SPAN 300: Cervantes' Don Quixote
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Cervantes' Don Quixote
SPAN 300 - Lecture 22 - Don Quixote, Part II: Chapters LIV-LXX (cont.)
Chapter 1. Episodes in Barcelona [00:00:00]
Professor Roberto González Echevarría: To me, the most evocative moment in the Quixote, as we reach the beautiful city of Barcelona, is the appearance of the sea. The sea suggests the infinite, as we approach the end, and also death: “Death’s dateless night,” to quote Shakespeare. Castile is landlocked, and so Spain is defining its limits, as the novel reaches its end and defines its own limits. Don Quixote and Sancho, most probably, have never seen the sea, but Cervantes certainly had, as we know, and he boasts of it in these last chapters of the Quixote. There is all these details about life in the ships, and of the galley slaves, and all of that, in which he uses very detailed maritime terminology. But Sancho and Don Quixote are unlikely to have ever seen the sea. We are not told if they had, but one, I think, should assume so. The novel, which, as a genre began with the Quixote, will be an urban genre, meaning that it will deal mostly with cities; the settings will nearly always be cities. Yet, Barcelona is the only city that appears in the Quixote, though Part II began with a visit to El Toboso, a village.
Is Don Quixote doing like Aeneas, who went from Troy to Rome, obviously, not, as I said earlier, such heroic acts are no longer available to Don Quixote, heroic and historically defining acts are not available to Don Quixote. Besides, El Toboso is a mere village in Spain, and it endured no war, like Troy, and Barcelona is not the culmination of a journey, and the harbinger of an empire, like the Roman, which the Aeneid announces and celebrates. It is significant that, in contrast, to a history, I’ll repeat this, a history of the novel which is mainly urban, this is the only urban setting in Don Quixote, but it is urban with a vengeance, even with its party, its own party, which is a party very much something of the city, and I’m thinking here of Le temps retrouvé, which is the last volume in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, which I hope you get to read some day, in which there are many parties in that novel, and dances, and stuff.
The first thing that Don Quixote and Sancho endure in Barcelona is public shame, as when the boys goad Rocinante into throwing Don Quixote. The city will mean public display, a lot of people. It is also extremely significant that Don Quixote and Sancho arrive on the eve of San Juan, the night of the eve of San Juan, that is to say, they arrive during carnival time or carnival-like time. It is as if they had arrived at a costume party already costumed — at a costume ball already costumed — because they are literary characters already. In fact, by this date, 1615, but by the time Cervantes is writing this, 1613, probably, Don Quixote and Sancho had already appeared in a carnival. Two men disguised as Don Quixote and Sancho appeared in a carnival, in a town near Lima, Peru, in 1609. So Don Quixote and Sancho were already figures that — costumed characters that people could dress up like in the carnival, and here they are entering into a carnival atmosphere. The city of Barcelona will be a stage for various festivals and theater-like representations. The city is carnival, it is theater, it is acting out roles, it is the opposite of nature, it is art. Here, we have literary genres compressed and staged, like the Byzantine romance, and the novela morisca that I explained about in the last lecture.
Now, the Byzantine romance aspect or representation I already mentioned is also called a Greek romance; this mini Greek romance, which winds up Ricote’s, Ana’s and Gaspar’s story. Cervantes has compressed all of the elements of the Byzantine romance in the story: abductions, sea voyages, sea battles, people in costume, and it is also a reprise of the captive’s tale, with a good ending, however, promised to the Muslim father. I repeat what I said in the last lecture that, at this time, Cervantes is working on his own Byzantine romance, The Trials of Persiles y Sigismunda, so it is not surprising that he should include elements of it in this part of the Quixote. The new novelistic genre that Cervantes is creating is a compendium of narrative genres. Remember that, to me, the most interesting aspect of this mini Byzantine romance is when Gaspar Gregorio is dressed as a woman so as to be less attractive to his Turkish captors. It’s kind of a baroque kind of transvestitism; or transvestitism sort of turned around.
Now, that story of Gaspar Gregorio and Ana is not concluded, there is no closure. The reason may be that this is the only love story that has a social political connection; the whole business of the expulsion of the moriscos and the returning to Spain against the law. That is, this is not just a story, but part of ongoing history. The novel, that is, the novel Don Quixote, like the character, is coming closer to reality not to the demands of fiction or of madness. Perhaps closure, other than death, is only available in those realms. That is, closure is only available perhaps in fiction, which it has its rounded completed forms, whereas ongoing time cannot have closure. Perhaps closure is possible, then, only in fiction, or within Don Quixote’s madness. I continue to worry about the ending of the novel, with the impending ending of the novel which must have worried Cervantes a lot as he moved forward.
Now, is Cervantes presenting a falsified Spain with these well-to-do citizens of Barcelona and government officials who are so lenient with the moriscos and the renegades, or is it the Spain that he would like to see? We will never know, but, on the whole, there is leniency shown here, even by the government officials who are breaking the law in doing so. Now, further activities in Barcelona take place at the house of Antonio Moreno. Antonio Moreno, a character — I’m sure that you have remarked upon — and several social events take place at his house. His house is now the setting for the action, but we have left, and will return, to the duke and duchess’s house, but now it’s in Antonio Moreno’s house that these events, these social events take place. Here we have depicted the pleasures of the bourgeoisie. This is not quite a bourgeoisie, it is higher than the bourgeoisie, it announces the emergence of the bourgeoisie, as a class. Now, so the events here are not quite as elaborate or ornate as the ones at the duke and duchess’ palace mentioned.
But there is a dance, in which Don Quixote displays skills, such as dancing, that we did not know that he possessed, or imagined that he possessed. They bespeak of a past that Cervantes chose not to fill out. Where did Don Quixote learn to dance? Where did he dance? Just as we learned in the episode of the boat, that he knows how to swim: how did he ever learn how to swim? We are not given any details about this past of Don Quixote; we could imagine it. He acts, here, like an accomplished courtesan. He is, as when he is at the duke and duchess’ house, the object of entertainment, but not of cruel pranks. I mean, here, these bored bourgeoisie have parties, and suddenly a literary character emerges among them; it is a godsend to them. Imagine, you’re having a party and James Bond shows up. Wow! Everybody is excited; and this is what happens at this party.
Now, the talking head caper, which is reminiscent of the Master Peter episode and his monkey, remember the monkey who could divine what is happening to people, is making — I mean, the whole prank centers on making literal a rhetorical figure. Remember, I mentioned that Antonomasia was a rhetorical figure, the name of the young woman in an earlier story, and now we have another one here. Here we have prosopopeia. “Prosopopeya” in Spanish; “prosopopeia” in English. The definition of prosopopeia is:
That’s the end of the definition. You have prosopopeia, of course, when you have a ventriloquist, with his puppet that he makes speak, or projects his voice and speaks. So that is what prosopopeia is. So Cervantes here, as he does in other occasions, is hinting at the disconnection of language from signification. It is a staging of pure voice without a source. Also, he is playfully presenting the inner world of man as being made up of wood and tin, because the bust is made of wood, made to look like stone, or marble, or whatever, and the whole apparatus through which the student, who is the assistant, in this case, speaks, is made of tin. So here, other than prosopopeia, there is a hint that Cervantes is showing well the inside of man, is just like this piece of wood with a tin tube through which the voice emerges. So it’s, again, one of these episodes that has all kinds of philosophical suggestions.
