From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 6.1 (1986): 81-90.
Copyright © 1986, The Cervantes Society of America

Cervantes and the Imagination


IN Don Quixote Cervantes takes a notoriously strong official stand against the popular forms of fiction of his day. His attack includes not only the romances of chivalry, but also the pastoral romances and the picaresque.1 The criticisms appear conventional enough, often borrowing from the language of the neo-Aristotelian theorists whose work clearly influenced him. The Canon of Toledo, for example, in a well-known presentation of the official anti-chivalric position, says: “Hanse de casar las fábulas mentirosas con el entendimiento de los que las leyeren, escribiéndose de suerte que, facilitando los imposibles, allanando las grandezas, suspendiendo los

     1 The attacks against the pastoral and picaresque are less concentrated and overt than those made against the chivalric. As in the Coloquio de los perros, Cervantes attacks the pastoral in Don Quixote by presenting an implied contrast with the true nature of country life, and by revealing the devastations that result when characters leave home to pursue as a way of life the literary pastoral. The attacks against the picaresque are similarly oblique, calling principally into question the problem of form, narrative ending, and world vision implied in the making of a rogue's autobiography. The denunciations of the chivalric, on the other hand, are both consistent and overt, beginning with the prologue in Part I (“todo él es una invectiva contra los libros de caballerías . . . [que] . . . no mira a más que a deshacer la autoridad y cabida que en el mundo y en el vulgo tienen los libros de caballerías”; “llevad la mira puesta a derribar la máquina mal fundada destos caballerescos libros, aborrecidos de tantos y alabados de muchos más”), and ending on the last page of Part II (“no ha sido otro mi deseo que poner en aborrecimiento de los hombres las fingidas y disparatadas historias de los libros de caballerías”).


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ánimos, admiren, suspendan, alborocen y entretengan de modo, que anden a un mismo paso la admiración y la alegría juntas” (I, 47). His formulation, however, centers on giving dominance to intelligence over imagination. The Canon, along with many theorists of the day, tended to demean the imagination, associating it with the “lower faculties” (at another point he refers to the “confuso juicio del desvanecido vulgo, a quien por la mayor parte toca leer semejantes libros” [I, 48]).2
     Cervantes' announced rejection of the romances of chivalry is difficult to reconcile with his own boast, late in life, that he is a “raro inventor,” “aquel que en la invención excede,”3 as well as with his obvious full acquaintance with that popular prose genre. But contradictions are notorious in Cervantes. After nearly four hundred years, critics still have not arrived at a consensus regarding even the question of whether Cervantes meant it or nor when he bore down

     2 The faculty of imagination, in medieval and neo-Aristotelian Renaissance philosophy, was directly associated with the senses, and hence was seen as a property of being mankind shared with the animals. Aquinas says, in Question 84, Article 7: “Now sense, imagination, and the other powers belonging to the sensitive part make use of the corporeal organ.” Intellect, on the other hand, belongs especially to human beings, and draws from the image-making faculty the apprehension of intentions not perceived through the senses. However, a competing view, new in the Renaissance, began to link imagination with love, and both with the creative powers, especially with regard to poetry, as John Dagenois points out in “El amor y el proceso creador en Lope de Vega,” Anuario de letras 21(1983), 223-36.
     3 The famous quotes come from the long mock-epic poem, published in 1614, the Viaje del Parnaso, Chapters I and IV, respectively. The Coloquio de los perros, whose talking dogs struggle with the principle of order against an overabundance of material streaming out of recalled experience, also exhibits the expansive imaginative faculty of Cervantes. His sympathy with characters given to excesses of imagination and invention is also evident in the portrayal of so many rogues and actors whose survival depends on their success at creating and sustaining, against the official view, a version of reality based on their own experiences in the world. Famous examples are Rinconete and Cortadillo, Pedro de Urdemalas, Chirinos and Chanfalla in “El retablo de las maravillas,” the student in “La cueva de Salamanca,” Doña Lorenza in “El viejo celoso,” Master Peter and Basilio in Don Quixote Part II, and even Persiles and Sigismunda. For a detailed discussion of the rogue, and also of the role of neo-Aristotelian poetics in Cervantes' work, see Alban Forcione's Cervantes, Aristotle and the “Persiles” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971).

