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Redeeming the Morisco

The Confesion de los Moriscos is a surprisingly remarkable text. It was composed during the first years of the seventeenth century, around the time, 1609, when the Moriscos were expelled from Spain. It is found in one extant Manuscript copy, dating from the second decade of the century, in a volume of Quevedo’s works that once belonged to Salazar y Castro. Astrana believed that the manuscript is autograph, thus positively attributing the Confesion to Quevedo.

Crosby, on his part, questioned the paleographic ascription, consequently doubting Quevedo’s paternity of the short work. In Crosby’s words “[estas obras] son tan cortas y tan dificiles de clasificar segun criterios literarios, que resulta casi imposible fundar la atribucion en dichos criterios. ” It is not my intent to authenticate or refute the authority of this text. Nonetheless, I hope in the next 20 minutes to show you that Confesion de los Moriscos, in spite of its brevity, is a complex text whose multi-layered readings amply make up for such conciseness.

Here -an in your handouts– it is: Yo picador, macho errado, macho galopeado, me confieso a Dios bardadero y a soneta Maria tampoco, y al bien trobado san Miguelelajo y al bien trobado san Sanchez Batista, y a los sonetos apostatas san Perro y san Palo, y a vos padre espertual, daca la culpa, toma la culpa. Vuelvome a confesiar a todos estos que quedan aqui detras y a vos padre espertual, que estas en lugar de Dios, me deis pestilencia de mis pescados y sorbais dellos, amen Jesus

I, face worker, wronged male, kicked male, confess to God the fencer and neither to sonnet Mary, and to the well found Saint Michael garlic and to the well found saint Sanchez fine fabric, and to the apostate sonnets Saint Dog and Saint Club, and to you father of experience, give me guilt, take guilt. I confess again to all those that remain behind, and to you father of experience, who are in place of God. Give pestilence of my fishes and suck from them, amen Jesus. At first glance, this short fragment is just a boutade, a silly parody permitted by clever alliterative transposition.

Too short to be catalogued or to deserve literary analysis, as Crosby implies in his edition. My English translation, necessarily barren of all the metaphorical punning, underscores the apparent triviality of the joke. A keener look at both form and content of the paragraph, however, brings forth unexpected construes. I propose to you now my textual interpretation of the brief work, which I have broken down in three steps: typologization, conceptization and confession. From these, as a conclusion to my paper, I will extrapolate some observations on the image of the morisco in XVII Spain.

I call typologization the exploitation of certain cultural biases to construct a typecast character, a literary type. Composed in the format of a traditional prayer of exculpation or confession, the text playfully foregrounds several of the stereotypical features that identified the Morisco population in seventeenth century Spain’s literary imagination: their low social status, their dishonest nature, their lack of hygiene, their inability to speak Castilian with proper morpho-synctactical concordance, their illiterate and sui-generis understanding of the Christian doctrine and of course their cripto-muslim habits.

With these traits, the Morisco occupied a comic role -what Chevalier called “el tipo comico”in many comedias, entremeses and short stories from Timoneda to Lope. Needless to say the comic morisco, like the rest of the types, the lazy student, the unfaithful wife, the butcher doctor, take shape around a folkloric model rooted in oral tradition. But whereas for these characters the tradition can be traced to the middle-ages, the literary protagonism of the morisco is short lived, not surprisingly concentrated in works of the second half of the sixteenth and first two decades of the seventeenth centuries.

I would say that the literary typologization of the morisco runs parallel to the contemporary social phenomenon that Woolard has recently labeled as the “racialization” of the Morisco During the eighty years prior to their expulsion Moriscos had sunk in an extremely difficult position. After the obligatory conversion of Muslims in the Crown of Aragon in 1526, Islam was theoretically abolished throughout the Iberian Peninsula, but little attempt was made to bring about either conversion or integration.

Counter Reformation Spain was increasingly intolerant of them, since many were known and all were suspected to be infidels and apostates. Moreover, Spaniards feared that Andalusian and Valencian Moriscos were plotting with the Turks for another Islamic invasion. ” Anxieties about territorial security and personal safety of Christian Spaniards, as much as about religious offenses, brought repeated calls for extermination or expulsion of Moriscos from Spain.

As a universalistic Christian state coalesced, the social margins traditionally reserved for mudejares (Muslims allowed to remain in Christian territories) narrowed to the vanishing point (Cohen 1994). Ultimately those of Islamic origin were constituted as an alien people that had to be extirpated from a territorially defined Christian and Spanish interior (Root 1988; Shell 1991).

This ideological construction, racialization, was achieved through three overlapping phases, whose focus progressed from religion, to culture, to genealogy. Now considered Muslim were not just those who failed to embrace the Christian religion, but those who preserved the most minor ancestral custom and thus revealed their origin: “At first it was the Infidel who was rejected; now it would be simply the Other” The baptism policy precipitated rebellion in Granada, followed by further forced conversions.

