The Dream as Dream Text: Sor Juana as Creature of Fiction or Creature of Reality
Sor Juana is “creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. The international women's movements have constructed 'women's experience', as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object” (Taken from one who writes on the notion of political myth: Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature” (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.
But at the core, how can one teach a very long poem, El Sueño or The Dream about a woman’s experience and body politic, or the political construction of the first feminist of the Americas in a text filled with massive mythological images from Western polytheistic and Mexican pasts in one hour, or perhaps less than that-- of the 35 pages written by a 17th century nun from the Spanish Empire’s New Spain? The Castellano Spanish translation is difficult in the onset, and brimming with Ancient and New World history unfamiliar to many—and pregnant with images, metaphors coerced into Emblems, laced with underlying thematic ideas common to scholasticism and/or Aristotelianism at the very foundation but it is also perhaps indeed a fictional world for many as well as a reflection of their social reality—and perhaps understandable as dream landscape with its center or umphalos touching God.
As part of a culture of silence and those of the dispossessed, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz argues for emancipatory education during a time when a culture of silence repressed voices through intimidation and oppression, especially women’s voices. Her works were created during Spain’s Age of the Baroque and Hispanic Imperialism; an epoch of the Catholic Castile Counter Reformation in which the Society of Jesus and The Holy Inquisition of Colonial New Spain were dominate forces. However, in an attempt to vocalize her belief that women should be allowed to study and to teach the nun wrote: literary writings, secular and religious poetry, lyric verses, court poems, secular plays, liturgical plays, and a theological treatise. With concern to Catholicism and Scholasticism Sor Juana’s predicament of one living and writing within the post-Counter Reformation period was, ironically, yet, a medieval world, one slowly fading in the wake of a particularly Spanish Enlightenment.
Not unlike Plato who dialectically examines aspects of reality in the search for truth in his descriptions of the oppressed in “Allegory of the Cave,” Sor Juana, could have remained a prisoner who saw only one wall her whole life; one lit with the same fire-- and that of casting shadows upon the wall in front of her; thus limiting her view of the real world mistakenly taking the shadows as representations of the real. But like the prisoner escaped, she distinguished and engaged poetic place forged between and even further above Plato’s ideas of two worlds. Yet like those who return to caves to tell others of new-found light; would they not believe and admonish one as fool for escaping in the first place? Hence, the relation of the world of belief, to a world of knowledge is painful experience—because the change from oppression to freedom is painful. But change is necessary and those who have seen the light outside of the cave must then guide others—out into the light. Sor Juana’s verse is the ascent of the mind from illusion to philosophy and scientific observation, but ultimately, it is place of pure poetry. She inscribes her dream text with birds in flight and thus escape into the realm of birds which is air, to the purest realm of poetry as place. As James Hillman explains:
“Once the psychological task of discovery belonged to the poet. She sees events through and through even when the participants see only the surface. And often when the participants sense only that a divine hand is touching them the poet is able to name the god concerned and knows the secret purpose.”
Sor Juana baptized her poem El Sueño (The Dream), which struck my eye immediately because her intention is to lead the reader directly into nocturnal consciousness, into voyages of discovery and into the image of the dream vessel; to the archetype of dream, to dream state, to dream-work, and thus to what C. G. Jung argues as ultimate truth, if there be such a thing.
Thus, I felt there was an urgency to “see through” images in Sueño from fresh perspectives, because I was touched precisely as “participant” to find an answer to dream; to somehow, perhaps, understand a “secret purpose.” And yes, indeed, somehow name the God Sor Juana names in her dream, El Sueño. I set out as woman dispatched riding in on the fourth wave of French Feminine l écriture féminine (feminine writing) hoping to embody Helene Cixous’ notions of “literary activist” but along the way, I discovered it is Sor Juana who is epitome of activist engaged in creative force; “writing herself” as practice of resistance and transformation formed in intentional acts of opposition; thus parleying her “movement into world history”—all accomplished through her own personal captivation and prayer for knowledge.
Deborah Conway de Prieto, Ph.D., teaches mythology in literature at California State University at Los Angeles, where she is a faculty member in the English department. She earned her Ph.D. in mythological studies with an emphasis in depth psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carptinteria, CA, and an M.A. in English Literature from California State University at East Bay. Deborah has published essays and delivered presentations on mythology, depth psychology, and literary works. She has also been a casting director, scenic artists, editor, manager, and producer.
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