SPAN 300: Cervantes' Don Quixote

Lecture 3

 - Don Quixote, Part I: Chapters I-X (cont.)


González Echevarría continues from the end of his last lecture by referring to the self invention and self legitimation of Don Quixote, which is the most innovative aspect of the book. The main character is, as it is suggested in the famous first sentence of the book, beyond family and social determinisms, hence literature appears as a realm for wit and a capacity for invention, breaking with the previous literary tradition and with its predecessors. Perspectivism is expressed in the novel through various linguistic fluctuations, regional differences, and spaces such as the inn, which becomes a key place in the novel by providing an archaeology of society. The first episodes of the Quixote, from the first sally to the first adventure with Sancho, show the gap between literature and reality by probing into Don Quixote’s very particular madness which refuses to recognize and accept social conventions. Cervantes’ literary techniques, such as dialogue, and the presence of his squire blur the differences between fiction and reality, and ultimately question our beliefs and view of the world.

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Cervantes' Don Quixote

SPAN 300 - Lecture 3 - Don Quixote, Part I: Chapters I-X (cont.)

Chapter 1. Innovative Features in Don Quixote [00:00:00]

Professor Roberto González Echevarría: Let me begin by repeating my last point in last Tuesday’s lecture. The birth of Don Quixote is an act of self invention by a man of fifty, and remember that fifty is a very advanced age in 1605. He feels free to create himself beyond family birth and need. In this, the novel is directly opposed to most previous literature, particularly the romances of chivalry where they were miraculous births. And the picaresque, very much in particular, the picaresque, in which family background and need determined the life of the protagonist, or so he claims as he tells his life, his poverty, and the family background weighs heavily on the rest of his life in the case of the pícaro.

Don Quixote is beyond family and social determinisms. In most previous stories, young people leave home in search of adventures that will give substance, meaning and individuality to their lives. Can you think of another old protagonist before Don Quixote? How old was the pilgrim in the Divine Comedy? I think he was thirty-three. How old was Odysseus in the Odyssey? How old Aeneas in the Aeneid? Celestina, it is true, was old, but she shares the limelight with young lovers. Don Quixote, as I think I said in the last class, is beyond Freud, beyond the family romance. In fact, though we learn a great deal about him in the first chapter, we learn nothing of his parents. His genealogy is literary, the books that he has read.

The most innovative aspect of Don Quixote is the character’s self fashioning as Steve Greenblatt would put it in a book called Renaissance Self-Fashioning. The reader witnesses this self transformation in all its levels, from the mental to the physical, from what Don Quixote thinks to what he wears. He, not an author, names him, his horse and his lady. His is a life that will be molded like a work to art. Life will imitate art. But what is the significance of this self invention, of this resurrection as it were? Renaissance humanism emphasized the power of human agency. It is the beginning of a liberation from a God-centered conception of the world and of human kind. Remember, the Lukács quote about the Quixote being the first story of a world that has been abandoned by God. So in this world abandoned by God man creates himself, Don Quixote creates himself.

En un lugar de la Mancha de cuyo nombre…”
This is the first sentence of the book. Jarvis translates:
“In a village of La Mancha the name of which I purposely omit there lived long ago.”

This is a sentence, by the way, that most literate native speakers of Spanish know by heart even if they haven’t read the rest of the Quixote. And the disclaimer, “de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme” is also used in conversation, to say I don’t want to remember this. Now, it is known the way that English speakers know, “It was the best of times,” “it was the worst of times,” A Tale of Two Cities, or, “Call me Ishmael, “the beginning of Moby Dick and so forth.

In the Quixote literature appears, as I’ve been saying, as a realm of self legitimation and the display of wit and capacity for invention which is what Cervantes appears to be affirming in the first sentence of the book. He does not wish, as a narrator, he does not wish to remember the place in La Mancha where Don Quixote lived. It is a display of authorial will. The sentence is full of other implications; there is the echo of the opening of traditional stories as well as that of official documents that attest to one’s being by stating where one is from in the stories, “in such-and-such a country long ago” and the country is named. Or “my name is such-and-so and I live in such-and-such a place, and was born in such-and-such a place,” a legal document. To make such a statement is one’s strongest form of grounding, but here willfully omitted. A place name that is erased by the creative will of the author: “No quiero acordarme,” I don’t want to remember it, against the traditional formulas in which it is given.

The origin, this origin, this place, this village, this lugar as it’s called in the sixteenth century Spanish, to which the protagonist returns several times and definitively at the end is not named. It is as if here the source were non-determining, as the age of Don Quixote is non-determining in his subsequent adventures. This is perhaps the reason why the origin, which is also the destination — because Don Quixote will return to die at home giving away the plot here, I’m sorry — this is perhaps the reason why the origin which is also a destination is left blank deliberately effaced from the story. It is a non-place, although many towns in Spain claim to be the town in which Don Quixote was born.

