Saturday, January 29, 2005

Some thoughts and many asides


The end is not yet in sight, but the quarter mark is. The fact that I have truckloads of paying work to do means I will likely be procrastinating a great deal in days to come, both reading and posting.

Plus, I've decided there's no point in waiting till I've finished reading to discuss what's going on.

Diana's recent lightbulb moment is helping me consolidate some impressions of my own.

The mystery to me at this stage is how could anyone possibly think Don Quixote is not mad?! It's bloody obvious he's a raving lunatic. It's openly stated on virtually every other page. How did it ever come to be a question? (Do things take a drastic turn in the pages to come?)

The only sense, that I can see, in which he isn't mad is if you read the whole quest as a metaphor — and this is where my impression bumps up against Diana's lightbulb (in a good way) and I find I'm constantly thinking about it while riding the metro, or blogging for that matter.

Random thoughts
Every individual has their personal quest.
We decide who we are.
We create personas.

How often do you find yourself in situations and have a meta-moment, where you see and hear yourself acting a part. You wonder if others hear themselves — are they for real? Or are they reciting the lines they think they're supposed to say, "playing" the role of "Expert" or "Lover" or "Mother" or "Grocery Store Clerk" or "Mysterious Passenger on Train" or "Coffee Drinker in Quaint Cafe"?

I can recall several work situations where I would remind myself to exude confidence, pretend you really know what you're talking about, feign enthusiasm. At times, I believed myself. I wonder how often other people perceived the script in my head. At home, there are days I pretend to be a grown-up, someone who's organized and has all their bills and paperwork under control. It's a little more than just "putting on a hat." Maybe it's closer to what in psychotherapeutic terms is called "visualizing."

A friend the other day posted: "I learned that Don Quixote was right: Facts are the enemy of truth."

A quotation
"It is your fear, Sancho," said Don Quixote, "that keeps you from seeing or hearing properly, because one of the effects of fear is to cloud the senses and make things appear other than they are..."

A question
Why doesn't Sancho Panza just give it up and go home?

A spot of humour
I keep hearing this dialogue in my head involving the Black Knight. Is it just me?

Apropos of nothing
I was discussing Jorge Luis Borges the other day, and when checking a biographical detail came across this:

At times, confronted with an idea for a work that bordered on the conceptual, Borges chose, instead of following through with the idea in the obvious way by writing a piece that fulfilled the concept, to write a review of a nonexistent work, writing as though this work had already been created by some other person. The most famous example of this is "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote", which imagines a twentieth-century Frenchman who so immerses himself in the world of sixteenth-century Spain that he can sit down and create a large portion of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote — verbatim — not by having memorized Cervantes's work, but as an "original" work of his own mind. Borges's "review" of the work of the fictional Menard effectively discusses the resonances that Don Quixote has picked up over the centuries since it was written, by way of overtly discussing how much richer Menard's work is than Cervantes' (verbatim identical) work.

Apparently, Borges references Don Quixote quite a lot, but I'd never noticed. I don't pretend to have any idea what the above quote means — I just think it's rather interesting.

Meanwhile, a book on my own shelf jumped out at me: Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream, by Kathy Acker, postmodern feminist (and it shows). (You can read an excerpt at Amazon, and I recommend that you do.) I read this book about 15 years ago and thought it convoluted and weird, yet oddly I did not dispose of it those few times that I've culled my shelves.

It begins thus:
When she was finally crazy because she was about to have an abortion, she conceived of the most insane idea any woman can think of. Which is to love....
She decided that since she was setting out on the greatest adventure any person can take, that of the Holy Grail, she ought to have a name (identity)...

And wouldn't you know, here's an article that the most evident precursor to Acker's Don Quixote was Borges' creation.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

My head is swimming with thoughts of Don Quixote. Here is something I posted on my blog today on the subject:

Reflections on Don Quixote

Sunday, January 23, 2005

To Priscilla, and anyone else who's flagging!

Priscilla, I hope you'll reconsider and hang in there with us and Don Quixote. I was really encouraged by your enthusiasm back when we started talking about this, and I hope that I can in some small way encourage you to not give up.

