From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 17.2 (1997): 135-37.
Copyright © 1997, The Cervantes Society of America

Williamson, Edwin. Cervantes and the Modernists: The Question of Influence. London: Tamesis, 1994. 148 pp.

     Most literary scholars agree that Don Quijote inaugurated the modern novel and had a profound influence on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century prose fiction. Vestiges of the masterpiece can be found in the literature and culture of the twentieth century. Whether Don Quijote has had a significant impact on Modernists and Post-Modernists and whether Modernism, in turn, has revealed new layers of significance in Cervantes's masterpiece are questions worthy of examination. Edwin Williamson has brought together a collection of essays by noted scholars in several fields that addresses these questions. The volume, which demonstrates the international cultural attraction of Don Quijote in the twentieth century, will engage Hispanists and generalists alike.
     In his introduction Williamson presents a neat outline that treats basic issues of influence and traces the impact of Don Quijote from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. The novel has been a model of literary parody over the centuries, has served as a prototype for nineteenth-century Realism, and in our own century, it has had a broad effect on various manifestations of Modernism and Post-Modernism. That the Quijote unfolds new meanings at different points of time is a given, but the question of whether meanings are inherent in the masterpiece or inventions of subsequent readers is an interesting issue that this volume treats.
     The first essay by Nicholas Round utilizes cognitive linguistics to study the Quijote as a semantically productive linguistic expression that is evident in subsequent texts. Linguistic expressions possess a formal pole and a semantic pole that are related to two modalities of influence, “availability” and “appropriation.” Round uses two texts to discuss the influence of Don Quijote, pointing out the instances of appropriation, the conscious imitation of a model and availability, formal elements that are widely available in culture.


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     Next, Michael Wood presents a playful reversal of influence and imagines that Cervantes has written the Quijote after having read two Modernist writers, Borges and Nabokov. Twentieth-century preoccupations of these Modernist authors can be found in Don Quijote that makes it modern yet still classic.
     Paul Julian Smith's imaginative and provocative essay on Cervantes's El amante liberal and Goytisolo's Reivindicación del conde Julián uses the sodomitical scene as a model to characterize the contradictory relationship of the two authors as “(be)hindsighted.” Smith believes that Goytisolo focussed on Cervantean elements of transvestism, homosexual desire, gender and race, and that the unspoken sodomitical spectacle of the Turkish empire in El amante is displaced on to the substitute figure of a feminized Cornelio. Some readers will find his ideas sensitive and penetrating, while others will consider them bizarre and farfetched; none will find them boring.
     The collection comes to life with Edward Hughes's insightful study of prisons and pleasures of the mind that demonstrates common motifs and patterns in Don Quijote and Proust's A la recherche. He starts with Proust's comparison of Baron de Charlus to Don Quijote; the Baron is a figure of tragic grandeur based on Proust's “Romantic” reading of Don Quijote. Hughes then points out the authors' common concerns of psychopathology of love, the ambivalent relation between fiction and historicity, and imprisonment in literature. He presents Lukács's ideas on Modernism, then offers some discerning observations on individual and homocentric isolation in both works. Perceptive references to both texts point out common constants and templates of human experience and ideological anxieties of their times. Cervantistas who are not well versed on Proust will benefit a good deal from this essay.
     E. C. Riley's piece on heroism treats “correspondences” of narrative technique, image, and theme in novels by Joyce, Kafka, Orwell, Camus, and Martín Santos. It points out the democratization of the classical hero Don Quijote as a prototype of the “little man” of the twentieth century, a kindred spirit of Joyce's Leopold Bloom. In a study on Cervantes, Thomas Mann, and Primo Levi, Michael Bell points out the Modernists' endeavors to fashion myths and to counteract scientific reason of Realism. Starting with Mann's celebrated 1934 essay “Voyage with Don Quijote,” he demonstrates Mann's Cervantean dimension with regard to themes of cultural relativity, exile, and tolerance.
     The highlight of this book, Edwin Williamson's article on the Quixotic roots of Magic Realism, will be of value to Cervantistas, Latin Americanists, and generalists alike. Williamson's perspicacious interpretation of Carpentier shows how the author, a cultural nationalist, chronicled the marvels of Latin America as an alternative to the rationalism of Europe's Enlightenment. Carpentier preferred the spiritual values of the Creole and indigenous traditions to the barren materialism of the utilitarian Anglo Saxons, and the figure who best represented this preference was a revived, romanticized Don Quijote, a suffering hero who did battle against materialism. With acute references to Cien años Williamson demonstrates how García Márquez adopted Borges's ironic post-Romantic view of the Quijote and captured its irony and partial magic.
     In another fine study, Philip Swanson outlines Patricia Waugh and Edmund Smyth's views on Post-Modernism and demonstrates convincingly that it is

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legitimate to read the Quijote in a Post-Modern manner, that Fuentes's La cabeza de la hidra ought to be read in such a way, and that even Don Segundo Sombra can be viewed somewhat from this perspective.
     Dietrich Scheunemann starts with the premise that Cervantes chose a medium that created Don Quijote's confusion in order to do away with the “book-conditioned” perplexities in the minds of his readers. He outlines the ideas of Hegel, Lukács, and Walter Benjamin on the role Don Quijote in the development of the new genre, the novel. For Hegel the Quijote was the modern bourgeois epic, for Lukács it was the first great novel that stood at a time when humans became lonely, and for Walter Benjamin solitude marks the novel and its birthplace is the solitary individual.
     Although Cervantistas may not learn much new about the Quijote from this collection, they will profit from essays of noted scholars on a wide variety of topics. Not only will they gain valuable insights into twentieth-century works and movements, they will enhance their knowledge of the influence that the Spanish masterpiece has had in this century. Readers will be convinced that Don Quijote has transcended the ideological limits of its age and that it has anticipated many aspects of modernity, including Modernism and Post-Modernism.

Robert L. Fiore
Michigan State University

Prepared with the help of Sue Dirrim
Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes