SPAN 300: Cervantes' Don Quixote

Lecture 23

 - Don Quixote, Part II: Chapters LXXI-LXXIV


González Echevarría focuses on the end of the Quixote. He starts referring to Cervantes’ humor, which allows us to see humanity in contrast to the mad hero and thus appreciate everyone’s folly. The novel’s plot, with Don Quixote’s repeated returns home, suggests that life consists of going and coming back, and this is probably why we approach the end by returning to the beginning. In his last return home Don Quixote has conquered himself. By accepting his defeat by the Knight of the White Moon, who is a reflection of himself, he accepts himself for what he is. In the process of returning, Cervantes has underlined that reality has become fictionalized in Part II independently of Don Quixote. Cervantes is aware that his hero, as we see in Sancho’s comments at the last inn, belongs to the great fictions of the ages. TheQuixote closes in three ways, corresponding to a three-part conception of the worlds in which Don Quixote lives: Don Quixote is defeated; he regains his sanity; and he dies. Death is necessary in the novel, as it is a form of closure that everyone understands. A reference to Unamuno’s, Borges’ and Picasso’s visions of Don Quixote ends this lecture.

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Cervantes' Don Quixote

SPAN 300 - Lecture 23 - Don Quixote, Part II: Chapters LXXI-LXXIV

Chapter 1. Humor; Cervantes’s Self Portraits [00:00:00]

Professor Roberto González Echevarría: As we approach the end of the semester we also, naturally, approach the end of the Quixote, and we move on to the consideration of other works of his, as well as reactions to his works by two major writers, Kafka and Borges. That will be next Thursday. Today, I will talk about the end of the great novel, and next class I will devote to those other works, and also to Cervantes’ death, but before, I want to address two topics that have sort of fallen by the way side; humor and Cervantes’ self portraits, following my little essay in the Casebook that you have — presumably — read.

Other than slapstick, or the slapstick kind of humor that we find occasionally in the Quixote, in the episodes at the inn in Part I, for instance, as well as some of the scatological instances, such as the time when Sancho defecates in the fulling hammers episode. Cervantes’ humor is broader, more encompassing, sophisticated, and it is laced with irony. By irony I mean that there is a benign detachment, a discreet perspective from which humanity is being seen in contrast to the mad hero. Don Quixote’s madness allows the narrator and the reader to appreciate everyone’s folly. No one is safe. Not the priest, the duke, graduates like Sansón Carrasco, and not even the narrator himself. Sancho’s wisdom is another measure by which to judge other characters, presumably better educated. He is not just the wise fool, funny, the funny man who stumbles upon truths by chance, but the possessor of natural reason, which allows him to be right when others, who are well-read, are wrong.

I believe that the one who best encapsulated Cervantes’ humor was the late Lowry Nelson, who was a professor for many years, here, at Yale. He writes in his Cervantes, A Collection of Critical Essays, in the introduction he writes the following, and you have a handout in which to follow my reading of this quotation. It’s the one-signed Lowry Nelson, Jr.:

“As depicters of the human condition, both Shakespeare and Cervantes belong to the select company of those I would call universal ironists, as distinct from tendentious ironists. Universal ironists contemplate the world with a kind of gentle resignation and compassion in full knowledge of both the grandeurs and miseries of human life. Among them I would number Chaucer, Chekhov, Kafka and Svevo [Italo Svevo]. Tendentious ironists view the world from a programmatic stance, connoting accusation, bitter protest and meliorist reformation of human ills. [Meliorist, meaning to make better]. Among them I would include Flaubert, Ibsen, Hardy and Mann. The distinction is only approximate but nonetheless significant. Neither attitude is qualitatively superior or justifiable, though it is perhaps the universal ironist who can view mankind with greater tolerance and understanding. It is he who can encompass a broader span of human types and human experiences. It is he who can best present the inviolability and unique essence of the particular and the individual. It is precisely this ability in Shakespeare and Cervantes to create particularized essence that leads us, their readers, to draw the general conclusion to see the individual as representative. Hence, the seeming plenitude of humanity we find in such odd and peculiar figures as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, not to mention Sansón Carrasco, the curate, Marcela, Ginés de Pasamonte, and others.”

