From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
11.2 (1991): 103-05.
Copyright © 1991, The Cervantes Society of America
This book is a study of Don Quixote in relation to its author, . . . his goals in writing the book, what he thought it meant, and how he desired it to be read (xiii). To be sure, Eisenberg's masterfully scholarly study begins on a polemical note, challenging the reader from the first page with the assumptions that inform his reading. Eisenberg's thesis is based on the premises that we take Cervantes at his word and that because the importance of intention is stressed in the text, characters' intentions reflect those of the author. Consequently, when the canon of Toledo criticizes the libros de caballerías, he is voicing Cervantes's own opposition to those dangerous texts, which will result in a number of subsequent responses to the problem.
When literary critics take a controversial stance with regard to interpretation, they must prepare themselves for the inevitable rebuttal. Eisenberg follows his position statement (that every character is a mouthpiece for the author, unless there is evidence to the contrary) by anticipating his own critics, who, he proposes, will undoubtedly answer that Cervantes's irony has to be taken into account (xvii). His response is the least convincing aspect of the book: True, Cervantes is ironic, but he is not obscure, at least not deliberately so. It is surprisingly easy to distinguish statements Cervantes meant us to accept from those he meant us to reject. . . . I have assumed that from the text itself we can tell how it was intended to be read, that this guidance is straightforward and sincere (xvii-xviii). Eisenberg rightly notes that explicit statements of authorial intent are out of fashion these days, and he contrasts contemporary reader expectations with those operant in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, suggesting that because we do not read the Quixote through the libros de caballerías, we simply cannot have the same experience with the text as that of early readers. Consequently, we must work to understand exactly what Cervantes was trying to do when he stated that he intended to do away with the pernicious libros. Eisenberg speculates that Cervantes's interest in literature, his aspirations as a writer, and most of all, his religiosity, patriotism, and concern for truth made him champion this cause. And, although those speculations fly in the face of Wimsatt and Beardsley's 1946 challenge
to the privileging of intention as an interpretive tool not to mention
the challenges of countless other Poststructuralist,
death-of-the-author critics Eisenberg invites us to reconsider
our own critical positions with regard to the relationship between author,
text, and reader. His authorial approach lies at the heart of his argument,
and readers of A Study of Don Quixote should be willing to confront
the implications of that approach.
If we accept Eisenberg's premise (that we must trust that the author's purported purpose in writing Don Quixote was to do away with the libros de caballerías), other conclusions follow. First, Cervantes's interest in the topic led him to conceive an unfinished chivalric novel, the Bernardo. Bernardo del Carpio would be, according to Eisenberg, the perfect subject of the ideal Spanish libro de caballerías, and he further suggests that this Christian hero would have none other than Santiago serving as his sabio encantador. Eisenberg's reconstruction of the lost Bernardo is important for setting the context of Don Quixote, a task that he continues in a chapter devoted to the question of genre. This discussion analyzes Cervantes's works from the perspective of the generic categories that existed in the author's time, moving from the lost Bernardo, the ideal libro de caballerías, to the Quixote, which Eisenberg describes as a burlesque libro de caballerías.
The examination of the burlesque aspects of Don Quixote leads naturally to Eisenberg's chapter on humor in the work. He explores the types of humorous elements that turned the conventions of the libros upside down for the public of the Golden Age, supporting in the process those who view Cervantes's creation as a funny book. This lengthy chapter (with a specific focus on the character of Don Quixote and Part I) is a tour de force of detail; it goes beyond the scope of earlier treatments of the concept by listing and analyzing carefully the multiple techniques that Cervantes employed to create humor. In addition to its comic elements, Eisenberg maintains, Don Quixote was conceived as a didactic work, and he follows the chapter on the Quixote's humor with one on the provecho of the book, thereby uniting the two in the Golden Age admonition to enseñar deleitando. The main part of the study concludes with a discussion of why Don Quixote is a classic. Eisenberg examines both the universal appeal and the contradictions inherent in the novel, showing how texts change with time and with readers; this chapter offers a fascinating analysis of the characteristics and constitutive elements of classical texts.
A Study of Don Quixote includes an appendix on the influence of the Quixote on the Romantic movement, an extensive bibliography, an index listing the references to Cervantes's works appearing in the study, and a second, detailed index of names and subjects. The author provides literally hundreds of footnotes, and even a cursory glance at them indicates the enormity of Eisenberg's critical project: this study is clearly the result of years of painstaking research and serious thought on the topic. Unfortunately, his text contains a rather large number of editing problems, the worst of which involve the transposition of several pages. A Study of Don
Quixote is simultaneously exciting and exasperating, polemical and logical. It merits careful examination, and it is guaranteed to challenge its readers.
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