From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 14.1 (1994): 102-06.
Copyright © 1994, The Cervantes Society of America
REVIEW

Martínez-Bonati, Félix. Don Quixote and the Poetics of the Novel. Trans. Dian Fox in collaboration with the author. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992. 289 pp.


     With courage and conviction, Félix Martínez-Bonati takes on nearly the entire establishment of Cervantists from Menéndez Pelayo and Rodríguez Marín to Ortega y Gasset, Américo Castro, and most Cervantine scholars of today. Not that this is a broadside attack, nor is it an inimical one. With a nod toward those aspects with which critics have provided him with food for thought, Martínez-Bonati makes it politely and definitely clear that the proper reading of Don Quixote has not yet been achieved. His aim is nothing less than to “consider some very generalized points of confusion that obstruct the correct understanding of the Cervantine text” (4). If his theses are valid, he declares, his reading “is the original reading, that of an educated contemporary of Cervantes. At the same time it is the best reading, forever prescribed by the text and its pertinent circumstances. Though it seems boastful, this is a modest claim” (231).
     Cervantists may be surprised to learn that there is no “pensamiento de Cervantes” in Don Quixote, that is, “the thought of the Quixote is not the thought of Cervantes' (xiv); that “the philosophy (including the literary theory) present in the Cervantine work is insignificant” (20); that “the question whether the Quixote is the first modern novel, the prototype of the genre, cannot be answered in the affirmative” (64); that the

102


14.1 (1994) Review 103

“Cervantine discourse (except in occasional speeches by Don Quixote) is never like the chivalric, not even when it introduces familiar motifs from books of chivalry” (75); that “the explicit theme of the evil of books of chivalry in the Quixote has to be understood as a superficial motif” (16).
     At times the author gets caught up in the web of his own complexity. Referring to instances such as the reaction of Don Fernando and others to Dorotea's story (“they wished it had lasted longer, such was the charm with which Dorotea described her sad experiences”) and Don Fernando's reaction to the captive's tale (“we should be glad if we could hear it all over again”), Martínez-Bonati calls our attention to “these duplicities of a meta-poetic dimension,” “transregional speech acts” (71), and “dislocated literary commentary” (259). Although I cannot disagree with him, is all this nomenclature really necessary? Does it not suffice to say that the characters, suffering from the boredom of their (admittedly literary) existence, find interest in the travails of others, much as devotees of escapist fiction, mystery stories, and horror movies are wont to do? And do such reactions of supposedly rational people not mirror the protagonist's own inability to separate art and reality? Is this evident point made any clearer by the labels cited above?
     Martínez-Bonati attributes to Cervantes the “supreme solution to [the] Aristotelian norm of the absolute beginning” by presenting Anselmo's case (“El curioso impertinente”) as without cause. Anselmo's “tragic error is unmotivated; nevertheless, to a penetrating intuition it is part of the unfathomable order of nature” (206). It sounds very erudite, yet I suggest a much simpler explanation. There is a cause, and it is the obsession with the loss of honor because of the possible actions of one's wife, the essence of much of the Golden Age comedia. Cervantes' position regarding the Lopean presentation of this theme is well known. Anselmo's irrational behavior is in reality the product of his rational reductio ad absurdum of this concern. And we find it purposefully exaggerated in other psychotic cases in Cervantine writings, notably in El celoso extremeño and El viejo celoso. But this would argue for Cervantes' thought to be found in his literary creations, something Martínez-Bonati rejects (although at one point he does indulge in biographical conjecture, admitting that he has gone “beyond the limits that I have set for myself” [212]).
     We read of “the rigorous silence that is maintained in the work with respect to Don Quixote's past . . . .  All that we know of him and the others is what has occurred in these few months of his insanity. There are no recollections or narrative anticipations that go beyond this circumscription” (97). Yet we are then given a list of details —isolated to be sure— that do give us slight glimpses into the protagonist's past, such as his having seen Aldonza Lorenzo and his boyhood fondness for the theater. But such instances, says Martínez-Bonati, are related “in the modality of uncertainty” (97), by which is meant a qualifier like (“according to what is understood”). I leave aside the cumbersome nature of such phraseology, just as the author leaves aside other hints about the protagonist's past, such as the reference


104 JOHN G. WEIGER Cervantes

to his paternal grandmother and his declaration to have descended from the Quixana family (I.49), in which no uncertainty is suggested, though it is true that these are statements by Don Quixote himself (which apparently is what disqualifies his assertion that he has not seen Aldonza as many as four times). But my quarrel is not with the veracity or uncertainty of these details. The fact is that such qualifiers abound in the Quixote, yet Martínez-Bonati cites them only in references to the protagonist's past or future in order to make the point that such exceptions to the norm (of limiting the time frame to the events recounted in the book) “stand out and even surprise us, thereby confirming this design of almost chronicle-like closure” (97). I am not sure what is meant by “almost chronicle-like,” but although I agree with the general thrust of the argument here, the use of the “modality of uncertainty” to make the simple point is irrelevant unless all the many other statements like “as far as what is believed” are similarly scrutinized.
     Joaquín Casalduero treats the two parts of Don Quixote as two distinct works, we are told, in support of which Martínez-Bonati cites Casalduero's use of “‘the 1605 Quixote’ and ‘the 1615 Quixote’”(93). What are we to conclude then, when Martínez-Bonati himself refers to “the 1605 book,” “the 1605 Quixote,” and the “1605 work” (106-107)? Clearly, Martínez-Bonati does not treat the two parts as distinct works. Though it is not inaccurate to say that Casalduero does, the use of these locutions, as in the cases of “modality of uncertainty,” amounts to the accommodation of a text to support a point of view.
     Martínez-Bonati confuses the role of the narrator. At one point he speaks of the “parodical posture of ‘historian’ assumed by the fictional narrator” (6), thereby confusing the narrator and the fictional historian, Cide Hamete. He later corrects this view by declaring what most Cervantists understand quite well, namely that the narrator “is in no perceptible respect ‘an Arabic historian,’ and there is not even a formal reason to call him Cide Hamete, since he quotes Cide Hamete's words as those of another person” (101-02). At another point he refers to Don Quixote's interment at the end of Part I, mentioned by the same narrator who “makes the writer Cervantes a friend of the Curate, so that Don Quixote becomes a contemporary of the narrator” (81), erroneously equating the fictive narrator with the author of the 1585 Galatea. (It is the inclusion of the historical Cervantes as a friend of the fictional curate that is at issue here. The narrator is not the author —fictive or historical— alluded to by the priest. The irony lies in the book's inclusion in Don Quixote's library; the narrator here serves only to narrate that “fact.”) It is also confusing, at least to me, how it is the narrator who “makes [Don Quixote] learn about the publication and translation” of Cide Hamete's volume one. At other times, Martínez-Bonati refers to the narrator as the “narrator-author.”
     Although he concedes that there is some inconsistent evolution in the characters, Martínez-Bonati allows himself to be taken in by the fictive translator's interjections in II.5. Granted that Sancho has not been transformed


14.1 (1994) Review 105

from peasant to solon, his constant contact with Don Quixote's stories cannot help but have their effect. We already see in Part I how Don Quixote's narrative not only captured Sancho's imagination but, parallel to Don Quixote's own path to madness, the story made Sancho so oblivious to his own circumstances that he forgot he had a wife and family (I.21). And in I.29, Sancho is perfectly prepared to believe that his master can kill the giant that has aggrieved Princess Micomicona, though he does not believe that Don Quixote can deal with phantoms. (Not to be missed is Sancho's use of “desfaga” here.) Yet Martínez-Bonati insists that “the characters of the protagonists remain essentially unchanged to the end: chivalric madness and pedestrian good sense” (268; emphasis mine), though elsewhere he allows that “Don Quixote and Sancho change considerably and inverisimilarly in physical aspect and in personality during the course of the work” (102). Why is it so difficult to believe that in a private conversation with his wife months later, Sancho will mimic his master's way of talking? And, as he himself says in that chapter, much of what he says is not of his own invention, “for all that I mean to say are the judgments of the reverend father who preached in this town the past Lent,” an explanation he also uses for one of his “Solomonic” judgments as governor. And if we are to credit the “translator” here, the entire chapter is apocryphal, yet in the very next chapter the narrator refers to Sancho's wife as Teresa Cascajo, as she had insisted in that “apocryphal” chapter.
     Martínez-Bonati is a fine reader of detail. He notes, for instance, that during the dialogues in Don Diego de Miranda's home, the narrow focus is centered on the foreground, leaving Don Diego's wife completely out of vision. If most of us are aware of this, how many will also have noticed that the range of vision, “with no explanation, . . . even excludes Sancho” (100)? What this reviewer misses, however, is Martínez-Bonati's explanation of this exclusion. Similarly, reference is made to passages of “silent irony,” and we are told that “there is a good example in I.21” (101). Cervantists may be expected to recall this chapter's content, but why not simply tell us? If there is a reason to bring such matters to our attention, why are we not given the benefit of the author's insight? And why is it necessary to tell us, when citing a passage from Genesis, that Abraham was “at that time called Abram” (205)? On the other hand, the author is very clear when he explains why Don Quixote disappears by going to sleep immediately upon his return to the inn following his stay in the Sierra Morena: not for psychological reasons pertaining to his character but for “metapoetic reasons” (235). That is, he would simply be in the way of the conclusion of the stories that find their denouement at the inn. Here Martínez-Bonati criticizes Howard Mancing's reading as “out of place.” (On an earlier occasion, he similarly labels Mancing's assumption about the characterization of the priest “out of place” [87].) The same argument regarding Don Quixote's disappearance at the inn is presented elsewhere in the volume to refute E.C. Riley's “one-dimensional” and “mistaken” reading (58). Martínez-Bonati's argument is coherent, particularly given the perspective applied to


106 JOHN G. WEIGER Cervantes

his analysis, but it is unfortunate that at times the tone of such disagreements takes on the appearance of condescension: The volume ends with a nod to “contemporary Cervantes scholarship, which owes a great deal to both Riley and Mancing” (235). Indeed.
     This book is not intended to be a series of interpretations of the episodes of Don Quixote. The author's purpose is the study of the work's poetics. And he is at his best when he is analyzing not the plot but the anatomy of Don Quixote, not its characterization but its poetic architecture, not its psychological depictions but its response to poetological (the author's word) and phenomenological analysis. It is not an easy book to read, partly because of its heavy reliance on nomenclature, partly because of its complex sentences that are often marred by parenthetical commentary that tends to divert the reader's focus. Nonetheless, it is an important book.
     “Don Quixote” and the Poetics of the Novel is a thought-provoking study. Despite some of the shortcomings that I perceive in it, it merits careful study by Cervantists. Much of its material is original and challenges the assumptions and presumptions of distinguished scholars in some of the most often cited works on Don Quixote. Whether one agrees or disagrees with its theses, its reading is rewarding and forces a rethinking. This is, after all, the purpose of scholarship.


JOHN G. WEIGER
University of Vermont


Prepared with the help of Sue Dirrim
Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu Publications of the CSA HCervantes
URL: http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/csa/artics94/weiger.htm