Particularized essence means here, I think, that individual objects, and specially characters, are full within themselves, in their being; they’re round. This is why details are so important in the Quixote. By the plenitude of humanity Nelson means the foibles, weaknesses and also the grandeur of these figures, as he says; their mistakes, their bumps against the real are funny, and counterbalance their virtues. Irony resides in the fulcrum, where the two are added to each other, without canceling each other. With respect to Shakespeare, though, though I agree with Nelson, I want to reiterate what I have said in previous classes. There is a level of despair in his plays that is never reached in Cervantes. Cervantes has a gentler perspective on the human condition and a more optimistic one. I’m thinking, of course, of Hamlet. And I’m thinking, of course, of King Lear. So much for humor, although much more could and should have been said throughout the semester.

Now, as for the self portraits, I included those texts because, as I explained in the book, the format of the Casebook called for an interview with the author in question, and since Cervantes was not available I thought that it would be best to include this text, that would make a good substitute. I toyed with the idea of inventing an interview with Cervantes, but I didn’t think I could get it past the editors at the very staid and serious Oxford University Press. The things I would like you to remember from my little prologue are these: that individualism lead to portraiture in the Renaissance, and also individualism that was also aided and helped by wealth; that perspective, the development of perspective — think of Alberti, of whom I have mentioned many times along the semester — allowed for more realistic particularized kind of portrait, showing significant details of the face and body, not all necessarily flattering — although, of course, those who paid for the portraits wanted to be flattered; that the first self portrait by a painting that we know of was Albrecht Dürer, in which he shows his piercing eyes and fine hand, the instrument of his craft; and that this self portrait announces and anticipates is better the one of Velázquez in Las Meninas, where he appears in a prominent position, full of energy and self assurance in the act of painting.

Then there are the concomitant self portraits by Cervantes, which are characteristically self depreciating. In one he talks about the changing color of his hair; in another, he talks about his missing teeth and so forth; so he’s self deprecating, particularly with regards to the effects of time on his body. What I would add today is that we should see those self portraits in relation to the 1605 prologue to the Quixote and Cervantes’ self presentation as author. It is certainly different from Velázquez, whose much more self assured and self promoting obviously, but perhaps this is the effect of the different mediums that they are using, painting and literature, but most likely it is a difference in their personalities.

Chapter 2. Repeated Returns Home [00:10:08]

Now, we get to Don Quixote’s return home. The novel’s plot with his repeated returns home suggests that life consists of going and coming back, sort of a compressed Iliad and Odyssey together, and is made up of a series of apparent repetitions, re-encounters and reprise. Both parts end with the return home after a sally; actually, there are three returns. It seems as if Don Quixote, the whole novel, is suggesting that in fiction there are two basic plots: one going out and the other one come back; one the Iliad and the other one the Odyssey. That’s too simplistic, but there seems to be that suggestion in the combined two parts of the Quixote. What do these repetitions reveal? What do we learn from them? Perhaps that to live is to live again, and that life includes the remembrance of life, as Proust would discover and exploit over two centuries later in his great novel À la recherche du temps perdu, Remembrance of Things Past, in English; a great work that I hope you have the chance to read some day, if you haven’t yet.

That is why we approach the end by returning to the beginning. In the process, Cervantes has, once again, underlined that reality has become fictionalized in Part II, independent of Don Quixote, and that his own hero belongs to the great fictions of the ages, to the great characters of the ages. I have been mentioning this, and I will repeat it now when I comment upon some passage. Cervantes also, in this return — and I will go over it — underscores the nature of the Don Quixote’s victory, which I mentioned with regards to Aeneas in the Aeneid. So, as he returns, Don Quixote finds a character from the apocryphal Quixote, Don Álvaro de Tarfe. I have read Avellaneda’s Quixote, and I can assure you that this character appears in that Quixote. It is as if his memories had a life outside of himself in literature. Cervantes is, of course, again, poking fun at Avellaneda, but the way he does is full of other suggestions, as I mentioned in a previous class, and I referred to the work by Stephen Gilman.

The first and clearest is that Don Quixote lives in a world of fiction that intersects that of Avellaneda’s fiction. It is the ultimate proof that, in this Part II, reality has become fictionalized, as I mentioned earlier, without the help of Don Quixote’s fantasy, it is out there, already fictionalized. Characters from two different fictional books meet, and one asks the other to sign a document, a notarized document to testify that the book in which he appeared was false and that he is the real one. This is enormously funny at a very sophisticated level. The document is crucial, as legality would be the ultimate way of guaranteeing that a fiction is real. Cervantes is perhaps remembering here the legal document out of which picaresque fiction issued. Remember that I mentioned several times, the picaresque begins as a deposition, a legal document of a criminal addressing a judge, and so this is not the end of Avellaneda, because, as you remember, after Don Quixote regains his sanity, he asks to be forgiven by Avellaneda for having induced him, enticed him to write such a bad book.

So then they come to the last inn, remember we talked about the first inn, and now we get to the last inn. The first inn in Part I, remember, with the prostitutes, and the fish that is served, and all of that, where he’s made a knight. Here we get to the last inn which he does not confuse with a castle any more. At the last inn, where Don Quixote and Sancho lodge on the way back their room, contains representations of Helen of Troy and Dido. The passage, I believe, is one more example of Cervantes’ awareness of the importance of his creations. This is on pages 927, 928 in the Jarvis translation and it goes as follows:

“He was lodged in a ground room [he, Don Quixote] with painted serge [serge is a kind of base kind of cloth, not very…], instead of tapestry, as it is the fashion of country towns. In one of the pieces was painted, by a wretched hand, the Rape of Helen, when the daring guest carried her off from Menelaus. In another, was the history of Dido and Aeneas; she upon a high tower, as making signals with half a bed sheet to her fugitive guest, who was out at sea, flying away from her, in a frigate or brigantine. He observed, in the two history-pieces, that Helen went away with no very ill will, for she was slyly laughing to herself; but the beauteous Dido seemed to let fall from her eyes tears as big as walnuts. Which Don Quixote seeing, he said, ‘These two ladies were most unfortunate in not being born in this age, and I above all men unhappy that I was not born in theirs: for had I encountered those gallants, neither had Troy been burnt nor Carthage destroyed; since, by my killing Paris only, all of these mischief had been prevented.’ ‘I hold a wager,’ quoth Sancho, ‘that ere it be long, there will not be either victualling-house, tavern, inn or barber’s shop, in which the history of our exploits will not be painted, but I could wish they may be done by the hand of a better painter than he that did these.’”

[Unquote]. Anyone who has been to Spain, especially to Madrid-Barajas’ airport — I’m very amuse by the name of that airport all of the time; “barajas” means “playing cards,” but Barajas is simply the name of the town in which the airport was built. Anyone who has been to Spain, especially to Madrid-Barajas’ airport knows that Sancho has won the wager, for there are hundreds of painted and sculpted figurines of Don Quixote and Sancho or every kind for sale, including mouse pads for computers, believe me. In fact, the statues of Don Quixote and Sancho graze the Plaza de España in Madrid. If you have been to Madrid, you have seen them, I’m sure, if you have not, when you do, you will go see them, I’m sure, too. We have several images of them. I believe that Spain is the only country in which there are statues of fictional characters. I don’t think that there is a statue of the Pilgrim in Dante’s Commedia in Italy, as far as I know, or of Hamlet, in England, as far as I know. It’s quite remarkable. Such has been the identification of the Quixote with Spain. Spanish culture and the Spanish language, that, as we shall see a bit later, some of its modern writers, some of the modern Spanish writers, Unamuno, have even spoken of the religion of quixotism, “religión del quijotismo.” There we are.

Cervantes knew that his protagonist would be one with those of classical times; a heady assumption for an artist of the sixteenth and seventeenth century whose reverence for classical art was immense. I don’t know if he could have, of course, foreseen that there would be a statue of his protagonists in his town of Madrid. It is a realization, that is, of the importance of his characters, particularly of Don Quixote, based on the accomplishment of his hero, which, as I haven been saying, is quite different from those of the likes of Aeneas. Don Quixote returns a conqueror of himself, says Sancho, as they enter their village; and I quote now from our translation — page 933:

“Open thine arms, and receive likewise [he is addressing the unnamed village as they come into the town] thy son Don Quixote, who, if he comes conquered by another’s hand, yet he comes a conqueror of himself, which, as I have heard him say, is the greatest victory that can be desired!”

[Unquote]. This is Don Quixote’s greatest triumph. What does this mean? At the most literal level, it means that he has accepted his defeat at the hands of the Knight of the White Moon gracefully, and is willing to abide by the rules agreed upon before combat with that Knight of the White Moon. In that way, he has conquered himself, but it may also mean what I have suggested, that the Knight of the White Moon is a reflection of Don Quixote himself, hence, that he has been vanquished by his own projection, by himself. I think that, more broadly speaking, it means that Don Quixote has come to know himself better, and accept himself for what he is; that he has vanquished within him his madness, or he’s about to. As we heard in the quotation about Helen and Dido this has not been quite accomplished yet; he talks about defeating Paris. But we have also seen that, since the Cave of Montesinos episode, Don Quixote has been dealing differently with reality and with himself, so his return is a triumphant one, according to Sancho. There is also an echo here of the Greek “know thyself” that Don Quixote has vanquished himself because he has come to really know himself.

Chapter 3. Why Endings Are Important [00:23:31]

So we finally come to the end. We should begin by pondering, why ends or endings are so important? Let me summarize what Frank Kermode says in his beautiful book The Sense of an Ending, from 1966. I will get to a long quotation from that book that you have in a handout with the bibliographic information about the book by Kermode. By now, he’s Sir Frank Kermode; he’s an Englishman who was knighted by the Queen; an excellent critic, one of the better, perhaps the best critic of the English language, although I see that tremulously because if Harold Bloom hears that I have said something like that, my life may be in danger. Every time I leave this class, or another class, I encounter Harold Bloom who yells at the top of his lungs, “Oh Roberto, here comes the second best critic at Yale!” meaning that he, of course, is the first to which I answer, “Harold, we belong to different generations and you belong to the one that is past.” There is a right to defend oneself, even from this Knight of the White Moon.

All of us, in the modern era, think that we live in a world of crisis; that is at the end of an epoch and the beginning of the next. Hence, we are keenly concerned with the sense of what we perceive as the impending end. The sense that it can give to the past — the sense that that end can give to the past, and to the future. The fictions that we create reflect this anxiety and are designed to show “the concord of the middest,” which is what Kermode calls our condition, man or women in the middest, in the middle; this middest that we inhabit, with beginnings and ends. These fictions, in which there is this relationship between beginning and end our Kermode calls “fictions of concord.” There seems to be, according to him, a human need to relate beginnings to ends, even if we are not religious believers, or believers in secular version of Providence, like Marxism. Providence, from providere, means foresight, to — but mostly, providence means the care of a benevolent God who guides our lives and our steps. “Apocalypse” is one of the fictions of concord; it ends, transforms and is concordant. “Apocalypse” is from the Greek “to uncover,” which means revelation, hence the Book of Revelation, the last in the New Testament. Prophecy is another form; it tells us the shape of the future; it connects the present with that end and beyond. We are born in the middle, and, according to Kermode: “to make sense of our span we need effective concords with origins and ends, such as give meanings to lives and to poems.”

[Unquote]. Millenarianism, the end is near — you have seen all of these cartoons of the guys holding the cardboard saying the end is near, repent, and so forth — millenarianism has to do with a thousand years, with something lasting a thousand years, like those who believe that the end of the world would come in the year 1000, and some even in the 2000. If you remember, back in 2000 there were all kinds of prophecies. Of course, all of these people who prophesized are quick to recalculate. If it doesn’t happen, they recalculate. It wasn’t in the year 1000; it was since the death of Christ, 1033, I mean, they always recalculate. The year 2000 came and went, and many people were waiting for all kinds of catastrophes to happen. Chiliasm is another word you should remember. “Chiliastic” from the Greek for one thousand is the belief that Christ will rise in 1,000 years. So we have beginning, man or woman in the middest, and end, and in the long quote that I will read now from Kermode this is how he explains in a very charming way:

“Let us take a very simple example, the ticking of a clock. We ask what it says: and we agree that it says tick tock. [Of course, this is only in English. In Spanish it goes ‘tic, tac,’ but in any event, since we are speaking English it’s ‘tick tock’]. By this fiction we humanize it, making it talk our language. Of course, it is we who provide the fictional difference between the two sounds: tick is our word for a physical beginning, tock our word for an end. We say they differ. What enables them to be different is a special kind of middle. We can perceive a duration only when it is organized. It can be shown by experiment that subjects who listen to rhythmic structures, such as tick-tock repeated identically, can reproduce the intervals within the structure accurately, but they cannot grasp spontaneously the interval between the rhythmic groups [that is, the rhythmic group is “tick-tock,” okay? each group is “tick-tock”; so they cannot spontaneously grasp the interval between rhythmic groups, that is, between “tock,” and “tick,” where the next group begins; Okay: “Tick-tock,” Mmm, “Tick-tock”; so “tock — tick,” okay? If anyone came in, and listened to me now, would certainly conclude that I have gone bonkers; that Don Quixote’s madness is really contagious]. The first interval is organized and limited [“tick-tock”] and the second is not. According to Paul Fraise [I don’t know who it is] the tock-tick gap is analogous to the role of the ‘ground’ in spatial perception [that is, blurry and undifferentiated]; each is characterized by a lack of form, against which the illusory organizations of shape and rhythm are perceived in the spatial or temporal object. The fact that we call the second of the two related sounds tock is evidence that we use fictions to enable the end to confer organization and form on the temporal structure. The interval between the two sounds, between tick and tock is now charged with significant duration. The clock’s tick-tock I take to be the model for what we call a plot, [the plot…] an organization that humanizes time by giving it form; and the interval between tock and tick represents purely successive, disorganized time of the sort we need to humanize.”

That’s the end of this, I think, very illustrative quotation. So, the end is meaning; the end provides meaning, and this is why it is so necessary. He goes on, Kermode:

“Men, in the middest, make considerable imaginative investments in coherent patterns, which by the provision of an end make possible a satisfying consonance, with origins and with the middle”

[Unquote]. The plots of our poems, plays and novels reflect that need for significant endings. So what is the significance of Don Quixote’s ending, or is it significant? In the next to the last chapter Sancho discards the omens that Don Quixote sees in various things and events, as they come into the village, omens which will connect the end of the novel with a future beyond it; they are prophetic. I’m quoting from 934: “’Malum signum, malum signum! [this is Latin; “bad sign, bad sign] A hare flies; dogs pursue her, Dulcinea appears not!’”

Says Don Quixote. Remember the hare that is running and that Sancho actually catches because she’s so tired, it’s so tired. In the Spanish Don Quixote actually says: “Liebre huye, galgos la siguen: ¡Dulcinea no parece!”

Jarvis has given it syntax, which in Spanish it does not have. Don Quixote has abandoned syntax and appears to speak in tongues, as if he were having a vision or a revelation, which is what he’s trying to find in this bad omen, this malum signum that he sees. The incident shows that, in his subconscious, is still in the world of dreams and of literature where these concords occur. The prophetic would extend that world for closing and ending. But, as I said, Sancho dismisses, but Sancho dismisses these omens in a very wise way, appealing to Christian doctrine. It is as if Cervantes himself were, here, wavering about how to end the novel.

Chapter 4. Three Forms of Potential Closure [00:34:30]

But, what is the meaning of the end Cervantes does give the novel? There are in the Quixote three forms of potential closure. Cervantes closes the Quixote in three ways. First, Don Quixote is defeated; second, he regains his sanity; third, he dies. One could say that this scheme points to a three-part tied conception of reality or of the worlds in which Don Quixote lives with each form of closure corresponding to each of the three. I’ve given you a handout with a kind of crass primitive representation of these three worlds as concentric circles that I made myself, and this is why — and it shows it — but I hope that it is clear enough. First, the fictional world of chivalry, Don Quixote is defeated. This is the realm of books. Second, present day reality Don Quixote returns to being Alonso Quijano, the Good. Third, Don Quixote dies, and presumably reaches the true reality, that is, the afterlife. Hence, life itself was like a fiction, in that it was ephemeral and made up of things of dubious substance. It’s a self contained, one could say, fiction of concord. A possible fourth form of closure, at a meta-fictional level, would be that the defeat of Avellaneda’s apocryphal Quixote. But let us go over the three in more detail.

First, the fictional world of chivalry. Don Quixote is defeated by the Knight of the White Moon, hence his quest comes to an end within his madness and within the fiction of chivalric romances. But as I said in the last class, and I said a few minutes ago, there are signs that the Knight of the White Moon is like a reflection of Don Quixote himself or of his madness, and, more profoundly, of that nothingness, that was his very fragile being, his very fragile self. This is why this Knight is White almost transparent, a ghost of Don Quixote. So this defeat within the world of books announces or prefigures his regaining his sanity, and even announces his death, as white suggests nothingness, hence, it suggests death. Then, there is present day reality; Alonso Quijano regains his sanity. It is like a conversion story. The conversion story is typically a man who — the old man dies, and the new man is reborn, that is, a conversion story, so there is a death and resurrection involved.

