7115 - Dominating the Devil: Desire and Fantasy in Colonial Peru

This paper examines the late seventeenth-century Inquisitorial trial of a young black-veiled nun, Juana Luisa Benites, who underwent a investigation of her claims that the persecutions of many demons, one in the form of a black man, proved her sainthood. She was not alone. In the northern coastal Peruvian city of Trujillo, the Franciscans were eager to promote another new world saint to counter those of other orders (Glave 1999; Graziano 2002). Rather than understanding Benites’ visions solely as religious, however, this paper explores her confessor’s descriptions of the multiple demons and their assaults and temptations within the realm of sexual fantasy that supported colonialism (Stoler 2002) and slaveholding (Baptist 2001, Bontemps 2001).

Adding to a scholarship that understands spiritual experiences as erotic (Sluhovsky 2002, Weber 2000), this paper asks what work sex did in each of the three fantasies. The visions described by Benites, her fellow black-veiled nun, Ana Nuñez, and their Franciscan confessor expressed their fierce competition for the attention and, at least in the confessor’s case, control of Benites (Bilinkoff 2005). In Risco’s imaginary, the devil as a black man penetrated Benites and spun her on the end of his penis. According to Nuñez, the demons viciously tempted but did not “conquer.” Benites, in contrast, only provided testimony of what she (and perhaps the Inquisition) believed was a source of her visions: a sexual assault by her father, a cleric, when she was a girl. If Risco employed (supposedly) demonic sexual acts to imagine a domination of Benites and Nuñez expressed her hope to continue her intimate friendship with Benites through her accounting of Benites’ visions, then perhaps Benites took a past experience of sexual violence and turned it into an experience of pleasure and power. By contrasting the shared and distinct sexual fantasies of the imagery, this paper demonstrates how the imaginary actuated racial hierarchies and violence within gender relations.

Keywords: Sex, Desire, Peru, Colonial, Nuns, Inquisition

Author: OToole, Rachel (University of California, Irvine, Ud States of Am / USA)


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