Under Philip II, as political and economic tensions were rising between the Old Christian and Morisco communities, strict cultural prohibitions were reinstated in Granada in 1567, and Arabic music and clothing, face-covering, bathing, Arabic names, and speaking, reading, and writing Arabic all became illegal. Yet despite the constant tensions there were many Spaniards who refused to entertain the idea, which gathered force during the late century, of expelling the Moriscos.

In Valencia, where Moriscos formed one-third of the population, even the inquisitors argued against expulsion, for after all they are Spaniards like ourselves’. So, alien or brother? Self or other? This is the paradox of racialization, playfully layed bare by the parodic typecasting. The tiny piece I am reading today mirrors these anxieties and tensions, calling into question a view of humanity, cultural practices, and of the painful struggles for political and religious identity that many Spaniards found problematic.

Once identified by the readers as a predictable type the Morisco plays out these contradictions condensing multiple layered semantic meanings in the compact linguistic wit of picaresque caricature. I call this conceptization,’ as in making the text conceptista. ‘ Picador stays obviously for pecador, sinner. But picador means labourer, heavy worker, a man enslaved by the brutality of his work. Moreover, in germania picador indicates a thief who uses a hook to open locks and safes. Moriscos were consistently accused of thievery and depicted as poor, dirty workers.

Picador, thus, mocks the Morisco not because of his sins to an ecumenical God, but rather for belonging of outcast group of unfortunate pariahs. Macho herrado, macho galopeado, continues the Confesion, “mucho he errado, mucho he culpado” would be the underlining canonical text, but clearly the pun is not about grammatical competency: a macho herrado is a mule, another disparaging epithet used to refer to moriscos. Macho galopeado, a neologism, as far as I can tell, tosses the idea of a beaten animal, humbled and defeated. Me confieso a Dios bardadero “I confess to a god who is not truthful, but rather erects fences”.

How heartfelt for an exiled and persecuted soul hence, the negative tampoco,’ neither, as a mockery of the morisco’s grammatical mishaps, becomes also the confirmation that he will NOT pray to the Virgin, neither (tampoco! ). We have read barely two lines, and we already have a vivid image of this praying man, subservient and battered, but also proud and dissident. As the prayer continues, the conflictive message imbedded into the parody becomes more apparent: y al bien trobado san Miguelelajo y al bien trobado san Sanchez Batista, I confess to the hailed saint Michael Garlic and saint Sanchez Batista.

The use of the suffix -ajo -Miguelelajo– and the alteration of San Juan Bautista in the double last name Sanchez Batista convert both these figures into Cristianos Viejos, their pureza de sangre onomastically guaranteed and reinforced by the mention of garlic, not only the most available and versatile condiment of Castilian cuisine, but one that has in its own right come to be identified with the proud indigence of hidalgos in comedic and picaresque literature. In reality these are the saints the morisco is forced to adore, penniless and miser masters, only better off because of their surname.

Here goes something about soneto and trobado, but what? Y a los sonetos apostatas san Perro y san Palo. In contrast with the purity of the two Castilian names, the renegades saint dog and saint club (bat) directly refer to the condition of the converse as projected from the Christian standpoint. Perro, the ultimate contemptuous moniker given both to Jews and Moriscos is semantically coupled with palo, concocting the mental image of the perro apaleado, a pitiful metaphor for the miserable state the moriscos were kept.

Before the expulsion of 1609 there have been several attempts in Granada to enrich the genealogia sanctorum with a handful of saints of alleged Arab origin, in what may have been a last-ditch attempt to save the Morisco community. The leaden texts found in Sacramonte 1595 put forward a version of Granada’s history that aimed to redeem the Moriscos by tracing the city’s roots to Arab Christian apostles and martyrs, who thus became the oldest Christians in Spain. The implication that San Perro y san Palo are morisco saints would have been appreciated by as yet another wink at the paradoxical circumstances of the praying man.

Y a vos padre espertual, daca la culpa, toma la culpa. The lenition of the vowel in espertual transmutes the figure of the father from the intangible guidance and solace of a protective spirit to a hovering presence, whose power resides matter-of-factly on experience. Concretely grounded on the material world this god bargains with his believers the price of absolution, as the bartering give and take of the extremely vernacular expression daca la culpa, toma la culpa displays. In this church everything can be bought, even penance. For the Morisco the venial bartering is utterly factual.

After all, worship to this particular god comes as part of a heavy package of negotiated social and economical conditions that little have to do with free choice and faith. Vuelvome a confesiar a todos estos que quedan aqui detras y a vos padre espertual, que estas en lugar de Dios. The empty repetitiousness of unfamiliar ritual formulas gives meaningless interchangeability to the peculiar characters that populate this foreign liturgy, an indistinguishable crowd of haloed images todos estos que quedan aqui detras who stand still behind the main actor playing god in the stage of this Christian theater.

Significants which signifiers are perplexingly elusive, especially in a culture that does not represent deity, these unidentifiable saints surround a father figure whose lacanian authority ineffably represses the real-ity of the Morisco while coercing him to express the imaginary of the Christian, –BBOOOOHH. Me deis pestilencia de mis pescados y sorbais dellos. Pescado is pregnant with multiple meanings.