Ok, I'll just be up front and admit that I'm within 100 pages of finishing this thing. I really hope to be done Monday! But I don't want anyone to feel like they're "not keeping up" with me, or that they should quit because they've barely started and I'm almost done.

I set myself the goal of getting through this book in January because I had already attempted it once, over the summer, and my enthusiasm waned after a few chapters. I knew that if I was going to make it through this time, it'd have to be with a concerted, focused energy. (And a more readable translation.) That doesn't mean that everyone needs to read it at this pace! I would suggest, though, setting a per-day goal, be it 10 pages or one chapter or 20 minutes. Consistency really does pay off.

I plan to start with the second book on the TWEM list, The Pilgrim's Progress, in February but I expect the Don Quixote discussion to be going on here for many more months. We'll never all be at the same place in our reading because we all have different goals and life situations.

But we all seem to want to broaden our horizons by reading the classics, right? I think this is a worthwhile goal, and not incompatible with our busy lives. At least that's what I'm hoping.

I'm going to sign off now and read some more DQ. How's everyone else doing out there?

P.S. The children's version that I referred to in the post below this one arrived and it looks wonderful. My only regret is that it only covers the first half of the book, the original first book. Otherwise, I'd be tempted to say that it would be an acceptable stand-in for the real thing, if a person just wanted to familiarize themself with the story and the themes...

Sunday, January 16, 2005

A Flash of Inspiration

I just ordered this book for my kids, ages 10 and 8. I figured they could read the children's versions of each of the books I'll be reading from The Well-Educated Mind.

Artifice and urbane humour flavour Torontonian Barbara Nichol's retelling of Miguel de Cervantes' Tales of Don Quixote (Tundra, 203 pages, $22.99, ages 11+). Nichol abbreviates the story to include her favourite parts — "the parts I think you'll like the best," she says candidly.

In chatty, personable voice she tells of mad Quixote's obsessive reading of chivalric tales and his miguided departure into the world to live the life of a knight errant. "How can we know how Don Quixote saw things?" the narrator asks. "Did he really think he was a knight? We readers must feel free to disagree."

Quixote heads off to tilt at windmills, assault innocent muleteers and barbers, defend women and men of uncertain virtue and generally meet with slapstick violence and scatalogical disasters. Most readers will recognize the parody in Quixote's version of adventurous romance; for those who don't there's the less complex humour of ravaged bowels and outright delusion (the barber's basin that serves as enchanted helmet; the "magical" potion that brings explosive results).

Nichol's narrator is more than willing to bring her own mediating interpretation to events, offering readers a way to understand Quixote's psyche that goes beyond the sensational weirdness of his choices. Always, too, there is Nichol's wry humour ("the awesome mysteries of life and death a rotting ass calls up," she says) and her rhythmic, arresting way even with the simplest of words. "What seems to be quite simply is not so," she has Quixote declare, causing us to pause and consider this musical, at first puzzling, sentence.Even the bawdy is slyly concealed in a clever lineup of words: "a nightshirt far too short to cover everything that everyone might dearly wish were hidden ..."

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A link from Jim and a Happy Birthday

Jim emailed me this link today from the newspaper where he works:

Don Quixote article

And Isabella reminded me a few days ago that tomorrow is the official 400th anniversary of Don Quixote...

Are we trendy, or what?

Finished the first half!

I should really be reading my segment for today, but I'll procrastinate a bit by saying that I was moved to post Misha's comments below because he didn't like the book. I hope that this will serve to break the ice here, so that as we go along anyone else will feel free to admit to any ambivalent feelings they may have.

I still have not read Harold Bloom's introduction, but as mentioned earlier, I read his writings about Cervantes in another book (Genius) and his opinion was that Don Quixote was not crazy as much as the rest of the world was. I plan to reread this and read the introduction after I've finished the book, but at this point, I don't get that. I'm sorry, but he still just seems crazy to me. I don't admire him or even particularly like him as much as I pity him.

