was the relationship between this attempt to conserve the sixteenth-century basis of Spanish sovereignty in the Americas and the emergence of a Creole political discourse during the seventeenth century? How did Creoles react to the perceptible weakness of the Habsburg monarchy in Spain, especially after the death of Felipe IV in 1665? In short, what was the structural relationship between the emergence of a Creole political discourse and the social and political crisis of seventeenth-century Spanish imperialism?
It might appear that approaching seventeenth-century Creole political discourse in terms of patriotism, rather than identity, would be one means to address these questions. After all, Creoles often invoked the language of republican patriotism, particularly Ciceronian, in their writings. But as in approaches to Creole identity, there has been a tendency to interpret these statements as clear reflections of a natural bond to a homeland rather than as projections of an ideal or a desire. As Maurizio Viroli has written, the classical notions of patria that were appropriated by early modern humanism implied ideas of polity and citizenship that, at the very least, had to be reinterpreted in the context of European political modernity. Interestingly, Viroli himself argues that the humanist discourse of patria was on the wane in seventeenth-century absolutist states, except in pointed cases of rebellion or open dissent. The fact that this is not borne out by studies of Spanish America points to a possible distinction between the Spanish American use of the term patria and its appropriation as an emblem of "liberty" in European contexts. The Creole notion of patria, it is clear, was not a bid for political separation from the Spanish monarchy, nor even an act of political dissent. Rather, when they invoked the classical notion of amor patriae, Creoles were attempting to naturalize what in fact was a political condition fraught with problems. Chief among these problems were issues of who exactly the citizens of a local patria were and what their relationship was to a land that had been colonized only a century beforehand. These questions often appear in Creole writings through two repeated themes: on the one hand the relationship between Creoles and other colonial subjects of the greater Spanish Empire and, on the other, the espousal of a regional history that would soften or even avoid a providentialist reading of the Spanish conquest.
In fact, one of the most cogent assessments in scholarship on seventeenth-century Creoles is that they understood themselves to be the "natural lords" of their lands, thus inheriting the mantel of an indigenous nobility in decline. Yet while it is true that the Creole discourse of indigenous nobility extended the privileges that Spanish imperialism had awarded native lords, it is important to note that Creoles did not understand themselves to be direct genealogical descendents of pre-Columbian peoples, even when this was actually the case. Rather, seventeenth-century Creoles appropriated an indigenous past in what might be called, following Eric Hobsbawm, an "invention of tradition." Hobsbawm's phrase, which he employs to argue that state rituals in late nineteenth-century Europe actually had quite shallow roots, has slightly distinct implications for colonial Spanish America. In seventeenth-century documents, for instance, the word "tradition" (tradición) was used to describe nonwritten beliefs, particularly those associated with indigenous culture. Such usage suggested the authority of an untraceable origin even while it admitted the problems associated with oral transmission. The eighteenth-century Diccionario de autoridades [Dictionary of the Authorities], for instance, defines "tradition" as the "notice of some ancient thing, which is transmitted from parents to children through successive retellings" (Noticia de alguna cosa antigua, que se difunde de padres a hijos y se comunica por relacion sucesiva de unos en otros) and then provides the following illustration: "I do not rely on traditions, which run the grave risk of being apocryphal, but rather on ancient documents" (pues me fundo no en tradiciones, que tienen gran peligro de dar en apócryphas, sino en papeles antiquissimos). If "tradition" was thus closely related to contemporary notions of the term, the seventeenth-century term "invention" had a much more complex meaning than current usage would allow. Even in late seventeenth-century Spanish America invención often still followed the classical definition of inventio as "discovery" rather than creation. But it was also heir to a shift in the rhetorical and poetic priority given to received topics. While in classical rhetoric, "invention" often designated the choice of subject matter, to be distinguished from delivery itself, in Renaissance poetics it began to take on a stronger imaginative quality. By the seventeenth century the treatises of Balthasar Gracián and Emanuele Tesauro related "invention" to wit or ingenium, thus designating the power of metaphor and conceit to signify and even create what nature could not.