Don Quixote sleeps and awakens changed, as if he had undergone a mystical experience, similar to the sleep and awakening after the Cave of Montesinos episode, which prefigured this one. How can he know that he has now awakened to his true self and real world? Don Quixote had the memory of who he had been, but if his life as Don Quixote is now complete, and his life is about to be complete, his life as Alonso Quijano, what differentiates the two? This is the conundrum of Segismundo in Calderón’s Life is a Dream, that play that it have recounted to you several times where the young prince is drugged, taken to the palace, he commits all kinds of crimes, he’s drugged, taken back to the tower, and he awakes, and he can’t tell if it was a dream what he experienced in the palace, or if he’s now dreaming in the tower, he can’t tell. So Segismundo’s answer in Calderón’s play is to cut through the ambiguity, and will himself to be good, to be good because life may be a dream, but it may be a rehearsal for a life that is more enduring.

Now, the afterlife, that outer circle. Don Quixote’s death, he dies, by the way, I don’t know if you have taken notice of this, but he dies unmarried and without succession, which is evident in the scene with the notary when he’s dictating his testament, because he has to leave everything to his niece and friends and so forth. Again, it is very much like Segismundo’s awakening to the dream like quality of life itself. It is as if all of life were like a dream, his madness was a dream within that dream, and death the only access to a true permanent life. Hence, it is not only his madness that is like a dream, but everything else. His madness is a dream within a dream. Only death can put an end to the play of reflections, and in a way this is why Alonso Quijano has to die. Don Quixote’s death is the last in a series of mock deaths that have appeared throughout the book and prefigured this one; one at the end of Part I, when he’s knocked unconscious; then, of course, in the Cave of Montesinos.

Don Quixote’s death is the last in a series of mock deaths, as I have said. One has to take into account that the death of Don Quixote, at least within the plot of the novel, is also a kind of return. Don Quixote returns home to the heimlich, to use Freud’s word, to the familiar, to the place where he was Alonso Quijano, where he was sane. This makes the entire series of episodes that make up the whole book his madness like a bubble, or a dream all the more so. It is like the Barataria episodes are to Sancho, another dream. Repetitions of this kind lead one to consider the fiction in between as something that one could dispense with. Do the events within that bubble occur in some sort of concert with one another, or are they themselves just a series of repetitions? Is there a successive sense to the novel’s plot? Is there a sequential quality to the novel, a temporal — a temporality in the Quixote that leads to that end? For instance, we have been able to more or less follow the months, and perhaps even the days, during which the adventures take place; but, is there a sense of temporality, of chronology, of inevitability?

We know that he has to return at some point to the village, as he did before, and once he’s defeated we know that his madness is now on the wane. There is inevitably in the transience of his madness, of this invention of self, and of his very life. On the other hand, a close reading of the last chapter does not reveal anything about the death of Cide Hamete Benengeli, for instance. When did Cide Hamete Benengeli die? There is no total closure in the Quixote possible. I think Cervantes plays with it ironically; he knows that no matter how may times he says Don Quixote is dead, and that Cide Hamete is hanging his pen and addressing his pen, that any writer can still come up as Juan Montalvo did — I think I may have mentioned him before — an Ecuatorian writer, who wrote a wonderful book called Chapters of the Quixote that Cervantes Forgot; and it’s a pastiche, meaning it’s imitating Cervantes’s style. So Cervantes knows — and we will talk about that when we talk about Pierre Menard, the story by Borges in our next class. The Quixote is not a book that has a plot in the Aristotelian sense with a beginning, a middle, and an end, all tied together tightly in a sequence of events leading a finish. It is the life of Don Quixote that gives it form, as in the picaresque the life of the pícaro gives form to the narrative, and we can think here, again, of what Ginés de Pasamonte said jokingly about not finishing his book because his life is unfinished, poking fun at that autobiography as a convention.