Now, Don Quixote’s name and other names, we have all ready spoken about quesada, quijada, quejana, and by now you have read all of these potential variations of Alonso Quijano’s first name. The point is also one prevalent throughout the book, the fluctuations of language in reference to meaning and to truth. If language is so shifty, how can we express the truth in language? Spitzer, Leo Spitzer, a great German critic who worked in this country for many years and taught at Johns Hopkins University, in the piece “On Linguistic Perspectivism” that you will read in your Casebook makes much of this, and he makes much of this with the knowledge of the linguist and philologist that he was, you will see. Language and its vagaries also constitutes Cervantes’s point of view about what is commonly accepted as the truth, and how the truth can be commonly accepted in a medium as shifty as language. But the blurry name, Quixote, quijana, quesada, and so forth, is also a way of playing with the absence of determinisms as being from La Mancha, a non-place, as it were, a name and a place marked the characters in the epic and in the romances of chivalry, and even the picaresque novels: Amadís de Gaula, of Gaul; Lazarillo de Tormes, Tormes is the river that goes through Salamanca, by the way, in which the pícaro is supposed to have been born; Gúzman de Alfarache, a place that is named, Alfarache. But not in the Quixote significantly.

Now, Don Quixote names his lady Dulcinea del Toboso and Rocinante. In the first case, the lady, he follows literary convention. Her name rhymes with Melibea, who is one of the protagonists of Celestina, the beautiful young woman. And ‘dulce’ means ‘sweet’ in Spanish, so you can see the origin and the intention behind naming Dulcinea that, while the horse’s name reflects something of his reality, ‘Rocinante,’ ‘rocín-ante,’ meaning he was a ‘rocín,’ a workhorse, before, ‘antes’ is ‘before’ in Spanish. Rocinante, the name, does reflect in a very direct and comical way, because it reflects precisely the reality about this nag. Don Quixote’s capacity for naming, as we will see, is quite extraordinary, he is a man of words and of the word. But the crucial point here is that he is naming himself, his lady, and his horse as part of this process of self invention, like Adam, giving names to things in the Garden of Eden, or God giving names to things. This is part and parcel of the process of self invention, I repeat.

Chapter 2. Time, Space and Place; Reality into Illusion [00:10:17]

Now, we move on to chapter II which is one of the most, for me, remarkable moments in all of literature. The protagonist has created himself and he leaves at dawn, the beginning of a new day, of a new life, and sets out on the Montiel Plain alone. It is a will beginning from zero, from a voluntary severing of ties with any possible determining force except for the loss of chivalry and for literature. It is a moment of freedom, of freedom achieved, freedom from the past. But as he goes along, he anticipates, Don Quixote anticipates the literary text that will be written about the exploits that he is in the process of accomplishing, or that he thinks he’s in the process of accomplishing. There’s a gap, of course, between the high flown rhetoric of the romances of chivalry that he uses and the literal plain — there is a plain — upon which he gallops or trots probably. But this is precisely the gap between literature and reality, between writing and experience that will be at the core of Cervantes’ exploration of the nature of writing. The present and the writing of the text hangs somewhere in between the reality and this high flown rhetoric that are parallel and simultaneous in their appearance in the book. This is quite remarkable and it may pass unnoticed, but I want you to take notice of it. It’s on the translation we are using, pages 26, 27, Don Quixote, as he goes on the plain of Montiel says to himself:

“Who doubts but that but in future times when the faithful history of my famous exploits are come to light, the sage who writes them when he gives a relation of this my first sally so early in the morning, will do it in words like this: ‘Scarcely had the ruddy feebles spread the golden tresses of his beauteous hair over the face of the wide and spacious earth and scarcely had the painted birds with the sweet and mellifluous harmony of their forked tongues saluted the approach of rosy Aurora who, quitting the soft coach of her jealous husband…’” — and so forth and so on.

He’s using all of these references to Classical mythology to refer to himself as he projects the text that will be written about him.

Now, he arrives at the inn. We know, and this is a fact to remember, from the episode in the inn, that Don Quixote leaves home on a hot Friday in July. How do we know this? We know it because they serve fish to Don Quixote at the inn, explaining that the eating of red meat is forbidden on Fridays by the Catholic Church. It was until the 1960s of the past century. So it is clear because it is a hot day and it is the month of July that this is a hot Friday in July. The specificity of time and place is a new feature of fiction, of this realist fiction. As we saw, the romances of chivalry took place in vague fabulous countries and times. Not the Quixote, which derived from the picaresque a pension for the particular in everything. It is the birth of what we know as realism, whose origins and intention I spoke about in the last lecture, interest in society at its lowest level and the acquisition of aesthetic value by the sordid, the ugly and the dirty.

Now, the heat by the way, would presumably and it says so in the text, contribute to Don Quixote’s madness according to theories of the time which are probably not all together wrong — if you are out in the desert in the heat, you might lose your senses, too. But the weather is important for other reasons in the Quixote, specific weather, not the fabulous weather, mists and all of that in the romances of chivalry. Both parts of the novel take place in a vaguely framed summer, in part, because the heat contributes to Don Quixote’s madness, as I say, but also because it makes it logical for everyone to be outdoors on the road. We’ll see a little bit more about why people are on the road.

There’s also the very important issue that begins in these early chapters already of light and visibility; being able to discern objects and make them out, which leaves disputes between the two protagonists about the nature of what they see. If you have been to Spain and to Castile you know that the air is clear. It is hot and dry, and the visibility is very, very good. This first inn is crucial because it sets up one of the most important places where the action will develop. Inns, as you will soon discover, are way stations where all sorts of meetings take place and hilarious scenes develop. The Quixote follows the loose structure of the adventure book, like the romances of chivalry that it parodies, but also like the picaresque, so it needs these inns as way points where characters from various origins and classes meet.

The inn can provide a kind of archaeology of society, a moveable home for characters away from home — What I mean by an archaeology of society is that you see at the same time, as you make a cut on the earth to study the various layers, here you see various layers of social classes all present at the same time in the inn. This is where the inn provides what I call an archaeology of society — It is at the inn that we encounter for the first time Don Quixote’s ability to transform crass reality into literary illusion — although he has done some of that in naming, of course, his horse — a process that is highlighted by the fact that he is confronted with the extreme of crassness. No ordinary women does he turn into damsels, but whores; not ordinary travelers but swine herders: the lowest of the lowest — people who dealt with pigs who are the lowest of the lowest. There is a grotesque contrast between the innkeeper, the whores, and the knighting ceremony, for instance. It’s a clash of extremes.

Is there an element of ennoblement in Don Quixote’s dogged perception of the ugly as beautiful? Is this one of the reasons the book has endured, one’s desire to ennoble reality with one’s will? Do we begin to glimpse here in the madness a mission to force on to reality his perception of it? But also notice that because he treats the whores with deference, they are kind to him, as is the innkeeper. It is a constant in Cervantes’ work that lower class people, even criminals can be kind in given situations. There is no class determinism in Cervantes making criminals evil, quite the contrary. His overall, Cervantes’ overall vision of humankind is a positive one; no one is completely evil in Cervantes. In this, he is very different from Shakespeare and his somber conception of the human, if we are going to believe my very dear friend Harold Bloom and his version of Shakespeare, in Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human. Cervantes’ view of humanity is not as somber and you will discover this as you read the book.

It is also at the inn, however, that Don Quixote is turned for the first time into an object of amusement. The innkeeper plays along to have something to laugh at that night. Are not the innkeeper and the other guests in need of amusement like the ‘idle reader’ that Cervantes addresses? Here is another level at which Don Quixote is going to provide amusement. The ceremony of the knighting of Don Quixote is a parody of those in the books of chivalry, in the romances of chivalry, but do we not begin to notice in this scene a certain degree of cruelty towards Don Quixote and on the part of other characters and of Cervantes himself? This is something that Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentine writer, has remarked upon. There’s certain cruelness sometimes in the way that Cervantes portrays his characters. There is a hint that trying to do the good can be ridiculous, and that no good deed goes unpunished as it were. But this is so chiefly, I think, because Don Quixote is a living anachronism, he has conceptions of justice that are outmoded.

Now, in the original, the contrast between Don Quixote and the other characters is achieved by means of the manners of speech and dialectical contrasts — We will see that in a minute in his fight with the Basque, I call him, Jarvis calls him something else and we’ll get into that in a minute — Don Quixote’s speech turns to the archaic. When he speaks about matters of chivalry he uses archaic words drawn from the romances of chivalry. This is a very important part of Cervantes’ achievement that is lost in the translation, but that the English reader can gage, that is, the differentiation between the characters or among the characters by the way they speak. You can gage it by thinking of a novel that was very much influenced by Cervantes, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Speech marks the characters by providing their social station and even region of origin — We will see that in a minute — I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a child in Spanish and, of course, they didn’t translate into the Spanish the dialect differences between Jim and Huck and so forth. I still liked the novel very much, and then, when I read it once I had learned English in college, I was astonished, it was like another book, and I had a great deal of difficulty understanding Jim’s speech. This is prevalent in the Quixote. It’s perhaps the first novel in which this is accomplished.

The innkeeper is himself like a literary character and a kind of Quixote in that he tells of his youth, which is a youth misspent as a pícaro as if it had been a romance of chivalry. He uses the rhetoric of the romance of chivalry to tell of his life of petty crime and he is a minor Don Juan who seduces widows and stuff like that, he says with great pride, and he mentions the places where he had been as if they were great places, and they are really the most notorious emporia where pícaros met in Spain. So he too can play Don Quixote’s rhetorical game; he’s kind of an inverted mirror image of Don Quixote, here. You have to read carefully. Cervantes is very subtle in creating these characters, and here we have this character sort of mocking, but at the same time using Don Quixote’s rhetoric to transform his life into something important. So there is a kind of a synthesis in this character between the rhetoric of the romances of chivalry and the picaresque. This is what Cervantes achieves through this very interesting character.

Chapter 3. Don Quixote’s Particular Madness [00:24:02]

Now, the knighting is obviously a kind of baptism. It is a parody of similar ceremonies in the romances of chivalry as I’ve said. It is true that it is a parody, but in the fictitious world that Don Quixote is creating. It has a certain aura of sacredness, nevertheless. The act completes the process of self invention that began in the first chapter, it legitimizes it within that world, with the ceremony of his being knighted. Of course, he’s being knighted by a ridiculous retired pícaro in this inn surrounded by whores and so forth, but nevertheless, it has an aura of sacredness and that he has finally achieved knighthood.

Now, the two episodes in the road after knighting intensify moral issues that Don Quixote’s madness brings up. Why does his madness bring up these moral issues? Because in his madness he refuses to abide, to recognize and to accept social conventions. And that way he highlights the arbitrariness of such conventions. Madmen and children do that by asking why, why, why, why? Or by acting as if they don’t care why, and then bringing out that these conventions are, indeed, conventional, and this is why Don Quixote will, once and again, create moral crisis.

With Juan Haldudo, Juan Haldudo is the fellow who is flogging Andrés, his servant, for having, according to him, for having stolen from him some of his animals. With Juan Haldudo, Don Quixote trusts in a kind of honesty that does not exist anymore, or perhaps never existed, except in the books of chivalry. His intervention makes matters worse, as we know. This is the first of several episodes in which the reader seems to be invited to judge. Who is right? There are hints that Andrés may very well be a rogue, a pícaro, and that he may have, indeed, stolen from his master, in which case, according to the laws of the land, Haldudo had every right to flog him. In fact, when Andrés appears later on — and he will reappear — he is on his way to Seville, that’s a telltale sign because Seville was the center of picaresque life. Now, think of Seville as being a very, very important port in Spain because it was through Seville — read your Elliot — that Spain communicated with its overseas empire.

Everything came in through Seville, which is up the Guadalquivir River, so it’s protected in that sense. So Seville was a teaming port and ports are always full of corruption, and the like, because of all of the exchange of goods and the various peoples who are there. So Seville was known for being the center of picaresque life. So this details, Cervantes throws in there, when Andrés appears later and he’s going to Seville, you say, uh-oh, this is a pícaro, so he may have been guilty when Haldudo whips him. Don Quixote is applying justice that is anachronistic, because by this time Spain had a very well developed and thorough criminal justice system, very thorough and very well developed. All of these matters found their way — ;-it was a litigious society, almost as much as the United States is a litigious society nowadays. So the way that he intervenes is totally anachronistic.

Now, with the Toledo merchants the conflict takes on a more philosophical even doctrinaire tact, even though it is a hilarious episode. This is where he appears before these merchants and says that they have to declare that Dulcinea del Toboso is the most beautiful lady in the world. And at a distance he is saying this one of them, who is a bit of a jester, that Cervantes interjects, he says, “Well, wait a minute, couldn’t you at least show some kind of a picture or something that we can gage this by? Because she may have some stuff pouring out of her eye.” And Don Quixote says, “Nothing pours out of her eye!” and then he charges and Rocinante falls, and this is a totally hilarious episode, but can one believe what one cannot see? See what is behind this episode? What is the role of sensorial experience in questions of belief? Isn’t there also potentially a socio-religious subtext here? Is it not likely that these merchants from Toledo are Jews or converted Jews? That is Jews, who have been forced to convert. Then is the test to which they are being subjected not playing with the issue of conversion, of forced conversion. It also seems to allude to fierce debates in the sixteenth century about religious images, which the Protestants did not allow and the Catholics did, and so forth. The stakes are getting higher. And as I explained in an earlier lecture, Cervantes presents his higher stakes always in a light vane and a very humorous episode, but still, these issues are there.

Now, Don Quixote, of course, is beaten to a pulp by one of the servants. This is the ultimate insult and humiliation, to be beaten by a commoner after having been betrayed by Rocinante. Rocinante just cannot really move from a trot to a gallop without falling, and you will see that similar things happen in the future. So Don Quixote is picked up by Pedro Alonso — Notice the common names, Cervantes gives very common names to very common people. Pedro Alonso is like being called Peter Johnson or something like that — So this Pedro Alonso is one of his neighbors. He picks him up — and notice his kindness not only picking up poor Alonso Quixano as he sees his neighbor but also waiting until dark before going into the village so that people will not see Don Quixote in this condition.

Again, it’s an act of kindness on the part of a very low class character. This is what I was saying before about characters in Cervantes no matter what their social class being able to perform these acts of kindness. There are echoes of the Good Samaritan and so forth, and the Bible, if you want to see biblical echoes in the Quixote. I have to tell you a brief story, when a close relative of mine was in the hospital very ill, and I used to go see him, I used to spend the time sometimes reading the Quixote, and I would get on the elevator sometimes with my Quixote like this, and there will be ministers who were also there to see dying patients. Mostly, actually, I should say, African-American ministers and they would see me with the book and would nod as if acknowledging that I was one of their kind.

So, now Don Quixote is madder than ever because of the beating he has been administered and he begins to return home. Returns home are always problematic. Presumably one is returning to the familiar, to the canny, but now the house is going to turn into a very uncanny place. It is the house, one must remember, it’s also the abode of the books, it houses the books that are the source of Don Quixote’s madness. So it is the familiar, the home, but also the place where the source of his madness is contained. It is also the place of his first battles, as we learn, where he would get up in the middle of the night and begin slashing with his sword and, as we will see in a minute and as I’m sure you read, it is a very malleable place. This house changes as if the canny were also the uncanny — I’m playing here, the background of my commentary here is the great essay by Freud on the uncanny, the unheimliche. His theory being that the uncanny is the canny, the familiar, becoming suddenly unfamiliar, not something totally unfamiliar, but the familiar becoming suddenly unfamiliar and this is what is happening here with his house. Houses and shelters, inns, palaces, and all of those are very important in the Quixote and I urge you to take notice of them.

Now, either here or after the scrutiny is where the Quixote was going to end. According to one of the theories that is contained in your Casebook, the essay by Menéndez Pidal — I will talk about the end of the scrutiny but this is a very important point that I want to make today to speak about that. In any case, this return home brings up the issue of repetition, which leads the philosophical question of whether there can be repetition and the aesthetic problem of representation because representing is also always a form of repetition: repeating something, and the issue of representation is at the core of the questions about literature that Cervantes brings up throughout the whole book. It also dovetails with Don Quixote’s own project to revive the heroic age. Can something be revived? Can it be repeated? The return also allows for a fuller analysis of Don Quixote’s madness. The housekeeper and the niece relate adventures of Don Quixote’s prior to his first sally. The niece recounts how he would read for two days and nights straight, without rest, where upon he would draw his sword and flail as in a battle until exhausted. That is, the return allows us to learn more about the etiology, the origin of Don Quixote’s madness.

The literary madness is not sufficient for Cervantes, and so he seems to have the need as — remember then I mentioned Huarte de San Juan’s book, the doctor that I mentioned, who wrote Examen de ingenios, Cervantes gives us some details about Don Quixote’s physical qualities and all of that, that make him prone to madness. For instance, his thinness, the dryness of his skin, a dry constitution. In the thearious, humors of the time, the [inaudible] of the time made him a candidate for the kind of madness that he had. This is because Cervantes, unlike Dante, whose Divine Comedy is thoroughly allegorical, Cervantes only flirts with allegory, but always seems to avoid it. What I mean is, this is not an allegorical madman, this is a particular madman with a specific illness, not an every man who can easily be subsumed in the “we” at the beginning of the Divine Comedy, “Nel mezzo del cammin de nostra vita...” ‘nostra vita,’ in the middle of a journey of our lives, this is, this particular mad man. This is why all of these details about his life at home are given, his diet, and all of that, are details Cervantes has given to justify to his madness. It’s not just a literary madness.

Chapter 4. The Inquisition of the Library [00:37:17]

Now, the book burning and the walling of the library will be cures for Don Quixote’s madness, but both are also filled with all kinds of implications. But through both parts of the novel, the characters will be searching for cures for Don Quixote. And here, obviously, the burning of the books and the walling of the library are a part of the cure: you eliminate the source and you eliminate the illness. Now, the inquisition of the library, or the scrutiny of the library is one of the most famous episodes in the Quixote, and of course one the favorite ones of literary critics and historians, because it deals with books. Again, it is conjecture that the end of the library episode would have been the end of the novella of Don Quixote, if indeed, what Cervantes proposed to write was a long short story about this man who goes mad from reading too much, etcetera. And then, this novella would end here, and that would have been it. He wrote many of those short novellas, he published twelve of them in 1613; he called them Exemplary Stories. It is conjecture, and you will read it in Menéndez Pidal’s essay that this was going to be the Quixote. And that Cervantes took stock of the fact that the character and the situation had great possibilities and continued from then on his novel. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The inquiry of the library is, of course, a satire of the Spanish Inquisition. This is clear. The Spanish Inquisition also forbid books, picked up books, and burnt books, so it is a mild satire. Here the Inquisition is represented by the niece who’s nineteen years old, the housekeeper, a village priest, a barber, I mean, these are not exactly high intellects, and the inquisition’s officers were… So, this is a satire in Cervantes, even against menacing institutions like the Inquisition, is always mild. It’s always mild, never very bitter. Now, details that are somewhat important about the scrutiny of the library is that no book in it, in the library, was published after 1591, so that allows us to surmise that the Quixote was written after 1591.

The chapter is the bibliography that Cervantes refused to provide in the prologue. Remember when his friend says, you don’t have to, you can make it up, well, this is the bibliography. Of course, he couldn’t have given his bibliography in the prologue because a bibliography made up of romances of chivalry is not a very authoritative bibliography, as it were. It’s not Aristotle, Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas, but Amadís de Gaula and so forth. So what he is giving here are the sources of Don Quixote’s madness and his protagonist’s literary genealogy. This is the family background that he refuses to provide about Don Quixote’s ‘real family.’ Now, what has Don Quixote read? Well, chivalric romances, but also Renaissance epics, pastoral romances and some serious poetry. What is missing from this library?

Student: Classics?

Professor Roberto González Echevarría: Classics and religious books. There are no devotional books in this library, as one will find, in the library of Diego de Miranda, a character in the second part, who says that he has devotional books. Now, of course, most American readers are astonished that there is no Bible, but this is Catholic Spain, and in Catholic countries, we don’t read the Bible. We read devotional books or hear the Bible in sermons from the priests. So, of course, if this were a library in New England or in Old England there would have been a Bible, but no Bible here at all, but no devotional books either. What this means is that Alonso Quixano is a belated humanist, that is, a humanist that came at the end of humanism, like Cervantes himself, a Christian with a weakness for frivolous literature but not very pious or devout. Although, it is true, for a humanist there are no classics here either.

There is very little poetry, although Don Quixote throughout the novel seems to know a lot about poetry, and even composes some poetry. There’s nothing by the great Garcilaso, the important Petrarchean style poet of the sixteenth century in Spain who was a model of poets and to whom Don Quixote alludes all of the time. Somehow, it is missing. This library does not give the whole range of Cervantes’ readings or even of Don Quixote’s reading, what prevail are the romances of chivalry about which I spoke in the last class. For Don Quixote they represented a world of absolute values in a fake past and place, where there is no fissure, no break between the imagination, desire and the real.

Now, the fact is that very few romances of chivalry appeared in Spain after 1565. Cervantes was born in 1547; this book appears in 1605; the action supposedly takes place in the 1590s. So, in this, Don Quixote is also a bit out of fashion. These romances of chivalry seem to be already out of fashion, but things move slowly, and the fact is that many characters in the novel appear to have read the romances of chivalry and to be very conversant with the romances of chivalry.

So, what else do we have? Pastoral romances. Pastoral romances were stories of fake shepherds, people who play the role of shepherds from the eclogues of antiquity involved in amorous adventures in neo-Platonic fashion, going through beautiful natural settings that corresponded to the purity of their love, and this, that, and the other. They could lead to tragic consequences, and this is, as you will see, in the Marcela and Grisóstomo episode that is coming up very soon. These pastoral romances, I know, are the furthest away from a modern sensibility. One can imagine a modern chivalric romance — I mentioned, I talked about James Bond and the Fleming movies and all of that — but it’s almost impossible to think of a modern pastoral. It’s not impossible, but very improbable. But this is one of the roles that Don Quixote could have chosen to play, and in fact, later on in the novel he will try to become a shepherd too. He will think of becoming a shepherd too.

Chapter 5. An Invitation to Blur Fiction and Reality [00:45:30]

Now, whom does Cervantes surprisingly include among the authors in Don Quixote’s library? Cervantes himself! La Galatea, Jarvis writes, Michael de Cervantes:

“…said the barber, that Cervantes has been a great friend of mine these many years and I know that he is better acquainted with misfortunes than with poetry. His book has somewhat of good invention in it [He’s talking about Cervantes’s pastoral romance La Galatea]. He proposes something but concludes nothing. We must wait for the second part which he promises, perhaps on his amendment he may obtain that entire part…”

So forth and so on. So this is a wink of Cervantes to the reader in which he’s inviting us to sort of fall in the same error as Don Quixote, blurring literature and reality. This is what happens when Cervantes, the author whose name is imprinted on the cover of the book appears within the fiction of the book; the distinction between fiction and reality, between fiction and reality is blurred, and Cervantes is intimating that the reading of literature, in general, can lead to such confusion. All of this, as I will explain in a minute always self referential things are very funny, but they have behind very serious ideas.

Now, notice also the irony that both the priest and the barber are steeped in the romances of chivalry, too, they are readers of the romances of chivalry. They know them very well, they defend some, and the priest speaks of having even begun to write one. We will find more readers of the romances of chivalry and more potential writers of romances of chivalry through the novel. And notice, the elaborate lie that the niece comes up with to explain the disappearance of the library from the house. It is as astonishing a fantasy as Don Quixote’s, so maybe it runs in the family: An old man riding a snake who leaves a trail of smoke. I hope you noticed this marvelous passage where the niece says — well, the innkeeper says that it was a devil that carted it:

“ ‘It was not the devil’ said the niece, [on page 55] ‘but an enchanter, who came one night upon a cloud, after the day of your departure [she’s addressing Don Quixote] hence, and alighting from a serpent on which he rode, entered into the room; and I know not what he did there, but after some little time, out he came, flying through the roof, and left the house full of smoke; and when we went to see what he had been doing, we saw neither books nor room; only we very well remember, both I and mistress housekeeper here, that when the old thief went away, he said, with a loud voice, that, for a secret enmity he bore to the owner of those books and of the room, he had done a mischief in this house, which should soon be manifest: he told us also, that he was called the sage Muñatón.’ Fristón he meant to say,’ quoth Don Quixote.”

Don Quixote, of course, doesn’t question the reality, he just questions the mispronunciation of the name of the enchanter. What does it mean that the niece should tell this lie? The physical disappearance of the library walled off by the housekeeper and the niece is an instance of the world of reality conspiring to increase Don Quixote’s madness, and of the uncanny, the familiar, the house, becoming unfamiliar. He came and began looking for the room, and running his hands on the walls and couldn’t find the door. It has been said that there is a contradiction in this action of walling off the library when there are no longer any books in it, but Don Quixote does not know this, and also it would have been difficult to explain to him that the books had been burned or given away. They were burned. They were his property, so they have committed a punishable act. The barber, the priest, the niece and the housekeeper are covering their own actions with a fiction, a lie, embellished by the niece’s wild imagination, which is contaminated by the romances of chivalry themselves. This reveals, notice that Cervantes doesn’t tell us that she’s a reader of romances of chivalry. We learn through this speech of hers that she is a reader of romances of chivalry, and that she suggests that she too read these romances probably sneaking into her uncle’s library and reading them there secretly. You see how much Cervantes can suggest without saying it directly?

Now, a more significant contradiction is that while the library is walled off and the books burned, the characters continue to speak to Don Quixote from within the fictions of chivalry. They both cure and make him more insane, or they try to cure him because they realize that he can only be spoken to from within his own mad world. Claudio Guillén, a very famous critic, who unfortunately passed away about a year ago, says that:

“Don Quixote is enveloped by a written context, a literary genre that reminds of chivalry which to him was historically true, structured by potential adventures that await him unforeseen, but appropriate by virtue of that genre.”

Because after this Don Quixote does not read another book, he doesn’t even read the book about himself, as the character’s in Part II, do — When you get to Part II, one of the fun parts of Part II is that the characters that the protagonist encounter have read Part I, and they expect Don Quixote to act according to how he acted in Part I, but Don Quixote has not read it. Alas, Sancho hasn’t either, of course, because he can’t read — But Don Quixote does not read another book after this.

Chapter 6. Sancho Enters the Scene [00:52:39]

Now, Sancho enters the scene, he represents European peasantry from time immemorial. Sancho, by the way, is a very common peasant type of name — The only one I can come up in English is ‘Wilbur.’ I think that a farmer in English would be called Wilbur. I mean, in Snuffy Smith, remember that comic strip? I would imagine someone being called Wilbur, I don’t know why, but that’s why I imagine — Sancho is a very, very common name, it gives us — Chalk always eludes me — it gives us the last name ‘Sánchez’ in Spanish, that many of you have heard, I’m sure. ‘Sánchez.’ In fact, when it has that, of course, you need the accent. Spanish names, that means, ‘belonging to the family of Sancho,’ like John-son, David-son. The ‘–ez’ in Spanish, ‘Gonzalo’ becomes ‘González,’ ‘Rodrigo’ becomes ‘Rodríguez,’ ‘Martín’ becomes ‘Martínez,’ you see? I told you were going to learn tidbits about Spanish culture, and there’s one. How Spanish, not all Spanish last names, how this common Spanish last name, like mine, González. Now, so Sancho, Sánchez. ‘Panza’ means, what? Belly, gut. It refers to his eating habits and to his being very much in touch with matter, with the earth.

Now, of course, he represents common sense in contrast to Don Quixote’s flights of fancy and I mean common sense, a sense of the common people. Whereas Don Quixote is a voracious reader, Sancho is illiterate. He has in his head all of the oral lore. However, he expresses this through his ‘refranes’ or proverbs — as you will see soon — proverbs that are the source of folk wisdom that fascinated humanists, by the way, because they thought that the proverbs, the refranes, were a form of common philosophy of the people, and that that philosophy could potentially contain as much wisdom as regular philosophy. There is the “Book of Proverbs” in the Bible, and philosophers have used such snippets, like La Roche Foucauld in France, in the seventeenth century, who wrote Maximes, maxims. “La vertu n’est ce que le vice déguisé. Virtue is nothing but vice disguised,” said La Roche Foucauld in his first maxim. Nietzsche wrote such short snippets, too, but these are the common people’s expressions of wisdom. Sancho will repeat them over and over again until he drives Don Quixote madder because of them, he can’t take it any more.

Now, in terms of literary history, Sancho issues from the world of comedy, of the theater, of the picaresque and of Celestina. Some who have wanted to do an allegorical reading of the Quixote see it, the pair, as an allegory of mind and body, Don Quixote, the mind, Sancho the body. But the most remarkable thing is that, with his appearance, the novel’s world becomes one of dialogue, dialogue between Sancho and Don Quixote. Now, what is most significant about Sancho — and this will become even more evident in Part II — is that, without readings or refinement, he is nevertheless endowed with sufficient wisdom to live and make valuable judgment. Common sense, sense of the common people, as a sufficient quality of mind; this is a quite modern idea leading up to democratic and egalitarian notions that do not reach full flier until the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, and in philosopher’s like Rousseau. Sancho transcends his limitations and indeed influences his master in his attitudes and — you will see — he engages in dialogue with Don Quixote and, although respectful, he holds his ground because he has sufficient wisdom to do so.

So with Sancho, the novel seems to be complete, the cast is complete, and the second sally will begin here. And the second sally is where the Quixote, as we know it, really begins. If it was going to be a short story and Cervantes extended it to become the Quixote, it is here that the Quixote as we know it begins, with Sancho in place. So, in a sense, Don Quixote is its own source, again, self legitimation.

Chapter 7. Windmills: Reality in a State of Flux; The Basque [00:58:07]

Now, the adventure of the windmills — I have a little bit more — This is a signature episode of the Quixote as you know. You have seen it everywhere, represented everywhere. You go to the Barajas Airport, in Madrid, and you will find a thousand little trinkets that you can buy with the windmills and Don Quixote and so forth. Why? It’s the first adventure where the two characters disagree about the nature of what is being seen, it is tremendously funny, it has one of the most tremendous, one of the funniest lines in the whole book for me. When Don Quixote says, look at those giants and he goes on and on about the giants, and, with a pause that a good comic would be able to use, Sancho says, “What giants?” He doesn’t see any giants. He sees windmills. So Don Quixote charges, and with a catastrophic result that you know. Now, there are other things that are important about this scene. It sets the four-part structure of most scenes that will follow. One, Don Quixote and Sancho see something; two, they argue about what it is; three, Don Quixote takes action; four, they discuss in the aftermath of the adventure what it was. And there is that moment, also, when Don Quixote says something quite profound after this adventure, in trying to explain how the giants became windmills. He says:

“ ‘Peace, friend’ — [page 60] — ‘Peace, friend Sancho,’ answered Don Quixote; ‘for matters of war are, of all others, most subject to continual mutations.’”

What Don Quixote is saying is quite profound is that reality is in a state of flux. So things may appear to be something now and be something different a moment later. So his interpretation is not foolish at all. He also alludes back to the disappearance of his library, I mean, these things can happen. Hey, if my library can disappear, these giants can become windmills and I could be unseated.

Now, the next two episodes are very interesting, and one is the fight with what Jarvis calls the Biscainer, a Basque, Biscainer. These are people from the Basque country. The Basque’s occupy parts of Spain and of France, a very proud people because they presumably were never invaded — First of all, they have been there since the beginning of time; their language cannot be traced back to Indo-European sources, they don’t know where it came from. They’re there, and the Romans couldn’t take them over, and the Arabs couldn’t take them over, so they’re very proud of that, and they’re very proud of their aristocratic background. I know about this because my family, most of it, is Basque and Echevarría is a Basque name, so even today they are a frightening people.

There is this group called ETA, that you may have heard, in Spain. It is a separatist terrorist group that blows up things and kills people, and so forth, and both the Spanish and the French government have been fighting them because the Basque, this group, want autonomy from Spain and France, they want their own country — So this is the background. This is the first of several characters you’re going to meet in the book from regions other than Castile. Remember, Spain is made up of several regions, several cultures and languages, and the Basque are the furthest away from other cultures in the Spanish peninsula because they don’t have a Roman background. Their language has nothing to do with Romance languages, and hence he speaks funny, and part of the humor in this episode is the way he speaks very broken Spanish, and how he acts with a sense of self assurance and haughtiness, and so forth, because he is Basque.

Chapter 8. Remarks on Background Readings [01:03:02]

I am going to stop there and read just a couple of things from the background readings because I want to speak about the lost and found manuscript and all of that in relation to the self reflectiveness in the novel and all of that, and I don’t want to do it at the end when you and I are tired. I wanted you to consider — this is a way of encouraging you to read Elliot Imperial Spain — this contrast that Elliot sets up here between Castile and Aragon:

“The crown of Aragon, therefore, with its rich and energetic urban patriciate was deeply influenced by its overseas commercial interests [mostly in the Mediterranean]. It was imbued with a contractural concept of the relationship between kings and subjects which had been effectively realized in institutional form and it was well experienced in the administration of empire. [They still are, the Catalans are very good businessmen]. In all of these respects it contrasted strikingly with medieval Castile [from which Isabel, came, Isabel, the queen]. Where in the early fourteenth century the crown of Aragon was cosmopolitan in outlook and predominantly mercantile in its inclinations, contemporary Castile tended to look inwards, rather than outwards. [Inwards]. And was oriented less towards trade than war. Fundamentally, Castile was a pastoral and nomadic society whose habits and attitudes had been shaped by constant warfare, [against the Moors], by the protracted process of the Reconquista, [the re-conquest], still awaiting completion long after it was finished in the crown of Aragon.”

The point that I want to suggest here is there’s an echo of this nomadic war like quality of Castile in the novel itself, where the characters are on the move. Don Quixote and Sancho and all of the other characters who are on the move. This is a reflection of this character of Castilian society as Elliot describes it here. This is just to give you an idea of how productive the reading of Elliot can be for this book.

The other text that I want to read is from Manuel Durán’s essay on the life of Cervantes, that is at the beginning of the Casebook. Now, this is just a very brief life of Cervantes. One cannot go much further, even though that have been many biographies, because there are no documents. There are very few documents to be found now. Of course, there were more, much more documents in Shakespeare’s case, but nothing new has been found. And I think that what is important, two things are important in what Durán says here. One, he suggests more than says it, Cervantes, I think I’ve mentioned this before, belongs to the first generation of writers who are professional writers. Before you had aristocrats and you had the clergy, who could write because they had the leisure time to do it. They were idle readers and writers. Not Cervantes. Cervantes depends on aristocrats in the old style of the mecenas who gives you money, but it was very unsuccessful that way and it was very poor, and the publishers swindled him out of money, and he was poor, and he worked, and was in jail, and so forth, as you have read in that statement. He was in jail for his accounts were not too clear in what he was doing as a tax collector, and all of that. So these are the first professional writers.

And the second point is even more important, which is about how Cervantes was both inside and outside Spanish society. This is Durán speaking:

“If Cervantes’s biography teaches us anything, it is that he was at the same time inside and outside the mainstream of Spanish life. As an insider he took part in the Battle of Lepanto and wrote at least two successful books, Don Quixote and the Exemplary Novels. This is certainly much more than the level of achievement of most middle-class hidalgos of his time. As an outsider he was always poor — almost to the point of being destitute — and not infrequently in jail; he lacked influential friends in a society where nothing could be done without them and without money; he was often unable to protect adequately the female members of his family; the influential critics and writers of his time did not recognize the quality of his work; his accomplishments as a soldier and as a loyal member of the Administration were ignored — while his every minor transgression was punished harshly.”

This is a good point about Cervantes, this figure who’s both inside and outside society and hence can provide this deep probe into that society.

[end of transcript]

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