From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
5.1 (1985): 3-17.
Copyright © 1985, The Cervantes Society of America
||CARROLL B. JOHNSON|
For Stephen Gilman
N Les mots et les choses Michel Foucault suggests that Don Quijote is the first modern work of Western literature because it reflects the new, post-Renaissance order of the relationship between words and things. Foucault observes that this relationship had traditionally been rooted in the concept of similitude, and indeed Fray Luis de León, a competent professional linguist of the sixteenth century, insists on the idea of a necessary, organic relationship of similitude between the name and the object named.
Si el nombre . . . sustituye por lo nombrado . . . , mucho conviene que en el sonido, en la figura o verdaderamente en la origen y significación de aquello de donde nace, se avecine y asemeje a cuyo es . . . . Esta semejanza y conformidad se atiende en tres cosas: en la figura, en el sonido, y señaladamente en la origen de su derivación y significación.1
In the Quijote, on the other hand, les ressemblances et les signes ont dénoué leur vieille entente; les similitudes déçoivent, tournent à la vision et au délire; les choses demeurent obstinément dans leur identité ironique: elles ne sont plus ce qu'elles sont; les mots errent à l'adventure, sans contenu, sans ressemblance pour les remplir; ils ne marquent plus les choses.2 Les mots et les choses is in fact built on the notion that language is related not so much to things as to mental
Luis de León, De los nombres de Cristo, ed. F. de Onís
(Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1956), 1: 33-34.
2 Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses (Paris: Gillimard, 1966), p. 61.
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processes. This view the polar opposite of what we observed in Fr.
Luis de León is present in embryonic form in the Examen de
ingenios of Juan Huarte de San Juan (1575 and 1594), developed more
explicitly in the Port-Royal grammar of 1660, and is perhaps most succinctly
articulated by Shelley in the Defence of Poetry (1821): For
language is arbitrarily produced by the imagination, and has relation to
thoughts alone.3 Language exists, and
meaning takes place in our heads. Because Don Quijote's head is not like
yours and mine, his encounters with things dramatize this principle with
great vigor and clarity, and this in turn is how he came to Foucault's
Whether or not one can accept all his conclusions, Foucault's meditations on the Quijote encourage us to rethink and reformulate the terms in which we are accustomed to consider some fundamental aspects of the novel. If there is no longer any necessary, organic relationship of signifier and signified, how are we to treat the series of mistaken identity adventures that form the backbone of Part I? We are accustomed to think in terms of objects with essences that are either known correctly or, as in Don Quijote's case, mistaken. By considering the Quijote in general in terms of signifiers, Foucault invites us to ponder the mistaken identity adventures themselves not metaphysically, but semiotically. The question: What is this (windmill or giant)? no longer has any relevance, and is replaced by: What does this mean?
Changing the critical questions from essences to meaning, from metaphysics to semiotics, has the advantage of positing a necessary context and thereby giving us more things to study. A signifier means whatever it means only in relation to somebody, as we have just seen. Perhaps more importantly, a signifier means whatever it means only in relation to some code. This in turn generates a corollary, namely that communication is possible only when all the apprehenders of a given signifier refer it to the same code. Consider the word burro, for example, in Italian and then in Spanish. The individual's possession of a given code is not inborn, but is acquired culturally. The acquisition of one's native language is the most obvious example of this process, but there are others. Indeed, every
B. Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (1821), in B. R. McElderry, Jr. (ed.),
Shelley's Critical Prose (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1967),
p. 8. For a discussion of the historical development of the notion of language
as mental construct, see Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind (New York:
Harcourt, 1968), pp. 1-23.
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aspect of human understanding depends on our knowing the code.
What does it mean, for example, to drive a 1955 Chevrolet in Beverly Hills,
California, in 1965, and what does it mean to drive the same car in Paris'
16th arrondissement in the same year? In Paris the Chevy means
a man of substance who puts on airs, while in Beverly Hills it
means somebody's maid. These perceptions are the result of prior
internalization of much information concerning socio-economic structures
in two societies, specific knowledge of products, import duties and the like,
all subsumable under the rubric of intertextuality. This kind
of intertextuality was systematically exploited in fiction by Ian Fleming,
who surrounded Bond not with objects, but with brand-names as signifier
his Rolex, his Aston-Martin, etc. To recapitulate, meaning does not
exist in a vacuum, nor does it inhere in the signifier. It is rather always
subject to the vagaries of time and space, and these are always articulated
into specific although not necessarily explicit codes, which
codes are internalized in the mental apparatus of the men who possess them.
In Don Quijote's first sally he is alone with his thoughts as he comes into contact with the signifiers the world offers. He is described riding along and looking around por ver si descubría algún castillo o alguna majada de pastores where he might spend the night. It is worth noticing that the word castillo refers to a concrete literary genre, the chivalric, while the other possibility, the majada, is associated with pastoral literature. In other words, Don Quijote's vision of the world as reflected in this apparently trivial remark, is organized and controlled by pre-existing literature. As Américo Castro observed, he has eliminated such possibilities as venta or aldea.4 He has in semiotic terms effected an unconsciously willed substitution of one code the literary for another the prosaic, or as Foucault describes it, he reads reality in such a way as to make the libros de caballerías true. He systematically refers each signifier to the code of chivalry: that large building is the castle, the maidens taking their ease by the portal are high-born ladies, his arrival is announced by music, the man in charge is the castellan and so forth. Our enjoyment of this episode is derived from the fact that we know Don Quijote is applying the wrong code in his interpretation of the signifiers. Our knowledge is derived from our privileged relationship with the narrator, who identifies himself with us and estranges Don
Américo Castro, La palabra escrita y el Quijote,
(1947), in his Hacia Cervantes, 3rd ed. (Madrid: Taurus,
1967), p. 368.
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Quijote from us. In this context he gives us the correct code the
prosaic to be applied to these signifiers: the large building is an
inn, the girls are prostitutes, the musician is a swineherd, the man in charge
is the innkeeper. We believe the narrator in part because we participate
in certain narrative assumptions and conventions, and in part because of
some specific things he tells us about Don Quijote. Our hero's first sally,
in short, is characterized by the presence of two codes his chivalric
one and the narrator's prosaic one applied to the same signifiers,
and our enjoyment is a function of our knowledge that Don Quijote is using
the wrong one.5 Because the narrator cannot,
and the other characters choose not to reveal this discrepancy to Don Quijote,
he remains oblivious to it and derives real satisfaction from exploits which
for him are heroic the liberation of Andrés in I, 4, for
example and for us are comical.
In I, 8, following the introduction of Sancho Panza, the situation becomes more complex. Once again, there are two codes present and our enjoyment depends on the disparity between them, but here they are both present and in direct confrontation within the text. Don Quijote has internalized the chivalric code, which in turn is based upon the reading of books and acts of the imagination, including an imaginative projection of the self into the past. Sancho's prosaic code, on the other hand, results from his internalization of his experience of life in the country, the absence of books, and living in the present. These two codes are applied to the same signifier, or more properly the signifier is referred to two different codes by two different apprehenders, and two different meanings are generated. Don Quijote reads giants, Sancho windmills. We readers know which code is the appropriate one not because of any particular affinity with Sancho, but because the narrator has trained us. The extent of our dependence on him will become apparent in subsequent episodes. In this one Cervantes has demonstrated that meaning is a function of the particular code to which each particular individual can refer a given signifier, and that these codes can, indeed, must, vary from individual to individual.
This is the situation deciphered by Roland Barthes in his discussion of Balzac's Sarrasine. In that work the protagonist
5 J. J.
Allen calls attention in particular to the simultaneous existence of the
signifiers sounding horn, castellano,
truchuela, and playing pipes in two contexts:
the chivalric and the real. These contexts are readily assimilable
to our notion of codes. See Don Quixote, Hero or Fool? II (Gainesville:
University Presses of Florida, 1979), p. 53.
