Case Study

Archival Seduction: Indexical Absences and Historiographical Ghosts

By Zeb Tortorici
November 2015

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 “Students are told about the many types and varieties of repository and record office, and the fragmentary, incomplete material they contain; they are told about ‘the cult of archive’ among certain historians and those sad creatures who fetishise them; they are warned about the seductions of the archive, the ‘entrancing stories’ that they contain, which do the work of the seducer.”

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 -Carolyn Steedman1

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Archives, it is commonly said and often repeated, harbor an incredible potential to seduce those of us who use them, organize them, and otherwise come into contact with them. We in the humanities are obsessed with the archives, and currently there is a virtual explosion of journal articles and special issues, anthologies, conferences, and symposia dedicated to the theorization of archives and their “absent presences.”2 Interestingly, much of the recent interdisciplinary work on archives has come from fields other than archival science, library and information studies, and history—the disciplines within which nuanced conceptualizations of archives and their classificatory systems first originated. Especially with the so-called archival turn in the humanities, which largely followed the publication of Michel Foucault’s genealogical approach in The Archeology of Knowledge (1976) and Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive approach in Archive Fever (1995), archivists and scholars in the field have rightly theorized and cautioned against the seductive nature of the archives.3

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Yet, more specifically, what about the archives, aside from the “entrancing stories” found within, is seductive? How and why do archives seduce, and what exactly is this “work of the seducer” of which Carolyn Steedman speaks in Dust: The Archive and Cultural History? Why do so many of us seem to believe that scholars within the archive must always be on guard, warily looking out for the surreptitious ways that the archives induce varying degrees of attraction—for the archives themselves, the documents they house, and the narratives held within? How might archival fragments do the work of the seducer in ways that differ from complete extant archival documents? Finally, how might we reframe the very notion of archival seduction? I believe that archival seduction has a radical potential. To be more exact, our own actions have the potential to be radical in the ways we conceive of and use the archive, and the ways we articulate our own desires in relation to the archive as an institution, a system of classification, and an architectural space with its own peculiar history. These archival seductions directly affect the ways we understand the past, as well as our relationship to it.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 This essay offers a brief and personal reflection on the highly seductive nature of colonial archives by looking, in part, at how certain historical agents do (or do not) become proper subjects of histories of sexuality. Focusing on both the history and physical space of Mexico’s national archive—the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City (AGN)—and on three archival fragments that deal with criminalized sexuality in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century colonial Mexico, I explore the intimate relationship between archival absence and the vast terrain of archival seduction.4 Archival fragments, I maintain, can do the work of the seducer. I concentrate my analysis on archival fragments in relation to the entirety of the archive itself, showing that while all archives have the potential to seduce us, the fragments and absences have an even greater potential to seduce than do complete cases, narratives, and testimonies found within the archive. Furthermore, archival fragments dealing with sex and desire among minoritized subjects are particularly alluring for reasons I trace below. To some extent, however, perhaps all archival narratives might best be seen as fragments, given that the archive can always only contain a fraction of lived experience. While this essay ultimately focuses on what I am terming indexical absences and historiographical ghosts—phenomena that make up the much larger category of archival absence—I begin with the materiality of the archive itself.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Image 1.  Photograph of the main entrance of the Archivo General de la Nación (taken by the author in 2015).Image 1. Photograph of the main entrance of the Archivo General de la Nación (taken by the author in 2015).

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 When I first walked up to Mexico’s AGN in the summer of 2003, smack in middle of Mexico City, less than two miles northeast of downtown, it was with all the excitement and trepidation of a second-year doctoral student (see Image 1). I was coming into contact with the historical archives for the very first time. The archive itself was housed in Mexico’s infamous penitentiary, the Palacio de Lecumberri (more colloquially known as the Palacio Negro, or the Black Palace), which was in operation from 1900 to 1976. The prison was decommissioned and subsequently given over to the national archives in 1980, and the AGN opened its doors in 1982. The prison was inaugurated under the auspices of Porfirio Díaz, who served seven terms as president, from 1876 to 1910, and is best known for the period of Mexican history known as the Porfiriato, which was characterized by economic growth, heavy investment, modernization, and accompanying political and social repression.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Lecumberri Palace is perhaps most notorious for having held thousands of left-wing political prisoners, many of whom were tortured and killed, in the aftermath of the Mexican student movement and the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968, on the eve of Mexico City’s Olympic Games, and throughout Mexico’s Dirty War of the 1970s. The Mexican government has never fully acknowledged the vicious things that occurred within these walls. For most of its existence Lecumberri functioned, at least in theory, as a correctional and preventative institution, aspiring to rehabilitate prisoners by shaping them into law-abiding citizens. According to a 10,111-page PDF database of many of the prisoners interned between 1920 and 1976—based on documents held at the Archivo Histórico del Distrito Federal—the most common infractions committed by convicts included spousal abandonment, rape, fraud, forgery, falsification of documents, embezzlement, breach of trust, contraband, robbery, breaking and entering, assault, homicide, threats, concealed weapons, drunk driving, property damage, vagrancy and malvivencia (bad living), adultery, and bigamy.5

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Homosexuals were also imprisoned at Lecumberri, though not necessarily because of homosexuality, which had been decriminalized in 1871. Homosexuals, however, are not mentioned explicitly in this particular database, and neither are left-wing students and political prisoners. Their traces lie elsewhere, such as in the partly deteriorated twentieth-century acetate negatives of jailed “jotos (homosexuales)”—“fags (homosexuals),” according to the thematic index of the Inventario Henrique Díaz—stored in the AGN’s Fototeca, its photographic library (see Image 2). Partly legible traces of sodomy and “homosexuality” also exist in the AGN’s colonial documentation, as in the three fragments I focus on in this essay. Part of the potential of such fragments is that they force us to acknowledge their own illegibility, thereby productively confounding the archival present with the historical past.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Image 2.  Acetate negative of incarcerated “homosexuals” at the Lecumberri, taken from the AGN’s Fototeca, Inventario Henrique Díaz (taken by the author in 2015).Image 2. Acetate negative of incarcerated “homosexuals” at the Lecumberri, taken from the AGN’s Fototeca, Inventario Henrique Díaz (taken by the author in 2015).