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so heavily on the works of chivalry.4 And hidden within that question is the deeper one of how Cervantes understood the relationship between imagination and intellect; between the fantasmagoria of events and desires presented to the self through the senses and the official organization of that data into acceptable forms and units of comprehension.5
     The principal complaint against the romances of chivalry, as voiced by such “learned” figures as the priest, the barber, and the Canon of Toledo in Part I, is that they abuse the intelligence of their readers. But Cervantes shows something a little more subtle in his novelistic rendering of the problem. Despite the Canon's insistence that it is his intelligence that finally refuses the books of chivalry (“De mí sé decir que cuando los leo, en tanto que no pongo la imaginación en pensar que son todos mentira y liviandad me dan algún contento . . . . y aun tienen tanto atrevimiento, que se atreven a turbar los ingenios de los discretos y bien nacidos hidalgos . . .” [I, 49]), it is precisely Cervantes' fiction-ravaged characters, from Don Quixote to Grisóstomo to Cardenio to Marcela, who are most richly endowed with intellect. Over and over again throughout the book characters ask themselves of Don Quixote: how can a man as intelligent as he be so mad when it comes to the books of chivalry? Clearly intellect and imagination belong to different realms: what appeals to one faculty of the soul has nothing essential to do with what goes on in another.6

     4 Though since the Romantic period most critics have tended to look far beyond Cervantes' anti-chivalric statements for signs of his true intentions, serious concern with those statements has made a recent comeback, most thoroughly developed in Anthony Close's The Romantic Approach to “Don Quixote” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).
     5 The question is one that began to receive considerable attention in the Renaissance, when philosophers first began to associate the faculty of imagination with poetry, and with an excess of hot and dry humors. Alfonso de Carvallo, for example, in his Cisne de Apolo, distinguishes clearly between imagination and intellect in the creation of poetry, deviating from the medieval idea that imagination was a source of danger requiring a censor. For more on the role of the imagination in poetic activity, see John Dagenais' “El amor y el proceso creador,” op. cit.
     6 That the faculties were separate, if interrelated, was clear to the theorists who discussed the psychology of the soul. Huarte de San Juan, so influential in Cervantes, sees the difference among people in the development of the various faculties (imaginative, memorial, and intellectual) as indicators of differences in talent, taking as ideal the even balance of all three. The point here is that one can easily use more than one faculty, and not experience those faculties as in harmony with one another. [P. 84] See Examen de ingenios in Biblioteca de autores españoles 65 (Madrid: Atlas, 1953). Just as I was preparing this manuscript for press I came across C. Christopher Soufas, Jr.'s “Thinking in La vida es sueño,” PMLA 100 (1985), 287-99, which takes up in some detail Renaissance notions regarding imagination and the intellect.

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     Don Quixote's defense of the books, enunciated most clearly in his debate with the Canon in chapter 49 of Part I, but expressed on and off throughout the work, consists of celebrating their appeal to the senses, but also their capacity to uplift and ennoble. He tells the Canon: “De mí sé decir que después que soy caballero andante soy valiente, comedido, liberal, bien criado, generoso, cortés, atrevido, blando, paciente, sufrido de trabajos, de prisiones, de encantos” (II, 49).
     Part I is so structured as to suggest, however, that it is the Canon who is in fact right: that the chivalric books are rather more dangerous than enlightening. Despite his assertions to the contrary, Don Quixote is often anything but valiant and courteous. He belongs, furthermore, with a collection of deluded characters whose failures to distinguish the seductions of literature from the hard facts of life bring them into the realms of madness, criminality, suicide, adultery, and all manner of behavior disruptive to a well-ordered republic.
     Part I of Don Quixote is a work in which the struggle between intelligence and the imagination remains far from resolved. The romances are appealing, as characters from every segment of society attest. They distract the bored, give pleasure to those who have toiled, and they appeal even when they indulge excessively in the fantastic. Critics have rightly been reluctant to buy wholesale the notion that Cervantes really intended to destroy the romances of chivalry, for Part I is full of indications that they have been read by all segments of society, and not always with pernicious results. Furthermore, Part I is structured in such a way as to mirror the very romances it attacks, being built on a string of episodes loosely interconnected, and having, therefore, no natural place of ending. The tendency, implicit in both the romances of chivalry and the pastoral, to place imagination in a role antagonistic to the intellect, remains firmly in place in Don Quixote I, thus locking Cervantes into the very dialectic from which the official declamations regarding his intentions would appear to free him.
     Part II has an entirely different structural configuration, one which no longer follows the meanderings of the chivalric books. Though

