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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Formative (7): DQ

I read Don Quijote (DQ) late in undergraduate or early in graduate school. I know I've read it three times all the way through, but not recently. Somehow I don't feel the need to go back to it any more. It really is not very difficult to read, and it formative of the canon of Spanish literature, Spanish intellectual and cultural history, of the novel itself as a genre, etc... It is rich and complex, and lies behind Borges and Lorca, Unamuno and Goytisolo, Graham Greene and Smollett. I wrote a paper in grad school proving that the standard, lazy-ass interpretations of Borges's "Pierre Menard" got it all exactly backwards, since the unreliable, Anti-semitic narrator of Borges's story view DQ itself as a dull text, whereas Borges's actual view is the exact opposite: there is no need to introduce Menard as a modern reader in order to infuse interest in Cervantes's already postmodern text. (See "Magias parciales del Quijote:
En el sexto capítulo de la primera parte, el cura y el barbero revisan la biblioteca de don Quijote; asombrosamente uno de los libros examinados es la Galatea de Cervantes, y resulta que el barbero es amigo suyo y no lo admira demasiado, y dice que es más versado en desdichas que en versos y que el libro tiene algo de buena invención, propone algo y no concluye nada. El barbero, sueño de Cervantes o forma de un sueño de Cervantes, juzga a Cervantes... También es sorprendente saber, en el principio del noveno capítulo, que la novela entera ha sido traducida del árabe y que Cervantes adquirió el manuscrito en el mercado de Toledo, y lo hizo traducir por un morisco, a quien alojó más de mes y medio en su casa, mientras concluía la tarea. Pensamos en Carlyle, que fingió que el Sartor Resartus era versión parcial de una obra publicada en Alemania por el doctor Diógenes Teufelsdroeckh; pensamos en el rabino castellano Moisés de León, que compuso el Zohar o Libro del Esplendor y lo divulgó como obra de un rabino palestiniano del siglo III.

Ese juego de extrañas ambigüedades culmina en la segunda parte; los protagonistas han leído la primera, los protagonistas del Quijote son, asimismo, lectores del Quijote. Aquí es inevitable recordar el caso de Shakespeare, que incluye en el escenario de Hamlet otro escenario, donde se representa una tragedia, que es más o menos la de Hamlet; la correspondencia imperfecta de la obra principal y la secundaria aminora la eficacia de esa inclusión.
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One book can be formative. Books I re-read regularly include LOTR, The Cave, by RPW, and Catch-22 and Forgetting Elena. Usually, though, I realize that I don't need to re-read a book a fourth time.

4 comments:

Thomas said...

Reminds my of an old post of mine:

My 1981 King Penguin paperback edition of Borges' Labyrinths has the following remark on the back cover:

"The twenty-three stories in Labyrinths include Borges's classic 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius', a new world where external objects are whatever each person wants; and 'Pierre Menard', the man who re-wrote Don Quixote word for word without ever reading the original."

I find such inaccuracies enormously depressing for some reason. It is no consolation that Borges himself, in 'Partial Magic in the Quixote', tells us that Shakespeare 'include[d] on the stage of Hamlet another stage where a tragedy more or less like that of Hamlet is presented.'

Even Borges, even in his non-fiction, gets really important shit wrong in lazy-ass ways.

Jonathan said...

I've included that part of B's essay in my revised post.

Borges gets things wrong, but I thought he was usually just presenting a kind of fictitious erudition that cannot be trusted.

Thomas said...

Are your saying that we should not read anything by Borges as non-fiction?

Perhaps we could extend this thesis: all criticism of (or publicity for) Borges should be considered fiction?

Andrew Shields said...

I love "Kafka and His Precursors". Would it bother me if any of the named precursors turned out to not exist? No, that would be cool.

It would bother me, though, if any of the named precursors were presented badly.