From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 1.1-2 (1981): 108-10.
Copyright © 1981, The Cervantes Society of America
CRITIQUE/DIALOG

Response to Cesáreo Bandera*


RUTH EL SAFFAR

Dear Cesáreo:

     In Truth, we are all one. Every “other” that we place between ourselves and Truth represents a limitation of consciousness. “Protected” by the illusion of otherness, we permit ourselves all manner of barbarity. Or, perhaps more correctly, our barbarity causes us to create others against whom we can justify our own outpourings of greed, envy, pride, jealousy, and hatred. It is surely what comes out of our hearts that defiles us.
     In this, I believe, we are in agreement.
     We also agree on the importance of forgiveness, the non-existence of an absolute human other, and on the difficulty of tearing through the web of illusion —fiction— that we surround ourselves with.
     We agree, furthermore, that the Captive's Tale, in which the main characters are guided by Mary and God, can easily veer off course and become the story of Don Quixote strung up by the wrist by the “lovely” inn-keeper's daughter and Maritornes from their window above the courtyard, or the story of Leandra who runs off with a soldier of fortune, taking with her her father's jewels.
     We also both understand that none of the “saving” ladies, Auristela included, is actually perfect. Preciosa, who is there in La Gitanilla to teach Don Juan, among other things, to release his jealousy, is herself subject to the same passion. Costanza, the illustrious kitchen maid, could easily go in the direction of Marcela, spurning

     * This discussion began with On Beyond Conflict (Cervantes 1.1-2 [1981]: 83-94), by Ruth El Saffar and was continued in An Open Letter to Ruth El Saffar (Cervantes 1.1-2 [1981]: 95-107), by Cesáreo Bandera. F.J.

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1 (1981) El Saffar / Bandera 109

systematically all who come her way, or of Maritornes, making secret arrangements for nightly trysts with the guests at the inn.
     As early as La Galatea, Cervantes makes it clear that the cruel and lovely lady of the male protagonists' dreams is a product of his illusion. He does this, in part, by showing the degree to which she participates in the game of chase and flight that marks the whole pastoral world as off-center. But, as you have said, the illusion is mostly portrayed as belonging to the men, for they tend to be most prominent both as actors in the world and as writers. And it is easy to become caught in the feeling, once we see that the lady is not the beautiful “other” the hero had expected her to be, to “blame” her for her complicity. Perhaps it is here that we come to loggerheads, for often it sounds as if you are personally offended by “pure Auristela” or “gorgeous Marcela.” Perhaps you, too, feel an inclination to “kill the killers,” though we may disagree on who is who, which of course is your point. We do agree that to kill the killer is to reenter the sacrificial world, contributing to its perpetuation. It's just that some resentments of our personal selves linger on and find their way into our prose against our own best intentions.
     The question really is, it seems to me, how to get at those lingering negative feelings. Calderón shows us, to be sure, that they are devastating. Cervantes, while not belittling the difficulty of the task, points the way to recovery —to salvation, if you wish. In early examples of the “happy ending” —Cardenio's story is a good case in point— it was still too easy. A few well-chosen words by Dorotea, Fernando gives in, and very quickly, before trouble starts up again, the story is over. Still, if one looks closely —I try to do so in my book— the rudiments of a transformation tale are there. The later stories, La Gitanilla, for example, and certainly the Persiles, are full-blown examples of transformation myths. They show the long, painful, laborious means by which our poor base natures —our base natures as men and as women— are raised up to a closer approximation of our divine selves.
     Some of the participants in my 1979 summer seminar on Cervantes, Tirso, and Calderón tell me that in the late Calderón one can also find signs of recovery. I have not been entirely convinced, though he is clearly working there much more with myth and archetypal material. In La vida es sueño, however, it seems clear that he is still very much caught up in an either/or universe that requires the main protagonist to choose between equally impossible alternatives: that is, to perpetuate the sacrificial world.


110 CRITIQUE/DIALOG Cervantes

     The work on the self required to assimilate the contraries and to melt down, in the process, the negative passions, cannot be expressed except by allegory, which is why Cervantes “reverted” to romance for his last works. That those works are still not popular is no surprise, really, for it still seems easier to “kill the killer,” even if it does turn out to be ourselves that we are destroying. Who wants to go through all the confusions and difficulties —the travails— of Persiles and Sigismunda if we can postpone them or avoid them altogether?
     So it is the same world, and one we cannot break out of easily. It is one that holds us both fascinated, too, despite all our protestations. Otherwise we wouldn't be engaging in discussions such as these.
     It was a lesser expression of myself that embroiled us in this debate, that is clear enough. What is really outstanding in my experience with your book is my enthusiasm for it. That you know, and those who have eyes to see will also know. I wrote as I did because I felt that you were caught in what you were describing. And I was right. But in trying to point that out, I revealed to you and to myself, that I am also caught. There is more work to be done, but it is not, as I said before, to be done on the battlefields, paper or otherwise.


Your friend,

 

RUTH



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