I did, however, have a glimpse - a mere flash! - of another understanding when I read the following from the Cliff's Notes:

With Dorothea's fictional story, Cervantes again indicates that the world of truth is the province of a knight-errant; illusion belongs to those unenlightened by the spirit of chivalry. Especially unenlightened are the curate and barber, as well as Cardenio, who is as chivalric and noble as Don Quixote himself. They are delighted by the convincing manner in which the clever Dorothea plays her role of distressed princess Micomicona. What they do not recognize, and what Don Quixote believes immediately, is that the beautiful farmer's daughter is really a dispossessed aristocrat, victim of a usurper. Dorothea is a princess by virtue of her beauty and personality; she is dispossessed, not of her lands, but of her virtue, with Don Ferdinand, a giant in rank if not in character, as the faithless usurper. And the fictionalized Micomicona, who has traveled across half the world to seek redress from a knight, is truly the ravished Dorothea, who, after much journeying, discovers Cardenio, a knight who swears to aid her in relieving her distress.
I'm sticking this up here so that when we really get to discussing this book, I can easily find it. The key to my understanding Don Quixote as anything but a pitifully deluded man lies here, I think.

Misha chimes in

I took the liberty of moving Misha's comment from my other blog over here. His passion and energy don't deserve to get buried in comments.

I am more in the mood to blast Don Qixote than to praise it... :-) There is a trend in literature that can be clearly made out towards refocusing from trying to embrace the world in a book (Simplicium Simplicissimus, Thomas Jones and all sorts of picaresque novels) to attempts at understanding human nature a little bit better (and that's so much harder!). The latter seems like a more worthwhile goal, at least to me.

The second thing about the novel that makes it impossibly boring for me is that there is no - how shall I put it? - vector of the story. All Don Qixote's misadventures have no connection whatsoever and can be easily repositioned with no loss. The author has made his point in the first quarter of the book, and he could have written twice as much without adding anything new.

On the other hand, as we move forward in time, the writers begin to take pride in writing just enough, in making sure that every episode, every scene is important and contributes to the concept of the work. There is nothing that you can do without.

I have to admit, though, that I only made myself get through the first half. Any poor sinner will repent after being tortured with such volumes and volumes of pointless gibberish!

Yes, I am kind of hard on Servantes, but he deserves it. However, you can't deny that his characters are hilarious and very alive. Well, I am sure I'll have a chance to comment on that as I follow the discussion at Well-Educated Minds...:-)

Friday, January 14, 2005


Signing on

I'd almost given up on finding the Grossman translation. I wasn't going to order one, either, cuz I wanted Don Quixote TODAY.

So this morning I pored over a few of the translations available at a local bookstore, comparing first paragraphs of a sampling of chapters. Finally, I was pretty comfortable going with the Rutherford (2000). The rhythm was easier than the Jarvis (1742). The Smollett (1755) by comparison was just weird (definitely the odd man out — makes me wonder if in some ways it's truest, maybe to the linguistic idiosyncracies of the time period).

I even convinced myself that it might complement this discussion to be able to reference more than one translation. Rutherford in hand, I still stopped by the information desk, just in case, where they were indeed able to set me up with the Grossman. And it truly does read easier.

The differences were not big ones, between any of the translations, in any objective pin-pointable sense, but the flavours are distinct.

I was curious how the academics view them:
As one of the foundation stones of modern literature — "It has been said that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. It can be said that all prose fiction is a variation on the theme of Don Quixote," wrote Lionel Trilling — it is natural that we should continue to treasure and reprint this classic. But we've done more than reprint it: we've re-translated it, again and again. Smollett's was not the first English translation of Don Quixote, but the sixth. Thomas Shelton wrote the first between 1612 and 1620; he was followed by John Phillips (a nephew of John Milton) in 1687, John Stevens in 1700, Peter Motteaux in 1700-3, and Charles Jarvis in 1742. After Smollett came 19th-century translators like John Ormsby (1885) — who called John Phillips' version "a travesty that for coarseness, vulgarity, and buffoonery is almost unexampled even in the literature of that day" — and 20th-century translators like Samuel Putnam (1949), Walter Starkie (1964), and John Rutherford, author of the latest Penguin Classics edition in 2000.

Amazing that translation of DQ has been tackled so many times! It seems no one thinks anyone else has gotten it right. That in itself serves as evidence to DQ's richness for interpretation.

