• Fantasy Lands

    • Based on the lucid lecture of Quixote’s death as suggested by Margit Frenk, we can discern that Cervantes continues to deceive us using that which is apparently evident.

    The death of Quixote: Cervantes’ last hoax to demonstrate that the adventure is never ending? / 

    Based on the lucid lecture of Quixote’s death as suggested by Margit Frenk, we can discern that Cervantes continues to deceive us using that which is apparently evident. As Moby Dick, as Ulysses, as In Search of Lost Time, the Quixote is an endless book. Its pages can be read over and over again (as it has in fact been done) to discover that in reality reading can never be exhausted. While the Quixote is also one of those classics that has to find its reader, when this fortunate coincidence takes place, the book never leaves us, instead, it accompanies us and in some way makes us read it in a different way, when we follow different paths.

    To a great extent this effect is one of the intrinsic properties of the novel. If there is one thing that characterises Quixote, it is the elevated degree of communion it encourages between the reader, the work and the author. As the heir of an ample tradition of oral literature, Cervantes slides towards a narrative where he uses subtle resources to make the reader partake in the events and even in the spirit of the characters, an essentially intellectual stratagem that for an instant fuses reality with the narrative.

    One of the most emotional moments in which they show the possibilities of this game of reflexes, is the final scene of Cervantes’ novel.  As we know, Cervantes decided to kill his character after the so-called Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda published an apocryphal continuation of the first part of the Quixote, a tale of a scant literary quality, whose only purpose was to hurt Cervantes, mock his work and even his life, to humiliate him and revile him. To avoid others repeating this same mockery by taking advantage of the Caballero de la Triste Figura (Knight of the Sad Countenance), the writer decided to give up his character ‘here shalt thou remain long ages hence, unless presumptuous or malignant story-tellers take thee down to profane thee.’

    This last chapter is well known: Quixote is returned to his village after being defeated by the Knight of Mirrors, and as soon as he enters his home he falls ill, ‘a fever settled upon him and kept him in his bed for six days’, surrounded by Sancho Panza and the curate, the bachelor Samson Carrasco, and Master Nicholas the barber, as well as the housekeeper and his niece. In this trance, in an act that seems to return him to the sanity of the world, the man decides to make his will and to leave his riches in an apparent state of reason:

    Good news for you, good sirs, that I am no longer Don Quixote of La Mancha, but Alonso Quixano, whose way of life won for him the name of Good. Now am I the enemy of Amadis of Gaul and of the whole countless troop of his descendants; odious to me now are all the profane stories of knight-errantry; now I perceive my folly, and the peril into which reading them brought me; now, by God’s mercy schooled into my right sense, I loathe them. (Translated by John Ormsby)

    This speech is so clear and convincing, and the reasons so sensible, that all its listeners believed it and have believed until now, and it has fooled even the most experienced of critics. But is this not one of Quixote’s most characteristic behaviours? Does he not enunciate the Golden Ages, of the Arms and Letters, of the Freedom speeches with such an admirable wisdom that it makes us all doubt his insanity? Why should we start believing him now, just because he is dying? There lies Cervantes’ great genius, this perfect fiction that blends the planes of reality involved in our reading, the reality of the work, and the reality of the reader, which reaches a level of unsuspected communion and intimacy.

    This detail was recently noticed by Margit Frenk. Frenk, who is one of the most outstanding Cervantes experts to emerge over the past few years, has published Cuatro Ensayos Sobre el Quijote (Four Essays on the Quixote), and one of these is: “Alonso Quijano no era su nombre” (“Alonso Quixano was not his name”). Here she explores what could be considered to be Cervantes’ last hoax.

    It is generally accepted that the “real” or “true” name of the Quixote was Alonso Quixano, which he only employs in this final scene and with the sole legal purpose of leaving his will. However, as Frenk points out, if this inconsistence is suspicious in terms of the rest of the tale, the text itself stresses how this is not the real name of Quixote, but a new madness that the character incurs in even in the final moment of his death. If not, why are the bachelor, the barbers and the priest, who Quixote calls to be witnesses of his will, surprised when they hear it: they did, after all, know him before he was Don Quixote, but when hearing him call himself ‘Alonso Quixano the Good’, become surprised and even believe ‘some new madness had taken hold of him.’ In an eloquent analysis of the text, and concerning the latter, Frenk writes,:

    With the same freedom which the reader has self-baptised himself as Don Quixote, he baptises himself at the end as Alonso Quixano the Good.

    Further along, in the essay “Don Quijote ¿muere cuerdo?” (“Does Don Quixote, die sane?”):

    I think Cervantes would not be Cervantes if in that end of his work he had renounced ambiguity, if he had not projected on the affirmation of his hero’s sanity a great question mark.

    The game that, following Frenk, Cervantes proposed, is profoundly quixotic, and perhaps in its obviousness, ultimately concealed. As Poe’s “Purloined letter”, it is sometimes better to hide the important in plain sight. This is, to some extent, to make evident that in reality, Don Quixote, does not die sane, nor does he die as Alonso Quixano. In reality there is no reality; Cervantes seems to say when he supposedly makes his character die.

    Perhaps this adventure is always the fiction we tell ourselves it is. When we read Quixote, the story sometimes grasps us as characters, at times as mere witnesses, however, in a state between a sudden and fortunate communion, we always discover we have become its participants. 

    Tagged: Fantasy Lands, Quixote, Cervantes, escritores, literatura