SPAN 300: Cervantes' Don Quixote
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Cervantes' Don Quixote
SPAN 300 - Lecture 6 - Don Quixote, Part I: Chapters XXI-XXVI
Chapter 1. The Nature of Literature and Reality; Narrative Technique [00:00:00]
Professor Roberto González Echevarría: I’m going to begin by going over briefly the episodes that I didn’t get to cover in the last lecture because we ran out of time. Of course, I am not going to go over every single episode in the novel, otherwise, we would be here for the whole year, at least. But I thought I’d say a few things about the adventure of the dead body.
We have moved from the brightness of the road to the darkness of the episode of the dead body. This is another instance where appearances conspire to fool Don Quixote, although here it is, as the text says, seeing artificial, that is, without artifice, without — because he doesn’t turn to people with a corpse into characters from the chivalric romances; this is what is unique about this episode. Reality, as it is, is strange enough, so he does not try to turn them into characters from the chivalric romances. Don Quixote’s reaction is still to attack, as he did the monks in the episode leading to the fight with the Biscainer. This is another episode with some religious resonances and we will have a few and we have had some before. The episode of the merchants of Toledo, for instance, is one that comes to mind. It has religious resonances because it is a funeral procession and because one of the men, the one injured by Don Quixote, claims to be an ecclesiastic. After all is said and done, it turns out he’s not quite ordained yet, and so forth. Sancho, again, fears the police because now Don Quixote has injured a person of some note, and Don Quixote may now be excommunicated from the church for having injured someone, even who is going to become a priest and who’s not yet a priest, so he’s now not only a fugitive from justice, but in some ways, also, a fugitive from the church.
Now, this is the episode, also, where Sancho calls Don Quixote the Caballero de la Triste Figura, which Jarvis translates as a Knight of the Sorrowful Figure. This is on page one thirty-nine, which brings us back to characters with physical defects that I spoke about before, and certainly Don Quixote, as we will see in the quote, has some marks and physical defects that make him stand out, and lead to Sancho’s calling him that. When asked by Don Quixote why he called him such a name, Sancho answers that: “because I have been viewing you by the light of the torch that unfortunate man carried; and in truth, your worship makes, at present, very near the most woeful figure I have ever seen; which must be occasioned either by the fatigue of this combat, or by your want of teeth.”
Because you remember that he has lost several teeth, having been struck by one of the stones that the shepherds hit him with. So this is a part about his physical defect, his injuries, and uniqueness as a physical being. But at issue is also Don Quixote’s awareness that his adventures will be written, or, in fact, that they are being written. And Sancho’s invention of the epithet has taken place as the text is being composed, the text that we read. This is consonant with the issue of the novel being a work in progress, not a fixed text, but one that is being made as we read it.
This is a very significant passage that I don’t think has been remarked on by criticism, but it is page 139 to 140, at the bottom of page 139, when Sancho has just explained that he looks the way he looks for the reasons that I have just given, and then Don Quixote replies: “ ‘It is owing to neither,’ replied Don Quixote, ‘but the sage, who has the charge of writing the history of my achievements, has thought fit I should assume a surname, as all the knights of old were wont to do: one called himself ‘The Knight of the Burning Sword’; another, that ‘of the Unicorn’; this ‘of the Damsels’; that ‘of the Phoenix’…”
And so forth and so on. So if you read carefully you realize that Don Quixote assumes that it is being written as they go, which creates a kind of impossibility. How can it be written as they act? Are they following a script, or is the writing following what they do? This is left unclear, but it feeds into all of the meditations that you find in the novel about the nature of literature, and the nature of writing.
Now, in addition, in this episode death becomes a presence in the novel. During the brawl at the inn Don Quixote was taken for dead — if you remember — which will happen again in the novel, Grisóstomo’s dead body presides over the episode about his tragic love for Marcela; so this episode highlights that presence of death in the novel. Death brings an element of seriousness to these comical episodes, it lurks as a reminder of the characters’ vulnerability and generally of the human need to create art in the face of certain extinction. And here I want to bring in two lines from a poem by Wallace Stevens, the great American poet, about whom you will hear a little more in today’s lecture. And the line is: “Death, mother of beauty within whose bosom will devise our earthly mothers,” meaning death drives humans to create beauty. So this is why the presence of death in the Quixote in a general sense is so important.
Now, the adventure of the fulling hammers — we don’t know what a fulling hammer is, we don’t know what it is in Spanish, batanes, they don’t exist any more. This was kind of a machinery to spin wool or something that is driven by hydraulic force, by a river or a stream going by, and it makes this awful noise. We continue in the darkness, but there is strange noise that frightens the protagonist, although Don Quixote denies that he’s frightened adamantly. But this episode has four elements that I want to bring out. First is the story of goatherdess Torralba — Remember, she’s the one… This episode, this cuento de nunca acabar, this never-ending story is told, the story about the sheep being brought across the river.
Sancho is telling the story, and he tells Don Quixote, please, do not interrupt me, and keep track of the number of sheep. He says, All right. So at one point he asks, “how many sheep?”, and Don Quixote says, “I can’t remember,” and that’s the end of the story, and Don Quixote is very angry, why? And he says, well, because I told you those were the conditions, and so forth. Now, this is a story that is very funny, it’s also a love story, if you look into it between these two goatherds, but it is also a story in which the issue of language and reality is underlined, because here Sancho is demanding a kind of literality. I mean, literally: one sheep, you say ‘sheep’ and there is one sheep, you say ‘sheep’, there is another sheep. You have to count every single one, language cannot abstractly say forty-five sheep, it has to say one sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four sheep. This is a very elementary way of conceiving of language, but this is what Cervantes is bringing in that these folk tales sometimes contain very interesting elements about the nature of story telling. Now, this is — I don’t know if you know any such stories, but I remember in my childhood hearing some of them.
Now, the second part we have already mentioned, and it’s the fact that Sancho defecates out of fear, of course. Sancho goes to the bathroom out of fear. He tries to hide it from Don Quixote, but Don Quixote smells it and tells him to please move away, that he can’t stand the smell. Classics of literature — I think I said this at the end of the class after the lecture — classics of literature contain the whole range of human experience, including the most humble physical functions, and this is an instance of that. There are similar episodes in Chaucer, I’m sure, as you remember, and in Dante also, in Inferno, there are various scatological episodes in Dante, too, but none as humble as this instance where Sancho cannot contain himself and has to go to the bathroom.
Another element is the fact that Don Quixote beats Sancho over the head, in anger. This continues to round off the relationship between these two characters. It’s a relationship that includes tenderness, it includes anger, and that is very thoroughly developed in the novel. This is something new that, in a way, Cervantes really invented.
And finally, what I would like to bring out the question of how does Sancho know that there is water in the vicinity? Remember, he says, oh, there must be water around here. And how can he tell time by the stars? He knows what time it is by the stars. Well, here, we learn — you may remember, and I’ve always asked you to read for details — that Sancho says that he was a shepherd once, and hence he learned how to find water for his animals and fresh grass for them. I think the significant thing here is that we begin to learn about Sancho’s past retrospectively. It’s not as if at the beginning the narrator told us Sancho, who was a shepherd, this, and that, and the other, and then he begins the adventures, to begin to learn retrospectively about Sancho’s activities in the past and how he came to be who he is now. This is a very effective device to fill out the character, and I want you to notice it because there will be other instances where we will find out other things about Sancho’s past. So his life is filled in on the go, not following a conventional chronological progression, this is what I want you to take notice of as a narrative technique. Those are the episodes that I didn’t get to in the last class.
Chapter 2. The Focus on Characters Marginal to Society [00:13:23]
And now, we get to the second part of today’s class, which has to do with these three topics. Now, why does Cervantes, and why does the Quixote focus so much on low class types and even criminals? This is something I’ve talked about before, but I will be harping upon again today. Now, we have spoken about Maritornes, who is a prostitute, but there are others, like for instance, the servant who beats up Don Quixote in the episode about the merchants of Toledo, the rowdies, who toss Sancho in the blanket, Andrés, who’s being beaten by his master but who seems to be a pícaro himself, the first innkeeper, who was, I’ve called him, a retired pícaro, and the prostitutes at the first inn. We will meet others, quite a few other such types. As we talk about the galley slaves episode today we will be attempting to answer this question, why the focus on these kinds of characters, about the abundance of low class types and outlaws?
By the way, galley slaves — I say this because I’m sure that you have never heard of this before, it’s not something that we are familiar with — galeotes in Spanish, were prisoners or legally slaves who were forced to row in the galleys, be they private or more often owned by the crown. That is, the ships move with sails, but also with ores, and the ores were manned by the galley slaves, who sat in rows inside, and were whipped to row harder and harder. It’s a terrible kind of punishment, and I can go in detail about the lengths of the sentences there, and the fact that most of them didn’t come back alive, and so forth, but that’s what a galley slave is. The closest I think we have is those chain gangs that we see occasionally in some states of prisoners going around in their striped uniforms and so forth.
Now, let me anticipate some ideas and redirect others that I have already mentioned before to give a context to what I’m going to be saying. The Renaissance is interested in the nature of humankind relatively independent of God. Renaissance thinkers and artists focus on characters like the wild men, for instance, who are close to nature and does reveal their belonging to the natural world, rather than to the social world. The wild man is an individual lost in the woods or in some cave, who lives in a state of nature, away from civilization. In Spanish literature, the best-known example is Segismundo, the protagonist of Life is a Dream, a play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca that I will be mentioning often during the semester — You may have heard of him before. These Renaissance thinkers and artists also concentrate on individuals who willfully become marginal to society, like madmen and criminals. The underlying idea is that society masks, erases, or attenuates fundamental traits of the human.
There is also an aesthetic reason, social individuals are types; individuals in society become types. Their features are determined by social conventions attached to their station or trade, whereas marginal figures are individual in their appearance and behavior. Don Quixote and Sancho will meet characters like Diego de Miranda, the man in green in Part II, who lead boring lives because they conform to social norms. He is a rich hidalgo who lives a life of ease in his estate, and who lodges the knight and his squire for several days in his very comfortable house, until Don Quixote gets bored.
Don Quixote and the pícaros he meets, on the other hand, are not boring, they lead lives of adventure. They are appealing because of their deviations, just as they’re physically attractive because of the deformities that they bear as we saw in the last class. Of course, epic heroes and protagonists of chivalric romances led very interesting lives, needless to say, full of adventures. But those adventures took place in a distant and vague past and in abstract countries, with generic qualities drawn from literary conventions, whereas the pícaros and Don Quixote live in the present, and live in a society that the reader recognizes as his own. The clash between the two is at the core of Don Quixote, of course, but the point is that except in his imagination Don Quixote never inhabits a world other than that of Spain in the late sixteenth century among people involved in ordinary activities who do not violate the laws of nature. No one flies, for instance, in the Quixote, or performs feats that are beyond human strength, as happens in the epic, or as happens in the romances of chivalry.
Chapter 3. The Nature of the Real in the Mambrino Episode [00:19:36]
We are about to come into an episode where this clash between idealized time and space meet real time present day Castile. I refer to the episode about Mambrino’s helmet in chapter XXI, and here is where your handout may be of some use, because in the visual part of the handout I have there a barber’s basin. I have the depiction of a barber’s basin because no one in this room has ever seen a barber’s basin, even myself, because they are no longer in use. A barber’s basin is this device that the barber would use, and it has an indentation like that to put it under the person’s chin, and for the neck, and then to wash the beard and the water to fall in it, and so I wanted you to have it, a depiction of that, so that you will know what we are talking about here. Why Sancho says what a huge head this giant had, because of course, it’s a big basin like that. So there are two important elements in the Mambrino helmet episode which is one of the most famous and discussed in the Quixote because it brings to the fore the discussions about the nature of the real that dominates the discussion among the characters, but particularly, between Don Quixote and Sancho, as they do here.
The first element that I want to bring out in this episode has to do with the oath Don Quixote made earlier in chapter X, which by fulfilling it, would close a loop in the plot. Upon seeing the barber’s basin shinning, he remembers the oath that he made when he discovered that part of his own helmet had been damaged in the fight with the Biscainer. So he says that the opportunity now, when he sees the basin, arises to fulfill the oath [quote]: “about which I swore the oath”
As you know, he tells Sancho on page 153, when he sees the basin, he says, this is the opportunity to fulfill that oath that I made. Don Quixote had sworn the following after the fight with the Biscainer. I quote: “I swear by the Creator of all things, and by all that is contained in the four holy evangelists, to lead the life of the great Marquis of Mantua, when he vowed to revenge the death of his nephew Valdovinos, which was not to eat bread on a tablecloth, nor solace himself with his wife, and other things which, though I do not now remember, allow here for expressed, until I am fully revenged on him who hath done me this outrage.” [Unquote]. Of course, the outrage is the damage to the helmet that he can now restore with a new one that approaches and that he plans to appropriate. The novel begins to acquire, this is the point, an inner density and substance by means of these links, these connections within the plot, one linked to the other, the oath and the fulfillment of the oath.
Now, the second element that I want to bring up has to do, of course, with the confusion created by the wet shining basin that looks like a helmet. Mambrino’s helmet belongs to the traditional Roland and his various incarnations as Orlando, Roland, Roland, Orlando, who becomes Orlando — This the Carolingian cycle of chivalry that I mentioned in one of my early lectures. Mambrino’s helmet is one with Rolandian literature in Boiardo, Matteo Boiardo, a poem called “Orlando innamorato,” Orlando in love, Reinaldo de Montalbán kills the Moorish king Mambrino, and wins his enchanted helmet. In Ariosto Orlando furioso — whom I have mentioned before and will mention several times in the course of the semester — the enchanted helmet had been won from the Moorish king Mambrino by Dardaniel de Almonte — not Sacripante, as Don Quixote misremembers — and Reinaldo de Montalbán wins it when he kills Dardaniel. So this is the background of Mambrino’s helmet. In his imagination, Don Quixote acts like the Carolingian hero in obtaining the helmet from the Moorish king. So Mambrino’s helmet has an incontestable chivalric pedigree, a deep pedigree, which makes it all of the more ridiculous that it be confused with a barber’s basin. So you have to have this background to realize the distance between this Mambrino’s helmet and the barber’s basin. This is why I wanted to give you that background.
