The Don Quixote Book Club p. 451-558

Alright, alright, alright. There is a lot to go over, and by no means did we go over it all. I would say there was one main conversation that sparked interest in Tuesday’s book club meeting. In addition to our talks, I have been seeking outside sources to lend insight to the text. If you are interested, please visit the Yale Open Courses website, and in the Spanish department you can find a course on the very Don Quixote. The only pitfall to this resource is that the professor doesn’t use our Edith Grossman. So is the price to pay for a Yale professor.

I will mention a few things I learned from him based on the first two lectures I listened to. These things have to do with our conversations in the book club… so they’re relevant.

In this past reading, there are many moments of great dialogue where either Sancho or Quixote spit out some wisdom and the matter is dropped. I’m thinking specifically the part in our reading when Don Quixote comes across a band of actors and Sancho urges his master not to attack them. Don Quixote listens to Sancho and realizes that stealing their stuff would have brought them nothing, since the gold they wear is fake and the jewels are nothing but cheap replicas. Don Quixote takes it upon himself to make sure Sancho still appreciates the actors even though, “One plays the scoundrel, another the liar, this one the merchant, that one the soldier, another the wise fool,yet another the foolish lover, but when the play is over and they have taken off their costumes, all the actors are equal” (527). Don Quixote then relates this to life and death. That in life we are not equal, but in death all souls are weighed the same. Isn’t that beautiful? especially for the idealist of Don Quixote. To realize such a human truth and to acknowledge that this world is stratified in powerful ways, and that only in death will the human race have true equality.

Things of this truthful nature are spouted like a whale surfacing for air. These pieces of wisdom come and then leave us in the wake of the narrative, and Cervantes doesn’t come back to them. One of my biggest insights into this book was that of questioning God, and now it seems like the book has taken on a different focus. Now, I, we’ve been told this book doesn’t have one specific theme, in fact it eludes any one answer or one key that shines insight to the pure meaning of the work. As far as themes and meaning, not one answer will suffice. All we can say is that the book is about a middle aged man, who consumed by chilvalric romances, sets out on knight errantry to right the world’s wrongs with his loyal squire. As the Professor from Yale put it: a tall, thin idealist sets out with a short, fat realist.

And to be absolutely real, while watching this class, the professor made a very interesting point regarding novels and romances. Now, in the book, Edith Grossman refers to the books Don Quixote read as Chivalric novels. This is inaccurate. What Don Quixote was reading and was possessed by was call Chivalric romances.

Chivalric Romance was a very popular genre back in the 1500s. We still have them today. A romance comes from the culture of Rome, and the key characteristics in this genre of story telling is it is in verse or prose, a long narrative in a romantic dialect, about an adventure of a knight errant in remote location. Also the main characters were always lovers or close friends. And, the most important distinction is that the main character never changes.

Don Quixote deviates from the above definition greatly. In fact almost in every way besides they are both prose works and take place in a remote location. However, Don Quixote is middle aged, his squire is someone he barely knows, and all the characters mentioned, even in the intercalary novels, the main characters change. And in Don Quixote, everything is changing all the time and everywhere.

We can see this in how Don Quixote speaks to the Man in the Green Coat about good art, poetry, technique, and content (Sancho is more intellectual in the Part 2, as well). After the incident with the actors, a man riding a female horse approaches from our duet’s rear and is stopped by Don Quixote. There the man in the coat explains his misfortunes with his son, whom is a poet. Don Quixote rejects the man’s disapproval of his son and urges him to nurture his son’s talent and guide him to be a good poet. In the discussion Don Quixote remarks, “The natural poet who makes use of art will be a much better and more accomplished poet than the one who only knows the art and wishes to be a poet; the reason is that art does not surpass nature but perfects it; therefore, when nature is mixed with art, and art with nature, the result is a perfect poet” (557). So there is a debate on what makes a poet write good poetry. Don Quixote gives his advice to the father in green to be a good parent but also to ensure his son attains honor in his art. His advice consist of instilling virtue, which will lead the son to writing of virtuous things: content. Then advising the father to urge his son to make use of art, technique, and not to simply know it. It is common to say a writer has to have something to say and know how to say it well. To use language beautifully so that we may access his content, the virtue of the prose or verse.

Blaze brought up watercolor. And in the world of watercolor, people are amazed, awed by the technique of the artist. I wasn’t aware of it until she said something, but to look at a really good watercolor is truly amazing. Here’s one that I found on the internet:

The water in this image pops out in a glaze, however the water creeping towards the background reflects clearly the landscape above. The light is properly transformed in the reflection. Almost all good watercolor’s are like this: tranquil, serene, something magical lurking behind each stroke of the brush.

In the context of Don Quixote’s speech, like watercolor, the technique is important. It’s the vehicle in which the virtue or moral is transported. This communication is the experience of art, and once set down on paper or saved as a word doc. it’s message will always be there available for someone to experience, if they are open to the experience.

This technique can take shape in many different ways. We call it style, and in literature style is very important. In Cervantes’s case, style is the foundation of this book. Believe it or not Quixote is a new style, never seen or read. It calls to itself, criticizes the weak and envious, and takes hold of the natural world.

In our meeting, the question that really got us going and learning was: What is a novel?What makes a novel… What does it need to have? Is Don Quixote a novel? Blaze said, A novel is a narrative with a major plot/s and theme/s with sub plots and sub themes. At first she didn’t agree that this was a novel. It certainly isn’t a romance as we earlier discussed. The professor from Yale said it could also be a picaresque, which is  an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero. He also said a novel is a narrative where the characters change over time. Blaze agreed it could be a picaresque and did not concede to it being a novel. To me however, it’s a novel for the fact that the characters change and the work’s complexity of narrative and experimentation. This book is a total break in tradition. It ignores every rule there is. This happens ever 100 years starting with Don Quixote in 1605, Defoe 1710 introducing individualism in capitalism, Jan Austen in 1800 with marriage plots, then Joyce and Woolf in 1900, and the only work I can think of close to 2000 that breaks bounds is Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace.

This book, Don Quixote, is allusive in the number of frame tales or worlds that we as readers experience. From the real world into fiction, there is our world in which we are reading this book, then there is Cervantes world in which he is writing the book, i.e. prologue’s and notes, then there is the narrator who is uncovering and transcribing these adventures, then there is the world of the writer who writes Quixote’s adventures, a Moor named Cide something, then there is the world in which Sancho and the other characters of the book live: a reality close to the one we live/lived in, then there is Don Quixote’s world where wind mills are giants and sheep are armies. No matter how we cut it, there is always some twist, some level of separation from real and imaginary. We are always in some projection of someone else’s imagination. We know this is a work of fiction: Don Quixote never existed. However the author of the story goes about the narrative, fixing mistakes and referring to the real world as if he did. This book seems to be about projections and belief and subjectivity of reality and how art functions in our world honestly or dishonestly. Perhaps that’s why it’s a work of infinite and immortal genius. Beating time itself.

 

The Writing Lab

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The Don Quixote Book Club p. 414-to ending of Part 1!

Wahooo!!! We finished the first part of Don Quixote! Thank goodness and badness. Unfortunately the book club did not meet… What can I say we’re busy people. However, we will meet tomorrow, covering the first hundred pages of the new part, and I will recount, relay, review these last 50 pages.

This post is going to be quick because we did not meet to discuss it. If you’d like to see more in depth and analytical post please refer to a number of the previous posts.

I have to say that the ending of the first part of this great book was lackluster. Nothing particularly special happens to our knight or his loyal squire. At least, nothing too revealing or new happens; it ends the way it began with a bunch of sonnets. It’s too bad I never developed a love for poetry.

Now remember that the book was first published in two parts. The first in 1605 and the second part in 1615. And there was a false second part published by someone else, of which Cervantes addresses in the beginning of the Second Part (but that’s for the next post). As for beginning’s end, I find it hard to think of material to talk about.

Although, when I find myself hitting a wall in thought, I always go right to the beginning. I write it out… This reading starts with Chapter XLVIII, in which the canon continues to discuss of chivalry, as well as other matters worthy of his ingenuity. Then the next chapter… XLIX, which recounts the clever conversation that Sancho Panza had with his master, Don Quixote.

The following chapter headings for this reading are:

L: Regarding the astute arguments that Don Quixote had with the canon as as other matters.

LI: Which recounts what the goatherd told to all those who were taking Don Quixote home.

LII: Regarding the quarrel that Don Quixote had with the goatherd, as well as the strange adventure of the penitents, which he brought to a successful conclusion by the sweat of his brow.

Now I know we haven’t gone over the chapter headings in this here blog before, and these seem to be more tame than the others. Some, later on in the book, simply say, ‘in which interesting and notable stuff is recounted.’ All of us in the book club have touched upon the seemingly useless headings that simply state what could have been expected. And even if something surprising comes up, the chapter headings don’t adequately warn us from that surprising thing, which is usually Don Quixote being beaten and Sancho thrown up in a blanket. We just find it curious is all.

There are a few things that are interesting and worth touching on before we move on to the better half of this novel.

This book is undoubtedly about books. The first novel being about something very old is rather novel, wouldn’t you think? But in Quixote’s defense of the novels of chivalry he touches on a very important point. On page 428, he remarks how literature, or plays, can influence, delight, and teach all classes of people. He basically says that literature is a force that can level the playing field of classism. When there’s a play being acted or a book being read, it doesn’t matter who you are as long as you are deriving pleasure from the art. And that can be anyone, at least according to Don Quixote.

Next, ten pages later, Quixote uses a story of a knight facing this lake of muck as an example of a liminal space where the knight throws himself in a bubbling swamp with snakes and other hideous things and finds himself in a kingdom with the most beautiful damsel’s ever seen. Here we are reminded of how courage can reward, however this meaning or message is carried through Quixote’s lips from a fictional book he read. This in the fictional realm of Cervantes did not happen in the reality of Don Quixote, rather the knight fell into the lake within Quixote’s fictional realm.

Then, almost to the end of the first part a goatherd recounts his story and why he is left wandering the forest. And, his story sounds a lot like that of Marcella’s. You remember the daughter of someone who chose to not like anyone. We met her a while ago more towards the beginning of the book. Nevertheless the woman in the goatherd’s story sounded rather mean, ruthless even. My question here to Cervantes, is are we supposed to see a redundancy in life, narrative? Who knows.

All I know in the whole wide world right now is that I’m happy to be moving on to the other side of this book. Which, I can tell, is already better. For it truly brings life into the mix…

 

The Writing Labdonquixote

The Don Quixote Book Club p.352-414

We’re almost half way. I can speak for all of us when we say we are very much looking forward to the end of Part One. Last Tuesday, Blaze considered quitting, and the one thing that kept her going was the end when she’d be able to say she read it. I think that goes for all of us. I personally struggle to understand why and how this book has had such a great influence on so many great writers. Even if those writers had read it in the original Spanish, I find it hard to believe that the language is better, surely more romantic. But then I have to remind myself that this is the very first novel written according to the literature canon. So, I have to cut the book some slack, it being the first and all. And I do have to appreciate how many narrative ploys are deployed in this book that are still commonly used today, i.e. frame tales, first person narrative, third person narrative, authenticity, truth statements, character development techniques, and boy is it about culture.

We compared it to Dickens and Moby Dick. Everything seems to fall into place in Dicken’s world, and if you took out the cetology chapters in Moby then the book would be at most a few hundred pages long with very large print.

Alas, there are still a few points that keep me, us, reading.

It was Blaze who thought of Dickens when reading these last 100 pages. In a very small nutshell, we meet many different characters in this last reading, and in each of their stories everything seems to work out for them. And in the present narrative, things seem to work out for everyone involved. Of course, nothing that occurs really has anything to do with our Don Quixote.

What I would like to relate is what Blaze said about Dickens. First of all she said she hated him, and second she said a professor once told her that in order to understand Dickens, we have to understand that his characters are not of our world but in a moral world of their own. You see, Dickens wrote his own universe, where bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. Our world doesn’t work like that. To translate that to the infinite fortune of our characters at the inn at this time, means if you are good in a Christian context then God will favor you and your endeavors. All I can say is this must be true, since everyone around Don Quixote prospers from being around him, and only Don Quixote, sworn by Knight’s Errantry, goes against pure Christian morals and ethics of being.

Don Quixote feels himself outside the normal scope of trivial life here in Spain. After the big fight at the inn, where our captive, priest, barber, judge, and Cardenio fight the Holy Brotherhood, and everything is finally settled, one of the Holy Brotherhood officer’s pulls out a warrant for Don Quixote’s arrest. At this Don Quixote is astounded and surprised and uses Knight’s Errant law as a defense, saying:

“Your low and base intelligence does not deserve to have heaven communicate to you the great worth of knight errantry, or allow you to understand the sin and ignorance into which you have fallen when you do not reverence the shadow, let alone the actual presence, of any knight errant. Com, you brotherhood of thieves, you highway robbers sanctioned by the Holy Brotherhood, come and tell me who was the fool who signed an arrest warrant against such a knight as I?  Who was the dolt who did not know that knights errant are exempt from all jurisdictional authority, or was unaware that their law is their sword, their edicts their courage, their statues their will? Who was the imbecile, I say, who did not know that there is no patent of nobility with as many privileges and immunities as those acquired by a knight errant on the day he is dubbed a knight and dedicates himself to the rigorous practice of chivalry? What knight errant ever paid a tax, a duty, a queen’s levy, a tribute, a tariff, or a toll?”

Hahahahaha. So just imagine you get pulled over for speeding and you say to the officer, what student of high school has ever paid a ticket? What student has ever appeared in front of a judge to plead their case against a speeding ticket? The officer would laugh, wouldn’t you agree? This is what Don Quixote is doing here in this moment in the book. The Holy Brotherhood is really a police body of Spain to keep order in the lands. They also have religious connections. It seems that Cervantes is poking fun at Quixote’s ego and arrogance. Truly it was a delight to hear Quixote think he was indeed above the law.

Next, Blaze looked up the word errant. What it said was enlightening to this tale. It means traveling, seeking adventure, which is the definition Quixote refers to, and then it also means deviating from proper course. Hmm. Is it possible that the reason nothing is happening for Don Quixote or Sancho is that he is both seeking adventure but also deviating from proper course. I bring this up because it could shed light on why Quixote is so full of it. Perhaps, his misfortunes stem from his deviation from the Christian path and abides by only Knightly law. He goes above the laws of Spain and Monarchy, he goes above the laws of God, and goes against the love of courtship. Why would he be rewarded in a place where all the above are valued more than anything else? Why would he prosper from being a knight? He wouldn’t and doesn’t. Instead all of the other people around him prosper. Everyone’s problems at the inn that night are solved within a page or two of happenstance to all’s great delight. No one is left disappointed but Don Quixote and Sancho.

On the other hand, if it wasn’t for Don Quixote and Sancho, none of the fortunate events that took place for those unfortunates would have taken place. So in this light, everything that has happened, happened because of Don Quixote’s madness path. All of the lover’s are restored, and the lost relative’s are reunited with their families. Quite amazing.

This would also mean that Don Quixote is the frame tale for everyone else that appears in the novel. Nothing but bad things have happened to Don Quixote and Sancho, and most of the time nothing at all has happened. But for everyone else we’ve met something has happened. As far as I can tell the only one that hasn’t prospered from Don Quixote’s knighthood is the boy who was whipped in the beginning of the novel. This servant boy is the only one who has actually had negative outcomes from Don Quixote’s help. So I am sure he will come back again to complete the novel in wholeness.

Which brings me to wholeness and the group’s discussion about good art and wholeness.

At the end of our reading we are confronted with a canon. A canon is a man, I am not sure of what importance or service. Nevertheless, the canon stops our party from returning Don Quixote home, and asks why they have Quixote in a cage. Sancho speaks up for himself and isn’t as donkey headed as we thought. He is actually paying attention to what is happening around him, and he isn’t just following but also he is listening.

Anyway, the priest takes the canon ahead and fills him in on what exactly is happening with Don Quixote. The next thing we know we are in a full on conversation about the merits of good literature and the poor taste of chivalric novels. According to the canon, what makes a novel good is its wholeness. Do all the parts: beginning, middle, and end, correspond to all other parts. If it does then it is good, then it has merit, value, and is delightful. This is the classic argument of good literature and has stayed that way for a very long time. However books that simply delight, like books of chivalry, are simply foolish and the canon had yet to finish one because as soon as he starts he finds the book to be exactly the same and so stops.

Blaze pointed out that here Cervantes seems to be making fun of his own book. Not that it is a chivalric novel; it seems quite clear he is making fun of that, too, but also poking fun at the fact that it doesn’t have a strong narrative arc. It doesn’t really start or climax at any point. When we think something is getting started, the exact opposite occurs. When we think our characters are going to run into trouble, something happens and trouble is avoided. Nothing corresponds to anything, and it seems like reading on a treadmill. We think we are running through this book, but really we haven’t even started.

Like I said in the beginning, we are very much looking forward to the end of Part One, and a nice Spring Break…

 

The Writing Lab

 

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