Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Criminality and Subjectivity in Infortunios De Alonso Ramírez

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Criminality and Subjectivity in Infortunios De Alonso Ramírez

Article excerpt

Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora's Infortunios de Alonso Ramírez (1690) has long occupied a difficult place in the tradition of Spanish American writing. A text whose generic categorization is suspect,1 it collapses the distinction between discovery and self-discovery at a time when Spanish Imperial prospects had initiated their slow decline into decadence. Despite these varying critical categorizations, there is no debate as to its historical and cultural importance; as perhaps the most literary text that Sigüenza writes, it plays a quintessentially liminal role within the history of Spanish American letters and, more specifically, the development of a distinctly Mexican literary culture. Similarly, it helps to mark a transition from the historiographical tradition in Spanish America towards an intellectual culture that consciously, and self-consciously, tries to articulate an autochthonous literary voice.

By and large, scholars have focused on one of three primary areas of inquiry in writing about Infortunios. Research in the early years of colonial Latin American literature as a field showed a heightened interest in generic categorization. As genre studies and structuralist approaches to literary culture waned, newer generations of scholars have shifted their attention to questions of subjectivity, and specifically cultural identity, as a way to understand the importance of Infortunios in particular and Sigiienza's oeuvre more broadly. More recently, scholars have grown increasingly interested in the complexity of Creole identity and how Infortunios's double authorship might affect the construction of Sigiienza's authorial, and Alonso's more ambiguous, criollismo. Each of these traditions hinges on questions of identity, at times textual, other times cultural, and connects its textual conclusions with questions about authorial identity.

Over the following pages, I look at the two traditions with which Infortunios has been most closely associated, the picaresque and the relación, and argue that Sigiienza's text engages in a broader reflection on the relationship between criminality and modernity, pushing past questions of regional and Iberian versus New World identities. By untangling the core issues in the central debates and connecting them to a close reading of the text, I show how Sigiienza links identity and subjectivity with a growing concern for the way a nascent global2 commercial culture is developing by the late seventeenth century, and how an early modern capitalist economy is essential for understanding the way he negotiates the vicissitudes of Alonso's self-perception. For Sigiienza, the crucible in which these contradictions are laid bare is the field of the law as a master discourse that delimits subjects, geographies, and knowledge in the seventeenth century. The law stands as an aporia in Infortunios, a constantly shifting point of reference that defines the protagonist's narrative trajectory. It is in reading Sigiienza's version of Alonso's story through the screen of the law that I aim to recalibrate the discussion away from a model that reads Alonso's identity as metonymie for various kinds of marginalization. Instead, I argue that Sigüenza considers Alonso's identity within the context of pre-industrial capitalist culture, interrogating the foundations of subjectivity in the early modern period in its commercial and legal dimension.

Alonso's nascent atollo consciousness and the role of national identities are essential to understanding Sigüenza's view of Alonso's character development throughout the text. A clear distinction must be made, however, between Alonso's troubling subjectivity and Sigüenza's own discourse. Whereas Sigüenza's class identity and intellectual affiliations place him squarely within the trajectory of early criollismo., the construction of Alonso's subjectivity operates in a more ambivalent manner, one that is deeply marked by Sigüenza's rearticulation of Alonso's story. …

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