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Image 3. Aerial photograph of the Lecumberri penitentiary, now Mexico’s national archive. I am grateful to Silvia Mejía of Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura for making this image available for use.Image 3. Aerial photograph of the Lecumberri penitentiary, now Mexico’s national archive. I am grateful to Silvia Mejía of Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura for making this image available for use.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Especially striking is the architectural structure of the prison (see Image 3), in which several massive corridors housing all of the jail cells emanate from a central watchtower, the embodiment of English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham’s late-eighteenth-century design. Bentham’s Panopticon directly inspired the Lecumberri, in which “all the cells, organized in corridors that formed the seven arms of a star, could be easily watched over from a central point.”6 The lookout tower in Image 3 has long since been replaced by a massive central dome, with a large Mexican flag emblazoned on its eastern side, directly in front of Gallery 4, which houses the vast majority of archival documentation from the colonial period (see Image 4). The other galleries largely house photographs, maps, documents, and administrative papers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The patio that once surrounded the watchtower has been redesigned as the central foyer of the Archivo General de la Nación, through which all researchers and archivists must now pass in order to enter any of the archive’s galleries.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Image 4.  The central foyer of the Archivo General de la Nación, with a massive dome in the place of the old prison watchtower and the Mexican flag centrally positioned as one enters the space (taken by the author in 2015).Image 4. The central foyer of the Archivo General de la Nación, with a massive dome in the place of the old prison watchtower and the Mexican flag centrally positioned as one enters the space (taken by the author in 2015).

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 The historical origins of the current archive can be traced back to 1790, when Juan Vicente Güemes Pacheco y Padilla, Second Count of Revillagigedo and Viceroy of New Spain, proposed that the Spanish government’s Ministerio de Gracia y Justicia establish the Archivo General de la Nueva España (General Archive of New Spain). The purpose was to centralize and reorganize the viceregal papers and bureaucratic correspondence pertaining to the viceroyalty of New Spain. That archival project has, in the more than two centuries since, undergone several iterations and relocations including its most recent move to the Lecumberri in 1980. Multiple traces of the Lecumberri’s past exist throughout—both in the archival holdings and the architecture itself. While there are no longer any prisoners held within the walls of the Lecumberri, the old jail cells that once housed inmates now serve as a holding space for the documents (see Images 5 and 6). The jail cells that house archival documentation today are clearly visible in the background in Image 2 above, which depicts “homosexual” inmates. Today the Archivo General de la Nación contains some fifty-two linear kilometers of documentation, an equivalent of approximately 375 million folios, and when in any given gallery a researcher requests a particular archival document, the archivist must walk to the back of the corridor or up the stairs to the second floor and retrieve it from within one of the old cells.7 In this sense, the physical structure of Lecumberri influences the ways in which archivists, staff, and researchers engage physically with the documents that the archive houses.8 It is here, in the physical space of the archive, that the past and present converge in multiple and unexpected ways, seducing our readings of the present through the past, and vice versa.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Image 5.  Archivo General de la Nación, Fototeca, Álbum de obras de ampliación de la penitenciaria del Distrito Federal, OAP 83 (February 25, 1910): “Crujía E completa” (Corridor E complete).Image 5. Archivo General de la Nación, Fototeca, Álbum de obras de ampliación de la penitenciaria del Distrito Federal, OAP 83 (February 25, 1910): “Crujía E completa” (Corridor E complete).

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Image 6.  Galería 4 (Gallery 4) of Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación, with old jail cells now used for document storage (taken by the author in 2015).Image 6. Galería 4 (Gallery 4) of Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación, with old jail cells now used for document storage (taken by the author in 2015).

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Given the peculiar history of this building, Mexico’s national archive—perhaps more so than other historical archives that are kept in buildings designed and constructed specifically for the purpose of storing documents and making them available to the public—houses absences that are always partly present yet constantly evade our ken. Achille Mbembe tells us that the archive “has neither status nor power without an architectural dimension, which encompasses the physical space of the site of the building, its motifs and columns, the arrangement of the rooms, the organisation of the ‘files,’ the labyrinth of corridors, and that degree of discipline, half-light and austerity that gives the place something of the nature of a temple and a cemetery.”9 The Lecumberri seems to embody Mbembe’s claim, as the status and power of the archive derive partly from this entanglement of building and document, place and page. This entanglement is partly what is so seductive (and troubling) about this particular place; it is an architectural space, a historical monument, and a kind of “document” in and of itself. If we think about the AGN as a place that is haunted by the past, then it is indelibly marked by what Anne McClintock has termed imperial ghosting, that is, those disturbances in history comprised of “administered forgettings, guarded and unspeakable secrets, that nonetheless leave material traces: in photographs, language, bodily gestures, as a kind of counter-evidence that, if read against the grain, can point toward more enabling histories, political action and the possibilities of atonement.”10

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 What kinds of absence mark the AGN? What types of “imperial ghosting” have taken place within its walls? And, where lies the potentially radical nature of such archival habitations? Given the progressive left-wing politics of many Mexican activists and artists who passed through the prison’s walls in the 1960s and 1970s, Mexico’s national archive is already a space where radicalism clashed with the Mexican state. But what of the documentation that lies within, especially that related to New Spain’s three centuries of colonial rule and domination by Spain? For more than a decade I have been researching the criminalization and prosecution of the “sins against nature” (pecados contra natura)—namely, sodomy, bestiality, and masturbation—in colonial New Spain. I have turned up some 325 cases dealing with these particular crimes, both at the AGN and at dozens of other archives; here I want to focus my attention on three archival fragments that help illustrate how and why our use of colonial archives can be a political act. My emphasis here on particular forms of archival absence, which I am terming “indexical absences” and “historiographical ghosts,” helps to demonstrate the connections between the fragments and their seductions.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 This meditation on the nature and lure of colonial archives is an extension of my current work on bodies, and their desires and devotions, as they came to be archived in New Spain, which was Spain’s largest and most important colonial possession in the Americas, lasting from 1535 to 1821. These chronological endpoints mark, on the one end, the establishment of the viceroyalty of New Spain following the conquest of Mexico-Tenochtitlan by Spanish conquistadors under the guidance of Hernán Cortés from 1519 to 1521 and, on the other end, the culmination of the Mexican wars for independence from Spain that were initiated by secular priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in 1810. Colonial archives become meaningful sites of historical inquiry partly by creating an intimate connection between bodies and documents; as the archive lures us in, it opens up the possibility for a queer conceptualization of desire as it comes to be archived in the very first place. But, this happens within the walls of the archive only if we are willing to trace our own affective engagements with the archives, their documents, and the historical subjects they depict.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 What interests me here is not the largely accepted historical trajectory and narrative from colony to independence, but rather how a few specific archival instantiations might help us rethink how archived bodies and their desires resist being subsumed under their legislative regimes, and, perhaps more importantly, how each and every archival subject is fractured along multiple axes. Much like the light that passes through a prism is bent and refracted, the archived desires of historical subjects—when put on paper, thrust into an archive, classified, cataloged, and interpreted by archivists and historians alike—open themselves up to multiple and often contradictory readings and interpretations. Archived desire can only partly be traced back to an “original” source—the historical subject—and must therefore be conceived as an interpellation of diverse desires on the parts of the historical subject, religious authorities, colonial authorities, judges, scribes, witnesses, notaries, archivists, and historians as they interact with one another across time and space.11 This is the radical proposition that I mentioned at the outset of this essay: to acknowledge that the historical desires of the past are only made meaningful and legible via the desires of all of those who have touched these archived subjects, all the way up to our own engagement today. Yet despite our efforts to make historical desires and experiences legible, they always remain partly illegible.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 The first of three archival fragments I analyze is a simple five- or six-line reference in the AGN, found within an eighteenth-century judicial summary on the crime of sodomy, which refers to the 1732 criminal case against a woman named Josepha de Garfias for “the crime of sodomy she perpetrated with other women” (por el crimen de sodomia que perpetró con otras mugeres). Prosecutions of female sodomy are exceedingly rare for colonial Latin America. While other scholars and I have located several cases of women whose same-sex desires and acts concerned colonial administrators in other parts of colonial Latin America, I have been able to locate only one unambiguous archival reference to a woman tried for and convicted of the crime of female sodomy in colonial Mexican records.12 For the context of colonial New Spain, thus far this document appears to be a singular archival iteration of female same-sex desire and the “instruments” with which the crime was enacted. Yet it is not simply that female sodomy is merely missing from the colonial archives, but its rare and checkered presence intimates certain types of absence that are predicated on colonial and modern-day taxonomies of female same-sex desires.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 The scant facts of this case are presented within a succinct ten-folio judicial summary titled “Case documents against diverse persons for the sin of bestiality and sodomies” (Autos contra diversos personales por el pecado de bestialidad y sodomías), which includes minimal information from twenty-two separate criminal cases that implicate some thirty-six individuals—all men, with the exception of Garfias—in these crimes between 1709 and 1769. In this document, the sole paragraph dedicated to Garfias and her crime tells us that the case was initiated in an ecclesiastical court, but was transferred to the criminal courts and prosecuted by Juan Carrillo Moreno, judge of Mexico City’s Real Sala del Crimen, the highest ranking criminal judicial institution in the city and its vicinities, and by a local judge (juez de provincia). The summary also registers that the court “substantiated the case” against her and pronounced a “definitive sentence”: that she serve the sick for a period of two years in the Hospital of San Juan de Dios in Mexico City and fulfill a series of spiritual “medicinal penances.” Pointing to the implement with which Garfias committed her crimes—itself a significant archival absence—the court “mandated that among other things certain instruments which she used for her sordid crime were to be burned” (mandó entre otras cosas se quemasen siertos instrumentos de que usaba para su torpe delicto).13

