From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 10.2 (1990): 55-72.
Copyright © 1990, The Cervantes Society of America

Narrative Levels and the Fictionality of Don Quijote, I: Cardenio's Story


It is possible to divide and categorize the vast corpus of criticism devoted to Don Quijote according to specific areas of interest. James A. Parr, for example, in his recent study (Don Quijote: An Anatomy of Subversive Discourse [1988]) identifies several typical orientations toward Cervantes's masterpiece, such as the Romantic and ‘cautionary’ schools, both of which focus on the protagonist; the ‘perspectivist’, which focuses on the problematic nature of ‘reality’; and the aesthetic (or narrative technique) school (24).1 Parr's own orientation is admittedly aesthetic, that is, focused on “completion of causal sequences, satisfaction of conventional expectations for irony and parody, and realization of . . . humor, burlesque, and incongruity” (70). One point I wish to emphasize in this essay has been made before, but is, I think, in need of constant restatement: that the various critical orientations mentioned by Parr in his remarkably perceptive and stimulating study are by no means mutually exclusive and that, in fact, such orientations as the perspectivist (concerned with the represented

     1 The term ‘cautionary school’ denotes the critical reaction against Romantic (‘soft’) interpretations of Don Quijote. Perhaps the best-known example of the cautionary (‘hard’) tradition is Anthony's The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote (1977).


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reality) and the aesthetic (concerned with the representing discourse) often overlap and mutually reinforce one another.
     In chapter 4 (“Levels and Transgressions”) of his book, Parr utilizes Gérard Genette's system of narrative levels to elucidate the embedded narratives of Don Quijote. The concept of ‘narrative levels’ helps to clarify that “shifting but sacred frontier between two worlds, the world in which one tells, the world of which one tells” (Narrative Discourse 236). If I tell a tale, for example, the events that I relate (the world of which I tell) constitute the primary, ‘basic’ level of narrative, which Genette calls the ‘intradiegetic’ or ‘diegetic’ level.2 The immediate narrating situation, that is, the context that includes both myself as teller and my audience, is what Genette calls the ‘extradiegetic’ level (the world in which I tell). Finally, if one of the characters in my tale should become a narrator, the events that he or she relates would constitute the ‘metadiegetic’ level of narrative. None of these terms is absolute; rather, they are relational or functional (229). A narrative may be considered metadiegetic only relative to a primary, intradiegetic narrative.
     What happens when the ostensibly ‘sacred’ frontier between narrative levels, or even that between textual and extratextual reality, is transgressed or violated, as it blatantly is in so many ways in Don Quijote? One such transgression occurs early on, during the inquisition and burning of Don Quijote's books in chapter 6 of Part I, when a copy of Cervantes's Galatea is found, and the priest remarks that its author is an old friend of his: “Muchos años ha que es grande amigo mío ese Cervantes, y sé que es más versado en desdichas que en versos” (120).3 The conventional relation between creator and creation appears to have been violated, for, somehow, Cervantes and his early pastoral novel have been ‘magically’ included in the represented (intradiegetic) world of Don Quijote, Part I.
     Another, even more blatant, violation is the inclusion of Don Quijote, Part I, within the represented world of Don Quijote, Part

     2 Genette uses the two terms interchangeably (228). Despite the invariably relative nature of these terms, I shall (for the sake of clarity, and following Parr) use the term ‘intradiegetic’ in this essay to refer specifically to the “universe of the characters” (Anatomy 58), that is, the basic level of narrative on which Don Quijote and Sancho have their adventures and interact with other characters.
     3 All quotations, except where indicated, are from Part I of the Murillo edition of Don Quijote (Castalia, 1978).

