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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Edwin Gentzler

Second Advisor

Agustin Lao-Montes

Third Advisor

Albert Lloret

Fourth Advisor

Sara Lennox

Subject Categories

European History | Fiction | History of Gender | History of Religion | Indigenous Studies | Medieval History | Medieval Studies | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Political Theory | Theory, Knowledge and Science | Translation Studies


While many theories of colonial discourse emphasize an imperial power imposing its way of thinking and modes of expression onto colonial cultures and peoples, in this dissertation I consider that this imposition affects members of the colonies and the metropolis in different but related ways. In core and periphery alike, the subjects of Spanish colonialism produced documents in which we recognize overlapping, conflicting narratives. I call this strategy for narrative resistance “golden palimpsests” because, as the epigraph suggests, they appear to tell the story of donkeys covered in gold, while in fact they hide the true story of noble horses covered in flour. The term “palimpsest” refers to a painting done on a recycled cloth that, if placed against the light, reveals the prior, painted-over image beneath. In this dissertation, I attempt to unveil these erased images from the past. It is a figure that sutures together material precarity and hidden images that are imperceptible to the naked eye. I use the term “golden” in a triple sense. The Renaissance literature produced in Spain during its imperial expansion is known as “Golden Age” literature. Moreover, it was American gold that drove this expansion and concomitant cultural production. Finally, at the level of these texts’ historical reception, a dazzling golden surface distracts audiences, who fail to recognize the true character of colonial epistemologies and the real cost of modernity as a world system. The constitution of modern/colonial racial categories serves to dehumanize people in both Europe and the Americas, creating, for example, internal colonies of Jews and Moors within Spain (cf. Childers 2003) alongside the external codification and exploitation of “savages” and enslaved people in the Americas. The disenchanted masses from America and Spain reacted against this “coloniality of power,” a concept that Aníbal Quijano defines in “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America” (2002) as a new “global model of capitalist (colonial/modern) and Eurocentered power established since the colonization of America” (549). I argue that the consolidation of Spain as a global power and a modern nation required the persecution and codifying of Jews and Moors in the peninsula, the exploitation and codifying of African laborers, and the absolute control of indigenous populations, their lands, and their resources. Spain’s rise as the first modern nation with a global imperial capacity came at the expense of a violent and dramatic reconfigurarion of its subjects’ identities. Yet, people encoded in their versions of history, their ways of knowing and living. In this dissertation, I look at several case studies where historical and fictional subjects from these “races,” namely Jews, Moors, Afro-descendant, and indigenous peoples, produced their “golden palimpsests” as a strategy of resistance in the face of the Spanish Habsburg imperial expansion of a world economic model based on agro-industry, extractivist mining, and textile exports. Using visual arts, performance, and writing, the nameless geographer of Cholula, the condemned witch María Pizarro, Atahualpa’s descendant Andrés Sánchez Gallque, and Lepanto Battle veteran Miguel de Cervantes all resisted King Philip II’s exclusive, imperial discourse of modernity, hiding within their texts repressed voices, subaltern discourses, erased histories, and alternative ways of conceiving the self during early modernity. These Spanish subjects use translation and orality to perform both within and against the language and textuality of an imperial grammar. In this dissertation, I propose to refer to such selected texts as “golden palimpsests,” because they textually attempted to undermine Philip II’s imperial project while appearing to comply with Golden-Age aesthetic norms, thus exposing a plethora of excluded voices and histories. I have chosen to represent this transatlantic resistance by alternating chapters on Native American visual texts with fluid conceptions of time, space, gender, nation, race, and sexuality, with Spanish Golden Age texts by Miguel de Cervantes that resist these same categories to include Jewish and Islamic perspectives. I address the construction of some modern social categories as sketched both in texts written in early modern Spain and its colonies. Thus, chapters II, IV, and VI concern native texts, comprised of a map, a performance piece, and an oil painting, while chapters III and IV discuss Spanish texts, particularly selected Cervantine works. America and Spain are equally created through the reorganization of history and geography (chapters II and III) and new legislation regarding the control of women’s bodies (chapters III and IV), which resulted in an aesthetics of homoerotic desire for the enslaved, whether in literature or the visual arts (chapters V and VI). These complementary case studies present various registrations of a structural shift in the world following the “discovery” of the Americas, which affected people living both in Spain—in what might be called internal colonies—and overseas in the Americas, in the “official” colonies. By “modern social categories,” I refer to conceptions of class, gender, and race, which, although still inchoate, emerged in this period of global transition, when Europe began to imagine itself as the economic and cultural core, with America, Africa, and the Middle East viewed as its peripheries.