The book has to end with his death; death is a form of closure that everyone understands; it gives life shape. Quevedo, Francisco de Quevedo, a great poet of the seventeenth century. I urge you to read Quevedo, and one way to do so is to tell you that he wrote some of the most obscene poems in the history of the Spanish language, also some of the most beautiful love poems. Perhaps — Borges said that Quevedo was a whole literature all by himself. He has a poem about death in which he ends by saying that death will organize his life, will give it meaning. So death provides an end toward which everything will seem to have been pointing. Aristotelian plots are artificial. The ones that will be “tick-tock,” unless you believe that there is a tight concert to the world and to history, or unless you begin to believe in Providence. In this sense, Cervantes is showing that the novel, as a form, cannot be bound by these artificial shapes of art, like the epic, and like tragedy, but by the shape of life as everyone understands it; ort of a baggy monster that he has created in the novel.

This is profoundly so when we take into account that Cervantes’ own death is near, as he writes about Don Quixote’s death, and we will be talking about Cervantes’ death in the next class. This is also the reason why there is, for instance, no closure to the story of Ana Félix, Ricote’s daughter. One may ask, also, why there is so little about Don Quixote’s birth and youth? One could say that the only life of Don Quixote that is worth knowing is his life as the mad knight, that everything else is of little consequence. So it is the life that Don Quixote offered for himself that is important in the conception, execution and structure of the book, but it is a life, not a completed action in the Aristotelian sense. Why not end the book then by making him sane? A sane Don Quixote would close the plot of Don Quixote’s meta-life, his life as art and literature. One answer would be to say that only by making him die can Cervantes blur the distinction between our daily lives and the invented lives of literature, both have endings with significance. So Don Quixote’s death as Don Quixote and his rebirth as Alonso Quijano is not enough to close the book; he also had to die, but only if the theme of the book is, and I believe that it is, the unreality of worldly life, and our hope for a real life after death.

Chapter 5. Unamuno’s, Borges’s and Picasso’s Visions of Don Quixote [00:47:18]

Now, I’m going to just mention what some authors, major authors, said about the shape of the Quixote, since we can look at it as a whole shape, and I will then get to the author I mentioned before, Miguel de Unamuno. I may have mentioned him before, I mentioned certainly Ortega y Gasset, who was the great Spanish philosopher of the twentieth century. Miguel de Unamuno was a philosopher, but also a writer, a novelist, a poet, a thinker in general. He was the rector or president of the University of Salamanca, what we would call today a public intellectual. He was exiled by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and he wrote — he was a Basque, born in Bilbao in 1864, and died in Salamanca in 1936, just at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. You may have heard the titles of some his books, Del sentimiento trágico de la vida, On the Tragic Sense of Life, a book that I recommend that you read, La agonía de cristianismo, The Agony of Christianity, and a very, very well known novel called Niebla, Mist, from 1914. In 1905 Unamuno published Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho, The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho, which is a commentary, chapter by chapter, of the Quixote, a very sui generis kind of commentary.

Unamuno liked to be outrageous. For instance, Unamuno says that he believes, or feigns to believe, in the real existence of Don Quixote and Sancho, claiming that Cervantes a mediocre writer by a stroke of luck got to write the story written about the pair by one Cide Hamete Benengeli; so this is his conceit. So he riles against Cervantes. For Unamuno there is no assurance that Don Quixote will find a life after death. This is talking about the death of Don Quixote, stressing that, perhaps, this life is all there is, and that it is like God’s dream; so he hopes that God will go on dreaming us, he says, humorously, because, if he stops dreaming, we will all disappear along with the universe. God gave us the desire to be immortal, like him, and created a symbol of it in Don Quixote, who does what he does because he wants to be immortal, and so Unamuno mourns Don Quixote’s passing and riles against Cervantes for trivializing his death, and he affirms that, at least, Don Quixote passed on his madness to Sancho. You remember in the last scene, there, where Sancho says, don’t die, please, let us go on now! And so it is Sancho who will carry on with the madness. Unamuno goes on to say that Antonia Quijana, the niece, does marry a sensible boring man who never heard of chivalric romances, so therefore she inherits, and she forces him to live a humdrum life devoid of adventure. Be the kind of husband who takes out the garbage, but takes no risks.

Dulcinea, however, or Aldonza Lorenzo, on the other hand does understand her elevation to ideal lady, and she leads men to heroic action, that is, the ideal of such a lady leads men to ideal action meaning to take risks. She and Sancho keep alive, according to Unamuno, the religion of Don Quixote, which is on the wane in Spain, as he writes his book in 1905. He complains: “With Spain having been defeated in the Spanish-American War by the United States.”

For him, this defeat signals the end of quijotismo, this having been defeated by this upstart nation, and he longs for a return of the quixotic spirit to Spain, one that rebels against commonplace reality and abhors mediocrity and submissiveness. He belonged to the so called Generation of ‘98, which is a collection of writers, a group of writers, who all wrote about the miseries of Spain at the turn of the century, and particularly complaining about the defeat at the hand of the United States. There is a moment in the Spanish-American War that I call a quixotic moment, and it is the following; this is to what degree a country can absorb a fictional writer: Admiral Pasqual Cervera y Topete, Cervera is the last name you want to — got himself trapped with the whole Spanish fleet in Santiago de Cuba Bay. Santiago’s Bay, in Cuba, like all Cuban bays, has the virtue of being very broad and with a very narrow entrance. Cervera got into the bay with all of his ships, which are wooden, old fashioned, and guns that didn’t have much range.

The American fleet positioned itself outside waiting for the inevitable moment when Cervera either gave up or tried to leave. Cervera communicated with Spain, they had cable at the time, about his predicament, and the Spanish government answered saying, “We know that with your valor, vigor and all of your intelligence and cunning you will be able to prevail. We order you to come out.” So the Spanish fleet came out, and it was a turkey shoot. The American fleet shot every single one of the Spanish ships. Cervera writes about this; I’ve read his memoirs, that he was very satisfied that at least the Americans pulled him out of the water; he went down with the ship. The Americans pulled him out of his water, with is sword and everything, put him on board, and treated him with great difference and sent the surviving — the few surviving sailors were sent as prisoners of war to Maine for a while, where he was able to visit them later. Cervera was later sued by the Spanish government for losing the fleet; so that was a quixotic moment of the kind Unamuno would have applauded. So much for Unamuno.

Borges, Jorge Luis Borges, we’re going to speak more about him in our next class; he wrote a marvelous essay about the last chapter of the Quixote. He points out that, I think I’ve mentioned this before, that the one quality that unites Don Quixote and Alonso Quijano is courage; that Alonso Quijano faces death with courage and serenity. So this is the one quality that they have in common, even if one is sane and the other one is mad. He writes that: “Cervantes could have chosen a more astonishing episode to bring about Don Quixote’s return to sanity, but chose sleeping, that mysterious world from which we return when we awaken not knowing where we have been.”

This is what Borges picks up on those six hours of sleep, that those six hours of sleep are like death, so that Don Quixote dies and is resurrected as Alonso Quijano. Borges remarks on the sort of what calls “lateral and casual way,” in which Don Quixote dies at the end of a sentence. If you have followed the ending, there it’s sort of at the end of the sentence but, “I mean that he died”; “Quiero decir que… murió; and he writes: “It is the last of many cruelties that Cervantes has visited upon his hero. Perhaps this cruelty is a form of modesty and Cervantes and Don Quixote understand each other well and forgive each other.” Writes Borges. Borges claims that the whole book was written for this last scene of death.

I am going to finish with the image that you have on the title page of your syllabus which is, of course, the one by Pablo Picasso, whom you all know, of course, was a Spanish painter, although he lived in France most of his life and all of that, but he was a Spanish painter born in Málaga in 1881, and died in 1973. I left Picasso for last. His Quixote, as I said, and as you know, is on the title page of your syllabus. I think that Picasso’s Quixote is so schematic because he considers him an archetype, and archetypes are schematic by nature. Notice, of course, the skeletal Rocinante, is made up of lines, the plump Sancho, and the donkey’s ears. I think that the donkey’s ears are their signature, and in Spanish “burro” means a “donkey,” and it means someone who’s dumb. So you can, you know? You point ears like and it says, you’re a donkey. So this is why the donkey’s ears are so prominent. Picasso has injected some humor in his painting, which I think is quite appropriate. The windmills in the background are Don Quixote’s signature, and the bright sun beating down on him is Castile’s hot sun, which is present through much of the novel, but what is not so evident, it seems to me, until you look for a while, is that Don Quixote’s figure is like an interrogation mark; the figure of Don Quixote is like an interrogation mark, a question mark, in English, I’m sorry, I’m translating from Spanish, “punto de interrogación,” question mark. Your languages tend to get mixed up; there are advantages and disadvantages to knowing several languages. So I’ll leave you with that question mark of Picasso’s.

[end of transcript]

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