But there are attenuating circumstances where Don Quixote’s error reality contingency — when I say contingency I mean accidents — conspire to confuse him, as in the case of the dead body. The basin is not being used for what it’s intended, for what it was intended to do. The barber has it on his head to protect his new hat from the rain — remember the detail, he has a new hat and he puts it on to protect it from the rain. This is the only time, by the way, in which it rains in the entire Quixote, if you want to know a detail, the only time when it rains in the entire — it doesn’t rain very often in Castile, by the way. Castile is very dry, and so this is consistent with the real conditions of the region — So it rains, and it’s being used to protect the hat. So the barber has it on his head, I said, to protect his new hat. The poor barber is the victim of this mutation, of this circumstance. It happens with other things in the Quixote. As you know, the inn was originally a stable, or parts of the inn were originally a stable. In the real world, things are adapted ad hoc for purposes other than those they were made for, there essence does not guarantee their usage, they are in flux. Remember, what Don Quixote said after the episode of the windmills about mutations, how things are in a constant state of mutations. So reality is in a state of flux as is Don Quixote himself. Hence, he takes the shining barber’s basin for Mambrino’s helmet.
This episode exemplifies the modern radical doubt about the power of the senses to grasp reality, which will become a topic of the Baroque, the period immediately, or almost immediately, after the Renaissance, and about which I’ll be talking a lot later on. Remember what I said about the critical cliché, that the first part of the Quixote is Renaissance, the second part is Baroque. But the topic of our senses not being able to really discern reality is one that is still with us. It is a sort of doubt about the real that we find even today in a modern poem such as Wallace Stevens “Man Carrying a Thing,” which is the poem that you have on the other side of your handout today. I bring up this poem because in one or two occasions the basin is referred to as ‘a thing’, “a thing that shines,” Sancho says, as of yet lacking ontological and phenomenological specificity — the ontological is being, it’s not specific, it’s appearance, it’s phenomenology, is not specific. And so it’s called a thing. And so I always, when I come to this episode, think of this poem by Wallace Stevens, Wallace Stevens being one of my favorite, if not my favorite, poet. He was an American poet, 1879-1955, who spent almost all of his life as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. Nevertheless, he was really one of the major American poets. So:
I don’t think the bright obvious ever stands motionless in cold in the Quixote, but I think that this poem brings — dramatizes, what is happening in this episode with this thing, that Don Quixote takes to be a helmet, and Sancho knows is a barber’s basin. This is a Cartesian problem, since it was Descartes who first gave full attention to it: how do we really know the real? Doubt, as the principle of modern philosophy, is present here, already. In this sense Cervantes takes leave from Renaissance thought and poetics as in many others and moves towards the Baroque. The basin will reappear and provoke a full-fledged discussion, in the inn, among various characters about whether it is a basin or a helmet, with the basin there. It’s a hilarious parody of a scholastic debate. The basin is one of those things that the novel focuses on, and that I told you to take notice of in connection with Alberti’s theories about perspective, because the basin is seen in the distance, in the depths, and this is why it is difficult to ascertain what it is.
Chapter 4. Intimations of a Character’s Subconscious [00:31:30]
Now, the second part of the chapter contains what I called Don Quixote’s own chivalric romance. I don’t know if you remember this part, but you should. Here we see Don Quixote in the act of creating a chivalric romance. Remember, Sancho’s asks him if they shouldn’t go and try to gain some notoriety and fame by doing important things, and so then Don Quixote launches on this narrative about a chivalric romance, which he creates out of elements drawn from many of these romances. He has been able to condense from various romances the essence of the chivalric romance, the basic story. This story reveals what he has in his head. This probe into the mind of a character is also new in fiction. Here and elsewhere, as in the case of Cardenio, whom you’re going to meet right away, we get intimations of a character’s subconscious, not just of his actions, as was the case in the epic, the romances of chivalry, and even in the picaresque. Here we get something about Don Quixote’s — this will happen several times in the novel.
The story of this chivalric romance is an exercise in narrative, but which Cervantes is underlying in the conventions of the chivalric genre; the fact that there is a kind of basic blueprint or structure upon which anyone can embroider. This is true, by the way, of popular forms of narrative, like James Bond movies, of which they keep making more, and more, and more, because the basic blueprint is there, and then all you have to do is to make a slight change in one character here, or a slight change in this kind of adventure, and you have a James Bond. The same was true with Conan Doyle, and Sherlock Holmes stories and, of course, as I’ve mentioned several times, with soap operas, which is always — Latin American soap operas is always that the poor secretary has an affair with the son of the very rich boss, and you go from there, and she has a baby, or she doesn’t have a baby, and you know.
So Cervantes, as with the picaresque — and we’re going to discuss it in the following discussion of the galley slaves episode — Cervantes is concerned that the conventions of literature, its topics, draw it away from real life. That even the new genres, new in relation to the classics, reassert their literariness by deploying these conventions, which turn into predictable systems. Awareness of this possibility is crucial to the whole Quixote and to Cervantes’s entire work; how convention obscures the real and shields us from it; how literature quickly retreats to formulas, like those in Don Quixote’s mind. Self reflexivity helps to point out these conventions and to show their disconnection from reality; they are being self generated and self contained — I am reminded here, I don’t know if you’ve seen The Kiss of the Spider Woman, but it’s a great movie, and you remember that Molina is telling his cell mate all of these movies that he has in his head, that he has memorized, and there are people who have memorized the plots of many movies and can condense them into kind of a generic movie, the way Don Quixote is creating here a kind of generic chivalric romance.
This also plays into the game of mirrors that the Quixote is becoming, it is a story within the story, and the large story is a parody of a romance of chivalry. It is, this, what is called in French ‘composition en abîme,’ and in English it’s ‘the infinitely receding sequences’, that we found in Velázquez, Las Meninas, the story within the story, like the painting within the painting, like the play within the play, in Hamlet. I first visualized this as a child looking at the label on a condensed milk can, and the label depicted a condensed milk can with the same label, within which there was another label with the same condensed milk can, and so forth and so on, and I had the vertigo of not knowing whether I was part of a larger condensed milk can or some such depiction.
Guys, they don’t go to barbershops any more, I don’t think, it doesn’t look like it to me, but some of you do, but little boys discovered this in barbershops. When you sat in the barber’s chair and you were surrounded by mirrors, and suddenly you see yourself, wow!, you get lost in an infinity of reflections of yourself. That is an infinitely receding sequence. That is there is no without, if you are within that, there is no without, you’re always — Everything is within literature, hence, there is no authority that orders the universe of fiction, which is continuous with that of reality. The only infinite being would be God, so to posit this kind of abyss like universe is a form of radical skepticism on the part of Cervantes, and of Shakespeare, by the way. Here the authority within that fiction, this house of mirrors — I’m sure you’ve also gone to the house of mirrors — is a madman. Don Quixote as within the picaresque — and we will get to that — it will be Ginés de Pasamonte.
Another important point about this generic chivalric romance that Don Quixote comes up with here, in answer to Sancho’s question, is that Don Quixote reveals his worries about his lineage. He has to acquire fame to aspire to marry a princess. Behind this apparently naïve preoccupation lays one of the social issues at stake in the novel, the question of social class and privilege, and the possibility of acquiring it, rather than inheriting it. You remember that he speaks here about… He will acquire enough fame by dint of his own valor to merit being married to a princess. Even in the relationship within the knight and his squire, there are intimations of a leveling of social classes here, in this. And you will see, as we move to Part II, that this will increase as Sancho’s importance in the novel increases. So this is one of the topics, but here we get another glimpse at Don Quixote’s subconscious. He is worried about his lack of nobility, his lack of aristocratic background.
Chapter 5. Considerations on the Creation of a New Genre [00:39:05]
Now, we get to the galley slaves, which is, again, another famous episode in the Quixote. This is chapter XXII, Part I, because it also shows Cervantes dealing with the question of literature, more specifically the picaresque. Notice, by the way, in this chapter, the mistranslation when Jarvis renders ‘alcahuete’ as ‘pimp,’ on page 166, when it should be ‘go-between,’ the galley slave who has been a go-between — remember? — that Don Quixote actually praises, and in the original it says alcahuete. Alcahuete is someone who arranges marriages and illicit encounters between lovers and all of that, but is not a pimp. A pimp is an agent for prostitutes. Alcahuetes or go-betweens have been praised throughout the ages, even by Saint Augustine, at some point; he praises the job that they do in arranging couples to meet and become lovers, just a detail about the translation. I don’t want to belabor the failings of the translation, which is a pretty good one. Now, again, why the picaresque? You might be getting tired of my talking about the picaresque, but the picaresque is the new fiction that precedes the Quixote, precedes Cervantes’ work within which, and against which, he writes. The picaresque comes up again, not only because like the pícaro, Ginés de Pasamonte, who is the main character here, is a criminal, but more importantly because Ginés de Pasamonte is an author. When asked if his book is good by Don Quixote, Ginés replies — I’m on page 169: “ ‘So good,’ answered Ginés, ‘that woe be to Lazarillo de Tormes, and to all that have written or shall write in that way.’”
And when asked for the title and if it is finished, Ginés answers [quote]: ‘It’s called The Life of Ginés de Pasamonte,’ replied Ginés himself. ‘And is it finished?’ quoth Don Quixote. ‘How can it be finished?’ answered he, ‘since my life is not yet finished? what is written, is from my cradle to the moment of my being this sent this last time to the galleys.’”
Picaresque novels tended to be called “Vida de…,” life of… Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes, Vida de Guzmán de Alfarache. So The Life of Ginés de Pasamonte is obviously a picaresque kind novel that he has written about himself. So Cervantes is talking from here at the conventions of autobiographical writing, meaning, “how can you write an autobiography if your life is not over?”, is what Ginés answers, and Cervantes is poking fun at that, so, which leads, in autobiographical writing — as in the Confessions of Saint Augustine and so forth — to the creation of a death and resurrection kind of scheme. That is, I am speaking about the man that I formerly was until I had a conversion, by which the old man died and the new one arose, and so forth. So this is what is behind this little repartee here, between Ginés de Pasamonte and Don Quixote, which is a satire of autobiographical writing and of the picaresque novel specifically.
Here Ginés underscores the fact that there is no way to put a stop to it, by saying that to the last time he went to the galleys, so every time he went to the galleys he takes up the book again and writes it, and writes it, and writes it, and he says at one point here that he doesn’t mind going to the galleys because there he’ll be able to finish his book, so there is a kind of literal continuity between life and writing, that is what is being made fun of in this episode. Now, you remember the whole background of the picaresque, because I’ve given it to you many times, from the Celestina to Guzmán de Alfarache, 1599, right? At the time Cervantes was writing Don Quixote, and in the Guzmán de Alfarache the protagonist is a galley slave at one point, so the allusion to the Guzmán de Alfarache is very clear.
Now, Ginés de Pasamonte is one of the most important secondary characters in the Quixote — This is not an oxymoron, of secondary and important. There are important secondary characters, and secondary characters that are not important — not only because it’s really fun and funny — he’s really a lot of fun, and he will reappear — but because he’s one of the storytellers in the book, hence it’s part of the book’s take on literature and the nature of narrative. Ginés is one of the many storytellers in the Quixote. By this I mean characters who not only tell a story or recite a poem, but who are writing or have written a book. The most memorable of these are, of course, the narrator of the Quixote, who claims not to be the author, the apocryphal Cide Hamete Benengeli, the translator, and so forth; these are all characters who have written a book. There will be others; Cardenio has written a book.
Cervantes is considering with them the possibility of new genres, new forms of literature emerging — which they are, at the time that he is writing — and showing the mechanisms by which a new genre is born, a new genre, meaning a new kind of literature that is not merely derived or copied from the classics, as was done or attempted to be done in the Renaissance. These are authors, like Lope de Vega, whose name I’ve mentioned many times, and I’m not going to put it on the board because you must remember, who created, as it were, the Spanish theater, national theater, the comedia. And so, Ginés is as complex a figure as other narrators of the Quixote like Cide Hamete Benengeli, and I remind you again, and I’ll do it probably again in this lecture, that at this point between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, the first professional authors are emerging, that is, authors who are trying to make a living from their writing. Lope did, very, very well, because, of course, he wrote so many plays and he did so well, while Cervantes didn’t do so well, as we know.
Now, this interest in the nature of literature and the figure of the author in the Quixote is because the novel, this novel, the Quixote, is not so much about the question of the book as it is about that of the books, in the plural, as we saw in the episode of the scrutiny of the library. It is about the proliferation of books made possible by the development of the printing press and the economic factors that encourage editorial production in the sixteenth century. The Quixote is the first major work to consider how the dissemination of books unsettles received notions about the book and about authorship. These are, remember, again, turn of the century, sixteenth to the seventeenth, new genres, new authors, like Mateo Alemán and Lope de Vega, who are professionals, and so forth; this is tied to the whole issue of the books.
Chapter 6. The Proliferation of Books in Relation to the Author [00:47:18]
Now, I’m going to go into a part of the lecture here that might get a little dense, because it’s about this proliferation of books in relation to the author and the veracity of the books. I’ll go very slowly, because I, myself, feel that it is a bit dense, and I don’t want to confuse you, and if I do, you raise your hand in protest. The proliferation of books is accompanied by a decline in the social class of authors and of the author figures, by which I mean characters like Ginés de Pasamonte, who represent authors within the fiction — Now, take stock of this. Ginés de Pasamonte is a criminal, is a prisoner, he’s a galley slave, however, he has written a book. This is novel, I mean, that someone of his social class, couldn’t be lower, is writing a book. So, just as the production of many copies of a single book brings down the fetish value of each single copy — as happens with everything, if you have too many of something the value declines, if you have very few the value increases.
I have a two-dollar bill in my wallet somebody gave me, and I’ve kept it because they say it is good luck, but also because there are few of those, so this is the fetish value of things that are few; this we’ve learned in economic classes since we were going to high school. But the opposite is true of the authors and author figures relevance, which increases as the value of each copy of his book decreases. The authors now become the guarantee of the work’s worth, as well as the one accountable for it before the law. In the case of the comedia, the Spanish plays, where proliferation was rampant to be ‘de Lope,’ by Lope, became a sign of excellence — like a trademark — applicable as an indication of value to things other than plays.
You could say, this thing is de Lope, and it meant that it was very good. In the picaresque, author and protagonists are conflated into one, book and author become one as in the case of Ginés, whose reductio ad absurdum of this textual strategy has been noted many times — the one that we’ve just seen. A rudimentary equation could perhaps be worked out. These new authors break with the strictures of renaissance mimesis — the idea of imitating the classics — in the sense then they innovate leaving behind classical forms and themes, or subjecting them to substantial transformations. They are no longer like the classics; they are subjecting them to transformations. Hence, the dissent in social status of the author appears to be accompanied by an increase in inventiveness and a rise in the importance of the author — is that clear? It should be clear, no? The higher the social class, the less the invention, because they follow mimesis; they imitate the classics. The lower the author’s social class, the greater the invention, hence more value attached to the author, which leads to the following: the more invention, the more value given to the author — Ginés de Pasamonte who prides himself of having written this book about himself.
This explains why, as Alemán did before with his Guzmán de Alfarache, Cervantes rushes to write his second part, once he learns that Avellaneda has written a second part of the Quixote. He feels that the Quixote is his invention, his in every sense, including the monetary sense; that he’s going to lose revenues if somebody else writes a Quixote. So it seems that the impact of these socioeconomic developments on books and authors is undeniable.
But there is another important factor at work that issues from the content of the book themselves and its relation to knowledge — I hope that you have made that clear. This is clear; and Ginés de Pasamonte exemplifies the lowering of social class. Cervantes, himself, was a very petty nobleman, poor, and so forth; so Ginés de Pasamonte is important because he exemplifies that drop in social class of the author — Now, Anthony Grafton opens the introduction to his magnificent New Worlds, Ancient Texts: the Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery with these words — Grafton is a professor at Princeton University — the book is called New Worlds, Ancient Texts: the Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery, and the quote is the following — it’s a very important quote, I want you to follow it closely: “Between 1550 and 1650 [it encompasses just the time of Cervantes] Western thinkers ceased to believe that they could find all important truths in ancient books.”
So whereas the early Renaissance thought that all-important truths could be found in books, now this has decreased. Grafton goes on to quote Jesuit José de Acosta — a very common name in Spanish, José de Acosta — who wrote in his — this is a book about the history of the new world — called Historia natural y moral de las Indias. This is Acosta quoted by Grafton: “Having read that what poets and philosophers write of the Torrid Zone, I persuaded myself that when I came to the equator [he was traveling to the New World] I would not be able to endure the violent heat, but it turned out otherwise, for when I passed the equator I felt so cold that I was forced to go into the sun to warm myself. What could I do then but laugh at Aristotle’s meteorology?” [Unquote]
Ironically, then, the proliferation of books begins at the time when the authority of the book was most severely tested and ultimately devalued. The ability to read many books did not bring one closer to the truth but to an inordinate, perhaps, infinite enlargement of the library, and to Don Quixote’s madness, or to Descartes “Je pense, donc je suis,” I think, therefore I am, I only know that I am because I think, and in this way he discards the whole philosophical traditional in books before it. This, too, leads in the direction of an increase in the importance of the author. Just as the classical tradition is being refashioned or denied altogether, so it’s received knowledge from the canonical books being questioned. The function of books changes not only because the printing press makes them available in larger quantities, but also because they are no longer seen as reliable purveyors of truth.
Experience becomes a very important element in thinking in philosophy and literature, not books. If Acosta in the 1590s can laugh at Aristotle, why not pick up then a picaresque novel and have a good laugh, or a chivalric romance and be entertained, or aroused instead?, or the Quixote, and have a good time? Reading book times is not equated as before with the acquisition of knowledge, but increasingly with pleasure, and the value of each book is dependent an author whose ability to produce such pleasure is known. The scrutiny of the library and Altisidora’s dream clearly show some of the quandaries that this new situation opens up. Altisidora’s dream is this marvelous episode in Part II, when a character — you will meet her — named Altisidora, has a dream, in which sees some devils playing tennis, and the balls are books, and the rackets are flaming rackets, and when they hit the books, the books, poof!, explode, and are pulverized. It’s a magnificent dream about what I’m telling you about, and you will get to it. Of course, the book that is pulverized most easily is Avellaneda’s apocryphal Quixote, as Cervantes takes advantage of this episode to pocke fun at his rival.
So this is why Ginés de Pasamonte is so important. Ginés de Pasamonte, who now appears — and I don’t have the quote here but I’m sure you remember — how he is shackled. He is covered with chains from head to foot, he cannot move his head down to reach his hands, nor have his hands reach his mouth. It is as if he were possessed of some demonic power; slipperiness. Here Cervantes is anticipating kind of a romantic notion of the author as a demonic figure, but the most interesting thing is that Ginés de Pasamonte is also a self portrait of Cervantes, because at one point Ginés describes himself as being very unfortunate, and the line is obviously a self allusive line on the part of Cervantes.
Ginés de Pasamonte is a figure of Cervantes in the book: lower class, and also this inventiveness that has to be contained by all of these chains that hold him down. In Part II he will reappear, and I can anticipate having a lot of fun with Ginés when he appears in Part II, and he is a master puppeteer, he has a puppet theater and I will not ruin the plot by telling you what happens then, but it’s hilarious and it dovetails what I have been telling you about here. Now, so this slipperiness in the part of this author figure is connected to all of these games of authorship. The slipperiness of Cide Hamete Benengeli, the slipperiness of the translator who has the text translated, and all of that. They are all contained within this figure of Ginés de Pasamonte, this pícaro.
But there is one more aspect of Ginés that I want to discuss, and that is contained in an essay that you have in the Casebook about Ginés being cross-eyed, and I am going to simply summarize it because we’re coming to the end of the hour and I direct you to that essay of mine if you want the details. You remember that when Ginés is introduced it is said: “Behind all of this came a man of some 30 years of age of a goodly aspect except he seemed to thrust one eye into the other.”
What he means is that Ginés is cross-eyed — “metía un ojo en el otro,” we still say in Spanish. Now, vision, of course, is tied to representation. You represent what you see, and Ginés, being an author-figure who is cross-eyed, is very suggestive. First of all, because being cross-eyed gives Ginés a shifty look. When you say, but you look at somebody in the eye to see if they’re being sincere, if there is something in the eye, still doesn’t have to be cross-eyed, then the person doesn’t appear sincere. So being cross-eyed gives Ginés a shifty appearance going with his slipperiness. Also, he’s Janus-like, that if you look at him from one side, you see one this way, if you look at it from the other side, the eye is going the other way, so he’s two things at the same time, whether you look at him from one side or the other, so there is no center, no stable figure of Ginés de Pasamonte because he is cross-eyed. He has a monocular cross-eyedness, that is, one is the one that goes into the other.
So therefore, if you have two lines of site that normally meet here, in this object, and that object is represented to your mind well, if you are cross-eyed they meet here, and therefore, the object is distorted. This is what monocular cross-eyedness means. Also, it leads to a double vision, what is called diplopia — Sorry for this. So Ginés suffers from this cross-eyedness, diplopia, meaning double vision; he sees two things at the same time. And he is this figure of the author, the figure of the author who, like the Cervantes of the first prologue, who has to divide himself in two persons, is two within his own vision, because he sees double.
What I’m trying to say is this. You will see that one of the topics in the Quixote criticism is perspectivism, that reality is seen from various perspectives. The perspective of each one of the characters, and that supposedly reality, in the end of some of these hilarious discussions, in the end, is the sum total of all of these perspectives. What I’m trying to say is that there is no such thing, that within each individual there is already perspectivism because there is more than one view of things. I want to emphasize this. Ginés sees two things; he’s not just simply one perspective. There is perspectivism within him, not just from all of the others’ perspectives. This complicates the issue a lot more, particularly, when you take into account that he is presented as an author figure, as a storyteller in the Quixote. Storytellers in the Quixote tend not to be very healthy, either physically or mentally, and Ginés is important because of that.
So we’re going to leave it at that, and in the next class we’re going to about another one of these galley slaves in passing, the one that I have called in my book Love and the Law, ‘the prisoner of sex,’ and this is the minor character, this is a really minor, minor character — one paragraph. If you go back to this episode of the galley slave in XXII, the guy who is carrying on with four women at the same time, two of whom were cousins of his. So we’re going to be talking about that and other matters that are in your syllabus, but I’ll begin by talking about the prisoner of sex.
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