Its centrality in Christian iconography derives from the Gospel comparison of Jesus –and subsequently the Popeto a fishermen, who fishes souls (pescador de almas), thus prompting the simile of soul to a fish. Fish symbolizes lent as well, a different kind of fasting than that prescribed by the Coram. At the same time, in Renaissance medical knowledge, fish was often connected to the onset of despicable illnesses -pestilencias food poisoning really, while its rapid deterioration allowed for a rich constellation of proverbial expressions relating rottening fish and its smell to suspiciousness and deceit.

On the other hand, the claim that the morisco population was a pestilencia intrinseca’ was argued by strong voices who believed that conversion had failed not because missionary efforts were inadequate but because Moriscos had proved inassimilable. What Gomez Davila wrote to the King of this “intrinsic pestilence” is only one example: “Just as when a human body has an illness in a foot, leg or arm, the entire body must be purged, so also is it necessary to purge all of Spain of this bad seed …

To think that preaching can remedy the damage is to think the impossible” (Boronat y Barrachina 1992:64-65). Biological accounts indicted the whole community, including children: “they have the infected root within their guts. ” Finally the verb sorber, for absolver’ playing with the rotacism that is still typical of the Andalusian dialect, alludes to the swallowing of the Christian doctrine the morisco needs to internalize. Autoridades of 1739 literally says: “metaforicamente vale recibir, o esconder una cosa hueca, o esponjosa alguna otra dentro de si, o en su concavidad (s. v. ). ”

Through the composite juxtaposition of semantic and semiotic nonsense’ Quevedo humanizes his Morisco character by concealing in his prayer a realistic depiction of the social and economical situation of the Morisco community. This very conceptista exploitation of overlapping semantic puzzles allows such a density of interpretation of this short text that the resulting speaking character acquires psychological depth. At the same time the canonical format of the text, that of a familiar formula of exculpation, contributes to support the complex architecture of desires and intimacies surfacing from the words of the derelict.

This is what I call psychologization. Scholars concentrating on the force of Christianity as a discourse, have studied how confessional practices help to create the private individual, measured by deep interiority and feelings, and by a personal history. Thus Confession is constitutive of the subject in that Foucauldian inflection of the term. Those addressed by a confessional discourse are ‘interpellated’ (hailed, singled out by name),’ and are subjected, i. e. de to define themselves in a discourse given to them, and in which they must name and misname themselves; and secondly, made to think of themselves as autonomous subjects, responsible for their acts.

Further, the confessional puts an emphasis on the sexual, in both Catholicism and Protestantism, and this connects to far more than the desire to accentuate fleshly weakness. It is bound up, in Foucault, to the production of the subject carried out in the Renaissance and beyond, making the sexual an index to character, and reading people as unique individuals – subjects – in the light of this confessional knowledge.

Julia Kristeva discusses Christianity’s shift away from Judaism, (from outward defilement to inward guilt, named as ‘sin’) in terms of the subject now having to seek ‘no longer his defilement but the error within his own thoughts and speech’. The illusion is that speech is the speech of the subject, (not of the Other), that it belongs, in its displacements and condensations, to the self, and may be examined closely for its deep relationship to the self in its subjectivity. The demand for speech which can be thus symptomatized is at the heart of confession.

What are we to make of this confessing morisco then? Are his prayers conferring him a psychological identity that makes him recognizable, not other anymore, by the very same culture that struggles to accept him? Is the mockery of his fervor the confirmation that he will be forever just a caricature, an entertaining buffoon, or are his words the first symptom of his eventual assimilation? I think that judgment on the morisco’s position in Christian society is ultimately given not by the sincerity of his dialogue with god, but by the sexual identity that his confession confers to him.

John Bossy argues that, between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries, confession became increasingly “psychologized,” focused on the personal and spiritual aspects of sin, rather than on its social dimension. Such a reaction might be read as lending support to Delumeau’s thesis of the laity’s resistance to confession. Along with other corroborating evidence, it would also suggest, however, that such resistance was not a wholly gender neutral phenomenon. ” Thus, a first tentative conclusion about the sexual inflection of early modern confession is that men did it less than women.

The administration of the sacrament of penance required a posture (kneeling) and an attitude (submission, vulnerability) that, while not absent from early modem codes of masculinity and nobility, do not figure prominently in them. In other words, confession in early modern Europe, marks the creation of a private space, along with the ability to articulate sexual desire and values connected to sexual identity. Concomitantly, however, the act of confession supposes a weaker masculine self.

A real man does not confess Hence, while a morisco would be more inclined to confess, to substantiate his conversion, the very same demonstration of beatitude would mark him as a weaker, effeminate man. Otherness may well be defined against credo, or genealogical purity. But the definitive criterion to place the Morisco in a lowered status it is not his lack of devotion, nor his blood taintedness, although these two qualities are predictable foils to the morisco’s true fault: he is not a man. Macho herrado, macho galopeado.

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