In contrast to Hobsbawm's use of the term, then, the seventeenth-century Creole "invention of tradition" was a rhetorical exercise, in which rhetoric itself reached well beyond expression to incorporate a logic and epistemology bordering on European hermeticism. Unlike European hermeticism, however, Creoles were privy to a storehouse not just of European topics and artifacts, including the Egyptian hieroglyphs that had influenced Renaissance Neoplatonism, but also indigenous ones. Their challenge was to find a connection among these sources of ancient wisdom and thus recover hidden points of unity. In Creole texts this could be thought of as an ars inveniendi best described by Gracián's definition of ingenio: "this conceitful artifice consists, then, of a perfect correspondence, a harmonious correlation between two or three knowable extremes, expressed by an act of understanding" (consiste, pues, este artificio conceptuoso, en una primorosa concordancia, en una armónica correlación entre dos o tres conoscibles extremos, expresada por un acto del entendimiento). As Gracian's definition suggests, seventeenth-century recombinations went beyond paradox and hybridity, often interpreted as a transgressive or even liberational element of the Latin American Baroque, to include the creation of meaning. The ability to access a hidden truth through the creative recombination of objects was especially powerful in areas in which indigenous traditions themselves had become dislodged from endogamous transmission, either through active or passive imperial policy. In this context, Creoles could derive a specific form of authority from the interpretation of non-European objects. What has often been interpreted as a paradoxical Creole appropriation of pre-Columbian indigenous artifacts and history even as they emphasized their own European roots, therefore, was in fact a bid to establish an authority based on knowledge available only to those who understood both traditions.
While not often applied to Spanish America, Walter Benjamin's concept of Baroque allegory provides a theoretical approach to understanding seventeenth-century Creole hermeticism. In his well-known 1929 study of German Baroque drama, Walter Benjamin related Baroque aesthetics to the politico-theological crisis of seventeenth-century Europe. As in his later theory of dialectical images, Benjamin argued that Baroque allegory "froze" or spatialized objects by drawing them out of a temporal continuum. Yet whereas Benjamin argued that dialectical images counteracted historical alienation, he understood Baroque allegory as an attempt to offset guilt and profanity at a moment when theological transcendence had begun to experience a crisis. Benjamin's theory of Baroque allegory allows us to relate Spanish American hybridity, as expressed in seventeenth-century Creole texts, to the evangelical projects that were the centerpiece of Spanish sovereignty in the Americas. Unlike in Europe, where salvation was ultimately an individual condition, in Spanish America redemption was the cornerstone of Spain's justification of its presence in the Americas. After the collapse of sixteenth-century utopian projects, particularly those of the Franciscans and Dominicans, seventeenth-century clerics were more sober about the feasibility, and indeed desirability, of the full redemption of indigenous subjects. The decline of the utopian rhetoric of sixteenth-century evangelization led to a greater emphasis on the management of indigenous communities and the elimination of obstacles to Christianity over the long term. Although seventeenth-century missionary projects continued to work toward the goal of the redemption of "barbarous" subjects on the frontiers of Spanish America, a specifically Creole version of seventeenth-century pragmatism treated indigenous culture of central viceregal areas as an object of antiquarian interest. Not coincidently, these were precisely the geographical areas already substantially transformed by Spanish rule. As indigenous cultural objects, from codices to ruins, became disassociated from indigenous practices, allegory allowed Creoles to pull them into European systems of hermetic meaning.
Unlike the sundry profane objects that, according to Benjamin, made up Baroque allegory in Europe, therefore, Creole texts combined traditions that had been interrupted by colonization. In the hands of seventeenth-century Creoles, therefore, what Benjamin calls Baroque allegory lent itself to the recuperation of a local archive as an approach to combating indigenous systems of meaning. In recent literary and cultural studies, the concept of the archive has been an important trope for understanding the way in which Spanish American writings rework received traditions. What has not been sufficiently recognized by these studies is the fact that the archive is also a source of authority. As Jacques Derrida has argued, the archive produces a nomological authority by projecting the origin of the law onto an archaic past. This form of authority depends on an interruption and recomposition, a "consignment" in Derrida's terms, of documents within the confines of a place. Thus, like Benjamin's allegory, the archive resignifies objects that have been temporally dislocated. Indeed, it is only too clear that simply by collecting objects, particularly indigenous ones, seventeenth-century Creoles already assigned them a meaning distinct from that which they had previously held. But unlike in Benjamin's notion of allegory, the Creole archive did not wish to redeem these profane objects within an eschatological time frame. Rather, the project to establish a local archive in seventeenth-century New Spain was an attempt to salvage historical time from narratives of religious eschatology by projecting indigenous paganism onto a distant past. This is not to say that seventeenth-century Creoles absolved contemporary indigenous subjects from any association with paganism. Indeed, throughout the seventeenth century, indigenous subjects were periodically accused of continuing to practice and propagate "idolatry." But these accusations were part of the larger context of Creole antiquarianism that was, above all, a discourse of nobility that denigrated commoners as ignorant of their own glorious past.
