Tuesday, January 14, 2014

". . . from the first oak tree or oak tree I spot, I think I will break off another trunk. . ."


Here is a sentence from DQ chapter eight, which is anything but haphazard in its construction, but which appears to contradict the writer's mission: capture and sustain the reader's interest in the story:

Hete dicho esto, porque de la primera encina o roble que se me depare, pienso desgajar otro tronco, tal y tan bueno como aquél que me imagino, y pienso hacer con él tales hazañas, que tú te tengas por bien afortunado de haber merecido venir a verlas, y a ser testigo de cosas que apenas podrán ser creídas.
I am telling you all this because from the first oak tree or oak tree I spot, I think I will break off another trunk, just as good as that other one, I bet, and I think I will do such deeds with it that you will take yourself as blest at having been found worthy to come and behold them and to testify to such things as can hardly be believed.
Like all other sentences from Cervantes, this one has been created to meet the purpose of the writer. But:

". . . oak tree or oak tree . . ." ?? 


Why is Cervantes so deliberate in his use of two words for two different species of the same genus of tree? The reader is invited to make something of this.

What do you make of it? 

Through its descriptive arc, every good story captures and sustains the interest of the reader. This process is possible because the narrative arc is integral to our way in the world. 

We comprehend life as story: 

  • beginning
  • hubba hubba
  • end

Arc as matrix of meaning is as true of so called history-writing as of so called fiction. 

Cervantes' sentence cited above could never appear in a work of so called history, without a clarifying note.

Historians arrange and then presemt a sequence of events in a coherent arc, which is proposed as actual history but which inevitably leaves out some events or many; the excluded events are then consigned to another or no other arc. In their arc-making presentations historians leave out far more events than they include.

The fiction writer passes observations through imagination and then offers up the re-imagined events. The fictional narrative arc differs from the arc fashioned by the historian because of fiction's capricious insistence that facts are made to bow before the subtleties of language.

The writer of history must reckon with a severe limitation in the words available for use as well as a limitation in the meaning that can be assigned to a word. 

A writer of fiction confronts no such limitation.

A fiction-writer may deploy words so as to convey irony, empathy, subtly or ambiguity. Consider this sentence, which Alice Munro put in her story, To Reach Japan:
"She avoided anything useful like the plague." 
Such a sentence is no accident. The ambiguities the reader is invited to entertain are deliberate. Alice Munro is confusing matters so as to quicken the interest of the reader.

Cervantes is confident enough in his story-telling vision to move summarily from one technique to another - plot, character, dialogue. Cervantes risks the reader's possible distraction against his command of the tale he is spooling out in fragments. 

Oak or oak? I think Cervantes is deploying two forms of the same genus of tree to reinforce the dilusional state of DQ. 

No matter what contour reality takes, DQ counters with pretention to superior prowess. His dilusion bends reality into new shapes, which accommodate an ungrounded view of the world. 

Just as he cannot hear Sancho's questioning assertion, "What giants?" DQ cannot distinguish one oak tree from another. For him, there is no meaningful distinction to be made. 

En resolución, aquella noche la pasaron entre unos árboles, y del uno dellos desgajó don Quijote un ramo seco que casi le podía servir de lanza . . .
At length, that night was spent among some trees and from one of them Don Quijote broke off a dry branch which almost could serve as a lance . . .
A failure of perspective is a decent working definition of insanity. 
  • It makes no difference what variety of tree is available to provide a substitute lance to an insane knight-errant. 
  • A dry branch which is almost a lance is no lance.
DQ is caught inside a dangerous tragi-comic world of his own manufacture. 

Unable to find purchase where he can safely engage the world, DQ conjures a world which can be bent to accommodate the place where he thinks he stands. 

Unable to rearrange the world, he rearranges the reality which the reader observes and also occupies as a perch. 

We are like birds nesting on one of the tree limbs that DQ reaches out to break off. Just missed us, maybe.

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