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SPAN 300: Cervantes' Don Quixote
- Don Quixote, Part II: Chapters LXXI-LXXIV (cont.)
Would have Cervantes deserved such recognition, had he not written the Quixote? The answer is no. However, he would probably be remembered for some of his other works. Two of The Exemplary Stories, significantly connected together, are commented in this lecture. “The Deceitful Marriage” deconstructs marriage both as a social institution and as a narrative tool: Cervantes manipulates literary conventions by beginning with what is normally the end of a story, a marriage, and works backwards to undue a union that never took place legitimately. In “The Dogs Colloquy” we skirt the supernatural idea that dogs can talk. The story is a picaresque autobiography in which the pícaro pretends to be a dog. Perhaps Scipio’s life, not told here, could have been another Quixote. The author of a story, it is suggested, does not control the text while it is being read. A short comment on Kafka’s parable “The Truth about Sancho Panza” and Borges’ story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote precede the end of this last lecture that refers to Cervantes’ death. Drawing a parallel between Cervantes’ death and that of Don Quixote and Alonso Quijano, González Echevarría reads the dedication to Persiles and Cervantes’, and also his own, farewell to this course.
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Cervantes' Don Quixote
SPAN 300 - Lecture 24 - Don Quixote, Part II: Chapters LXXI-LXXIV (cont.)
Chapter 1. Cervantes at Death: At Peace with Himself and the World [00:00:00]
Professor Roberto González Echevarría: Miguel de Cervantes died in Madrid on April 23rd, 1616. Remember that, famously, Shakespeare died on the same date; not the same day, because England and Spain were following different calendars, the difference of two or three days. In the last five years of his life Cervantes saw published The Exemplary Novels, in 1613, The Voyage to Parnassus, which is a long poem of essentially literary criticism, where he reviews the writers of the appeared. That appeared in 1614. Part II of the Quixote appeared in 1615, and also, in that year, his volume of theater, called Eight Plays and Eight New Interludes Never before Performed. In 1617 The Trials of Persiles y Sigismunda was published posthumously. Those plays he was able to publish because of his newly acquired fame, and also because they had not been very successful on the stage, except for the interludes. Let me repeat a quotation from the Casebook, specifically from the biographical essay by Manual Durán that opens the Casebook. This is a quote that I have read before, but I want to repeat it; it is a quote that also has embedded a statement by Ángel del Río, which I think you may remember his name in any case — Ángel del Río — that I think are appropriate as we wind up our course. But before I read you that quote, let me read you the following, also by Durán, [quote]:
Later, constructions and reconstructions of that building by the way led to the disappearance of Cervantes bones. So we don’t have Cervantes’ relics, his bones are lost. I have been insisting on Cervantes’ knowledge of Don Quixote’s belonging — awareness of Don Quixote’s belonging to the gallery of great literary figures from the classical past. Most recently, when, in the last lecture, I spoke about that scene in the last inn where they lodge, and there are some wall hangings with the figures of Helen of Troy and Dido, and Sancho makes the quip that there will be images of Don Quixote, of themselves, of Don Quixote and Sancho all everywhere in the future, and I underline that that is a bet that Sancho has certainly won. Now, let me go to that longer quote by Durán and del Río, who was — Ángel del Río was the author of an excellent history of Spanish literature, and as I said, he taught for many years at Columbia University; he was a Spaniard:
The allusion to decadence here is that, for many years, in the twentieth century scholars studied the decadence of the Spanish empire. Remember that quote that I brought, and you must have read as you read Elliot, from Elliot, about Cervantes straddling those two moments of Spanish history, one of great triumph, and then the beginnings of the decline.
Now, Cervantes never attained in his time the recognition of Lope de Vega, that writer I’ve mentioned so many times. Lope de Vega, whom Cervantes criticized and admired at the same time. But Cervantes was a greater writer than Lope, and history has confirmed this fact. Though Lope deserves a place in the western canon, he should not be at the same level as Cervantes. I say that because Lope is generally not very well known in the English-speaking world, and he’s sort of — I don’t think he even appears in my good friend Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, but that is not Lope’s fault, that is Harold’s fault. Lope never created the figure of universal appeal like Don Quixote. Even if he wrote hundreds of plays, perhaps a thousand plays, many among those plays are masterpieces: Fuenteovejuna, El caballero de Olmedo, and so forth. They’re masterpieces in their own right, and Lope created thousands of characters. This is all true. But he was not on the level of Cervantes.
Ironically, though, of course, in the period, Lope was tremendously successful. His story is really a success story: he was rich, he had a great following, and even his name was synonymous with being good. If you said, it’s “de Lope” it means that something is good; so that’s how successful he was. He just lorded over the Spanish literary landscape in the early seventeenth century. He fought in the Spanish “Armada,” he had many women, mistresses, wives, ten or fifteen children, some of them legitimate, and at the end of his life he became a priest, impregnated one of his mistresses… Really a life really worth a movie. In the meantime, Cervantes was chugging along in Madrid, within blocks of each other in Madrid, but he was creating a work that was superior to Lope’s.
Now, the question to ask, as we draw a balance at the end of the course, is if Cervantes would have deserved such recognition if he had not written the Quixote but everything else that he wrote. Would we have such high regard for Cervantes if he had only published the rest of his work, some of which I mentioned when I was listing the books that he published towards the end of his life? The answer has to be no, the answer has to be no; not by far, though. He would have been acknowledged as an important writer of short novels on the basis of The Exemplary Novels, Novelas ejemplares — I’ll talk about that later. He was also the author of a mediocre pastoral romance, Galatea. Remember, that he mentions it in the — he has the characters mention it in the scrutiny of the books, and he himself has some critical things to say about that pastoral romance, and still towards the end of his life, in the very last year, he was still thinking of writing a second part of Galatea, but it was a mediocre work with flashes of brilliance that announced the Quixote, but that are important because of that, not in themselves.
He was also the author of that very uneven and very ambitious Byzantine romance called The Trials of Persiles y Sigismunda. I put this on the board several times, so I don’t have to do it again. This is a very odd work, as Byzantine romances tend to be, and Cervantes thought, he was deluded into thinking that this was going to be the culmination of his work, his best work. Well, he was wrong. Authors are often wrong about the worth of what they write, and he certainly was wrong about this. The book is missing most of the qualities that we admire in the Quixote; it’s a very long book. It lacks a central figure as compelling as the mad knight, except for some episodes in Spain that have sort of a realistic cast; the geography is strange and abstract; it begins in the snow and icebound regions of the North Pole and finishes in Rome, of course. The dialogues are stilted; they’re not like the dialogues in the Quixote, where Sancho speaks in his very folksy way; and it is a very digressive novel. It has, again, because Cervantes was the author of the Quixote, some moments that we see as being brilliant, and some odd things that… For instance, the characters carry around banner, like painting, depicting their adventures, so that whenever somebody asks them where they have been, they just unfurl this banner and, there is, their adventures. It’s very funny that way; it has moments like that. Again, but, as with Galatea, the Persiles is important because it was written by the author of the Quixote.
As a playwright, Cervantes was a master in the comic one-act interludes, the entremeses that I have spoken about, which show many features in common with the Quixote, particularly the funny parts of the Quixote, the slapstick parts of the Quixote, but his plays were stiff and neoclassical because Cervantes followed the rules that the preceptistas, those who had read Aristotle’s Poetics, were promoting at the time. You remember the discussions among the characters, I think it is chapter XLVIII of Part I, especially involving the Canon of Toledo, about the plays being written at the time, where Cervantes, through his characters, is criticizing Lope for not following those rules. He did, and then his plays were duds; they were just — some are okay, but they’re not that good. It is one of those ironies of literary history that Cervantes was so wildly imaginative and daring in prose fiction, was so timid and conservative when it came to the theater… A mystery. This is why you cannot just list authors; you have works, you have to list works, when you are making a hit parade like the one Harold Bloom makes in The Western Canon.
