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Is Don Quixote Unreadable? 
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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
Suzanne wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:

“The Crying of Lot 49”, Thomas Pynchon is one of my favorite books of all time, but most people find it unreadable.


Interesting thread. It makes me want to read DQ.

In my opinion, some works require some pre-reading. Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Beowulf, etc. Start by reading a synopsis, even if it's something like Sparksnotes. Get scholarly editions and read the introductions and other texts. There's usually some good stuff online too. Then read the actual text and I think you can glean a lot more from it. You spend less time confused and frustrated when you understand a work's historical and lingual context.

Re: The Crying of Lot 49. I read it and blinked a few times and said, well, what the hell was that all about? I'll reread that one and see if I can derive meaning from it. Beckett, too, mystified me until I actually saw Waiting for Godot on stage. I think I get Beckett now.


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Sat May 29, 2010 12:28 pm
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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
There is a big gap between two possible readings of this debate, one, finding it is a shame some readers do not understand a great classic, and two, the assumption that this involves a personal criticism. Geo is right that the context is essential. What I love about Don Quixote, in part, is the endorsement for entrepreneurial visions, the idea that people should follow their dreams come what may. The Wright Bros were seen as quixotic for their assertion that heavier than air flight is possible, but they were absolutely correct, and started the world aviation industry. Most fantastic capitalist inventions have a slightly crazy genius who got the vision moving, with faith like a mustard seed.

On the other hand, the housekeeper who burns Don Quixote's books is typical of the narrow, stupid, conservative conformity that lives in fear of innovation and ideas.

We get this crazy back and forth, with Don Quixote himself symbolising both the past and the future, mythology and vision, tradition and innovation, fantasy and genius. This is just my take, building on my own interest in innovation in philosophy and water supply. I see the deathly Catch 22 cynicism everywhere, that if new ideas made sense they would be old already. Don Quixote is a breath of freedom and creativity against this stultifying claustrophobia. Part of the game of this discussion is that Don Quixote inspires a certain quality of craziness, a suspension of disbelief where the impossible becomes possible. There is a cautionary tale in the observation that his absolute faith is actually wrong, that hotels are not castles and windmills are not giants. But good on him for having a go. Without entrepreneurs like Don Quixote we would still be in the stone age. Cervantes represents the spirit of capitalism, the visionary marriage of innovation and evidence. If you don't like that spirit, you won't like Don Quixote.



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Sat May 29, 2010 1:01 pm
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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
I was fortunate to take a Milton class a few years back. Bloom, the literary critic, says  that there is a very select few people who can read Milton. And I'm sure the same applies to Cervantes and many other classic writers. It can be difficult to read some of these classics. Much of the reward comes from understanding it's historical context. Anyway, having "known" Robert for some time, I would take his word for it. Also DQ is a timeless classic. A work doesn't survive that long for nothing.

That's all I can say for now. Typing on a cell phone leaves a lot to be desired.


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Sat May 29, 2010 3:09 pm
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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
Bravo to everyone of you, I love this sight.



Sat May 29, 2010 6:48 pm
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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
Robert Tulip wrote:
There is a big gap between two possible readings of this debate, one, finding it is a shame some readers do not understand a great classic, and two, the assumption that this involves a personal criticism.

But just to be clear (as our President says) saying there is something wrong with me if I don't agree with your appraisal of a book, is a personal criticism. This is where I think Bleachededen was coming from with the Stahrwe remark, by the way.
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Geo is right that the context is essential. What I love about Don Quixote, in part, is the endorsement for entrepreneurial visions, the idea that people should follow their dreams come what may. The Wright Bros were seen as quixotic for their assertion that heavier than air flight is possible, but they were absolutely correct, and started the world aviation industry. Most fantastic capitalist inventions have a slightly crazy genius who got the vision moving, with faith like a mustard seed.

What interests me the most about DQ is its capability to be a vessel for different perspectives, even contradictory ones. It could be be the inchoate nature of the book that makes it able to hold so many meanings for people. The meaning above represents the "Man of La Mancha" strain that grew from the book. It didn't matter that Cervantes himself shuts down Don Quixote in the end, just about repudiates everything he was supposed to have stood for. The genie was already out of the bottle as far as the character type that people found they loved. Yet the book also makes people swear that it satirizes Don and his "ideals," and of course this is the opposite of the first view. And no, the book does not operate on each of these two "levels" simultaneously; that would truly be to make nonsense of it.
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On the other hand, the housekeeper who burns Don Quixote's books is typical of the narrow, stupid, conservative conformity that lives in fear of innovation and ideas.

No, I would defend the housekeeper, and there is no animus shown toward her by the author. It's she who tells Don that he's a silly fool for having this idea of turning shepherd.
Quote:
We get this crazy back and forth, with Don Quixote himself symbolising both the past and the future, mythology and vision, tradition and innovation, fantasy and genius. This is just my take, building on my own interest in innovation in philosophy and water supply. I see the deathly Catch 22 cynicism everywhere, that if new ideas made sense they would be old already. Don Quixote is a breath of freedom and creativity against this stultifying claustrophobia. Part of the game of this discussion is that Don Quixote inspires a certain quality of craziness, a suspension of disbelief where the impossible becomes possible. There is a cautionary tale in the observation that his absolute faith is actually wrong, that hotels are not castles and windmills are not giants. But good on him for having a go. Without entrepreneurs like Don Quixote we would still be in the stone age. Cervantes represents the spirit of capitalism, the visionary marriage of innovation and evidence. If you don't like that spirit, you won't like Don Quixote.

Well, what he innovates escapes me, but I don't mean to push back too much at this. I don't agree that you can place an arbitrary conditon on a reader's response to a character, as you try to do in your last sentence. I like Don Quixote (if not everything about Don Quixote), but I don't share your view of him.

Shouldn't we dispense with this talk about "classics." Use of the word tends to beggar the question we're trying to answer about the work ("of course this book is great--it's a classic!")



Last edited by DWill on Sat May 29, 2010 10:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
DWill wrote:
Shouldn't we dispense with this talk about "classics." Use of the word tends to beggar the question we're trying to answer about the work ("of course this book is great--it's a classic!")


A book that is meaningful to people across generations meets the definition of "classic" but I see your point.

By the way, I'm reading The Craft of Writing by William Sloane and today I came across this passage in which Sloane comments on the complex relationship between writer and reader. Certainly the relationship between Cervantes and today's modern reader is strained. It is a work that has become irrelevant to most people and, yet, can be enjoyed by a select few--especially those who are familiar with history of that time period--because they better understand it within that context.

Sloane wrote:
. . . Each new reader is, for the writer, a new coauthor. To the child-reader the story has no author. The story exists in itself and the child consumes it like ice cream or cake, fiercely, personally. But each and every mature reader brings his own special conditioning to everything he reads. Sp do the generations. Witness the changes in critical approach from century to century and even from decade to decade. Not only that, the same reader, at different ages, brings different responses to the same book. . . .The greatest works, then, are those that can survive the years and a change from one language into another. We are all aware of how much is lost to time and translation: many jokes, most contemporary allusions, various religious and artistic dimensions and even word meanings.


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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
DWill wrote:
saying there is something wrong with me if I don't agree with your appraisal of a book, is a personal criticism. This is where I think Bleachededen was coming from with the Stahrwe remark, by the way.
No, you have it backwards. BE compared me to a creationist for saying “ I think if you don't enjoy it you should stop reading, as that is a sign that perhaps you are missing something, have other things on your mind, and may be better waiting until later.” If somebody went about saying the Mona Lisa, or the great works by Van Gogh or Mozart are boring and outdated, it would hardly be surprising if people engaging in critical discussion of these works asked if those respondents are missing something.
Quote:
What interests me the most about DQ is its capability to be a vessel for different perspectives, even contradictory ones. It could be the inchoate nature of the book that makes it able to hold so many meanings for people. The meaning above represents the "Man of La Mancha" strain that grew from the book. It didn't matter that Cervantes himself shuts down Don Quixote in the end, just about repudiates everything he was supposed to have stood for. The genie was already out of the bottle as far as the character type that people found they loved. Yet the book also makes people swear that it satirizes Don and his "ideals," and of course this is the opposite of the first view. And no, the book does not operate on each of these two "levels" simultaneously; that would truly be to make nonsense of it.
Cervantes’ ambiguity is constant and deliberate, and is the source of the conflicting readings. I don’t see that Cervantes repudiates Don Q, given this constant tendency to say the opposite of what he means in this 'true history'. The ‘multivalence’ of archetypes includes precisely this ability to hold contradictory meanings at the same time. So yes, I would argue the celebration of DQ occurs simultaneously with the mockery of him.
Quote:
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On the other hand, the housekeeper who burns Don Quixote's books is typical of the narrow, stupid, conservative conformity that lives in fear of innovation and ideas.