This Creole turn to history, as an archive rather than a chronological narrative, became an answer to the impasse of seventeenth-century Spanish imperialism. In contrast to the first wave of Spanish colonization, seventeenth-century Creoles in Spanish America did not look to conversion as an eschatological resolution of indigenous paganism. Rather, they took the opposite tack by searching for a lost totality in an archaic past. For this reason, Creole hermeneutics held affinities to Neoplatonic hermeticism through which pagan difference was resignified as a hidden truth. Yet, as in the widespread Creole narrative of St. Thomas's apostolic evangelization of the Americas well before the arrival of the Spanish, the truth Creoles derived from a local archive established authority rather than esoteric dissent. At the same time, the recombination of traditions, particularly indigenous and Western, highlighted the need for an allegorical hermeneutics that could establish a common archive after the confrontational division of the conquest. If Creoles combined European and non-European artifacts in novel and hybrid forms, then, it was not only out of desire to differentiate themselves from Europe but equally to find meaning in local objects that had become separated from their original traditions. Not only did Creoles desire to maintain the authority of the Spanish monarch but equally, and perhaps more insistently, they wished to establish a local authority and tradition following the fragmentation of indigenous communities and the demise of evangelical utopianism. The problem, in all cases, was one of preserving authority even while shifting it to Creole hands. As substitutes for more institutional forms of authority Creoles founded hybrid traditions but locked these up in a hermetic archive.
For this reason, late seventeenth-century Creole texts went well beyond anxieties of identity and subjectivity to touch upon the social organization and governance of seventeenth-century Spanish America. Against what was seen as the vertiginous loss of order, Creole hermeneutics preserved authority and social hierarchy based on epistemological privilege. But by inventing a tradition that was confined to written, archivable documents Creoles also broke with the symbolic aura of local authority and custom that underwrote both indigenous and European political leadership. By the end of the seventeenth century, Creoles had thus begun to reformulate sovereignty from the grandiose project of Spanish imperialism—the monarchia universalis—to a provincial polity defined by a racially limited citizenry. Faced with the decline of the power and privilege of the local indigenous nobility and the rise of a Hispanicized and Christianized indigenous and mixed-race population, Creoles sought to promote themselves as natural lords of their regions through the artifice of epistemology rather than through the genealogical arguments of indigenous caciques or the entitlement to the spoils of conquest of sixteenth-century Spanish conquistadores. Key to Creole authority was an allegorical hermeneutics that dedicated objects to a local archive of which Creoles claimed to be the magistrates.
Sigüenza y Góngora and Regionalism in New Spain
While the goal of this study is to elucidate the consequences of Spanish imperial decline for late seventeenth-century Spanish American political ideas, it is organized around close readings of the works of one prominent Creole author of the period. Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora (1645-1700) has long been understood to be a key figure in the transition between the late sixteenth-century discourse of resentful encomenderos and the more mature eighteenth-century Creole political imaginary. His varied works are the clearest expression of how issues of governance, history, and citizenship combined to form a discourse of Creole patriotism in late seventeenth-century New Spain. Because of its focus, this study cannot generalize about all Creole politics in seventeenth-century Spanish America. In fact, it begins with the assumption that regional and even authorial conditions greatly shaped the form of early Spanish American political discourse. The regional nature of seventeenth-century Creole politics stemmed partly from the geographical distances that separated the major viceregal centers, Mexico and Lima, but was also the consequence of a conscious policy on the part of the Spanish Crown to prevent direct commercial and administrative contacts between the viceroyalties. Although Creole elites across Spanish America, especially those in viceregal centers, could and did imagine themselves to be in analogous situations, they also competed for prestige and recognition and their ideas of homeland were highly inflected by local political and social conditions. The decline of the Habsburg monarchy had a paradoxical effect on this situation. While the second half of the seventeenth century witnessed political fragmentation in Spain, it was also an intensely global moment, when imperial competition among European states created new requirements for the Spanish American viceroyalties, who were forced to compensate for a depleted royal treasury by contributing more resources to their own defense. The sum of these conditions meant that Creole politics emerged together with what can best be described as regional geopolitical perspectives.
The development of a Creole patriotism in New Spain, the larger of the Spanish American viceroyalties and its central administrative center, entailed several idiosyncrasies. Beginning with Miguel Sanchez's 1648 treatise, seventeenth-century New Spanish Creoles increasingly promoted the Virgin of Guadalupe as a regional cult that linked points in the viceroyalty's vast territory. Through this and other local historical interests Creoles also took advantage of the indigenous written record in the region. Despite the destruction of most of the preconquest codices in the sixteenth century, the tradition of graphic memory systems in Mesoamerica meant that by the end of the sixteenth century there existed a rich indigenous record preserved in both alphabetic and pictorial forms. The interest of late sixteenth-century friars in these documents, as well as the attempts among the indigenous elite to preserve familial and dynastic records, provided seventeenth-century Creoles with diverse sources for the human and natural history of the region. Early in the sixteenth century, New Spain had also become home to both a university and printing press, conditions that soon led to the development of a locally educated elite. By the seventeenth century, this intellectual culture was further strengthened by Jesuit institutions, which came to hold a virtual monopoly over higher education in the viceroyalty. The reservedly critical attitude of the Jesuits, together with frankly heterodox inclinations that erupted sporadically throughout Spain and Spanish America, led to a robust book trade in New Spain. It appears that even books banned by Inquisitorial and Jesuit censors made their way into the viceroyalty. Finally, New Spain found itself at the end of the seventeenth century in a particularly vulnerable geopolitical position. As a conduit for Spanish galleon trade from Asia and the recipient of the annual fleet from Spain, the viceroyalty directly experienced British, French, and Dutch attacks on Asian and Caribbean trade routes. Meanwhile, French advances into Florida and Louisiana, along with the difficult evangelical project of Franciscans and Jesuits among the indigenous nations on the northern frontier, led to a renewed sense of insecurity in the viceregal capital of Mexico even as the Crown's fiscal crisis prohibited any strong centralized action.
These conditions all contributed to the emergence of a vocal elite in late seventeenth-century New Spain, particularly in the viceregal capital and environs. Although the "flowering" of Creole letters is best seen in the superior works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, it was her contemporary, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, who was responsible for the most impassioned defense of a local patria. Born in Mexico City in 1645, Sigüenza y Góngora was the son of two Spanish immigrants. Before immigrating to New Spain his father had worked in the Spanish court, where he claimed to have taught the young prince Carlos Baltasar to read and write. His mother was a native of Seville and a distant relative of the famed Spanish poet Luis de Góngora, a relationship that Sigüenza emphasized in his own surname. As a youth, Sigüenza completed the novitiate and took his vows at the Jesuit college at Tepotzotlán, moving to the Colegio del Espíritu Santo in Puebla to finish his training for the priesthood. Before he could do so, however, he was expelled, apparently for infractions of the college's rules. Despite several attempts, Sigüenza was never readmitted to the Jesuit order and instead became a secular priest in 1673.
Because he lacked an institutional position, Sigüenza was more autonomous than most Spanish American authors of this period, who wrote for specific corporate interests. Yet he also complained bitterly about the financial insecurity that accompanied this autonomy and constantly searched for sources of steady income. In 1672 he won a competition for the open chair of mathematics in Mexico's university but was forced to augment the meager salary by writing commissioned works and selling yearly astrological almanacs, a requirement of the position but one that contradicted his skeptical position on astrology. He also accepted several other positions, including chaplain of the Hospital del Amor de Dios and, in the last year of his life, Inquisitorial censor. Although he was never completely dependent on viceregal court patronage systems, as was his contemporary Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Sigüenza's commissions and publications required a network of sponsors culled from both the Creole and peninsular viceregal elite. Indeed, in 1680 he was named royal cosmographer, a position that carried with it obligations to advise the New Spanish viceroys on such subjects as the desagüe project, the draining of the lake on which Mexico City was built, and to provide general information on local hydrography and cartography. In this capacity, Sigüenza assiduously collected maps and he was reputed to have created the first locally produced general map of New Spain. His cartographic skills also led to his only trip outside of central Mexico when, following reports of French presence in the region, in 1689 he uncharacteristically accompanied an expedition to map and secure Pensacola Bay.
Often referred to as a Baroque polymath, in the tradition of European counterparts such as the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher of the Collegio Romano, Sigüenza y Góngora was certainly a wide-ranging intellectual. Yet his works do not harbor the type of universal project for which the Austrian Jesuit was famed. Uneven and disparate, they instead reflect the hazards of a career cobbled together on the periphery of the Spanish Empire. Despite being relatively prolific as a writer, throughout his life Sigüenza was plagued by half-finished and unpublished projects. Indeed, many of the works he was reputed to have written exist only as lists compiled by Sigüenza and his friends during his lifetime. Those of his writings that were published have been subject to changing perspectives on the late Baroque style common to his period. Whereas in the eighteenth century the Creole encyclopedist Juan José de Eguiara y Eguren praised Sigüenza's youthful Gongoresque poem to the Virgin of Guadalupe, for instance, in his 1929 biography Irving Leonard characterized this as one of the "earlier and lighter writings" and preferred the clearer style of Sigüenza's later texts. The mid-twentieth-century historian Ernest Burrus was more disdainful, noting that with the exception of his astronomical treatise the Libra astronómica [Astronomical Balance], Sigüenza's published writings offered very little. Even historians tracing the development of Creole politics have seen Sigüenza as a central but disappointing figure. In Mexican intellectual history, Sigüenza has been most enthusiastically received as the first local antiquarian, the loss of whose patrimony has been lamented as a national tragedy.
Despite this appreciation of Sigüenza as a historical figure, the aesthetically uneven and generic nature of his works has made it difficult to canonize him as a "classic" Latin American author. It is perhaps for this reason that there has been little systematic analysis of his writings. Although in his 1957 manifesto La expresión americana Lezama Lima referred to Sigüenza as "el señor barroco" and claimed that his titles alone merited appreciation for their Baroque exuberance, most full-length studies have focused on his biographical and intellectual trajectory while describing his works in much more general terms. These studies have been crucial to unearthing documents on Sigüenza's life and writings and to reconstructing the context in which he wrote. The most important of these, Francisco Pérez Salazar's 1928 biography and Irving Leonard's 1929 monograph, Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora: A Mexican Savant, together still provide the definitive reconstruction of the circumstances of his authorship. Since Leonard's work, several additional biographies have been published and a wealth of studies have considered individual works. Despite regular scholarship on Sigüenza as an intellectual figure, however, few scholars have analyzed the most striking rhetorical aspects of his works themselves. Kathleen Ross's recent analyses of Sigüenza y Góngora's texts have been a notable exception to this rule. Through close readings of several texts, she has made key observations about the nature of his writings. First of all, she has argued that Sigüenza's "passion for history" was the basis for a secondary phase of colonization in Spanish America in which Creoles "rewrote" the chronicles of conquest. Second, in her monograph on Sigüenza's 1684 history of the Real Convento de Jesús María, Ross shows that the Creole author incorporated heavily edited versions of the writings of the convent's nuns. She concludes that in the case of writing "about women for women" Sigüenza was both patriarchal and patrimonial, disciplining and patronizing.
If we extend Ross's observations to what were arguably the most central motifs in Sigüenza's writings—his concern with local history, imperial politics, and, above all, his obsessive patriotism—it becomes clear that he approached the social concerns of late seventeenth-century New Spain with the same patriarchal attitudes. To analyze Sigüenza's writings from this perspective, it is necessary to resist the expectations of unity and coherence that underlie the idea of authorship in traditional literary and intellectual history. Sigüenza wrote all of his works, even his most personal and unpublished, to meet the generic and institutional expectations that governed authorship in seventeenth-century New Spain. Throughout his writings, however, he attempted to adapt these rhetorical expectations to a project that had no institutional basis at the time: the delineation and defense of a local homeland or patria. The extent to which Sigüenza identified his writing with this idealized figure may be seen in his choice of a personal insignia, printed on the title pages of all of his published works (Figure 2). In this, Pegasus leaps into the air toward a banner containing a phrase from Virgil's Aeneid: "thus you shall go to the stars" (sic itur ad astra). In his 1680 Theatro de virtudes [Theater of Virtues], Sigüenza explains the significance of this personal device:
the Impresse, or Hieroglyph, to which I turned to publish my Humble works [has] the composition and epigraph of the Pegasus, because, as is well known from Vincencio Ruscelo who states in explaining Jacobo Foscarini's insignia, both of which are cited by Brixiano in the Commentaria Symbolica, Verb. Pegas number 14, "[Pegasus] signifies the man who demonstrates a soul always focused on the sublime for the benefit of his patria."
(la Empressa, ò Hieroglyphico, que para publicar mis Humildes obras discurri, del Pegaso con la disposicion, y epigraphe, que es notorio por saber lo que explicando la de Jacobo Foscarini dixo Vincencio Ruscelo referido de Brixiano en los Coment. Symbol. Verb. Pegas num. 14 y es que Significat hominem, qui demonstrat animum suum semper ad sublima fere intentum pro beneficio suae PATRIAE.)
Given the composite and citational nature of Sigüenza's authorship, it is not difficult to see the relationship between Sigüenza's writing and another project that paralleled his career of commissioned works and unpublished manuscripts. By the end of the seventeenth century Sigüenza had amassed what he himself qualified as one of the largest private libraries in the Spanish viceroyalties. Sigüenza's collection included both published works, many specifically related to what he called "things of the Indies" (cosas de Yndias), as well as unique manuscripts documenting the history of Spain's American territories. This collection is clearly central to Sigüenza's writings. Not only did it provide his historical perspective on the region but it also formed the material and intellectual basis for his relations with other authors, both previous and contemporary. As an assiduous collector of information on the history of New Spain, for instance, Sigüenza often looked to the written record of indigenous, clerical, and mestizo historians, particularly the early seventeenth-century Franciscan chronicler Juan de Torquemada and the mestizo historian Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, a descendent of the royal family of Texcoco. His relations with Ixtlilxochitl's nephew, Juan de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, led to his greatest coup: the collection of manuscripts and codices that had been the basis of Ixtlilxochitl's histories.
Sigüenza's own unpublished manuscripts circulated among the small erudite elite of New Spain and probably influenced contemporary histories such as Fray Agustín Ventancurt's Teatro mexicano [Mexican Theater] (1698), which celebrates Sigüenza as a "curious investigator of ancient works, anxious that the greatness of this new world be discovered and published" (curioso investigador de papeles antiguos, y desseoso de que se descubran, y publiquen las grandezas deste nuevo mundo) and lists a number of Sigüenza's works in its sources. Sigüenza also benefited from others' works: a manuscript that he received from the Jesuit missionary Manuel Duarte documenting the presence of Saint Thomas the Apostle in the Americas, for instance, possibly served as inspiration for his now lost text on the subject. Nor were Sigüenza's relations limited to New Spain: in 1691 Sigüenza offered to exchange his astronomical observations with other scientists from abroad, and in 1697 the Neapolitan traveler Gemelli Careri copied several of Sigüenza's codices and later published them in his account of his stay in Mexico City. Indeed, according to a declaration he made in the last year of his life, Sigüenza corresponded with many of the leading members of the Habsburg circle and beyond, a broadly cosmopolitan group that included Athanasius Kircher, Juan Caramuel, Giovanni Domenico Cassini, John Flamsteed, José Zaragoza, the Duke of Jovenazzo, and Pieter van Hamme.
This network of scholars, while not unusual in the early modern period, was even more crucial for Sigüenza, considering his isolation from any one institution that would patronize his authorship. His apparently compensatory dedication to imagining a local homeland depended, in the first place, on an archive of local artifacts. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the core of Sigüenza's project was not authorship, understood as the source of original and creative production, but rather collection itself. Not only did Sigüenza spend most of his life gathering books, manuscripts, and objects that he understood to be broadly relevant to the regional context of New Spain, but he also employed these to bend the institutional discourse of the late Baroque to his project of delineating a local homeland. One of the most notable aspects of Sigüenza's public writings, for instance, is his extreme penchant for citation. This has most often been interpreted as the reflection of a peripheral scholar's need to justify himself through established authorities and thus a limitation on Sigüenza's intellectual autonomy. Yet this explanation does not account for the types of citations Sigüenza chose nor for their appearance in the context of specific arguments in his works. More accurately, Sigüenza's citations should be linked to the method and rhetoric of Jesuit dispute, which sought not to celebrate juxtaposition and contradiction for its own sake but rather as a means to find a way out of conceptual binds. Reflecting this method, his compositions courted incoherence in order to overcome limits dialectically, through appeal to a higher plane of meaning. As the sublime point to which Sigüenza's ideal citizen dedicated his actions, the delineation of a local patria appears to have been just such a conceptual bind for Sigüenza and what has been glossed as the Baroque aspects of his writing, including its contradictory citations, a means to arrive at a solution.
Sigüenza's writings and his collection were therefore not two separate projects but part of one overarching impulse to store, record, and utilize a library of sources, to sift through them and to animate them in order to find a point of transcendence. In this sense, they paralleled a general practice of collecting in seventeenth-century European court culture, especially that of the Habsburg empire. Like many of his contemporaries, for instance, Sigüenza followed the work of the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher, whose collection of artifacts attracted visitors to the Collegio Romano, where it was housed. Other collections, less systematic and public, were gained through pirate raids with strongly national interests in what has been called "epistemological mercantilism." Indeed, Sigüenza's collection shares traits of each and thus has often been referred to as a "museum," a reference to the cabinets of curiosities that housed the exotica of seventeenth-century European collectors. Like many others imported from a European context, however, this term does not accurately describe Sigüenza's archive. Rather than a collection of exotica or an encyclopedic project aimed at finding universal order among variety, Sigüenza's collection had the specific purpose of articulating a local homeland. Accordingly, Sigüenza sought knowledge that was relevant to local conditions rather than for its own sake, out of "curiosity." And since the truth imparted by the objects he collected was only fully intelligible in a local context, to become "universal" it demanded the mediation of Creole scholarship. Sigüenza further stressed the need for collection in light of the destruction of the original contexts for his artifacts, whether these were classical authorities or indigenous codices. By collecting and safeguarding documents relevant to local conditions, Sigüenza thus provided an archive of authority and knowledge at a moment of Spanish imperial crisis.
Beginning with this archival function of Sigüenza's writings, it is therefore possible to analyze late seventeenth-century Creole politics in New Spain as a response to the loss and limitation of the basis for Spanish imperial sovereignty. Yet while the archive embedded in Sigüenza's writings reaches beyond his immediate context into general problems of seventeenth-century Spanish imperialism, it is important to note the ways in which his texts also uniquely reflect this context. It is, above all, in the strange and unresolved images in Sigüenza's texts that the contradictions of forming a political community in the wake of Spanish imperialism become the clearest. These images can be understood only through close readings of textual passages that might otherwise be glossed as contradictory, obtuse, or even illogical. Paradoxical or uncanny moments might be common to all documents that engage the political project of colonization and its aftermath, but the ironic, grotesque, or idealized figures that interrupt institutional discourse in Sigüenza's writings were determined by the specific conditions of Spanish imperialism. In a sense, they are the true register of the emergence of a Creole regionalism, which sought not only to create an illustrious past for a local elite but also warned of immediate threats to Spanish sovereignty in the viceroyalty. In Sigüenza's mature writings, indeed, local history became the key to coalescing and guiding a Creole citizenry capable of defending the expansive territory of New Spain.
By relating Spanish imperial politics to Sigüenza's writings, this study thus takes up and revises several themes that have been central to scholarship on seventeenth-century Spanish American letters. In the first place, it avoids the interpretation of Creole politics as a consciousness or identity by placing the images, arguments, and rhetoric of Creole writings within the context of Spanish imperial ideology rather than Creole subjectivity. By doing so, it also combats the perception that the seventeenth century was a stagnant period of Creole politics, a perception that follows the definition of politics as the desire for political autonomy from Spain. Finally, it reorients arguments on the Spanish American Baroque by focusing on an author who has often been seen to harbor a pre-Enlightenment rationalism. Rather than seeing Sigüenza as a rationalist caught in a period of rhetorical obscurity, this study emphasizes the critical strain, best exemplified in New Spain in the works of Sigüenza and Sor Juana, embedded in the late Spanish American Baroque. Above all, it turns to the contradictions of Spanish imperial sovereignty, which justified its possession of oversees territories in terms of Christian evangelization, to explain the specific political imaginary that emerged among Creoles in seventeenth-century New Spain. Arguably these contradictions intensified as Spanish American territories moved further away from the first stages of evangelization and new interethnic corporate identities formed in urban areas. In these areas Creoles began to promote the idea of a local patria to fill the vacuum in governance created by a sixteenth-century Spanish imperial model unable to account for seventeenth-century viceregal society. Rather than a natural instinct among seventeenth-century Creoles, patria was the figurative ideal that bridged the universal pretensions of Spanish imperialism and the local politics that had to contend with its consequences.
Precisely because they are eclectic and incomplete, Sigüenza's works expose the way in which the invention of a patria in Spanish America occurred in several discursive genres and combined various local themes: history, chronology, mathematics, regional cults, and racialized portraits of viceregal society. Yet while fragmented, his texts constantly returned to the two central tasks that had to be accomplished for any regional polity to be imagined: on the one hand the establishment of a sense of historical continuity that could overcome the interruption of the Spanish conquest and on the other a notion of local citizenship extracted from the totality of the viceroyalties' inhabitants. If a polymath like Athanasius Kircher in Europe could aspire to universalism, his equivalent in Spanish America couched his regional focus in cosmopolitan pretensions. This dual responsibility to local conditions and global geopolitics meant that Sigüenza and other Creoles had to confront not only the legacy of Spanish imperial categories, such as the innocent indigenous neophyte or the perverse apostate, but also competing notions of society emerging among an ethnically mixed urban populace and the encroachment of competing European powers on the viceroyalty's frontiers. The particular value of Sigüenza's writings is that they show, like Benjamin's ruins, both the ideals of a Creole patria and its constitutional limitations. Above all, they expose the particular conditions, both regional and global, that favored the emergence of such a figure at the end of the seventeenth century in New Spain.
It is perhaps tempting to locate this untimely notion of a Creole patria, with all of its limitations and contradictions, within a teleology that leads to the triumph of political independence from Spain. To do so, however, would obscure the particular way in which Spanish imperialism has shaped Spanish American political ideas and ideals, especially the genesis of an exclusive notion of citizenship. And although these imaginary political projects depended greatly on the ideological fantasies of a small political and economic elite, many of their suppositions have had enormous consequences for regional politics. Reading these fantasies against the grain, moreover, exposes the threat that alternative versions of society and community posed to Habsburg governance. Indeed, the strong sense among Creoles that New Spain found itself in crisis at end of the seventeenth century lent a distinct aura of urgency to their writings. The sense of crisis also points to the exact place in which the notion of a Creole patria attempted to overcome the contradictions of Spanish imperialism. But if patria could be considered a need, in an ideological rather than psychological sense, it had to be invented in Spanish America from the material at hand precisely by consigning artifacts to the interior of an archive. Thus, while inspired by classical notions, the seventeenth-century Creole patria was an ars inveniendi based on the composition and arrangement of artifacts, an inventory and invention in the classical rhetorical sense. Rather than an expression of ambivalence, the late Creole Baroque attempted to animate these artifacts by finding their relevance to regional conditions at a time when the Spanish imperial project was faltering. Yet the Creole impulse to archive, which ranged from the physical protection of material objects such as indigenous codices to the metaphorical salvaging of pertinent citations for a regional imaginary, also moved beyond a simple reconstitution of Spanish imperialism. Ironically, it was in order to save Spanish imperialism from its own contradictions that a Creole patria first became an autonomous political figure.