Chapter 2. Remarks on Exemplary Novels [00:14:09]
So the high point of Cervantes’ production other than the Quixote was Exemplary Novels, or Stories, as they’re called in the translation that you are using. This is a terminological problem that I have explained before. The word “novela” that we have in Spanish for novel today, did not exist then. “Novela” was “nouvelle,” that is, a short novel, or a long short story, like the ones we have read: Rinconete and Cortadillo, The Glass Graduate, and the ones that are included in Part I of the Quixote. These are the Novelas ejemplares. Some of these short novels are true masterpieces of the genre and can stand next to the greatest stories by Cervantes’ Italian predecessors, of course, Giovanni Boccaccio, whom I have mentioned many times, and Matteo Bandello, whom I have also mentioned before. Now, I have mentioned them when we discussed some of these novels, mainly The Glass Graduate and Rinconete and Cortadillo. Today, I’m going to speak about The Deceitful Marriage and The Dogs Colloquy, two connected novels that wind up the volume of The Exemplary Novels or Exemplary Stories. I have trouble saying Exemplary Stories because it’s just not stories, it’s novels, or short novels. So I may waiver, but you know what I mean, it’s Novelas ejemplares in Spanish, not Exemplary Stories.
Now, as we approach these two novels, we have to return to the picaresque. Now, let me summarize the reasons why the picaresque was so important in the development of prose fiction and repeat myself, unless you think that I am arbitrarily obsessed with this kind of literature. It’s just that it is truly very important for the development of the novel. Now, in the picaresque there is for the first time, except for Celestina — but Celestina was a dialogue, a dramatic dialogue. It was not a story with a narrator, and so forth — so in the picaresque there is, for the first time, the representation of every day life and common people, with an emphasis on poor people engaged in the struggle for existence, in a setting that is contemporaneous with the author and the reader; both the author and the reader recognize the setting as being their own. It’s the present. There is no fancy far away geography, as in the romances of chivalry, or the Byzantine romances; there is no remote time, like the magical time of fantastic stories; the picaresque novels take place in the here and now.
The protagonist is no hero by conventional literary standards. On the contrary, he or she, because there are feminine picaresques, and we’re going to be talking about one today, is a minor criminal in trouble with the law, and, in fact, the center conceit of novels like Lazarillo de Tormes and Guzmán de Alfareche is that the text is a confession or deposition addressed by the accused delinquent to a figure in authority. So the picaresque is an indictment of society written in the form of the legal documents, used by the authorities to enmesh the pícaro in the net of the law. We saw how Don Quixote and Sancho themselves are fugitives from justice and are finally apprehended by the trooper of the Holy Brotherhood, that funny trooper of the Holy Brotherhood who cannot read very well, if you remember that hilarious scene from Part I. The picaresque makes possible for the novel to depict contemporary society and common social types, such as the ones appearing and acquiring relevance in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, as it is the beginnings of what is a leveling of society that is moving towards the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, and revolutions, and so forth, that we are very familiar with.
So these characters begin to appear in novels, as well as in paintings, if you remember the paintings by Velázquez that we have looked at during the semester. Rafael Salillas, whom I have mentioned before but I want to mention again, Rafael Salillas, a brilliant Spanish criminologist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, claimed that the picaresque was the origin of the social sciences, specifically sociology and criminology. That is, sociology and criminology find their source in these kinds of novels, these kinds of picaresque novels that depict the lower strata of society in great detail. He includes Cervantes’ work among those works that he places at the origin of the social sciences. So it is, to me, very suggestive, then, that Cervantes chose to wind up his volume of Exemplary Novels with these two stories in the picaresque style. Not picaresque per se, because Cervantes never wrote a picaresque novel in the strict sense, but novels with a picaresque ambience and cast of characters. Remember, this is a book you only have a selection in your book of translated stories. The volume consists of a prologue, parts of which are included in my essay in the Casebook about self portraits, and then twelve stories. Remember, I talked about that number because if The Pretended Aunt was by Cervantes, maybe he didn’t include it because he didn’t want the number thirteen. But in any case, there are twelve stories and these two, The Deceitful Marriage and The Dogs Colloquy are the end, The Deceitful Marriage and The Dogs Colloquy, and that’s the end of the volume. The order of stories in such a volume is always significant. So, to me, it is significant that the volume should end with these two stories, these interlocking stories, too.
