From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 8 special issue (1988): 93-101.
Copyright © 1988, The Cervantes Society of America

Metamorphosis and Don Quixote


  “En el mundo del espíritu, cada cual suele buscar
precisamente aquello que lleva en sí.”
Salvador de Madariaga, Guía del lector del “Quijote”

WE CELEBRATE TODAY at this meeting in Washington the persistence in time of Cervantes' writing. His texts have lost none of their interest as reading matter and as an incitation to dialogue and thought. The Third Part of Don Quixote, fortunately lacking yet the last word, is made up by an intricate web or quilt of interpretations that shows the traces of diverse times of origin. The temporality of interpretations can be contrasted with the apparent immobility of the text itself. While examining and questioning in this paper the validity today of one reading, that of Salvador de Madariaga, I wish not only to show briefly and in general terms the historicity of criticism but also I hope to offer some indications about our contemporary stance that sets us apart from an agreement with the illustrious author of the Guía del lector del “Quijote.”1
     Few interpretations of Don Quixote have exerted greater influence than the Guía. There we are presented with a version of the facts that

     1 The full title is Guía del lector del “Quijote.” Ensayo psicológico sobre el “Quijote.” I quote from the fifth edition, Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1961. It was published for the first time in the newspaper La Nación of Buenos Aires between June 1923 and February 1925. It was translated into English and published by Gregynog Press in 1934 and by Oxford University Press in 1935. It is convenient to remember that the period from 1920 to 1935 was of great importance for the history of Spain since at that time the conflict between men of ideas and the active masses led by demagogues became exacerbated and drove them apart.


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has been generally accepted, formulated as “the Sanchification of Don Quixote and the Quixotization of Sancho”: “while Sancho's spirit ascends from reality to illusion, Don Quixote's declines from illusion to reality” (p. 135). A careful reading reveals, first, that Madariaga interprets his process in a way that is generally forgotten and, second, that he superimposes upon the reconstruction of events the modern concepts of history and progress.
     For Madariaga, Sancho represents the ambition of the populace, limited, weighed down by vanity, egotistical, and this trims the positive value that could be given to his more exact perception of everyday reality. Don Quixote is contaminated by this Sanchesque element in his very being, where a fault has existed even before he met Sancho, but his squire allows its cancerous growth and the knight's decay and defeat.2 The spatial representation of this change, Sancho's ascent and Don Quixote's decline, underlines the negative evaluation of the change in the master and the positive in the case of the servant.3 The idea that underpins this reading is prophetic: Don Quixote represents the traditional aristocracy and idealistic intelligentsia corroded by the democratic principles and the excess of rationality that has brought to an end the liberal experiment. Madariaga deplores these changes, because for him liberalism is the philosophy that established the most positive groundings of contemporary society under the guidance of a few visionary minds.4 The whole of

     2 “En el idealismo de Don Quijote había un elemento sanchesco aun antes de que Sancho influyera sobre él. Por muy elevados que fueran sus medios, por muy altos que fueran sus fines, el héroe, al buscar la gloria, buscaba algo para sí. Su abnegación no era absoluta. Este elemento de egoísmo, si bien espiritual, había de encadenarle poco a poco al mundo material, empobreciendo su espíritu hasta hacer de él, en esencia, el igual de su escudero” (p. 155).
     3 The idea is repeated several times: “una ascensión tan manifiesta del espíritu de Sancho” (p. 134); “el espíritu de Don Quijote, vencido por el de Sancho, entra de lleno en la decadencia” (p. 142); “este ocaso lento y fatal” (p. 163).
     4 Madariaga developed his idea of the pernicious effect of excessive rationalism in several essays, but as an example the reader may consult “Porqué soy anticomunista” and “El liberalismo de hoy.” In A la orilla del río de los sucesos (Barcelona: Destino, 1975), and the Prologue to Diálogos famosos (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1970), where he writes with a tone reminiscent of Don Quixote's style: “Dura lección para los nacidos en un Siglo XIX ufano de sus ‘luces’ llegar a un Siglo XX maniático de sus incendios. Dura lección, porque los hechos nos dicen que los incendios de ogaño vienen de las luches de antaño” (p. 11).

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the 19th-century liberal experiment can be compared with Don Quixote, as Madariaga affirms in a prologue, written during the Spanish Civil War, to Diálogos famosos:

All of the 19th Century, with all its shortcomings, all the great 19th Century devotes its central effort to this evolution. Stumbling, I grant it, with incessant flourishes of rhetoric, I grant it, advancing and retreating and sometimes even falling into the natural impatience of revolution, the 19th Century is nevertheless a century that believes in evolution and perfectibility. Its defeats are always relative and temporary, adventures that take place while traveling or on crossroads and do not weaken the faith of the wandering knight (p. 14).

     If, in contrast, the 20th century considers itself definitely to have failed (a rather bold affirmation by Madariaga in the 30s!), it is because those who should have led their people have lost their bearings (p. 14). This has happened as a direct consequence of the rise and access to power of the will of the people. Madariaga calls Sancho in the Guía “democrático” (p. 173), but in the introduction he alerts us against a mechanical, positive, interpretation of this designation:

A prodigious magician, called Rousseau, managed to cast such a spell over the Insula Barataria, that everyone became at once governor and governed, and this enchanted and enchanting island he renamed Democracy. While for Don Quixote, who was a man of letters, this name could mean “the government of the people,” for the rustic good common sense of Sancho it would almost surely have meant “the government of the devil” (p. 15).

     In order that this decadence (of Don Quixote and the West) be convincing, Madariaga avoids commenting on the last chapters, where he would have had to deal with the meaning of the knight's regaining of his senses and his death. In order to underline Sancho's corrosive and deleterious influence Madariaga does not confront the sudden bursts of madness that pervade the narration. He loses sight of the sudden nature of the transformations from the sage to the madman and back, proposing instead a neat dialectic of approach and withdrawal equivalent to multiple sessions on Freud's couch. For Madariaga, the acceptance of the ordinary that creeps in on the mind of the knight is not a positive sign, but, instead, a symptom of an idealistic progress undermined and short-circuited by Sanchoracy, just as democracy and the excessive role of reason in the ordering of

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life has extinguished the fire and the efficacy of liberal ideas. Furthermore, it represents the decadence of what he considers the Spanish ideal, as can be found in Columbus (!) and in Don Quixote previous to his Sanchification:

Cervantes set alive in Don Quixote a prototype of the Spaniard —ultrasubjective and, while shrewd, practical, aware of reality, indeed as realistic as any man, nevertheless ready to ignore reality, to transcend it, even to fight against it in the name of something higher, better or simply dearer to his own unruly self. From this point of view, Columbus and Don Quixote are brothers.5

     The fact that this prophetic reading is not acceptable today, at least for this critic, forces us to question the adequacy of speaking about progress / decadence in the story narrated in Don Quixote. Such an evolution of the character and certain progress towards maturity have been the obligatory staple of those critics who see in Cervantes' book the first modern novel, and snatch it away uneasily from La Galatea and the Persiles. Let us agree that there are certain transitions, certain changes in the personal histories of the characters, but, what is their nature?
     The idea of History as a narrative that shows transformation and progress towards the betterment of Humanity is an invention of the 18th century.6 In the 17th century the dominant conception of History is cyclical change, a ragged pattern made of a national chronicle, based on goings on at the court, and a personal history, where the final chapter is individual death, with a corollary of glory or condemnation, of fame or oblivion.
     Nothing can clarify this better than the study of an element missing from the cultural context that is normally attributed today to Cervantes. I speak of the contemporary difficulty in remembering

     5 Essays with a Purpose (London: Hollis and Carter, 1954), p. 131. I am unable to resist the temptation of quoting another text where Madariaga makes the portrait of his prototype of the Spaniard: “El toro, animal primordial, elemental, espontáneo, noble, casto y potente, es la imagen de lo español, como lo es de lo masculino puro,” Don Juan y la don-juanía (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1950), p. 25.
     6 See the explanation offered by Wilton Coates, Hayden White and J. Salwyn Schapiro in The Emergence of Liberal Humanism: An Intellectual History of Western Europe, (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966), pp. 168-71. See also the article by H. Weisinger, “Ideas of History during the Renaissance,” in P. O. Kristeller, Renaissance Essays (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965).

