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Book Burning in Don Quixote 
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Post Re: Book Burning in Don Quixote
DWill wrote:
I wonder if we might explore this question of irony a bit. We could start with a short definition from dictionary.com. It isn't all-inclusive but it's a place to start.
The essential feature of irony is the indirect presentation of a contradiction between an action or expression and the context in which it occurs. In the figure of speech, emphasis is placed on the opposition between the literal and intended meaning of a statement; one thing is said and its opposite implied, as in the comment, “Beautiful weather, isn't it?” made when it is raining or nasty. Ironic literature exploits, in addition to the rhetorical figure, such devices as character development, situation, and plot to stress the paradoxical nature of reality or the contrast between an ideal and actual condition, set of circumstances, etc., frequently in such a way as to stress the absurdity present in the contradiction between substance and form. Irony differs from sarcasm in greater subtlety and wit.
I don't immediately see irony in DQ, but am interested in getting some specfics from others. I see spoofing of chivalric literature and broad comedy, but nothing mordant or subversive as would be the case with irony. In the narrative format I don't see a distancing of the narrator from the story or a take on the characters that diverges from the characters' take on themselves. Everyone, except DQ and possibly Sancha, knows DQ is looney, but that is hardly subtle. Irony also needs to be a within-the-book thing, not something imported from outside, involving contemporary society, religion, or politics.

The overt message of the book-burning is that Don Quixote has sent himself mad by reading rubbishy fiction books and believing they are factual, therefore any sensible person will avoid reading entirely and will stick to practical activity. However, Cervantes himself is obviously steeped in this chivalric tradition that he affects to despise, and seems to think people can learn something from tales of knight errantry, perhaps rather like the popular pulp romances of today which may give psychological insights for all their formulaic wish fulfillment. So the irony is that the surface language of the book-burning episode presents the consignment to the flames as a necessary and ethical task, while just below the surface is the disturbing sense that here we see wanton vandalism and loss of values that the destroyers (except the priest) are unable to comprehend.

The deeper irony is the critique of Christian theology. Christians have been among the greatest book-burners in history, largely responsible for the amnesia of the dark ages which set the scene for knight errantry, such as the legendary burning of the great classical library of Alexandria in Egypt. Cervantes is reconstructing a continuity with classical civilization. Stories from Homer and Ovid were common coin among the literary elite of his day but are now forgotten by our contemporary equivalents of book burners. Christians, by believing in miracles, are just like Don Quixote, and deserve the same level of incredulity about their insanity as his amazed onlookers give to DQ. But the Bible was off limits for mockery. DQ himself later says he would like to burn at the stake anyone who suggests that chivalric literature is not 100% factual. So the surface message is that Christian civilization can mock the fantasy world of chivalry, but the irony is that Christianity is just as fantastic as the delusions it mocks.



Sun Apr 04, 2010 1:31 am
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Post Re: Book Burning in Don Quixote
Well said, Robert, and I completely agree.

I'm actually finding Don Quixote to be far more compelling than I ever imagined. I am getting a little tired of all the grandiose speeches, however. I have a feeling I would not be fond of chivalric literature (actually I know so, because when reading The Song of Roland in high school, I was bored to tears and barely managed to skim through it enough to fulfill the exam requirements).

I also watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail again recently, and couldn't help but hear our mad knight in Graham Chapman (King Arthur)'s conversations (but not so much in everyone else's speech, further parodying Don Quixote). It adds even more to the hilarity of the movie, which is already pretty high, because I love Monty Python and the movie that it is most obviously mocking, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (which is not obvious if you haven't seen it, but once you have, you cannot help but know that that is one of the biggest ideas being mocked in the Holy Grail).

I'm looking forward to where our Dulcinea of Toboso, Aldonza Lorenzo will make her appearance. Her character in the musical Man of La Mancha is one I find interesting, especially in her interactions with Don Quixote and Sancho, so I am curious to see what she is actually like in Cervantes' narrative.



Sun Apr 04, 2010 1:47 am
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Post Re: Book Burning in Don Quixote
Robert Tulip wrote:
The overt message of the book-burning is that Don Quixote has sent himself mad by reading rubbishy fiction books and believing they are factual, therefore any sensible person will avoid reading entirely and will stick to practical activity. However, Cervantes himself is obviously steeped in this chivalric tradition that he affects to despise, and seems to think people can learn something from tales of knight errantry, perhaps rather like the popular pulp romances of today which may give psychological insights for all their formulaic wish fulfillment. So the irony is that the surface language of the book-burning episode presents the consignment to the flames as a necessary and ethical task, while just below the surface is the disturbing sense that here we see wanton vandalism and loss of values that the destroyers (except the priest) are unable to comprehend.

