From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
16.2 (1996): 114-18.
Copyright © 1996, The Cervantes Society of America
The richness and depth of Cervantine dialogue,
claims Alberto Rodríguez, have never been matched, and few studies
have attempted to explain the processes which underlie conversation in Don
Quixote. To neglect the importance of dialogue is to fail to understand
the work, for Don Quixote can be envisioned as a continuous
dialogue between two people (129).1
Rodríguez proposes that the richness and depth of
subdialogue distinguishes Cervantine conversations. The purpose
of his book is to explore various aspects of dialogue in Don
The book is broken into an introduction, three chapters each of which treats one of the sections of the subtitle and a conclusion. Rodríguez finds inspiration in Luis Andrés Murillo's idea that the art of dialogue in Don Quixote is totally new. Cervantes, of course, had Greco-Roman predecessors who had cultivated the art of dialogue, e.g., Plato, Cicero, and Saint Augustine. Rodríguez explains that in addition to the models of antiquity, conversations in El diálogo de la lengua, in De los nombres de Cristo, in the third chapter of Lazarillo de Tormes, and in La Celestina also set the stage for dialogue in Don Quixote. None of these precursors, however, matches Cervantine dialogue in its complexity. Cervantes, Rodríguez will show, revolutionizes the art of dialogue.
Cervantine dialogue, Rodríguez explains, distinguishes itself through its profundity and reflexivity. Characters often either (1) pause to think, after which their contributions to conversations demonstrate their meditations, (2) think as they simultaneously speak, or (3) reveal subconscious reflections through their speech. Rodríguez states, we can denominate the lucubrations of a person in full dialogue subdialogue (2). It is not clear, however, that Rodríguez maintains this definition of subdialogue throughout the book. In fact, Rodríguez continues the introduction by explaining that Cervantes demonstrates simultaneity of thought and speech in three major ways: first, through the literal meaning of words;
Translations of Rodríguez are mine; of Cervantes,
Don Quixote, trans. John Ormsby, eds. Joseph R. Jones and Kenneth
Douglas (New York: Norton, 1981). Rodríguez uses an English translation
second, through a hidden or double meaning of the words, a meaning which
often reveals to the reader but not the listener the underlying motives of
the speaker; and third, manipulation of one character by another through
the use of words. Of these, he states, the second element is the subdialogic.
In his examples, however, he will demonstrate that all three levels are
subdialogic. After reading the entire book, one may come to the conclusion
that for Rodríguez, subdialogue represents the thoughts,
motivations, emotions even the personality within a character
that determine the character's speech. In fact, Rodríguez's study
seems to expose an ulterior thesis of its own: Cervantes's characters, especially
Don Quixote and Sancho, are lifelike, real, complete.
In Chapter 1, Competencia y cortesía, Rodríguez proposes that subdialogue in Don Quixote is enhanced by the characters' conflicting desires to be at once competitive and courteous. The desire to dominate in conversation reveals the inner personalities of the characters. Equally, manifestations of courtesy rarely emerge without some hidden desire for personal gain or satisfaction. Thus, conversations that include an element of competition for control or of feigned deference reflect the inner workings of the character's intentions. Rodríguez will label this subdialogue, which seems appropriate, but does not always appear to conform to his original definition.
Rodríguez explains that one way that characters compete for domination in dialogue is by playing with double meanings of words. To illustrate this competition Rodríguez refers us to Part 1, Chapter 43 (a typographical error places the example in Chapter 44): when Don Quixote insists that an inn is a castle and that it has within it people who have had the scepter in the hand and the crown on the head (24), one horseman quickly appropriates Don Quixote's words and turns them around to use them against him in a completely new way, It would be better if it were the other way . . . the scepter on the head and the crown in the hand (25). Rodríguez explains that this rapid response demonstrates that the horseman has a quick mind and is able to think and speak simultaneously. Characters also seek to dominate, Rodríguez suggests, by taking over the conversation to the point where there is monologue in the dialogue and one interlocutor imposes his view on the other. Rodríguez cites Don Quixote's interchange with the galley slaves as an example. Don Quixote's preconceptions of his role as a champion of the oppressed in conjunction with the prisoners' double talk as to the true nature of their crimes prevents him from hearing and causes him to launch into sermon-like monologue in which the other interlocutors lose all voice. Rodríguez maintains that this exemplifies subdialogue, not because the speaker thinks while he speaks (as the original definition requires), but rather because he reveals an idée fixe (33).
In order to set the stage for a discussion about courtesy, Rodríguez explains the conventions that inform traditional symposiums. In a Renaissance symposium, all participants are equal. The head of the table is reserved for the guest of honor, but no other special favors are performed. Once the table companions are seated, social differences are left behind. Pleasant, engaging conversation ensues. Rodríguez avows that the use of courteous manners and the profundity of the speakers are fundamental characteristics of some of the
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conversations of Don Quixote (40), especially those that occur in the dining room of the ducal palace. He states, What I have hoped to demonstrate is that the Cervantine art of conversation manifests refinement, elegance, and moderation, at the same time that it profiles an interior level in the character (41). Once again, Rodríguez does not insist that subdialogue is manifested through simultaneity of speech and thought; rather, through the personality and background of the characters. One of his examples, however, seems flawed. Rodríguez suggests that when Sancho relates the story about the laborer and the noble who argued over who should sit at the head of the table, Sancho highlights the equality of the interlocutors (44). However, as one may recall, the point of Sancho's story seems to be that it made no difference if the laborer sat at the head of the table; the real head was the noble, regardless of where either of them sat. Don Quixote seems to understand Sancho's intentions: he blushes and angers. It appears doubtful that Don Quixote could have imagined that Sancho intended to strengthen his master's position of equality with the Duke. Subdialogue does indeed seem to play an important role in this exchange, but perhaps Sancho's intention is to force Don Quixote to face reality or to embarrass him. Maybe Sancho just wants to make sure he gets a chance to talk, or perhaps he has no hidden agenda at all and is just proceeding without thinking as he often seems prone to do. There is also a chance that the characters are controlled by an implied author, by the narrator, by the translator, by the scribe, or by one of the various authors within the text. Perhaps what appears to be character subdialogue is a revelation of what may be the implied author's intention: to expose the artificiality of the conventions of the symposium. Chapter 1 concludes with a summary of the chapter's main points:
Podemos escuchar las palabras en boca de los personajes, y, a la vez, palpamos la reflexión que surge desde dentro del ser. El personaje nos enseña una dimensión íntima que ha dilatado la anchura del diálogo . . . . Lo más asombroso de todo esto es que la divergencia es casi siempre el resultado de un acto consciente del personaje . . . . El subdiálogo se dirige hacia el interior, mostrando diversos niveles de reflexión, hasta llegar, en ciertas ocasiones, a plantear diferencias entre lo que se ha declarado y lo que se ha pensado (61).
What is slightly disturbing about this conclusion is the apparent lack of
recognition of the role of the narrator, or of a possible implied author.
Although Rodríguez provides several quotations from the narrator that
describe the emotions or thoughts of individual characters, he nevertheless
seems to equate these comments to subdialogue and to disregard the fact that
these attitudes are exposed not through dialogue, but rather, through narratorial
Chapter 2, La memoria en los diálogos del Quixote, focuses on the concepts of reminiscence, memory, and anacrisis. The chapter develops the idea that conversations are often inspired by and organized around things remembered, and that these memories reveal the inner workings of the characters. The sections on reminiscence and memory are fairly straightforward. I am slightly perplexed, however, with the presentation of anacrisis. Rodríguez cites Bakhtin to
define anacrisis: a means for eliciting and provoking the words
of one's interlocutor, forcing him to express the opinion and express it
thoroughly. Socrates was a great master of the anacrisis (74). A key
part of the definition states that [a]nacrisis is the provocation of
the word by the word (74). With one exception, however, Rodríguez's
examples seem not to reflect the rigors of Socratic questioning; they appear
to be more demonstrative of anamnesis, the recollection of ideas,
people, or events. For example, Rodríguez explains that anacrisis
occurs when Andrés informs Don Quixote of the beating he received
after Don Quixote rescued him from his master. Rodríguez
states that the conversation highlights Don Quixote's mistaken understanding.
The conversation, does, of course, underscore Don Quixote's flawed vision;
Andrés, however, does not, as Bakhtin would require, coax Don Quixote
into defining his own error. Don Quixote remains convinced that his worldview
is correct. In fact, he tells Sancho to saddle up his horse so he can go
punish Andrés's master. Therefore, the flaw in Don Quixote's vision
seems not to be highlighted by the masterful questioning abilities of
Andrés, but rather by some underlying influences which Rodríguez
has not discussed (perhaps the implied author). In his examples, Rodríguez
changes the meaning of anacrisis from a noun that reflects active action
to one that reflects passive action; he changes it from an act of forcing
others through dialogue to recognize the error of their preconceptions to
the mere recall of a past memory which reveals the inner thoughts of the
In the final chapter, El diálogo asimétrico y el oyente, Rodríguez sets out to describe the role of the listener in conversation. Asymmetric dialogue is lopsided conversation, exchanges in which one or more of the people present are silent for a period of time, usually by choice or out of respect for the speaker, but sometimes by force. Silences, Rodríguez asserts, are often indicators of a character's inner being (which, therefore, according to his adapted definition, are subdialogic). He cites among his examples the enormous self-control demonstrated by Don Quixote as he calmly listened to the priest denigrate romances of chivalry toward the end of Part II. This silence and the controlled conversation that followed indicate the great self-control that Don Quixote has shown, for he has not allowed himself to be carried away by the natural impulse to respond quickly to the speaker who contradicts his most intimate beliefs (115). Rodríguez concludes his study with a helpful summary of each chapter. He then states the dual purpose of the book: the proposed thesis, Cervantes founds himself on the almost perfect simultaneity of thought and speech, revealing subdialogic levels that enrich conversation (133); and the implied intent, the dialogue that Cervantes presents in his works always points toward the interior of the character, toward the depths of the character's conscience (133).
Although some of the conclusions drawn may not seem to follow the definitions proposed, and certain examples do not seem consistent with the theories suggested, La conversación en el Quixote is a helpful introduction to conversation and dialogue in Don Quixote. The bibliographic entries and explanatory notes, for example, demonstrate Rodríguez's own dialogue with a vast body of previous criticism. Useful explanations of terms like symposium and courtesy help to frame Cervantine dialogue within a Renaissance context. At the same
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time a personal, non-pedantic style encourages readers to engage and challenge Rodríguez's own ideas, thus invigorating current critical dialogue surrounding Cervantine conversations. Indeed, Rodríguez's analysis allows the reader to focus more clearly on the richness and complexity of dialogue in Don Quixote.
|Eric J. Kartchner|
||Prepared with the help of Sue Dirrim||
|Fred Jehle firstname.lastname@example.org||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|