24 May 2005

On the beloved Manchegan

Ok, so the Pale Fire comments will have to wait another day, but I've had a productive night. Here are a few thoughts I posted to the other blog where I hang out, 400 Windmills:
(This started out as a comment on Bud's previous post, but quickly mushroomed into its own full-fledged response.)

I don't think Don Quixote is a coward--think of all the times he's hurled himself bodily at various and sundry objects/people/sheep! I actually read this "modification" of his penance as humorous. (I find that Cervantes' subtle comedy more than makes up for the gory slapstick kind.) Remember, when Sancho runs into the priest and barber he tells them (heedless of any changes to DQ's self-inflicted plans), "My master is doing penance in the middle of those mountains, as happy as can be" (208).

It seems to me that Don Quixote doesn't mind suffering as long as it is poetic and in keeping with the types of suffering found in those stories of chivalry. After his "million Ave Marías" on his homemade rosary, "he was greatly troubled at not finding a hermit nearby who would hear his confession and console him" (206). I don't think he was "greatly troubled" because he truly needed consolation, but because finding a hermit would make the scene that much more "authentic" or "how it should be."

Maybe this goes back to what I asked previously re. what constitutes actual suffering: personal perspective or demonstrable pain? At first I thought his "sighs and verses" a mere mockery of actual suffering (i.e., Cardenio's)--hence, "fake." But Don Quixote isn't just playing a role--in his mind, he is suffering all this. (Page 208 also says, "if the squire had taken three weeks instead of three days, the Knight of the Sorrowful Face would have been so altered that not even his own mother would have known him." I wonder how many plants he would've found "that would sustain him"?)

I know that this may sound contradictory. How can it be "real" suffering, yet intentionally picturesque (or artistically accurate) at the same time?

I see Don Quixote is a type of artist. He finds fulfillment in becoming a martyr to the cause of chivalry, and strives to embody it in the least detail. There is an inherent integrity to his apparent artifice.

This brings me the aforementioned essay by Mario Vargas Llosa, "Una novela para el siglo XXI" ("A Novel for the 21st Century"). In it, he asks, "Is Alonso Quijano's insanity born from the desperate nostalgia of a world gone by, of a visceral rejection of modernity and progress?"* He says that this would be the case if the world that Don Quixote longs for had actually been part of history. But "in reality, it only existed in the imagination, legends, and utopias that human beings forged in order to [...] find refuge in a society of order, honor, [and] principles". (In other words, something to take their minds off the typical trials and tribulations of the Middle Ages.)

He then says, "The chivalric literature that causes the Quixote to lose his mind--this is an expression that must be taken in a metaphorical sense rather than a literal one--is not 'realistic,' because the delirious prose of its paladins does not reflect a lived reality." Yet in spite of this, the stories are a "genuine response" to the "real world" in that within their pages, good always triumphs over evil.

So "the dream that changes Alonso Quijano into Don Quixote de la Mancha does not consist of reactualizing the past, but in something much more ambitious: to realize myth, transform fiction into living history." It is this dream that slowly seeps into the "reality" of those around him until "little by little--like a Borgesian tale--it becomes fiction."

He then asserts, "Fiction is a central theme of the novel, because the Manchegan hidalgo that is its protagonist has been 'unhinged'--his insanity must first be seen as an allegory or symbol before a clinical diagnosis--by the fantasies of chivalric books, and, believing that the world is how it is described in [these novels], he is launched in search of adventures that he will parody, provoking and suffering small catastrophes."

I believe that the disparity between what the Quixote aspires to and what he sometimes does (not what happens to him--this is an important distinction) is a source of wry humor rather than hypocrisy. For all his grandiloquent speeches, the actual work of transforming myth into reality can be a pretty thankless task.

* Again, all translations are mine (for better or for worse).
Also, you MUST check out Castilla-La Mancha's offical website for the IV Centenary of Don Quixote. It's simply gorgeous--filled with dozens of photographs and a nifty interactive map that traces the Quixote's route through Spain. (The Spanish version seems to have a few more articles.)

P.S. In my last post, I forgot to mention the other memorable moment of the weekend: watching the first Thomas Pynchon episode of The Simpons...in Spanish! I laughed so hard, I had to explain the gag to my younger cousin. (Yeah...I'm a dork.)

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