But the most suggestive episode in Barcelona is the visit to the printing shop. Now, this is the acme of self-reflectivity. It is as if, jokingly, Don Quixote were visiting his true origin in the most material sense. Don Quixote, a character who emerged from books, is at the place where books are literally made; it is a kind of reductio ad absurdum because literature cannot be reduced to the material status of paper, ink and glue; what you make a book with, of course. But Cervantes is delving into the very basic building blocks of his craft, aware that these, that is, the apparatus, the machinery to make the book and all of that are mere concrete manifestations of it that cannot be its real origin, its real source, but he is playing with it. The episode, this episode, must be seen in relation to the scrutiny of the books and to Altisidora’s dream or vision, about which I will speak later today. They all deal with the question of the book, the visit to the printing shop, I repeat, is the last frontier of self-reflectivity. Here is a fictional character observing the printing of a book about him, but the book is an apocryphal one, to add to the confusion. It is Avellaneda’s book. It is a visit to the origin of all reflections and representations. The sign the boys hang on Don Quixote also reduces him to language; it’s a label; he is reduced to letters. So Cervantes is taking this to the very limits.
Chapter 2. Avellaneda’s Spurious Quixote [00:17:30]
Now, Avellaneda’s spurious Quixote, and you have today a handout with the cover, which I may have given you before, just so that you have it as a souvenir; you can also look at it and read it, as best you can. Notice that the esses are made like this: Tordesillas. You can read it, I’m sure, and also the wood cut of the knight is also very interesting. Avellaneda’s spurious Quixote came to the attention of Cervantes when he was about… In chapter XXXVI, we said, or XXXVII. So the moment that he learned about Avellaneda’s book, and probably have read it, he changed Don Quixote’s destination to Barcelona away from Saragossa. Avellaneda’s book allows Cervantes to add yet another dimension to his play of illusion. Later, he will borrow a character from the false Quixote and make him swear that he had never seen him and Sancho, seen Don Quixote and Sancho. You will see that as we get to the very end.
This is a parody, that legal document that he makes him sign. Can you imagine? A legal document, a fictional character is making another one sign saying, of course, that he, the one giving him the document is the real one. It’s a parody of those legal documents at the origin of the constitution of the picaresque, for instance, but there is a great deal more, here. This is a meta-fictional realm where characters from two different novels can actually meet and talk to each other. The play of illusion, the blurring of the border between fantasy and fiction is emphasized by these various layers of fiction involved, and by the brilliant move by which Cervantes, by not allowing Don Quixote to go to Saragossa, intends to correct history, but, of course, it’s a history that is a fiction.
There is no position from which to stand outside of the world of fiction in the Quixote, because the fiction is manmade; it is all that we can know. In a way, and I have mentioned this before, this anticipates the philosophy of the great Italian philosopher Gian Battista Vico, eighteenth century. The New Science is the name of his wonderful book. One of Vico’s main ideas was that mankind can only understand what mankind has made; therefore, he begins his history of humanity after the flood, when it is mankind that remakes the world, not with Genesis. And what I’m saying here is that this world of fiction is manmade, and it is all that we can understand, so the modern self that emerges from this vision is a very light and fragile one, like Hamlet’s, or like the one proposed by Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Likeness of Being, a novel that I suggest you read. It is a modern self devoid of certainties, certainly about himself, or herself, because the feeling that this mise en abîme, this infinitely receding sequence creates, is that, if anything envelopes our world, if anything contains our world, it may yet be another fiction.
This is the cervantean borgesian, Borges, I’m referring to Jorge Louis Borges. This is a cervantean borgesian predicament, in which we find ourselves and from which you cannot escape in the Quixote. It is what we saw in the Las Meninas, when we visited Velázquez’s studio, and by watching, we became a part of the fiction of the painting. And the visit, the visit to the printing shop is like the visit to that studio of Velázquez’s; this is the shop where fiction is made. The only way out of this predicament is by an act of will, like the one that Don Quixote performs at the end, when he very artily spurns all of the seductions and all of the consolations that his comrades offer him as he is near death. His is an act of faith and a voluntary one, not an intellectual one.
Moreover, Avellaneda and his Quixote may also represent a misreading of Cervantes’ Quixote by the society of his time. Avellaneda’s Quixote presents a character that is essentially ridiculous and funny, and a Sancho who is a glutton and a drunk, so it is the vision of the Quixote as essentially a funny book, a misreading that has been repeated in recent times by the so called “hard school” of critics of Cervantes in England, that I said that the only hard thing about it is the hardening of the critical arteries: Peter Russell and company, Anthony Close… In a way, Cervantes preempts all of them by doing what he does with Avellaneda’s Quixote, but the misreading is interesting in itself. If it is a misreading it is interesting in itself.
If Avellaneda’s book stands for that misreading, and I have quotes from two critics, one of whom you have heard before, that will help clarify that potential misreading and also situate it historically. One is Mariscal, and I have looked all over to discover this fellow’s first name and couldn’t find it today. He wrote a book on Avellaneda’s Quixote; he is a critic who teaches at a University in California, and he underscores the misreading by pointing out that in Avellaneda’s book, Don Quixote is actually chained and sent to jail, not to Yale, to jail. I cannot resist telling an anecdote here, that is, that my mother, who was a professor, and a very brilliant woman who did very well in Greek and Latin but had little facility for modern languages, including English, and she would tell her friends in Florida to impress them, “My son Robert is in Yale,” and when the ladies did not react as she hoped, she would say, “And he has been there a long time!” I had to tell her to stop saying where I was teaching, just to say that I was teaching up north, somewhere. So in any case, in Avellaneda’s book, Don Quixote is sent to jail. And Mariscal writes:
He goes on: “The condemnation of Don Quixote by the subordinate classes merely underscores the ideological homogeneity, to which the Spanish elites, with Avellaneda as spokesman, aspired.”
So you can see, Mariscal is equating Avellaneda’s imprisoning of the Quixote with the mainstream ideology of the Spanish of the times. He goes on:
So Avellaneda’s working to suppress these forms of subjectivity that are present in the Quixote. Finally:
[Unquote]. Mariscal is not aware that the individual alternative forms of subjectivity that he talks about are bourgeois in origin and destiny, if we’re going to see them from the Marxist point of view that he, I presume, is looking at them from, moreover, he works, I think, with a utopian vision of the liberated self that Cervantes would have never been naïve enough to accept. But what he says is very suggestive about the source of Avellaneda’s concept of the character that he has taken from Cervantes. Manuel Durán, who you have encountered many times, writes:
What Durán means here is that there is an official Spain, here, orthodox, and becoming increasingly orthodox in the sixteenth century, but that there is an underground Spain, that goes from Rojas, meaning Fernando de Rojas, the author of Celestina, through the mystics, Saint John of the Cross, and so forth, who were seen with great suspicion by the Inquisition, to Cervantes, and that this is a counter official Spain. But that Avellaneda represents orthodox Spain, here, above this, which suppresses it, and that’s why he gives us that view of the Quixote. I hope this is clear. Cervantes’ relatively mild response — that’s where I would like to put all of the hard school of critics, there with that orthodox Spain that represses, you know? Now, Cervantes’s relatively mild response to Avellaneda is inline with his irony.
There is a great deal of humor on what he does to Avellaneda, and we’ll see it immediately, when we get to Altisidora’s vision. An ironist like Cervantes can never be so sure of himself as to be virulent in controversy and in debate. How can he be so sure of himself? One of Cervantes’ most admired traits is this restraint and self-mockery, and it shows in his answer to Avellaneda. If you remember, the 1605 prologue, you remember this self mocking Cervantes who doesn’t know what to do about writing the prologue, and so forth, and so on, and all of these authorial games by which he distances himself from his creation, and all of that. Someone with that position could only do to Avellaneda what he did, according to Gilman, he sort of threw a “net of irony” over Avellaneda to capture him. He did say a few nasty things in the prologue of the 1615 Quixote but, of course, Avellaneda had said terrible things about Cervantes, mocked him even because of his injured hand and everything.