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called by the same name, the fictional author of Part II is no longer the problematic figure he was in Part I, wavering between the roles of scribe and magician, historian and poet. In Part II Cide Hamete executes his task with consummate authority, stopping and starting the action at will, deliberately confusing and then enlightening the reader. And behind him, Cervantes expertly guides his character, Don Quixote, through a calculated process of disillusionment that begins with his search for Dulcinea and ends with his realization that she cannot be found; that begins with his struggle to preserve his chivalric role, and ends with his recantation and death. Part II of Don Quixote, quite unlike Part I, gives the impression of being carefully planned. Its chapters represent true units of narrative material. Its characters have a definite itinerary. The secondary stories maintain firm contact with the dominant plot line. Beginnings and endings are clearly marked.
     The implied theoretical debate regarding the relative merits of imagination and the intellect, while it continues through Part II, also takes on a cast different from Part I. The lines of distinction, for one thing, have sharpened in Part II. Spokesmen for neo-Aristotelian poetics are both better versed in their material and less sympathetically portrayed than are their counterparts in Part I. Replacing the bumbling but reasonably kindly priest of Part I is Sansón Carrasco, a wet-behind-the-ears bachelor from Salamanca who expertly spouts truisms about history, poetry, and verisimilitude, but is in fact a pedant with little genuine concern for his neighbor Don Quixote's well-being, and no true awareness of self.
     Like the priest, Sansón tries his hand at Don Quixote's own game in an effort to trick the gentleman out of his madness. While achieving a far more complex and sophisticated likeness than the priest had managed of the knightly drama Don Quixote has chosen to enact, Sansón also falls far more deeply into unconscious identification with his role than did his counterpart in the 1605 novel. When he fails at his first effort to defeat Don Quixote, his initial desire to humor his crazed neighbor hardens into a thirst for revenge. He tells his friend Tomé Cecial, “pensar que yo he de volver a la mía [casa] hasta haber molido a palos a don Quijote es pensar en lo escusado. Y no me llevará ahora a buscarle el deseo de que cobre su juicio, sino el de la venganza . . . .” (II, 15).
     An even more shockingly unsympathetic spokesman for the anti-romance position is the ecclesiastic who lives in the palace of the duke

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and duchess. Playing a role analogous to that of the Canon of Toledo in Part I, the ecclesiastic engages Don Quixote in a verbal challenge of his decision to become a knight errant, bringing to his position his moral authority as a member of the clergy. Calling Don Quixote “alma de cántaro,” he assails him with one of the cruelest direct attacks on his character that Don Quixote has been asked to withstand:

“¿quién os ha encajado en el celebro que sois caballero andante y que vencéis gigantes y prendéis maladrines? . . . Dejad de andar vagando por el mundo, papando viento y dando que reír a cuantos os conocen y no conocen. ¿En dónde, nora tal, habéis vos hallado que hubo ni hay ahora caballeros andantes? ¿Dónde hay gigantes en España, o maladrines en la Mancha, ni Dulcinea encantadas, ni toda la caterva de las simplicidades que de vos se cuentan?” (II, 31).