No, I would defend the housekeeper, and there is no animus shown toward her by the author. It's she who tells Don that he's a silly fool for having this idea of turning shepherd.
Again, just my opinion, I think you are wrong here. Cervantes presents her and the priest as idiot boofheads. If adventurers like Don Quixote had listened to the stuck-at-home naysayers Columbus would never have sailed to America.
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Cervantes represents the spirit of capitalism, the visionary marriage of innovation and evidence. If you don't like that spirit, you won't like Don Quixote.
Well, what he innovates escapes me, but I don't mean to push back too much at this. I don't agree that you can place an arbitrary condition on a reader's response to a character, as you try to do in your last sentence.
Innovation is about taking risks and following your dreams. Don Quixote is a dreamy risk taker, but he is a failure as an innovator, because his dreams are not grounded in evidence. Even so, his ambitions are megalo-monumental, (admiral, archbishop, emperor, etc), he just misses the other half of the picture (ie evidence) that is required for success.



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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
Robert Tulip wrote:
No, you have it backwards. BE compared me to a creationist for saying “ I think if you don't enjoy it you should stop reading, as that is a sign that perhaps you are missing something, have other things on your mind, and may be better waiting until later.” If somebody went about saying the Mona Lisa, or the great works by Van Gogh or Mozart are boring and outdated, it would hardly be surprising if people engaging in critical discussion of these works asked if those respondents are missing something.


No offense, Robert, but I believe I know what I said. I compared you to a specific, egotistical creationist who quite often attacks those who criticize his views by suggesting that they "missed something," or "didn't read it right." By telling me and DWill and anyone who doesn't like Don Quixote that we don't like it because we "missed something," you took the same line of defense as Stahrwe, instead of accepting that we are all allowed to have our own, differing opinions about a work of fiction.

I can't believe I even have to do this in this thread, but here is what I actually said:

bleachededen wrote:
I finished the book, and no, it did not get any better. I did not have anything else on my mind, and I didn't miss anything. I simply didn't like it.

...That doesn't mean it isn't still an important piece of literature, or that you can't stand by it and like it as much as you want. But I, along with everyone else here, am entitled to my own opinion about the book, and just because yours happens to be in the minority here doesn't give you the right to criticize our reading habits or reading comprehension just because we disagree. You're sounding a bit like Stahrwe, I'm sad to say, and I think maybe you should take a step back and look at this topic a bit more objectively. None of us are attacking Cervantes or Don Quixote, we just don't particularly like the book. And there's nothing whatsoever wrong with that.


The bolded and italicized parts are the statements I am actually responding to. If you could take a step back for just a second and remember that we're talking about literature, a subjective art form, here, you may be able to see less emotionally that what I am saying is not a personal attack, but an attempt to explain my view to you logically, which is somehow failing, no matter who agrees or explains further.

I also apologized for comparing you to someone whom most of us have such little opinion of, but remained firm in my assertion that you are refusing to let people have their own opinions without "lacking" any intelligence, reading comprehension, or maturity of some kind.

bleachededen wrote:
And I apologize for the Stahrwe comment. I just wanted you to consider the voice you are putting forth to us who aren't in DQ's fan club, and that just because we don't like a book doesn't mean there is something wrong with us. That is something someone like Stahrwe would suggest, and I think you are better than that.


This is the point I really wanted to drive home, because what you suggested, that we are "missing something" or don't know how/when it best suits us to read, is a personal criticism, and not just expressing a feeling of shame that we don't appreciate the book as much as you. You actually feel, as you admitted, that anyone who doesn't like Don Quixote must have something wrong with them.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I do think, just my personal opinion here, there is something wrong with people not liking Don Quixote, as they are missing something in a great and enduring classic of modern literature.


And I feel that anyone who thinks that way about a work of fiction, a work or art, must have something wrong with them, because that kind of narrow-mindedness is what is rampant in the creationist ilk, and just because you have disdain for them doesn't mean that when you think like them and attack like they do that you are any better. I personally think you are better, but you're being very blind and very stubborn about this Cervantes business, and I really think it would be best to just accept that some people will like it and some won't, and that there is nothing wrong with them if they don't. Nothing. Nothing at all. Given a different book to discuss I have a feeling you would say the same thing.

On the matter of The Mona Lisa or the paintings of Van Gogh, I can totally understand someone finding them boring and outdated. Why not? They're works of art, too, separated from us by hundreds of years, and just as subjective as any other work of art. They were innovative for their time, they did great things, but that doesn't mean anyone HAS to like them or be lacking in some aspect or another. While I personally love Mozart, I know many people who don't, finding his music too repetitive or with "too many notes," and I do not think any less of them, as long as they allow me the right to love Mozart without making me feel something is wrong with me because I do. It's all subjective, it's all art. Yes, they are classics for a reason, but that doesn't mean that every single person likes or has to like them. That's what is so wonderful about people -- we can like what we like but still like others who don't necessarily share that passion. When we don't accept others who share different opinions, we shut ourselves off from learning new things, and become as delusional and ridiculous as Stahrwe and anyone else who refuses to hear new viewpoints. I know you are better than that, Robert, so I hope this gets through to you as a plea for understanding and not as an attack, because it is in no way meant to be an attack. I just want what I've said and am saying to be clear.

On the matter of whether or not anyone likes Don Quixote, I think we all need to agree to disagree. You like it, others might not, no one is lacking anything either way, and that's all there is to it. We need not duel anymore. We're all the same, just have different tastes. 1,2,3, end, please?



Sun May 30, 2010 2:47 pm
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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
Robert Tulip wrote:
. Cervantes’ ambiguity is constant and deliberate, and is the source of the conflicting readings. I don’t see that Cervantes repudiates Don Q, given this constant tendency to say the opposite of what he means in this 'true history'. The ‘multivalence’ of archetypes includes precisely this ability to hold contradictory meanings at the same time. So yes, I would argue the celebration of DQ occurs simultaneously with the mockery of him.
Quote:
The cauldron of cross-purposes that you say the book is, Robert, is likely to result in an artistic failure. I don't consider the book to be such, however. I think you're making too big a thing of the narrator's mannerism of using mock-heroic, mock-serious address. This comes far short of signifying that he must mean the opposite at every turn, and it also doesn't mean that his broader aim is satiric.
Quote:
On the other hand, the housekeeper who burns Don Quixote's books is typical of the narrow, stupid, conservative conformity that lives in fear of innovation and ideas.

I'm glad you mentioned her, Robert, because you've made me think of how Cervantes/the narrator doesn't come down on a single character in the book, that I can recall. His equanimity toward all is remarkable, and if we need to speculate on why the book has lasted, we could do worse than to single out the narrator's light, wry touch as master of these ceremonies. The housekeeper has sincere concern for Don, laments that the knight-errantry books have unseated the finest mind around, and tries to rescue him by helping destroy the blasted books. Throughout the book, we see that her assessment of fine mind/disatrous addiction is echoed by nearly everyone that Don encounters. In the end, it would seem that Cervantes wants us to know that he's been having a lark with his story, but doesn't want it thought that Don has been showing us "role model" behavior. So he has Don recant.

All along, Robert, you have asserted that this book is thesis-heavy, while I have said that it doesn't seek to make statements. The only thing I'll try to insist on is that my view of a novel is quite a normal one. Novels exist for different reasons; conveying philosophical ideas through characters is one of these, but many novels are quite devoid of it and no worse for the lack. It is not disrespectful and doesn't denigrate Cervantes to call DQ a comedic book in which character, dialogue, and adventures take center stage.



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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
It is very easy to form a set against a book you are reading. The eyes glaze, the pages flick, the writer has lost you, the plot becomes dull, characters lose definition and personality, you long for the end of the chapter like the sight of land on a long sea voyage. Flagellating yourself by persisting in such circumstances may have some moral value, but is not guaranteed to give you the best understanding of the book, which now sits on the shelf as an object of loathing, a reprimand to your personal inadequacy, a vortex of purgatory. This was my experience when I read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. I forced myself to read it, without comprehension. Later, reading reviews, I found that I had indeed missed great slabs of the meaning of the book, and was simply not ready for it at the time.

I must confess, a personal failing of mine over many years has been a tendency to moral absolutism. My way of thinking, which I know is seen as politically incorrect and insufferably arrogant, is that if I think a statement is right, then I also think that contradicting that statement is objectively wrong. If I didn’t think my opinions were correct then I would abandon them in favour of others. This is okay in science, as in Richard Dawkins’ comment that there are no relativists at 40,000 feet (ie aviation engineers are right or wrong). However, once we get into culture, the logical terrain becomes treacherous. Even more so with religion, where people seek to base their values on what they perceive as facts.