Chapter 3. Don Quixote’s Defeat by the Knight of the White Moon [00:33:42]
Now, we come to what I think is the culminating event in Barcelona which is Don Quixote’s defeat at the hands of the Knight of the White Moon. The Knight of the White Moon is the latest reincarnation of Sansón Carrasco, whom we learn has been pursuing his neighbor since his failure as the Knight of the Mirrors. He is now in cahoots with the duke and duchess who tell him where Don Quixote has gone, because Sansón looked for him in Saragossa and did not find him there, of course. The rules are carefully agreed upon, as with the earlier encounter, and Don Quixote is fairly defeated within those rules. He speaks as if dead from within his armor as he lay on the ground. The narrator says: “Don Quixote, bruised and stunned, without lifting up his visor as if he was speaking from within a tomb, in a feeble and low voice said…”
And so forth. Poor Don Quixote! If Don Quixote had been killed, this would have been a possible ending but even in defeat, by his being defeated, this could have ended the novel too. Why doesn’t it? Well, it doesn’t because he has not yet given up his persona as knight-errant. Hence the process of his coming to himself is not yet finished, and, as I told you, that is, his most important task, the task that is comparable to the heroic one that Aeneas accomplishes in Virgil. The profound suggestion of Don Quixote’s defeat at the hands of the Knight of the White Moon is that, given that this knight is like the Knight of the Mirrors, a reflection of Don Quixote himself, it may be that Don Quixote is being defeated by a projection of his own inner world. If in Part I, Don Quixote’s body is imprisoned in the cage, here it is as if his spirit were the one being defeated.
But it is again, as if Don Quixote were conquered by his own reflection, by a projection of something within his own self. This is what is profound about this scene. It is easy to establish, of course, that the Knight of the White Moon not only is an image of Don Quixote — remember, that “luna” meant the reflecting part of the mirror, “la luna del espejo,” but also that “lunatic” refers to Don Quixote’s madness. The moon, of course, is a celestial body of reflected light, so that Sansón is reflecting Don Quixote’s light in a way, or the projection of Don Quixote’s spirit.
I am intrigued by the name of this knight which seems to be redundant. I mean, the moon is always white, “white moon.” The doubly white moon seems to cancel itself out in its repeated whiteness, like the — this brings to mind the white pearl, upon the white forehead, at the end of Dante’s “Paradiso,” white pearl on Beatrice’s forehead loses — cannot be seen because it’s white upon white. Don Quixote is fighting, as it were, against his own nothingness, that light being, that I mentioned before, when alluding to Hamlet and to Kundera, this nothingness, which is this white upon white, that disappears on to itself because white can also mean absence, and in that sense, the Knight of the White Moon can also be an image of death.
Is there any significance, the significance to the fact that Don Quixote is defeated by the sea on the shore in an open space that is nevertheless a frontier, a border between land and water? Remember what I said at the very beginning about the sea evoking for me, at least, an image of death. It is an image of the infinite, and of death. There seems to be a correspondence to me, anyway, between the white of the knight and the sea. So this is, this dramatic defeat of Don Quixote, where he has to accept the conditions set out before a fight, and so they begin to trudge back to the village, and we have this marvelous pastoral interlude.
Chapter 4. Episodes Leading to the Contagion of Madness from Character to Character [00:39:01]
Don Quixote imagines a life as a shepherd, drawn from the pastoral romances. Cervantes, in a way, is adding to this, what I’ve called smorgasbord of narrative modes, the pastoral, but only as a project by Don Quixote. This would be a novel, another novel, parallel to the Quixote, in which the pastoral romances would play the role of the chivalric ones. Remember, that we have had a mini Byzantine romance and a mini morisca novel, and if you remember, on pages 904, 905, he says, Don Quixote:
And so forth. This is a description of this Arcadia, of the pastoral. It is a hilarious meta- novel that he imagines here, in which the would-be shepherds, Don Quixote and Sancho, the priest and barber, and Sansón, would take pastoral names, as we have seen derived from their own, and give names to their ladies. Remember, Sancho says he’s going to call his wife Teresona, with the augmentative, because apparently she is fat, like him. This is the world of Garcilaso’s eclogues brought to Don Quixote’s mind, as he mentions it, by the episode of the young women, who are preparing to stage one of the eclogues, which has been anticipated by all of the references to the poet in this Part II, and there will be more. It is also a circling back to Cervantes’ first book, La Galatea, remember, of which he always said he would write a second part. In this new novel there would be a world of love without violence an ideal Neo-Platonic universe. The same clash appears in the Quixote between a fallen present and an ideal past that cannot be revived in this projected novel, not to mention that all the potential characters are too old to be pastoral lovers, and one is a priest, who can be no lover at all. So it is kind of a grotesque pastoral romance in the making, as the Quixote is, in some ways, also a grotesque chivalric romance.