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II. At the beginning of the second Part, only a month after the events described in Part I have taken place, Don Quijote learns that a published edition of his exploits has already appeared and is currently enjoying a wide circulation and great popularity. John J. Allen has succinctly expressed the implications of this apparent paradox: “Don Quixote, Part I, is the only specific object in the phenomenal world of Part II which exists literally, and lies ready at hand for our confirmation of its objective reality, yet it is precisely the presence of this book, Don Quixote, Part I, which violates the realistic terms of that world” (Hero or Fool I:79).
     Such narrative transgressions —examples of what Genette calls ‘metalepsis’— obviously defy the logical expectations of most readers. Genette mentions Julio Cortázar's short-story “Continuidad de los Parques” as an obvious example of metalepsis that is well known to Hispanists: “the story of a man assassinated by one of the characters in a novel he is reading” (234). Metalepsis ultimately has a dizzying effect on the reader that radically unsettles his or her sense of reality: “The most troubling thing about metalepsis indeed lies in this unacceptable and insistent hypothesis, that the extradiegetic is perhaps always diegetic, and that the narrator and his narratees —you and I— perhaps belong to some narrative” (236). As Genette reminds us, Borges was clearly interested in narrative transgressions of this type and made a similar observation: “¿Por qué nos inquieta que don Quijote sea lector del Quijote, y Hamlet, espectador de Hamlet? Creo haber dado en la causa: tales inversiones sugieren que si los caracteres de una ficción pueden ser lectores o espectadores, nosotros, sus lectores o espectadores, podemos ser ficticios” (“Magias parciales” 105). By so radically stretching and transgressing the limits of the reading process in this way, Don Quijote constitutes a relentless questioning of that very process: its conventions and its uses. The concept of narrative levels is therefore central to the Quijote's exhibiting and questioning of its own status and authority as fiction.
     Part I of Don Quijote offers a good many interpolated, metadiegetic narratives. Among the principal ones are Pedro the goatherd's tale of Marcela and Grisóstomo; Sancho's tale of Lope Ruiz and Torralba; Cardenio, Dorotea, and the Cautivo also relate their own stories. In addition to all of these, a fictional narrative, the “Novela del curioso impertinente,” is read aloud at the inn. One of the longer narratives is Cardenio's, and it presents problems because it is not exclusively his. Not only is he not the only

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source for his story, but the story itself is fractured by the text's presentation of it, and part of the reader's task is, of course, to put the various pieces together. His story is, in part, that of other characters, whose lives and whose own narrations are radically interwoven with and affected by his: narration, in Don Quijote, is never ‘merely’ narration, nor can it ever be.
     The beginning of Cardenio's involvement is presented in the following order:

1.  Having entered the Sierra Morena, Don Quijote and Sancho find a bag.
In the bag:   a. DQ finds a book of writings.
b. Sancho finds some gold coins.
3.  DQ reads aloud from the book, at Sancho's request.
4.  DQ and Sancho see a lone figure wandering through the mountains.
5.  DQ conjectures that he is the owner of the bag.
6.  DQ and Sancho go off to look for him.
7.  DQ and Sancho find a dead mule.
8.  DQ and Sancho run into a goatherd.
*9.  The goatherd tells DQ and Sancho about a certain young man who has recently appeared wandering about in the mountains.
10.  The young man appears.
11.  The four of them sit down to eat, at the young man's request.
*12.  The young man says that his name is Cardenio and proceeds to tell his story, at DQ's request.
*13.  At a certain point, Cardenio mentions that Luscinda en joyed reading books of knighthood.
14.  DQ interrupts Cardenio's narration and starts to discuss books of knighthood.
15.  Cardenio experiences a spell of locura: he attacks his audience and runs off, leaving them badly beaten.

(HIATUS: DQ remains in the Sierra Morena to do ‘penance’; Sancho goes to deliver DQ's letter to Dulcinea, and runs into the priest and the barber at the inn; these three go to find DQ, in order to bring him back home; as they approach the spot where DQ was last seen, Sancho goes off to look for him.)

16.  The priest and the barber overhear someone reciting poetry.
17.  The priest and the barber approach him: it is Cardenio.
*18.  Cardenio tells his story, at their request.