OK. I start reading the Grossman NOW.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


I just settled in to read some more today, and I popped right back up because I giggled once again when I came across one of the many references to Sancho's horror at the blanket-throwing incident. I love these!

Just had to share. Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Thoroghly enjoying a second beginning; )

Hurrayyy! I've made it to the party! Sorry it took so long for me to arrive--sick kids over the weekend, but things are back on track. I'm thrilled to be a part of this group. This is my second time beginning DQ--I was 18 chapters into Rutherford's translation, put it down indefinitely (months ago), and decided to start over after hearing much about Grossman's translation and reading her "notes to the reader" in the bookstore. I've given a sneek peek at the first chapter and can tell within the first few sentences that her version is truly more engaging than Rutherford's.

I am close to finishing Bloom's introduction. Diane, I too wonder if he is insane. Afterall, Bloom does say that DQ's "madness is deliberate, self-inflicted" and, basically, that he wills his fiction into reality. It'll be interesting to see how others are brought into his reality.

Regarding how strictly I'm following Baur's book, for now, I'm a purist. I am not usually, but for things that are new to me and I care enough to want to succeed. While I've read classical literature in my life, most of it was required! I think it is fair to say that serious reading is new to me. TWEM has a good formula for someone in my shoes (that's me; ), so I'm sticking to it. I have even purchased vocab books and am enjoying those from the Classical Roots series. Crazy, no? A bit quixotic--je je.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Reading Journals

I stayed up late last night rereading the beginning of The Well-Educated Mind and got to wondering about the reading journal. Last time I attempted TWEM, starting with DQ (The Penguin edition), I dutifully summarized each chapter as I read, as she suggests. I didn't get very far, though, so I don't really know if it was of benefit or not. To be honest, right now it sounds like a pain. I just want to sit and read.

However, I do like the idea of the Commonplace Book, and of the writing one's thoughts and questions about what one is reading. I suppose I am starting to use this blog in that manner.

I have questions about this whole idea of whether or not Don Quixote is insane. At this point in time, it seems obvious to me that he is. In reading some of what Harold Bloom had to say in his book, Genius (and I have to say now that I have not yet read his preface to the Grossman DQ), it would seem that there is another way of looking at this issue, one which leans heavily on Hamlet (which I also have not read).

I suppose this is all grist for the reading journal...

Are you all doing the chapter summaries? Reading journals?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Heavy Reading?

I went to lift my DQ off my lap today while getting up and I wrenched my back. I either need to get in better shape or start reading drugstore paperbacks...

Hope you're all having a good reading weekend!

Friday, January 07, 2005

A little Don Quixote goes a long way

[So funny, I mistakenly posted this on my own Blogger blog!]

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Born around September 29 to October 9, 1547, the latter being the date he was baptized. (I like to say he was born September 30, so that I share his birthdate.) ;o)

He was number 4 or 6 out of 7 siblings; his mother Leonor de Cortinas, and father Rodrigo de Cervantes Saavedra. On his father’s side, Cervantes’ grandfather, who had studied law and served as Judge in the Holy Inquisition, abandoned a life of prestige, leaving his wife and children to poverty. Cervantes’ father then became a barber in order to take care of his family, and so Cervantes spent his childhood in an eternal pilgrimage throughout the cities. The events of his early life seemed to have served as a mold for what the rest of Cervantes' life would be like, one destined to be poor, showered with ill fortune.

He learned to read at a very early age, which was not common in their time, and that is credited to his father; as a teenager he was very shy and stuttered; I know Cervantes was in jail for a little less than a year for not paying debts. Poverty was the norm throughout his entire life. Cervantes was actually in and out of prison and war for most of his adult life, from which he attempted numerous escapes.

Some argue that he was a professor at Hoyos; he lost use of his left hand which earned him the nickname “el manco de Lepanto”.

By age 33 he had already several children from several different women; he married Catalina de Salazar y Palacio, from a little town in La Mancha, at 37. She was almost 20 years younger I believe, and it is said that this was an arranged marriage.

In 1587, he joined the Madrid’s First Literary Circle, at Academia Imitatoria. Sometime during 1594, Cervantes’ mother died. Shortly after, he landed in jail again, and it’s said that it was there that he began writing Don Quixote. It appeared later, in 1605, giving him instant fame. Part one was published in six editions during its first year, and was promptly translated to English and French. Yet, there was no monetary bounty for poor Miguel de Cervantes.

