The course facilitates a close reading of Don Quixote in the artistic and historical context of renaissance and baroque Spain. Students are also expected to read four of Cervantes' Exemplary Stories, Cervantes' Don Quixote: A Casebook, and J.H. Elliott's Imperial Spain. Cervantes' work will be discussed in relation to paintings by Velázquez. The question of why Don Quixote is read today will be addressed throughout the course. Students are expected to know the book, the background readings and the materials covered in the lectures and class discussions.
The professor introduces himself and the course. He starts explaining the reasons why Don Quixote is a masterpiece and its place and relevance in the history of Western literature. He then comments on the proper pronunciation of the word "Quixote" and the reasons of mispronunciations in French and English. A full explanation of the real title of the work (El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha) follows, along with some key clarifications about the language of the book and few basic notes on historical and cultural background. González Echevarría then moves to the present, commenting on Don Quixote's heritage in the Western world, proved by the use of words as "quixotic", and the success of its myth up to nowadays. He finishes his lecture going back to its beginning, referring to the reasons of the endurance of this work, which rely on its deep questioning of the human self. The session ends with an overview of the syllabus.
Why does the Quixote have such common currency today? González Echevarría believes that the Quixote is about the effect that literature has on its readers and about the creation of literature. Its story does not belong to any previous tradition but it is a new story, and this act of invention by a fifty-year old man, Cervantes, is in itself part of modern literature. González Echevarría comments on why the creation of this work was possible in the Spain of the seventeenth century and, after making some important distinctions between the concepts novel and romance, chivalric romances and courtly romance, explains that the Quixote is the first novel because it portrays the clash between the protagonist and his setting for the first time. He then talks about the Quixote's precursors in the picaresque novel and the beginnings of realism. The lecture ends with a thorough commentary on the prologue, its intentions and meanings, along with the concepts of authorship, the legitimation of literature, and ultimately, self invention.
González Echevarría continues from the end of his last lecture by referring to the self invention and self legitimation of Don Quixote, which is the most innovative aspect of the book. The main character is, as it is suggested in the famous first sentence of the book, beyond family and social determinisms, hence literature appears as a realm for wit and a capacity for invention, breaking with the previous literary tradition and with its predecessors. Perspectivism is expressed in the novel through various linguistic fluctuations, regional differences, and spaces such as the inn, which becomes a key place in the novel by providing an archaeology of society. The first episodes of the Quixote, from the first sally to the first adventure with Sancho, show the gap between literature and reality by probing into Don Quixote's very particular madness which refuses to recognize and accept social conventions. Cervantes' literary techniques, such as dialogue, and the presence of his squire blur the differences between fiction and reality, and ultimately question our beliefs and view of the world.
González Echevarría starts out by commenting on what he calls the two overarching plots of the Quixote: the story about the writing of the novel, and the story about the mad hidalgo. The first is based upon several levels of narratives that distance Cervantes from his own creation. He does so as the painter Diego Velázquez in Las Meninas which shows multiple incomplete perspectives of the same work, portrays the work behind the scenes of creation, it includes the viewer in the painting as well as the author, as another character, not in a central position, but in an oblique one. With their techniques, both Cervantes and Velázquez present the limitations of human knowledge. The madness of Don Quijote is present in the two episodes that González Echevarría comments upon afterward. The episode with the goatherds connects the ideal world (inside the hidalgo's mind) and the real world of the goatherds. Their human kindness becomes a human quality in the novel displayed by many regardless of social origin. The story of Marcela and Grisóstomo follows. Here Cervantes portrays their socio-economic world while at the same time he defends their free will above everything else.
After pointing out the prosaic world depicted in the Quixote with subtle but sharp irony, González Echevarría analyzes the episode at Juan Palomeque's inn, which may well be seen as a representation of the whole first part of the novel. The episodes at the inn are an instance of the social being subverted by erotic desire and they show the subconscious of literature. Then follows a commentary on the characters that appear in the episode, all drawn from the picaresque and the juridical documents of the period, and many of whom are marked by a physical defect that makes them unique and yet attractive, even if ugly. Don Quixote's and Sancho's bodily evacuations dramatize the violent forces behind their basic drives to live; the ramshackle improvised architecture of the inn symbolizes the apparently improvised design of the novel, yet, like the inn, it has cosmic connections.
Important meditations about the nature of literature and the real take place in the chapters commented on in this lecture. Reality appears strange enough even to Don Quixote in the episode of the corpse, where death becomes a presence. Don Quixote appears aware that his adventures are being written as we read them. His relationship with his squire is further developed in the episode of the fulling hammers. Mambrino's helmet exemplifies the modern radical doubt about the power of the senses to grasp reality, while the episode of the galley slaves represents a satire of autobiographical writing. Cervantes portrays a society that the sixteenth-century reader recognized as his own, in which Ginés de Pasamonte, a low-class slippery criminal and author, represents the new generation of writers who break with the strictures of Renaissance mimesis. The descent in social status of the author, Ginés, appears to be accompanied by an increase in inventiveness and a rise in the importance of the author. This episode is a meditation on the creation of new genres, such as the picturesque, not derived from the classics but from experience, as well as on the topic of perspectivism.
Professor González Echevarría resumes his commentary on the galley slaves episode by talking about Ginés' cross-eyedness as a metaphor for congenital internal perspectivism. This is a new model of conflictive being, capable of seeing simultaneously in two ways. The character among the galley slaves that he calls "the prisoner of sex" follows. Professor González Echevarría shows how Cervantes can create a complex character in just one paragraph while portraying the historical and legal background of Cervantes' time. The Sierra Morena episodes, the core of part one of the Quixote, take the second half of the lecture. They consist of a set of narrative strands tightly woven around two of the principal drives in the book: Don Quixote's love quest for Dulcinea, and the series of crimes and misdemeanors perpetrated by the hidalgo and his squire. All the interpolated stories have common elements with the central plot, with the Marcela and Grisóstomo interlude, and with each other: the perpetration of offenses due to passion, honor, body and property, and with the resulting need for restitution, recompense, requital, pardon or revenge. In all of them, marriage looms as the inevitable and most appropriate form of reparation as well as the most effective kind of narrative closure.
In this part of the Quixote, Cervantes makes a boast of narrative mastery by combining the sequential structure of the chivalric romance with the multiple story design of collections of novellas. The stories invented by the characters, who create meta-characters, lead to the revelation of other stories not being told, or being told obliquely. The relation among all the stories, including the main plot, is predicated on cuts and crisscrossing made possible by traumatic interruptions, which jostle the memory of the tellers and drive them to reveal other stories behind the one they tell, and making them disclose their inner thoughts. Memory is in all cases the key element a repository of recollections from the past and the structuring force of the self in the present. The whole network of stories, itself a superb display of narrative skill and variety, is one of the aims of Renaissance art, announced by the scene in which Dorotea is ogled (in parts) by other characters. As González Echevarría explains, the Quixote leads us again to ask questions that are pertinent and relevant to our lives. Is living the acting out of roles? Are we characters in somebody else's fiction, and if so, are we bound by ethics?
The insertion of the Novel of the Curious Impertinent at the end of part one of the Quixote may be explained by Cervantes' intention of meshing both the forms of the chivalric romance and of the collection of Italian novelle. The result, though awkward, leads to the creation of the modern novel. This short novel seems to have been included by Cervantes as a way to publishing it in the same way.. Reading the novel out loud, with all the characters gathered connects with the old tradition of reading literature out loud. The irony, however, is that this perverse love story is heard in the voice of the priest. González Echevarría interprets the novel trough René Girard's theory of love always mediated by a third person who also works as a motivator. The story gives a contrasting mirror of literature to the young people at the inn who are involved in love stories about to culminate in marriage. Don Quixote's interruption of the reading allows the court-like scene of reconciliations among the various couples and all restitutions which were made, as a reaffirmation of new social forms. Cervantes' point is that mental life is made up of levels that mirror and distort each other.
González Echevarría starts by commenting on three of the returns and repetitions (characters who reappear and incidents that, if not repeated, recall previous incidents) that take place at the end of part one of the Quixote and which give density to the fiction: the galley slaves, Andrés, and the postprandial speech or the speech on arms and letters. Don Quixote's insanity not only gives him a certain transcendence, but also shows the arbitrariness of laws, which causes their rejection by society and other characters' insane behavior. González Echevarría comments on the intersection between literature and history before moving on to the captive's tale, the culmination of those intertwined stories, in which religious conversion overcomes social barriers and transcends the neo-platonic convergence of opposites in Renaissance plots. With his creation of Don Quixote, the first hero-fugitive from justice in the Western tradition--a "highway robber," as the officer of the Holy Brotherhood calls him--Cervantes has created the first important novelistic protagonist drawn from the legal archives. His is the case of the insane hidalgo who set out to act out chivalric fantasies and in the process committed a series of crimes. And yet, he is the agent of Providence.
The lecture focuses on the ending of the first part of the Quixote, which for the seventeenth-century reader was, simply, the end because no second part existed yet or was envisioned. Probably because it represents a difficult process (since the Quixote is not an ordinary story with a clear beginning) the end is already contained in the prologue, which also works as an epilogue echoing the characteristics of the meta-novel. With this in mind, González Echevarría comments on episodes that constitute partial endings: the caging of Don Quixote, and the prophecy contrived by the barber foretelling a possible ending for Don Quixote's fantasies. The conversation among Don Quixote, the priest and the canon of Toledo, who ironically is the "idle reader" from the prologue and a critic of chivalric romances, explores the multiple possibilities of the romances of chivalry, which Cervantes follows in his novel, with the Poetics of Aristotle in the background. The episode is also a critique of Lope de Vega and his innovative plays. Here is one of the great ironies in literary history: that Cervantes, while being wildly original in narrative fiction, was exceedingly conservative in the theater. Don Quixote's arrival at his village has made him madder; it is now the space of the uncanny and the unfamiliar.
González Echevarría talks about the transition that we, as present-day readers undergo, between Part I, published in 1605, and Part II of the Quixote, published in 1615. He first reviews the grand themes of part one: 1) ambiguity and perspectivism, 2) the idea that the self can impose its will but only to a certain point and the ontological doubt, 3) reading, 4) characters that are relational and not static, and 5) improvisation. He then moves on to Part II of the book: Cervantes' moment as a writer, the cultural context, the titles of both parts and the spurious Avellaneda's Quixote are commented upon. The second half of the lecture talks about the writing of the second part of the novel and its main characteristics in relation to Part I.
The modern novel that develops from the Quixote is essentially a political novel and an urban genre dealing with cities. In Part II there is a sense of the text being written and performed in the present because it incorporates current events, such as the expulsion of the moriscos, a critic of the arbitristas and a satire of the aristocracy. In part two of the Quixote Part I plays the role that the romances of chivalry played in Part I: the characters have read the first part and so a new larger mirror has been added to the play of mirrors that was already present. Characters evolve within a social context, which is consonant with the political character of the novel and has much to do with the development and evolution of realism in literature in the representation of every day life and of common people. An explanation of the Baroque aspects that appear in the second part of the novel helps to understand the Quixote as a whole and its relation with the first part.
Commentary of the key concepts of Spanish Baroque, desengaño, introduces González Echevarría's suggestion that the plot of the Quixote follows a Baroque unfolding from deceit (engaño) to disillusionment (desengaño). The discussion of Don Quixote and Sancho about knight-errants and saints is not only about arms and letters, but about good actions for their own sake and for the sake of glory (or deceit). This discussion echoes the religious debates of the time and shows Don Quixote's broad knowledge of them, anticipating Part II's projection beyond Spain. The episode in El Toboso announces much of the mood of Part II with the darkness and the urban scenario. The lie of the enchanted Dulcinea is important because it will leave a deep imprint in the knight's subconscious and because it is the first episode in which the roles of Don Quixote and Sancho are reversed. The lecture ends with the comment on the episode of the cart carrying actors and all its baroque connotations.
González Echevarría starts by reviewing the Spanish baroque concept of desengaño. He proposes that the plot of the Quixote and some of the stories in part two unfold from deceit (engaño) to disillusionment (desengaño). He then turns his attention to Auerbach and Spitzer's essays included in the Casebook ("Enchanted Dulcinea" and "Linguistic Perspectivism" respectively) that try to describe what González Echevarría calls the "Cervantean," the particularities that define Cervantes' mind and style. In the second part of the lecture he comments on the episodes assigned for this week trying to explain their main characteristics and correspondence with part one. Doubting is common in Part II of the Quixote, suggesting that the characters meet with themselves to find meaning and identity. The lecture ends with the comments on one of Cervantes' Exemplary Stories, "The Glass Graduate."
The loose format of the Quixote allows for the incorporation of different stories and texts, such as the Camacho's wedding, which was going to be a play. The episode, a form of epithalamium based on the myth of Pyramus and Thisbe, states one of the main themes of part two, that art corrects nature. As a way of turning deceit, which would normally lead to disillusionment, into a happy ending, in Camacho's wedding episode art helps nature to attain good ending. González Echevarría claims that in this episode there is a subtext in which marriage is not only a legal institution but also a transcendental metamorphosis of matter, or transubstantiation. The literal blending of bloods that makes marriage indivisible is echoed here through what González Echevarría calls 'the itinerary of blood.' In the interpretation of the myth Cervantes resembles Velázquez in that they both show the inner recesses of representation: they show creation as a layered process that ultimately involves the real.
This lecture covers two of the most important episodes of Part II of the Quixote: the descent into Montesinos cave and Master Peter's puppet show. The first one, on the one hand, engages the main literary topics and sources of the novel. Cervantes, by submitting Don Quixote's fantasies to natural law, questions the belief in the authenticity of the romances of chivalry and the reality of what his protagonist sees. The episode also provides a glimpse into the inner workings of Don Quixote's subconscious: his descent is a harsh look onto himself which, while not completely destroying his beliefs, weakens them seriously, and from now on he will act saner. Master Peter's puppet show introduces again Ginés de Pasamonte, the character who represents the figure of the modern author in both parts of the novel. With Ginés now disguised as a master puppeteer, Cervantes criticizes his contemporary playwright Lope de Vega, but most importantly, through the complex trompe-l'oeil that the puppet show constitutes, Cervantes analyzes the act of mimesis.
The fact that the second part of the Quixote is the first political novel is manifested in several ways. The second part adds (taken from the picaresque novel) geographic concreteness to its realistic portrayal of Spanish life and sociopolitical background to the novel: the episode of the boat shows the contrast between Don Quixote's Ptolemaic obsolete notions of geography and the new Copernican conception of an infinite universe. The duke and duchess represent the Spanish idle upper classes in debt and kept financially afloat through loans, like the Spanish Crown. Don Quijote's debate with the ecclesiastic is a critique of the Church, not of religion. The hunt in the wood was a reproduction of a leisure activity, a sport. The pageant in the forest is a baroque perversion of Dante's Purgatorio (XXVIII-XXX). Dulcinea as a transvestite seems to represent a burlesque manifestation of Don Quijote's repressed inner desire.
The developments of Part II of the Quijote are based and measured against Part I. In the episode of the afflicted matron, the story about Countess Trifaldi, and Clavileño, we see these expansions (the presence of love and death, the black color, the monsters, the clashing elements, the cross-dressing, the grotesque, the inclusiveness) which reach the limits of representation, in consonance with baroque aesthetics. The increasing presence of Virgil and to the Aeneid seem to point out that Don Quixote's task is somewhat equivalent to that of Aeneas, but Don Quixote's pursuit is not to found Rome, but to conquer himself. In part one we learned to look for the story behind the story, now, with all the pranks and stories made up by the duke's steward, we learn how a story is made.
According to González Echevarría, Don Quixote's epic task within the novel is to control his madness by accepting the vanity of his dreams and the futility of his quest. The protagonist's change started with Sancho's enchantment of Dulcinea, and peaked in the cave of Montesinos. Now, he displays his deepened wisdom in the counsel to his squire on how to govern the island of Barataria. The good government of Sancho, together with the fact that the cleverest character in the second part is the steward, reflects a crumbling society: Barataria is related to the breakdown of aristocratic authority and the emergence of the common man as potential ruler. The island, too, like a mock Utopia, is a laboratory of fiction making, in which the steward, who is the author, ironically gets trapped. In a very baroque like inversion, Sancho and Don Quixote endure all the pranks from the duke and duchess with their dignity untouched, proving that the mockers are the ones finally mocked.
Three issues related to the impending end of the novel define this lecture. The first one is improvisation, as we see it in the confluence of actual geography with current historical events: the expulsion of the moriscos, and the Turkish and Huguenots menaces. With the story of Ricote, a kind of morisco novel in a nutshell, Cervantes provides a smorgasbord of narrative possibilities, and presents the consequences that political decisions have on common people. The second issue is the international dimension that the novel acquires with the episode of Roque Guinard and the entrance in Barcelona. The third issue is the influence that art or literature has on reality: the prank organized by the duke and duchess makes possible the marriage of dueña Rodríguez's daughter. Fiction, Cervantes seems to be suggesting, affects reality and improves it. Finally, Sancho's fall into the pit, a parody of the episode of his master in the cave of Montesinos, makes the squire an equal to Don Quixote as the novel progresses.
As we approach the end of the novel, Cervantes compresses and combines elements from different types of romances (morisco, Greek, pastoral) in what seems to be an attempt to create a new literary genre; the modern novel. In the episodes in Barcelona, the prank with the talking head makes literal the figure of prosopopeia; Don Quixote's visit to the printing shop explores the very origin of the book; the sign the boys hang on Don Quixote's back also reduces him to language. Avellaneda's misreading of the Quixote coincides with that of the dueñas who punish Sancho, and is also ironically represented in Altisidora's dream. By taking literature to its limits, by incorporating Avellaneda's book into the Quixote, by rejecting bookish knowledge in favor of experience, Cervantes seems to point to the idea that there is no position from which to stand outside of the world of fiction. The only way out would be through a voluntary act of the will, equivalent to the one Don Quixote makes after being defeated by the Knight of the White Moon.
González Echevarría focuses on the end of the Quixote. He starts referring to Cervantes' humor, which allows us to see humanity in contrast to the mad hero and thus appreciate everyone's folly. The novel's plot, with Don Quixote's repeated returns home, suggests that life consists of going and coming back, and this is probably why we approach the end by returning to the beginning. In his last return home Don Quixote has conquered himself. By accepting his defeat by the Knight of the White Moon, who is a reflection of himself, he accepts himself for what he is. In the process of returning, Cervantes has underlined that reality has become fictionalized in Part II independently of Don Quixote. Cervantes is aware that his hero, as we see in Sancho's comments at the last inn, belongs to the great fictions of the ages. The Quixote closes in three ways, corresponding to a three-part conception of the worlds in which Don Quixote lives: Don Quixote is defeated; he regains his sanity; and he dies. Death is necessary in the novel, as it is a form of closure that everyone understands. A reference to Unamuno's, Borges' and Picasso's visions of Don Quixote ends this lecture.
Would have Cervantes deserved such recognition, had he not written the Quixote? The answer is no. However, he would probably be remembered for some of his other works. Two of The Exemplary Stories, significantly connected together, are commented in this lecture. "The Deceitful Marriage" deconstructs marriage both as a social institution and as a narrative tool: Cervantes manipulates literary conventions by beginning with what is normally the end of a story, a marriage, and works backwards to undue a union that never took place legitimately. In "The Dogs Colloquy" we skirt the supernatural idea that dogs can talk. The story is a picaresque autobiography in which the pícaro pretends to be a dog. Perhaps Scipio's life, not told here, could have been another Quixote. The author of a story, it is suggested, does not control the text while it is being read. A short comment on Kafka's parable "The Truth about Sancho Panza" and Borges' story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote precede the end of this last lecture that refers to Cervantes' death. Drawing a parallel between Cervantes' death and that of Don Quixote and Alonso Quijano, González Echevarría reads the dedication to Persiles and Cervantes', and also his own, farewell to this course.