Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel’s From Lack to Excess. “Minor” Readings of Latin American Colonial Discourse (2008) departs from the understanding that writing in times of the Spanish Crown expansion in America in XVI is, in more than a way, a minor discourse. It is not that the Spanish “Empire” completely captured and controlled the ways writing was produced. This means that beyond any possibility of turning the Chronicles of indies a simple mirror that reflects the agendas of homogeneus/unitary nationalist ideas, understanding the writing of the Chronicles as a minor discourse “allows us to make the transition from the ambivalence of the colonial subject to the rhetorical ambiguity of a colonial discourse” (36). After this, it becomes visible that the Chronicles are “sites of intervention within the hegemonic discursive matrix that can still be effectively elucidated by the particular exercise of reading” (38) in a minor key. What the texts analyzed by Martínez-San Miguel offer is the description, or depiction, of a radical change between orality and writing, between “verbal” lack and “linguistic excess”. The Chronicles, as texts that mix both colonial discourses (“those textual moments in which the project of colonization and conquest is depicted from an Americanist perspective” ) and imperial discourses (“conceived from within a metropolitan perspective, and they endorse a European colonizing project” ) are knotted by the transition from lack to excess. The awe that emptied the conquistadors and colonizers soon was supplanted by a dominant control.
Martínez-San Miguel revisits a vast collection of canonical texts. Her insights on Colón, Cortés, Las Casas, Cabeza de Vaca, el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Sigüenza y Góngora and Sorjuana Inés de la Cruz illustrate the stated progression from lack to excess. In other words, the depiction of an empty discourse in the chronicles is filled with a baroque overwhelming presence as a general teleology. At the same time, it seems that Martínez-San Miguel, suggests that the complete domination of the “imperial interpretative matrix/paradigm” of the Spanish Crown was never fully achieved. For instance, when closing her argument about Sor Juana’s silence, as something that brakes and “produce[s] an eccentric intellectual, a colonial and feminine subjectivity that attempts to correct, complete, and reconfigure interpretation of herself and her works produced in the metropolitan centers” (182), Martínez-San Miguel suggests that as much as writing was still “a response to a required dialogue to achieve a reinscription as a colonial subjectivity” (183) the imposed logic of the “empire” was incompetent. After all, as all minor writings, this serve, or have “an unsurmountable hermeneutic limit” (183) where the domination of the empire sees their deformed and fake idea of hegemony. It is, then, that minor discourses in colonial times sometimes were able to depict a voice “that incorporate itself but also ‘corrects’ its official representation within an hegemonic discursivity” (184). Martínez-San Miguel sees this as something that is “beginning to exhaust its capacity of capture [of the imperial hermeneutic matrix]” (184). With this, From Lack to Excess finishes its argument and its meaningful insights. Yet, the pretended progression insisted in the book, might suggest to reflection on some arguments of the beginning of the book.
If aphasia serves as the foundational moment where lack emerges as the necessary “void” of the expression of the conquistadors, excess would be a sort of “plug” that in an ominous way cancels the depth of the void. The thing is that as much as “aphasia signals the failure of language to apprehend or grasp the complexity of the American reality as a discursive strategy parallel to the lack of epistemic and material control over the newly discovery lands and subjects” (45), as it happens eminently to Colón, aphasia is already, and always in the Chronicles, a catachresis because the lack of epistemic-voice is already deposited writing. That is lack is always a conglomerate of writing, and this writing as the one of Sor Juana is already showing how “fast” the limit of the imperial hermeneutic is reached. If “the admiral” cannot fully capture all the marvelous things he sees, his aphasia is a stasis that turns to be active, an active passivity. The limit was not only reached by the imperial logic, but also by writing itself. After this, then, it might be possible to rethink how the transition from lack to excess is not a process that started and finished, but a constant strategy in Latin American temporality in general (and perhaps elsewhere). Lack is always a void but never a place that misses something. Lack does more than a silenced and fascinated face, lack writes. From this perspective, the lack in Cortés, or any other colonial writer, is a result of something that exceeds it, something that forces writing as emphasis, as repetition, as enumeration, as a list. If “what is visible cannot be contained by language” let the writing turned it form and content so that the yes might see it, so that at least the illusion of readability be achieved.