In the endpapers of an edition published in Venice 1556 of the Spanish best-seller La Celestina, an anonymous reader has inscribed the following explanation of “pintando motes” or “painting words”: “Lovers in Spain are wont to paint words as refreshment [relief] from/of their passions [sorrows].” The annotator provides three examples of this practice, with their explanations: “Dado me as dado Coraçon cuydado”; “Asperas piernas Elvira as”; and “Consuela te Coraçon que el Mundo Rueda.”
Our rebus collecting and research has largely focused on the interpersonal dimension of puzzle making and solving: the rebus used to create an inner circle of decipherers, to make pedagogy more palatable and memorable to students, to circulate political opinions in an increasingly centrifugal and global public sphere, to attract consumers to industrialized products, or to record sentiments between intimates. In all these contexts, the rebus rehearses and resolves, momentarily, the inherent problem of signification; the rebus foregrounds the challenges of textual communication but promises the reader a monolithic (and monolingual) solution as designed by its creator, rewarding them with a delightful if transient sense of proficiency and control.
Our early modern explicator, however, suggests an additional function for the puzzle: “recreaçion” of a different sort. Somehow, s/he does not exactly explain why, the process of painting words about their condition allows lovers—at least in Spain—respite from lovesickness or grief. At the same time, recreaçion, like the early modern English equivalent, implies both the possibility of a restorative ease/easing and the “growing afresh” or “increase” of those passions: a renewal of the desires that led to this solitary translation from verbal to visual in the first place. The rebus articulates and instantiates the writer as an amorous subject, even without an audience. Despite its isolation, deriving from an unrequited passion, and even in its most limited circulation, the rebus functions as what D.A. Miller terms an “open secret”: for example, the “harsh pains” of Elvira, as expressed covertly, establish her not only as a lover but as a writer who both precedes an audience and controls its access and response to her painted words. The anonymous commentator, on the other hand, establishes their own proximity to such authorial subjects, by providing the solution directly below the rebuses, suggesting their own ability to see the supposed interiority inside the puzzle and the person from whom it emanates.
Nonetheless, we are given the sense that Rebuses–as well as those better known salves, Reading & Writing–can function as solace, as refreshment, in a period of solitude and deprivation. I know ReadingRebus–both our group and its project–has served that purpose for me, as has the class as a whole, and for that I feel profoundly grateful to everyone in it.
 In his venerable “Secret Subjects, Open Secrets” (1985) D. A. Miller describes secrecy as the “subjective practice in which the oppositions of private/public, inside/outside, subject/object are established, and the sanctity of their first term kept inviolate. . . . [T]he phenomenon of the ‘open secret’ does not . . . bring about the collapse of these binarisms and their ideological effects, but rather attests to their fantasmatic recovery” (Miller 1985, 27). Through a Foucauldian reading, Miller goes on to explore the workings of the open secret in the 19th-century novel, its role in creating the liberal/carceral subject, and its centrality to the maintenance of the social order, as “the very genre of the liberal subject . . . the genre that produces him, the genre to which, as its effect, he returns for ‘recreation’” (33).