Because I am also studying Moby-Dick this semester, I appreciated Harold Bloom’s assertion (see introduction to the Edith Grossman translation) that “Melville blended Don Quixote and Hamlet in Captain Ahab (with a touch of Milton’s Satan added for seasoning).” Returning to a book again and again (and again), as I have Moby-Dick, creates a familiar, well-creased mental map. With this, a reader can travel along the accustomed channels or more easily attempt new routes (meanings, metaphors, implications, associations, links to other works, etc.). On my current voyage through Moby-Dick, for example, I have been navigating ideas about how Melville (perhaps as Ishmael, perhaps as the story’s creator) shapes the narrative and what, precisely, we readers are meant to understand as truth in that narrative. Oh, how I wish I had something even approaching that level of familiarity with Don Quixote because Cervantes is also clearly experimenting (perhaps we can even say, playing?) with narrative structure and truth, but I have only the barest outline of a mental map by which to chart my course through this vast novel.
In last week’s tutorial meeting, we discussed Cervantes’ (playful? deceptive? ironic?) intent in the prologue and dedication and touched on the idea of the novel as a “found” history. In Chapters XI through XXI of Part I, readers encounter a number of other approaches to storytelling, including Quixote’s “long harangue” to the goatherds; Antonio’s ballad; Pedro’s account of Grisóstomo and Marcela; the verses of the deceased shepherd; Sancho Panza’s deceptive explanation of his and Don Quixote’s injuries; a reference to the history of the deeds of Don Quixote penned by “the wise man whose task it will be to write” it; Sancho’s “best of all stories” (which, “[a]s finished as his mother,” ends abruptly); the confessions of the prisoners; and the pawned autobiography of Ginés (a narrative of “truths so appealing and entertaining that no lies can equal them”). This variety surely represents more than simple diversion; what is its meaning and purpose?
I wonder, too, if, as with Melville’s sprawling novel (which also employs a variety of narrative forms, from sermon to soliloquy to taxonomy to stage play to sailor’s yarn and more), the varied structure is related to an underlying assertion about the role of truth in storytelling; or do I have that inverted? Is it, rather, an indication that storytelling undergirds truth? In the Grossman translation, I am struck by the repetition of the words “truth” (at least twenty-one in this week’s reading) and “true” (at least nineteen). In fact, Bloom’s introduction opens with the query, “What is the true object of Don Quixote’s quest?” I might parry, What is Don Quixote’s truth? Alternately, What do “true” and “truth” mean to the Knight of the Sorrowful Face? (I have, as I reread Moby-Dick, similarly asked, What is Ahab’s truth? How does it differ from Ishmael’s, the crew’s, and the author’s?) When I concluded this week’s Don Quixote chapters, I affixed two questions like pins to my as-yet faint mental map: Why do the novel’s assorted storytellers insist on the veracity of each narrative? More philosophically, why, when we storytelling animals narrate, do we claim to have proffered the truth?
Four passages particularly speak to the ideas above:
“Since everything I’ve told you is the absolute truth, I take it for granted that what our lad said about what people were saying about the reason for Grisóstomo’s death is also true.” (p. 85)
“I didn’t know her,” responded Sancho. “But the man who told me this story said it was so true and correct that I certainly could, when I told it to somebody else, affirm and swear I had seen it all….” (p. 145)
“… [W]asn’t it laughable how frightened we were, and wouldn’t it make a good story? At least, how frightened I was, for I already know that your grace doesn’t know what fright is or understand the meaning of fear or terror.”
“I do not deny,” responded Don Quixote, “that what happened to us is deserving of laughter, but it does not deserve to be told, for not all persons are wise enough to put things in their proper place.” (p. 151)
“It’s so good,” responded Ginés, “that it’s too bad for Lazarillo de Tormes and all the other books of that genre that have been or will be written. What I can tell your grace is that it deals with truths, and they are truths so appealing and entertaining that no lies can equal them.” (p. 169)
It’s my first time through Moby-Dick and the closest I’ve ever gotten to reading Don Quixote was watching Man of La Mancha, but I think both are foregrounding something about the perspective of the story-tellers in relation to what we commonly think of as truth.
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Don Quixote is on my list for this year. I am saving this post as supplementary reading as I go through the novel for the first time. Aside from the Bible, I have never read any book so many times as to create a “mental map” and to know it as intimately as you do Moby Dick. I’d like to change that because it sounds like a rich and rewarding experience.
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Contemporary thinkers see “Truth” as little more than a construction of the prevailing order. Which makes me wonder if truth (small t) is subject to such constant writing/re-writing as to make any claim to name it largely impossible. Since its naming/defining is so allusive, perhaps we need better terms: framing devices, constructions, peculiar assertions, etc. All of which foreground the actor/framer vs any claim to “truth” with all its classical undertones. Whaddya think?
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I think you and Jeanne have put me on a great path. If I’m reading you correctly, the more compelling idea is less about identifying and defining “truth” and more about understanding the storyteller’s role.
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1) “ Don Quixote because Cervantes is also clearly experimenting,” you say.. meaning Francis Bacon ..
2) “we discussed Cervantes’ “found” history,” you keep saying after 400 years. There he gives you the answer: the real author was Cide Hamete Benengeli , not Miguel de Cervantes.. ( this is steganography): So take out that name: what’s left = Siren, the abbreviation of the Sireniacal Gentlemen, a group of writers in London in 1603..
The original “Don Quixote” is an English book. The Spanish translations appeared in 1605 and 1615, much earlier than the original English publications in 1612 and 1620. Between these two periods, in 1614, a “false” Don Quixote was published under the name Avellaneda. The original English text was never released. ( Avellaneda minus, now not Miguel de Cervantes, but his second name, i Saavedra: what’s left = Siren II) The second work of the Sireniacals of too= also written by the Sireniacal Gentlemen)
Francis Bacon was the brain behind the three books of Don Quixote; he wrote the part of the hero. Ben Jonson took on the role of Sancho Panza, John Donne wrote the poems, “the two friends” Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher were assigned the task of writing loose stories. These authors made use of the library owned by Robert Cotton.
The printer, William Stansby, inserted concealed clues into the text, in order for the reader to be able to draw conclusions…
The Spanish translations were carried out by Thomas Shelton (DQI + DQII) and James Mabbe (the “bogus” DQ).
Miguel de Cervantes was just a poor Spanish writer who had sold his name to survive. He had told his life-story to the English, so that it could be processed into the DQ.
3) “In the Grossman translation, I am struck by the repetition of the words “truth” (at least twenty-one in this week’s reading),” you say, but why do you need a translation of a translation.. when you can have the original in English. Yes Thomas Shelton.. did not write a translation to English, but the 1612 edition is the original. The Spanish 1605 and 1615 editions are the translations!
The Englishman Francis Bacon called ‘truth the daughter of time, not of authority’. This time has now come.
4) You really want to know the truth? A lot of people don’t want to hear this, but it is the truth.. What F.B. wanted to write is a new History of the Holy grail, in other words, highlighting the brotherhoods that had always passed on the Secret. Not abhorring the books of chivalry.