     The lines of separation between those who uphold the concept of a world of everyday common sense and those who receive uncritically data presented to the sensory organs may have sharpened in Part II, but Cervantes' own place within that debate remains ultimately as uncertain as ever. The question is complicated by the fact that those characters most actively unsympathetic to Don Quixote —Sansón, the duke and duchess, the ecclesiastic, Altisidora, the Castilian who calls out to him from the crowd in Barcelona saying “vuélvete, mentecato, a tu casa . . . y déjate destas vaciedades que te carcomen el seso y te desnatan el entendimiento” (II, 62)— these characters are in the end the ones who win the day. The three characters most thoroughly committed to carrying through the fantasy of knighthood —Sancho, Don Quixote, and Cide Hamete— all end their journeys with emphatic denunciations of the chivalric world they sought to recreate.
     Sancho is the first to relinquish the ambitions his proximity to the chivalric fantasy had inspired in him. After leaving his long-desired island he says: “Yo no nací para ser gobernador ni para defender ínsulas ni ciudades de los enemigos que quisieran acomoterlas. Mejor se me entiende a mí de arar y cavar, podar y ensarmentar las viñas, que de dar leyes ni de defender provincias ni reinos” (II, 53).
     And Don Quixote, even more damningly, exclaims, at the end of the novel, “Ya soy enemigo de Amadís de Gaula y de toda la infinita caterva de su linaje; ya me son odiosas todas las historias profanas de la andante caballería; ya conozco mi necedad y el peligro en que me pusieron haberlas leído; ya, por la misericordia de Dios, escarmentando en cabeza propia, las abomino” (II, 74).

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     If Don Quixote leaves everyone high and dry at the end, going so far as to say in his will that he would disinherit his niece should she marry anyone who reads chivalric novels, Cide Hamete is just as forthright. He ends the book saying: “No ha sido otro mi deseo que poner en aborrecimiento de los hombres las fingidas y disparatadas historias de los libros de caballerías, que por las de mi verdadero don Quijote van ya tropezando, y han de caer del todo, sin duda alguna” (II, 74). In the end Don Quixote and Cide Hamete not only close the door on their own excursions into fantasy and make-believe, but join in crusade against the possibility that others might similarly indulge their imaginations.
     What are we to make of the rather violent rupture of the fictional illusion which the readers, as well as Don Quixote's companions, have come to relish? Many readers have experienced these final words as an affront, reacting as sadly to them as Don Quixote's friends did to his abdication of the chivalric and the pastoral. Is Cervantes really taking here the uncompromising moralist position that the chivalric is injurious to the soul and should be banned from the republic? Is he making league with the figures who have most brutally sought to turn Don Quixote from delusion, league, finally, with the very Avellaneda whose limited imagination led him, in his imitation Don Quijote, to consign his hero to the madhouse?
     The question can be answered only when we realize that by Part II Cervantes has stepped out of the dialectic in which he and the theorists who so influenced him were caught. In Part II there no longer is a commonsense world at all, and therefore, no norm against which to judge the projections of the imagination. “Reality” and “fiction” are, as Don Quixote himself seems to have realized, mirrors of one another. Thus Don Quixote can say, early in Part II: “Hemos de matar en los gigantes a la soberbia; a la envidia en la generosidad y buen pecho; a la ira, en el reposado continente y quietud del ánimo, . . .” (II, 8), suggesting a correspondence between inner states of disposition and outer perceived realities. In a process that forces him again and again to contemplate the insubstantiality of that outer reality once so easily taken for granted, he exclaims, halfway through the novel: “todo este mundo es máquinas y trazas, contrarias unas de otras” (II, 29). And in the dream in the cave he can demonstrate the failure of sense data to produce the sensation of reality on which the intellect must depend for a correct apprehension of truth:

Despabilé los ojos, limpiémelos, y vi que no dormía, sino que

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realmente estaba despierto; con todo esto me tenté la cabeza y los pechos, por certificarme si era yo mismo el que allí estaba, o alguna fantasma vana y contrahecha; pero el tacto, el sentimiento, los discursos concertados que entre mí hacía, me certificaron que yo era allí entonces el que soy aquí ahora (II, 23).

     Cervantes' successful characters in Part II recognize the insubstantiality of even the most commonly-accepted conventions. Basilio, for example, wins his bride by playing the role of distraught lover when she is about to be married to his richer rival. Since jilted lovers are supposed to commit suicide in despair, no one suspects that he is playing with a literary convention, and all agree, giving in to what seemed his dying request, that he should be allowed to marry the one he loved. Less successful characters fail to remain clear about the fictional quality of the adventures they create, making the theme of the fooler fooled central to Part II of Don Quixote. Over and over again characters get caught when they fail fully to understand that all “reality” emerges from within the perceiving subject.7
     Reality is clearly shown in Part II to be simply what each character makes it. A most interesting example of this can be seen in the many transvestite episodes in Part II. These episodes demonstrate the evanescent quality of what might otherwise pass for common sense, or everyday reality. Men dress up as women in more scenes, both in and out of playacting, than I need here recount.8 Women behave in ways belonging to the stereotype of men: they kill their lovers out of jealousy; dress as Turkish sailors to rescue fiances in captivity; serenade lovers outside their windows; and more often than not ride their horses (even in Master Peter's puppet show) “a horcajadas, como hombres,” in contrast to Sancho, who, in the Clavileño episode, rides side-saddle.
     Other conventions are also challenged in Part II: The illiterate Sancho, against nearly everyone's expectations, makes an excellent governor; the supposedly pandering waiting lady Doña Rodríguez is

     7 It is this profound, and I suspect, thoroughly iconoclastic insight that empowers such characters as Chirinos and Chanfalla in “El retablo de las maravillas” and Pedro de Urdemalas in Cervantes' play by the same name. Chirinos and Chanfalla are master-magicians because they draw out into the illusion of perceived reality images generated out of their subject's hidden prejudices and fears.
     8 For a fuller accounting, see Arthur Efron's “Bearded Waiting Women, Lovely Lethal Female Piratemen: Sexual Boundary Shifts in Don Quixote, Part II,” in Cervantes 2 (1982), 155-64.

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herself victim of her bosses' mischief; the died-in-the-wool peasant Teresa Panza gets a fancy for becoming a lady at court; the notorious bandit Roque Guinart is in fact fair and just, and unhappy in the role in which he finds himself. Anything is possible in Part II of Don Quixote because reality has lost the hard surface it had in Part I when it belonged to the world of pig gelders, highway men, police, goatherds, and inn prostitutes. Everything in Part II boils down to what Don Quixote counseled Sancho when he was about to become governor: “Has de poner los ojos en quien eres, procurando conocerte a ti mismo, que es el más difícil conocimiento que pueda imaginarse” (II, 42). Knowledge of reality, as Pedro de Urdemalas as well as Persiles and Sigismunda also demonstrated, emerges only out of the difficult and painful process of discovering and releasing all the hidden fears and desires harbored in the dark recesses of the soul.
     Don Quixote can in the end attack the books of chivalry because they stood between him and the self-knowledge he most ardently desired. Yet it is also true that only through giving himself over to the fantasy they represented was he able to recognize his own true being within and beyond the role of country gentleman that otherwise seemed so uncomfortable. Cervantes can celebrate, in Don Quixote, and everything else he wrote, the tremendous, transformative powers of the imagination, showing again and again how the engagement in story —writing, listening to, telling— effects change in those who participate in it.9
     It no longer seems strange that, late in his life, Cervantes would boast to Apollo “Yo soy aquel que en la invención excede.” Imagination, in the late Cervantes, is not longer in conflict with the intellect. Both faculties, one based on information provided through the senses, the other, on the soul's capacity to give that information order and coherence, are radically free of convention, and therefore subject to infinite change according to one's power of invention. The

     9 The change comes not in an alternate, fantasy world, but out of the release made possible when the grip of one's lived “reality” is loosened enough for its contingent, provisional, and alterable quality to become apparent. Félix Martínez-Bonati explores in a profound and insightful way the liberating effects made possible through entry into the mock-communicative world of poetic discourse in Fictive Discourses and the Structure of Literature: A Phenomenological Approach (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1981). See also my discussion of the transforming effects of story-telling in Don Quixote in Beyond Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

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final formulation thus overturns that of the Canon of Toledo and the neo-Aristotelians for whom intellect took priority. The ultimate judgment regarding the unfolding of a work of fiction or the unfolding of a life is how faithfully and how powerfully it generates and marshalls the available data in the service of the desire that motivates it. That desire, at the root of all creation, is fiction's —and reality's— true generating source, and it is that which must be clarified if the resultant work of art is to be judged. When every phenomenon of the world of the senses is understood to be the outpicturing of someone's imaginative projection, then truth becomes a matter not of measuring “fiction” against the pre-established norm provided by sense-data and the intellect, but of evaluating the product in the light of the desire out of which it grew.


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