I think Don Quixote is a good book. If someone says it is a bad book, or even that it is dull, I will say they are wrong. I am very happy to have a civil and respectful conversation about the reasons for my belief, without condemning others for some sort of moral turpitude. Sentiments of liking and disliking are notoriously subjective, as are opinions about religion, sex and politics, the conversation topics traditionally banned in British pubs.

The notion of a canon in literature, a list of best books, is a central theme for the writer of the introduction to Grossman’s Don Quixote, Harold Bloom. He upholds the controversial idea that there are objective criteria in the humanities to guide inclusion and exclusion from the canon of great books. The problem is that the canon will change over time dependent on prevailing cultural values. It is not a matter of objective facts like astronomy or biology. And yet, we are drawn to the idea that there are standards in the arts.

When some one looks at an abstract expressionist painting by Rothko or Pollock in the Guggenheim Museum, and says my five year old could have painted that, they are wrong, and are failing to see the cultural context of the work, the complex web of influences, the technical and aesthetic merit, and the spark of creative genius. They don’t get it. Pollock made a spiritual connection with an objective eternal value, as did Cervantes. Assessments of the canon may vary, but it is wrong to diminish the cultural achievement of genius by the relativist statement that merit is just a matter of opinion.

So, I maintain the opinion, which relativists will condemn as fundamentalist, that I am absolutely and objectively and universally correct in assessing Don Quixote as a great work of literature and a fantastic read. Anyone who disagrees is like the miscreants who suggest to Don Quixote that Dulcinea has an equal in beauty, and is missing something in their reading.



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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
I mentioned before that I read Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and that it's meaning was lost on me. I might be tempted to say it wasn't a very good book but I think it's probably more reasonable to say that I just didn't get it. I would imagine that were I to familiarize with more of this kind of literature and also research Pynchon I would come away with something much more from this book.

For what it's worth, here's what Harold Bloom says of Don Quixote: "If I may be wholly secular, Cervantes seems to me Shakespeare's only possible rival in the imaginative literature of the past four centuries. Don Quixote is the peer of Hamlet, and Sancho Panza is a match for Sir John Falstaff. Higher praise I do not know how to render."

True, Harold Bloom is an elderly and rather elite gent. But I think he can be trusted to know a great work of literature. Of course it's perfectly okay if someone doesn't like Don Quixote. I don't think that's the point. The point is that someone who doesn't like Don Quixote probably just doesn't get it. Just as someone who doesn't like the Mona Lisa is very likely not familiar enough with art to be able to understand this particular work for its historical and cultural significance.


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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
I still have to disagree. I can "get" something without having to "like" or "enjoy" it. I don't appreciate that that is what is being asserted here. Understanding is not the same as enjoyment. I understand why certain jokes make sense and could be funny to some, but that doesn't mean I enjoy hearing them. I understand what was being done in Don Quixote, but on a whole, as a novel, from page one to the very end, I got sick of what was going on in the book and felt that the nail was being hammered a bit too hard on the head. That doesn't mean I didn't laugh at some parts or get wrapped up in the adventures at others, but as a whole, it wasn't an entirely pleasurable experience. But that does NOT mean I didn't get it! These are two wholly different sentiments we're talking about, and it's insulting to suggest that someone doesn't "get" something just because they don't "enjoy" it. It's ridiculous to get this upset over other people's differing taste in literature, and I'm honestly surprised I still have to defend myself and any others whose opinion just happens to be different. It's childish, redundant, and sucking our energy from other, more fruitful conversations.

What it boils down to, Robert, geo, anyone else, is that it IS a matter of taste, and that doesn't make anyone the lesser for it. What kind of a world would it be if we all agreed on every point and every book we ever read? Boring. So accept the diversity and learn from it instead of shutting it out or putting it down.

I'm not going to defend this point another time, because I really think it's been dug into the ground, but I want everyone to know how serious I am about this point, and that I am not wrong to have it. But I can only say the same thing so many damn times, and this is the last time I'm willing to say it. After that, I'm afraid I'm going to have to call it quits. Unlike Don Quixote, I am not willing to tilt at windmills forever. There are far too many other things I want to do with my life. Like read something else, something I will both "get" and "enjoy."



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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
Bleachededen, I’m very happy to give you the benefit of the doubt and accept that even though you disliked Don Quixote so much you also understood it fully, as you say. For myself, as I enjoyed the book a lot, I just found your comments hard to understand, since I myself would not claim to fully comprehend such an ambiguous and complex book, and would expect to find continual new layers of meaning in it.

I read your comment about the Duke and Duchess being cruel to Don Quixote before I read Book 2, so I was surprised to find that my reading did not match yours, as I did not think they were cruel at all. I hope you won’t keep comparing my comments to creationism if I venture to explore how my opinion may differ from yours?

A conundrum in Don Quixote is why Cervantes had such a thing against chivalric literature. He says the whole point of the book is to get people to stop reading trash. It is like if a great author today took it as his mission to demonstrate that celebrity tattle rags like Who Weekly, or the trashy pulp fiction newspapers like News of the World, are not serious broadsheets or high literature. Something doesn’t add up with this surface story. It looks like a device. So, the question can be asked, is knight errantry standing in as proxy for some other real target, something that Cervantes cannot attack directly? Who else, like Don Quixote, believes a lot of fantasy? Who else, like Don Quixote, worships an imaginary woman as a holy icon? Who else, like Don Quixote, insists that old texts of dubious provenance be regarded as perfect authorities and completely true in all respects?



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Mon May 31, 2010 7:29 am
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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
Robert Tulip wrote:
It is very easy to form a set against a book you are reading. The eyes glaze, the pages flick, the writer has lost you, the plot becomes dull, characters lose definition and personality, you long for the end of the chapter like the sight of land on a long sea voyage. Flagellating yourself by persisting in such circumstances may have some moral value, but is not guaranteed to give you the best understanding of the book, which now sits on the shelf as an object of loathing, a reprimand to your personal inadequacy, a vortex of purgatory. This was my experience when I read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. I forced myself to read it, without comprehension. Later, reading reviews, I found that I had indeed missed great slabs of the meaning of the book, and was simply not ready for it at the time.

Well that paragraph was a pleasure to read, unlike what you describe with the Brothers K. Funny, I recall liking that book, but it was so many years ago, I couldn't say exactly what makes me have this memory, and perhaps if I read it now I would suffer as you did. I think what you might not be factoring in is that it's legitimate to count having such an experience with a book against the author. It also could be your fault in some way, that's true. But we are not duty-bound to bear with a writer if he or she fails to engage us on the primary level, and it seems that this is what happened with you and the Brothers K. Also, if the writing is simply bad (or the translation)--completely legit to hold the writer accountable and to not apologize for missing the ideas. Novels were in their origins just what the word implies, inventions that would show us novel views of actual life. A novel must be entertaining or it is no good (there--a dogmatic statement). We are better off reading philosophy or history if it's ideas we primarily want.
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I must confess, a personal failing of mine over many years has been a tendency to moral absolutism. My way of thinking, which I know is seen as politically incorrect and insufferably arrogant, is that if I think a statement is right, then I also think that contradicting that statement is objectively wrong. If I didn’t think my opinions were correct then I would abandon them in favour of others. This is okay in science, as in Richard Dawkins’ comment that there are no relativists at 40,000 feet (ie aviation engineers are right or wrong). However, once we get into culture, the logical terrain becomes treacherous. Even more so with religion, where people seek to base their values on what they perceive as facts.

I think it's a good thing, overall, that we hold our ideas as passionately as we do, for all the trouble this tendency causes. Passion and intellect--they're supposed to be separate but are far from that; one must have the support of the other. I would only say that we need to keep in the back of our minds that our certainties may not corrrespond to truth. This experience happens to everyone, when something you thought of as certain turns out to be wrong, but for some reason we don't learn from this and tell ourlselves, "Oh, I couldn't be wrong about this."
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I think Don Quixote is a good book. If someone says it is a bad book, or even that it is dull, I will say they are wrong. I am very happy to have a civil and respectful conversation about the reasons for my belief, without condemning others for some sort of moral turpitude. Sentiments of liking and disliking are notoriously subjective, as are opinions about religion, sex and politics, the conversation topics traditionally banned in British pubs.

Perhaps you heard someone say it was a bad book or a dull book, but what I heard was mostly that this or that aspect was good/bad, or boring/interesting. You don't have to hold the whole in reverence to do it full justice.
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The notion of a canon in literature, a list of best books, is a central theme for the writer of the introduction to Grossman’s Don Quixote, Harold Bloom. He upholds the controversial idea that there are objective criteria in the humanities to guide inclusion and exclusion from the canon of great books. The problem is that the canon will change over time dependent on prevailing cultural values. It is not a matter of objective facts like astronomy or biology. And yet, we are drawn to the idea that there are standards in the arts.

You're right that we're drawn to the idea. Still, the idea of a canon, which has to mean that many are excluded, for me is mostly a Bible-based notion that is problematic.
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When some one looks at an abstract expressionist painting by Rothko or Pollock in the Guggenheim Museum, and says my five year old could have painted that, they are wrong, and are failing to see the cultural context of the work, the complex web of influences, the technical and aesthetic merit, and the spark of creative genius. They don’t get it. Pollock made a spiritual connection with an objective eternal value, as did Cervantes. Assessments of the canon may vary, but it is wrong to diminish the cultural achievement of genius by the relativist statement that merit is just a matter of opinion.

The remark about the 5-year old is true but it's cherry-picking. I think you're wrong, though, to think that the label "cultural achievement of genius" should attach to any given work of art and thereby make it impregnable to criticism, which is what you imply.
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So, I maintain the opinion, which relativists will condemn as fundamentalist, that I am absolutely and objectively and universally correct in assessing Don Quixote as a great work of literature and a fantastic read. Anyone who disagrees is like the miscreants who suggest to Don Quixote that Dulcinea has an equal in beauty, and is missing something in their reading.

I note with relief that your tongue appears frimly in cheek.



Last edited by DWill on Mon May 31, 2010 12:43 pm, edited 3 times in total.



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Post Re: Is Don Quixote Unreadable?
geo wrote:
I mentioned before that I read Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and that it's meaning was lost on me. I might be tempted to say it wasn't a very good book but I think it's probably more reasonable to say that I just didn't get it. I would imagine that were I to familiarize with more of this kind of literature and also research Pynchon I would come away with something much more from this book.

I had a seminar in non-Shakespearean Elizabethan drama. The prof had us read this book. It had something to do with or some relationship to Jacobean revenge plays, as I recall. This may tell us something about the specialized appeals that some authors make to readers. Some books simply aren't for everyone and will never have wide appeal.
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For what it's worth, here's what Harold Bloom says of Don Quixote: "If I may be wholly secular, Cervantes seems to me Shakespeare's only possible rival in the imaginative literature of the past four centuries. Don Quixote is the peer of Hamlet, and Sancho Panza is a match for Sir John Falstaff. Higher praise I do not know how to render."

Yes, in terms of character creation, Bloom is right. Not only are Don and Sancho the original types of characters that have been around in literature ever since, but he does probably the best job of all in drawing them. His achievement is like Chaucer's in the Canterbury Tales. However, is that the only lens through which to examine this book? Can't we also judge it as a book, using standard criteria for appraising novels? (PS: I assume from the "wholly secular" phrase, that Bloom thinks the Bible is the best book of them all.)

I've read books by critics, as you have, but I admit to being attracted to Emerson's dictum and sometimes think he was on the money: "Never read a book about a book."

Bloom is an interesting example of a critic who may have shifted on the spectrum. When I first knew of him, it was as the author of a book on Yeats that we read for an Irish lit seminar. In it he said that Yeats, generally acclaimed as the greatest 20th Century poet in English, was overrated and that his development, such as it was, went from promising Romantic to disappointing reactionary. I thought he was wrong, but it's good to have iconoclasts, on the other hand.
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True, Harold Bloom is an elderly and rather elite gent. But I think he can be trusted to know a great work of literature. Of course it's perfectly okay if someone doesn't like Don Quixote. I don't think that's the point. The point is that someone who doesn't like Don Quixote probably just doesn't get it. Just as someone who doesn't like the Mona Lisa is very likely not familiar enough with art to be able to understand this particular work for its historical and cultural significance.

I didn't read the introduction, so I don't know whether Bloom says the book itself is as great as the two characters. What does anyone mean by 'great" anyway? They'd have to specify. The book is certainly more than those two and their relationship. If you ever read the book, I hope you might get an angle on this "get it" aspect that Robert is pounding. It seems rather high-handed to me. Not seeing, denying in fact that something is really there, as I have done, isn't the same as "not getting."



Last edited by DWill on Mon May 31, 2010 11:08 am, edited 1 time in total.



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