Quijote Against the World

“it’s not like it used to be… nobody cares about change… it don’t matter…” – My First Soul, by Auld Lang Syne

Published during the Spanish Golden Age in two parts (1605/1615) The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha[1] by Cervantes has become one of the most famous books in the world and is considered by many to be one of the most respected fiction pieces of all time. The story relates an epic adventure taken on by two main characters, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Quijote goes off adventuring, lead completely by his horse Rocinante, who goes where ever it wants, leading Quijote and eventually Panza to fight injustice, reclaim the world, battle everything that is “bad”, and (for Quijote) win the love of his life [Dulcelina]. The entire book, originally written in Spanish is quite lengthy and full of misadventures depicting the frequent failures (perhaps great success?) during the early 1600′s, Spain. There are many English language translations, but perhaps one of the best (that I recommend) is by Edith Grossman, published in 2003. There are also, some abbreviated versions of the story, with the editors choice of parts – so this may be more advantageous for the time strapped or for those wanting to get a feel for the book. Setting up for a complete and in-depth review, would be quite the research project due to the books length and complexity – this is a greatly abbreviated review of the book, and by no means are all things touched on. There have been many reviews before this one, and maybe many more after. The overall purpose of this review is to briefly compare and contrast the ideas and attitudes of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza surrounding their thoughts upon essential materials vs. that of spirit.

First, I’d like to define a few things. The essential key materials are thought of as water, food, and rest – which lack thereof results in a deprived state and eventually death, they are the things you really can’t live without. Obviously on the other hand, you have non-essential material goods such as gold, silver, clocks, games/toys, ect. That aren’t truly necessary for survival. As for the spirit, one can consider it to mean belief in something, even if that something is nothing. Some more clear examples are things of the supernatural sort, like the belief in god, or even bits and pieces of ideas – like the existence of heaven and hell, ghosts, majik, and other oddities/occult. It is important to note and define these ideas because Quijote and Sancho each display varying characteristics and perspectives throughout the novel on these topics.

So, the story goes: Don Quijote begins reading books about the adventures of various 14th/15th century knights-errant and their “heroic” deeds. Quijote, who is an older man, begins to spend all his time reading, and literally cares for nothing else, other than those old tales about “saving the world” and “falling in love.” Food, water, and rest seem of little importance to him, and eventually his reading habits drastically change his life. He begins to sell his land and other property, in order to buy more books to read. After sometime, Quijote emerges from the obscurity of his house believing – that in fact, he is a knight-errant, and his mission is to save the world and win the love of his life. Imagine someone sneaking out of their residence, after weeks of reading, hiding away, and building the most absurd self-styled armor a la knights-errant, to confront the world with, kind of sounds like some funny friends you may know. Yet, in the beginning of the end, Quijote gallops, or more like meanders out of town unseen and hidden, with his most unlike battle ready horse – Rocinante[2], not to be seen in town until his uneventful, yet dramatic return sometime later. He has no clue where he is headed, as he just lets Rocinante blaze the trail of his life.

And so the story begins…

”The reason of the unreason that afflicts my reason, in such a manner weakens my reason that I, with reason, lament of your beauty.” (from Don Quijote)

Don Quijote wants to create a more moral world, a model of the human effort, one many may think of as a form of utopia. He has a very pastoral view of life and society, a living anachronism against the encroaching modernity of Spain. In many ways Quijote is confronting the more modern economic approaches and technology that was happening in Spain at the time, and suggesting something more simple (yet crazy). For example, look at Quijote’s so-called insanity. How did this happen?The invention of the printing press, which allowed him to buy and read all those books about knights-errant, seems to be the main source of his insanity. It was also this easier and wider distribution of print that ensured Cervantes, the author of Quijote, made little to no monetary gains by writing the book during his life. “Pirated” copies would turn up throughout the region, with even the second half of Quijote being written by another author. Which, in turn prompted Cervantes to actually write the second half of the book some years later, because supposedly he was very angry with this authors take on a sequel to his original work. It should be noted, that Cervantes actually created a fictional Moorish author/chronicler for Don Quijote named Cide Hamete Benengeli. And in many ways killed Quijote in the end, so no one else could ever write about his adventures again.

In making the author Moorish, it seems Cervantes reinforces the stereotype of the time, that anything a Moor does is probably not true. Therefore, making criticism of the book impossible, since it has already been refuted as utter lies. Clever in a sense, but more so it seems to begin to show some of Cervantes negative attitudes that were reinforced by society at the time [and continue to be]. Cervantes lived his life, one failure after another – first as a solider being injured, then as a prisoner, and later as an “unsuccessful” writer who seems to have lead a rather difficult life. The book reflects these reoccurring themes of failure surrounding Don Quijote (maybe Cervantes?) as he fights the battle that can never really be won, because it isn’t real. It is sad, but it is also an unfortunate reality that many of us know all-to-well. Like the saying goes, “la vida es dura” (life is hard).

If we examine the idealism behind Quijote or what some have called Quijotismo (the movement of Quijote) it could be said that in many ways it is an idealism without respect for or sense of being practical. It is an ideal that doesn’t consider consequences or the irrationality of one’s actions. Quijotismo is most of all, a romantic idea or a utopia that is unattainable by the non-romantic sane, one can only truly realize it, if you refuse to identify between reality and imagination. At the heart, this ideal is created by the love Quijote feels towards Dulcelina, his dream lover. The love and companionship of Dulcelina is more important than food, water, and rest – something that perhaps dear readers are familiar with. Quijote refuses to realize that his love is imaginary, and that his love is perhaps not even interested in him. It is like he will never give up, trying to make the world a better place, yet deep down inside, what he just really wants is some love. Perhaps, Cervantes is again reflecting on some of his own life experiences.

In the final chapters of the book Quijote returns to his home and with that some sense of what some may call sanity. In this way, Quijote becomes like his side-kick Sancho Panza, or the Sanchification of Quijote. Because while Quijote is for many, the raving madman throughout the book, Sancho always seems to act along much more practical lines. It is like Panza is the stable foundation for Quijote’s rocking-and-rolling all night long party house, that will probably collapse when the dancing begins, or maybe end up puking in the toilet the next morning. On the other side of things, Sancho Panza starts to become like Quijote, or the quijotification of Sancho; in this way, the two characters feed off each other and become one another. Once home, Quijote writes his will and gives all his belongings to his family, and while he originally promised Sancho an island that he could govern in the beginning of the story, he now wants to give him an entire kingdom. Unfortunately for Sancho, Quijote doesn’t really have anything to offer him, other than gratitude – not even a salary for his services. Just some (bad) advice maybe, and the memories to last a lifetime.

While, it seems this whole time, perhaps all Sancho really wanted, other than protecting Quijote from danger, was his island in the sun. It is not even clear if Panza knows exactly what an island is, other than some form of payment. In a high contrast to Quijote, Sancho represents everything that is some-what rational and thought out (or what many call being normal). Food, water, and rest are the most important things in life, along with knowing that you’re going to be well-off tomorrow, the next day, and so on.

Even the infamous Bill “NOT BORED” Brown has wrote an essay on the subject Sancho Panza’s priceless coinages which I will steal a quote from here (that is from an English translation of the book) regarding how Quijote recommends paying off Sancho:

“I think you’re absolutely right, Sancho my friend [...] I can tell you, for myself, that if you’d wanted to be paid for those lashes which will disenchant Dulcinea, I’d have long since, and very gladly, have given you the money [...] Just consider, Sancho, what you might want, and then do the whipping and pay yourself, because you are guardian of my money [...] Add up what money you have of mine, and then put a price on each lash.”

Quijote and Panza are two very different characters, yet at the same time they are similar in the fact that they both can create some pretty wild dreams and become one another. They each have a great effect on one another, like any friend may have on your daily experience, and while at first Quijote seems to be the only one struggling against everything modern – soon his friend joins him, although it is already too late for Quijote. He has already returned to the miserable grind of reality and material goods and will soon die.

Cinema

Among the many movies made about the book, Orson Welles’s Don Quixote is one of the more intriguing ones to take a look at, one that truly deserves an entirely separate review in order to touch upon everything. For the purpose of this review though, I will only focus on one aspect of the film. In Rolling Thunder: An Anarchist Journal of Dangerous Living #6 (fall-2008), the following page appears:

[photo pending, lost somewhere over the depths of the Internet]

As you can see, there is the classic windmill imagery evoked by Don Quijote, however what is important to take note of is the text. Here is the text quoted from the image[sic]:

“The Most Beautiful Six Minutes in the History of Cinema”

Sancho Panza enters the cinema of a provincial town. He is looking for Don Quixote and finds him sitting apart, staring at the screen. The auditorium is almost full, the upper circle–a kind of gallery–is packed with screaming children. After a few futile attempts to reach Don Quixote, Sancho sits down in the stalls, next to a little girl (Dulcinea?) who offers him a lollipop. The show has begun, it is a costume movie, armed knights traverse the screen, suddenly a woman appears who is in danger. Don Quixote jumps up, draws his sword out of the scabbard, makes a spring at the screen and his blows begin to tear the fabric. The woman and the knights can still be seen, but the black rupture, made by Don Quixote’s sword, is getting wider, it inexorably destroys the images. In the end there is nothing left of the screen, one can only see the wooden structure it was attached to. The audience is leaving the hall in disgust, but the children in the upper circle do not stop screaming encouragements at Don Quixote. Only the little girl in the stalls looks at him reprovingly.

What shall we do with our fantasies? Love them, believe them–to the point where we have to deface, to destroy them (that is perhaps the meaning of the films of Orson Welles). But when they prove in the end to be empty and unfulfilled, when they show the void from which they were made, then it is time to pay the price for their truth, to understand that Dulcinea–whom we saved–cannot love us.

- Giorgio Agamben, Profanations

Leaving the actual text aside for a moment, concentrate on the author, Giorgio Agamben of the above quote for a moment. If one were to see the text in the Rolling Thunder journal (image above), you will see that the quote is attributed to the authors Brener and Schurz. To my knowledge, the truth is that the editor’s of Rolling Thunder were duped into believing the quote was from Brener and Schurz. Perhaps, as the thinking may have went, if they knew it was really from Giorgio Agamben it may have not been published[3]. Not to get too far off topic here, but it is interesting to note that it appears at least to some extent, that another joke may have been played in return here (although, pure speculation). Recently, a new Politics Is Not a Banana #3 was released, however many have come to doubt that this new issue was actually created by the original folks involved in the journal, leading some to point fingers at the Rolling Thunder journal (CrimethInc.) folks. Whoever is it, or whatever the purpose – the humor and funnies are certainly appreciated!

Moving back to the actual context of the quote, the lovely titled “Six Most Beautiful Minutes in the History of Cinema” regards a clip of the unfinished Orson Welles’s movie that was left out of early versions, but was included eventually later on in some versions. Overall, this cinema experience of Don Quijote is quite intriguing, especially when considered with the movie as a whole. In many ways, it is understand to be like the post-modern movie version of Quijote, instead of attacking ancient 16th century technology and society, he is battling 1940ish motorized scooters and movie screens. One interesting thing from the movie is some footage of a religious procession, framed along and sliced with footage of the Klu Klux Klan, which Don Quijote goes to attack. Overall, it is definitely worth checking, especially if you’ve enjoyed the book.

So what is the big deal?

Who knows, maybe this book may be of little importance to you. At times throughout it, I find it to be rather “fluffy” sprinkled with blossoming flowers that never end. Like, ever try reading some old Shakespeare alongside José Martí with some bananas thrown in. However, I do find some gems that are really good within the book for me. Perhaps, most intriguing – to playfully read the adventures against everything that life as we know it has become, to see through our imaginations, rather than with our misleading desires for the most trivial things in life. As someone wrote recently, the greatest thing of all is saving the world! A lot of the time, I find myself taking in and fully enjoying those moments of non-thought and thinking, where it has been shown that our brain is actually most active and full of energy. Don Quijote in a lot of ways, is the definition of tragic hero – even though I may disagree with what he actually fought against for the most part, (the Moors) and alongside (Christianity). Blame can be placed on Cervantes here, maybe not so much Quijote, after all he is just a character. Cervantes wasn’t exactly the most upstanding character, but still a tragic-hero in himself. It can be all be too confusing, seeing Quijote for nothing other than love, and against everything that might actually make sense – then applying some sort of reasoning to it. Quijote was certainly a radical in his time, just what kind of radical is up in the air…

Footnotes:

[1] please note that I decided to remain with “Quijote” instead of “Quixote” throughout the rest of the text, mostly because I prefer to leave names and locations in the original language / untraslated. Title originally in Spanish: Aventuras del ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha

[2]

Dialogue between Babieca and Rocinante A Sonnet
B: Why is it, Rocinante, that you’re so thin?
R: Too little food, and far too much hard labor
B: But what about your feed, your oats and hay?
R: My master doesn’t leave a bite for me.
B: Well, Senor, your lack of breeding shows because your ass’s tongue insults your master
R: He’s the ass, from the cradle to the grave. Do you want proof? See what he does for love.
B: Is it foolish love?
R: It’s not too smart.
B: You’re a philospher
R: I just don’t eat enough
B: And do you complain of the squire?
R: Not enough. How can I complain despite my aches and pains if master and squire, or is it majordomo, are nothing but skin and bone, like Rocinante?

[3] “The editor of Rolling Thunder has expressed his disdain for the works of the author of the aforementioned essay, however, when the essay was sent to him under the name of a more palatable writer, it was prominently reprinted in the magazine.” — from Life is Definitely Elsewhere-A Response to “Say You Want an Insurrection” [a Crimethinc. text] [ http://www.anarchistnews.org/?q=node/10435 (this link has since expired and the archive is currently offline) ]

 

Note: Originally published over at The Anvil Review http://theanvilreview.org/print/quijote_against_the_world/ . This text has been edited slightly from that, in order to better reflect and fix some grammar & wording.

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