In 1614, José de Avellaneda (I hope I remember his name right) came up with an unofficial second part to Don Quixote. This prompted Cervantes to write the second part to Don Quixote, in 1615, while he was still working on Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos nunca representados.

His first work was La Galatea (prose-romance). Other writings during years 1613 and 1614 include Novelas Ejemplares (collection of short stories), and Viaje al Parnaso, the verses (poetic satire-?). Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda 1616, (considered Byzantine novel-?; fictional prose)

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra died on April 23, 1616, in his home in Madrid.

My mom has promised to send me the rest of my notes from high school. My high school? Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, located in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Can you tell how much I love “mi querido Don Quijote de la Mancha”? :o)

I can't wait for my new book to arrive! I'm headed to B&N again tomorrow morning.

I'm so excited!

Oh Diana, thank you so much for creating this blog spot! My husband (Tony) has written blogs and I've read several but I haven't participated yet. This should be great.

Ok, I'm ready. I have WEM, Grossman, and my notebook in hand, ready to go. And I'm as intimidated as I've nearly ever been! Haha! I have to admit something; I haven't taken on a classic since school days. I adore reading and couldn't possibly read enough but I've become someone who views many of the classics with a mix of "I'll read that one day" and "I don't think I'm capable of reading that". Amazing how we shortchange ourselves, isn't it?

I'm beginning chapter IV and thrilled to say that even though it does take more concentration than Crichton, it's not an impossible read like I thought. Yeah! Where is everyone else? Am I too far behind? I'm a very fast reader but I can really see how this will slow me down. You really have to catch much more of the words to get the whole picture. It's easy to see what Susan was talking about at the beginning of WEM with the speed and comprehension "tests" she had. Bubble gum books like Grishom and Crichton make it easy to speed/scan read but this one is really demanding more attention. It's like two different animals.

Anyway, I'm rambling. What are we going to post here for the most part? Where we are in reading? Thoughts on parts/chapters? Are most of us reading Grossman's translation? I think it's a beautiful book as well as easier to read. I LOVE the review for it on Amazon. That's what really sold me.

I'm just so excited....LOL ;)

Jessica (in AL)

P.S. I hope I did this right. Forgive my learning phase to blogging. I'll catch on.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

And Roland begat insecurity

As my book is still on the other side of the Cascades (I've been tracking its progress online), I went once again to Borders to knock out a few chapters. I may be a little ahead of most of you, so I don't mean to give spoilers here, but during the part where Don Quixote's friends and housekeeper are going through his inventory of book titles I had varying reactions.

The first, as each title is given and footnoted, was to skim over them as one does all the "begats" in Genesis. As in, "Yeah, yeah - a bunch of books. Whatever." I had a change of heart when I came across the title Chanson de Roland. As a French major, I have vivid memories of long, long days spent sitting on my bed trying to will myself to care one iota about this epic poem written in antiquated French. These are not good memories. I never did understand it much beyond your basic "knight stuff."

So now I felt myself thinking with a sinking heart that if I'd only tried harder with good old Roland all those years ago that I'd be in on some secret with this part of Don Quixote. I wondered if each one of these titles somehow held some in-joke, and briefly - very briefly! - considered looking up each one of these old chivalrous tales and reading them, thereby unlocking the secret nuances. (Luckily there's an ADD book in the same order which is winging its way over the Cascades to me as I write this.)

And the footnotes! How they gently tell me that this and that is meant to be humorous, or ironic, or some other adjective which I would never have picked up on. That's the thing about classics. They expose to me how badly-read I am. Don't even get me started on Lolita and how I loved the story but always felt that the literary references and allusions were flying over my head with every sentence.

Anyway. How's everyone doing out there? I am expecting my book to arrive tomorrow, and look forward to reading it in the quiet of my house without cheesy music and pages over the intercom to the cafe...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Don Quixote at 400

Isabella posted this link in the comments and I didn't want it to get buried there. Looks like an interesting read, even more so as we get further into the book. