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DON QUIXOTE Reading Part I, Chapters I-XIII QUALITY Five years ago (May 2002), the Nobel Prize Institute organized a poll asking 100 of the world’s greatest living authors, from more than 50 countries, to name the ten "best and most central works in world literature.” Flaubert, Dostoevsky, and Kafka, all on our syllabus, received many votes, as did Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and so on. Don Quixote not only came in first, as the choice of most authors for the greatest literary work ever written, but it actually received 50% more votes than the second-place book, Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, got. HISTORICAL CONTEXT Cervantes was a contemporary of Shakespeare. They both died in 1616, only 10 days apart, though Cervantes was about 20 years older. He wrote Don Quixote between 1605 and 1615, while Shakespeare was writing King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest. You are English majors and minors; you have surely encountered some Shakespeare. Aside from the national contexts of England and Spain, do these two writers seem as if they come from the same historical context? How so, and/or how not so? For one thing, Shakespeare was writing in an old genre, while Cervantes was writing in a new one. CHARACTER Very few characters in modern literary history have achieved or approached the status of myth. Aside from Don Quixote, I would suggest only Faust, Don Juan, and Robinson Crusoe. On the one hand, the themes these characters’ stories treat are central to the modern Western experience. On the other, the stories are open enough, flexible enough, to accommodate the concerns of very different kinds of writers and audiences in different times and places, and most of them have been treated repeatedly by multiple writers. Examples include Miguel de Unamuno’s book The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho; Graham Greene’s novel Monsignor Quixote, in which the namesake is a descendant of the knight; Tennessee Williams’ play Camino Real, in which Don Quixote and Sancho appear as characters; Salman Rushdie’s novel The Moor’s Last Sigh, which includes characters and much more from Cervantes; and Kathy Acker’s cyber-punk novel Don Quixote, in which the Don is a contemporary woman. We will look more closely at three other examples at the end of our Don Quixote unit. Dostoevsky, whose work we will soon read, wrote a novel, The Idiot, about a deliberately quixotic character. While working on it, he wrote “that of all the beautiful individuals in Christian literature, one stands out as the most perfect, Don Quixote.” Since the mid-17th century, Don Quixote has also inspired a great many illustrators including Doré, Daumier, Picasso, and Dalí. I have put some illustrations by these four on the course Web site. In addition, many composers including Purcell, Telemann, Mendelssohn, Donizetti, Offenbach, Massenet, Richard Strauss, and Ravel have written music inspired by the novel. There have also been other sorts of adaptations, including at least two major ballets, about twenty film versions (including abortive attempts by Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam), and the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. What is it about this particular book that has been so appealing to artists in other media? PROSE “‘Prose’: the word signifies not only a nonversified language; it also signifies the concrete, everyday, corporeal nature of life: the ‘prosaic.’ So to say that the novel is the art of prose is not to state the obvious; the word defines the deep sense of that art. Homer never wondered whether, after their many hand-to-hand struggles, Achilles or Ajax still had all their teeth. But for Don Quixote and Sancho teeth are a perpetual concern—hurting teeth, missing teeth. Don Quixote tells Sancho that Homer and Virgil were describing characters not ‘as they were but rather as they must be, to stand as examples of virtue to future generations.’ Now, Don Quixote himself is far from an example to follow. Characters in novels do not need to be admired for their virtue. They need to be understood, and that is a completely different matter. Epic heroes conquer or, if they are themselves conquered, they retain their grandeur to the last breath. Don Quixote is conquered. And with no grandeur whatever. For it is clear immediately: human life as such is the defeat. All we can to end the space of that ineluctable defeat called life is to try to understand. That—that is the raison d’être of the art of the novel.” — Kundera FICTION Lionel Trilling, one of the most influential of all literary critics, wrote that “all prose fiction is a variation on the theme of Don Quixote, which he identified as “the problem of appearance and reality.” Marthe Robert, a prominent French critic and theorist, wrote that “Don Quixote is certainly the first ‘modern’ novel, if modernity is understood as the self-searching, self-questioning literary movement which uses as subject matter its own doubt and belief in the value of its message.” Cervantes “prefers to call his book an ‘historia,’ by which, as we shall see, he means, not a story, but a history. We know, of course, that he is fooling us: Don Quixote may be a romance, or a novel, or a story, but it is certainly not a history. We have to deal, then, with a story masquerading as history, with a work claiming to be historically true within its external framework of fiction. The study of Don Quixote, it seems to me, must begin with this paradox. The problem of the spurious historicity of the work is usually stated in terms of the Aristotelian principles of the universality of poetry and the particularity of history. ‘The difference between the historian and the poet,’ says Aristotle, ‘is not the difference between writing in verse or prose. The difference is that the one tells what has happened, and the other the kind of things that would happen. It follows therefore that poetry is more philosophical and of higher value than history; for poetry unifies more, whereas history agglomerates.’ To a greater or lesser degree all history merely pretends to be history. And now, in the later Renaissance, we have a new factor: some works of fiction, such as Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe, also pretend to be history. Don Quixote does not disentangle the story from the history, but points its telescope at the ill-defined frontier itself [as novels have been doing ever since]. It presents the evidence for the uncertainty of truth and says to the reader: ‘You be the judge.’ Part Two, XXIV: “The man who translated this great history from the original composed by its first author, Cide Hamete Benengeli, says that when he reached the chapter concerning the adventure of the Cave of Montesinos, he found in the margin,written in Hamete’s own hand, these precise words: ‘I cannot believe, nor can I persuade myself, that everything written in the preceding chapter actually happened in its entirety to the valiant Don Quixote: the reason is that all the adventures up to this point have been possible and plausible, but with regard to this one in the cave, I can find no way to consider it true, since it goes so far beyond the limits of reason. But it is not possible for me to think that Don Quixote, the truest and most noble knight of his day, would lie, for he would not tell a lie he even if he were shot with arrows. Moreover, he recounted and told it in all its circumstances and details, and in so short a time he could not fabricate so enormous a quantity of nonsense; if this adventure seems apocryphal, the fault is not mine, and so, without affirming either its falsity or its truth, I write it down. You, reader, since you are discerning person, must judge it according to your own lights, for I must not and cannot do more; yet it is considered true that at the time of Don Quixote’s passing and death, he is said to have retracted, saying he had invented it because he thought it was consonant and compatible with the adventures he had read in his histories.’” Cervantes was a satirist. If the overt target of his satire is the romances of chivalry, it can hardly be the principal one. His chief butt was man’s gullibility — gullibility about alleged historical facts. But, as we have seen, he chose to satirize human credulity in a dangerous way: by encouraging, by seeking to some extent, to cultivate, in his reader, the very defect he was ridiculing. Why did he tread such dangerous ground? He did so, I believe, because he was imitating the human dilemma, casting it into artistic form. Man does not in his heart believe truth to be categorical; he resists the dualistic tendencies of the ecclesiastical orthodoxy. He does not choose between good and evil, as the moralists say, but between greater and lesser goods and between greater and lesser evils. Similarly he does not choose between truth and falsehood, but between higher and lower truths and between white and black lies. This is how Cervantes and viewed man’s situation. Everything in the human condition is for him a matter of nuance. This is how he differs fundamentally from the dogmatic writers who preceded him. Don Quixote is, among other things, a tremendous protest against the moralistic assurance of Counter-Reformation Spain. Don Quixote is a fusion of chivalric, sentimental, pastoral, picaresque fiction, of short stories and poems. Hybridization is the artistic means chosen to present serum on this sense of the complexity of truth. Don Quixote, a compendium of previous literary genres, implies the further elimination of deal ill-defined frontiers, just as it blurs the boundary between history and story.” — Bruce Wardropper LITERATURE What drives Señor Quijano mad? There is a history of literature about the dangers and defects of other literature. For example, the most famous sinners in Dante’s Inferno, Paolo and Francesca, are condemned to Hell for their adulterous lust after they read a lascivious love story which seduced them into their own sin. This really comes into its own, however, with the rise of the novel, a genre well suited to generic critique. We’ll see it later in Madame Bovary and, to some extent, in Dark Back of Time. In the English-language novel you can see it from Henry Fielding’s Shamela and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in the eighteenth century through James Joyce’s Ulysses and Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds in the twentieth. “From the moment when, through the invention of printing, reading became a privilege granted to the masses, a privilege which was not in general existence in the Middle Ages; from the moment when cultural values came to be disseminated, not through the ear, the musical, religious and communal sense, but through the eye, the rational, analytic, and individualistic sense, there was warned the peril of wrong application of literature in life by individuals reading alone, severed from society — the more so since mankind is no longer, as was the case in the Middle Ages, in quest of the eternal verities beyond discussion, but is resolved to progress, in its own strength, by application of reason and analysis, and the dead weight of tradition looms heavily over our individual outlook on life — which implies the ever-necessary sifting of values of an outworn tradition. After Cervantes, many writers, Molière, Rousseau, Goethe, Nietzsche, and the Flaubert of Madame Bovary and Bouvard and Pécuchet, will exercise the right to sift traditional literature and two pronounce a verdict on that part of literature, which they believe has, in the process of time, become detrimental to the community. The problem posited by Cervantes can never die in a civilization which is predicated on progress, and on ‘book-learning,’ and which consequently is constantly threatened by the continued reading of obsolete books — or, also, by the failure to read certain books. It was the deed of a genius to visualize, as Cervantes did, the danger inherent in what is one of basic tools of our civilization: reading. In fact, he must have sensed this danger in his own case: he tells us, for example, that he used to pick up on the street any printed scrap of paper: obviously not with the worship which St. Francis had for anything written because it could contain one of the holy truths, but because of his desire to steep himself in a fictitious world (like his own Quijote).”—Leo Spitzer METAFICTION As we open Cervantes’ book, the very first thing we encounter is a strange prologue about not writing a prologue, which is unfortunately omitted in your edition. There had surely been nothing remotely like this in the four-thousandyear history of world literature. Cervantes writes about all the things that writers generally put in their prologues, and then says: “Of all this there will be nothing in my book, for I have nothing to quote in the margin or to note at the end, and still less do I know what authors I follow in it, to place them at the beginning, as all do, under the letters A, B, C, beginning with Aristotle and ending with Xenophon, or Zoilus, or Zeuxis, though one was a slanderer and the other a painter. Also my book must do without sonnets at the beginning, at least sonnets whose authors are dukes, marquises, counts, bishops, ladies, or famous poets. Though if I were to ask two or three obliging friends, I know they would give me them, and such as the productions of those that have the highest reputation in our Spain could not equal. In short, my friend, I am determined that Señor Don Quixote shall remain buried in the archives of his own La Mancha until Heaven provide some one to garnish him with all those things he stands in need of; because I find myself, through my shallowness and want of learning, unequal to supplying them, and because I am by nature shy and careless about hunting for authors to say what I myself can say without them. Your first difficulty about the sonnets, epigrams, or complimentary verses which you want for the beginning, and which ought to be by persons of importance and rank, can be removed if you yourself take a little trouble to make them; you can afterwards baptise them, and put any name you like to them, fathering them on Prester John of the Indies or the Emperor of Trebizond, who, to my knowledge, were said to have been famous poets: and even if they were not, and any pedants or bachelors should attack you and question the fact, never care two maravedis for that, for even if they prove a lie against you they cannot cut off the hand you wrote it with.” While such a prologue was unprecedented in 1605, this example, while not exactly opening the floodgates, certainly paved the way. In 1759, for example, the British novelist Laurence Sterne placed the preface of his novel Tristram Shandy in Chapter XIII of Volume II, more than a hundred pages into the book. He says that all of his characters are occupied and don’t need his attention, so, “’tis the first time I have had a moment to spare—and I’ll make use of it, and write my preface.” Hundreds of pages later, in Volume IV, he throws in the book’s dedication. Furthermore, he doesn’t dedicate it to anyone in particular, but rather offers, within the text of the novel, the pre-written dedication to anyone willing to pay fifty guineas for it. On p. 247, in part two of the novel, Samson Carrasco tells Don Quixote that part one of his adventures is in print and popular all over Spain. Don Quixote asks if there will be a second part. The man replies: ‘Some say that second parts are never any good, and others say that enough has been written about Don Quixote. So it is doubtful whether there will be a second part.’ “Yet we are reading this second part, even as we hear it being speculated on. This conversation is perhaps the most extraordinary in world literature: two characters are talking about the book that created them and is now a bestseller in the world they ‘live’ in. [Later, near the end of Part II (Ch. 62), Don Quixote visits a printer’s shop and finds that they are printing copies of The Second Part of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. "I have already heard of this book," said Don Quixote, "and by my conscience, the truth is I thought it had already been burned and turned to ashes for its insolence; but its day of reckoning will come, as it does to every pig, for feigned histories are good and enjoyable the closer they are to the truth or the appearance of truth, and as for true ones, the truer they are, the better." And having said this, and showing some signs of displeasure, he left the printing house.] Quixote, as we know from the beginning, has been the kind of reader who blindly refuses to distinguish between actuality and fiction, reality and illusion: in fact, he is such a bad reader that he never tries to separate fiction making from experiential reality. Now that there is a chronicle circulating about his adventures, he is quick to point out, every discrepancy between what he thinks this happen and what other readers tell him the author ‘reported.’ This is a distinction he never made in his mad reading of chivalric novels. Ironically, he hasn’t read this book about himself; we are now reading the sequel, which in turn is about Quixote not reading. Part two of Don Quixote is thus a book about a fictioncrazed man who doesn’t bother to read a book about his own life. He believed everything in the books of chivalry, but he now believes — on the basis of hearsay — that everything in his own life story is false. Don Quixote is a selfreflexive work: the acts of reading the responses of readers and the implications of reading — both within the narrative and outside — are the real substance of the book. The character of Don Quixote is created from books and recreated in books. Cervantes himself is both author and reader. As Quixote changes the world around him, so Cervantes makes us alter our perspectives on fiction and on the differences between what we conventionally and simplistically call ‘imaginary’ and ‘real.’ Don Quixote tells Sancho that ‘what seems to you to be a barber’s basin appears to me to be Mambrino’s helmet, and to another as something else.’ The multiple points of view Don Quixote himself uses to explain or justify his relations to perceived and conceived reality are the same strategies readers must develop in their relation to the book. The act of reading is a sallying forth that — like Quixote’s adventures in the fiction — makes readers constantly aware of the fiction.” — Ulrich Wicks Ulrich Wicks suggests the apt analogy of another Spanish work from about forty years later: the painting Las meninas by Velázquez. Show it. “We see the artist himself, looking at his canvas, the back of which is facing us in the left side of the picture; the King and Queen are situated behind us, outside the picture, but reflected in a small mirror that faces us. Velazquez is simultaneously inside and outside his own frame, painting it and painting himself painting.” As with that prologue, we can see echoes of Don Quixote’s conversation about his own book through subsequent literary history. Describe At Swim-Two-Birds Describe Textermination ACCESSIBILITY Despite all of its innovations, subtleties, and complexities, Don Quixote is a remarkably accessible book. On p. 247, Samson Carrasco tells the Don that the published Book I “does not need a commentary to explain it, for it is so clear that there is nought in it to puzzle anyone. Children turn its leaves, young people read it, grown-ups understand it, and old folks commend it." Don Quixote is, in fact, one of a small number of great adult classics which appeal to young children. It is probably the first in the modern world, and it was followed in the 18th century by Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe and William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. A closely related class of books includes ones which were ostensibly written for children but which have much to offer the adult reader; examples of these range from Lewis Carroll's Alice books to Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories. What characteristics of these books, and especially of Don Quixote, allow them to speak so powerfully to such diverse audiences? A famous critical article from nearly 40 years ago was called “Don Quixote as a Funny Book.” It demonstrated substantial resistance among many readers and scholars to accepting that a great classic could be very funny. Many children find it funny, I do, and I hope that some of you did. DESCENDANTS Before leaving Don Quixote, it’s worth our while to look at three extraordinary literary descendants of this novel. Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote Probably the greatest three modern literary responses were all short pieces written by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. One was nominally a story, one nominally a parable, and one nominally an essay, though the distinctions among these forms in Borges' work are never clear-cut. In just a few pages each, these three highly provocative pieces contain and imply some of the most important Cervantes commentary of our age. Let's start with his "Parable of Cervantes and the Quixote.” What is a parable? A story used to illustrate a lesson. Here is Borges’ parable: Weary of his land of Spain, an old soldier of the King's armies sought solace in the vast geographies of Ariosto, in that valley of the moon in which one finds the time that is squandered by dreams, and in the golden idol of Muhammad stolen by Montalbán. In gentle self-mockery, this old soldier conceived a credulous man -- his mind unsettled by the reading of all those wonders -who took it into his head to ride out in search of adventures and enchantments in prosaic places with names such as El Toboso and Montiel. Defeated by reality, by Spain, Don Quixote died in 1614 in the town of his birth. He was survived only a short time by Miguel de Cervantes. For both the dreamer and the dreamed, that entire adventure had been the clash of two worlds; the unreal world of romances and the common everyday world of the seventeenth century. They never suspected that the years would at last smooth away the discord, never suspected that in the eyes of the future, La Mancha and Montiel and the lean figure of the Knight of Mournful Countenance would be no less poetic than the adventures of Sindbad or the vast geographies of Ariosto. For in the beginning of literature there is myth, as there is also in the end of it. What’s the parable’s lesson? Its final line. The reader’s irretrievable context. Heraclitus: “We can’t step into the same stream twice.” “Partial Magic in the Quixote.” “Pierre Menard”: Ask how it is appropriate for this novel. Summarize the developments of the novel in England: Crusoe (1719) Pamela (1740) Joseph Andrews (1742), which says on its title page that it is “written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes, Author of Don Quixote.” Shandy (1759-69), which includes numerous Quixote allusions. Candide was published in 1759, the same year as the first books of Tristram Shandy.