From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
5.2 (1985): 169-72.
Copyright © 1985, The Cervantes Society of America
This volume, commissioned by the MLA as the third in its series on Approaches to Teaching Masterpieces of World Literature, is sure to be eagerly welcomed by all who teach Don Quixote. As dictated by the format of the series, Bjornson began by sending out several hundred questionnaires to instructors throughout the United States and Canada in early 1981. Eighty-five responses were received, and fifteen of the respondents were invited to contribute short (8-9 pp.) essays to the book.
Appropriately, the book opens with a detailed survey of the materials used in Quixote classes, as listed in the questionnaires. These include Spanish texts, English translations, anthologies, required and recommended further reaching for students, the instructor's library (reference works, background studies and critical and scholarly approaches) and aids to teaching. The comments on the advantages and drawbacks of the different editions, including even such mundane details as physical appearance and quality of binding, are especially helpful and informative. However, the Del Río Antología general is unfortunately listed in the 1960 Holt edition, which has been out of print for some time. Volume I of the anthology, which contains the Cervantes material, was reissued in 1982 by Editorial Mensaje. Another recommended anthology, Diego Marín's Literatura española, has been out of print for at least five years, and mention should have been made of this fact. The section on Required and Recommended Further Reading for Students is less useful, since Bjornson has chosen to include every book or article listed by any respondent, no matter how questionable its value. Few, I would hope, will be inspired to follow the example of the instructor who assigns William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (for Hitler's dementia) or Abbie Hoffman's Revolution for the Hell of It (for its rejection of accepted standards of behavior). Both in the section on The Instructor's Library and in the bibliography Hayward Keniston's name appears as Kenniston and John Guilbeau's as Gilbeau, while Damián Estades Rodríguez's name is given correctly in the bibliography but appears in the text as Rodríguez. In the section on Teaching Aids, the Spanish actor Fernando Rey is listed as Ray. In fact the entire book could have benefitted significantly from more careful proofreading.
The chapter on Materials is followed
by a brief introduction to the Approaches section. This introduction
also summarizes much of the material contained in the questionnaires, this
time concerning goals and teaching methods. The enormous variety of approaches
used many of them novel and ingenious makes for fascinating reading,
but again one wonders whether there was really any point in including some
of the more eccentric ones, such as the instructor who dressed as a
shepherdess for the pastoral lecture, as Dulcinea, and as the Duchess
The fifteen essays are divided into four categories: General Considerations, Critical Approaches, Background Materials and Teaching Non-majors. Obviously, it would be impossible to avoid some overlapping (e.g., an instructor writing on teaching nonmajors might adopt a particular critical approach or want to suggest some background materials). Nevertheless, Howard Mancing's essay seems out of place in the General Considerations section; while the other two contributors to that section write on a broad theoretical plane, Mancing offers a series of very detailed and specific suggestions about how to teach a class in Don Quixote. Likewise, Edward Friedman's essay is inappropriately placed in the section on critical approaches, since what he calls multiperspectivism is really not so much an interpretive stance as a program for incorporating extensive and well chosen background material in a course on Don Quixote.
The essays included in the book are as follows: John J. Allen, Coping with Don Quixote; Ruth El Saffar, Coughing in Ink and Literary Coffins; Howard Mancing, Three Approaches to Don Quixote; Daniel Eisenberg, Teaching Don Quixote as a Funny Book; Ulrich Wicks, Metafiction in Don Quixote: What Is the Author Up To?; Peter Dunn, Getting Started: Don Quixote and the Reader's Response; Edward H. Friedman, Don Quixote and the Act of Reading: A Multiperspectivist Approach; Donald W. Bleznick, An Archetypal Approach to Don Quixote; Carroll B. Johnson, Psychoanalysis and Don Quixote; Elias L. Rivers, Voices and Texts in Don Quixote; Norma L. Hutman, Don Quixote: Archetypal Baroque Man; Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce, Background Material on Don Quixote; Morgan Desmond, Quixotiz y Pancino: Don Quixote at an Ag and Tech; James Y. Dayananda, Teaching Don Quixote as the Story of One's Own Life; and Lewis J. Hutton, Guiding Student Encounters with the Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha. The authors run the gamut from eminent Cervantes scholars to people who have never before published an article on Don Quixote, and the quality of the essays varies just as widely, though I don't mean to imply that the best articles are necessarily those by the eminent scholars. Predictably, almost all the writers who are Hispanists argue for some variation on the hard approach to Don Quixote, which in the past few years has become the overwhelming mainstream opinion among Cervantes specialists, while all three contributors to the section on Teaching Non-majors cling tenaciously to the Romantic interpretation. The fifteen essays in this book contradict each other at every turn, so much so that at times it's hard to believe that they are all dealing with the same book and
the same literary character. The fundamental disagreement has to do with
one's reason for studying or teaching Don Quixote. On this subject,
although there are many nuances, the essayists in this volume break down
into two opposing camps, one of which considers the reading of Don
Quixote an end in itself, while the other argues that a knowledge of
the novel will help student to understand themselves and others better, to
become better human beings, to deal more appropriately with reality, etc.
In other words, one school of thought focuses on the artistic achievement
of the novel, while the other is more interested in the wisdom and human
truth it contains. Another hotly contested issue is the relative importance
of background materials vis-à-vis the text of the novel itself. Some
(Avalle-Arce, among others) are willing to sacrifice a complete reading of
the novel in order to read other works that will help the students understand
it properly. Others (such as Eisenberg) not only do not assign background
readings but even actively discourage their students from reading anything
about Don Quixote. Closely related to this issue is the controversy
over whether it is more important for students to understand Don Quixote
in the context of 17th-century Spanish literature and culture (some would
say, as Cervantes meant it to be understood) or to see its relevance and
meaning for 20th-century readers. These opposing viewpoints are aptly illustrated
by the fact that Morgan Desmond is deeply troubled by his students' anachronistic
references to Don Quixote as staying at a motel (p. 317), while
Daniel Eisenberg compares the inns in Don Quixote to truck stops (p.
66) in order to help his students appreciate the humor.
Every reader who cares about Don Quixote is sure to be delighted by some of these essays and infuriated by others. Space does not permit me to comment in detail on each of the essays, but there are two assertions that I simply cannot leave unchallenged. Donald Bleznick states that the analysis I use in the classroom . . . encompasses the totality of the life of Alonso Quixano, the real name of Cervantes' protagonist (p. 97). I would argue that Cervantes' protagonist has no life outside the pages of the novel in which he appears. And who is to say that Alonso Quixano is his real name? Although this is the name by which he is called in the last chapter if the 1615 novel, his name appears variously in the earlier volume as Quixada, Quesada and Quexana, and he claims to be a descendant, por línea recta de varón, of Gutierre Quixada. As an example of the significance of the Muslim presence in Spain, which Lewis Hutton argues that a student must understand in order to appreciate certain episodes in Don Quixote, Hutton cites the existence of two verbs for to be in Spanish, which derive from different Latin and Arabic roots and allow for the expression of a distinction that does not exist in English (p. 156). The fact is that both of the verbs for to be in Spanish, ser and estar, are of Latin origin.
It would have saved me a great deal of time and effort if I had had this book when I first began teaching Don Quixote fifteen years ago, and I am sure that when I teach it again next year, my course will be much improved by the ideas I have encountered in this book. Although many of the
suggestions of classroom strategies and techniques are of great value, the book's chief virtue is that it is sure to stimulate all who teach Don Quixote to give further thought to what they do in the classroom and why. It is reasonable to hope that such reflection will lead almost inevitably to better teaching.
||Prepared with the help of Myrna Douglas||
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