Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote.

Max Slevogt, Don Quichote und Sancho Pansa, 1917

I don’t know if it was because I was tired (I only read it in bed before going to sleep at night), but after 6 months I’d gotten through only the first 100-odd pages. But then it (or I) started flying. The first thing that got me was the cat joke (im in yr cavalcade saturizing yr litrary deloojuns), then the rapidly escalating violence, and by the time Sancho got tossed in a blanket, I was laughing out loud every few pages.

Nothing amuses me more than cat jokes and blanket jokes, but a close second was the self-consciousness in Part 2. It’s probably because I rarely read earlier than the 19th century (and me, married to a medievalist! Shame), and seldom read works translated from other languages, but I saw happening a lot of things I’d associated only with 20thC experimental and postmodern fiction: Don Quixote and Sancho discovering that they’re characters not only in DQ Part I, but also in a spurious sequel that they diss; meeting rabid fans of the first book who, in order to enjoy the spectacle, design a series of new adventures for Don Quixote–the duke and duchess actually invent the majority of Part 2, and in their excesses become almost as “mad” as Don Quixote; and meeting a character fom the bad, non-Cervantes sequel who declares his shock at meeting OUR Don Quixote and Sancho and discovering that they’re far superior to the other ones he knew. Finally, I loved the conclusion, where the fictional author Cide Hamete Benengeli declares that “For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; he knew how to act, and I to write; the two of us alone are one.” Now I have a context for Borges’ joke about Pierre Menard.

The pleasures of this book were pretty extreme.

Read: March 2008

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