From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
5.1 (1985): 69-72.
Copyright © 1985, The Cervantes Society of America
Carroll B. Johnson. Madness and Lust: A Psychoanalytical Approach to Don Quijote. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. 205 pp. + Notes and Index.
Carroll B. Johnson's Madness and Lust is in many ways a quixotic book, but I use the term here to indicate Johnson's propensity to respond to literary characters in terms of real people in the real world, and to define verisimilitude as profound vicarious identification. Johnson's Don Quijote is a novelistic verisimilar character, whose behavior can only be analyzed in terms of a psychoanalytic theory of motivation.
Using the case history model of psychoanalytic criticism, Johnson proposes to approach Don Quijote as an analyst would a patient, uncovering the sources of the character's unconscious motivation. In addition to Freudian psychoanalysis, he also draws on more recent theories of developmental stages (formulated by Erik Erikson, George Vaillant and others), with special attention to the male crisis of maturity. Don Quijote's madness is therefore seen as his reaction to the stress of the male climacteric, and the possible causes for the severity of the reaction are explored. Specifically, Johnson hypothesizes that Don Quijote's inability to form appropriate sexual attachments has resulted in a resurgence of his repressed sexual drives in middle age, stimulated by the proximity of the young nice who is living with him. Don Quijote's fear of sexual intimacy not only drives him from his home, but forces him to create an image of a non-corporeal ideal woman Dulcinea as a defense against the image of the niece.
Proceeding chronologically, Johnson traces Don Quijote's reactions to the women he meets in the course of the novel. As a response to the desire they provoke in him, Don Quijote must continually conceptualize Dulcinea in a way which is both specific and ideal in short, in a way which is strong enough to defend against the recurring image of the niece.
If in Part I this strategy is largely unsuccessful because of Don Quijote's inability to visualize Dulcinea, in Part II, Johnson argues, Dulcinea has become all too concrete. When Sancho presents a coarse farm girl to Don Quijote as the real Dulcinea, this image of a garlic-reeking peasant interferes with Don Quijote's ability to internalize Dulcinea and use her as a defense.
Don Quijote's growing failure to generate and control the myth of Dulcinea has an increasingly debilitating effect on him. Older women dueñas real and imaginary, and the housekeeper figure predominantly in Part II, and Don Quijote's response to them underscores the pathos of his failed intimacy. At the same time, through his friendship with Sancho, (which is homoerotic in Leslie Fieldler's sense, rather than homosexual), Don Quijote achieves a loving relationship which was not possible for him to form with women. Johnson concludes with the paradox that Don Quijote's madness ultimately has been adaptive in the broadest sense . . .
our fiftyish hidalgo's only meaningful life is his life as the madman Don
Since the objections to Johnson's study will be primarily methodological it is important to be specific about the uses and limits of the case history approach. If we accept that we can ascribe unconscious motivation to literary characters, does it therefore follow that we can ascribe to them a psychic past? Cervantes, after all, does on occasion provide highly suggestive bits of pre-history such as the promiscuity and prodigality of the young Carrizales, or Anselmo's close adolescent friendship with Lotario. Furthermore, as Johnson points out in his first chapter, Psychiatry and Don Quijote, Cervantes lived in a Spain which was the cradle of psychiatry and his writing reflects a concern with the interrelation of psyche and soma, behavior and personal history. It is not unreasonable to assume that a Cervantine verisimilar character should be an hijo de su pasado as well as an hijo de sus obras.
We should bear in mind, however, that such assumptions are extensions of the reader-play of verisimilitude. We should not claim, Norman Holland reminds us, that As a child Hamlet experienced the warmest feelings for his mother, although we might say, Hamlet acts within the play as a real man would act if as a child he had experienced the warmest feelings for his mother and if he were to find himself in the special world of Hamlet the play (Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare [New York: Octagon, 1979], p. 307). The problem with Madness and Lust is that Johnson minimizes the as if.
The test for validity is not, as Johnson implies, whether the case history material is in the text, but whether the psychic past is seen in relation to the psychic world of the novel. Although Don Quijote's niece is not precisely outside the text, Johnson treats her as if she were. This is, because of his expressed aim to locate Don Quijote's particular (psychotic) reaction to the stress of mid-life in the realm of the real world inhabited by real people (p. 49), Johnson neglects the fact that Don Quijote and his world represent an imaginative reshaping of human experience. As recent psychoanalytic critics have pointed out, Hamlet is not so much about a man who has an Oedipal crisis as it is about a world which justifies having one. We could argue, similarly, that if Don Quijote is suffering from a middlescent sexual crisis, he does so because in his world sexuality is both ludicrously ineffective and terrifyingly destructive.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that Professor Johnson's use of psychoanalysis is inseparable from his esteem for verisimilitude as the source of humanistic value in literature: Through psychoanalytical literary criticism, the reader comes gradually to perceive the unconscious motivation for the character's behavior, and the rich, human complexity of the character's character stands revealed. As readers, we are then free to marvel at a great author's magnificent intuitions and, more importantly, to assimilate the character's humanity to our own, to participate most fully in that enhanced vicarious experience of life that great literature offers to us (p. 30). Certainly many of Cervantes' characters are presented with
marvelous complexity and humanity, however, the vicarious experience
of life does not operate solely through identification. What is missing
in Johnson's approach, then, is some sense that great literature acts upon
us not only because we can identify with life-like characters but also because
we can respond to the powerful fantasies and the creative working-through
which is expressed in the creation of characters, their world and the structures
which shape them. Aristotelian mimesis is tempered with
harmonia, and there is a psychological component to each.
Even in realistic narrative, we should be wary of locating complexity or the source of our responses in character. The location of the self in literature is elusive, and may lie fragmented in characters or scenes, or the interplay between them. The case history approach treats characters as whole persons with psychic histories, whereas a character may be used projectively as a part object, or split-off aspect of the self. Returning to a Shakespearean analogy, a case history approach to Othello's jealousy might obscure the perception of what Othello and Iago together signify as aspects of a conflictive attitude toward female sexuality.
As hispanists we frequently remind ourselves that Don Quijote is a funny book and I bring this up not to deny Don Quijote's significance as a verisimilar character, but to point out that frequently we laugh at Don Quijote. Moreover, psychoanalytic theory, beginning with Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, has much to tell us about the psychological implications of such laughter. Johnson does take account of the humorous side to Don Quijote's sexuality, but only in order to dismiss it as the unenlightened or immature response. Traditionally, he observes, audiences have reacted to depictions of geriatric sexuality as ludicrous and embarrassing (p. 172), but does our awareness that such a response is unfair in real life make it an inappropriate response to a literary text? Although Cervantes undoubtedly transformed and humanized the senex figure, he nevertheless exploited the comic and psychic resources of the type. We cannot forget Don Quijote's comic function as projection, as part of a fantasy which defends against guilt by making the powerful father into an impotent fool. When Don Quijote tells Maritornes in I:16, Quisiera hallarme en términos, fermosa y alta señora, de poder pager tamaña merced como la que . . . me habedes fecho; pero ha querido la fortuna . . . que aunque de mi voluntad quisiera satisfacer a la vuestra, fuera imposible, his impotence is funny and I suspect this is as important to our total response as vicarious identification is at other moments. I do not believe the issue boils down to whether a hyper-sexual Don Quijote is hiding behind a hypo-sexual one or vice-versa, but that these are two sides of the same coin. Cervantes' uncanny achievement was to feel the conflict from both sides to give us the comically desecrated father and to allow us to see the father as a version of the self, stripped of our manic defenses against him.
Johnson's case history approach seems to work better in the discussion of Part II, perhaps because the affective focus settles much more consistently on Don Quijote, especially in the Duke and Duchess chapters.
There is a convincing analysis of Don Quijote's losing struggle to keep control
over Dulcinea as a defensive screen against more directly threatening females.
The discussion of the friendship between Quijote and Sancho, endangered by
the heightened mood of sexuality, also is insightful. But again, the insistence
on Don Quijote as a real person, isolated from his fictional world, is too
restrictive. Although I believe Johnson is correct in pointing out the pathos
of these episodes, I suspect that the pathos does not derive from the fact
that Don Quijote is a man seething with lust. Yes, the Duchess
is putting Don Quijote to the test with her sexual teasing, but not to expose
his lust, surely rather to destroy his myth of potency. The niece,
notwithstanding blood ties, seems a paltry opponent in contrast to the invasive
and violent women, presided over by the ulcerated Duchess, who populate the
oneiric world of Part II. The black humor of these chapters points to a more
primitive distrust of female sexuality which undermines the comic
uses of the character. Here again, I feel the case history model needs to
be complemented by one which will allow for the exploration of both the humor
and the pathos, both manifest and latent content, which are informed by the
overlapping fantasies of the text.
Johnson has ventured boldly into admittedly hostile critical territory and has given us a sharper vision of the erotic themes of the novel, emphasizing, rightly, the significant Cervantine intuition of idealization as a mechanism of defense. He has called our attention to the problematical nature of our response to mature sexuality, a topic which is worthy of serious attention. However, his methodological focus has limited his success. His Don Quijote is neither disturbing enough nor funny enough to account for the pathetic and manic resonances of his character. Johnson's psychoanalytic reading is one which cuts Don Quijote off from his world by making him belong too much to the real world. The novel has much to tell us about sexuality, but this is not because of Don Quijote's relationships with real women, but rather because of a whole network of associations, thoughts, images and fantasies which only a fictional world can represent.
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