From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
12.1 (1992): 127-29.
Copyright © 1992, The Cervantes Society of America
James A. Parr's final sentence in his review
of Maravall's Utopia y contrautopia en el Quijote (Hispanic
Review 48: 249-51) states unequivocally that the book belongs in
every Cervantine scholar's personal library. While the praise for the
book is clear, an implicit note of limitation is also clear: if the reader
is not a Cervantine scholar, the interest diminishes.
This is, perhaps, the center of critique to Felkel's translation: its necessity. If Parr's appreciation was correct, and if we assume that most if not all Cervantine scholars read Spanish, then the natural addressee of the translation is not that of the original. And since the original was interesting
mostly to Cervantine scholars, one is compelled to reevaluate Parr's verdict
and to try to ascertain whether or not we are faced with a book that can
be of interest to English-speaking readers of the Quixote, or to
English-speaking scholars interested in the vast field of Utopia or, more
generally, in the political ideas of the Renaissance. For Felkel's translation
to be deemed necessary, it must be of appeal to those readers, and
it must be so fifteen years after the original was published, that is, fifteen
years in which floods of water have passed under the critical bridge. If
we consider that Maravall's book is, in its turn, a reelaboration of a work
dating back to 1948, Felkel's task might very well be Herculean indeed,
Maravall's book places itself at the extreme end of a critical spectrum of which the other extreme could be Cesáreo Bandera's now famous statement: El único tema del Quijote es el Quijote mismo. That is, Maravall's reading of the Quixote is not just contextual, but a reading of the context, rather than a reading of the text. Even at the time of Parr's review, the book was already traditional, old-fashioned, and had an almost total disregard for contemporary criticism. For instance, it did not incorporate until its last revision the distinction between the character Don Quixote and the author Cervantes, and when it does so, it treats both categories (the textual and the extra-textual) as belonging to the same realm of reality.
Fortunately, Felkel is dealing with a classic from two points of view: it is a classic essay, and it deals with a classic book. Maravall's piece of thought, like Unamuno's Vida de don Quijote y Sancho or Ortega's Meditaciones del Quijote, has an intrinsic value which transcends the always arguable limitations that stem from its inherent and inherited method of analysis. Maravall's view is informative, for it puts together data collected over many decades of scholarship, plus it is original, seductive at times, intelligent like that of other dead scholars/thinkers with dead methods/methodologies, such as a Foucault or a Goldmann. The lure of Felkel's translation is to offer the wide world outside professional Cervantism one of the best books by one of the best critical Spanish writers of recent times. It should be read for the same reasons that Lukács or Bakhtine are still read or are re-read after hiatus of interest.
Also, with deconstruction and reader-response criticism (to name only the two perceived adversarial approaches that Parr named) receding, it is perhaps the case that the most adverse times for Maravall's book were then, not now. A book that deals with Utopia is, by necessity, an important book at a time in which focus among Cervantists is shifting somewhat to the Persiles, with its opposition to the Quixote being posited as that of a reconstruction vis-á-vis the Quixotesque destruction of a perfect dream. For Parr, Maravall's book was even more important if we considered the Quixote a satire as he does. For this reviewer, Felkel's translation comes at the precise time in which interest in the countersatire (the Persiles) reaches a peak, with a recent English translation of the other Cervantine masterpiece. If Parr could recommend the original to Cervantists, I can recommend Felkel's translation as a companion book to the recently acquired Persiles in English.
As for the translation itself, Felkel makes his own St. Jerome's words non verbum e verbo, sed sensum exprimere de sensum. I must say that some times he stretches the intention somewhat. Maravall is a concise writer, as Unamuno was, and it is on more than one occasion that we find the quality of the original in the precise and exact verbum, more than in the sensum. To give but two examples; Felkel translates as in the face of contemporary escapism (33) Maravall's words porque no hallaba respuesta válida en el mito pastoril a los problemas de su sociedad, or, when Maravall writes . . . aparecer tan tempranamente entre nosotros la figura del Estado moderno. Esta se vio desnaturalizada y confundida . . . , Felkel translates not the figure of the modern state, but simply the modern state, implying that what becomes in the translation perverted and confused is not as in Maravall the figure or image, of the state, but the state itself. Aside from that lack of precision at times, Felkel's text is an elegant piece of prose in itself, which pays due homage to the recently disappeared Spanish master.
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