Now, as we saw with Roque Guinart, the Catalan bandit, with Ginés de Pasamonte, the galley slave, and then later master puppeteer, and Monipodio in Rinconete and Cortadillo, Cervantes often pains a sympathetic portrait of criminal types. At least, he never paints one that is one-sidedly negative, and he seems to have a liking for these characters. One reason may be that, like Don Quixote, who is also a delinquent — as we know — they represent original ways of life, different from mainstream society, hence, more interesting and appealing from a literary point of view. If you are good, you’re not interesting to literature, for the most part.
So these criminal types are interesting because they are criminals, and they’re different, and they have different lives that are quite original. We saw the same tendency in Velázquez. Velázquez paints dwarves and near criminals, and all of that, because they are interesting, different. Also, criminal life — and this would go back to Salillas — could represent the origins of societal of norms or how societal norms develop, norms that emerge out of the clash of instincts, desires, laws, and so forth, and this is why the criminals are interesting. If you follow the law and all of that, you’re not very interesting. The penchant for criminal types found in the picaresque and in Cervantes is something that will become a staple of the novel; especially the nineteenth century novel is peopled by criminals of all kind, interesting, sometimes appealing criminals of all kinds, like Jean Valjean, and so forth.
Chapter 3. The Deceitful Marriage: Working Backwards to Deconstruct Marriage as Social Institution [00:23:30]
So we move to these stories, The Deceitful Marriage, El casamiento engañoso, and The Dogs Colloquy, El coloquio de los perros. Now, notice that these two stories, one implanted into the other, as it were, follow the narrative device called “the framed tale,” that is, the tale within the tale. It’s a device that goes back to the origins of story telling in the Thousand and One Nights, for instance. Now, it allows Cervantes to finish his volume of stories with one of his cherished infinitely receding sequences.
Remember, we’ve spoken about these infinitely receding sequences, one within the other, within the other, within the other, I often use the example of the little boy, as I remember myself sitting in a barber chair, surrounded by mirrors, and then seeing myself disappear in the distance all the images of myself, and also the can of evaporated milk that has depicted a can, and so forth, and so on, so this is what the device is, a story within the story. They are like Chinese boxes, one inside the other. It is a form of closure, if we’re thinking that they close or they finish the book that denies closure as it were.
The volume is opened ended, but it’s open ended sort of open on to itself, there could be more, and more, and more stories down, if you dug deeper into these stories. There could be yet another story which, indeed, there is one story that is virtual or postponed in the second story, The Dogs Colloquy, because the story of one of the dog’s life is not told, so this is what I mean. When I wrote an essay on this many years ago I called it “The Life of Scipio,” saying that my essay was sort of like the telling of this life that was not told in the story.
Now, in The Deceitful Marriage, marriage is deconstructed, as it were, both as a social institution and as a narrative tool. We should read the story against the backdrop of all of the stories about marriage that we have read in the Quixote, and also in the context of The Pretended Aunt. In fact, The Deceitful Marriage is a story of Cervantes that comes closest in salaciousness to that contested story, The Pretended Aunt. That is, it’s the dirtiest of Cervantes’ stories, if The Pretended Aunt is not Cervantes’. I’m sure you will agree with me, and you will agree more with me once you hear my reading of it. Estefanía, the protagonist, is a proactive female; protagonist, a female protagonist, like others in Cervantes: Dorotea, Marcela, Zoraida. Who charts her own course and follows it with cunning and with courage. Of course, she is a prostitute, but she is a proactive female protagonist of Cervantes. She dupes ensign Campuzano luring him with her beauty and pretended wealth — we could call it — to whit her house.
Notice the detail, I told you to look for details in Cervantes. How does she lure the ensign? She has beautiful hands, and that is the first thing that the ensign notices when he sees her. Cervantes has sort of a fetish for hands, and feet, too, you remember Dorotea, but mostly, Estefanía has beautiful hands. She traps him into marrying her, but then it turns out she was not the owner of the house. That the true proprietors come back and she scampers with the jewels with which she thought he had fooled her — he thought that he had fooled her, because he boasts that they’re counterfeit anyway, the jewels that she steels. It turns out, however, that she had the last laugh, because she had infected him with syphilis, a kind of delayed action counterblow, by which she wins again. It is clear that what Estefanía did was her MO, her modus operandi, and that the ensign was neither her first nor her last victim. The cousin, the so-called cousin, who’s present at this wedding, was obviously her pimp. Well, not obviously, Cervantes doesn’t make things that obvious, but it is there. Who was this guy? Well, this guy is obviously her pimp, and this is a routine that they use to ensnare guys like the ensign Campuzano. He, of course, thinks that he’s also going to have a good time, and that he’s going to fool her, because he’s making plans to scamper and go back to war once he has had enough of a good time.
What is of interest to me in the story is how Cervantes has manipulated literary conventions. The story begins with a marriage, virtually, that is, it begins where stories normally end, and works backwards, to undue a union that never took place legitimately; it is a marriage into which they enter presumably without pretense or illusions. She tells him that she’s no virgin and that she has had her life, and this and that, he doesn’t care, and he, of course, is not a wealthy aristocrat by any means, and they know, so they enter presumably without illusions into this marriage, but the marriage, of course, is based on worse forms of deceit. It also ends with an inversion at the end that should have been a beginning: the man is fooled, and the woman flees. In traditional stories, it is the opposite: the woman is fooled and the man, the guy flees.
Marriages, as we have seen throughout the semester, are normally how stories end, I repeat. They bring closure to the action representing the restoration of order and the continuation of the species. Here, however, Cervantes has inverted the formula, the story begins with a marriage. As we have seen, and I have said many times, perhaps too many times throughout the semester, and it’s not a warning to you, everything that happens before marriage is the stuff of comedy in Cervantes, everything that happens after marriage is the stuff of tragedy. But here, surely because the marriage is phony, what follows is comical, and worse. The marriage, by the way, would have been annulled under Spanish law, and even church canon law had the ensign sued Estefanía for misrepresenting herself: she was not the owner of the house, and so forth. But he could not sue her because he, too, had misrepresented his wealth, the jewels were counterfeit, and he also had plans to quit the premises as soon as he could.
Now, the emblem of all of these deceits is the house, which should have, on the contrary, or normally, provided the foundation of the marriage. It is in the house that they spend a brief period of matrimonial bliss. This is the engaño part that precedes the desengaño. Legally and traditionally the house is the concrete site of marriage, and in Spanish the word for marriage, the word that is in the title of the story is “casamiento.” “Casa” means “house” in Spanish. I like to add “casa-miento” means “house-I-lie”; “miento” from “mentir,” “to lie,” in Spanish; it’s a phony etymology that I makeup. It’s also one of those things that language — gifts that language makes to humor, and the word for “wife” in Spanish, as you probably know, is “esposa,” which is also the word for “handcuffs.” I didn’t invent the language, and it is also a false etymology. In any case, so the house is the emblem of this house, casa-miento, I lie.
The plot of The Deceitful Marriage is indeed very, very disturbing, because it leads to total disorder, to a disillusion of the social pact, the social contract altogether, it seems. This is why I find it such a disturbing story. Husband and wife disappear — they are not really husband and wife — one never to be heard from again, Estefanía vanishes, she has to vanish, like the galley slaves, because probably the authorities are after her, and he winds up in the hospital with a social disease from which most people never recovered. It is as if the story, with this formal play of inversions is hinting not at tragedy, but at something perhaps worse, if that is possible, the disappearance of old bones, the unraveling of the discourse that hold human society together and organized.