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that one of the genres that was in great vogue during Cervantes' adult life was the books of emblems.7 Alciato's emblems were translated in Spanish rhymes in 1549, and they received a learned and long commentary by Francisco Sánchez, el Brocense, in 1573. Juan de Borja, Duke of Gandía, published his Empresas morales in 1581, Juan de Horozco y Covarrubias his Emblemas morales in 1589 (and they merited new editions in 1591 and 1604, and a Latin translation in 1601), and Hernando de Soto his Emblemas moralizados in 1599. The Licenciado Francisco Murcia de la Llana who signed the Fe de Erratas of the Second Part of Don Quixote in 1615 had also been in charge of proofreading Covarrubias' Emblemas morales published in 1610. In the emblems we do not find images of the future; instead time is envisioned as a serpent devouring its own tail, as a wheel, or as the river that flows into the sea.8 How exceptional, and thrilling for the scholar, is the inscription for one of the emblems of Diego de

     7 Mario Praz laments the current neglect of emblematic literature in Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery, 2nd ed. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1964. Giuseppina Ledda, in Contributo allo studio della letteratura emblematica in Spagna (1549-1613), starts out by lamenting the lack of interest contemporary readers have for this genre, p. 7. Albrecht Schone, at the beginning of his important study quotes Herder, who asked himself in 1793 about why so many books of emblems had been published at the end of the 16th and in the early 17th centuries. He concluded: “Die Geschichte dieser Zeit and dieses Geschmacks liegt noch sehr im Dunkeln,” Emblematik und Drama im Zeitalter des Barock (München: C. H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1964, p. 17. The obscurity to which Herder referred still persists in relation to the history of emblems in Spain, a field almost untouched, except for the pioneering work of Karl-Ludwig Selig.
     8 In the Centuria I, Emblema 17, Covarrubias writes under the image of a caged bird: “Tal es la cárcel desta vida, cuando / se ase el hombre a su volubil rueda / de perpetua mudanza, siendo solo / constante el eje del celeste polo.” See also I, 9, “Cuncta fluunt.” In Juan de Borja, N. 29, p. 30, one can see the serpent devouring its own tail, a frequent theme, with the inscription “Omnia vorat.” There is also a notable subscriptio: “Quien considerare con atención la destrucción de tan grandes provincias y de tan señaladas repúblicas, y la fin de todas las supremas monarquías que ha habido en el mundo (que por ser tan grandes parece que era imposible acabar ni destruirse), verá que sólo el que ha podido acabar y destruir tanta grandeza ha sido el tiempo, con su paso continuo y lento, encerrándolo todo en sí como en última sepultura que es de todas las cosas. Lo que se da a entender en esta empresa de la culebra con la punta de la cola en la boca (por lo que los antiguos significaban el año y el tiempo) con la letra que dice: OMNIA VORAT, que quiere decir, TODO LO TRAGA O GULLE.”

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Saavedra Fajardo in his Idea de un príncipe político cristiano: “Futurum indicat”! But when we contemplate the illustration or pictura we encounter a coffin and we go on to read in the subscriptio that the prince must reserve some time of his own “procurando que al tramontar de la vida esté el horizonte de la muerte despejado . . . .” The visual conception of History is determined by Ripa's imagination, because it was he who represented her as a woman with wings who writes resting her book on the back of Time (who holds a sickle), and she looks back to what has already happened.9 History does not act, it does not lead the way; it just records what would be otherwise forgotten. History is not the origin of transformation but on the contrary, it stands on a stone cube that symbolizes her stability and unchanging veracity.10 Later on, after the French Revolution, History will use her wings to plunge forward and lead the way with an uplifted fist or torch. History will become a shared national destiny. But in the books of emblems the future is private.11 In contrast to the

     9 Cesare Ripa, Iconologia, Padua edition of 1611, p. 235, reproduced in New York by Garland Publishing Co. in 1976. In previous editions, for example the one of 1603, only the description existed without an illustration. The first edition of 1593 in Rome lacked any illustration: this is a case where words become progressively visualized. Ripa's illustration is still valid in the 18th century, as can be confirmed in the Hertel edition of 1758-60 with 200 Baroque and Rococo illustrations, reproduced in New York by Doren Publications in 1971 with a prologue by Edward Maser. History is emblem 122 in this edition. An alternative figure is the three-faced History found in Christophoro Garda, Bibliothecae Alexandrinae Icones Symbolicae (Milan 1628), p. 125, reproduced in New York by Garland Publishing Co. in 1979. The importance of History as reiteration is clearly seen in the conquest of America, where, as shown by Enrique Pupo-Walker, “impelidos de esta manera por un idealizado proyecto de vida, los europeos que tomaron contacto con América confundirían aquellas tierras con los esquemas mentales de una geografía que en parte habían profetizado Platón y Aristóteles,” La vocación literaria del pensamiento histórico en América (Madrid: Gredos, 1982), p. 43.
     10 In an extremely interesting emblem of Joannes Sambucus, History appears accompanied by Dialectic, Rhetoric, and Grammar. He affirms that History “Ordine simpliciter geritur quod narrat ab ovo,” Emblemata, second edition, 1566, p. 121.
     11 Cf. Ledda, Contributo, p. 82: “L'argomento principale è sempre quello dell'esistenza terrena concepita come un breve ed imperfetto prologo della vita eterna.” In Fortunata y Jacinta, in the drugstore where Maxi works, there is an emblem that alludes to the brevity of human life: “un emblema pintado en el techo de la botica, en el cual estaban, decorativamente combinados, la serpiente de Esculapio, el reloj de arena del Tiempo, un [p. 99] alambique, una retorta, el busto de Hipócrates y una calavera,” Cuarta Parte, I, 9.

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interlocking destinies of characters in a 19th-century novel, where money and class create an uninterrupted web, we note that in Don Quixote there is a great space of liberty for characters, who may disappear quietly to go elsewhere and who often do not know each other from one episode to the other. A brief excursus may be in order here in order to compare Don Quixote with Fortunata y Jacinta, where every element is interrelated by the capillary system of streets, families, commerce, friendship, and, above all, the unending labor of gossip. Stephen Gilman notes correctly in Galdós and the Art of the European Novel: 1867-1887 (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981) that “The notion of biography as such . . . depends . . . on perception of the historicity of individual lives. This perception . . . was alien to the confessionally or celebratively inclined inhabitants of earlier centuries. The acknowledgments of sins and temptations or the exemplary song of unique deeds presented as if they were unrelated to their immediate social contest was replaced in the nineteenth century by a sense of self radically interpenetrated with the rest of history” (p. 11). Don Quixote, in contrast, is the chronicle of the episodes in one life as it sinks away into death.12 It would be a strained interpretation that affirmed that the social and physical landscape that he visits is perceived by the characters themselves or the implied author as sliding into the vortex of chilling negative change that we associate with 17th-century Spain. To clarify: the

     12 The unity between social and personal development is also a basic tenet of faith for Madariaga. Cf. for example, the prologue to Diálogos famosos, p. 36: “La vida en una sociedad es toda una y solo nos es dable distinguir y separar la vida de sus diversos individuos de la del conjunto mediante operaciones meramente intelectuales como el análisis y la abstracción.” Therefore, for Madariaga social transformation must have a parallel psychological change. Peter M. Daly in Literature in the Light of the Emblem (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1979), expresses his disagreement with a scholar of German literature for reasons similar to those that lead me to dissent from Madariaga's view, because he imposes “an anachronistic psychological pattern on the novel [Simplicissimus] by setting up the theme of ‘self-realization,’ albeit as an author, as the focal centre of the novel, to which all the other themes are relegated,” (p. 179). This coincidence, noted when this paper was well advanced, confirms that the point of view presented by emblematic literature forces us to reconsider anachronistic interpretations, as ingenious as they may be, or at least to map out the forces that led to a creative misreading.

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situation is rather somber, but stable; it could be turned around. It constitutes the backdrop of the changes in the fortune of the life of one man, changes that belong more to chance and are more discontinuous and unpredictable than Hegelian history. There does not exist a necessary continuity from one anecdote to another.13 In a similar way, the book of emblems does not require a continuous reading, but rather an episodic, insular contemplation and hermeneutic, where each member of its triptych exists independently of those that surround it. And the emblem itself, its three parts, the inscription, the illustration, and the explanation in prose or verse, converse from their clearly delimited locations and surrounded by a heavy and convoluted frame, teeming with its own life, a margin that invites the reader's eyes and mind to explore, and rest, and blur into the contemplation of flowers and satyrs completely independent of the emblems they surround. The emblems are texts for readers more interested in the eternity of their soul than in collective evolution or the final destiny of humankind.
     How can one, then, speak of change in Don Quixote? The pairs of terms “progress / decadence, Sanchification / Quixotization” seem to me inexact for the reasons I have just explored. It is possible to search in another direction, to fight another amputation, the suppression from collective memory of the great text of change, the Western I Ching, well known to all writers of the Golden Age: Ovid's Metamorphoses. In fact, Galdós, an extremely perceptive reader of Cervantes and a disappointed liberal, uses in Fortunata y Jacinta the terms “metamorfosis” and “trastorno” when he wishes to describe changes in Maxi, Don Quixote's alter ego, as well as the inexplicable shifts by Juanito Santa Cruz and the government of Spain. For Galdós, in the waning years of a sobered 19th century, the idea of progress had receded and remained only on the surface of fashion, while he feared that at a deeper level there was only a mysterious reiterated oscillation.
     And in what does metamorphosis consist? In a radical and sudden change, inexplicable unless by outside forces that are not under the control of the afflicted human being. (In a sense it's a paranoid text,

     13 Alban Forcione affirms in Cervantes, Aristotle, and the “Persiles” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 198, that the episodic nature of the novel was an important concept discussed in Cervantes' time, and in general theorists considered that the success of a narration depended on its episodes.

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where the encantadores are in charge). It is someone else taking over as the narrator of your story, and defining the terms anew. Ovid opens his poem with the transition from Chaos to Cosmos, and we are left to suppose that the opposite metamorphosis is also possible. The sudden change to a new order of things is what the squire of La Mancha expects when he believes that he is knighted. The different natures in conflict, Alonso Quijano, a good man, the visionary, idealistic knight, the saint's apprentice, are successive metamorphoses ordered by nature, closer to the alchemy of the bodies than to the great undercurrent of History and the ordered necessity of progress. And it is precisely this sense of rupture, this sudden, unpredictable fracture or fault, this discontinuity of the world, which turns out to be our contemporary reading of Don Quixote, while I am less convinced by the organic and homogenized world of Madariaga and the typical 19th-century novel. These jumps from one nature to another, the radical alteration of a way of being, explain better, in my view, the episodic structure of Don Quixote. We can see this after so many years because this celebration of permanence in a world today as discontinuous and threatened as that of Cervantes, where the confidence in material progress, in logical evolution, and the lure of a glorious, shared, future are no longer necessary attributes of History. How would we paint her today? Probably white, a heathen white, always in need of being rewritten ceaselessly, knowing that there are only versions in the palimpsest; the eyes have insight and blindness, and the stone has been removed, and she has been mise en abîme, the wings are silicon chips, and the order of things is no longer apparent. Metamorphosis opens up the next moment to surprise, to someone who may sing a better song, completely different, to waking up at home, with sanity recovered or surrounded by lakes of wine or among unknowns on a plane or to opening a door and discovering that your library has been stolen by the police. For this road there is no sure guide, except for the easy pace of Rocinante, who approaches dutifully the next, catastrophic, adventure: move over Marx, Cide Hamete writes again!


Prepared with the help of Myrna Douglas
Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes