From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 7.1 (1987): 79-81.
Copyright © 1987, The Cervantes Society of America

John G. Weiger. The Substance of Cervantes. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985. v + 290 pp.

     Weiger refutes the “funny book” interpretation of the Quijote advanced in recent scholarship. He focuses on the underpinning of Cervantes' art, as evident in DQ as it is elsewhere: the emulation of literary models and conventions. Weiger produces fresh readings of several important passages and works, and posits a new arrangement for the composition of DQI chs. 1-8. This is considerably more, indeed, than what one might with reason expect from one book.
     In DQ and elsewhere, Cervantes consistently upholds the serious role of poetry, one which may underlie any subject, however mundane; why, then, would he compose a work which does not conform to that role? Sidestepping the issue of what Cervantes' serious intent in DQ was, Weiger poses another question in ch. 1. What did Cervantes think of the reader reaction given to Part I of DQ? He thereupon examines the following: Cervantes' portrayal of the many readers of DQI who inhabit DQII; Cervantes' reactions to popular judgments of DQI as seen in the prologue and opening chapters of DQII; the bases of dissatisfaction which inform Cervantes' criticism of Avellaneda's “false” continuation; and remarks about his readers found in the prologue to the Persiles. A convincing case emerges for the equal measures of pleasure and frustration voiced by Cervantes —pleasure at his success, but deep dissatisfaction with the lack of comprehension on the part of his readers and their inability “to see beyond the risible” (p. 27).
     Chapter II addresses the question of originality. If Cervantes takes pride in his own “invención” and yet we know his writing depends at least in part on clearly identifiable sources or precedents, how did he define “original”? Drawing observations from throughout the canon, Weiger documents the author's respect for and appreciation of literary models, and argues that Cervantes defined the artist as one capable of the “ingenuity required for restatement . . . . whether the reshaping is in a temporal, cultural, generic or linguistic context” (p. 59). He then provides examples of this varied reshaping, such as an analysis of the prologue to DQI where Cervantes parodies the novelty topos and “plays with the concept of originality on every conceivable level, even to the point of having the author feign silence and an uncritical attitude concerning the arguments of a fictive interlocutor” (p. 68). Weiger takes pains to affirm the distinction between comic and literary parody, and to insist on the purposeful reshaping inherent in the latter. All of this reinforces the argument that purposeful artistic intentions inform the writing of the Quijote.
     The next two chapters give fresh consideration to the realistic-idealistic visualization of the world, and its bases in physical processes affecting sense perceptions. “The Reality of Illusion” considers the reality of fictional illusions: how the act of reading literally produces precise mental images of characters in Don Quijote, which function as “conditioning experience” that molds his sense perceptions. Through his intensive “literary mental conditioning,” Don Quijote recognizes, and then sees, reality (p. 94). Here and elsewhere, Weiger adduces evidence that “a general comprehension of how simple optical illusions function does inform the comparatively more dramatic illusions that typify Don Quijote's distortion of the physical phenomena


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he encounters” (p. 97). “The Illusion of Reality” approaches sense perceptions from the other side: optical illusions are verified phenomena of which Cervantes was well aware. One of the strongest insights for this reviewer was Weiger's insistence on the role theatre played in shaping Cervantes' art. Theatre was Cervantes' first love, and the object of intense interest throughout his writing. Weiger discerns a “theatrical visualization” in his prose —starting in the Galatea and continuing in DQ and the Persiles. In addition to determining the manner of presentation of many scenes, this theatrical visualization heightened Cervantes' sensitivity to fluctuations in visual perceptions, facilitated acknowledgment of the subjectivity of perception, and affected his relationship with his readers.
     Chapter V, “The Faculties of the Soul,” illustrates how the functioning of the soul as voluntad, memoria and entendimiento underlies full appreciation of “La fuerza de la sangre” and the “Casamiento engañoso / Coloquio de los perros.” His new reading of the latter persuasively justifies the relationship between the two tales.
     Chapter VI returns to the more general concern of literature and its proper role. Here, Weiger charts Cervantes' changing opinions about the value of, and the reception given to, contemporary literature. He sets Cervantes' initial enthusiasm against his progressive disenchantment with his contemporaries and their varying fortunes. Weiger thus underscores how the latter, also, are judged and misjudged by the reading public, from prince to vulgo.
     In Chapter VII Weiger breaks new ground in his examination of the artistic substructure in Cervantes' work. He identifies three discrete stages of composition for the first eight chapters of DQI. Phase one, probably written in the early to mid 1590's, is a self-contained unit, centered around the scrutiny of books, starting in ch. IV after Don Quijote returns home and ending mid-way through ch. VII. Literature in general motivates the protagonist, and he impersonates various figures of fiction. Stage two was also originally written as a continuous, independent unit, and is comprised of all that remains of chs. I-VIII. Here, only novels of chivalry inspire Don Quijote, and he emulates, not impersonates, his heroes. Stage three is the text as we know it; stage one is interpolated into stage two, and some details have been retouched to seam them more smoothly. Weiger's striking hypothesis argues against an evolution in the hero in these early pages, and explains inconsistencies modern readers have found by means of the distinct orientations of phases one and two. His theory accounts for puzzles such as: 1) the changes in what motivates the hero; 2) changing opinions the barber and curate voice about specific books; 3) the repetitive introduction of the barber in ch. V; 4) Don Quijote's claim to multiple identities, such as Valdovinos, the twelve peers of France, Reinaldo de Montalbán, in the chapters comprising phase one, and his emulation of chivalric heroes in the others.
     These are only several of the many details resolved by Weiger's simple, lucid theory. The reduction of inconsistencies and the logical explanation of others limit the amount of “linguistic playfulness,” and the fundamental issue which emerges is “a toying with the most elemental problem of a writer's substance: the inability to get the facts right (p. 203). Ultimately,

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Weiger concludes, “it is a question not of the relativity of truth but of the human limitations that circumscribe the apprehending of the truth” (p. 203). This conclusion, as well as much of chapters III and IV, offers significant support to those who discern classical skeptical attitudes toward reality in Cervantes. Weiger's final chapter abounds with insight as he retraces his analysis. A few of his final comments may strike some as more speculative than useful. But, in sum, this is a well-woven, meticulously argued, original analysis. It bears witness to a profoundly sensitive appreciation of Cervantes. The wide-ranging discussions are tightly organized to clarify or correct previous understandings of Cervantes, and surely support the premise of deliberate artistic intentions in the Quijote.

Lafayette College

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