This is followed by the episode where they’re run over a herd of pigs, that critics have found that Cervantes tinkered around of where to place this episode, but the important thing is that there seems to be no end to the humiliations that Don Quixote is enduring towards the end of the book, because, remember, that there is nothing worse than a pig or a swineherd, which is the word I was looking for the other day and could not find when alluding to the episode where Sancho has to pass judgment on the man who allegedly raped a woman, and so forth, the man was a swineherd. And so, our heroes are returned forcibly to the duke and duchess’s house. These are not satisfied with all of the pranks that they have made Don Quixote and Sancho endure and prepare yet, another, elaborate one for them, when they hear of the knight’s defeat and return to their village. Cervantes inserts here a statement by Cide Hamete to underline the questionable state of mind of these frivolous aristocrats. He says, I quote page nine-one-nine:
So this is world where there has been a contamination of madness from character to character. The skit with the dead Altisidora is full of literary resonances. The staging is elaborate with bleachers for the audience, an elevated place for the duke and duchess, and blazing lights to turn the night into day. Such is the artifice that night is turned into day with all of these lights. Sancho is costumed in a shroud of flames and a bonnet with devils on it, which seem Dantesque allusions, and the lines recited, at least, one of the octaves recited during the skit are directly taken from Garcilaso’s poetry. The farce is a representation of the death of the beloved in the courtly love tradition and in Renaissance poetry. The famous deaths are of those Beatrice [Dante], Laura, [Petrarch] and Isabel Freyre [Garcilaso]; these are three ladies. There deaths marked the poetry of these major poets dividing their works into the before and then after: before the death of Laura, after the death of Laura, before the death of Isabel Freyre, after the death, and so forth. So this is a very significant moment in the history of western poetry that is being staged here; this is a representation of Eros and Thanatos, of love and death, but in a Baroque farce involving the protagonists, and with a whole household, it seems, in attendance. This is a prank as elaborate as the pageant in the forest. It is a repetition of it, as Sancho’s fall in the pit was a repetition of the cave of Montesinos episode.
Chapter 5. Altisidora’s Infernal Vision [00:46:11]
Sancho’s body, is again, the object, or better, the vehicle for expiation, and the dueñas are his executioners; that is, they are going to slap him around and pinch him, and stick pins in his butt, and so forth, and this is what will allow Altisidora to be revived. Why? Why again? It seems that Sancho has been cast in the role of the fool who must suffer all of the physical shenanigans, meaning the fool drawn from the carnival tradition. This is a reading of his figure that is parallel to the one Avellaneda made, by turning him to a farcical glutton and drunk; meaning the reading that these duke and duchess and their minions have done of Sancho, because, remember, they had read Part I, is parallel to the one that Avellaneda made. This is why he is made to endure these humiliations.
Don Quixote — the flames in his dress and the lighting of the courtyard seem to be an allusion to Dido, who burned herself to death when abandoned by Aeneas. Don Quixote’s return and impending departure are like Aeneas’, and Altisidora, again, is playing the role of Dido. Her anger, and her insults, which are very colorful and actually accurately, describe Don Quixote, who’s very ugly, and he looks like a camel, she says, and all of these things. But all of these truths play into the fiction because it sounds like she’s saying them in spite, because he’s leaving her; so even these truths are absorbed into the fiction. The whole episode is thick with literary references and it’s staging — and it is a staging of great literature and reducing it to play. Now, remember, those who are doing this, are the duchess and the duke, who are these prankster aristocrats.
Now, the most remarkable passage in the whole sequence of episodes involving Altisidora is her infernal vision. It’s one of my favorite passages in the whole book. Sancho, as you remember, is curious to learn what Altisidora saw when she was dead, what the afterworld was like, he wants to know, particularly hell; he wants to know what hell is like. Notice, that Altisidora’s infernal voyage is like Don Quixote’s descent into the cave of Montesinos and Sancho’s fall into the pit. Altisidora’s reply, which she must have made up on the spot, like Dorotea the story of Princess Micomicona in Part I, is a truly brilliant boast of imaginative skill on her part, and of course, on Cervantes’s. Page 920:
And so forth. There is a lot of Dante in this episode, but the story of devil’s playing a form of tennis, “pelota,” with the souls or the heads of the dead, is a traditional story, gruesome. But Cervantes has embroidered upon it, by making them use books, instead of heads, or souls, for balls. The attack on Avellaneda is very funny, but the commentary on books goes beyond the apocryphal Quixote.
Chapter 6. Experience over Bookish Learning [00:52:57]
This episode reflects a change in the appraisal of books by the beginning of the seventeenth century in the west. Their value has diminished. It seems to follow an elementary economic law: with the advent of the printing press the number of books increased dramatically, and then, the value of each decreased — I mean, this is basic economics — But it is more complicated than that. Philosophy move toward knowledge as a result of experience, not as something acquired from authoritative sources whose works where in books.
In Spain neo-scholasticism, about which you have read in Elliott, which was a revival of the medieval philosophy of the church fathers and which relied on syllogism and the opinion of authoritative sources had become the ideology of the state. Neo-scholasticism, doctrine, whatever you want to call it, and religious, it was the ideology of the Spanish crown. Logic argumentation and authorities supplied the foundations of knowledge. We have seen something of that, and I mention it in the satire of doctors, in the person of doctor Pedro Recio Tirteafuera who says to Sancho, ‘you cannot eat this, you cannot eat that,’ the knowledge of medicine at the time was based simply on books not on experience.
So the situation in the rest of Europe was not as extreme, by philosophical thought nonetheless rejected bookish learning in favor of experience and individual thought. The greatest exponent of this was Descartes, whom I have mentioned several times in the course of the semester, and a precursor, if you wish, although in a milder or lighter kind of philosophical speculation was Montaigne. Anthony Grafton, professor at Princeton, opens the introduction of his magnificent book, New Worlds, Ancient Texts: the Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery with these words [quote]: “Between 1550 and 1650 western thinkers ceased to believe that they could find all important truths in ancient books.”
[Unquote]. Grafton goes on to quote Jesuit José de Acosta, who published a very important book, a very comprehensive book about the history of the New World, called Historia natural y moral, “moral” means culture, “natural” is physical, the nature and “moral” means culture, de las Indias. This book is from the 1590s, 1592, or something like that, I can’t remember. But he says, he quotes Acosta, who says the following [quote]:
Says Acosta. This is mocked, by the way, in chapter XIX of Part II, in the episode of the enchanted boat, meaning that the actual experience of travel demolishes traditional knowledge, the traditional knowledge being whether Sancho’s lice would die when they cross a certain line, and so forth, remember all of that is mocked, but this is what is behind it. Ironically, then, the proliferation of books, being — at the time, “when the authority of the book was most severely tested and ultimately devalued.” That is, the proliferation of books takes place 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 wisdom but to an inordinate, perhaps infinite enlargement of the library and perhaps to Don Quixote’s madness. I believe that this is what is implicit in this marvelous passage of Altisidora’s infernal visitation. As customary, Cervantes deals with very complicated issues, in such an unaffected spontaneous and amusing way that it seems almost like a miracle, but this is what is behind this episode about books being whacked with burning flaming rackets. We will be dealing chiefly with the end of the Quixote in the last two lectures.
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