From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
3.2 (1983): 83-102.
Copyright © 1983, The Cervantes Society of America
||MARY GAYLORD RANDEL|
N VIRTUALLY every work of Cervantes, the critic confronts what Jean Canavaggio has described as una contaminación sistemática del espacio textual por el vivir cervantino.1 So striking is the presence of autobiographical references that readers have often succumbed to the temptation to peer through the veil of fiction for glimpses of the historical Cervantes: wounded but victorious in Lepanto, captive in Algiers, moving through the picaresque underworld and jails of Seville, struggling to make his living as a writer. Whole generations of scholars devoted themselves exclusively to this kind of cervantismo which so exasperated Unamuno, making masterpieces into documents of the author's real-life frustrations.2 The figure of Don Quixote in particular middle-aged nobody, impoverished hidalgo, nostalgic dreamer of an obsolete heroism, incorrigible reader has been conflated repeatedly with that of his author. Conspicuously in the tradition of the great biographies of Cervantes, the mad knight of La Mancha merges with the hero of Lepanto. Pursuing fame, like Don Quixote, along the twin routes of arms and letters, Cervantes becomes the authentic sacrificial hero his
* An earlier version
of this paper was read at a session of the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference
(University of Kentucky, Lexington), April 23, 1982. [Note: this study was
continued in Cervantes' Portraits and Literary
Theory in the Text of Fiction, Cervantes,
6.1 (1986): 57-80.]
1 La dimensión autobiográfica del Viaje del Parnaso, Cervantes, 1 (1981), 37.
2 Demetrios Basdekis, Cervantes in Unamuno: Toward a Clarification, RR, 60 (1969), 178-85.
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protagonist aspired to be. Titles like El ingenioso hidalgo Miguel de
Cervantes Saavedra,3 Vida heroica de
Miguel de Cervantes,4 and Vida ejemplar
y heroica de Miguel de Cervantes
Saavedra,5 suggest the desire of the
biographers to write chivalresque history anew, enderezando los
tuertos, and naturally purging it of parody. Even the recent biography
of William Byron follows in the footsteps of its antecedents, moving freely
from the works to the man and back again, finding in the life and the books
of Cervantes abundant suggestions for reciprocal
Textual criticism, on the other hand, tends to stress the absence of Cervantes from his texts. If we find ourselves tantalized in the Quixote by the shadow of an historical Cervantes, we are most often faced with the insistent, intrusive presence of a narrator. It has generally been recognized that this personified author is not interchangeable with the historical Cervantes, but rather another character within the author's fiction, one who serves as another reminder of the distance between the real author and his subject. As the voice closest to the reader in Cervantes' novel, this narrator is also another reader who filters the original text of the Arab historian Cide Hamete Benengeli and the one produced by his Moorish translator. If the narrator promises to transmit faithfully the contents of these documents, we find him in fact interrupting at will, ordering his material to suit himself, shifting abruptly from scholarly deference to outright parody. The critical mainstream of our day, in one way or another, applauds Cervantes' use of the fictitious authorship device. If, however, under the impetus of the New Criticism, we have succeeded in distinguishing Cide Hamete from the narrator and the narrator from the real-life Cervantes, we have come paradoxically to see the author's non-presence in his text as a kind of proof negative of his authorial power, as the key to the control over his fiction, to his very authority. His distance, in Ruth El Saffar's formulation, is control. The text continually calls attention to
3 F. Navarro
y Ledesma (Madrid, 1905).
4 R. de Garciasol (Madrid: Editorial Nacional, 1944).
5 Luis Astrana Marín (Madrid: Reus, 1948-58), 7 vols.
6 William Byron, Cervantes. A Biography (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1978). Another extreme, product of continental psychoanalytic criticism, is Louis Combet's Cervantès ou les incertitudes du désir (Lyons: Presses Universitaires, 1980), which uses portraits of authors in Cervantes' texts to make a composite portrait of Cervantes the man.
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its many lesser authors, leaving the Author Miguel de Cervantes
Saavedra most remote of all. Aloof from his work, unlocatable within
its boundaries, the real author nonetheless pulls all of the
A history of interpretations of Miguel de Cervantes would surely trace a changing view of the authorial figure just as suggestive as the readings of Don Quixote recently surveyed by Anthony J. Close.8 That book's extraordinary popular success, which appears already legendary in the 1615 text, and the homage of subsequent European prose fiction, provided fertile ground for legends about its author. From recognition of a masterwork, it is but a short step first to acknowledge, then to revere, a master. Literary criticism in the twentieth century, while granting a new measure of autonomy to the fictional world of the book, particularly that of the novel, nonetheless retains the concept of the book as creation and the author as creator. The image, of course, occupies a venerable place in the history of Christian thought, where God is the Author, and the world is his book. Although the creature, from the moment of creation, lives apart from his Creator, still the latter's guiding Providence informs and unifies his work. Unamuno borrowed the conceit to dramatize the freedom of the creature, first in Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho, later in Niebla. But over against Unamuno's vision of the hero who, as spirit of a national yearning, dwarfs both Cervantes and cervantismos, other readers rose to the defense of authorial power. From an understandably awed sense of the writer's ultimate responsibility for what appears on the pages of his book, partisans of the author go on to postulate a Cervantes who plays God to his creation, a Cervantes whose omniscience and absolute power render him almost divine.
Leo Spitzer, one of the most eloquent exponents of authorial authority in the Quixote, associated this view with the name of
El Saffar, Distance and Control in Don Quixote: A Study in
Narrative Technique (Chapel Hill: Department of Romance Languages, 1975).
See also Helena Percas de Ponseti,
Authorial Strings: A Recurrent Metaphor
in Don Quijote, Cervantes 1
(1981), 51-62. Percas suggests that Cervantes opposes the
strings of pseudo-authority to his own authentic creative
8 The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
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perspectivismo. Beyond the shifting viewpoints of Cervantes' fictional world, he says,
We sense the presence of something which is not subject to fluctuation: the immovable, immutable principle of the divine which, perhaps, to some extent, is reflected in the earthly artifex himself: the novelist who assumes a near-divine power in his mastery of his material and in his own unshaken attitude toward the phenomena of his world.9
This concept has prospered alongside ideas about the figure of the poet in
the Italian Renaissance epic. Croce's view of Ariosto as omniscient author-God
continues to appear in readings of the Orlando furioso, the most important
recent example being Robert Durling's study, which characterizes the intrusive
figure of the poet in the Furioso as
Spitzer repeatedly cautions that neither Cervantes nor he (Spitzer) means actually to confuse the author with God himself. Yet rhetoric seems often to soar beyond that caveat:
Let us not be mistaken: the real protagonist of the novel is not Quixote, with his continual misrepresentation of reality, or Sancho with his skeptical half-endorsement of quixotism and surely not any of the central figures of the illusionistic by-stories: the hero is Cervantes, the artist himself, who combines a critical and illusionistic art according to his free will. From the moment we open the book to the moment we put it down, we are given to understand that an almighty overlord is directing us, who leads us where he pleases (p. 69).
High above the world-wide cosmos of his making, in which hundreds of characters, situations, vistas, themes, plots and subplots are merged, Cervantes' artistic self is enthroned, an all-embracing creative self, Nature-like, God-like, almighty, all-wise, all-good and benign: this visibly omnipresent Maker reveals to us the secrets of his creation, he shows us the work of art in the making, and the laws to which it is necessarily subjected (pp. 72-73).
This heady vision of artistic exemplarity clearly reflects urgent concerns of Spitzer's own historical circumstance. Inextricably bound
Linguistic Perspectivism in the Don Quixote, in
Linguistics and Literary History (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1967), p. 41.
10 The Figure of the Poet in Renaissance Epic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967).
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up with an ideal of free will joined with quasi-divine goodness of spirit,
this perspectivismo shows how readily a concept becomes a creed, how
easily the image into which an idea crystallizes ascends to the status of
Without wishing to disparage in any way the seriousness of the issues to which Spitzer was speaking for criticism like literature is always written from an existential context, I suggest that we find ourselves in the presence of another myth of Cervantes. In addition to the fables of lived heroism, of the sufferings and strivings of the impoverished writer, we have here the myth of Cervantes, quasi-divine artist, almighty, all-wise, all-good. To these we must add still another construct of literary history, a myth of literary origins, or more exactly of Cervantes as originator of the modern novel. Italianists are acutely sensitive to the mythical or fictional status of this idea, perhaps because they would propose a candidate of their own. Many studies of the European novel nonetheless confidently locate in Don Quixote the genesis of modern prose fiction as self-conscious literature. Cervantes criticism has questioned the extent to which the author perceived his own originality or the implications of his innovations. The Novelas ejemplares and Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda suggest to some that Cervantes did not wholly embrace the brave new novelistic world of his own making.11 He could not in any case have imagined the significance of his work for unborn generations of writers. Still, the perception of Cervantes as some kind of important beginning continues to condition a wide spectrum of readings.
To what extent can Cervantes be held accountable for the myth-making that centers around his figure? Perhaps by looking at those passages in his works which call attention to Cervantes himself we can discover a relationship between the author's self-portraiture and the mythical portraiture of a heroic Cervantes or of a God-like, originating genius. This project, we realize at once, faces the initial difficulty of defining its object of inquiry. Even if we restrict ourselves for the moment to Don Quixote, we face the problem of deciding which passages can be called autobiographical or which can be thought of as self-portraits. By perusing the footnotes of virtually
example, Ruth El Saffar, Novel to Romance. A Study of Cervantes's
Novelas ejemplares (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1974). Here, as throughout this article, we give only representative bibliography
for issues discussed by many important cervantistas.
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any edition, one discovers what its editor took for material from
the author's life; but such allusions are scattered throughout the book.
Some references, however, are more readily identified: the prologues of 1605
and 1615, the 1615 Dedicatoria to the Conde de Lemos, the scrutiny
of Don Quixote's library (I, 6), the famous interruption between Chapters
8 and 9 of the first part, the story of the Capitán cautivo.
It is to these that we now turn.
The 1605 Prologue introduces Cervantes' book-child como quien se engendró en una cárcel as the predictable offspring un hijo seco, avellanado, antojadizo y lleno de pensamientos varios y nunca imaginados de otro alguno of his own estéril y mal cultivado ingenio.12 Cervantes reminds his reader of his fifty-eight years and the improbability of his present reappearance on the literary scene: al cabo de tantos años como ha que duermo en el silencio del olvido, salgo ahora, con todos mis años a cuestas (p. 20). Self-portrayed as deficient in both natural talent and learning (mi insuficiencia y mis pocas letras [p. 21]), the author seeks to please, yet he is unwilling to beg public indulgence or the literary insurance of prefatory sonnets for the ugly child he has begotten. His suspensión y elevamiento poise him in an imaginative and literal contortion suspenso con el papel delante, la pluma en la oreja, el codo en el bufete y la mano en la mejilla, pensando lo que diría (p. 20) between pride and self-deprecation. His seesawing between assurance and doubt is dramatized by the arrival of the friendly other, whose ironic enthusiasm sees him through the chore of producing a prologue.
Although the vehement opinions of the self-appointed literary censors of Part One, Chapter 6, lead us to suspect that we may be hearing a thinly veiled authorial voice, we find there no visual portrait. When considering La Galatea, the Curate claims its author as his friend of many years: y sé que es más versado en desdichas que en versos (p. 75). The volume in question seems to share its author's shortcomings as a poet and the abundance of his misfortunes: Su libro algo tiene de buena invención; propone algo, y no concluye nada: es menester esperar la segunda parte que promete (Ibid.). In the meantime, La Galatea deserves neither mercy nor condemnation; its
de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martín
de Riquer (Barcelona: Juventud, 1958), p. 19. Future references appear in
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provisional sentence mandates a sort of detention: entre tanto que
esto se ve, tenedle recluso en vuestra posada, señor compadre.
The Barber's laconic reply Que me place suggests
that the pastoral novel will not go unread for the length of its probation.
Chapter 9 introduces a personified author who is less transparently Cervantes, but whose state of suspense mimics not only the upraised swords of Don Quixote and his Biscayan adversary left hanging in mid-flight, but the suspended sentence of La Galatea and the head-in-hand suspension of the Prologue. Here suspense belongs to the writer who is first a reader, left dangling when the thriving tree of his story is so abruptly destroncada (p. 91). The joy of reading gives way to the pain of interruption and incompleteness:
Causóme esto mucha pesadumbre, porque el gusto de haber leído tan poco se volvía en disgusto, de pensar el mal camino que se ofrecía para hallar lo mucho que, a mi parecer, faltaba de tan sabroso cuento (Ibid.).
Yet it is precisely this sense of what is lacking in Don Quixote's history,
the instinct for completion nurtured apparently by avid reading of chivalresque
fiction, that serves to bridge the gap. Confuso y deseoso de saber
real y verdaderamente toda la vida y milagros de nuestro famoso español
Don Quijote de la Mancha (p. 92), the author submits not only to this
urgent curiosity but to his voracious appetite for the written word in general
(como yo soy aficionado a leer aunque sean los papeles rotos de la
calle [p. 93]). Two providential encounters first with the peddlar
boy, then with the Moorish translator leave him again atónito
y suspenso, hoping and doubting, near bursting with curiosity yet all
the while wary lest any show of interest should raise the price of his coveted
treasure. Bent on wresting the truth about Don Quixote from ignorant
hands, the author does not scruple to deceive his unwitting benefactors.
At the same time, the desire to know wrestles with the prickings of prejudice,
the uneasy sense that the historian, on whom he has pinned his hopes, as
an Arab, may also be a liar who would be capable of deceiving him.
In a flowery tribute to history (Mother of Truth) and to historians, the
author once more submerges in the text, giving himself up to
the pleasure of narration.
When next the author surfaces, in the story-within-a-story of the Capitán cautivo (I, 39-41), he has donned military dress. The central section of this tale traces the itinerary which leads Ruy Pérez de
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Viedma from Spain to Algerian captivity. So closely does it dovetail events of the writer's life, that it is difficult not to accord it virtually documentary status.13 Yet Ruy Pérez is not Cervantes. The soldier's career they share sits as though in the center of a triptych, offset by the folktale-like account of the three brothers and the legend-like story of Zoraida's conversion and rescue of the Captive.14 Moreover, as J. J. Allen observes, Ruy Pérez served not as common soldier but as captain, and met with a different fate at Lepanto. Unlike Cervantes, whose wounds cost him the use of one hand, the officer suffered the loss of his liberty. The Captain's authority paradoxically makes him an easy captive on this day of glory for Christendom, when many Christians who have been slaves are restored to their freedom. As he leads his men on board Uchalí's vessel, that ship swerves away from the attack, cutting the Captain off from his men: solo fui el triste entre tantos alegres y el cautivo entre tantos libres (p. 399). He travels to Algiers as a slave, and there his story rejoins that of Cervantes. The Captain even tells of meeting un soldado español llamado tal de Saavedra (p. 409), famed for his heroic struggles to escape from servitude. The name clearly conjures up the author's figure, and it is tempting to see in this Saavedra the historical Cervantes. Yet if we are inclined to see the Captain's tale as literature shadowing the real life of Saavedra-Cervantes, we are also bound to notice that the exploits of this tal de Saavedra appear on the horizon of heroism as the promise above all of another tale, surpassingly entertaining, full of wonder. Even the Captain's brief hints paint his circumstances as little short of miraculous: despite apparently tireless attempts to escape, he enjoys with his jailer a prestige which makes him immune from the standard punishments. Saavedra (por la menor cosa que hizo temíamos todos que había de ser empalado) functions as a limit in this fiction, perhaps that point
tendency to treat the Captain's narrative like a documentary is reinforced
by its resemblances to a Memorial addressed by Cervantes to Philip
II in 1590. See Astrana Marín, IV, 455-56.
14 For full treatment of these autobiographical aspects of the Capitán cautivo, see Francisco Márquez Villanueva, Personajes y temas del Quijote (Madrid: Taurus, 1975), pp. 92-146; and J. J. Allen, Autobiografía y ficción: el relato del Capitán cautivo, ACerv, 15 (1978), 149-55. Márquez Villanueva stresses the fictional traditions which are present in the triptych's framing stories.
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where art spills into life, but in the first instance as a literary figure of hyperbole:
Y si no fuera porque el tiempo no da lugar, yo dijera ahora algo de lo que este soldado hizo, que fuera parte para entreteneros y admiraros harto mejor que con el cuento de mi historia (Ibid.).
His likeness to Ruy Pérez de Viedma allows the untold story to reach
beyond the one the Captain has just unfolded, speaking to the same insatiable
appetite for stories of novedad y estrañeza that makes
Fernando wish aloud that the telling would begin all over again. The stories
of Ruy Pérez, Saavedra and Cervantes (the latter available from outside
the text) clearly function as mirror stories, substitute portraits on the
heroic medallion. If the faces change, however, what remains consistent is
the pattern of paradox which the military narratives reveal: authority linked
to loss of liberty, servitude joined with the struggle for freedom, moral
victory accompanied by crippling physical loss, Christian triumph paired
with personal defeat.
We might read the Dedicatoria and Prologue of the 1615 Quixote as readings of his earlier self-portraits by an author now well established in public esteem. Theirs is a doubly reflexive gesture the scrutiny of self-scrutiny. Cervantes' own words echo uncannily, as Elias Rivers has shown, both in the contours of its anecdotes and the nature of its recurring themes, the Aprobación of the Licenciado Márquez Torres (pp. 530-31).15 The picture of an author who is viejo, soldado, hidalgo y pobre seems derived from earlier self-portraits, both in the Quixote and in the Prologue to the Novelas ejemplares. Yet the new context makes the familiar string of traits into the stuff of contrast. An unlikely candidate for success has in fact been acclaimed, yet the taste of triumph has been tinged with bitterness by the publication of a rival Segunda parte. The author of this apocryphal version appears to have read Cervantes' self-portraits as carefully as the rest of his work. His challenge is not only literary, but personal and moral, pointing a derisive finger at Cervantes' age and his lifeless hand, accusing him of envy and even hostility to the Church in his references to Lope de Vega (I, 48). Beyond this, the matter of age has taken on a different cast for Cervantes himself, in 1615 nearly sixty-eight. In the Dedicatoria's fictional audience with an emissary from the
15 Elias L. Rivers,
On the Prefatory Pages of Don Quijote, Part II,
MLN, 75 (1960), 214-21.
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Emperor of China, the author excuses himself from that ruler's call to found
in his kingdom an academy for the study of the Castilian tongue on grounds
of ill health: porque yo no estoy con salud para ponerme en tan largo
viaje (p. 534). In the Prologue he laments that his competitor should
have faulted him for his years, como si hubiera sido en mi mano haber
detenido el tiempo, que no pasase por mí (p. 535). Time, moreover,
has not only taken its toll; in some sense it is the writer's ally: y
hase de advertir que no se escribe con las canas, sino con el entendimiento,
el cual suele mejorarse con los años (p. 536).
Paradoxes continue to proliferate on these pages: Lepanto's triumphant scars (far better than any inglorious wholeness); the absurdity that so beloved an author should struggle with poverty (Pues ¿a tal hombre no le tiene España muy rico y sustentado del erario público? asks a visiting French gentleman in the Aprobación [p. 530]); the true honor of decent poverty. Although Cervantes in effect reinforces the image of himself as viejo, soldado, hidalgo y pobre, he sounds a bit like the successful politician who continues to protest that he is just a country boy. There is evidence of his strategy in the effusive whitewash of Lope (del tal adoro el ingenio, admiro las obras, y la ocupación continua y virtuosa [p. 536]) and in his careful posturing vis-à-vis the Conde de Lemos and the Archbishop of Toledo, for whose consumption he must mention but not whine about his straightened circumstances. At the moment when he confidently puts down his challenger and reasserts the fueros of his authorship, any claim of incapacity inevitably becomes part of a calculation. Yet to recognize the workings of guile is not necessarily to conclude that authorial alchemy here simply turns wretchedness into power. It is in the play between the portrait and its exploitation that Cervantes' characterization of the artist emerges. Criticism of his rival fosters at the same time an ironic self-indictment:
bien sé lo que son tentaciones del demonio, y que una de las mayores es ponerle a un hombre en el entendimiento que puede componer y imprimir un libro con que gane tanta fama como dineros, y tantos dineros como fama (Ibid.).
Not only ridicule but self-mockery is at work in these jibes at the writer's vanity. Avellaneda does not stand alone in facing the failure of his inflated ambitions.
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Looking back like Cervantes over
these sketches of the author, we conclude first that we have found in them
nothing like a full-blown autobiography. Still, though physically dispersed
and teasing in their brevity, the passages turn on a series of recognizable
themes: 1) advancing age, 2) poverty, 3) the soldier's calling, 4) battle
scars, particularly the crippled left hand, 5) imprisonment, in both African
and Spanish jails, 6) strong moral conviction, 7) love of literature, and
8) a desire to write which invariably exceeds his ability. In every case,
the gesture of self-contemplation is dramatized by a form of doubling: the
author's friend in the first Prologue; the Curate who claims long acquaintance
with Cervantes in the scrutiny; the manuscript peddlar, the translator and
the Arab historian; the mirror tales of the Captain and Saavedra; the Emperor
of China and the scurrilous Avellaneda. The form of the dialogue seems always
to hold the portraits suspended and images of the most literal sort
of suspension abound between apology and self-deprecation.
Even the New Criticism, in its insistence on severing writing from writers, left largely unexplored as aesthetic objects these islands of concrete self-reference in Cervantes' texts. While it has been recognized that figures of the historical author are somehow mediated by literature, the dominant notion has been that of aesthetic distance. That is to say, the writer, in an act of creative purification, converts life, his own life, into art. Yet these most transparent figures of self, it bears repeating, are no less fictions than Don Quixote or Cide Hamete. A supposed verisimilitude, or some likeness to a picture we have grown accustomed to identifying as that of Cervantes, tends to interfere with our ability to perceive the semiotic function of self-portraits within his works. All of these sketches, either explicitly or implicitly, fuse physical characteristics (age, crippling) and historical circumstance (military career, imprisonment, poverty) with qualities of intellect and spirit. When Cervantes calls our attention to his authorial self, he asks us in effect to see the writer in the shape of human anatomy, of human life history, of human desire. The fusion of the physical, historical, intellectual and spiritual makes any one of these qualities a potential metaphor for the other, paving the way for a rich chain of metonymic substitutions. Nor is this economy restricted to Don Quixote: we find the same system at work in virtually all of Cervantes'
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prologues and in the Viaje del Parnaso, to mention only the most obvious
examples.16 It becomes clear that when he
chooses to intrude into his texts, Cervantes cuts an authorial figure that
is anything but authoritarian: aging, impoverished, imprisoned, maimed, he
struggles with unfulfilled desires.
If portraits of Cervantes are read as portraits of the artist, then it makes sense to look for their relation to other artists and authors within the same texts. In the Quixote, authors storytellers and writers abound. It is difficult to identify a character in the book who is not in some sense a writer. The categories of character, reader, author, turn out to be virtually reversible, as one narrative's characters become another's reader-listeners or writer-tellers.17 Cervantes casts even himself in all three roles. To be sure, the most conspicuous authorial figures of the Quixote are the segundo autor, Cide Hamete, the Moorish translator and the imaginary sabio encantador. But it is hard to stop here: we find Grisóstomo, Antonio the goatherd, Marcela, Ginés de Pasamonte (Maese Pedro), Cardenio and Dorotea, the Captive, Vicente de la Rosa, the goatherd Eugenio, Avellaneda, the son of the Caballero del Verde Gabán, the crafty Basilio and his pedantic cousin, Sansón Carrasco, the Duke and Duchess, and so on not to mention the principals, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza themselves. Although not entirely lacking in redeeming qualities, these authors are madmen and misfits, both literary purloiners and literal criminals, sinners and infidels, liars and tricksters, artists in deception and victims of self-deception.18 They dream and scheme, but rarely succeed in converting their desires into reality. They are not only figures of creation, but of destruction and self-destruction. Don Quixote himself suggests quite often the literally dismembering aspect of the creative impulse.
The idea of authorial distance sets Cervantes the master above and aloof from the multitude of artistic forms represented by these
paper sketches the outlines of a much larger study on Cervantes' portraits
of the artist, a book in progress. I have previously dealt with poets in
La Galatea (The Language of Limits and the Limits of Language:
The Crisis of Poetry in La Galatea, MLN, 97 , 254-71)
and in the Entremeses (La poesía y los poetas en los
Entremeses de Cervantes, ACerv, forthcoming).
17 Cf. Ruth El Saffar, Distance and Control.
18 Alban K. Forcione, The Cervantine Figure of the Poet: Impostor or God? Chapter 9 of Cervantes, Aristotle and the Persiles (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), especially p. 306.
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tellers and their tales. In this view, the book taken as a whole scrutinizes
and implicitly judges the partial perspectives embodied in the narratives
which go into its making: the bombastic romances of chivalry, Sancho's inundating
proverbs and artless folktales (plagued by redundancies and
interruptions), the stilted pastoral with its transparent artificiality,
the picaresque (flawed by the limitations of the first-person narrative),
erudite commentaries like Fernando de Herrera's Anotaciones, inflexible
satires like Avellaneda's sequel. Certainly no one would argue with the notion
that the whole of the Quixote is greater than the sum of its parts.
From the dialogue between the Curate and the Canon of Toledo in Part One,
Chapter 47, emerges the vision of an all-inclusive literary genre, that ideal,
total form which would subsume every other. The Curate, of course, purports
to describe not the Quixote itself, but that good book of chivalry,
the prose epic. Cervantistas have found a greater likeness to his
picture of fictional perfection in the Persiles. The notion that
Cervantes' success is an effect of distance seems to postulate a true,
magisterial voice, which the author withholds as the key to his power. To
catch this authentic voice, we must then either posit its nature without
ever having heard it, or identify it arbitrarily with particular passages
in the text. Critics inevitably differ as to which of these belong to the
real Cervantes. Perhaps, then, it is more fruitful to recognize
that the need for a voice pure and secure in its aloofness, untainted by
lesser spirits, is our own. Cervantes does not speak unmediated, but through
many other voices. Although one of his voices may proclaim the intent
to derribar la máquina destos caballerescos libros (p.
25), the requirements of parody make the ridiculer and the ridiculed necessary
bedfellows. The author's own voice is always inextricably bound
up with the languages and personae he exploits.
Cide Hamete provides a particularly instructive case of the difficulties we face when we try to draw a line between Cervantes and his surrogates. As parody of the overworked fictitious-authorship device of the chivalric romances, Cide Hamete is transparently a pretext. Although from Chapter 9 of the 1605 Quixote on, and increasingly in the second part, the author uses him to introduce episodes and to evade theoretical requirements like verisimilitude, the Arab historian seems to be present only when mentioned. Few studies have actually endeavored to characterize the
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nature of Cide Hamete's voice or the features of his rhetoric.19 If we want to go along with the novelist's ruse of faithful translation faithfully reported, we can technically make nine-tenths of the book Cide Hamete's and declare the Arab the means of the author's absence from his work. If, on the other hand, we recognize that the parentheses which his name sets up are largely phony, we must conclude that the invocation of Cide Hamete does not necessarily transform the voice of the narrator. Mancing suggests that the Arab alters that voice only abruptly and momentarily. When, on the last page of Part Two, we are invited to listen to the Arab's ode to his pen, the voice we hear sends us back to the words of the author's own prologues. First he or is it the pen? reaffirms proprietary authority against el escritor fingido y tordesillesco: Para mí sola [sic] nació don Quijote, y yo para él (p. 1068). Then, sounding in these final lines clear echoes of the first Prologue, he brings the book full circle:
no ha sido otro mi deseo que poner en aborrecimiento de los hombres las fingidas y disparatadas historias de los libros de caballerías, que por las de mi verdadero don Quijote van tropezando, y han de caer del todo, sin duda alguna (p. 1068).
Surely Cervantes does not expect us to be duped. Here he introduces Cide
Hamete, figure and instrument of authorial distance, at that moment
Death when distances and differences collapse, when Miguel de
Cervantes Saavedra, Cide Hamete and Don Quixote collapse into one. If the
Arab chronicler and the text's many other surrogate authors are masks of
Cervantes, it follows that the text's jokes on them, especially as they engage
the idea of authorship, of authorial authority, are jokes on Cervantes as
Américo Castro preferred to call the famous 1605 Prologue an epilogue. As such, it might be taken for a final summation (of Part One at least), repository of the author's intentions, that moment when we might hope to catch the clearest sound of the master's voice. Yet we found in it no image of assurance and control, but a writer worrying about the problem of how to give his work its authority. The entire Prologue has its fun at the expense of the idea of authority. Every category it introduces literary lineage and heredity, freedom, intention and clarity, and so on falls prey to ironic contradiction. The author, although calling himself padrastro to Don Quixote, offers his child as confirmation of the genetic rule like
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father, like son. Painting himself as a rebel against conventions,
he has produced his offspring in a prison. The friend's advice too is
contradictory. First he flippantly commends the trappings of traditional
scholarly authority (Latin marginalia and erudite annotations), then brushes
that aside, affirming that the writer need only stick to imitation, say
what he means: procurar que a la llana, con palabras significantes,
honestas y bien colocadas, salga vuestra oración y período
sonoro y festivo, pintando, en todo lo que alcanzáredes y fuere posible,
vuestra intención (p. 25). Even these last words make the author's
power contingent: en todo lo que alcanzáredes y fuere posible
leaves the proverbial distance between the cup and the lip dangerously
In this Prologue, then, precisely where we are tempted to think ourselves closest to Cervantes, we learn the law of his text: that every sign, even and especially those which appear to make straightforward declarations and those we might most like to embrace, must be read as partial signs. In particular, critical utterances which champion verbal decorum, structural clarity and wholeness (as in the case of Don Quixote's exasperation with Sancho's mannerisms and Maese Pedro's famous advice, Vuelve a tu senda y camina), or authorial omnipotence, must, in a text replete with interruptions, affectations, inconsistencies, be read as problematic rather than programmatic. When Cervantes invokes aesthetic perfection and authorial intention, he does so not in blind belief, but because these are issues which affect his activity as an artist. His self-portraits, caricatured authors and the theoretical pronouncements scattered throughout his works must be considered together, for each by itself is only part of an inquiry into the nature and status of fiction. The critical impulse to reduce the multiple facets to one clear image invariably meets with the text's resistence.20 Within Cervantes' fiction, such reductive postures always offer an easy mark for parody.
recent exception is Howard Mancing's
Cide Hamete Benengeli vs. Miguel
de Cervantes: The Metafictional Dialectic of Don Quijote,
Cervantes, 1 (1981), 63-81.
20 The principal work on Cervantes' theory continues to be E. C. Riley's Cervantes's Theory of the Novel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962). More recent attempts to codify his pronouncements are Helena Percas de Ponseti's Cervantes y su concepto del arte (Madrid: Gredos, 1975); and Anthony Close's Cervantes' Arte Nuevo de Hazer Fábulas Cómicas en este Tiempo, Cervantes, 2 (1982), 3-22.
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At this point it may prove useful to appeal
to the literary theory of Cervantes' day for help in reassembling the puzzle
we have created. It is now well established that Don Quixote's author
experienced the Italian revival of Aristotle's Poetics by way of Alonso
López Pinciano's Philosophia antigua poética
(1596).21 This fictional sixteenth-century
tertulia concerns itself with the most urgent literary questions of
the time: imitation, truth in fiction, verisimilitude and the marvelous,
unity and variety, the characteristics of classical literary genres, the
nature of poetic language, the power of literature. El Pinciano's second
epistle, confirming the Platonic view that makes painting a less powerful
form of art than literature (Los pintores no alborotan tanto los
ánimos de los hombres como los poetas [I, 169]), even contains
the remarkable story of the author's friend Valerio, who was so moved in
the course of reading Amadís de Gaula, that he fell into a
mortal swoon. That anecdote, of more than passing interest to Don
Quixote's creator, alerts us to the possibility that the Philosophia
antigua provided Cervantes not only a theoretical scaffolding, but materials
for his imaginative edifice as well.
Although he brings together Platonic and Aristotelian issues to a greater extent than is often acknowledged, El Pinciano remains a faithful Aristotelian in his concern with the structure of fable. Where literature's essence is the imitation of an action, the theorist's overriding concern becomes the structural logic of that action. The Aristotelian metaphor for the structure of poetry is the human figure; the Philosopher conceives literary perfection in terms of the harmonious proportions and interworkings of the members of the body. Tragedy embodied for him the greatest structural and therefore anatomical perfection. The Poetics concentrate not so much on the attributes of the artist, as on the nature of art. Aristotle describes the anatomy of poetry. The contertulianos of the Philosophia antigua lean very heavily on the analogy of the cuerpo de fábula (II, 15). When one of them, Ugo, suggests that la fábula toda es un vientre o menudo, y que el argumento es aquella tela mantecosa, dicha entresijo, de donde están asidos los intestinos, y que éstos son los episodios, los quales se
Philosophia antigua poética, ed. Alfredo Carballo Picazo (Madrid:
C.S.I.C., 1973), 3 vols. All future references appear in the text. On Cervantes
and El Pinciano, see Forcione, Riley, and the carefully documented study
of Jean Canavaggio, Alonso López Pinciano y la estética
literaria cervantina en el Quijote, ACerv, 7 (1958),
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van enredando con la fábula como los intestinos con la tela
(II, 21), he predictably elicits much mirth. Yet a generally serious dependence
on the anatomical metaphor pervades the work, giving rise to frequent
exaggerations that would in all likelihood have appeared to Cervantes as
convenient springboards to
Beyond this flirtation with humor, the Philosophia antigua as a whole seems to sense that Poetry (meaning Literature) is caught up in a web of contradictions. One of these contradictions implicates the traditional hierarchy of genres. Of course, tragedy, comedy, even the epic as Aristotle described them, did not flourish in sixteenth-century Spain. How was one, then, to adapt the Poetics to the reality of the literary scene? El Pinciano's enthusiasm for Heliodorus sits awkwardly with the clear superiority Aristotle accords to tragedy. Not only does heroic poetry mix voices (that is, the epic poet speaks directly with his own voice as well as indirectly though the voices of his characters) and build its story out of many separate actions; but the author of Theagenes and Cariklea writes in prose. El Pinciano's sensitivity to that dilemma matches a recurring concern with the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in every demand of art. Literature must seek truth, yet prefer lies; it must amaze, yet appear real; it must rouse, yet still the passions; its language must be clear, yet not common; it must entertain, yet teach; its episodes must be organic, yet separable. One requirement turns its complementary opposite into a defect. In the fifth epistle, where the subject of discussion is verisimilitude, Fadrique, marveling at the extent to which theatrical performance hangs on suspension of disbelief, puzzles:
Pregunto si la acción se puede hazer sin estos defectos. Parece que no. Y más pregunto, si bien parecen essos actos, aunque no verisímiles. Paréceme que sí. ¿Qué resta? Que pues no puede ser de otra manera y la acción es deleytosa, la tal fábula no sea condenada, ni el autor tenido en menos. Y como generalmente las faltas suelen estar en los artífices y no en las artes, al contrario, algunas vezes suele estar la obra con alguna imperfección no por falta del poeta, sino de la misma arte; la qual, assí como todas las demás, tiene sus fragilidades y impotencias (II, 73).
Rather than blame the artist for the flaws we find in particular forms or works, his argument concludes, we must recognize fragility and
anatomical metaphors of El Pinciano deserve a study of their own; I devote
to them a chapter of my book on Cervantes' portraits.
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impotence to be inherent in the very nature of art. The author-character nods assent:
Ya lo veo, dixo el Pinciano, que por esto los antiguos hizieron y fingieron sanos y enteros a todos los dioses, excepto a vno que entre ellos era artífice, el qual era coxo. Si, respondió Fadriq[ue], todas las artes son coxas (II, 73-74).
The artífice coxo of the myth
is, of course, Hephaestus or Vulcan, son of Jupiter and Juno. One version
of his story has his parents evict him from heaven because his deformed body
so displeased them. Another has him maimed in the fall when Jupiter, enraged
at his son's intervention in a conjugal dispute on the side of his mother,
hurled him down to earth. Vulcan's love life traces a series of frustrations:
unsuccessful in his suit of Minerva, goddess of Wisdom, he married Venus.
As husband of the goddess of Love and Beauty, fashioner of exquisite, miraculous
warriors' shields, Vulcan appears entangled in a compromising but suggestive
triangle with Venus and Mars.23 Vulcan's
forge and his art, then, figure the power and desire of the cripple, former
suitor of Wisdom, wedded on the one hand to his own deformity and on the
other to Beauty herself. The particular image of art concentrated in the
figure of the crippled artifex enables El Pinciano not to criticize
the failings of a genre, but rather to locate precisely in that flawed genre
the very quintessence of art, with paradox as its paradigm.
The crippled artist brings us back once again to Cervantes' self-portraits and to the surrogate authors who crowd his novel. In the figure of Vulcan the common denominator of the portraits of Cervantes and his others becomes visible: love of beauty wedded to the consciousness of imperfection, even ugliness, deformity, dismemberment; divine creative power counterbalanced by limitation. The manco de Lepanto, it is clear, serves no idle referential purpose nor the author's vanity, but functions semiotically within the same system of signs that includes another maimed artifex, creator and captive of his own feeble armor, that gloriously vulgar Vulcan, Don Quixote de la Mancha. In terms of the literary theory of Cervantes' day, this figure of the artist speaks to the tension between Platonic and Aristotelian
Specifically Spanish sources for the myth of Vulcan include Fernando de Herrera's
Anotaciones, published by Antonio Gallego Morell in Garcilaso de
la Vega y sus comentaristas (Granada, 1966); and Juan Pérez de
Moya, Filosofía secreta, ed. Eduardo Gómez de Baquero
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views of literature, the uneasy sense of poetry's power and its fragility.
Vulcan, after all, is no golden Apollo, but an unsightly craftsman at the
service of principles of order, beauty, strength. He is a compromise in
the myth he is openly compromised, or cuckolded, a contingent authority.
In El Pinciano's sensitivity to the paradoxes of literary representation,
we find a way to deal with the apparent arbitrariness of Cervantes' text,
where theory contradicts theory, and theory contradicts practice. Vulcan's
figure, Pinciano's sign of flawed perfection, makes these inconsistencies
not careless aberrations but part of the very essence of art.
Perhaps it is our own sensitivity in the late twentieth century to these paradoxes of representation which enables us to see Cervantes and El Pinciano in this light. Our concerns in turn create a new danger: that we will set aside the cast-off myths of Cervantes as recreator of the spirit of his people, or Cervantes the crusader, or Cervantes the God-like artist, only to bring out a newly fashioned myth of Cervantes as post-structuralist. It would be a mistake, I believe, to discover exactly mirrored in Cervantes our fascination with the troubled, infinitely deferred itinerary of reference. Truth for Cervantes was not fictional. As Spitzer insists, in his works an immutable truth lies always behind the play of appearances. But that truth is God's truth: nowhere, without mockery, does Cervantes attribute that truth to a human actor.
A final caution needs to be added. I do not suggest in these pages that Cervantes did not actually possess and enjoy the privileges of authorship. His control over his text is an historical fact, although the significance of that fact might be argued, particularly by contemporary theorists of intertextuality. Certainly no one would wish to belittle the achievement of a prodigious work which has withstood centuries of reductive assaults and will surely survive ours. In the end, the self-portraits and autobiographical references only serve to renew the sense of wonder frequent privilege of the reader of Cervantes at the intricate workings of a semiosis which miraculously turns dross into imaginative gold, and then suspends its shining threads in the precarious space between fact and myth.24 Yet it is striking that Cervantes chooses to dramatize the author's relation to his text in figures which do not suggest authority, control,
Jean Canavaggio, La dimensión
autobiográfica . . ., p. 37.
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power, but rather contingency, limitation, even impotence. If he makes visible
the strings of authorial manipulation, he does so not so much glorying in
the power of his art as wrestling with its paradoxes.
In Cervantes' literary cosmos, the authorial deity is a crippled god.
Department of Romance Studies
|Fred Jehle firstname.lastname@example.org||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|