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Any original documentation of the criminal case to which this late-eighteenth-century judicial summary refers, so far as we know, is nonexistent. Perhaps the transcript of the case was lost or damaged over the years, or perhaps it is simply misplaced, miscategorized, or unprocessed in a historical archive somewhere. This fascinating judicial summary thus provides us with a particular type of archival absence: an indexical one that thwarts our own desires to learn more details of the case, and my own efforts to find out about the life, narrative, and confession of Garfias herself—all of which the missing original transcript of the case against her would have contained. I speak of indexical absences here partly in the literal sense; Garfias’s name appears within an ordered inventory of several individuals who were convicted of sodomy and bestiality in the eighteenth century, yet this index points to multiple court records that are no longer extant.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 If indexicality can be read as a mode of speaking in the present about the past through particular signs, then the very notion of indexical absence here also takes on different meanings. If smoke can be regarded as an index of fire, or a dried up river basin an index of water, then the “certain instruments” with which Garfias committed her crime function as an (absent) index of desire. Absences here coalesce in multiple and overlapping ways. The missing transcripts of the criminal case represent one level of archival absence; the missing instruments represent another. Just as the garroted corpses of sodomites in the early modern Iberian Atlantic world were sometimes burned so as to eradicate any memory or physical trace of the crime, here we find evidence that the instruments—dildos or artificial phalluses that likely would have been made from leather, vellum, or cloth, as they were in early modern Europe—used to penetrate the bodies of other women were sometimes similarly annihilated. The ritualistic burning served to eradicate bodies, physical evidence, and the very memory of the “sordid crime.” The absent presence of those “certain instruments” Garfias supposedly used to penetrate another woman (or other women) functions, in the words of Anjali Arondekar, as an “archival figuration” in that they mediate the relationship between our finding and what is found (both within the archive and within the historical record). For, according to Arondekar’s analysis of the India-rubber dildo’s place within Victorian pornography, it “(as both material and absent presence) captures a central representational paradox at the heart of our archival labors.”14 The material dildo is missing—burned to ashes like the bodies of many convicted sodomites throughout the Iberian Atlantic world. In the end, we are left merely with a faint textual trace of Garfias’ desires, which are partly gleaned through very indexical absences that seduce us into wanting to know more. Yet, ultimately the narratives that would have been built up around those “certain instruments” in the original trial transcripts are from the judicial summary, rendering the specific desires of the past largely illegible.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Questions remain. What exactly did Garfias do with the instrument? With whom had her crimes been “perpetrated”? Did she regularly engage in sexual contact with one or more women, or was this a unique occurrence? How did the politics of denunciation play themselves out, and who initially denounced her? Was she caught in flagrante delicto, or did rumors about her merely circulate until they reached the ears of colonial authorities? Did witnesses actually see the crime with their own eyes? Or, might Garfias have confessed to a priest in an attempt to absolve her sins, only to be directed initially to an ecclesiastical court and eventually to secular justices? Finally, how did the “instrument” make its way into the hands of authorities? Was its burning done in public so as to shame Garfias, or did authorities not want to disseminate the details of such a crime to the masses? These questions are unanswerable, but they help us speculate about the unarchivable aspects of sexual desire, and about how Garfias may or may not fit comfortably into the history of “homosexuality.” As the archival traces of Garfias have the potential to seduce us, we too can seduce her into our historiographical narratives.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Image 7.  Onomastic index, which includes a record of the denunciation made against Roque, mulato esclabo, in AGN, Inquisición 435 (taken by the author in 2015).Image 7. Onomastic index, which includes a record of the denunciation made against Roque, mulato esclabo, in AGN, Inquisición 435 (taken by the author in 2015).

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 The second archival fragment I analyze comes to us from a seventeenth-century book of Inquisition denunciations (and onomastic index) that inquisitors would have used for their own recordkeeping purposes. It is the succinct record of a 1650 denunciation to the Holy Office of the Mexican Inquisition in Mexico City—founded in 1571 to extirpate heresy throughout New Spain—and it is registered in Volume 435 of the AGN’s Inquisition files (see Image 7). The index is organized alphabetically by name and is grouped by letters; the brief entry in question falls on the page with other denunciations of those whose names started with the letters “MNPRSTV.” This record refers to an enslaved mulato man named Roque who was denounced to the Inquisition for having committed several sinful and heretical acts.15 The penultimate entry of the index reads: “Roque, mulato slave that was in the Villa de Los Lagos of royal lieutenant Juan Saez de Vidaurre, and after [being] sold in this city of Mexico [was denounced for] having an explicit pact with the Devil = f[olio]s 67 = 68 = And [for] having committed the nefarious sin [of sodomy] with an Indian apparently with the help of the Devil, mixing heretical blasphemies = f[olio]s 69 = 70 =.”16

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Image 8.  Renumbering of folios in the Inquisition files of the national archive of Mexico, in AGN, Inquisición 435 (taken by the author in 2015).Image 8. Renumbering of folios in the Inquisition files of the national archive of Mexico, in AGN, Inquisición 435 (taken by the author in 2015).

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 This entry forces us to come to terms with yet another indexical absence, and gives us a good sense of how the documents themselves have changed over time. As with many of the volumes of the Mexican Inquisition, several pages within Volume 435 have been reordered, renumbered, dispersed, and lost throughout the years. Upon turning to folios 67-70, there is no denunciation of Roque mulato, and it appears that this onomastic index may be the only extant archivization of Roque’s sins. There are several other folios in the volume (see Image 8) that were at one point numbered 67-70, yet most of these have been crossed out, perhaps by a seventeenth-, eighteenth-, or nineteenth-century hand. Thus, Roque simultaneously appears and disappears from the archive, and he too resists any attempt to track or trace his desires as they came to be (un)archived.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 How then does Roque tie into the question of archival seduction? Roque, if we take the indexed denunciation against him at face value, persuaded an Indian to have sex with him “with the help of the Devil.” From this accusation, we might be tempted to classify him as a “sodomite,” as someone with “homosexual” tendencies, or as someone whose primary object of desire was another male. Yet, what we ultimately have here is a mere “archival sliver” of an otherwise entirely absent historical subjectivity, which is mediated by and through absence at multiple levels. Verne Harris has cogently critiqued the common metaphor of archives as being reflective of reality; the archive, he tells us, is but a “sliver of a window” of social memory, a sliver of the documentary record.17 Harris asserts that “if archival records reflect reality, they do so complicitly, they do so in a deeply fractured and shifting way”; for the window is both a medium through which light travels and also an object that reflects light, “transposing images from ‘this side’ and disturbing images from the ‘other side.’”18 Roque’s desires are thus similarly fractured when we read the register (and indexical absence) “along the archival grain,” to use Ann Stoler’s apt expression.19 We might allow ourselves to be seduced by this indexical absence in ways that challenge rather than confirm any attempt to make Roque and his own sexual desires legible as a particular type of historical subjectivity. The indexical entry (and ultimate absence) of Roque mulato should perhaps best be seen as opening up the possibilities of multiple, overlapping, and contradictory desires rather than foreclosing them. As with Josepha de Garfias, perhaps Roque was a “sodomite,” or maybe his own desires escape the very classificatory regimes we could impose upon him from the “other side” of Harris’s archival window.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Our final archival fragment, which moves us away from indexical absences and into the realm of historiographical ghosts, is not housed in the AGN, and so far as we know is lost and may no longer be housed in any historical archive. The eighteenth-century sodomy case of Fulgencio Mariposa comes to us only through early-twentieth-century Guatemalan historiography and subsequent archival references to the initial writing on the case. Mariposa is a historiographical ghost, that is, one for whom historical traces exist, but archival traces no longer do (at least not in ways that are currently accessible to archivists and researchers). Mariposa first came to me through a book published in Guatemala in 1920, La América Central ante la historia, in which historian Antonio Batres Jáuregui made the following brief reference to the sodomy case of Mariposa:

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 In the private archive of the Audiencia [high court] of Antigua, I remember that there existed famous trials against priests and arrogant people, sometimes, but commonly against unhappy souls, such as Fulgencio Mariposa (file 36, number 25, of the secret archive of the Real Audiencia de Guatemala), who committed the nefarious sin that provoked a rain of fire in Sodom and Gomorra. Upon Mariposa rained lashes, first, and afterward he was sentenced to an extremely harsh prison term, not for having gone from flower to flower, just in case, as his name suggested, but rather for having debased himself to the level of a quadruped, that was imprisoned by flames, by order of Royal authority, though he was not guilty of pederasty, as a vile instrument of immeasurable salaciousness. These repugnant obscenities, which were previously punished harshly, no longer figure in the [legal] codes, just as suicide attempts are [now] not considered punishable.20

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 This particular historiographical entry is fascinating for several reasons, not the least of which being that, so far as I know, no historian has written about Fulgencio Mariposa since Jáuregui’s mention of it nearly a century ago. My own attempts to locate the case have been unsuccessful. There are almost no other published references to Fulgencio Mariposa, though Volume 4 of Guatemala’s Boletín del Archivo General del Gobierno, published in 1938, references the case in its index and thereby provides additional important information: “A1.15. Cause followed by the office of the Real Justicia [Royal Justice] against Fulgencio Mariposa, for indications of him having wanted to commit the nefarious sin. [Year] 1768. 8727. 413.”21 Especially interesting in light of the absence of the sodomy case itself is the archive’s own assertion that Mariposa was punished for “having wanted to commit the nefarious sin.” Yet, neither reference informs us of with whom Mariposa committed (or wanted to commit) the crime of sodomy. It appears that it was not with another man, but rather with a domesticated animal—a donkey, horse, cow, or goat—as Jáuregui’s quadruped reference seems to intimate. The quadruped, according to this entry, was cast into the flames, just like the “certain instruments” with which Josepha de Garfias perpetrated her crimes.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Fulgencio Mariposa’s name is also potentially revealing: the Spanish term mariposa (butterfly) today colloquially refers to an effeminate man or a homosexual, and at least one Spanish priest in early seventeenth-century Seville, fray Pero de León, drew explicit comparisons between sodomites and butterflies, professing that sodomites “who did not amend themselves, driven by the sin, just like butterflies eventually will end up in the fire and burn.”22 Was “Mariposa” his given surname, or was it a pseudonym that he or others chose for one reason or another? Finally, the different archival classifications that Jáuregui and the Boletín give are interesting in themselves, as is the fact that so far as I know there is no mention of this case in the catalogs or finding aids of Guatemala’s Archivo General de Centro América (which prior to 1968 was the Archivo General del Gobierno). The case against Fulgencio Mariposa appears to be lost, yet its absence is mediated by its historiographical traces and shifting archival classifications. Once again, the answers in colonial archives, particularly around the questions of historical subjectivities and minoritized sexual desires of archived individuals, are simultaneously present, absent, and always evasive.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 My aim in focusing on these particular archival fragments through the lens of archival seduction has been partly to suggest how the historical past haunts the archival present in ways that can, at times, remain largely invisible to us. Daniel Nemser, in a recent study on the historical exclusions and evictions that were necessary to establish Spain’s Archivo General de Indias in Seville in 1785, has called attention to “the material and architectonic character of the archive” in light of the documents that the archive holds and the absences that are both internal and external to the archive.23 It is in this very sense that it befits us to look closely at the physical and textual spaces of Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación; in doing so, the past and present merge in ways that can be both enticing and tedious, alluring yet familiar.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 I confess that I have been lured in—seduced—by the three archival fragments that I offer here as examples of archival seduction. Ultimately I selected these three examples among the dozens of other fragments that I could have chosen from my corpus of over three hundred archival documents on the “sins against nature” of sodomy, bestiality, and masturbation in New Spain between 1530 and 1821. Why these three? What about them is particularly seductive? Their very incompleteness is, I think, a central part of the attraction. As I mentioned at the outset of this essay, several scholars have warned of the various seductions of their archives. If we return to Carolyn Steedman’s epigraph, we see that for her, as for myself, there is an inherent connection between fragmentation, incompleteness, and seduction. These three archival fragments I highlight here lack the detailed narratives and “entrancing stories” of which Steedman speaks. They all relate to the conceptual category of the “sins against nature,” but exactly how they fit within the larger history of (homo)sexuality is never quite clear.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 There are some historians who might champion Josepha de Garfias, Roque mulato, and Fulgencio Mariposa as central figures in a teleological narrative of the history of homosexuality. Yet to do so, I think, would be to do them a certain historiographical injustice. To be sure, incomplete archival fragments seduce us with their realms of possibility. Their true potential lies in us taking seriously their invitation to rethink the very nature of desire in the past, as well as the ways that sex enters the archive in the first place. I admit, too, that with the exception of the archival fragment on Josepha de Garfias—which was, from the outset, exceptional in its representation of the under-archived topic of female sodomy—I initially assumed that little could be done, in terms of scholarship, with archival fragments such as these. They simply contained too few details, I mistakenly thought, to be made meaningful in any significant way. They do, however, provide us with wonderful examples of indexical absences and historiographical ghosts—two of the many phenomena that make up the much larger category of archival absence. As Arlette Farge states in The Allure of the Archives, it can often be the case for both archivists and archive users that “the physical pleasure of finding a trace of the past is succeeded by doubt mixed with the powerless feeling of not knowing what to do with it.”24 For as the archives have the potential to seduce us with their historical narratives and representations, we too have a penchant for seducing the archives and their archived subjects into our own conceptual taxonomies, classificatory regimes, and historiographical narratives. The very notion of archival seduction should therefore never be seen as unidirectional.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Scholars and archive theorists nonetheless seem to warn against the seductions of the archive—occasionally in anthropomorphizing and eroticized ways—as if the archives themselves were always doing the seducing. And while it would be a fascinating and, I think, fruitful exercise to trace the very notion and genealogy of archival seduction through successive sociocultural and historical conceptions of “the archive,” here I merely offer a few examples. Nicholas Dirks, for one, has written about the historical archive as “seducing us by its appearance of the real.”25 Ann Laura Stoler employs the term “archival seductions” to refer to “state secrets” as an archival convention that colonial states and their institutions traffic in.26 Kathryn Burns, in Into the Archive, pays close attention to the form of the notarial record in the colonial Andes, telling us that the colonial archive seduces us with its first-person narratives, as if such testimonies, accusations, and confessions had not been mediated through multiple agents.27 The constant slippage in the historical record between the first- and third-person narration—whereby an individual states his or her crimes or last will in the first person that is then transformed into the third person by the notary recording their words, or the narration of last wills and testaments in the first person that are actually recorded in the third person—also plays a major role in the ways archives can seduce. As Burns writes, “We let our mind’s ear enjoy the seduction of the archival first person, the ‘I’ created through notarial mediation.”28 In The Archive Effect, Jaimie Baron articulates how the “promise of ‘rare’ archival footage continues to exercise an epistemological seduction and to feed the desire for a revelatory truth about the past that, of course, can never be fully satisfied.”29

