Introducing Myself Thursday, May 31 2007 

So I thought that I’d just introduce myself to this particular blog group. I’m in my fourth year of English Literature Studies. My gf who is also an English major recently chastised me for not having read this particular part of the English Literary Canon so I am rectifying that and I stumbled upon this particular blog via relation to Work in Progress.  I have as yet only read the introduction and I am currently on my way to finishing the first two chapters. I shall start posting my thoughts and any related questions soon enough. Hope to have some nice conversations with you all, cheers.

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the sun and mirrour of Manchegan chivalry Tuesday, May 29 2007 

The author/narrator doesn’t seem to believe that Don Quixote is mad. In Chapter One of Book Two he explains how the conclusion to the combat between Don Quixote and the gallant Biscayan was missing from his source material, and he states,

…it seemed impossible, and contrary to every laudable custom, that such an excellent knight should be unprovided with some sage to undertake the history of his unheard-of exploits….

He goes further in his praise, while expressing his desire to know the complete history of Don Quixote,

the first who in this our age, and these degenerate times, undertook the toil and exercise of errantry and arms, to redress grievances, support the widow, and protect those damsels who stroll about with whip and palfrey, from hill to hill, and from dale to dale, on the strength of their virginity alone; …that for these and many other considerations, our gallant Don Quixote merits incessant and immortal praise….

So who exactly is this narrator, perhaps three times removed from the actual events? Is he meant to be Cervantes himself? And is he being facetious, or does he know a truth about Don Quixote which all the other characters in the book fail to recognise or understand?

After Don Quixote fells the gallant Biscayan, and the ladies of the coach beg for mercy, he demands that the Biscayan

“…go strait to Toboso, and present himself, in my behalf, before the unparalelled Donna Dulcinea, that she may use him according to her good pleasure.”

I will be interested to find out, first, if any of those he vanquishes actually do go to present themselves before Dulcinea, and, second, what happens when all these folks are running around looking for some Dulcinea del Toboso who doesn’t exist.

the dreadful and inconceivable adventure of the wind-mills Tuesday, May 29 2007 

The first adventure Don Quixote meets with after enlisting Sancho Panza is with the wind-mills on the plain. The knight recognises them as outrageous giants. The squire politely tries to explain that what is before them are innocent wind-mills, not giants.

“It seems very plain, said the knight, that you are but a novice in adventures….”

Adventures require imagination. Sancho would seem to lack such qualities, though he can easily imagine himself as the governor of an island. So is Don Quixote gripped by madness here? He is certainly possessed, but besides discounting Sancho’s opinion that his intended opponents were wind-mills, he also would not

use the intelligence of his own eyes, tho’ he was very near them….

What other adventures are there to be had if one does not use one’s imagination? Don Quixote attacks, and the first miscreant breaks his lance and overthrows him. Sancho tries to say “I told you so.” But for Don Quixote there is always a logical explanation:

“the affairs of war, are more than anything, subject to change. How much more so, as I believe, nay, am certain, that the sage Freston, who stole my closet and books, has converted those giants into mills, in order to rob me of the honour of their overthrow;”

and always a reason to be positive:

“but, in the end, all his treacherous arts will but little avail against the vigour of my sword.”

The chapter ends oddly, in self-reference, in the middle of another adventure. It is continued in the next chapter of the second book. Does anyone know how this was originally published, all together or in installments? Installments would explain the cliffhanger ending of Book One. Otherwise, why break one adventure into two chapters? Why not end one chapter with the adventure of the wind-mills, and begin a new chapter with the next adventure complete?

The Shepherdess and her Sheep Monday, May 28 2007 

“I was born free, and in order to live free I chose the solitude of the countryside.”

I loved the chapters in Don Quixote about Marcela the “shepherdess” and all the heart-broken “shepherds” who chased her in vain. Then, as now, people couldn’t believe that a woman, especially a beautiful woman, would choose a life of her own instead of marriage. Judging by the fools who wooed her, I’m not in the least surprised at her choice! These well-to-do, supposedly intelligent men, students at university at Salamanca, traded their academic’s robes for shepherd’s clothes as soon as they caught sight of Marcela tending her flock. Were they were attracted more by her beauty or her wealth? Certainly they felt entitled to a shot at both, and were deeply offended (apparently to the point of death for one of them) when she refused them all. If she is such a prize, she must be won by someone, right? No, she insisted on belonging only to herself, and this threw the social order into disorder and madness, bringing much opprobrium upon herself as a result.

If you read my last post on mimetic desire you probably picked up on that dynamic here. First Grisóstomo imitates Marcela by dressing as a shepherd. But what sets him off? He begins to desire after inheriting the second-largest estate in the vicinity—Marcela’s is the only one larger. He must marry her if he wants to be top dog, so he gives chase. All the other bachelors no doubt see that by wooing Marcela they can overleap Grisóstomo in status, so they imitate him with enthusiasm. The chances that any of them really care or desire Marcela for herself are minute, and she seems to know it.  She has no intention of becoming a trophy wife and greatly prefers “the solitude of the countryside” and “the honest conversation of the shepherdesses” to the finery and flattery of society. The fact that the spurned “shepherds” malign her completes the mimetic triangle—the struggle between rivals often ends in the destruction of the object of desire, which reveals the false nature of that desire. Though the shepherds don’t threaten Marcela physically, they do their best to destroy her reputation and go so far as to accuse her of murder.

The comic finale to the section is when Don Quixote threatens anyone who would dare to follow her, and then proceeds to follow her himself, supposedly to offer his assistance to that damsel in distress. As I read in later chapters, his devotion to Dulcinea can lapse at convenient moments, so I have no doubt that his intentions were no more honourable than those of the “shepherds.” (There is much that could be said on the topic of virtue in this book.) Luckily Marcela manages to give him the slip, and Don Quixote’s “adventures” continue, as before, with another bruising.

we who are called the twelve peers of France Sunday, May 27 2007 

Chapter Seven furthers the plans of the curate and barber to “cure” Don Quixote:

Another remedy which the curate and barber prescribed for the distemper of their friend, was to alter and block up the closet where his books had been kept; that, upon his getting up, he should not find them, and the cause being taken away, the effect might cease….

After his first sally, Don Quixote was in great need of rest. He remains in bed for two days, and of course the first thing he does when he gets up is go to visit his books. He can not find the room, and asks his house-keeper, who was instructed by the curate and barber to reply:

“There are neither books nor closet in this house; for the devil himself has run away with both.” “It was not the devil, cried the neice, but, an inchanter that conveyed himself hither in a cloud, one night after your worship’s departure, and alighting from a dragon on which he was mounted, entered the closet, where I know not what he did, but having staid a very little while, he came flying thro’ the roof, leaving the whole house full of smoke.”

Perhaps some dear reader will be able to explain to me how they intend to cure Don Quixote of his delusions by feeding them? The plan backfires, as Don Quixote responds in the manner that he will conduct himself through the rest of the novel:

“The case then is plain, said the knight, that same sage inchanter is one of my greatest enemies, who bears me a grudge… and for this reason, he endeavours to give me every mortification in his power….”

Nothing will stand in his way, and no defeat or setback will be viewed as such.

As further part of their attempt to bring Don Quixote to reason, the curate and barber converse with him for several days, as a result of which

he observed that the world was in want of nothing so much as of knights-errant, and that in him this honourable order was revived.

In every way, both spiritual and secular, the world is wanting. Who, then, is mad: those who are content, or those who would remedy the situation? Is it madness to want to help others, to do good, even to win glory for the woman one loves? After Don Quixote enlists Sancho Panza as his squire, the chapter ends with his advice to the poor simpleton peasant that wonderfully captures the knight’s bright outlook and high expectations:

“…let not thy soul be so far debased, as to content itself with any thing less than a vice-royalty.”

He is saying one should follow one’s dreams, never compromise one’s principles, and never be satisfied with second-best. Isn’t this the same advice the self-help experts dole out, the same advice, in a hopeful moment when the future appears infinite with possibilities, we give our children today?

in the library of our sagacious hero Friday, May 25 2007 

In A New Theory of Vision (1704), author George Berkeley posits that the brain interprets things by associating the signals received by the sense organs with things the brain already knows. Don Quixote, his mind so saturated with reading, sees a simple inn and interprets it as a castle, sees a windmill and interprets it as a giant, sees a common wench and interprets her as a princess.

Chapter Six we read as reason to believe that Don Quixote has not gone mad. Surely he is mad about tales of chivalry, as one might be Mad About Books. We do not believe he has lost his wits.

“Here, master licentiate, pray take and sprinkle the closet, lest some one of the many enchanters contained in these books, should exercise his art upon us, as a punishment for our burning, and banishing them from the face of the earth.”

Cervantes is making fun of people like the curate and the barber and Don Quixote’s niece, who all believe that books may disorder our brains. Yet even in their disposal of the vile romances, the curate and barber find numerous titles they decide must be spared immolation, and even a few titles which they, too, own. They have read some of these same books, and yet consider themselves as absolutely sane. Don Quixote, they aver, is not.

Romances of chivalry are not the only books judged guilty of so much mischief. At the appearance of numerous volumes of poetry,

“Pray, sir, said the niece, be so good as to order these to be burnt with the rest; for my uncle will no sooner be cured of his knight-errantry, than, by reading these, he will turn shepherd, and wander about the groves and meadows piping and singing. Nay, what is worse, perhaps turn poet, which, they say, is an infectious and incurable distemper.”

God forbid, not a poet! We laugh at their folly, and yet at the beginning of the book, when we are told that the same thing has happened to Don Quixote, we accept it.

If we accept personal responsibility, we deny that a man never would have comitted murder if he had not read about the crime in William Harrison Ainsworth’s novel Jack Sheppard. We all choose our actions. Perhaps Don Quixote is the inner child in all of us, acting out the things he has read. Perhaps he seeks these adventures out of pure interest, or to make of himself someone important enough to write about. He chooses his folly and takes it seriously. And still, who can say that he does not yet have his wits about him, and the others missing theirs? Lest we be made fun of as well, we must not accept that his books have infected him with madness.

The World’s First Work of Popular Fiction Friday, May 25 2007 

I’ve always loved irony, whether it be in life or in literature, so I was delighted with the prologue of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. While seeking inspiration for the prologue, Cervantes confesses to a friend that, without scholarly quotes and literary allusions and sonnets, his book won’t be as learned as he would like it to be. No matter, his friend tells him before encouraging Cervantes to plagiarize his bibliography and footnotes. Aristotle, Plato, Aesop, Horace, and a few contemporaries are all name-checked. Along the way, Cervantes’ friend addresses the issue of the book’s readers–and namely scholars–by insinuating that they’ll be too stupid or lazy to bother double-checking a bibliography: “Besides, no one will take the trouble to ascertain whether you follow your authorities or not, as he has nothing to gain by it.”

The prologue probably has no basis on factual events and, given the tongue-in-cheek comedy of the entire dialogue, one is inclined to think that it’s apocryphal–writers are egotistical liars, always trying to outdo their peers, especially when it comes to the breadth of their knowledge, and in this respect, Cervantes seems to be admitting that he’s no different. The prologue also brilliantly sets the stage for the rest of the book–Don Quixote is a satire, so Cervantes makes an effort to dispel his readers’ notions of seriousness. The author is essentially announcing that his history, as it were, has no basis in fact. Readers don’t have to scholars to enjoy it, and indeed, Cervantes seems to prefer that unlearned individuals–commoners, really–read his book. And by keeping the common people mind, Cervantes is perhaps making fun of the literati and their pretentiousness by intentionally writing the world’s first work of popular fiction.

Yet, given the thought he put into the prologue, as well as his obsession with credibility, perhaps Cervantes wants us to take his book seriously after all.

a pleasure-journey Friday, May 25 2007 

gustavedore_donquixote_002.jpg

“Don Quixote” is not a book to “sit down to”–as men phrase it, and so phrasing convert bright prospect into threat of doleful task–but a book to set out upon. Let reading of it be as a pleasure-journey–interrupted, indeterminate, delayed, full of loiterings and surprises. Delight in it, as in the journey, is a leisurely matter. It is not to be hurdled through; it is a wandering through the land–cities and inns, the wayside and the square; duels, fantasies, woeful obsessions, and antics to make men weep; then forlorn homecomings, a clearing of the vision, and a lying down for the long sleep.

…from Much Loved Books: Best Sellers of the Ages, by James O’Donnell Bennett

these agreeable vapours of his unaccountable folly Wednesday, May 23 2007 

We just finished reading the Praise of Folly by Erasmus. We chose the book because the author was quoted from it in Carlos Fuentes’ introduction to our edition of Don Quixote:

The reality of things depends solely on opinion. Everything in life is so diverse, so opposed, so obscure, that we cannot be assured of any truth.

The first sentence of the quote is what intrigued us, because we have spent a good deal of time exploring the dichotomies between reality and fantasy, or truth and fiction. And it turns out that much of what Erasmus has to say about Folly speaks directly to Don Quixote.

To start with, everyone accepts the truth of the well-known saying “Where fact is lacking, fiction is best”, and so children are properly taught from the start the line “To play the fool in season is the height of wisdom”. You can see now for yourselves what a great blessing Folly is….

We have read the first four chapters of the classic Tobias Smollett translation. We must ask ourselves, Is Don Quixote truly mad?

So eager and intangled was our Hidalgo in this kind of history, that he would often read from morning to night, and from night to morning again, without interruption; till at last, the moisture of his brain being quite exhausted with indefatigable watching and study, he fairly lost his wits: all that he had read of quarrels, enchantments, battles, challenges, wounds, tortures, amorous complaints, and other improbable conceits, took full possession of his fancy; and he believed all those romantic exploits so implicitly, that in his opinion, the holy scripture was not more true.

Granting the assumption that the holy scripture is true, we see Don Quixote interpreting his world precisely as Erasmus described. Early on there is a perfect example of how this works: Don Quixote approaches an inn, which he fancies a castle, expecting his arrival to be announced by a trumpet. Just then a local swine-herd

chanced to blow his horn, in order to collect his scattered subjects: immediately the knight’s expectation was fulfilled, and concluding that now the dwarf had given the signal of his approach, he rode towards the inn with infinite satisfaction.

Wonderful! Pure folly, which Erasmus tells us is the key to happiness. How much brighter would be the life of Aldonza Lorenco if she imagined herself, as does Don Quixote, the princess Dulcinea del Toboso? Who is mad, those who fail to find beauty at every turn, or the man who adorns himself and his concerns with music, romance, and expression? Folly is Don Quixote’s salvation. Indeed, when we imagine things to be what we want them to be, we can live with nothing less than infinite satisfaction.

We’re growing! Monday, May 21 2007 

Just a quick note to say we’re up to 26 people participating in this summer Don Quixote group reading! I have been getting emails regularly from people who want to join us, which I think is wonderful.

So, to anyone else who might like to join, send me an email, and to those already joined up, please feel free to post any time on anything DQ-related. Posts don’t have to be substantive or serious if you don’t want them to be. Any thoughts are welcome!

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