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(Sarrasine) is in love with a castrato (la Zambinella) whom he believes
to be a woman, a soprano. At a party, a musician tells Sarrasine he need
fear no rival. Vous ne risquez pas de rival, dit
le ténor: 1) parce que vous êtes aimé (entend Sarrasine),
2) parce que vous courtisez un castrat (entendent ses complices et
peut-être déjà le lecteur). Selon la première
écoute, il y a leurre; selon la seconde, dévoilement. La tresse
des deux écoutes forme un équivoque. L'équivoque est
bien issue, en effet, de deux voix, reçues à égalité;
il y a interférence de deux lignes de destination. Autrement dit,
la double entente (bien nommée), fondement du jeu de mots,
ne peut s'analyser en simples termes de signification (deux signifiés
pour un signifiant); il y faut la distinction de deux
Barthes appears to have discovered what students of the Quijote, nurtured on the writings of Ortega and Castro, are accustomed to call perspectivism and to regard as a hallmark of Cervantes' conception of life and its artistic recreation: the inescapable fact that each individual necessarily confronts life from a unique vantage point, peculiar to himself. Nevertheless, restating the question in semiotic terms constitutes an advance in Quijote studies. It allows us to chart and to account for Don Quijote's and Sancho's varying reactions to the same signifier with greater precision than heretofore possible. We know now how it is that Don Quijote can read giants and Sancho windmills in the same text. Also, and perhaps more importantly, we are forced to the conclusion that Cervantes himself was thinking not in terms of appearance and essence, but of signification and perspective.7
I, 19 offers something different. Here the narrator chooses not to supply the name of the code to which the signifier should be referred,
Barthes, S/Z (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970), pp. 150-51.
7 Indeed, Ortega comes perilously close to elucidating Cervantes' text in semiotic terms himself. Caminando . . . con don Quijote y Sancho, venimos a la comprensión de que las cosas tienen dos vertientes. Es una el 'sentido' de las cosas, su significación, lo que son cuando se las interpreta. Es ontra la materialidad de las cosas, su positiva sustancia, lo que las constituye antes y por encima de toda interpretación . . . . Estos molinos tienen un sentido: como sentido estos molinos son gigantes. Meditaciones del Quijote, Colección Austral (Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1964), p. 131. Following Ortega's teaching, Julián Marías criticizes any attempt to define the task of philosophy as a progressive stripping away of layers of appearance until some naked truth is revealed. Rather, he affirms, reality is something that makes me make interpretations. In S. R. Hopper and D. L. Miller (eds.), Interpretation: The Poetry of Meaning (New York: Harcourt, 1967), p. 48.
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preferring instead to report what Don Quijote and Sancho see. Vieron
que por el mesmo camino que iban venían hacia ellos gran multitud
de lumbres, que no parecían sino estrellas que se movían,
and de allí a muy poco descubrieron hasta veinte encamisados,
todos a caballo, con sus hachas encendidas en las manos, detrás de
las cuales venía una litera cubierta de luto, a la cual seguían
ostros seis de a caballo, enlutados hasta los pies de las mulas
. . . . Iban los encamisados murmurando entre sí, con
una voz muy baja y compasiva. We are thrown into the same confusion
as Don Quijote and Sancho, who both react with fear and trembling. Suddenly
it is not so easy for us to be superior to Don Quijote, and we are forced
to experience his madness from a new and more sympathetic perspective. We
as readers of the twentieth century can and must participate in the author's
manipulation of us through the semiotic process his willful refusal
to provide us with the right code and another dimension of his creation
is thereby revealed to us. But what can we say of the reader of 1605, and
of Don Quijote and Sancho themselves, as objects of the same manipulation?
They are all presumed, by virtue of their membership in the society, to be
in possession of a socio-ideological code whose name might be something like
our religion triumphant, and one of whose statutes would be the
collective manifestation of faith in the form of religious processions. Yet
here, within the text, we have the spectacle of two Spanish Catholics, living
in the palmiest days of the Counter Reformation, who cannot recognize a religious
procession when one is passing in front of them, because they have been deprived
of the name of the code to which it should be referred as a signifier. The
reader of 1605 is, of course, similarly perplexed, for the same reason. Here
Cervantes is using the semiotic process in order to make a satirical point
of Erasmian inspiration about the value and significance of processions as
a manifestation of religious faith. Not only does Don Quijote fail to refer
the signifier before him to the appropriate code, he makes the most inappropriate
referral possible. For him the encamisados are demons from Hell, the
enemy it is the Christian knight's sworn duty to destroy: que propiamente
semejábades cosa mala y del otro mundo; y así, yo no pude dejar
de cumplir con mi obligación acometiéndoos, y os acometiera
aunque verdaderamente supiera que érades los mismos satanases del
infierno, que por tales os juzgué y tuve siempre.
The semiotic questions arising out of Don Quijote's encounter with an anonymous barber on a rainy day in I, 21 are more complex,
|5 (1985)||Semiotics and Character in Don Quijote, I||9|
although the episode begins with a deceptively familiar similarity to what
we have already observed, for example, in I, 8. When the signifier a
shiny object on a man's head comes into view, Don Quijote immediately
refers it to the chivalric code and identifies it as the magical yelmo
de Mambrino from the Italian epic tradition. We readers have long since
been trained by the narrator to reject the chivalric code, so none of us
is tempted to accompany Don Quijote, but we still lack the code that would
enable us to make sense of this signifier. At this point the narrator divulges
not only the appropriate code, but also the particular circumstances that
govern its applicability to this case: the barber, the basin, the new hat,
the rain, the basin used to keep the rain off the new hat. Sancho likewise
names the signifier bacía as soon as he touches it.
But all is not so simple. For one thing, the barber himself had changed the meaning of the object in question from something to catch whiskers and lather, to headgear by inverting it and putting it on his head when the rain began to fall. So the object itself begins to occupy a kind of limbo between two codes or, its applicability as a signifier in more than one code begins to exist as a reality before Don Quijote and Sancho ever come into contact with it. It can still be referred to the prosaic code as basin, but it can also be, has already been, referred to a different aspect of the same code as headgear by the barber's action. From headgearto magical headgear and the chivalric code is but a short step. This ambiguity in the code itself constitutes the first difficulty we experience in attempting to pass from the signifier to the signified.
Another difficulty springs from the fact that this episode offers not only a signifier that hovers between two codes, but multiple signifiers as well. As every reader recalls, after the barber flees and abandons his equipment, Don Quijote claims the for-him yelmo, while Sancho covets and then lays claim to the albarda from the barber's mule. Now in order for him to actually gain possession of this object, it must be inserted as a signifier into the code of chivalry, so that Don Quijote can authorize him to take it. That is, if the operative code is the prosaic one, the objects and the characters' actions mean the following: A Barber abandons his basin and his mule after being attacked by a madman. The madman steals his basin, and his accomplice steals the packsaddle off the mule. Repositioned within the code of chivalry the same objects and events acquire a different meaning: Don Quijote defeats a knight wearing the yelmo de Mambrino and drives him from the field. He claims the yelmo as the
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spoils of battle, and his squire claims the jaez off the vanquished
knight's horse as his share of the spoils. The application of the prosaic
code yields the general meaning insane and criminal, while the
chivalric code creates the meaning noble and legitimate. In this
context, and only in this context, the theft of the albarda can be
justified, even though it is not strictly legal even according to the rules
of chivalry, by a mini-parody of the rules of casuistry. You may take
the horse's trappings, Don Quijote tells Sancho, si es que tienes
dellos necesidad extrema.
In semiotic terms, this episode marks an important change from what we have hitherto observed. Instead of the antagonism between the narrator's prosaic and Don Quijote's chivalric code (I, 2), or that between Sancho's prosaic and Don Quijote's chivalric codes dramatized in the fiction itself (I, 8), or the temporary absence of any code (I, 19), we have something new. Sancho's desire for the albarda and the operations he finds necessary in order to gain possession of it have had the effect of establishing the chivalric code as the operative one both for himself and Don Quijote in this episode. The object that came off the animal's back means jaez, and the one that came off the man's head means yelmo. With this episode is established the conditio sine qua non for communication to occur. All the participants are referring all the signifiers to the same code.
When we move to I, 44, the barber who formerly owned the objects in question appears unexpectedly at Juan Palomeque's inn, bringing with him the prosaic code in which the disputed objects mean not yelmo and jaez, but bacía and albarda. The possibility for communication, established in I, 21, is here undone. Two codes once again compete for the allegiance of those present. An apparently irreconcilable dialectic is called into being, which Sancho, who has vacillated between his own habitual prosaic and his master's chivalric codes, synthesizes finally in a master stroke of linguistic invention
The barber: Me quitaron una bacía de azófar neuva . . . , que era señora de un escudo.
Don Quijote: ¡Porque vean Vuestras Mercedes . . . el error en que está este buen escudero, pues llama bacía lo que fue, es y será yelmo de Mambrino, el cual se le quité yo en buena guerra, y me hice señor dél en legítima y lícita posesión!
Sancho: . . . si no fuera por este baciyelmo, no lo pasara entonces muy bien . . . .
|5 (1985)||Semiotics and Character in Don Quijote, I||11|
Bacía and yelmo coalesce into baciyelmo, aporia
is overcome, synthesis is achieved, irroncilables are reconciled. But only
for a moment, for in the next chapter, Don Fernando submits the question
to the democratic process, whereby it is discovered that the prevailing code
is the chivalric one, within which the objects mean yelmo and
jaez. Pero el que más se desesperaba era el barbero,
cuya bacía allí delante de sus ojos se le había vuelto
en yelmo de Mambrino, y cuya albarda pensaba sin duda alguna que se le iba
de volver en jaez rico de caballo (I, 45). The clitic pronoun le
is of crucial importance in this sentence, for it indicates that what changes
is not the object, but the relation between the object and its beholder.
We are not dealing in this text with a problem of metaphysics but, as always,
with a problem of semiotics: What does this signifier mean, to whom, in relation
to what code?
The foregoing analysis is internally consistent, reasonably cogent and, as we remarked earlier, it allows us to explore the traditional quixotic themes of truth and the nature of reality with unprecedented precision. In this last adventure, however, we have crossed some kind of a fontier. To discover that meaning does not inhere in a signifier but is rather a function of the particular code in relation to which the signifier is considered, is well and good. But to submit the choice of code to the whim of some good-time Charlies who seize the opportunity for a few laughs, and to discover thereby that the code is not imposed by necessity, but is rather arbitrary and capricious, surely this is too much. D. Fernando's excursion into democracy has the effect of trivializing this particular semiotic controversy and of calling the entire semiotic enterprise into question. What this episode is about, in fact, is the failure of semiotics as a method of analysis, of getting at the truth.
When semiotics fails, modern scholarship has led us to deconstruction, based on the realization that there is in fact no referentiality, no necessary relation between signifier and signified, only what Derrida calls l'affirmation d'un monde de signes sans faute, sans vérité, sans origine, offert à une interprétation active.8 The fact that Derrida's formulation can be used to sum up the results of the controversy in I, 45 the last word on the question suggests that not only was Cervantes thinking semiotically, as we discovered earlier, but that he had worked out the possibilities of semiotics, the
by J. Hillis Miller in Deconstructing the Deconstructors,
Diacritics, 5:2 (Summer 1975), 30.
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entire question of referentiality and carried it to its logical conclusion:
There is nothing out there but a world of signs, offered to active
interpretation. We are led to conclude further that not only had he
discovered the paradox of the irreconcilable dialectic and mutual deconstruction
of its members, he consciously exploits his discovery by making it a theme
of his work. He offers a series of progressively more complex mistaken identity
adventures which culminates in the mock synthesis embodied in the word
baciyelmo. This is followed immediately by a crushing demonstration
of the impossibility of synthesis and the total arbitrariness of meaning
itself. Cervantes' text is not merely susceptible to analysis in semiotic
terms; it is about semiotics and the failure of semiotics.
Echoing Sigmund Freud, J. Hillis Miller observes that, the great works of literature are likely to be ahead of their critics. They are there already.9 Cervantes is there already, along with Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare. But we knew that already. Cervantes' modernity has already been documented from a number of perspectives by a number of writers, so that identifying him as the Jules Verne of semiotics and deconstructionism, although fun to work out, confers no particular luster. Our semiotic analysis has enabled us to establish his theme as signs and meaning, rather than things and essence. We could have documented that in the first episode, however, and just let it go at that. But Cervantes organizes his text differently, treating the same theme over and over again in progressively more complex contexts. This suggests either that he is simply repetitive, or that he is playing a Baroque fugue with variations on a theme, or that there is another theme lurking inside the semiotic one.
In I, 2, Don Quijote reads the text and interprets the signs, i.e., he interacts with phenomena around him, and the narrator interacts with us. Don Quijote and the narrator of course never meet. We perceive the existence of two codes, but Don Quijote does not. In I, 8, Sancho is present, the existence of two codes is dramatized within the fiction, and Don Quijote is forced to recognize the problem and explain it away. The emphasis here is still on the relation between individual Don Quijote or Sancho and signifier, but a new and very important question is raised concerning intertextuality and the application of different codes by different individuals. In human terms the question is: Why does Don Quijote choose the chivalric code,
art. cit., p. 31.
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and why does Sancho choose the prosaic one? George Vaillant, M.D.,
argues that this choice is a function of the coping style the
aggregate of particular unconscious defense mechanisms typically mobilized
in response to environmental stress each individual has developed over
time and which comes to define his
personality.10 In literary terms, this is
the phenomenon we know as character. This in turns posits a
pre-history for both Don Quijote and Sancho, the fifty-odd years of each
man's life that passed before the narration begins, the events, perceptions
and reactions to environmental pressures internalized over that period. Don
Quijote's decision not to marry, for example, and his inability to form
relationships with women, are his reaction to the stress posed by the
developmental crises of adolescence and young manhood. More recently he has
reacted against massive new discomfort first by throwing himself into the
reading of romances of chivalry, by losing the ability to distinguish between
historical fact and chivalresque fantasy, and finally by retreating into
psychosis, taking on the identify of a knight errant and attempting to live
a romance of chivalry. His insertion of every signifier he encounters in
his travels into the code of chivalry is at once a function and an aspect
of his psychosis, which in turn is a function of a type of reaction
flight internalized early on in his life, to a recent massive
overdose of environmental pressure. This is what Vaillant would call his
coping style, or in literary terms, his character. Don Quijote is a wonderful
example of what Ortega meant when he said that man has no essence, only a
history. Returning to I, 8, we might conclude that in this episode Cervantes
show us that the choice of code Don Quijote's vs. Sancho's is
not arbitrary, but is rather the result of what each man has internalized
over the years, that is, his character. This in turn suggests the beginning
of a shift in emphasis away from the meaning of signifiers and in the direction
of the contrast between Don Quijote and Sancho, each of whom brings his
distinctive character to bear on the signifier in question. The episode uses
the fact of the different codes to call attention to differences in
Character, as Ortega has taught us, is never fixed and immutable, but evolves over time, precisely because it is the result of the individual's existence in time. I, 19 shows us an intermediate point in the evolution of our characters' characters. Together with the other
Vaillant, M.D., Adaptation to Life (Boston: Little, Brown, 1977),
pp. 75-90. Vaillant's study of men in mid-life is enormously useful in
understanding Don Quijote's character.
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episodes that Casalduero has called the adventures of the modern
world, it forms part of a series that examines the relation of individual
to signifier within the context of the relation of individual to individual.
In the adventure of the armies/flocks (I, 18) Sancho displays a willingness
to be carried along by Don Quijote's invention (a tour de force of
ingenio) of the composition of the opposing armies and the casus
belli. In I, 19, as we have already seen, the two men are equally incapable
of identifying the code to which the signifier should be referred. In I,
20, the auditory signifier rythmic thuds over falling water, accompanied
by the clanking of chains defies interpretation and instead touches
off a whole spate of interactions between master and man. Sancho is terrified.
He deceives Don Quijote, hobbling Rocinante's feet together to prevent his
master's departure. He has a bowel movement sur place, which results
in some discussion between the two. He tells Don Quijote the story of Lope
Ruiz and the shepherdess Torralba, which becomes a dialogue involving various
literary themes, from the truth in fiction to aspects of narrative
The following morning the meaning of the mysterious auditory signifier is easily established with no ambiguity. The sounds are being made by the great hammers of a water-powered fulling mill, pounding wool fibers into felt. A contrast here with the mills of I, 8 as signifier is instructive. In the episode of the windmills the semiotic theme is still uppermost, which is to say that there is a real disagreement as to what those objects signify. Here there is no such disagreement. There is extensive discussion, but its theme is not the ambiguity of the auditory signifier, nor is it the newly discovered fulling mill as a signifier in itself. The subject under discussion is rather the differing psychological reactions on the previous night to the auditory signifier. These are a function of the characters' characters. For Don Quijote that rhythmic pounding had meant opportunity to demonstrate my bravery, or simply opportunity to be me. Sancho had interpreted the same signifier to mean motive for terror. In one sense, Cervantes is at his most semiotic in this episode. The signifier is referred not to any metaphysical essence, but solely and exclusively to its meaning for the individual who apprehends it. In another sense, however, he is at his most personal, for the specific codes involved are no longer chivalric vs. prosaic, but simply Don Quijote vs. Sancho Panza.
Sancho begins the discussion by quoting from Don Quijote's speech of the previous night. In the warm light of day, and in the
|5 (1985)||Semiotics and Character in Don Quijote, I||15|
presence of the inoffensive fulling mill, Don Quijote's heady rhetoric about
hazañas grandes and valerosos fechos appears ridiculous,
and Sancho lets him know it. Don Quijote cannot stand to be made fun of in
this way. He strikes Sancho with his lance and delivers a speech whose theme
is precisely the difference in character including, for the first time,
social class between the two of them. Peace is re-established and Don
Quijote remarks that in all of chivalric literature, no squire ever spoke
as often or as much, or with such a lack of respect, to his master as Sancho
speaks to him. In semiotic terms Don Quijote is explicitly contrasting the
reality of this concrete interpersonal situation with the chivalric code
as it exists in the books. Things have evolved, as Ortega suggests. We are
here light-years away from the parallel application of two differing codes
to the same signifier of I, 8. Here, the question of the signifier has paled
into insignificance, and what has appeared in its place is the question of
two characters' characters, their relation to each other, and the evolution
of that relation over time.
It is in this context that we should return to the events of I, 21 and I, 44-45, the culmination of the semiotic theme in the mock resolution of the dialectic of opposing codes into the baciyelmo and its swift deconstruction and degeneration into semiotic anarchy, in turn reflected physically in the ensuing brawl: de modo que toda la venta era llantos, voces, gritos, confusiones, temores, sobresaltos, desgracias, cuchilladas, mojicones, palos, coces y efusión de sangre.
To begin, Sancho's failure in I, 21 to apply his prosaic code to the signifier in question the shiny object is a function of the most recent stage in the evolution of his relationship with Don Quijote. His master has forbidden him to speak out of turn, and he has no desire to find himself again on the receiving end of Don Quijote's lance as he had in the preceding chapter. Similarly, his identification of the mule's albarda as a warhorse's jaez is a function not of his internalization of the code of chivalry, but of the relationship between himself and Don Quijote in the light of his desire to possess the object. We should pause here to observe that, while Sancho understands these relationships and consciously exploits them, Don Quijote appears to be oblivious to them. His only interest lies in demonstrating that the bacía is a yelmo, and he repeatedly refuses to intervene in the albarda-jaez controversy. Like Sancho, Don Quijote is concerned with the affective, not the cognitive, relation between himself and the object, but unlike Sancho, he needs no one else to legitimize his claim to it by referring it to a particular code. He has
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already done that for himself. Don Quijote is the focus in this episode of
what we might call the semiotic theme modified by affect, while Sancho is
concerned with the more complex matter of relations with signifiers modified
by affect in turn subordinated to the relations between individuals, a function
of affect by definition.
This, for me, is the kernel of Cervantes' thought and the cornerstone of his artistic edifice. The metaphysical question of discovering the essence of a reality (What is this?) Gives place to a series of semiotic questions: What does this mean? To whom? In relation to what code? This in turn raises the question of why one individual chooses must choose one code and someone else chooses another one, and leads to the discovery of character. Character for Cervantes, as for Ortega, is defined as a particular way of coping with life's demands evolved and reinforced over time, and which comes to define an individual's personality. It is in this sense that we can speak of someone acting in character or otherwise. The respective characters of Don Quijote and Sancho come into contact in I, 8 and evolve together, in consequence of each other, through the two parts of the novel. The episode of the baciyelmo is crucial because it dramatizes and chronicles the subordination of the semiotic theme to that of interpersonal relations. The failure of semiotics is signalled by Sancho's unsuccessful attempt to resolve the bacía-yelmo controversy by his invention of the synthetic word baciyelmo, and the subsequent demolition of the very possibility of synthesis. The choice of code, that is, the relation established between person and object, which determines the meaning of the signifiers, is demonstrated to be entirely a function of the human relationships between the characters. This is worked out in this episode with explicit references to codes (chivalric and prosaic) and signifiers, (bacía, yelmo, albarda, jaez), and finally reduced to laughter. In Part II there is no laughter, and by the novel's close the work's most important signifier, Dulcinea del Toboso, has been altered and finally abandoned as a result of the evolution of the interpersonal relationship between Don Quijote and Sancho.
It is as though Cervantes worked through the logic of semiotics to the phase of the unresolvable dialectic, confronted Derrida's world of arbitrary signs and moved beyond it to the dialectic of interpersonal relations as the context in which meaning again becomes possible and the process of life can be recreated artistically. Although he lacked the benefit of the insights of Foucault and Derrida, Américo Castro
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intuited this thirty-five years ago when he wrote: Obsérvese cómo lo interesante no es si el yelmo es bacía, o la bacía yelmo, el interés del escritor y el nuestro se concentran en la presencia y funcionamiento de la interpretación . . . perceptible en los varios juicios de quienes formulan dichas interpretaciones.11
|UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES|
11 La palabra escrita y el Quijote, ed. cit., pp. 362-63. See also J. J. Allen's fundamental distinction between event and experience. Don Quixote and the Origins of the Novel, in M. D. McGaha (ed.), Cervantes and the Renaissance (Easton PA: Juan de la Cuesta, 1980), pp. 138-39.
||Prepared with the help of Myrna Douglas||
|Fred Jehle email@example.com||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|