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The striking characteristic of this listing is the ‘fractured’ effect noted above: as readers, we must reconstruct Cardenio's story piece by piece, as it is given to us. In Genette's terminology, our sense of Cardenio is the result of a combination of both intradiegetic and metadiegetic elements. All the items in the above listing are obviously intradiegetic, i.e., events that take place on the basic level of narrative. But items 9, 12, 13, and 18 (indicated by asterisks) ‘contain’ and give access to the metadiegetic level. These all shed light on Cardenio's past, either remote or relatively recent.
     Cardenio's story represents two essential motifs, discontinuity and change in perspective. The former is evident in the hiatus noted on the list; just as Don Quijote's own brand of locura interrupts Cardenio's telling of his past, so do the knight-errant's and Sancho's adventures interrupt the process by which we, as readers, learn about Cardenio. Discontinuity also characterizes the fragmentary and metonymic process by which Don Quijote and Sancho, themselves, learn about Cardenio: literally, piece by piece (his clothing, his money, and his writings, all found in the bag; then his mule; then the unnamed goatherd's words about a young man who has recently appeared there in the mountains; finally, Cardenio himself). Once Cardenio has related his story to the priest and the barber, bringing both them and us up to his ‘present’ (after the ‘hiatus’ noted above), his story continues for us on the intradiegetic level of narrative, when he plays a role in the intrigue devised by the priest to lure Don Quijote back home. (This intrigue itself involves a further metadiegetic narration, namely, the story that Dorotea tells to Don Quijote in her role as Princess Micomicona.)
     At this point, Cardenio's involvement is interrupted by several episodes that appear to have little or no direct relation to him. These include the second encounter with Andrés (and Don Quijote's metadiegetic narration of earlier events concerning him); the arrival at the inn; the reading aloud of the “Novela del curioso impertinente”; Don Quijote's interruption of that reading by doing battle with the ‘giant’ / wineskins; the completion of the reading of “El curioso impertinente.” Only after these events have occurred do Fernando and Luscinda appear at the inn, thereby enabling Cardenio (along with Dorotea) to take center-stage once again. Discontinuity is thus the result of a series of interruptions, both intradiegetic and metadiegetic.

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     The text also presents Cardenio to us by way of a marked and persistent perspectivism, offering information about him from various points of view.4 We first learn about him through the eyes of Don Quijote and Sancho. This is a golden example of such perspectivism, for (as we all know) these two tend to see things very differently from one another. Upon finding Cardenio's bag, Don Quijote's interest centers on the book containing Cardenio's writings; Sancho, on the other hand, goes immediately for the gold coins. The importance of the distinction —for this essay— derives not so much from broad thematic notions of ‘spirituality’ and ‘materiality’ (although it is evident that these also play a role here), as from the simple perspectivist notion that ‘reality’ is defined at least as much by the perceiving subject as by the perceived object.
     We first see Cardenio indirectly, then, through the divided vision of Don Quijote and Sancho, when they find his bag. Next, the unnamed goatherd relates all that he knows about Cardenio, including the latter's earlier appearance there in the Sierra Morena and his treatment of (and by) the other shepherds. Cardenio then makes his first appearance and we see him as ‘directly’ as we ever will, that is, by way of certain intermediaries (some explicit, some inferred), such as the unnamed —and reportedly unscrupulous— Moorish translator of Cide Hamete's historia or the dubious ‘second author’ who reports at the beginning of chapter 9 that he found the manuscript. These intermediaries function as extradiegetic ‘filters’ for all of the intradiegetic action of the novel5 When Cardenio tells his story to Don Quijote,

     4 The ‘perspectivist’ orientation toward Don Quijote has, of course, a long tradition that includes Américo Castro's seminal El pensamiento de Cervantes (1925) and Leo Spitzer's important essay, “Linguistic Perspectivism in the Don Quijote” (1948). This orientation has found more recent expression in the work of such eminent critics as Joaquín Casalduero, Manuel Durán, E. C. Riley, and John J. Allen, to name only a few.
     5 Many of these ‘filters’ do not serve as actual narrators; rather, they make themselves felt as inferred presences within the narrative voices that do effectively ‘speak’. One such presence is Cide Hamete (although it is possible to argue that this status changes in the final chapter of Part II). Parr lists and discusses at some length these various “narrative voices and presences” (30-39), describing them as intradiegetic. They are intradiegetic, of course, insofar as they are circumscribed by the extradiegetic level of what Parr calls the “supernarrator” (see below). But they are themselves extradiegetic insofar as they are exterior (and provide ‘access’) to the level of [p. 61] narrative on which Don Quijote has his adventures: therein lies the functional or relative nature of these terms. It is finally —begging the reader's indulgence— a matter of perspective.

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Sancho, and the goatherd, we get (as it were) his own perspective on himself. When he later reappears, after the ‘hiatus’, we see him from the perspective of the priest and barber: along with them, we overhear his poetry without knowing that it is in fact Cardenio who is producing it (329-30). Later on, the story told by Dorotea intersects with Cardenio's tale (by way of Fernando), so that we get, however limited, her perspective on him. Although her story is not Cardenio's, and could not be, it has enough points of intersection with it to corroborate his story and her own, as well. Finally —and completing the list of perspectives on Cardenio— we see him ‘directly’ once again, that is, mediated only by the extradiegetic filters noted above.6
     Cardenio's first encounter with the shepherds in the Sierra Morena constitutes a revealing and tangible example of this perspectivism, when we receive the same information from two sources, first from the goatherd and then from Cardenio himself. The goatherd reports to Don Quijote and Sancho that Cardenio “[p]reguntónos que cuál parte desta sierra era la más áspera y escondida; dijímosle que era ésta donde ahora estamos . . .” (287). Later, Cardenio relates the following to the priest and the barber: “vine a parar a unos prados . . . y allí pregunté a unos ganaderos que hacia dónde era lo más áspero destas sierras. Dijéronme que hacia esta parte” (341). This sort of mutual corroboration of information occurs a good deal throughout the novel.
     Another example, one which combines the two motifs of discontinuity and perspectivism, occurs when Cardenio comments upon (and apologizes for) the number of digressions that his tale contains. The sense of discontinuity is made explicit to the point of self-reference, because Cardenio's commentary is itself a digression from a digression. He stops himself in the middle of a hyperbolic description of Luscinda's beauty in order to ask:

     6 These extradiegetic ‘filters’ underlie the intradiegetic perspectives noted in this paragraph. One might speak here of ‘horizontal’ perspectives (the points of view of intradiegetic characters), as opposed to ‘vertical’ perspectives of various degrees (the actual and inferred points of view of the extradiegetic voices and presences). This distinction is admittedly problematic, however, for one of the most essential characteristics of Don Quijote's narrative structure is precisely the simultaneous tracing and erasure of the borders between the intradiegetic and the extradiegetic, between the narrated event and the event of narrating.

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¿De qué sirve representar ahora la incomparable belleza de aquella adorada enemiga mía? ¿No será mejor, cruel memoria, que me acuerdes y representes lo que entonces hizo, para que, movido de tan manifiesto agravio, procure, ya que no la venganza, a lo menos perder la vida? No os canséis, señores, de oír estas digresiones que hago; que no es mi pena de aquellas que puedan ni deban contarse sucintamente y de paso, pues cada circunstancia suya me parece a mí que es digna de un largo discurso (338).

The priest proceeds to reply to Cardenio, which is to say, he expresses his own point of view: “A esto le respondió el cura que no sólo no se cansaban en oírle, sino que les daba mucho gusto las menudencias que contaba, por ser tales, que merecían no pasarse en silencio, y la mesma atención que lo principal del cuento” (338). The priest's comment illustrates not only the interwoven, digressive structure of Cardenio's tale, but also that of Don Quijote, Part I, itself.7
     The motif of narrative digression reappears at the beginning of chapter 28, when, as if to comment upon the latest digression from the basic line of action and to anticipate those even longer ones which are to come (“El curioso impertinente” and the Cautivo's tale), the narrator intrudes in order to express an opinion, as well:

gozamos ahora, en esta edad, necesitada de alegres entretenimientos, no sólo de la dulzura de su verdadera historia, sino de los cuentos y episodios della, que, en parte, no son menos

     7 The problem of artistic unity is, of course, at the heart of this exchange. The Cide Hamete of Part II apparently disagrees with Cardenio and the priest, for we are told that the Moorish historian believes that he deserves the praise of his readers precisely because he has refrained (in the second Part) from the type of digressions in which he indulged in Part I: “pues se contiene y cierra en los estrechos límites de la narración, teniendo habilidad, suficiencia y entendimiento para tratar del universo todo, pide que no se desprecie su trabajo, y se le den alabanzas, no por lo que escribe, sino por lo que ha dejado de escribir” (II: 367). Cardenio's narrative dilemma has a modern echo, among many others that come to mind, in the words of Todd Andrews, the narrator/protagonist of John Barth's The Floating Opera (1956): “Good heavens, how does one write a novel! I mean, how can anybody stick to the story, if he's at all sensitive to the significances of things? As for me, I see already that storytelling isn't my cup of tea: every new sentence I set down is full of figures and implications that I'd love nothing better than to chase to their dens with you, but such chasing would involve new figures and new chases, so that I'm sure we'd never get the story started, much less ended, if I let my inclinations run unleashed” (2).

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agradables y artificiosos y verdaderos que la misma historia; la cual, prosiguiendo su rastrillado, torcido y aspado hilo, cuenta que . . . (344).

There is great irony and ambivalence (not to mention potential contradiction) in the use of the terms “agradables y artificiosos y verdaderos” to describe these narrative digressions, especially in relation to the “verdadera historia,” a phrase that is itself problematic. This passage brings immediately to mind those vital aesthetic problems (historical versus poetic truth, artistic unity, verisimilitude) that receive much fuller treatment in the later discussion between the canon and the priest (chapters 47-48) concerning the status and reception of books of knighthood, and other related literary matters.8 The “rastrillado, torcido y aspado hilo” is perhaps the best summarizing image of this aesthetics of fragmented and discontinuous storytelling. Even more striking, however, and more relevant to this discussion, is the fact that we are presented with three different perspectives on the nature of digressions, all within a relatively short section of the novel.
     This multiplicity of point of view on Cardenio (as well as on other matters), in conjunction with the interruptive and fragmentary quality of his involvement, serves to effect a representation of ‘reality’ that is based largely upon the terms of human perception: Cervantes's novel may be called ‘realistic’ not only in regard to the world it represents, but also in regard to the way it represents that world.9 The perspectivist orientation (toward the represented reality) and the aesthetic orientation (toward the representing narrative mode) are, as I said, mutually reinforcing.
     By evoking the intersubjectivity that is implicit in the three interrelated tales (the goatherd; Cardenio; Dorotea) and that which is implied by the multiple perspectives enumerated above, the novel also attempts to authorize its various discourses by substantiating their explicit claims to referential truth. In allowing each of the character/narrators and points of view to corroborate one another, the discourse of each is granted an authority that is normally reserved for ‘true’ narrations. We have seen, for example, how Cardenio corroborates —often very precisely— the facts reported by the goatherd, and how Dorotea's entire

     8 The basic study of this literary debate remains Chapter 3 of Alban Forcione's masterful Cervantes, Aristotle, and the ‘Persiles (1970).
     9 This sense of ‘realism’ is, of course, incessantly undermined by the novel's many narrative transgressions (as noted above).

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tale serves to corroborate (although much less directly) that of Cardenio.10
     It is significant in this respect that Dorotea refers to her tale, once she has finished telling it, as “la verdadera historia de mi tragedia” (359). She can do so truthfully because the events that she relates metadiegetically have, in fact, taken place within the represented world (i.e., on the basic, intradiegetic level) of the novel. But this is certainly not the case with the tale she tells in her role as Princess Micomicona, when she takes part in the elaborate intrigue designed by the priest to lure Don Quijote back home. And, as if to pun on her previous words, she prefaces her made-up tale by referring to it as “mi verdadera historia” (373). Even granting the ambivalence of the word historia in Spanish (meaning both ‘story’ and ‘history’), the term becomes problematic by virtue of what appears to be a logical contradiction: in one case, it denotes a narration of events that have ‘actually’ occurred; in the other case, a narration of events that have not.
     Perhaps one could offer the following justification: that Dorotea's fictive narration has a certain amount of truth to it, for Princess Micomicona's situation is in some sense analogous to Dorotea's; that the giant who threatens her kingdom is analogous to the ‘evil’ side of Fernando and his ill-treatment of Dorotea, and so on. But this would require an imaginative leap from literal to figurative language on the part of the reader and would belie the use of the words “verdadera historia” to describe it. Or would it? Such questions concerning the referential value of a given discourse are not idle, for the very ambivalence of the term historia greatly encourages them, particularly in a work whose protagonist is so obviously a victim of precisely this type of confusion of levels and modes of discourse.
     This confusion is explicit in the often-quoted conversation between the priest and Juan Palomeque (the innkeeper), just prior to the reading aloud of the “Novela del curioso impertinente.” The innkeeper is enamored of books of knighthood and, although he cannot read, enjoys listening to them whenever the opportunity presents itself. After Palomeque demonstrates his enthusiasm for these books by naming some of their

     10 This does not prohibit the same intersubjectivity from functioning simultaneously in such a way as to subvert the authority of each of the individual discourses —that is, by ‘de-centering’ them, by presenting them in relation to one another.

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better-known protagonists, Cardenio remarks that the innkeeper appears to believe that the events described in them have actually occurred. When the priest attempts to dissuade him from attaching any historical veracity to them, Palomeque insists that if the books were not truthful, their printing and circulation would not be permitted:

¡Bueno es que quiera darme vuestra merced a entender que todo aquello que estos libros dicen sea disparates y mentiras, estando impreso con licencia de los señores del Consejo Real, como si ellos fueran gente que habían de dejar imprimir tanta mentira junta y tantas batallas y tantos encantamientos que quitan el juicio! (397).

Since this sort of confusion —that does, indeed, “quita el juicio” and that explicitly questions the conventions and processes of reading— is so central to Don Quijote, it seems appropriate at this point to broach that critical problem that was given one of its earliest and best-known articulations by Aristotle in his Poetics (IX): the distinguishing of ‘history’ from ‘poetry’ or ‘fiction’.11
     One fruitful way of thinking about such categories is suggested by Barbara Herrnstein Smith in On the Margins of Discourse. She distinguishes there between ‘natural utterances’ and ‘fictive discourse’. ‘Natural utterances’ are those “that can be taken as someone's saying something, somewhere, sometime, that is, as the verbal acts of real persons on particular occasions in response to particular sets of circumstances” (15). ‘Fictive discourse’, on the other hand, is not born of a context that is historically determinate and consists, rather, of ‘artificial’ representations of natural utterances. In effect, ‘nobody’ utters a fictive discourse. According to this scheme, a history must be regarded as a type of natural utterance: it is created by a real person, in response to real circumstances. We read history by a convention that, for practical purposes, allows us to identify the ‘narrative voice’ with the real-life author. This is obviously not the case with fictive discourse. When we open up to chapter 1 of Don Quijote, there is nothing which permits us to assume that the narrative voice is that of Cervantes himself. Quite the contrary, in fact: one of the conventions by which we read and identify fictive discourses is that the narrator as well as his or her

     11 Perhaps the clearest introduction to the problematic relation between fiction and history in Don Quijote is Bruce Wardropper's “Don Quixote: Story or History?” (1965).

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very act of referring are things that have been artificially created. We assume a distance or ‘space’ between author and narrator, between creator and creation. This distance is explicit in autobiographical narratives, such as Lazarillo de Tormes, but implicit in (so-called) third-person narratives.
     Smith's distinction between natural utterances and fictive discourse can be related to Genette's system of narrative levels in the following way: history (or any natural utterance) functionally neutralizes the distinction between certain narrative levels. In Genette's terms, we refer to the basic level of narrative as intradiegetic; to the narrating situation as extradiegetic; and to the situation of the author (to take the terminology one step further) as ‘extra-extradiegetic’.12 As a natural utterance, history theoretically ‘collapses’ these levels into one. By tacit agreement, the reader of a history assumes that three realms —the intradiegetic (represented) world within the text; the extradiegetic world (the narrating situation); and the ‘extra-extradiegetic’ world (of the author and the reader, and that is outside the text)— are, for practical purposes, all continuous. Now, against this argument, one might insist that there is a difference, in histories, between author and narrator, that there is a clear distinction to be made among all of the aforementioned levels. The answer to this objection is simply that the conventions by which we read such utterances as ‘history’ do not allow this distinction to function.
     But it is altogether the other case with fictive discourse. It is precisely this distinction that allows for what might be called the ‘functionality of fiction’. The dear differentiation of various narrative levels and the often indeterminate relations among them allow fictive discourses to signify in ways that natural utterances cannot. Fictive discourse inevitably implies a space, a relative indeterminacy, between the extradiegetic and the intradiegetic, between the intradiegetic and the metadiegetic. This ‘space’ allows for a full functionality of figurative uses of language, of metaphor, of irony.13 It is a space that invites, indeed, demands to be filled in by the reader. This, of course, is what we call ‘interpretation’.

     12 I am, admittedly, taking liberties with Genette's terms, when —despite his explicit warning against doing so (230)— I here extend their scope in order to apply them to extratextual reality. My goal in perpetrating this ‘transgression’ is to establish as clearly as possible the relation between Genette's and Smith's terms.
     13 This is not to imply that examples of figurative language and/or irony are not to be found in a ‘history’. Obviously, they are. But such uses of [p. 67] language in a ‘history’ are ultimately subordinated to a structure that is not regarded as figurative. My claim for fictive discourse (following Smith) is that its structure is ultimately regarded as figurative.

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As Smith has it: “Poems and novels, as opposed to biographies and histories of the Civil War, are linguistic structures whose relation to the world is short-circuited” (10). It is left to the reader to ‘complete the connection’, to infer a plausible yet equally fictive context for the fictive text (33).
     It is in Don Quijote that this process of inference and interpretation may be seen in all its exuberance, because it is a text that specifically and self-reflexively exhibits its own status as fiction. It accomplishes this by way of two essential gestures. One is the extended game that it makes of pretending to be history. This pretense is so obvious and so consistently self-conscious that it effectively undermines any possibility of belief in the ostensible veracity of the “historia.” The various narrative transgressions noted above (such as the inclusion of the author, Miguel de Cervantes, along with a multitude of implied writers and readers, within the intradiegetic level of narrative) are means by which the novel points to the fictive nature of its own ‘reality’. The most important effect of this game of pretense and dizzying transgression is, finally, the parodic defamiliarization of the narrative authority of history. The Quijote thereby encompasses and renders ironic two discursive extremes. As has often been noted, it parodies one of the supremely idealistic fictional forms that had been in vogue throughout the sixteenth century: the books of knighthood. At the same time, it constitutes a parody and, consequently, a questioning of the ostensible reality and authority of (written or printed) history itself. As Robert Alter has stated in Partial Magic, his brilliant study of the novel as a ‘self conscious’ genre, “[t]he novel begins out of an erosion of belief in the written word and it begins with Cervantes” (3; quoted by Parr [21]).
     Secondly, Don Quijote presents explicitly what is implicit in every fictive discourse: various extradiegetic levels of different degrees —both actual and potential— separate the real-life, historical Cervantes (and his real-life, historical readers) from the intradiegetic level of narrative on which Don Quijote and Sancho have their adventures. These extradiegetic levels may be inferred from all of the various intermediating “voices and presences” through which we, as readers, perceive Don Quijote and his world.

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     One of these narrative voices —the so-called “first author”— provides the material from chapter 1 until near the end of chapter 8 of Part I. At that point, we learn that this material has been mediated by a “supernarrator” (Parr 9-11), who refers to a “second author,” who (in turn) refers in chapter 9 to the old Arabic manuscript that is the source of all the succeeding material and that has been rendered into Spanish by an anonymous and reportedly unreliable Moorish translator. In the midst of this narrative labyrinth is that enigmatic historian, Cide Hamete Benengeli, who is, ostensibly, the ‘source’. But the obvious question (of which Cide Hamete himself is a constant reminder) has been begged and hangs inexorably over the entire rest of the novel: what other texts, authors, worlds, might lie behind him?
     The distances and relationships among these various extradiegetic levels are ‘spaces’ of indeterminacy: sources of playfully subversive ‘obfuscation’ (Riley Don Quixote 162). It is this same indeterminacy which is both the process and the product of all fictive discourse. The basic, intradiegetic level of narrative in Don Quijote is irremediably encrusted (from without) by various and largely indeterminate levels of extradiegesis. In the same way, it is ‘infected’ (from within) by various examples of metadiegetic narration —some fictive, some not— of which Cardenio's story is only one example.
     Earlier, I noted two prominent characteristics of the novel's presentation of Cardenio, namely, its fragmentary quality and its explicit perspectivism. These qualities are, of course, also prominent in the structure of Don Quijote as a whole, precisely by way of these same narrative levels. The ‘reality’ of the Quijote is a fragmentary conglomerate of various narrative levels and perspectives, and the ways in which they may, potentially, be related. E. C. Riley emphasizes this idea in his Cervantes's Theory of the Novel: “there is in fact an infinity of potential versions, interpretations, points of view. Englobed in Don Quixote, by allusion or by inference, are all the possible partial accounts of Don Quixote” (219). In his “Introduction to the Quijote” (as well as in other essays), Américo Castro similarly notes the dynamic perspectivism that is the basis of Cervantes's masterpiece:

     The Quijote is founded on the supposition that the objects for which men strive, about which they think, and with which they live have a changing reality. They are lodged in no sure resting place: a thing seems to be this, but it may be who knows what. . . .  The observer and what he observes do not

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necessarily or even usually coincide in a manner acceptable as valid by other observers (An Idea of History 115).