This is what is hinted at, by this very disturbing story. Indeed, what follows is the story of the ensign Campuzano in the hospital, and the hallucination that leads him to write the next story, The Dogs Colloquy. It is ironic, in a way that I find more bitter than is normal in Cervantes that what leads to literary creation here is not just a social disease, but the disease of love, called at the time — syphilis — was called at the time in Spanish, “el mal francés,” “the French disease.” I don’t know why the Spanish always blame the French for everything having to do with sex. The love madness of courtly love poets is literalized here, love madness, this is a love disease. It literalizes a venereal illness. The Dogs Colloquy is like Estefanía’s and the ensign’s child; it is the product of their deceitful marriage. This is I find a very disturbing suggestion.
Chapter 4. The Dogs Colloquy: A Picaresque Autobiography Skirting the Supernatural [00:36:09]
So we move to The Dogs Colloquy. Let me begin by considering the names of the dogs, the heroic Scipio, Cipión in Spanish and the picaresque Berganza. These are the two dogs. Historically, there were two Scipios, the one who took and destroyed Carthage, and his son, who destroyed the Spanish town of Numancia, an event on which Cervantes based perhaps his most successful play. So he knew well about Scipio. Berganza is derived from “bergante,” slightly old-fashioned word now. “Bergante” is a rogue, a rascal, whereas, of course, Scipio is a heroic name, the name of a military commander. The two dogs make up a pair, like Don Quixote and Sancho, if you think of it, the sort of picaresque type Berganza and the military Scipio. Scipio’s life, the one not told, is suggested that could have been another Quixote, but in a different key, a Quixote in a canine key, as it were. It would be a mock heroic dog’s life, we could call it. It’s just suggested. Now, ensign Campuzano’s predicament linking illness and creativity is a spoof, as I have said, of the sick lover poet able to compose poetry because of his condition. This will become a romantic trope, only that here it is this illness is dramatically and literally an illness of love of the lowest kind. Remember, that the only cure, other than some potions and stuff, is to let him sweat it out in this hospital, and some survive, but not too many. Notice also, the ironic name of the hospital, I don’t know if you noticed it. It’s Hospital de la Resurrección, Hospital of the Resurrection and this is out of — through a kind of resurrection ensign Campuzano comes out after he has sweated out his syphilis, or at least part of his syphilis.
Now, Cervantes skirts here the supernatural in the story, the idea that dogs can talk. The supernatural never appears in Cervantes’ works, but he leaves open here the possibility that the story of the dogs talking is merely a hallucination on the part of Campuzano, who’s ill, and in his illness and fever he imagines this. It can also be a literary rouse on the part of the ensign; I mean, it is the character within the story who is making this up, Cervantes would say. He wants to live in an ambiguous state, the origin of his literary creation. To me it is very suggestive. I don’t know if you found it so, that he falls asleep while his lawyer friend, called Graduate Peralta in your translation, licenciado Peralta, it means a lawyer; he is a graduate in law. I find it very suggestive that the author falls asleep while Peralta is reading his story. As well, I mean it’s also very significant that the reader is someone, a lawyer, trained to read text and ascertain the truthfulness. This is sort of an ironic reading scene, no, the lawyer reading this to tell whether it is true or not.
Now, on one level it is as if the text belongs to the realm of dreams, the fact that he’s sleeping, and it is as if the reader is tapping directly into his dreams as he’s sleeping. It occurs to me, because its author is asleep while it’s being read. On another, it is as if there is a gap between creator and the text needed for the reader to judge it independently. That is, he’s asleep, he’s no longer in control of the text, the text is now in the hands of the reader, and it is for the reader to determine whether it is true or not; this is why he is asleep. Of course, this is also a way of having him do something while the other one reads. The other way would have been to have him go to the market or something, but I think this is much more interesting and suggestive, the fact that he falls asleep. I like to think of it as that the reader is tapping directly into his subconscious as he’s asleep.
Now, Peralta, in a way, is a stand in for us, the readers. He offers a literary judgment at the end, pronouncing the story good, though hardly believable, and encouraging his friend to go ahead and write the next life. Notice, in the context of my discussion of the ending of the Quixote in the last lecture, that life in here is the shape of the story: a life, the life of Berganza, and the next life is going to be the life of Cipión, of Scipio. It is also, of course, following in that the shape of the picaresque that we saw when we discussed the figure of Ginés de Pasamonte, who’s written his life in prison, and so forth, and so on. Now, there is more than a hint, too, that the story that the ensign tells or writes through the dog is an encoded autobiography. This is a picaresque autobiography in which the pícaro pretends to be a dog. It’s very ingenious and inventive turn on Cervantes’ part. Why is it autobiographical? Particularly, because when he takes the manuscript from his pocket he takes it out of his seno. “Seno” means his “bosom”; he’s taking it out of his heart in a way, so this suggests to me that this is ensign Campuzano’s story, but told deflected into the life of this dog.
It is very interesting that literature issues out of these tawdry living conditions and figures, literary creation, as it did in the case of Ginés de Pasamonte, who wrote his life while he was in prison, and also in the case of Cervantes himself who’s life, if not quite as tawdry, sometimes was like that when he was a prisoner, a captive, in Algiers, and the couple of times when he was really in jail in Spain for irregularities in his accounts when he was collecting for the Spanish Armada, and so forth. So I think this is Cervantes’ take on the origins of modern literature; it originates in these conditions and out of figures like these.
Now, the point is that he’s showing the virtual workings of the literary imagination, which deflects the real and the tawdry or the seedy life of the ensign, and deflect it into the life of the dog, which has a slightly classical form because of the fables where dogs speak, and so forth, that are mentioned in the text. Now, the uncertain origin of the dogs who could also be the transformed sons of that witch, in that marvelous scene with the witches that I am sure you remember, and that allude or harken back to Celestina, or they could have been simply dogs born, where? in the slaughterhouse of Seville, remember, Seville is the capital of picaresque life and the slaughterhouse seems to be the capital within the capital of picaresque life. But it also — Cervantes’ is also leaving the origin of the story in an air of indeterminacy, sort of like Don Quixote’s origins. I think that the significance of the ending of the story, again, back to the infinitely receding sequences, is that it brings about no closure at all to the volume.
Chapter 5. Kafka’s Parable and Borges’s Story [00:46:13]
So we make a little digression here before we get towards the end of the lecture to discuss Kafka’s parable, that I hope you read for today. Kafka, 1883-1924 as we all know as a Czech author who wrote in German such masterpieces as The Metamorphoses, 1915, The Trial, 1925, The Castle, 1926 in which he presented a world ruled by arbitrary and mysterious bureaucratic laws, by which the characters seem to abide impelled by obscure forces. He never published his work, which he ordered that it be destroyed upon is death, a wish that fortunately was not followed. I think that this brief text, it’s just a paragraph shows to what extent Kafka, I think, connected with the core of Cervantes’ literary imagination, with Cervantes’ notion and feel for literary creativity. The text is entitled, “The Truth about Sancho Panza” and it says:
That’s the parable on the truth of Sancho Panza. So I think that Kafka is turning Cervantes’ fiction upside down, but within the spirit of Cervantes, by making Sancho the inventor of Don Quixote and following him around afterwards. The whole fiction comes out of Sancho’s demon, that is, the demon of a common man, like those, both Kafka and Cervantes like to invent — The Glass Graduate, for example, is another common man — and also like other authors in Cervantes, Sancho’s creation gets out of hand, and acquires a life of its own. I think this is Kafka’s reading of Cervantes, I think it is a very profound reading even if it is or perhaps because it is so brief.
I also wish to mention the Borges story, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, which is one of the most famous stories by Borges, in which, as you remember, this French poet, minor poet, decides to rewrite the Quixote, not just rewrite the Quixote, but word by word, as Cervantes had written it, the idea being that it is much more difficult to write the Quixote in seventeenth century Spanish, especially by a Frenchman than it was for Cervantes to write in his own time, and so forth. It is a big literary joke on the part of Borges, but at the same time, Borges is unsettling the romantic notion of the link between creator and work, which he shows he cannot completely unsettle it, because Pierre Menard dies because of the effort it took to do this which, of course, he could never finish.
It’s an impossible task that he sets for himself. Borges was also reacting, in 1939, when he wrote the story, to what he considered to be sort of proto-fascist readings of the Quixote by Spanish scholars. Remember, the Spanish Civil War is just over, and the promotion of hispanidad, the Spanishness, and so forth, and he’s trying to show that Cervantes’ great creation doesn’t belong to any single language or any single national tradition, but that it can be, potentially, can be written or rewritten by anyone. Also, he is underlining something that he himself said with Cervantean self depreciation, that once you write something that is good, it doesn’t belong to you any more, it belongs to the tradition, and so this is what it says, the Cervantes creation has escaped him, because it now belongs to the tradition, not to Cervantes. This is something that Borges said.
Chapter 6. Parallels between Cervantes’s Death and those of Don Quixote and Alonso Quijano [00:51:02]
Now, let us finish by talking a bit about Cervantes’ death, going back to the beginning of today’s class. I think that Cervantes identified with the death of Don Quixote and Alonso Quijano. I think that there is an identification with them, because he feels that life as fiction has to come to an end, and a form of truth must be reached on the brink of death. It is a form of truth for which ironically literature has prepared him through the understanding of desengaño. Cervantes seems to be saying that he, like Don Quixote, is renouncing a life of make belief, so what is the sense of the novel’s ending? Perhaps it is the feeling of sadness, of regret, that the book, the madness, the entertainment, and the fun, have to come to an end, like everything else. It is not so much sense as meaning, as sense as feeling, not sentido as significado but sentido as sentimiento. It’s in the sense that Unamuno uses the word sentimiento in the The Tragic Sense of Life.
So this is the sense of the ending of the Quixote, it is a sense of sadness redolent with potential meanings, but these are meanings that we cannot decipher all together. Now, in the prologue to the Persiles which is Cervantes’ farewell, he presents himself as a man resigned to his impending death, and content with his accomplishments, going back to what Durán had said in the quote at the very beginning of my lecture. The text is Cervantes’ farewell. The dedication to Persiles, the dedication, not the prologue, but they must have been contemporaneous, contemporary to each other, was April 19th, 1616, the dedication, that is, four days before his death. He says that he was given the extremunction, which is the last rights in the Catholic Church, and then he writes the following. I hope I have it here; I do, I do… Yes. So, I am going to read it, it takes five minutes, in Spanish, and then I’m going to read it in English. Apologies to those who cannot follow it in Spanish, because I’m going to say something about the rhythm of the prose, and I want you to hear it:
Which goes, in English, I hope without an interruption like the one we had before. You catch the setting, he’s going into Madrid, where the court is, this is what he alludes to:
Here we find the same Cervantes of the Quixote prologues. These are the five points that I want to make. One, the prologue as dialogue, as in Part I, and throughout Cervantes’ work, instead of an expository piece in the first person, he needs to create another to tell the story of his own self. Why? Do these dialogues reflect those going on in his own mind? They do reflect his ironic stance before his own sense of self, and before his own sense of the truth, because it is sort of this perspectivism that we have seen. Two, here, as so many times in the Quixote, we have another student, with hilarious details about his clothing. Students are seekers of knowledge, readers which are of great interest to Cervantes, as we all know. The details, as all details in Cervantes, are revealing of character, of personality.
This is a very economical way of talking about this guy’s personality by showing his vanity with all of his clothes that he’s wearing. Three, the scene takes place on the road, symbol of time and of life as in the Quixote. Four — and I think this is the subtlest and this is why I wanted you to hear it in my interrupted reading in Spanish — the rhythm of prose, and of the story itself seems to echo that of the trotting horses; this trotting of the horses and the various paces that the horses follow are marking time, and time, its fleetingness is the theme of the piece life’s race and life’s journey coalesce as death approaches and is marked by the trotting of the horses and by the rhythm of the prose. Five, Cervantes deals ironically with his late fame, which comes when he’s near death. It’s something out of rhythm because now it is of little consolation or profit for him. So we have here the same self deprecating Cervantes that we have learned to love. Now, it is in that same spirit that I ask him, or wherever he happens to be, and I ask you forgiveness for my own shortcomings in commenting his work. Thank you very much.
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