Friday, October 29, 2010

Don Quixote Balderdash

People like to use the adjective "quixotic." It sounds learned, cultured, etc. But has everyone been using it incorrectly? Has the word taken on a definition that is untrue to the character from which it is derived? I'm not sure.

Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster:
1: foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially : marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action
2: capricious, unpredictable

Examples of QUIXOTIC

- They had quixotic dreams about the future.

- in this age of giant chain stores, any attempt at operating an independent bookstore must be regarded as quixotic

I feel like the standard, accepted usage of "quixotic" is slightly off, as it has come to mean something along the lines of fighting a hopeless or pointless fight in the face of certain failure, impossible odds, etc. But that seems to miss the element of choice that seems to be present in DQ's delusions -- he, to some degree, chooses to see the world as other than it is. And in doing so, by conforming his actions to his idealized world, DQ in fact ends up changing his "reality," by becoming a "famous" knight, [SPOILER] making Sancho the governor DQ imagined he would become, etc.

Anyhow, now that you've read (more than half of) the book, how would you define "quixotic"?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

All Downhill From Here

We've made it to the second book of Don Quixote. The second book was published a decade after the first book.

I've found the beginning of the second book to be quite entertaining, as Cervantes seems to be having some fun addressing the various issues his critics had raised about the first book. What ever did happen to Sancho's donkey? Why would Sancho be gullible enough to believe that Don Quixote would ever award him an ínsula?

And in case you were wondering (as I was), after Warren's comment to the last post:
Paragone (Italian: paragone, meaning comparison), is a debate from the Italian Renaissance in which one form of art (architecture, sculpture or painting) is championed as superior to all others. Leonardo da Vinci's treatise on painting, noting the difficulty of painting and supremacy of sight, is a noted example.

I was driving on a highway in Pasadena (note: Pasadena is a made-up word) and drove under a highway sign for "Ventura." My thoughts went back to the footnote I had read a few days ago:
The housekeeper's statement is based on her confusing aventura ("adventure") with ventura ("happiness," "luck," and "fortune" are the relevant meanings). I've translated ventura as "venture" in order to establish the connection with "adventure," though a better word would probably be "fortune."
p. 496, fn. 1

I didn't take the highway to Ventura. I went home instead.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open Forum

Let's chat. Current feelings about the book? Frustrated? Satisfied? Pet theories or interpretations? Have at it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Among the Resemblances of Things

I found, in Michel Foucault's brief commentary on Don Quixote, some fascinating echoes of ideas we've been discussing here:
His whole being is nothing but language, text, printed pages, stories that have already been written down. He is made up of interwoven words; he is writing itself, wandering through the world among the resemblances of things. Yet not entirely so: for in his reality as an impoverished hidalgo he can become a knight only by listening from afar to the age-old epic that gives its form to Law. The book is not so much his existence as his duty. He is constantly obliged to consult it in order to know what to do or say, and what signs he should give himself and other in order to show that he really is of the same nature as the text from which he springs. The chivalric romances have provided once and for all a written prescription for his adventures. And every episode, every decision, every exploit will be yet another sign that Don Quixote is a true likeness of all the signs that he has traced from his book. . . . If he is to resemble the texts of which he is the witness, the representation, the real analogue, Don Quixote must also furnish proof and provide the indubitable sign that they are telling the truth, that they are really are the language of the world.

Foucault notes how this process becomes yet more complicated in the second part of the novel [SPOILER ALERT], where "Don Quixote meets characters who have read the first part of his story and recognize him, the real man, as the hero of the book." In the second part, where DQ has achieved the notoriety he sought,
Cervantes's text turns back on itself, thrusts itself back into its own density, and becomes the object of its own narrative. The first part of the hero's adventures plays in the second part the role originally assumed by the chivalric romances. Don Quixote must remain faithful to the book that he has now become in reality; he must protect it from errors, from counterfeits, from apocryphal sequels; he must fill in the details that have been left out he must preserve its truth. But Don Quixote himself has not read this book, and he does not have to read it, since he is the book in flesh and blood.
Id. at 48.

Philosophers, literary theorists, et al. seem to love this book because it is very much a book about reading and writing (as I've observed probably too many times already in these blog discussions). DQ is the embodiment of the act of writing: his actions and duties are dictated by what has already been written, and he seeks to inscribe himself within this existing order. In a certain sense, like writing, which depends on the already-established for its very ability to function, there is nothing truly "new" that DQ can produce or do. His goal is to produce a new book that will be precisely in accord with previous books that he is treating as binding precedent. (We'll have to have a discussion along the way about the relation of Don Quixote to the legal method of the common law, the reliance on precedent, the professed avoidance of creating new law out of "whole cloth," etc.)

My own repetition of Foucault's points (which I chose to quote partially because they reflected some of the points in my earlier comments) and tedious repetition of my own earlier points are themselves points of resemblance to DQ: specifically, to his compulsion to find (or create) similarities between what he knows and what he sees and what he does and says. The points I've been making about writing extend logically to our ability to think new thoughts, say new things, given that our thoughts are embedded within (and perhaps largely produced by) language.

And perhaps it's also worth pondering what produces this need to seek out similarity in the world: this is, arguably, the way in which we interpret the world, fitting it into inherited, previously established schema, trying to find (or impose) repetition or similarity between what we know and what we see (or reality). Anthropologists would provide us with an abundance of examples: see, for example, the reactions of the Hawaiians to the arrival of Captain James Cook, the reception of Cortes in Aztec Mexico, etc.

Hope you've all had time to catch up to the pace. We're on page 400 today. Page 500 by next Sunday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reading Schedule Revision

Our 100-page-per-week pace has been a little intense, especially for people who have to, say, earn a living, care for pets or children, talk to their spouses or partners, etc. So we'll use this week as a catch-up period: this Sunday's goal of page 500 is pushed back to next Sunday, and the entire reading schedule is pushed back a week. (We're now on track to finish the book just after Thanksgiving.) Hopefully, the extra week will help people get back on track.

We're nearly past halfway now. I hope those of you tempted to chuck the book will stick with us, if only because you've already spent so much time on this project. (That's sound reasoning for you!)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Looking Ahead

First off, anyone still here? If so, check in below to let us know how your reading is going -- and to reassure your blog moderators that we're not alone here. (We're insecure by nature.)

I was wondering about where the book was headed, so I decided to scan the chapter headings in the table of contents. If you haven't briefly looked over the chapter headings for the remainder of the book, they're worth a look. Here are a few:
- Part II, Chapter IX: Which recounts what will soon be seen.

- Part II, Chapter XXXI: Which deals with many great things.

- Part II, Chapter LXVI: Which recounts what will be seen by whoever reads it, or heard by whoever listens to it being read.

- Part II, Chapter LXX: Which follows Chapter LXIX, and deals with matters necessary to the clarity of this history.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Profitable Partnerships: the Princess Micomicona story

From a piece in the Bulletin of Cervantes Society of America, 20.1 (Spring, 2010): 163:86, entitled Chivalry and Empire: The Colonial Argument of the Princess Micomicona Episode in Don Quijote Part I:
It may seem jarring to modern readers that the idea of slavery rears its head in a romance plot, but Sancho’s immodest proposal underscores the concept of profit, which is in fact the foremost concern of the Micomicona episode. For David Quint, Micomicona and the financially advantageous marriage she offers represent a story cluster that focuses on money, the acquisition of goods, and other practical concerns. Quint does not enter into a detailed analysis of the Micomicona fiction itself, but he does oppose the story of the chivalric princess and her kingdom to the fiction of Dulcinea. Where Dulcinea represents the ideal, Micomicona represents the practical. Quint reads the Micomicona tale as a modernizing impulse within Don Quijote: “With the ‘Princess Micomicona’ plot and the marriage-and-money stories clustered around it, Don Quijote seems to have entered fully upon the terrain and preoccupations of the modern novel, the measure of a historical shift from a stratified feudal society to the more open social world of a nascent capitalism” (76). I agree in principle with Quint’s argument, but I would like to point out the irony of using the romance of chivalry, an archaic and archaizing genre, to code for this shift towards the modern. However, Cervantes certainly does capitalize on certain pre-existing features of the chivalric genre in order to articulate this currency-driven plot. In its oblique way, the Iberian romance of chivalry has always been concerned with the very practical matters of the acquisition of wealth and territory. Many knights do in fact seek out financially advantageous liaisons, and this episode from Don Quijote seems to allude to several chivalric marriages in the Iberian tradition. In the marriage plots of the Amadís series, Christian knights find pagan brides, convert them to Christianity, and assume leadership over their new wives’ inherited territories. In these romances, marriage substitutes for warfare, and colonial relationships become predicated on marital ties.
(Piece available here.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Week Three Questions

What is Don Quixote's relationship to reality? Is he aware that he chooses to believe in illusion?

What is the significance of Sancho Panza's illiteracy? How does it inform his character in relation to Don Quixote's overly literate character?

Does the book (so far) celebrate or denigrate fiction?

What is the point of the lengthy Cardenio episode?

How does the innkeeper's mania for chivalry relate to Don Quixote's own mania? "'God willing you won't follow in the footsteps of your guest Don Quixote.' 'I won't,' responded the innkeeper, 'because I wouldn't be crazy enough to become a knight errant; I see very well that these days are different from the old days, when they say those famous knights wandered through the world.'" (271)

Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote

From the previously mentioned short story by Borges:
Those who have insinuated that Menard dedicated his life to writing a contemporary Quixote calumniate his illustrious memory.

He did not want to compose another Quixote —which is easy— but the Quixote itself. Needless to say, he never contemplated a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.

“My intent is no more than astonishing,” he wrote me the 30th of September, 1934, from Bayonne. “The final term in a theological or metaphysical demonstration—the objective world, God, causality, the forms of the universe—is no less previous and common than my famed novel. The only difference is that the philosophers publish the intermediary stages of their labor in pleasant volumes and I have resolved to do away with those stages.” In truth, not one worksheet remains to bear witness to his years of effort.

The first method he conceived was relatively simple. Know Spanish well, recover the Catholic faith, fight against the Moors or the Turk, forget the history of Europe between the years 1602 and 1918, be Miguel de Cervantes. Pierre Menard studied this procedure (I know he attained a fairly accurate command of seventeenth-century Spanish) but discarded it as too easy. Rather as impossible! my reader will say. Granted, but the undertaking was impossible from the very beginning and of all the impossible ways of carrying it out, this was the least interesting. To be, in the twentieth century, a popular novelist of the seventeenth seemed to him a diminution. To be, in some way, Cervantes and reach the Quixote seemed less arduous to him—and, consequently, less interesting—than to go on being Pierre Menard and reach the Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard. (This conviction, we might say in passing, made him omit the autobiographical prologue to the second part of Don Quixote . To include that prologue would have been to create another character—Cervantes—but it would also have meant presenting the Quixote in terms of that character and not of Menard. The latter, naturally, declined that facility.) “My undertaking is not difficult, essentially,” I read in another part of his letter. “I should only have to be immortal to carry it out.” Shall I confess that I often imagine he did finish it and that I read the Quixote —all of it—as if Menard had conceived it?
Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, Jorge Luis Borges (Thanks to reading group member Josh B. for the link)