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 The archive, too, can function, as several scholars have pointed out, as a substitute for reality, and hence as a fetish (in psychoanalytic and even sexual contexts).30 Dominick LaCapra, for example, asserts, “The archive as fetish is a literal substitute for the ‘reality’ of the past which is ‘always already’ lost for the historian. When it is fetishized, the archive is more than the repository of traces of the past which may be used in its inferential reconstruction.”31 The archive, in this sense, becomes a stand-in for the lived experience of the past. While LaCapra and others critique such fetishistic approaches to the historical archive, other scholars (including myself) admit to the guilty pleasures of the archive in an almost confessional mode. Maryanne Dever, Sally Newman, and Ann Vickery in The Intimate Archive: Journeys Through Private Papers, for example, confess that they are “reluctant to forego the particular intimacies and pleasures associated with losing ourselves in paper for, whether we admit it or not, paper is what we have come for when we broach the reading room: it is our fetish, the object that promises intimate connection to our subject and that stands in for what cannot be retrieved.”32 The archive—as material reality, state secret, attraction, metaphor, and simulacrum—lures and seduces. And, while some scholars admit to having been seduced by the idea and materiality of the archive, others caution strongly against it. Some fetishize the archive and others decry such fetishization.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 The final two forms of archival seduction that I emphasize here are closely related: seductions of access and of historical-subject recovery. Anjali Arondekar, rightly cautioning against both in her incisive For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India, asks how and why historians of sexuality (still) seek the “truth” of sexuality in the colonial archive. Arondekar critiques the practices of those who purport to use colonial archives to rescue and recover the lost voices of historical subjects through purportedly unmediated access to the past.33 As Arondekar notes, for many who use the colonial archives, “the desire to add and fill in the gaps with voices of other unvoiced subalterns remains.”34 Diana Taylor, also employing the language of seduction, echoes similar sentiments when she cautions that “dreams of unlimited access seduce users to participate in the colonialist fantasy that total access [to the archive] is not simply an ideal but a right.”35 Yet, these warnings against seductive fantasies of access to the archive seem, at times, to be at odds with the aims of some archivists, many of whom laudably seek to increase access to the collections through digitization and make possible access to previously unprocessed or uncataloged collections within the archives.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 I have discussed these three instances of archival absence—each of which raises a particular indexical absence or historiographical ghost—in conjunction with archival seduction. In doing so I have necessarily delved briefly into the physical space and infamous history of the building that now houses Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación, the Palacio de Lecumberri, in order to allude to some of the ways that archival fragments and archives themselves lure us in and seduce us. For me at least, looking at the façade or at any given wall, corridor, or ex-jail cell of the Archivo General de la Nación is not unlike looking at an archival fragment; initially we only see the surface, but the further we dig the more we find. Behind the walls of the AGN’s reading rooms we may still find traces of those who were previously imprisoned in the Lecumberri Palace for the better part of the twentieth century, the prison staff, guards, wardens, and even the political leaders who, without the full knowledge or consent of the Mexican people, waged a dirty war on the radical and progressive factions of Mexican society—left-wing students, unionists, laborers, guerrillas, rebels, and Marxists—in the 1960s and 1970s under the presidencies of Luis Echeverría and José López Portillo. We find traces of the campesino laborers whose sweat poured into the construction of the Lecumberri (see Image 9).

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Image 9.  Archivo General de la Nación, Fototeca, Álbum de obras de ampliación de la penitenciaria del Distrito Federal, OAP 12 (Ca. 1910): “Alambrándose la barras” (Fencing the bars with wire).Image 9. Archivo General de la Nación, Fototeca, Álbum de obras de ampliación de la penitenciaria del Distrito Federal, OAP 12 (Ca. 1910): “Alambrándose la barras” (Fencing the bars with wire).

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 As I researched the history of male and female “sodomites” in the colonial period, the more I learned about the material and architectonic history of the Lecumberri, and about the twentieth-century political prisoners and “homosexuals” that had previously inhabited the very same space, the more connections I began to draw between myself, my own desire to see particular versions of the past, and the representations of history that the archive and its catalogs and indices put forth. Archival seduction can thus be an exercise in cross-temporal affective (and historiographical) engagement.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 All archival narratives—fragmented or otherwise—are worth getting lost in and being seduced by. In the process, meanderings like these invite us to think through how archival seductions can be potentially radical in terms of methodology and theorization, especially when they allow for a historiography of sexuality and an interrogation of archival space that challenge rather than confirm the historical legibility of past desires. The fragments that we uncover can frustrate easy readings and facile historicizations of sex and desire in the past. So too can the material archive and the architectonic space it inhabits. As mentioned above, the national archive of Mexico is located in a space that radical politics have already marked historically, as the history of the Lecumberri Palace penitentiary demonstrates. The brief fragments of the lives and hidden desires of Josepha de Garfias, Roque mulato, and Fulgencio Mariposa are decidedly not traces of the lives of “lesbians” and “homosexuals” in the early modern Iberian past, but rather of individuals whose embodied (and archived) desires in all their complexity resist easy classification and taxonomizing.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Articulating how and why indexical absences and historiographical ghosts appear—surrounded by so many other archival fragments and absent presences—pushes the very boundaries of historical knowledge production and affective archival engagements. We need not guard ourselves (theoretically, methodologically, or affectively) from the seductions of the archive, but rather acknowledge them so as to more effectively link the politics of our own scholarship and archival engagements with those of archivists, scholars, and archived subjects in the past and present. Arlette Farge writes, “To feel the allure of the archives is to seek to extract additional meaning from the fragmented phrases found there.”36 To let ourselves be seduced by the archives and their absences is to seek to extract additional meaning from that which we find in archives; but that process of extraction is more effective if we understand all that we seek through them, and all that we are never quite able to locate, uncover, or grasp within the archives themselves. Our desires shape the desires of the past, and vice versa. Allowing for archival seduction to take place, and then articulating how and why we come to be seduced by certain archival narratives of the past (and how we, too, seduce archived subjects into our own historical narratives) has, I think, radical potential. Traces always remain; it is simply our duty as researchers and archivists to figure out what to do with them.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0  

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Acknowledgements

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 I especially wish to thank David Lobenstine and two anonymous reviewers for Archive Journal for their generous comments and suggestions on how to revise and improve this article. I am grateful as well to Gabriela Basterra, James D. Fernández, and Rubén Ríos-Ávila, whose reflections on my own scholarship have generated some of the questions and concepts that I put forth in this essay. Conversations with Marcelo Carosi on his notion of the archivo fractal, the “fractal archive,” have been crucial in pushing me to think about the potential of colonial archives for writing histories of sexuality. The phenomenal students in my Fall 2014 graduate seminar, “Archival Theory through Queer/Colonial/State Archives,” were instrumental in opening up many of the ideas that I explore here. I am especially grateful to Elizabeth Benninger, Francisco Marguch, Enmanuel Martínez, Valeria Meiller, Osdany Morales, Abel Sierra Madero, and Irina Troconis for their willingness and enthusiasm the engage (and push) the boundaries of archival theory.  I also wish to thank Daniel Marshall and Kevin P. Murphy for inspiring my thinking on queer archives. I am most grateful to the phenomenal archivists at the Archivo General de la Nación, and especially to Lucila Calderón Vega of the Fototeca, for introducing me to several of the images that I incorporate and analyze here.

  1. 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0
  2. Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), x. []
  3. See, for example, the following recent and forthcoming journal issues dedicated to the topic of archives: “On the Subject of Archives,” ed. Marianne Hirsch and Diana Taylor, e-misférica 9, nos. 1 and 2 (Summer 2012); “Queering Archives: Historical Unravelings,” ed. Daniel Marshall, Kevin P. Murphy, and Zeb Tortorici, Radical Historical Review 120 (2014); “Queering Archives: Intimate Tracings,” ed. Daniel Marshall, Kevin P. Murphy, and Zeb Tortorici, Radical Historical Review 122 (2014); and “Archives and Archiving,” ed. Aaron Devor and K.J. Rawson, TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 2, no. 4 (2015). See also the online companion to the 2014 Radical Archives conference held at New York University, organized by Mariam Ghani and Chitra Ganesh: []
  4. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) and Michel Foucault, Archeology of Knowledge (New York: Harper and Row, 1976). []
  5. I am grateful to Anjali Arondekar for suggesting this beautifully evocative phrase, “terrain of archival seduction,” to me. It has influenced my thinking on the dynamics and possibilities of archival seduction. []
  6. I wish to thank Linda Arnold for providing me with this database, “Archivo Histórico del Distrito Federal, Presos en Lecumberri, 1920-1976, alfabético.” []
  7. This quote is taken from a placard titled “Palacio Negro de Lecumberri” that greets visitors in the central foyer of the Archivo General de la Nación, informing them of its history. For more on the history of the Lecumberri and the AGN, see Lecumberri: un palacio lleno de historia (Mexico City: Secretaría de Gobernación/Archivo General de la Nación, 1994). []
  8. Archivo General de la Nación, “Estadísticas sobre el Acervo Documental,” accessed September 23, 2015, []
  9. For more on the “ghosts” of the archive, see Juan de Dios Vázquez, “Espectros en el archivo: Cementerio de papel de Fritz Glockner y el retorno del pasado reprimido al Palacio Negro de Lecumberri,” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 29, no. 2 (Summer 2013): 478-502. []
  10. Achille Mbembe, “The Power of the Archive and its Limits,” in Refiguring the Archive, ed. Carolyn Hamilton, Verne Harris, Michèle Pickover, Graeme Reid, Razia Saleh, and Jane Taylor (Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2002), 19. []
  11. Anne McClintock, “Imperial Ghosting: The Return of Indian Country and Hiroshima in the War on Terror,” paper presented at the Radical Archives conference at New York University, April 12, 2014. []
  12. I further explore this line of inquiry in my article, “Visceral Archives of the Body: Consuming the Dead, Digesting the Divine,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 20, no. 4 (2014): 407-37. []
  13. For more on female sodomy in the colonial archives, see Ronaldo Vainfas and Zeb Tortorici, “Female Homoeroticism, Heresy, and the Holy Office in Colonial Brazil,” and Chad Thomas Black, “Prosecuting Female-Female Sex in Bourbon Quito,” in Sexuality and the Unnatural in Colonial Latin America, ed. Zeb Tortorici (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming). []
  14. AGN, Indiferente Virreinal, caja 1482, exp. 7, f. 9v.: “se formó causa de oficio de la jurisdiccion eclca contra Jpha de Garfias por el crimen de sodomia que perpetró con otras mugeres y haviendose rezivido ynformacion sumaria se aprehendió a dha reo con auxilio de la Rl Justicia que impartó el Sor Juan Carrillo Moreno alcalde desta Rl sala del crimen de esta corte y Juez de provincia en ella y sustanciada la causa en forma con auda del promoter fiscal de este Arpâ­do se pronunció sentencia definitiva y por ella condenó e Sor Provor a dha Josepha en que por tiempo de dos años sirviese personalmente a las pobres enfermas del hospital de Sn Juo de Dios: le impuso distintas penitencias medicinales y mando entre otras cosas se quemasen siertos instrumentos de que usaba para su torpe delicto: y todo se executó.” []
  15. Anjali Arondekar, For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 102. []
  16. AGN, Inquisición 435, exp. 294 []
  17. Ibid., f. 9. []
  18. Verne Harris, “The Archival Sliver: Power, Memory, and Archives in South Africa,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 63-86, 64. []
  19. Ibid., 64. []
  20. Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). []
  21. Antonio Batres Jáuregui, La América Central ante la historia, Vol. II (Guatemala: Sánchez y de Guise, 1920), 194-95: “En el archivo reservado de la Antigua Audiencia, recuerdo que existían célebres procesos contra sacerdotes y gente encopetada, algunas veces, pero por lo común contra infelices que, como un tal Fulgencio Mariposa (legajo 36, número 25, del archivo secreto de la Real Audiencia de Guatemala), cometió el pecado nefando que produjo lluvia de fuego en Sodoma y Gomorra. Sobre Mariposa llovieron azotes, primero, y después se le condenó a durísima prisión, por no haber ido de flor en flor, si acaso, como su nombre se lo indicaba, sino haberse abajado al nivel de un cuadrúpedo, que fue presa de las llamas, por mandato de la Real autoridad, sin haber tenido él la culpa de la pederastía, como vil instrumento de tamaña salacidad. Esas repugnantes obscenidades ya no figuran en los códigos, como no se reputan punibles los conatos de suicidio, que antes se castigaban.” []
  22. Boletín el Archivo General del Gobierno, Vol. 4 (Guatemala City: Archivo General del Gobierno, 1938), 126: “A1.15. Causa seguida de oficio de la Real Justicia contra Fulgencio Mariposa, por indicios e haber querido éste cometer el pecado nefando. 1768. 8727. 413.” []
  23. Cited in Federico Garza Carvajal, Butterflies Will Burn: Prosecuting Sodomites in Early Modern Spain and Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), 2. []
  24. Daniel Nemser, “Eviction and the Archive: Materials for an Archaeology of the Archivo General de Indias,” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies (2015): 1-19, 4. []
  25. Arlette Farge, The Allure of the Archives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 11. []
  26. Nicholas B. Dirks, “Annals of the Archive: Ethnographic Notes on the Sources of History,” in From the Margins: Historical Anthropology and its Futures, ed. Brian Keith Axel (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), 60. []
  27. Ann Laura Stoler, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 87-109, 107. []
  28. Kathryn Burns, Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010). []
  29. Ibid., 124. []
  30. Jaimie Baron, The Archive Effect: Found Footage and the Audiovisual Experience of History (New York: Routledge, 2014), 6-7. []
  31. The recently published anthology Porn Archives also makes similar connections. See Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky, David Squires, eds., Porn Archives (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014). []
  32. Dominick LaCapra, History and Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 92. []
  33. Maryanne Dever, Sally Newman, and Ann Vickery, The Intimate Archive: Journeys Through Private Papers (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2009), 29. []
  34. Arondekar, For the Record, 5, 18. []
  35. Ibid., 6. []
  36. Diana Taylor, “Save As,” e-misférica 9, no. 1-2 (2012). []
  37. Farge, The Allure of the Archives, 23. []

Archival Seduction: Indexical Absences and Historiographical Ghosts

Zeb Tortorici

Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese – New York University

1 Comment on the whole post
Gil Hochberg says:

Fantastic essay! i am going to include it in my seminar on Archives this quarter. Gil (Professor, UCLA Comparative Literature)

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