I haven't read far enough, perhaps, to judge with certainty Cervantes' view of the value of knight errantry. So far I have no reason to think he's doing anything but spoofing. I think the convention of the shepherd's tale, in which the exquisitely sensitive, eloquent, and lovestruck shepherd pours out his heart exhaustively, is a different matter. Cervantes apparently finds these vapid tales to be affecting. I know you're in some good company, Robert, in seeing all kinds of irony in DQ, but to me your examples here aren't exactly within-the-book. They are drawing conclusions from material, but I don't see authorial intent, which is an important element in irony. I do admit there is a very obvious dramatic irony in the book--the reader and most of the other characters knowing the Don is nuts while he has no insight--and there may yet be other examples. The apearance of an author as a member of the chain gang going to the galleys (a Cervantes stand-in?) has potential, but there may also be a better way to describe this device.


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Sun Apr 04, 2010 9:01 am
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Post Re: Book Burning in Don Quixote
Reflecting back on the book burning scene and thinking about all the disasters that befall Don Q because he is a 'by the book' knight, a fact he lords over poor Sancho with terrible consequences for both of them, leaves me with the impression that Cervantes is a playing out or paralleling the book burning scene in painful and repetitive detail as Don Quixote seeks and finds chivalric adventure only to see his delusions of (textbook) chivalry go up in smoke.



Tue May 18, 2010 10:29 pm
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Post Re: Book Burning in Don Quixote
giselle wrote:
Reflecting back on the book burning scene and thinking about all the disasters that befall Don Q because he is a 'by the book' knight, a fact he lords over poor Sancho with terrible consequences for both of them, leaves me with the impression that Cervantes is a playing out or paralleling the book burning scene in painful and repetitive detail as Don Quixote seeks and finds chivalric adventure only to see his delusions of (textbook) chivalry go up in smoke.

That sums up well the plot driver in the book. The amazing thing about Don Q, of course, is that he never lets on to any disappointment of his aspirations; in fact the more his adventures fizzle, the more sure he becomes. He doesn't learn, or he is unbelievably steadfast, whichever way you want to see it. It's also clever of Cervantes to have other people reinforcing Don's delusions, as Don's exploits become well-known through the publication of the very book we are reading, in addition to a rip-off by another author. All these people familiar with what a hoot Don Q is are trying to see him in action by egging him on.


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Wed May 19, 2010 6:42 am
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Post Re: Book Burning in Don Quixote
DWill wrote:
All these people familiar with what a hoot Don Q is are trying to see him in action by egging him on.


Cervantes invented trolling! Human nature has not changed much in 400 years.



Wed May 19, 2010 11:28 am
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Post Re: Book Burning in Don Quixote
bleachededen wrote:
Well said, Robert, and I completely agree.

I'm actually finding Don Quixote to be far more compelling than I ever imagined. I am getting a little tired of all the grandiose speeches, however. I have a feeling I would not be fond of chivalric literature (actually I know so, because when reading The Song of Roland in high school, I was bored to tears and barely managed to skim through it enough to fulfill the exam requirements).

I also watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail again recently, and couldn't help but hear our mad knight in Graham Chapman (King Arthur)'s conversations (but not so much in everyone else's speech, further parodying Don Quixote). It adds even more to the hilarity of the movie, which is already pretty high, because I love Monty Python and the movie that it is most obviously mocking, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (which is not obvious if you haven't seen it, but once you have, you cannot help but know that that is one of the biggest ideas being mocked in the Holy Grail).


I'm looking forward to where our Dulcinea of Toboso, Aldonza Lorenzo will make her appearance. Her character in the musical Man of La Mancha is one I find interesting, especially in her interactions with Don Quixote and Sancho, so I am curious to see what she is actually like in Cervantes' narrative.


The parallels with the Holy Grail are all over the place. One of the best, I think, is the scene with Lancelot and his squire, "sweet Concorde", when Concorde is hit with an arrow and is injured but doing ok and Lancelot insists on carrying on with his chivalric quest, really doing it in the name of chivalry and its expected behaviors, and leaves his friend lying there to fend for himself. I find monty python very funny but I don't really find DQ funny because the comedy is overwhelmed by the sheer brutality of his adventures and my sense of Don Quixote as someone deluded by a naive belief in what he has read and a way of setting himself up as a victim.

Going back to the book burning, I think its interesting that the focus of the people in his household and his community was on the books and destruction of the books. They didn't really do much to help him, although they were concerned about this madness and what may happen to him, but their overwhelming interest was in destroying the books, which in a practical sense, would do little to help DQ with his problems. The book burning was more about exercising what they saw as a moral imperative an make themselves feel better, yet the books themselves are not the problem, the problem is that DQ thinks he can be and live what he has read in those books. The problem is the reader not the book. Perhaps they believed that by destroying the books they were destroying the ideas in the books but that is a bit stupid. In any case, the ideas are well entrenched in DQ's mind, he can recall amazing detail of knights and their ways, he has no need of further reference to the books.



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Fri May 21, 2010 11:36 am
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