Maria Mercedes Carrion, Emory University

title.none: Slade, St. Teresa of Avila

identifier.other: baj9928.9612.006 96.12.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Maria Mercedes Carrion, Emory University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Slade, Carole. St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Pp. xxii, 204. $. ISBN: ISBN 0-520-08802-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.12.06

Slade, Carole. St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Pp. xxii, 204. $. ISBN: ISBN 0-520-08802-6.

Reviewed by:

Maria Mercedes Carrion, Emory University

Most studies about the writings of Teresa of Jesus concern themselves either with the fact that the pen is driven by a female author or with the spiritual and/or religious aspects of her works, letting some of the richest aspects of her texts fall through the cracks caused by disciplinary battles between the fields of religious studies, feminism and literary criticism. The main contribution of this book is that it uses all these hermeneutical frames generously and astutely. It remembers Teresa of Jesus (or Saint Teresa of Avila, as Prof. Slade opts to call her) as a "deliberate writer and a skillful rhetorician" (p. xi) who comfortably dialogues with precursors such as Augustine, as well as the Scriptures and the Inquisition, and who also managed to achieve great standing in the Catholic Church. Teresa earns in this way the "heroic" rank assigned to her in the title.

Chapter 1, one of the most incisive analyses done about the Book of Life, rereads Teresa's complex relationship with the Augustinian tradition and sheds new light in the question of the Book of Life as a work of confession and as an autobiography. Slade's view is that Teresa "transformed judicial confession, a genre that presumed the guilt of the narrator, into a vehicle for self-defense" (p. xii). This presumed guilt, double in the case of this author given her Jewish ancestry and her disposition to work in the public domain despite being a woman, translated into a potential charge of heresy that, as Slade appropriately reminds the readers, "affects nearly all the authorial choices Teresa made in the Life" (p. 9). This chapter demonstrates Teresa's ability to dialogue with such constant threat to her persona by comparing closely the Book of Life and two defining documents of Inquisitorial practices: the Directorium Inquisitorum, or manual for Inquisitors, and the Repertorium or dictionary of Inquisitional concepts first published in Valencia in 1494. Having established the generic parallels, Slade examines some of the actual encounters of Teresa with the Inquisition, an analysis that she entitles "Readings of the Life as Judicial Confession" (pp. 17-30), and which takes the reader through the Carleval trial, the Illuminists, and finally the Censura or review of Teresa's Life made by Domingo Baez in which issues such as sincerity, plainness, humility and discretion are debated. All these rhetorical and stylistic devices, Slade argues, earn Teresa ecclesiastical authorization, and free her from the onerous situation of having to face actual Inquisitorial charges against herself. The result is what Slade terms "Teresa's Development as a Writer of Christian Autobiography" (pp. 30-38), a process of intimate literary and spiritual dialogue with Augustine's Confessions that no doubt is at the core of the Life.

Chapter 2 reads the way Teresa conceptualized Scriptures and "her feminist hermeneutic for reading it" (p. xiii). Slade successfully argues that Teresa evokes the relevance that prophecy had in the Old Testament by emphasizing the element of incompletion in her reading of the Exodus and the Song of Songs; in other words, for Teresa the promises of these segments of the Hebrew Bible have not been fulfilled, a fact that puts her in a dangerous "sharing" position with the Judaic concept of Scripture. This reading of the Exodus and the Song of Songs is figural and feminist, according to Slade. The figural aspect follows Auerbach's definition of scriptural typology as "an essentially allegorical hermeneutic" with prophecy and fulfillment at the core (p. 39). And it is feminist because of its "divided tropological sense" (pp. 40-57), an interpretation of the Scriptures that reads these tropes as unfulfilled, "not for a woman" (p. 42). For Slade this double sense responds to the fact that the "Church's confinement of a woman's history in this life to spiritual experience alone denies her the possibility of fulfilling her moral obligation to perfect human society in preparation for the Last Judgment" (p. 40). Slade argues that the fulfillment does happen, though not in Teresa's major works but in a late and very little known work by her entitled Satirical Critique, where she establishes the significance of New Testament women such as Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan Woman "who encountered Christ incarnate" (pp. 57-64).

The following chapters reread fragments of the Life in conjunction with two of her later works: The Book of Foundations and the Interior Castle. Slade tidily divides this reading into three phases, corresponding respectively to her chapters 3, 4, and 5. In the first one, Teresa represents her "old life" contained in her narrative closest to Augustine's: the first ten chapters of the Life. Her dialogue with the strongest of precursors she would ever face is marvelously translated by Slade into "A Response to the Inquisitional Questionnaire" (pp. 67-78), an exercise of rhetorical and stylistic virtue in which intertexts as varied as the sambenito of Teresa's grandfather, the Directorium, and the Amadis de Gaula play literary games within the Life. The result of this reading is what Slade terms "Hagiography in the First Person" (pp. 78-83), an account of Teresa's different performances as a martyr, a character who reads the Golden Legend, an apostle and a nun among other roles.

The fourth chapter, entitled "Teresa's Analogies for Her Mystical Experience," deals with the way her first and last major works establish an analogical system that has been the genesic point of her authority as a mystic writer. Slade reads three major areas of analogical representation of the soul: in Life (pp. 11-22), the "extension of the will" is equated with the soul as garden (pp. 88-95); in the Interior Castle (pp. 1-3) the "elaboration of the understanding" is viewed in the correspondence between the soul and the castle (pp. 95-99); and in the Interior Castle (pp. 4-6) the analogue of the soul/silkworm is proposed as "the imprinting of the memory" (pp. 99-106). Chapter 5, the last chapter about Teresa's texts per se, deals with the way her "new life" is represented in Life (pp. 32-36) and the Book of Foundations. Historical discourse a propos of the New World (pp. 111-120), and female authority (pp. 120-126) are the two basic themes of discussion employed by Slade to guide the readers through the four chapters of the Life devoted to the narrative of the foundation of the convent of St. Joseph in Avila, as well as the third of Teresa's major works, the Foundations, in which she tells about the founding narratives of the remaining Reformed Carmelite convents. Once more, Slade shows Teresa's readerly world by incorporating a wide range of intertexts with which her literary production dialogues: authorial names such as Benvenuto Cellini, Hernan Cortes, Dante Alighieri and Christine de Pizan join Teresa de Layz, Catalina Godinez, Beatriz de Chavez and Maria de Sandoval (a mirror image of Teresa of Avila?) in a chronicle of conventual reform and women's lives.

Chapter 6 briefly reviews the way Teresa's writings influenced the process of her canonization. And the "Epilogue" reviews some psychoanalytic interpretations of her mystical experiences. Unfortunately, this last section reads as a hurried attempt to link Teresa with another kind of authority (the Inquisition of the twentieth century?), a study that is indeed overdue but that falls out of the scope of this book. The drive to prove Teresa's "heroicity" could have been (and most definitely needs to be) done -- to use Shoshana Felman's expression -- "otherwise", as a reading of these writings not just as an object of psychoanalysis, but as a subject to psychoanalysis in correspondence with psychoanalysis, as a way to reread Lacan, Irigaray and Kristeva with Teresa in ways productive and significant for both literature and psychoanalysis. The master-slave relationship in which Slade positions these two fields of study leads the insightful readings previously articulated to some uncanny statements, such as Teresa's portrayal of God being most often "unequivocally male" (p. 137); or a too quick consideration of the question of Teresa and melancholy (p. 141). Fortunately, it is the Epilogue and hence it can be read differently from the rest of the study. The concluding paragraph, though, stands in almost contradictory terms with the arguments brilliantly put forth in the previous chapters: Teresa's heroicity, according to Slade, is a result of an identity that the Catholic Church granted her, "releasing her from the marginalized positions of woman and converso" (p. 144), and her writings "enabled" her to live such an identity.

The preceding chapters seemed to suggest another view: Teresa's writings create a powerful persona for a woman descendent from conversos, a mask that allowed her to question official policies and identities propounded by some Church officials. Aside from this unexpected last section, this provocative and stimulating study is obligatory reading for anybody interested in Teresa's work, mysticism, Spanish cultural history and writing by women.