Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Don Quixote so far

We are one hundred pages into the unabridged version of Don Quixote and already he has had a variety of ill-conceived adventures and suffered several sound beatings and nearly killed some others himself.  Yesterday, he was involved in precisely two nearly incapacitating altercations plus he was mentally unfaithful to his love and muse Dulcinea, perhaps also twice, once in following coy Marcella, who probably inspired his other imaginations of the wench coming to him at night.  Thus is the nature of Don Quixote's heroism and chastity.

It is strange to contemplate his getting himself into so much trouble voluntarily and at the same time I worry that we are all like him.  What kind of mad people are we?

Being a very bad novel reader, I have skipped ahead to the end, already, not being sure that I can deal with many more hundreds of pages of Don Quixote, Sancho and Rozinante.  Already we can see that the novel is much deeper and quite different in quality from what popularizing musicals have done with it or to it.  Being at heart a non-fiction girl, I really would like to know more about the context such as the Inquisition, the expulsion of Jews and Muslims, about what was actually printed and censored in 16th-century Spain, about knights and conquistadors.  Finally, I am realizing that I know practically nothing about Spain. Our dear author Cervantes is being satirical to the bone and not very subtly so, but in a way that goes down well and which has understandably immortalized him.

The ending, however, since we have skipped ahead, gives away some of the moral of the story.  It  has this to say about the "pen" and the "why" of writing and heroism.  Don Quixote must have at the end given up his errant-Knighthood and died a "Christian" at home having also given up the reading of romantic knight stories, the copying of which had led him into so many follies.


Thus died that ingenious gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha, whose native place Cid Hamet has not thoguth fit directly to mention, with design that all the towns and villages in La Mancha should contend for the honor of giving him birth, as the seven cities of Greece did for Homer.  We shall omit Sancho's lamentations, and those of the niece and the housekeeper, as also several epitaphs that were made for his tomb, and will only give you this which the Bachelor Carrasco caused to be put over it.

Don Quixote's Epitaph

'The body of a knight lies here,
So brave, thjat to his latest breath
Immortal glory was his care,
And make him trimph over death.

His looks spread terror every hour;
He strove oppression to control; 
Nor cou'd all Hells' united pow'r 
Subdue, or daunt his mighty soul.

Nor has his death the world deceiv'd 
Less than his wondrous life surpris'd
For if he like a madman liv'd
At least he like a wise one dy'd.'

Here the sagacious Cuid Hamet addressing himself to his pen, "O thou my slender pen, ' says he, 'thou, of whose nib, whether well or ill cut, I dare'nt speak my thoughts!  Suspended by this brass-wire, remain upon this spit-rack where I lodge thee.  There mayest though claim a being many ages, unless presumptuous and wicked historians take thee down to profane thee, bid them beware, and, as well as thou can'st in their own style, tell them,

"Avaunt, ye scoundrels, all and some!
I'm kept for no such thing;
Defile me not; but hang yourselves;
And so, God save the king."

'For me alone was the great Quixote born, and I alone for him.  Deeds were his task, and to record them, mine.  We two, like tallies for each other struck, are nothing when apart.  In vain the Spurious Scribe of Tordesillas, dared with his blunt and bungling ostrich-quill invade the deeds of my most valorous knight  His shoulders are unequal to the attempt:  The task is superior to his frozen genius.

'And thou, reader, if ever thou canst find him out in his obscurity, I beseech thee advise him likewise to let the wearied, mouldering bones of Don Quixote rest quiet in the earth that covers them.  Let him not expose them in Old Castille, against the sanctions of death, impiously raking him out of the vault where he lies stretched out beyond a possibility of taking a third ramble through the world.  The two sallies that he has made already, which are the subject of these two volumes, and have met with such universal applause in this and other kingdoms are sufficient to ridicule the pretended adventures of knights-errant.  Thus advising him for the best, thou shalt discharge the duty of a Christian  and do good to him that wishes thee evil.  As for me, I must esteem myself happy, to know been the first that rendered those fabulous nonsensical stories of knight-errantry, the object of the public aversion.  They are already going down, and I do not doubt but they will drop and fall all together in good earnest, never to rise again.  Adieu." 

End of Quote.

For a moment I thought I knew what he meant, but now that I've typed it, I come up with many more meanings.  What a wicked fellow this Cervantes.  Of course, there is no end to the knight-errantry, we are all on this course.  And the pen is supposed to lend its power to praise such foolishness.  We would love to gain some glory and have everyone repeat forever how wonderful we are or were.  Would it be worth doing any great deeds if no one preserved the record? What is the task of writing and of reading?  Will this ridicule bring down the knight-errantry, the pen also having been used for this hope of producing public aversion to it?  Is it irrepressible? 

Is the book about nihilism or the follies of the Catholic church and crown?   Is it about our search for immortality via becoming famous, infamous--or "prophetic" as many seem to like to call themselves, these days.-- Surely, I have met more people on the internet that thought themselves prophetic than I can say.  It's the "new" thing.  Everyone a prophet.  Everyone a critic.  Everyone a radical and superior to the rest of the masses.  Everyone with a "nobless oblige" to educate and elevate the rest.  Everyone an "apologist"?

Everyone only living on in people's memories and imaginations. Good for you, Cervantes.  We remember you.

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