Genette's system of narrative levels —representing an unabashedly aesthetic approach to narrative texts— is implicitly related to this perspectivist orientation, for each of the embedded narrative levels of Don Quijote represents a potential point of view.
     The distinction between ‘history’ and ‘fiction’ (based upon Genette and Smith) that I have discussed in this essay is by no means an absolute one. The important fact about these categories is that they are not inherent or formally implicit in any given discourse. Much like Genette's terms for distinguishing narrative levels, they are functional, relative categories, which is to say that they distinguish, not types of texts, but ways of reading. In theory, we may read any given text as either a natural utterance or as fictive discourse.14 Novels, for example, may be read (and have been read, as we all know) as strictly historical, sociological, or biographical documents. But to do so is to limit drastically their possibilities of signification; even further, it is to abolish their status as fictive discourses. For this reason and for many other more obvious ones, reading novels as though they were history can be a very dangerous enterprise, one which, I need scarcely point out, is precisely Don Quijote's problem. The cause of his madness and the focus of the entire novel is the nature of reading itself: its conventions, its uses, its abuses. Cervantes's novel provides us with a veritable map of both reading and misreading.
     An important effect, then, of putting into play the various narrative levels in Don Quijote is to unsettle the reader with a proliferation of narrative voices (and implied points of view) that both force and enable a suspension of judgment as to their authenticity and authority. For this reason, Cervantes's masterpiece

     14 The deconstructionist point of view, for example, would insist upon the essentially fictive quality of all texts, regardless of their ostensibly ‘fictive’ or ‘natural’ status. In this regard, the deconstructionists (as readers) are at precisely the other end of the spectrum from Don Quijote and, say, Palomeque. The former represent a totally ‘faithless’ reading of texts, a reading that is incessantly aware of the artificiality of all texts, of all ‘text’; Don Quijote and Palomeque, on the other hand, represent a totally ‘faithful’ reading, one that is lacking in critical distance and that sees no difference between ‘text’ and ‘life’. It is interesting —and rather paradoxical— to note that the deconstructionist view leads (by a road coming from the opposite direction) to the same conclusion, i.e., that there is no difference between ‘text’ and ‘life’, that there is literally “nothing outside the text.”

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is supremely ‘dialogic’, in all the Bakhtinian senses of that term. The discourses of Don Quijote are truly subversive (and self-subverting), as Parr makes abundantly clear: “one voice undermines its predecessor, subverting its authority, only to have the process reinforce itself in an infinite regress until all narrative authority, and implicitly the authority of the printed page itself, is called into question” (9). The universe of Don Quijote is a relational one, de-centered by a profusion of possible perspectives. The proof of this is that the ostensible reality or ‘center’ of the novel —what I have postulated throughout as the ‘basic’, intradiegetic level of narrative— is both everywhere and nowhere: fragmented and diffused among a multitude of competing, mutually contradictory, and self-contradictory discourses. The reader is suspended among these various discourses: thrust (at least in a strictly parodic sense) into the same ‘twilight zone’ as Don Quijote, ‘Reader’. And, while Genette's and Smith's systems may not help us see our way out of the delightful confusion that constitutes the Quijote (and the modern novel), I believe they offer us theories by which we may more clearly articulate and examine the ways in which we are confused. Because Don Quijote represents the extreme of the confusion of various levels and various worlds, he is also thoroughly representative of the kinds of reality that we, as readers, experience.



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Alter, Robert. Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre. Berkeley: U of California P, 1975.

Barth, John. The Floating Opera. 1956. New York: Bantam, 1983.

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——. Don Quixote. Unwin Critical Library. London: Allen & Unwin, 1986.

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Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes