From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
10.2 (1990): 103-04.
Copyright © 1990, The Cervantes Society of America
An intriguing, and at times exasperating, phenomenon for readers of Don Quixote is the question of the correctness of the text. The narrative purports to be a true history and the various narrative voices seem to presuppose a directness of communication, but much within the text would suggest the opposite. Cide Hamete Benengeli, the Arab historian, is a calculatedly suspect guardian of the truth, and his words are mediated by those who translate (and in other ways intrude upon) his manuscript. The opening chapter of Part II of Don Quixote overlooks the ending of Part I. Cervantes' response to criticism of the first part affects the structure of the second, and the Avellaneda sequel leads to a change of strategy at a crucial juncture in the process of composition. Semantic plays and semiotic ploys certainly form part of a master scheme, but it is often difficult to separate the trick from the inconsistency, the deliberate from the unintentional. When, if ever, does Cervantes lose control of his work, and when does he cede authority to competing storytellers? When is a name change or, omission an error, and when is it a commentary on the unstable nature of signs? The ways in which individual readers address these issues offer a key to analysis of the text. Much of the Quixote is overdetermined; one is forced to choose between several options provided within the narrative, or perhaps to seek a reading which would encompass the range of alternatives. This engagement of the reader with the text helps to define the movement and the particular rhetoric of the novel. Because the structure of the text makes only negligible distinctions between editorial and critical considerations between medium and message, so to speak the admirable and ambitious project of R. M. Flores ultimately relates as much to the story as to the history of Don Quixote.
The old-spelling control edition represents one stage in a comprehensive research program, which includes a twelve-volume concordance, an annotated edition of the Quixote restoring Cervantes' orthography and with an introductory volume dealing with the writing of the novel and the setting and printing of the first editions of Parts I and II, and a modernized edition. Like those in search of the first author of Don Quixote's history, and perhaps not unlike Borges' Pierre Ménard, Flores attempts to re-create the text. To the list of authorial figures, mediating factors, and narrative perspectives, one may add the names of Juan de la Cuesta and his compositors. Flores sets for himself the task of delineating the text and, in a sense, of reading between the lines in order to ascertain the contribution of each party. The complexities of the undertaking serve to heighten its significance. At stake is the validity, or the veracity, of the object under scrutiny. Note an example of the type of problems involved: Unfortunately,
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Cervantes's word plays, stylistic craftsmanship, and his endowing specific
characters with their own individual speech mannerisms and word-forms was,
on the whole, unrecognized by the compositors of the first editions, who
altered the orthography of their printer's copy at will and at random and
introduced their own spelling and speech preferences into the text they were
setting. So much so, that at times it is nearly impossible to tell whether
a non-standard form is an authorial reading, a compositorial spelling, or
a typographical error (xxxvi). Paying homage to the published scholarship
of an illustrious group of predecessors, Flores has devoted a major portion
of his career to establishing the text of Don Quixote. This has made
him a uniquely qualified reader and historian of Cervantes' novel. He presents
his judgments, based on years of reviewing early editions, printing practices,
and modern versions of the text, with caution and with great attention to
The control edition of Don Quixote will be of value to all students of the novel and to scholars and critics who can take advantage of the fruits of Flores' labors for their own research. Not only do the results of the endeavor clarify and illuminate aspects of the text, but, through an irony befitting the subject, they seem to replicate the tales of transmission contained in the narrative proper. The archetypal quest theme has an editorial analogue. At the end of the road an end to be approached, approximated, but never reached lies the manuscript written by Cervantes. This effort to (re)establish the text is perhaps the most intimate form of contextualization, and it will facilitate some areas of reading and (justifiably) complicate others. The monumental scope of Flores' project and the meticulous fashion in which he has proceeded merit the strongest praise. The preface and the introductory materials to Volume One should be required reading for every consumer of the Quixote. Students of editing and printing history will find an exemplary model, and those who relish the struggle for authorial control in the novel should be inspired to explore new discursive strata. For a text so richly encoded with what post-structuralism might call deferral devices, Don Quixote is not without obstacles from beyond. In the control edition, Flores confronts the problems and gives the reader a purer rendering of the text. This is an enormous achievement, and the promise of more to come is cause for celebration.
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