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Cervantes and the coming of modern times. 
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Post Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
As noted in the thread Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote, a superb review of Grossman's translation was published by the Weekly Standard

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/P ... v.asp?pg=2

Quixotic Adventures
Cervantes and the coming of modern times.

BY ALGIS VALIUNAS
May 10, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 33


Here are some choice quotes
Quote:
THE MODERN WORLD, Max Weber claimed, is a disenchanted one, shorn of the magic that once animated it, that filled it with spirits and gave it meaning; the seventeenth century stands on the cusp between medieval and modern, and Don Quixote is a man of the ancient sort forced to live in times that are becoming lethally uncongenial to souls like his. For him, enchantment is the ordinary state of being. Giants are as common as mushrooms. Demons troll for souls, and infect all they see. Sages and sorcerers patrol the night, seeking out worthy adventurers to aid on their quests. Necromancy is as natural as the sun is revolving around the earth, or the earth is revolving around the sun, and more readily explicable.
Quote:

"All things are possible," Don Quixote observes with portentous sonority, unwittingly encapsulating his essential misconception; then he cleans himself off, and declares himself ready to take on Satan himself. Satan never actually does make an appearance, but his minions are everywhere: Believing that he is doing battle with giants, Don Quixote jousts with the renowned windmills, cuts an innkeeper's wineskins to pieces, assaults a pair of monks. When the error of his ways is pointed out to him, as it is after every fiasco, Don Quixote always has the same response: Enchanters have beguiled him once again. His mind is a perfect closed system, a psychotic fortress that reality cannot penetrate.
Quote:
Like Machiavelli in The Prince, Shakespeare in Richard III, and Francis Bacon in The New Organon, Cervantes plays seriously with the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Don Quixote expects every tradesman to practice charity toward him, out of courteous regard for his profession; he places his hope in the love of Dulcinea, even before he has ever seen her; his faith lies in force of arms and a heroic destiny inscribed among the stars. This mad faith in his nonexistent prowess and misdirected virtue assails his own considerable Christian faith, quite literally: Mistaking a procession of penitents bearing a draped image of the blessed Virgin for a gang of evildoers abducting a gracious lady, he draws his sword on the priests and peasants, and of course gets a drubbing for his trouble.

This episode might seem to indicate that Cervantes is as ardent a defender of the One True Faith as he is a detractor of the don's aberrant faith in martial nerve and chaste eroticism. Yet in destroying the fancies of chivalric romance stories, Cervantes simultaneously mounts a sneak attack on Christianity itself, chipping subtly away at the faith based on yet another book--The Book. Indeed, Don Quixote insists on the literal truth of the Bible with the same force that he insists on the literal truth of the knightly adventures of romance literature. People disagree on whether giants ever walked the earth, he states, but Holy Scripture, "which cannot deviate an iota from the truth," proves they did, in the story of Goliath. It is the sort of testimonial designed to make a Christian cringe.

SIMILARLY, there is Cervantes's sympathetic treatment of Islam. There are Muslims good as any Christians in this book--though the best of these Muslims are converts to or friends of Christianity--and their official persecution in Spain is presented as a dire human tragedy. That is not to say that Islam holds the truth that Christianity does not. Early in the novel, after Don Quixote has been pulped by a muledriver he crossed, he consoles himself by recalling a ballad about Valdovinos, "a history known to children, acknowledged by youths, celebrated, and even believed by the old, and, despite all this, no truer than the miracles of Mohammed."

This dismissal of the Koran acquires its full destructive significance only much later, when Don Quixote asserts the inviolable truth of the famous stories that he says everyone believes, but which the reader knows to be fictional. Cervantes leaves no orthodox religious hope untouched, and he operates with the cunning discretion of Machiavelli or Bacon, bold in what he discloses but far bolder in what he conceals. A definite chill underlies the warm geniality of Don Quixote; it is the breath of icy reason, threatening to blow the doors off revealed religion and the entire medieval world.
Quote:
Cervantes concludes, "only human life races to its end more quickly than time, with no hope for renewal except in the next life, which has no boundaries that limit. So says Cide Hamete, a Muslim philosopher, because an understanding of the fleeting impermanence of our present life, and the everlasting nature of the life that awaits us, has been grasped by many without the enlightenment of faith but only with the light of their natural intelligence." The authority of Cide Hamete resides in the power of his mind--and it is not diminished by his being a Muslim, for native human reason is what Cervantes praises here.

The Moor's authorship presents Don Quixote with a possibility he had not considered: The truth can come from an unauthorized source. The wise Moor may not subscribe to The Book, but he has written the book that Don Quixote regards as the greatest story ever told. OF COURSE, the reader knows that Hamete never wrote the book, never existed at all: He is as much Cervantes's invention as all the characters he purportedly wrote about. The historical truth about Don Quixote is that there can be no history of him, no truth; the book that appears to be the authoritative version of his life is a fiction within a fiction.
Quote:
Rabelais's sixteenth century gives way to Cervantes's seventeenth. Don Quixote and his comedy are of a radically different sort. Gargantua and son are larger than any men imagined before; Don Quixote is less than he imagines himself to be. Rabelais conceived of giants and made them live; Don Quixote sees giants, but they turn out to be windmills. Rabelais presents men equal to their marvelous world; Cervantes portrays a man at once too large and too small for the world he inhabits. The disparity between what the hero wants the world to be and what in fact it is provides the source at once of Cervantes's antic humor and his profound sadness; Don Quixote is both a hilarious clown and the Knight of the Sorrowful Face, a man of sorrows for the really new dispensation.
Quote:
Don Quixote represents a new condition for mankind which takes some getting used to, so that the mind of greatest sensitivity--a mind such as Cervantes's--finds itself uncomfortably poised between piety and irreverence, lurching now and then into one or the other, yet generally keeping a wary eye on both, unwilling or unable to come down decisively for either side. Cervantes is of the first generation of great modern agnostics. His pained ambivalence illuminates Don Quixote's glory and misery. He is superior to the unexceptional multitudes, who nevertheless point up his utter failure as a viable human specimen. His mad longing for the marvelous is shatteringly poignant, for the human arrangements of his time have no place for it. Neither do the human arrangements of ours.



Sat Apr 10, 2010 4:38 pm
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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
Very insightful. Thanks for posting.
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Sun May 16, 2010 9:20 am
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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
Robert Tulip wrote:
He is superior to the unexceptional multitudes, who nevertheless point up his utter failure as a viable human specimen. His mad longing for the marvelous is shatteringly poignant, for the human arrangements of his time have no place for it. Neither do the human arrangements of ours.

The quote summarizes a view that has, in my own view, grown out of Don Quixote, but doesn't reflect Cervantes' own intent in the book. A little too much credit can be given to the will to project make-believe on the world, as Don does. That make-believe is marvellous, I suppose, in the limited sense of magical and fantastic, but I have difficulty being as nostalgic for that as some might be. Disenchantment also means that people are less likely to tie others to the stake and burn them as witches. To that extent, I'm all for disenchantment. There continues to be a mistaken belief that rationality, a product of science, impoverishes the imagination.


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Mon May 17, 2010 10:48 pm
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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
He is superior to the unexceptional multitudes, who nevertheless point up his utter failure as a viable human specimen. His mad longing for the marvelous is shatteringly poignant, for the human arrangements of his time have no place for it. Neither do the human arrangements of ours.
The quote summarizes a view that has, in my own view, grown out of Don Quixote, but doesn't reflect Cervantes' own intent in the book. A little too much credit can be given to the will to project make-believe on the world, as Don does. That make-believe is marvellous, I suppose, in the limited sense of magical and fantastic, but I have difficulty being as nostalgic for that as some might be. Disenchantment also means that people are less likely to tie others to the stake and burn them as witches. To that extent, I'm all for disenchantment. There continues to be a mistaken belief that rationality, a product of science, impoverishes the imagination.


The question of what we mean by rationality is open to debate. It is not rationality that impoverishes the imagination but dogmatism, as seen for example in dogmatic atheist dismissal of religion as meaningless. Rationality is closely associated with science but is not a product solely of science. Rationality is a product of logic, a field which encompasses both science and arts. We can have a rational appreciation of beauty, or of the narrative depth of myth, applying reason to matters that cannot be encompassed by science alone but rely on perceptive insight to state a shared narrative intuition.

Cervantes presents Quixote as a visionary seer, with golden wisdom mixed in with the dross of his craziness. The social commentary inherent in this ambiguity is reflected in the confused transition of Cervantes’ time from the traditional medieval world of lord in the castle and beggar at the gate to the new bourgeois world of the career open to talent. Quixote represents the medieval world of fixed social relations and dogmatic mythology, while his critics represent the new capitalist world of evidence and reason. There is something poignant in the loss of tradition, for example the anomie of lonely individualism that is the product of the modern materialist ethic. No one should wish to go back to the past, nostalgically ignoring the pervasive poverty and violence, but the idea remains plausible that in some respects history has seen decline as much as progress. The modern myth of science sees only the progress and ignores the decline.

Last night I had a chat with an old friend about Don Quixote, which he read in the 1980s, in a translation that he found weak. My friend David argued that Don Quixote represents the super-ego while Sancho Panza represents the id, marking the eternal battle between heart (courage and wisdom) and stomach (appetite). He thought the story of the Golden Age was the most evocative vision in the book. In this story, Don Quixote harks back to the time when people were free to gather nuts and berries to eat and had no need of settled agriculture, as a time of paradise compared to the present age of iron where freedom is destroyed by human law. Don Quixote expresses the myth of decline in a way that is jarring to those who see only the improvements brought by modern scientific progress.

David referred me to the Parable of Cervantes and Don Quixote by Borges, which says
Quote:
Weary of his land of Spain, an old soldier of the king sought solace in Ariosto’s vast geographies, in that valley of the moon where misspent dream-time goes, and in the golden idol of Mohammed stolen by Montalban. In gentle mockery of himself he conceived a credulous man who, unsettled by the marvels he read about, hit upon the idea of seeking noble deeds and enchantments in prosaic places called El Toboso or Montiel. Defeated by reality, by Spain, Don Quixote died in his native village around 1614. He was survived only briefly by Miguel de Cervantes. For both of them, for the dreamer and the dreamed, the tissue of that whole plot consisted in the contraposition of two worlds: the unreal world of the books of chivalry and the common everyday world of the seventeenth century. Little did they suspect that the years would end by wearing away the disharmony. Little did they suspect that La Mancha and Montiel and the knight’s frail figure would be, for the future, no less poetic than Sinbad’s haunts or Ariosto’s vast geographies. For myth is at the beginning of literature, and also at its end.

Borges’ comment here that myth is at the end of literature is one of his most famous lines, and shows his sympathy with the poignancy in Don Quixote. The dogmatic elimination of myth removes meaning and beauty from human life, creating a bleak scientific material universe where the ancient sense of belonging is destroyed by modern individualism.

As myself an advocate for the re-enchantment of the world, in a new spiritual synthesis that encompasses the antithetical frameworks of rational empirical observation and traditional mythic symbolism, I find Don Quixote fascinating as a cautionary role model. The trouble with vision is that dreams can produce a baseless fantasy, but the denial of vision is equally bad, ignoring the narrative of shared purpose that gives mythology its resonant power in the imagination.



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Tue May 18, 2010 6:37 am
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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
The quote summarizes a view that has, in my own view, grown out of Don Quixote, but doesn't reflect Cervantes' own intent in the book. A little too much credit can be given to the will to project make-believe on the world, as Don does. That make-believe is marvellous, I suppose, in the limited sense of magical and fantastic, but I have difficulty being as nostalgic for that as some might be. Disenchantment also means that people are less likely to tie others to the stake and burn them as witches. To that extent, I'm all for disenchantment. There continues to be a mistaken belief that rationality, a product of science, impoverishes the imagination.


The question of what we mean by rationality is open to debate. It is not rationality that impoverishes the imagination but dogmatism, as seen for example in dogmatic atheist dismissal of religion as meaningless. Rationality is closely associated with science but is not a product solely of science. Rationality is a product of logic, a field which encompasses both science and arts. We can have a rational appreciation of beauty, or of the narrative depth of myth, applying reason to matters that cannot be encompassed by science alone but rely on perceptive insight to state a shared narrative intuition.

I agree entirely and certainly couldn't have said it better. I gave the wrong impression that rationality is a product of science rather than an attitude applied to it. 'Rational' should be be seen as a much more inclusive term, as you say.
Quote:
Cervantes presents Quixote as a visionary seer, with golden wisdom mixed in with the dross of his craziness. The social commentary inherent in this ambiguity is reflected in the confused transition of Cervantes’ time from the traditional medieval world of lord in the castle and beggar at the gate to the new bourgeois world of the career open to talent. Quixote represents the medieval world of fixed social relations and dogmatic mythology, while his critics represent the new capitalist world of evidence and reason. There is something poignant in the loss of tradition, for example the anomie of lonely individualism that is the product of the modern materialist ethic. No one should wish to go back to the past, nostalgically ignoring the pervasive poverty and violence, but the idea remains plausible that in some respects history has seen decline as much as progress. The modern myth of science sees only the progress and ignores the decline.

I don't really see the visionary aspect of Don Q (since he represents "dogmatic mythology"),though I do see the 'golden wisdom' in his disquisitions. He tries to stand for a code of honorable action, which I will agree seems lacking in the world through which he travels, with its royal leeches amusing themselves at his expense. The matter of profit and loss throughout history might be an impossible one to figure, as we only think we know what was present in previous eras, which now is lost to us. Still, the idea that we have lost a lot is plausible and might even be axiomatic, an inevitablity. Or does our free will give us the means to have the profit without the loss?
Quote:
Last night I had a chat with an old friend about Don Quixote, which he read in the 1980s, in a translation that he found weak. My friend David argued that Don Quixote represents the super-ego while Sancho Panza represents the id, marking the eternal battle between heart (courage and wisdom) and stomach (appetite). He thought the story of the Golden Age was the most evocative vision in the book. In this story, Don Quixote harks back to the time when people were free to gather nuts and berries to eat and had no need of settled agriculture, as a time of paradise compared to the present age of iron where freedom is destroyed by human law. Don Quixote expresses the myth of decline in a way that is jarring to those who see only the improvements brought by modern scientific progress.

Yes, but Don Q. views that golden age nostalgically, which is always to say, inaccurately. There never was this golden age, any more than there was an Eden. Late in the book, Don Q's sensible housekeeper tells him to forget this nonsense of taking up the shepherd's pastoral existence, because it doesn't and never has existed. It's all hard, grinding work that a gentleman like Don Q really has no idea of.

This might be a good time to mention the "King-of-Hearts" effect. You remember that 1960s French film with Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold? The premise was that the inmates of the asylum, briefly liberated after the citizenry of the town fled, are less insane than the the so-called sane ones, the military officers that lead the war effort. This is a theme of modern literature and even of thought, in the views of Thomas Szazs, for example. Another thread of the theme is that non-conformity will always be punished, if necessary by branding it as a mental illness. I think DQ has quite understandably been looked at in this light by modern readers. My argument all along has been that Cervantes' conscious intent, to the extent that we can make it out and that Cervantes had any unified intent in the book, isn't to introduce us to this now-modern notion. But he perhaps unconsciously gave it to us nevertheless; by the very confusion of his intent he made it possible for readers to draw out the theme from the work.


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Last edited by DWill on Tue May 18, 2010 9:19 am, edited 2 times in total.



Tue May 18, 2010 9:16 am
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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
There are many intriguing comments in this thread and other Don Quixote threads about Cervantes and his purpose and meaning as an author and as I near the end of the first book, I wonder about this as well. All authors are chroniclers, some are historians, some serve as bellwhethers, some as alarmists or whistle blowers and still others are purely entertainers. I see Cervantes as operating on many of these levels at once and creating a work with many layers.

In considering the layers, in part I the "rescue" of Don Quixote from his self-inflicted but pointless penance was complex and amusing. The soliloquy(s) delivered by Cardenio and others and the story telling were amazing. I found this section to be a relief from the repetitive pattern of fairly predictable DQ adventures and Cervantes expressed some deeper and more intricate concepts of knight errantry through these other characters. All this was set in the context of his central knight errant requiring a rescue and the rescue itself executed through a rather mad ruse. So what is Cervantes saying about knight errantry? Is he saying it’s an archaic practice that should be left as a relic of the past or celebrating it and suggesting that we learn from it? Or does he value knight errantry as a great source of entertainment (like many of his time) and a great way to sell books? Or is he using the latter as a vehicle to accomplish the former? There are many layers here and, I think, questions attached to each layer.

I continue to find Cervantes theme of enchantment interesting and relevant to our times. As I read, I see more of enchantment and the way it influences Quixote’s mind and less of outright madness, but perhaps I am being generous toward him. In any case, I think he genuinely believes in enchantment and sees it all around and so it is real to him.
Children today typically view the world to be full of enchantment as I’m sure children did in Cervantes time. Our institutions are designed to drum enchantment and magic out of children because as mainstream society we desire stability and predictability, we do not think enchantment has a place in the adult world. We label it all sorts of negative things and we slot those who believe in enchantment into some pretty undesirable places.

Today the school system is likely the number one suppression culprit whereas in Cervantes time it was more likely the church. Although we have worked hard to suppress wacky ideas like enchantment, our suppression system is not water tight and some people slip through the cracks bringing the notion of enchantment into the adult world and into the mainstream. When this happens, do we foster this enchantment or do we suppress it because it challenges our ways and creates disorder and fear? I’m not sure, and perhaps we are not consistent one way or the other, but I feel an adult world with enchantment is a whole lot richer than a world without. Perhaps enchantment itself is an airy fairy concept but really it’s not just enchantment at stake because with enchantment may come many beneficial, productive things, like innovativeness, and these benefits will be gained only if valued and supported and nurtured through thoughtful social policy.



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Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:14 pm
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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
To me, DQ's quest is my quest. It is timeless for so many of us who question and who strive to find peace, and who can't accept that the world isn't better than it is. I've said it this way:

http://rooseveltislander.blogspot.com/2 ... shing.html

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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
Enjoyed your blog, Randy, and you have very successfully tied in DQ and his quest with the peacefulness of fly fishing in such an urban place. You touch on a point about the personal nature of human quest. I have found some empathy with DQ as I read this book because it touches a chord of personal quest within me. Extrapolating from the personal to the societal, DQ could then symbolize the questing nature of mankind. Often I think of the space program in this respect. Every time we send up an astronaut we have identified once more with the Don Quixote within ourselves. If the millions spent on the space program have any justification this might be it. And perhaps, in this light, it would be fair to say that Cervantes set the bar 400 years ago.



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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
Quote:
I closed my eyes and wondered why casting ten or twenty feet farther was so important to me. Were my casting experiments about more than distance? Yes, they were also about coming to believe in an ideal casting form, as absolute as a perfect literary form, like Shakespeare's 29th or 30th sonnet, as absolute as a law of physics, like Special Relativity. But why is, why was that so, so important? Is it because even though the world is riddled by random turns of history and bloodied by wars, the world, or at least our solar system, is also unified by ideals that form a working order? If so, are ideals invisible and so hard to discover for a reason - so I can't invent them in the universe of mind? Why? Is it because what gives ideals meaning is the search for them, the attempt to become in-line with them and then be able to overcome my defects, my obstacles and to connect to the good in the world? Isn't that what spirituality is about? Perhaps an ideal, therefore, is a part that can never add up to a whole. And perhaps so am I. That's why when I tried to will things my way I almost always fell off my horse and cursed a world that seemed so unjust. But that was then. This is now, and now I'm able to deal with disappointments, one by one, and keep going, like Don Quixote, and to keep believing that there is a working order of things. Yes, I believe by the end of the book of my life, the good will outweigh the bad.
Thanks so much for sharing your blog Randy. Don Quixote is the icon of the American Dream, the ability to bounce back after failure, and hold to a vision of a better world. It is easy to laugh at 'knight errancy', and Cervantes wants us to share the humour, but he also has a vision of compassion and historical connection. Here is his vision of the Golden Age, explaining how chivalry is all about the return of noble values that are lost amidst the selfishness and cruelty of modern times.
Quote:
When Don Quixote had quite appeased his appetite he took up a handful of the acorns, and contemplating them attentively delivered himself somewhat in this fashion: "Happy the age, happy the time, to which the ancients gave the name of golden, not because in that fortunate age the gold so coveted in this our iron one was gained without toil, but because they that lived in it knew not the two words "mine" and "thine"! In that blessed age all things were in common; to win the daily food no labour was required of any save to stretch forth his hand and gather it from the sturdy oaks that stood generously inviting him with their sweet ripe fruit. The clear streams and running brooks yielded their savoury limpid waters in noble abundance. The busy and sagacious bees fixed their republic in the clefts of the rocks and hollows of the trees, offering without usance the plenteous produce of their fragrant toil to every hand. The mighty cork trees, unenforced save of their own courtesy, shed the broad light bark that served at first to roof the houses supported by rude stakes, a protection against the inclemency of heaven alone. Then all was peace, all friendship, all concord; as yet the dull share of the crooked plough had not dared to rend and pierce the tender bowels of our first mother that without compulsion yielded from every portion of her broad fertile bosom all that could satisfy, sustain, and delight the children that then possessed her. Then was it that the innocent and fair young shepherdess roamed from vale to vale and hill to hill, with flowing locks, and no more garments than were needful modestly to cover what modesty seeks and ever sought to hide. Nor were their ornaments like those in use to-day, set off by Tyrian purple, and silk tortured in endless fashions, but the wreathed leaves of the green dock and ivy, wherewith they went as bravely and becomingly decked as our Court dames with all the rare and far-fetched artifices that idle curiosity has taught them. Then the love-thoughts of the heart clothed themselves simply and naturally as the heart conceived them, nor sought to commend themselves by forced and rambling verbiage. Fraud, deceit, or malice had then not yet mingled with truth and sincerity. Justice held her ground, undisturbed and unassailed by the efforts of favour and of interest, that now so much impair, pervert, and beset her. Arbitrary law had not yet established itself in the mind of the judge, for then there was no cause to judge and no one to be judged. Maidens and modesty, as I have said, wandered at will alone and unattended, without fear of insult from lawlessness or libertine assault, and if they were undone it was of their own will and pleasure. But now in this hateful age of ours not one is safe, not though some new labyrinth like that of Crete conceal and surround her; even there the pestilence of gallantry will make its way to them through chinks or on the air by the zeal of its accursed importunity, and, despite of all seclusion, lead them to ruin. In defence of these, as time advanced and wickedness increased, the order of knights-errant was instituted, to defend maidens, to protect widows and to succour the orphans and the needy. To this order I belong, brother goatherds, to whom I return thanks for the hospitality and kindly welcome ye offer me and my squire; for though by natural law all living are bound to show favour to knights-errant, yet, seeing that without knowing this obligation ye have welcomed and feasted me, it is right that with all the good-will in my power I should thank you for yours."

All this long harangue (which might very well have been spared) our knight delivered because the acorns they gave him reminded him of the golden age; and the whim seized him to address all this unnecessary argument to the goatherds, who listened to him gaping in amazement without saying a word in reply.



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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
giselle wrote:
There are many intriguing comments in this thread and other Don Quixote threads about Cervantes and his purpose and meaning as an author and as I near the end of the first book, I wonder about this as well. All authors are chroniclers, some are historians, some serve as bellwhethers, some as alarmists or whistle blowers and still others are purely entertainers. I see Cervantes as operating on many of these levels at once and creating a work with many layers.

What happens to a book after the author is finished with it can be the most interesting thing about it. My general belief is that it is those books in which the author doesn't attempt or intend to resolve any issues, and has no particular designs on his subject or on his audience, that people end up having the most thoughts about. This is because the author writes with wide latitude. I feel Cervantes is this kind of writer, which makes him a forerunner of modern fiction. I have to confess to puzzlement about the insistence that he is trying to steer us toward moral or philosophical conclusions. I've been charged with selling Cervantes short when I try to throw cold water on these claims, but you see, to me the greater artistic achievement is when the author doesn't beat a drum for some cause or other, doesn't try to teach us lessons.

It was significant, I think, that Harold Bloom, in his introduction to the Grossman translation, compares Cervantes' creation of Don and Sancho with Shakespeare's invention of Hamlet and Falstaff. Although I can't see any of Hamlet in Don Quixote, Bloom is I think correct in likening the large-minded Shakespeare, the paragon of disinterestedness and "negative capability," to Cervantes, who also leaves the stage to his characters instead of fashioning moral points of his own through them.
Quote:
So what is Cervantes saying about knight errantry? Is he saying it’s an archaic practice that should be left as a relic of the past or celebrating it and suggesting that we learn from it? Or does he value knight errantry as a great source of entertainment (like many of his time) and a great way to sell books? Or is he using the latter as a vehicle to accomplish the former? There are many layers here and, I think, questions attached to each layer.

I see possibilities rather than layers, a result of Cervantes' desire not to seek resolution, but simply to put his subject on display, turning it around so that we can see its facets. I'm not arguing with your way of describing what he's up to, just saying how it appears to me.
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I continue to find Cervantes theme of enchantment interesting and relevant to our times. As I read, I see more of enchantment and the way it influences Quixote’s mind and less of outright madness, but perhaps I am being generous toward him. In any case, I think he genuinely believes in enchantment and sees it all around and so it is real to him.
Children today typically view the world to be full of enchantment as I’m sure children did in Cervantes time. Our institutions are designed to drum enchantment and magic out of children because as mainstream society we desire stability and predictability, we do not think enchantment has a place in the adult world. We label it all sorts of negative things and we slot those who believe in enchantment into some pretty undesirable places.

One of the other views that Cervantes invites is that Don Quixote is willfully delusional, and therefore not mad at all in any sense that we understand today. He wants so badly to live in the world he has read about in books--the never-existing world of knights-errant--that he wills these delusions so that he can in fact march off to have adventures. I think we even have a sense as we read that he doesn't "really" believe such crazy things, and this would explain how he could speak and act so sanely, even wisely, at other times. It is not possible to be crazy so selectively, by subject matter, and indeed Don is not crazy at all. There is a resemblance in his make-believe to that of children, as you say, but he has far greater aspirations for his fantasies than children do.

What makes him hate so much the world he inhabits? This is the interesting question to me. Has it been drained of all romance? Or is it simply that he's been "infected" by the books he reads, which would be the simple explanation.

For me, his enchantment always came as somewhat of a letdown. It was a means by which Cervantes could extend Don's adventures. I didn't feel there was anything celebratory about Don's claims of enchantment. He didn't do anything that actually helped anyone, either, as far as I recall, for all the good this enchantment did. I recall that scene late in the book, where one man, disguised by armor, poses as the lover of the girl, because he wants her, too. It's Don Q who I think unmasks him, but instead of taking the opportunity to expose real injustice, he again pleads enchantment--the wizards have altered the looks of the real lover.

At the end of the book, Don admits the stories he told were all lies. He explicitly denounces enchantment and all books of knight errantry. So we can, if we want to, see this ending as consistent with an authorial attitude througout the book. But I'm not saying that the ending Cervantes tacks on necessarily binds a reader to denounce enchantment, too. I didn't feel the pull of enchantment, but if others did, it's probably due to something Cervantes put into the book, something that can't be undone just by making his hero recant at the end.
Quote:
Today the school system is likely the number one suppression culprit whereas in Cervantes time it was more likely the church. Although we have worked hard to suppress wacky ideas like enchantment, our suppression system is not water tight and some people slip through the cracks bringing the notion of enchantment into the adult world and into the mainstream. When this happens, do we foster this enchantment or do we suppress it because it challenges our ways and creates disorder and fear? I’m not sure, and perhaps we are not consistent one way or the other, but I feel an adult world with enchantment is a whole lot richer than a world without. Perhaps enchantment itself is an airy fairy concept but really it’s not just enchantment at stake because with enchantment may come many beneficial, productive things, like innovativeness, and these benefits will be gained only if valued and supported and nurtured through thoughtful social policy.

It can be a tough call, because of course enchantment made possible the burning of witches, and in a sense something close to enchantment is at work when people believe in weird things like creationism, homeopathy, or astrology. I take the "spiritual atheist" approach as a way to have it both ways, but that's just me.


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Last edited by DWill on Sat Jun 05, 2010 10:29 pm, edited 3 times in total.



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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
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Valiunas: in destroying the fancies of chivalric romance stories, Cervantes simultaneously mounts a sneak attack on Christianity itself, chipping subtly away at the faith based on yet another book--The Book. Indeed, Don Quixote insists on the literal truth of the Bible with the same force that he insists on the literal truth of the knightly adventures of romance literature. People disagree on whether giants ever walked the earth, he states, but Holy Scripture, "which cannot deviate an iota from the truth," proves they did, in the story of Goliath. It is the sort of testimonial designed to make a Christian cringe.
Valiunas, in his review quoted in the opening post of this thread, concisely explains my argument against DWill. Cervantes’ ‘sneak attack on Christianity’ is conscious and deliberate, but is concealed because a direct assault would incur the wrath of the church. Don Quixote is like those young earth creationist pastors and evangelists who make all rational Christians cringe, and who make atheists think that ‘rational Christian’ is an oxymoron. Evangelising about chivalry is exactly like evangelizing about Jesus. Both hold a deep ambivalence. They share an ethic of helping the outcast, but set this moral ideal within a fantasy vision that has numerous harmful results. The harm of the fantasy is only partly offset by any good works.

Quote:
Cervantes leaves no orthodox religious hope untouched, and he operates with the cunning discretion of Machiavelli or Bacon, bold in what he discloses but far bolder in what he conceals. A definite chill underlies the warm geniality of Don Quixote; it is the breath of icy reason, threatening to blow the doors off revealed religion and the entire medieval world.
Knight errantry is the proxy for all orthodox dogmatism. Cervantes stands at the hinge of the modern world, seeing that the future belongs to reason, but fearing that this icy logic will generate its own dogma of arrogant disenchantment. I will come back later to comment on disenchantment in terms of care for the soul and the loss of intimacy.
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The Moor's authorship presents Don Quixote with a possibility he had not considered: The truth can come from an unauthorized source.
Writing at the same time as the “Authorized Version” of the Bible, the King James, Cervantes is entirely seditious in his humane respect for the rational faculties of the infidel Moor. Only by generous dollops of humour can he make his book popular enough that he gets away with such heretical ideas, calling into question the universality of the One True Faith of the Holy Catholic Church. The spirit of the renaissance opened the idea that reason and evidence are better sources of wisdom than tradition and authority. Today the primacy of logic seems almost a commonplace, except that our primitive instincts continue to perpetuate a stupid culture of deference to authority that is a main obstacle to innovation and progress.
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Cervantes portrays a man at once too large and too small for the world he inhabits…. Don Quixote is both a hilarious clown and the Knight of the Sorrowful Face, a man of sorrows for the really new dispensation.
Such paradox – too large and too small - indicates the tension of defining human identity at a time of cultural turmoil. Surely Don Quixote has borne our sorrows and is acquainted with grief, as Handel quoted Isaiah speaking of Christ. The kenotic vision of the sacrificial servant keys in to the ultimate type of human identity, in solidarity with ordinary suffering while offering the keys to the kingdom of God.
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a mind such as Cervantes's--finds itself uncomfortably poised between piety and irreverence,
This poise is precisely the source of Cervantes’ creative genius. Only because he maintains respect for both piety and irreverence can Cervantes understand both sides of the deep cultural war occurring in modern Europe as reason displaced faith as the driver of history. People who are captured by myth, either of piety or irreverence, are incapable of seeing the value in the opposing vision, and form a Manichean vision in which they are on the side of the angels (or maybe robots) while their opponents are irredeemably evil. Those captured by the myth of irreverence cannot see that their narrative vision is less than absolute. Because Cervantes puts forgiveness and sensitivity at the centre of his moral universe, he establishes this exquisite poise, equally between reverence and impiety, that respects and identifies with all of humanity.



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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
DWill wrote:
At the end of the book, Don admits the stories he told were all lies.


This reminds me of "Life of Pi", where the reader is asked to believe what is fantastic, to have faith in the improbable, to have faith in what makes no sense. If Don Quixote is based in part on religious dogma, and the dangers of blind faith, Cervantes has succeeded in this message. For Don to recant the entire adventure shows how guilable us humans can be, and how badly we want certain things to be true, and our willingness to have faith and to believe what is nonsensical.



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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Valiunas: "in destroying the fancies of chivalric romance stories, Cervantes simultaneously mounts a sneak attack on Christianity itself, chipping subtly away at the faith based on yet another book--The Book. Indeed, Don Quixote insists on the literal truth of the Bible with the same force that he insists on the literal truth of the knightly adventures of romance literature. People disagree on whether giants ever walked the earth, he states, but Holy Scripture, "which cannot deviate an iota from the truth," proves they did, in the story of Goliath. It is the sort of testimonial designed to make a Christian cringe."
Valiunas, in his review quoted in the opening post of this thread, concisely explains my argument against DWill. Cervantes’ ‘sneak attack on Christianity’ is conscious and deliberate, but is concealed because a direct assault would incur the wrath of the church. Don Quixote is like those young earth creationist pastors and evangelists who make all rational Christians cringe, and who make atheists think that ‘rational Christian’ is an oxymoron. Evangelising about chivalry is exactly like evangelizing about Jesus. Both hold a deep ambivalence. They share an ethic of helping the outcast, but set this moral ideal within a fantasy vision that has numerous harmful results. The harm of the fantasy is only partly offset by any good works.

Hello again, Robert. The lynchpin of your and Valiunas' argument is that Cervantes is mounting an attack on superheroic tales in the chivalric romance tradition. He has to do this because he can't attack Christianity, yet the two traditions are basically the same so one can stand in for the other, and Cervantes can make his point about Christianity being based on outrageous fantasies.

Cervantes is not, however, attacking or even satirizing knight errantry tales in the book. I don't suppose, though, that there is any way to prove this. The matter seems to be so wrapped up in how one reads. I give Cervantes credit for knowing an appropriate subject for attack or ridicule, and knight errantry isn't such a subject. It's already, on its face, the stuff of incredible and entertaining stories for the masses, needing no one to persuade people that it's objectively false. There is no evidence that I know of that people of the time were in some way showing that they took giants, wizards, magic, and impossible feats as reality. No attack on these works of fiction was needed, whch is fortuante, because if this is all that DQ was, the book would be quickly dated and forgotten. Dialogue you quoted a while back showed two ecclesiastical types going pro and con on the subject of these romances. This exemplifies Cervantes' dramatic--not polemical--strategy in the book.

Cervantes came up with a brilliant what if for Don Quixote. What if there was a man who so taken with these extraordinary tales that he actually believed in their truth and tried to replicate the deeds of knights errant? The device works because Don sallies forth and astounds everyone with the novelty of his strange passion.

According to the Valiunas/Tulip thesis, the supernatural aspects of knight erantry tales are credibly attacked, which may as well mean that Catholic doctrines such as the virgin birth and the ressurection itself are attacked as well. I've said several times already that the evidence for this appears weak and is largely extra-textual.
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Knight errantry is the proxy for all orthodox dogmatism.

Yet at other times you have presented knight errantry as the saving idealism of Don Quixote. Which is it to be? It can't be both demon and angel unless you are charging the author with incoherence.
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The Moor's authorship presents Don Quixote with a possibility he had not considered: The truth can come from an unauthorized source.

What about the narrator's continual knowing comments about "this true history," indicating that he actually doubts the veracity of Cide Hamete? You've made a point of this to show that the narrator means the opposite of what he says. Now he means exactly what he says?


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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
DWill and Suzanne, thanks for these last comments. Here are some responses to earlier comments from DWill and Giselle. DWill - could you please edit your last post - in the first quote you have claimed authorship of my statement.
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DWill: ...to project make-believe on the world, as Don does… is marvellous, I suppose, in the limited sense of magical and fantastic, but I have difficulty being as nostalgic for that as some might be. Disenchantment also means that people are less likely to tie others to the stake and burn them as witches. To that extent, I'm all for disenchantment.
Beauty and love are enchanting. They draw us into a universe full of meaning and purpose and belonging. The disenchantment of modern reason established a clockwork universe in which humans are a material accident. While this may have a sort of ultimate logic, scientific rationality destroys the anthropic hope that humanity is the apex of evolution, that in our ability to describe reality in language the universe is reflecting upon itself. Enchantment is really about a sense of natural relationship, as much within a complex ecology as within a supernatural mythology. Cervantes points to the risk inherent in enchantment, that we can be carried away by false imagination. But the tantalizing corollary is that imagination can be a source of truth as much as of falsity. If we insist on disenchantment, we close down the realm of the imagination, and fossilize our current beliefs as an absolute mythology.
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Don Q. views that golden age nostalgically, which is always to say, inaccurately. There never was this golden age, any more than there was an Eden.
Humans left Africa one hundred thousand years ago and lived peacefully in India for 90,000 years. India was Eden.
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non-conformity will always be punished, if necessary by branding it as a mental illness. I think DQ has quite understandably been looked at in this light by modern readers. My argument all along has been that Cervantes' conscious intent, to the extent that we can make it out and that Cervantes had any unified intent in the book, isn't to introduce us to this now-modern notion. But he perhaps unconsciously gave it to us nevertheless; by the very confusion of his intent he made it possible for readers to draw out the theme from the work.
Cervantes himself was a non-conformist, and managed to evade punishment by his deft genius. He understood perfectly what he was doing in Don Quixote. It sells him short to claim that things readers have found in the book were not put there deliberately by the author.
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Giselle: All authors are chroniclers, some are historians, some serve as bellwethers, some as alarmists or whistle blowers and still others are purely entertainers. I see Cervantes as operating on many of these levels at once and creating a work with many layers.

Yes, it is the many-layered texture of Don Quixote that makes it such an endless source of amusement and instruction and debate. Conventionally, a chronicler is meant to be a reliable conveyor of the truth, but in fantasy epic this word has morphed into a description of fictional imagination. Generally, chronicles that are true have greater interest than those that are invented. As Groucho Panza said, if you can fake sincerity you’ve got it made. Cervantes is the father of postmodern irony with his insistence that Cide Hamete’s chronicle is indubidubitable.

As historian, Cervantes connects us to the mythic universe of chivalry, and also rubs the wound of the tense relation between Spain and Islam. I find these cultural currents fascinating, with modern resonance in the War on Terror and in the strange status of celebrity trash.

As bellwether, Cervantes sniffs the breeze of the rise of reason and the fall of faith



Last edited by Robert Tulip on Mon Jun 07, 2010 5:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Cervantes and the coming of modern times.
Robert, I mean the following remark in a nice and complimentary way, because I've enjoyed from time to time listening to preachers give their sermons. Have you ever done any sermonizing yourself? I ask because it appears to me that you use as your text the book Don Quixote in exactly the same way that a preacher uses another well-known book. The book serves as your point of departure for elaboration of your philosophic/moral vision, which is a fine one, certainly. But that's just the problem for me, that you depart from the book so often in assigning significance to aspects of it. Radical difference in approach: I think that the primary job of discussion of a novel, of fiction, is to remain within its world, whereas you appear to think the job is to place the novel within the drift of intellectual history. And you appear to assume that any fiction writer has a purpose beyond an artistic or literary one, that of statement or instruction. Or, if it is really only about DQ that you have this idea, what makes you so sure of it?


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