SPAN 300: Cervantes' Don Quixote
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Cervantes' Don Quixote
SPAN 300 - Lecture 15 - Don Quixote, Part II: Chapters XII-XXI
Chapter 1. Review: Engaño and Desengaño [00:00:00]
Professor Roberto González Echevarría: I want to return briefly to “desengaño,” because there may be some confusion caused by “disillusionment,” the English word used to translate the term, which is an approximation as all translations are. “Disillusionment” can mean in English “disenchantment” and “disappointment,” words that have a very negative connotation whereas, “desengaño” does not quite have that connotation. At worst, it could mean “resignation,” meaning, I was resigned to find out that such-and-such a person was not as good as I thought him or her to be. Remember the quote from Otis Green that I read you, in which “desengaño” was thought of as the summum bonum, the ultimate good desired by the stoic wise man. Baroque desengaño is a positive condition at which the individual arrives after having shed the scales from his eyes — remember? — and learned of the deceitfulness of appearances of the mystifying allure of all that he has taken as being very valuable. Everything that shines is not gold, is what the individual learns, having gone through the process of engaño, that is deceit and desengaño, to put it in the simplest of terms. What I suggested, moreover, is that the plot of the Quixote and that of some of these stories embedded in it in this Part II go through a similar unfolding from engaño to desengaño. We will be following this development in the episodes that we will be dealing with during the rest of the semester, some of which are the culminating episodes in the entire book, not only of the second part, but the entire Quixote.
Chapter 2. The “Cervantean” [00:02:29]
But let us first turn our attention today to two critics whose essays you are reading this week in the Casebook, and this is sort of the highlight, or the high point, I should say, of the Casebook, these two essays by Auerbach and Spitzer. Now, we already saw Auerbach’s main thesis in Mimesis, his famous book, and that that thesis is about the Christian mixture of the sublime and the low style in the New Testament, and how this led to the emergence and development of realism and eventually to the novel and to a book like the Quixote. This mixture of the sublime and low style was a break away from the strict separation between high and low style in the classical tradition which Auerbach derives — this idea — from St. Augustine and the church fathers, the patristic tradition. Auerbach labels sermo humilis — I put it on the board — or humble sermon, or better, humble discourse.
This Christian response to the classical division of styles derived — that division of styles — derived from Aristotle and from Roman rhetorical theory. This mixture of the transcendent and the low style was exemplified by Christ’s passion, through which the drama of man’s every day life assumes the most profound meaning: life does not end in the brief span of worldly existence; eternity is present in the passion as a message of hope. Now, Auerbach’s application of this theory to the Quixote leads him to the belief that the Quixote is essentially a funny book, as you have read the essay, “The Enchanted Dulcinea” an interpretation for which Auerbach was excoriated by Hispanists, particularly, Spanish ones, for whom the Quixote was a very profound and transcendental book. Although many were motivated by a nationalistic interpretation of Cervantes, whom they saw as the highest example of Spanish genius, and his protagonist as the very representative of the fatherland, they were not entirely wrong in their reactions.
What happened in Spain was that the Quixote was canonized, meaning, turned into a classic in the eighteenth century, and then, by the early nineteenth century, during the romantic period, it was exalted as the highest point of Spanish genius and the highest representative of the Spanish language, in which the spirit of Spanishness was embedded, and so forth, and this was a very nationalistic reading of the Quixote that prevailed, and still prevails, in some quarters. And so, the people who held this view of the Quixote, of course, were outraged by Auerbach’s reading of the Quixote as essentially a funny book. They were not entirely wrong in their reactions. It should be very clear to those of you reading the Quixote that there is a great deal that is very deep and serious in it both about life and general and about literature.
Auerbach’s analysis, however, is very revealing of how the low style, particularly in Sancho and other low class characters plays such a crucial role in the farcical episodes in the Quixote. Besides, we are not familiar in the modern period any more with this separation of styles, of high and low styles or anything like that, and it’s very instructive to read Auerbach, who was steeped in that, even when he goes astray, in my view. I was criticized by some Hispanists for having included that essay in the Casebook, by the way, mostly because they had not been included. Auerbach’s problem is that he cannot get out of his scheme, which equates seriousness only with tragedy. Don Quixote can be serious without being tragic, and, in fact, this is one of his most important lessons and most innovative qualities, one of the most innovative qualities of the new literature that emerges in the wake of the Quixote.
To say that Cervantes does not deal with the serious issues of his time is pure nonsense, as we have seen. To claim that the book is, above all, a farce is also nonsense. Besides, a novel’s worth should not be gauged by how faithfully it represents reality, if such a thing can be gauged at all. Auerbach is wrong when he says that Don Quixote’s idée fixe has no contact with reality, and that it only causes confusion. On the contrary, his idée fixe serves by contrast to clarify many things around him, but there are salvageable parts of Auerbach’s essay, which is why I included it in the Casebook. Nabokov, on the other hand, the great Russian novelist, has a horrible book on the Quixote, which was a series of lectures that he gave at Harvard. And the book is interesting only because Nabokov wrote it, but he says really outrageous things like there is no reflection of the Spain of Cervantes’ time in the Quixote. What? Nabokov was a great writer, but not a great critic, obviously.
I think that the first salvageable thing in Auerbach’s essay is his reaction against romantic criticism and the tendency to over interpret, whatever that means, ultimately. Auerbach writes defining his own position the following — you have it in the Casebook, page 58:
[Unquote]. This is the dream of the philologians and the critics steeped in philology, that they can actually get back to the meaning of the work in the period in which he was writing and to discern what the author’s intentions were. We are not so sure any more. Peter Russell’s book — Peter Russell was an English hispanist of some note; his book is called Don Quixote as a Funny Book — follows Auerbach and is among those who styled themselves as the hard school of Cervantes criticism, based mostly in England, and whose hardness is mostly of the intellectual arteries, in my view. Just because Cervantes contemporaries found the book funny, or just because of what Cervantes said about the comic, it is impoverishing to see the Quixote in this light, particularly when the comic is not defined. If the comic arises, as it does in the Quixote, from the toils of a mind out of sorts with the modern world, then it is a comic of the highest form of seriousness. Comedy can be very serious and profound, and it is in the Quixote. Contemporaries often misread works written in their time, obviously, and authors’ intentions are very, very difficult to ascertain, and I’ll say a little bit more about that later.
Spitzer, Leo Spitzer, was another great critic of the German philological school. He, too, escaped from Nazi Germany, and preceded Auerbach in the chair at the University of Istanbul. Spitzer wound up at Johns Hopkins University; not at Yale, alas, like Auerbach. Spitzer was known to be irascible and belligerent in the defense of his points of view, and wrote vicious reviews of the books with which he disagreed. For example, Stephen Gilman’s book on The Celestina was shredded by Spitzer in an angry review. Spitzer was more thoroughly grounded in philology and linguistics than Auerbach. He was a philologist and a linguist, and spoke many modern languages and knew practically all of the classical ones. He was a very, very, very learned man, and very brilliant.
Spitzer believes that one can get at the core of a work of literature by going from something marginal on the periphery, like a detail, and pursuing it all the way to its center; that a detail can, if properly analyzed, yield a comprehensive interpretation of the work. The geometric metaphors periphery, circle, center, are a bit naïve here. We use metaphors in writing theory and in writing criticism, and his are a bit naïve when we think about them. We learned to look for metaphors in criticism through the work of the great deconstructionist Paul de Man, who was a professor here at Yale. So the geometric metaphors are a bit naïve as is Spitzer’s emphasis on discovering the personality of the author or his worldview, his Weltanschauung to use the German word; he wants to get at the psychology of the author. These are approximations that Michel Foucault — I think I have mentioned him; he is a French philosopher and theoretician, whose most famous book is Les mots et les choses, in English translated as The Order of Things, and the first three chapters on Hispanic things; one on Velázquez, Las Meninas; one on Cervantes; and the beginning is on Borges, the Argentine writer. These are approximations, and Michel Foucault would argue that one limits the possible meanings of a work by reducing it to the alleged intention of its author.
If you say, these were these the author’s intentions, you create kind of a fence around a work, and there can be no meanings beyond what you assume those intentions to be. But I believe that what Spitzer is trying to find is the Cervantean, it’s what I call the Cervantean, which to him is a point of confluence between form and content that makes for a coherent overarching meaning. Since language is, after all, the primary material of a literary work, I believe that Spitzer’s work is a good lesson to critics who would leap to hasty interpretations without a detailed knowledge of the text. Now, that language is the primary material of a literary work might seem obvious, but it is a very complicated statement to make, because one could say that paint is the primary material of painting, and that doesn’t get you very far. In the case of language I think that it does, not as far as Spitzer would believe, but I think that it does.
In the case of the Quixote, Spitzer accomplishes his task by meticulous work on polynomasia. You have these words in your essays, so I don’t have to put them on the board, I know that they are jawbreakers: polynomasia, multiple names; and polyetymology, multiple origins of words, meaning multiplicity of names and multiplicity of word origins that are present in the scenes that he analyzes. Spitzer equates the multiplicity implicit in these — in the words — to the perspectivism inherent in the interplay of varied views in the novel by various characters. Various characters and various different points of view, and this is reflected in the multiplicity of etymologists and in the multiplicity of names given to characters and to things.
The differences of opinion among the characters is evinced through the use of language. The key term in the novel is the portmanteau word Sancho uses to mediate in the dispute about the barber’s basin, the “baciyelmo,” or the basin helmet, in English, by which he attempts to convey the conflicting points of view about the object. According to Webster’s, a portmanteau word, and James Joyce was famous for making them up, is a word that is a combination of two other words in form and meaning, like the word “smog,” which is a combination of “smoke” and “fog.” I bet you didn’t know that: “smoke” and “fog” give you “smog,” and that is a portmanteau word. Joyce uses them in funny ways, a passenger in Joyce is the “pas encore,” which in French means “not yet.”
Of course, a “passenger” is a “pas encore” because he hasn’t gotten there yet, and this is the kind of thing that Joyce does. So that’s a portmanteau word, and a “baciyelmo,” basin helmet, is a portmanteau word. Now, you remember that Spitzer makes quite a bit of that. But Spitzer argues behind his multiplicity there is Cervantes, the creator of this whole artistic machine. He stands over all of the games of authorship and all of the ironies. That is, you can think of it as Cervantes, and then all of the polynomasia and all of the polyetymology and all that, but they are contained in this figure of Cervantes, the author, who is the author of all of the ironies and all of these games. Cervantes, Spitzer argues, is no relativist when it comes to morals — we saw this already — and perspectivism and irony are inherent in a Christian position, which is humble by definition, meaning I don’t know enough, I will never know enough, too. Behind Cervantes, the creator, there is God, whom Cervantes never denies. So there will be God above Cervantes.
Spitzer provides a convincing historical scheme. During the Middle Ages, there is a correspondence between word and things, names and characters, and this is so in the readings of scripture. In the Renaissance that is a word-world, a world of words, to use my own portmanteau word. A world of words, one connecting or leading to the next by metonymy, and a world-book, a world made up of books, like Alonso Quijano’s, who, as a result, becomes Don Quixote by inhabiting that book world or that world of books. In the Baroque there is a phantasmagoria of words that are like dreams and reveal the deceit of the world, including that of language. Here, in this world of desengaño is where we find Cervantes, particularly the Cervantes of 1615. So I put these things on the board because I like you to have clear ideas. So Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque; correspondence: word things, words to words and then words who are deceitful and purveyors of engaño, and then leading to desengaño.
Now, I am very interested, because I think it is useful for us as readers and as students of literature in the Cervantean, according to Auerbach and Spitzer — to me the most interesting part of Auerbach’s essay is ultimately when he tries to define the Cervantean, “lo cervantino,” which can be compared with Spitzer’s effort to come to a similar overall view. Theoreticians and critics can say that there is no such thing as the Cervantean, yet, there is. You know, if you have read the Quixote and you know literary history, you know what belongs to the Cervantes world. Or a great writer creates a world of his or her own, it’s a set of plots, ideas, tropes, that has some coherence and that can be identified. If you have read Proust, you know what I mean. You read one proustian sentence, his long flowing sentences, and you know immediately you’re reading Proust. You read a sentence by Borges, with his refined irony, and you know you’re reading Borges, or you read: “Years later, before the firing squad Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that remote afternoon when his grandfather took him to see ice.”
This is the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and you know. Now, Auerbach in defining the Cervantean begins by giving up. He says: “The ‘peculiarly Cervantean’ cannot be described in words.”
He begins by giving up. But then he says: “First of all it is something spontaneously sensory: a vigorous capacity for the vivid visualization of very different people in very varied situations, for the vivid realization and expression of what thoughts enter their minds, what emotions fill their hearts and what words come to their lips.”
You have to remember that these quotes from Auerbach were originally written in German, and German prose is very complicated, and it shows in the translation. Later, he says: “And just as sensory is his capacity [Cervantes’] to think up or hit upon ever new combinations of people and events.”
I think he’s right, when he says something like that. He goes back, Auerbach goes back to the idea of the mad gentleman running into people, and he says: “What attracted Cervantes was the possibility [this formula] offered for multifariousness and effects of perspective, the mixture of the fanciful and every day elements in the subject, its malleability, elasticity, adaptability.”
[Unquote]. He finally proclaims the following: “[The Cervantean] is an attitude — an attitude towards the world, and hence also towards the subject matter of his art — in which bravery and equanimity play a major part. Together with the delight he takes in the multifariousness of his sensory play there is in him a certain southern [here meaning Southern European, not Faulknerian south] reticence and pride. This prevents him from taking the play very seriously. He looks at it; he shapes it; he finds it diverting; it is also intended to afford the reader refined intellectual diversion.” [Unquote]. He goes back over this. He says: “The theme of the mad country gentleman who undertakes to revive knight-errantry gave Cervantes an opportunity to present the world as play, in that spirit of multiple perspective, non-judging and even non-questioning neutrality, which is a brave form of wisdom.”
There is something, I think, also quite perceptive there. That is, that Cervantes is like a puppet master, like Master Pedro in the episode you’re about to read, and he presents all of these many different characters in action, and sort of stands back without passing judgment. Now, Spitzer, on the other hand, concludes the following: “This means that, in our novel, things are represented not for what they are in themselves, but only as things spoken about or thought about; and this involves breaking the narrative presentation into two points of view. There can be no certainty about the ‘unbroken’ reality of events; the only unquestionable truth on which the reader may depend is the will of the artist who chose to break up a multivalent reality into different perspectives. In other words, perspectivism suggests the existence of an Archimedean principle [something on which the whole thing rests] outside the plot [he goes on] — and the Archimedes must be Cervantes himself.”
[Unquote]. And one more quote [page 182]: “And we may see in Cervantes’ two-fold treatment of the problem of nicknames [polynomasia] another example of this baroque attitude, what is true, what is a dream? — this time, toward language [language itself]. Is not human language, also, vanitas vanitatum? [vanity of vanities, what I was saying about the Baroque language is a phantasmagoria].”
This is the end of Spitzer’s synthesis, his conclusion after this very thorough and brilliant analysis of the novel. This is my view — I have been expressing it already — this is my view both on Auerbach and Spitzer. In the glorification of the author, Spitzer does not take into account Cervantes’ errors. His famous oversights which bespeak of a flawed creator, not God-like in any sense, hence, pushing the whole issue of point of view to the edge of the abyss of madness, since the final authority is flawed. Moreover, Cervantes plays so much with the author’s lack of authority that one has finally to take him at face value and agree that not even he has the final authority of the book that we read. And I think this, he would have agreed with, and we have seen it in our readings of many passages.
The same is true for Auerbach. My answer, as you will see in my essays, is Ginés cross-eyedness. Remember that Ginés is a figure of the author, and a figure of the modern author. He has pawned his book, he wants to make money from it, he’s from the low classes. He’s cross-eyed and this reveals that there is perspectivism from within an assumed single self. That is, that this figure of the author here, cannot be in possession of the truth because being cross-eyed — I don’t know if I can make enough cross-eyed — here, his view of reality is flawed and conflictive. Conflictive because there are two eyes, not a single point of view, and this author figure being cross-eyed makes literally that his two eyes means two different visions. We will talk about that, when we talk about the puppet play that Ginés de Pasamonte puts on, here in Part II. So the author is multiple within himself, his eyes work independently of each other, as it were, he is congenitally incapable of providing a single point of view.
Chapter 3. Episodes in Part II That Resemble Others in Part I [00:30:57]
Now we turn to the assigned episodes in the Quixote. As we turn to these episodes, let me remind you that I will be looking into how much each resembles an episode in Part I, to what extent these episodes are rewritings of others that have all ready taken place in the first book. Also, we will see that a running thread through these episodes is doubling, the appearance of doubles of Don Quixote, of reflections of Don Quixote. The first is the episode that is called, in Jarvis, “The Episode of the Knight of the Looking-Glasses,” which makes it very awkward for me to say because, of course, this is eighteenth century English, and the English say looking-glass for a mirror, and I say Knight of the Looking-Glasses just to be consistent with the translation that you are reading this time around, but it’s in Spanish “Caballero de los espejos,” “Knight of the Mirrors.”
Now, this episode brings to mind that of the fight of Don Quixote with the Basque in Part I, because you do have an actual dual. The most significant aspect of this episode is that in it, Don Quixote meets his mirror image and defeats that mirror image. Carrasco has decided that the only way to subject Don Quixote is to meet him at his own level but mostly, what he is doing is reenacting Part I in the way that Don Quixote reenacted — and still reenacts — the romances of chivalry. Don Quixote will fight a copy of himself modeled after his own mad inventions, a copy that is reach in details. Notice that Dulcinea here is Casildea de Vandalia. Vandalia means Andalusia, land of Vandals; the Vandals were one of the Germanic tribes that invaded the peninsula after the collapse, or with the collapse, of the Roman Empire. Carrasco’s get up as a knight-errant is quite something. He has outdone Don Quixote and here is a quote from page 554:
[Unquote]. This translation or the translation struggles a bit with the “lunas,” the word used for mirrors in the original, “muchas lunas de resplandecientes espejos,” which contains, that word, a most important suggestion in the passage. La “luna del espejo” is the reflecting part of the mirror. But “luna” means “moon,” of course, and moon leads to lunacy, to madness. Sansón is the Knight of the Moons, the Knight of Lunacy, the Knight of Madness, which is quite appropriate because in trying to cure Don Quixote’s madness, he is acting like a madman, like a lunatic. The moon, of course, is also the celestial body of reflected light par excellence, the same as the Knight of the Looking-Glasses, Sansón in this get up, is a reflection of Don Quixote. If Don Quixote came close enough to Sansón, he would be able to see himself reflected on the little mirrors. As in the episode of the parliament of death, Don Quixote has met a mirror image of his madness here. It is more than just a reflection, that is, he is reflected in the Knight of the Moons who is acting like him, and he is also reflected in his armor, being reflected back from those little mirrors on his costume, so you can see.
Sancho has also met his double in Tomé Cecial, whose false nose is a prodigious example of the grotesque, which is such a prevalent quality in Part II. I quote:
He may have thought that he had to fight this fellow as the two masters would fight and he is saying, after seeing that nose, I would never, never fight this monster. Notice the exaggerated dimensions and utter hideousness of the nose, which together with its being artificial and new features of Part II. Maritornes was naturally ugly, and though her physical deformities were extreme, they are at least her own, and not likely to inspire fear so much as repulsion. But here Sancho is moved to dread, which will happen often in Part II: fear is one of the emotions that we encounter once and again in Part II, and you can begin charting them from now on.
Tomé Cecial’s nose is connected to the aesthetics of the Baroque whose emblematic figure is the monster, a figure made up of disparate conflicting elements, like the nose, and contrived to cause admiration. The monster is made to be shown, and this quality is embedded in the very etymology of the word “monster,” “monstrare,” in the Latin. Don Quixote has met in the Knight of the Looking-Glasses an image of his madness; in Tomé Cecial, Sancho has met an image of his foolishness. Tomé is like a carnival figure of the fool and his costume is reminiscent of those of the actors in the wagon of the parliament of death. His name is a pun: Tomé Cecial, “Tomé,” of course, is a form of Tomás, Thomas; but Cecial, at the time, meant a kind of “trout.” So “tomé,” being the past, his name means “I ate trout” if you step back and think of it. There are many names that mean something and you don’t catch on to it until you think about it, but this is, scholars have come up with identifying that, Tomé Cecial, I ate trout.
Now, the fact that Tomé is an image of Sancho’s foolishness is so much so because Tomé is Sancho’s neighbor, his equal, with whom Sancho discourses on things proper to squires and whose gluttony and other habits he shares. The dialogue about the contingency of meaning and language, centering on “hijo de puta” or “whore’s son” is hilarious, but bespeaks of a very modern conception of language, as Spitzer mentions somewhere in his essay, that is meaning is contingent in language, it is not fixed, it is shifty, and this is consistent with the view of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque — in the Baroque is shiftiness, as language is emphasized. So in the dialogue of the squires there is also a critique of the upper classes, a frequent topic in Part II, that you might also chart as you read it. They, particularly Sancho, do not accept the codes of chivalry that lead to such fights. Sancho seems to be saying that it is the upper classes that start wars, a very deep critique. This is part of the political element of the second book, of the 1615 Quixote, but also fits in within thematics of the desengaño, because the accoutrements of the upper classes, their luxuries, are part of the deceits that are undone by desengaño, as you will see as you move through the upper classes in the next few episodes.
Chapter 4. Doubling and Self-Recognition [00:41:39]
Now, what is the significance of all of this doubling? Don Quixote meets a double, Sancho meets a double, I think that at the deepest level it means that the characters have met themselves, and struggled each within himself to find meaning and identity, or identity within meaning, or a form of wise self recognition, troubled self recognition. This is tied to the issue of self-reflexivity that we have been discussing since the beginning. If the Renaissance mind, the mind of the Renaissance, if I my use an abstraction, sallies forth in search of the real world, which it tries to interpret, control and use, the Baroque mind, in that sallying forth, finds mostly itself, it finds its own inner workings.
This is equate to Descartes, “Je pense, donc je suis,” “Cogito ergo sum,” “I think therefore I am,” which is the ultimate truth that Descartes can find–Descartes, 1596-1650 roughly contemporary a little later than Cervantes — but it is a self recognizable yet disfigured in these images, in need of further and further thought and reflection with the emphasis on reflection on like a mirror. It is appropriate, then, for these reasons, that the characters should meet distorted images of their own selves, or twisted reflections of themselves in their adventures. Sansón Carrasco has fallen into his own trap while Don Quixote and Sancho have an almost literally out of body experience seeing themselves outside of themselves, and seeing themselves how they would look to others. This is particularly troubling to, I think, Sancho, but also to Don Quixote who, as the novel progresses, will find more such instances where reflections of this kind undermine his quest.
Saying so, we move on to the episode of the lions, which is reminiscent of that of the galley slaves in Part I. The lions, like the prisoners, are prisoners, and they belong to the king; they are also under the supervision of the crown. Finding lions in the middle of Castile is not a common occurrence, so their appearance is another instance of the real conspiring to add to Don Quixote’s madness by presenting him with beings and objects that are out of the ordinary. Like the players in the cart, lions are objects of amusements, they are being taken to courts so they can viewed by the people, amusement and display. They are fit for heroic action, and Don Quixote does act with great courage only to be mocked by the lion, that not only acts peacefully but turns his hindquarters to the knight; the ultimate insult: heroism is no longer possible under these circumstances. It is a very cruel episode for Don Quixote, but together with the fight with the Knight of the Looking-Glasses, these are two victories for Don Quixote, which together with the knowledge that is now in a book, add to his diluted sense of importance and of accomplishments. The characters around him conspire to increase this delusion, but the lions are real and could have killed Don Quixote and the others. Jorge Luis Borges, whom I have quoted so many times in this course, the great Argentine writer, says that courage is the one characteristic that is a constant from book one to book two; the courage of Don Quixote, and it is also the constant from Alonso Quijano to Don Quijote and back to Alonso Quijano at the end of the book.
And so we come to the gentleman in green, the gentleman in the Green Riding-coat. In Don Diego de Miranda, Don Quixote meets another double, but an inverted one, like a mirror image. Don Diego de Miranda appears to be the hidalgo Don Quixote would have been had he not read romances of chivalry, turned mad, and chosen to attempt to revive the age of chivalry. He is like the Knight of the Looking-Glasses, another distorted reflection of Don Quixote, the one, I repeat, that he could have been. Don Diego is the image of what the French, in the period, called the honnête homme. He is reasonably well off, reads devotional books, hunts, and lives an honest peaceful life at home. Don Quixote mocks him, slightly in the episode of the lions, when Don Diego prudently runs away, and again, as he takes his leave, telling him that he is not — Don Quixote says he is not giving to leisure, like Don Diego. Don Diego is a kind of pre-bourgeois character, but he has a son who wants to be a poet Lorenzo de Miranda.
We have, once again, the post-prandial conversation, and one more time, the discussion centers in the relative merits of arms and letters. This is a repetition of that episode, but now in a well appointed house not in a dilapidated inn, and Don Quixote has interlocutors who are on his intellectual level. Lorenzo is quite a good poet, who reminds us of Grisóstomo and Cardenio, but does not take action as they did. Don Quixote reveals that he knows a great deal about poetry, but the outcome of the exchange is that chivalry surpasses poetry, that arms are superior to letters. This whole section seems to be in homage of Garcilaso de la Vega, the great Spanish poet of the sixteenth century, whose name I’ve mentioned many times, and who has become by this time the model of poet, courtier and soldier. Garcilaso, who lived in the first half of the sixteenth century died while attempting to scale the wall of a castle during a battle in Charles the Fifth’s army; they dropped a rock on him. He only lived thirty-six years, but his poetry changed the course of poetry in Spanish forever. Cervantes was quite devoted to him. The discussion turns to the issue of if a poet can be made or if he is born, and this, again, is another example of Don Quixote’s extensive readings of other than merely books of chivalry. This is the library beyond the library that was burnt by the priest and the barber and the women at Don Quixote’s house.
And then we come to the last episode I’ll be discussing today, which is a transition episode to Camacho’s wedding. This is the episode of the swordsmen, the two swordsmen who begin to argue about who’s better. One is very, very strong, and the other is one is an expert, a scientist of fencing. At this time, since the advent of firearms and all of that, fencing had become a sport, and not only a sport but a science. There were books written about, trying to understand fencing in geometric and mathematical terms, and Cervantes liked to poke fun at this. However, it is the scientific swordsman who makes a fool out of the other one, who is so strong that, at the end, when he is very angry he takes his sword and throws it so far away that it takes a long time to get out there and pick it up.
The point of this throwaway episode in the scene is that it shows that art triumphs over nature, that science triumphs over strength, and the triumph of art over nature is a baroque topic that appears once and again throughout Part II. And we are going to be talking about that in the next class, when we talk about Camacho’s wedding in relation to a painting by Velázquez called The Spinners, Las hilanderas. But now we have to turn and to conclude to our Exemplary Story, The Glass Graduate, which I hope that you have read. We have gone over the 1613 Exemplary Stories book, how Cervantes published it, because publishers became interested in his work after the success of the 1605 Quixote. Also, once he realized that he couldn’t use these stories, which he had in the way he used them in Part I because he had been so criticized — and you have read about the criticisms as they appear at the beginning of Part II, so Cervantes, who prided himself on being the first to ever write this kind of novella in the Spanish language collected them in this wonderful book that would have given Cervantes a prominent place in the canon even if he had not written the Quixote.
Chapter 5. The Glass Graduate [00:52:09]
Now, The Glass Graduate is one of the better known stories famous for the very strange kind of madness that afflicts the protagonist. He believes himself to be made of glass, and lives in constant fear of being broken. It is another example of Cervantes’ profound interest in the workings of the human mind and in issues concerning knowledge and the ability to arrive at the truth. Tomás is a very suggestive sort of paranoia, it is an illness that has a kafkaesque air to it. In Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, as you know, the protagonist becomes a roach; Tomás suffers a malaise that is experienced through fear of bodily harm, of physical fragility. It is a way of feeling different and vulnerable that can be extended to a general human condition, a form of alienation. I think this is the main reason why the story is so compelling, the idea of this madness, that you feel yourself made of glass, and therefore vulnerable, and you try to establish a distance between you and the others, who might break you or anything, a tile falling a roof might break you, and taking laborious measures to protect your very vulnerable body.
Now, the novel begins as if it were to be a compressed kind of a bildungsroman — that’s a German word for novel of education, “bildung” education, “bildungsroman” — but then it moves on to encompass Tomás’s entire life. It is not, however, a biography, but it centers on two or three periods of his life, most particularly on the one during his illness. The plot is circular, and circularity is expressed through Tomás’s very last name. First he is called “Rodaja,” his last name is “Rodaja,” which means “slice,” “una rodaja” is “a slice,” or not quite a circle, a fragment of a sphere, but when he — at the end — when he recovers from his illness and is in full command of his faculties, his last name becomes “Rueda” which means “wheel.” so he has been completed. We go back to Spitzer and his polynomasia. Now, during his illness, he is known as the “Licenciado Vidriera” which is the name of the story in Spanish, which means “the Licentiate Glass Window.” They call him “graduate glass” in the translation, but “vidriera” means a “glass window,” a stained glass window, or a glass display case. So this is what his name is; again, we have to go back to Spitzer and names, and things, and so forth.
There is something passive about Tomás, except when he is ill, but on the whole, things happen to him. He is found lying down under some trees by the young gentlemen who take him to Salamanca; he is their servant for eight years, but also acquires an education showing a remarkable intelligence, though this is only reported, not dramatized, until he’s ill; he is always in a second plane as it were. As a soldier, he moves around trying to soak up as much experience and culture as possible. Tomás is then administered a poison by a spurned woman, a spurned woman who is no courtly damsel, but a notorious whore, who falls in love with him. The poison quince preserve, “membrillo,” that she gives him, is redolent with sexual connotations, as in Latin, in the classics, the “membrillo,” in the original Latin was associated by way of resemblance with female sexual organs.
This is how she lures him into eating it, but there is no hint of what makes him attractive to her, other than perhaps his fame as a brilliant scholar. It seems like a whim, that she falls in love with him. She disappears, and that is far as the erotic themes goes in the story: it disappears. When ill, Tomás displays a remarkable intelligence and wit, being not only insightful in his observations, but making these with puns, sharp witticisms and clever circumlocutions. He is oracular, he is like an Oracle and is consulted as such by people. There is a correlation between his illness and his insightfulness, which seems to hinge on transparency since he believes himself to be made of glass. And if you go to page one thirteen you will find a quote in which he challenges them to ask him questions that he will be able to answer, but, because he was a man of glass rather than flesh, I’m quoting: “For since glass was a fine and delicate substance his mind would function more quickly and efficiently in that in a conventional body which was made of denser and earthlier stuff.”
I mean, his body would be denser, and glass is transparent and so forth — this is in page 113. In other words, Tomás’s mind makes transparent the world around him, just as his body is presumably transparent; transparency gives him access to the truth. But he is also said to be highly educated and intelligent, so his insightfulness, once he is ill, is like an increase of these qualities, or is it disconnected from it? It is not clear if it was the poison or the precarious condition in which he believes to be that sharpens his wit. He is like the black man in the traditional story, who can tell the emperor that he is naked because he has nothing to lose, because Tomás, because of his illness, has become a sort of freak; he has no reputation to protect, and so he pierces through all social convention, and through hypocrisy and lies, and tells the truth. He also, in outlining the various virtues and defects of each profession or trade, is following a traditional formula, a set piece that became a skit in the theater, too, someone who tells, well, monks do this, and cobblers do that; that is behind this story.
Now, The Glass Graduate has much in common with the Quixote and seems to dramatize the common debate in that book between arms and letters because he is both a soldier and he is a student, a brilliant student at Salamanca, a law student. But whereas Don Quixote is mainly a reader of literature, of romances of chivalry above all, Tomás is a legal scholar, whose mission is reaching the truth. His quest is more intellectual than literary, so, in that sense, he is not quite like Don Quixote, he is different, more philosophical one could say. The ending seems to suggest, as it is throughout the Quixote, the preeminence of arms over letters when he has to escape from Salamanca and goes back to Flanders and has a career in the army and ends his life honorably. Now, we will be looking at other Exemplary Stories in the near future, and you will be able to experience the variety of plots and narrative experiments that the book contains and that, I think, is the reason for its being — for these stories — being called exemplary; they are like a collection of samples or examples of plots and stories.
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