Monday, July 26, 2010

Reading Don Quixote, while Iceland takes a leak

 Gustavo Doré's Don Quixote

David Seaton's News Links
This summer I am rereading the world's first, and still probably the world's best novel, "Don Quixote", by Miguel de Cervantes. The first time I read it, my Spanish was nothing like it is today, nor is the life experience that I bring to the book now in any way comparable to the weltanschauung of the boy I was then. Every page holds treasures that I missed before, and what is most amazing of all, is how, despite the archaic, 17th century Spanish, the book is still more "modern" than any contemporary best seller: the truth about human beings never grows old.

Don Quixote is such a funny book because Cervantes uses the most prosaic details of everyday life in La Mancha, which is like a Spanish Peoria, as the triggers for the Don's delusions of knightly feats of daring-do. It is the quality of his marvelously bald and plausible descriptions of warts and all reality that makes Don Quixote's delusions so hilarious, noble and pathetic. For example, windmills, as common in La Mancha as grain elevators in the Middle West, become giants to his mad eyes, sturdy, no-nonsense country girls become fairytale princesses and the 17th century Spanish equivalent of two dollar hookers in a fleabite motel become noble ladies in a mighty castle... it goes on and on...

Imagine the owner of a gas station on the steppes of Indiana, who watches old "A-Team" reruns till he goes mad and starts to think he is "Mr. T" and then goes out armed to the teeth on a "mission": that is basically the starting point of this greatest of books. Not that hard to imagine in an American context is it?

However, don't get the idea that inventing this stuff is simple, it takes the genius of a Cervantes to pull it off. Normally reality is funnier than anything that you or I could ever dream up, but Cervantes's way of looking at the contrast between who we think we are and who we really are is available to all.

An example of Cervantes's method applied to the contemporary USA: imagine a president of the USA that thought that he could make the waters recede and the climate change, while all the secret information in the Pentagon was heading for Iceland. DS

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