Thursday, September 26, 2013

Satire? Sure but then again . . .

Chapter One

En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo . . .

"Some place in the Stain, whose name I can't even recall, not too long ago, there lived a man of some rank . . .

The first sentence of chapter one suggests that the writer is not going to be concerned about fixing events and persons in precise quadrants. 

The reader is invited to take a relaxed attitude toward time and place. Or is this casual approach a protective conceit, which serves to locate the fanciful narrative in Cervantes' present?

Early on - in this first sentence - the reader is invited to laugh along with Cervantes, as he pokes fun at the very characters he is in process of inventing. 

The main character lives in an unknown spot, in an area known as La Mancha  "the Stain" - which was an actual if nondescript region of Spain. (But which, made famous by Cervantes, has achieved a touristic lustre ever since.)

Don Quijote is locally prominent - an "hidalgo" - a reputable title, when part 1 of this work was published in 1605. 

But hidalgo began life as a form of derision - hijo de algo - 'son of something or other.' Is Cervantes ridiculing Quijote? If so, then Cervantes' Quijote stands as a representative of . . . whom?

Quijote is also known by a prior name before he re-invents himself as "Don Quijote." Cervantes goes to some effort to confuse his main character's actual name, which might have been related to 'cheese' or some other less-than-noble surname. Cervantes seems to settle on Quijana but moves quickly to the idea that Don Quijote is the most meaningful personage, even though the name is an invention of Sr. Quijana.

Quijote, as the name is written today, was written as Quixote, in Cervantes' first edition. Experts suggest that in the Spanish language of Cervantes' time, and J shared a fluid, common sound, settled in Spanish today as J - which in English is translated as the H sound. Quijote.

-ote is a suffix which exaggerates an undesirable quality. Grandote - a hulking guy; gordote - a fatso. Here is one more indication that Cervantes is playing around. Reminds me of Mark Twain's bemused commentary on the passing scene.

By the end of the chapter, we are told that Quixote has gone nuts, having read far too much of the knights-errant romances, which was fashionable in Spain in the century prior to Cervantes publishing of DQ. 

Con estas y semejantes razones perdía el pobre caballero el juicio, y desvelábase por entenderlas, y desentrañarles el sentido, que no se lo sacara, ni las entendiera el mismo Aristóteles, si resucitara para sólo ello.
"With these and similar causes the poor gentleman lost his reason, and lay awake, striving to understand them and work out their meaning, but which could not have been figured out or understood by Aristotle himself even if he had been raised from the dead for no other purpose."
Insanity, described in this way, signals that Cervantes is having fun at Quijote's expense - 'this guy is nuts but let's enjoy what insanity may or may not mean, as the story unfolds.'

DQ is satire - characters and episodes are shape shifting entities. Cervantes has given himself plenty of scope to play again and again with his own characterizations of his own invented personages.

Here is yet another website - there are 100s - which offers guidance to readers of DQ:

Don Quijote With an Expert Guide

Friday, September 13, 2013

Here's a good site on the Spanish version.  Includes the text as well as articles about the text.
Centro Virtual Cervantes

¿Qué gigantes?

Argumento icónico para comenzar guerra, con respuesta definitiva en contra (Quijote, Cap VIII):

" . . . ves allí, amigo Sancho Panza, donde se descubren treinta o pocos más desaforados gigantes, con quien pienso hacer batalla y quitarles a todos las vidas, con cuyos despojos comenzaremos a enriquecer, que esta es buena guerra, y es gran servicio de Dios quitar tan mala simiente de sobre la faz de la tierra. 
"¿Qué gigantes? —dijo Sancho Panza."

The iconic pro-war argument with the definitive argument against (Quixote, Chapter VIII):

"... Look over there, Sancho Panza, my friend, where one sees thirty or a few more monstrous giants; with whom I think I will do battle and take the lives of them all, and with their spoils we shall begin to enrich ourselves, since this is righteous warfare, and a great service to God to sweep so evil a breed from the face of the earth. 
"What giants? -  asked Sancho Panza."