Monday, December 9, 2013

The Grand Scrutiny of Quijote's Library

Capítulo VI. Del donoso y grande escrutinio que el Cura y el Barbero hicieron en la librería de nuestro ingenioso hidalgo

Chapter VI. Concerning the entertaining and important scrutiny the curate and the barber conducted in the library of our ingenious noble.


While DQ slept, his 'friends' the priest and the barber discuss the pros and cons of burning his books, with rationales offered for consignment to the flames or for a reprieve for a title here and there. 

The escrutinio takes a while; DQ's library contained more than a hundred large volumes, along with a number of smaller ones. 

Here are the absurd reasons which the curate and the barber, the housekeeper and DQ's niece come up with to justify the burning of books. 

We even pass over the most obvious reason not to destroy the library - it does not belong to the destroyers.
- show no mercy, but look at the titles first
- the four volumes of Amadis de Gaula are the most influential of knight-errant books, so spare them or, as the barber put it: 
es el mejor de todos los libros que de este género se han compuesto, y así como a único en su arte se debe perdonar
- books written in imitation of Amadis ought to be burned, as imitations, as the priest intoned:
que no le ha de valer al hijo la bondad del padrethe merit of the father ought not be assigned to the son 
- two books by the same author? One might be truthful and the other a lie no, but we don't know which is which
en verdad que no sepa determinar cuál de los dos libros es más verdadero, o por decir mejor, menos mentiroso 
- stiff, dry style? Burn it! 
- a very old book? Burn it! 
- a book with the word "Cross" in the title? Trick of the devil, burn it! 
- books that may have influenced reputable Christian writers? Set them aside, so long as they are not translations 
- translations? - que habla en otra lengua que la suya, no le guardaré respeto alguno - to one who uses a language other than his own, I won't show the least respect.
- books about French affairs, set them aside, except titles disliked by the curate, as he put it: 
Digo, en efecto, que este libro y todos los que se hallaren que tratan destas cosas de Francia , se echen y depositen en un pozo seco, hasta que con más acuerdo se vea lo que se ha de hacer dellos, exceptuando a un Bernardo del Carpio , que anda por ahí y a otro llamado Roncesvalles , que éstos en llegando a mis manos, han de estar en las del ama, y dellas en las del fuego sin remisión alguna.
- the barber defers to the curate, as knowing which titles are true to the Faith
lo tuvo por bien y por cosa muy acertada, por entender que era el cura tan buen cristiano y tan amigo de la verdad, que no diría otra cosa por todas las del mundo.
- book with "olive" in the title is to be burned, but one by the same author but without "olive" and about England can be saved, since Alexander the Great saved a book similar to Homer, and besides, it is a witty book and a king of Portugal might be the author - 
Esa oliva se haga luego rajas y se queme, que aun no queden della las cenizas; y esa palma de Ingalaterra se guarde y se conserve como a cosa única, y se haga para ella otra caja como la que halló Alejandro en los despojos de Dario, que la diputó para guardar en ella las obras del poeta Homero . Este libro, señor compadre, tiene autoridad por dos cosas: la una porque él por sí es muy bueno, y la otra porque es fama que le compuso un discreto rey de Portugal.
- any titles we don't burn must be set aside, but not read by anyone -
compadre, en vuestra casa, mas no los dejéis leer a ninguno.
- what the Hell! Let's burn all the big volumes! as the barber instructs the housekeeper:  
mandó al ama que tomase todos los grandes y diese con ellos en el corral. 
         - wait, says the curate, here is a title I know.
¡Válame Dios!, dijo el cura dando una gran voz, ¿Que aquí esté Tirante el Blanco? Dádmele acá, compadre, que hago cuenta que he hallado en él un tesoro de contento y una mina de pasatiempos.
which has in it a big fight with a Mastiff plus witty sayings as well as commentary by a woman named Placerdemivida - my life's pleasure; we will hang on to this one. But 
que le echaran a galeras por todos los días de su vida. Llevadle a casa y leedle, y veréis que es verdad cuanto dél os he dicho. 
Enslave the author for writing it but take it home and read it and you will see what I mean -  
- what about small books of poetry? They have done no harm like the knight-errant books 
-Éstos no merecen ser quemados como los demás, porque no hacen ni harán el daño que los de caballerías han hecho
- but they might! What if DQ reads them and wants to be a shepherd or, worse, a poet? Right. Let's keep the poetry books but get rid of most of the poems in them
- toss out this one, keep that one 
- this absurd, droll book I will take home and read, as I like this sort of thing 
- give these to the "secular arm" of the ama and let's not bother to find out why, 'cause I am getting tired 
- keep this one, because I know the author 
- same for this one, even though the contents are so-so.
The curate and the barber came to Galatea, a title by Cervantes (his first, c 1585):
- I know this guy, more of reverses than verses and no conclusion; shut this book up in your house, don't let anyone read it and let's wait for volume two. (Cervantes' jokes here include: the poems are better than the stories; there would be no volume two to Galatea, but there would be, to DQ.)
Then three books of "Castelian heroic verse," the best of their kind, so keep them as rich treasures.
- the barber wanted to throw away the rest, as he was tired of the game but the curate saw one more he admired, so it was set aside.
Cervantes has laid out a long list of stupid reasons for burning books. If the reasons can be applied to contemporary circumstances, then the reasons are 'modern.' 

But hold on a minute.

The send-up of these 'modern' reasons, appeared in post-Tridentine Spain in 1605.

Employing  ridicule, Cervantes implies that ceremonial book-burning was accompanied by objections - even if no one dared to utter them, since to do so would risk escrutinio before the Inquisition.

Cervantes is probably not correctly classified as a 'modern' writer. At least, hold off for a bit with the categories, because Cervantes is crafting a story, which resonates not just in his own specific time and place.

From the point of view of rational decision-making, all of the the reasons offered for book-burning are absurd; this goes for even the occasional reprieve. 

Unless someone wants to argue that reasoning, i.e., reasonable objections to the burning of books did not occur in early 17th century Spain, then neither the ridiculous reasons nor the category of objections to book burning are, per se, 'modern' - they are simply objections.

I think it is a given that objections to book burning accompany the irrational decision to burn books, whenever a book is burned. 

Objections accompany the deed, just as do the reasons which justify the deed. These associations are as timeless as much as they can be said to be modern.

The event of the act is what matters to Cervantes; never mind the category - modern, medieval - assigned to the deed by whomever cares to parse the event into categories.

If Cervantes' concern was to object to book-burning in his own time, then why craft a fictional, that is, a metaphorical account? 

Cervantes, like all story tellers, is linking a past (not necessarily his own) with a future (not his either) by crafting imaginative present possibilities as links between past and future. 

Cervantes gets a lot of mileage from humor, in his depictions. Mark Twain is an important Cervantes heir.

No comments:

Post a Comment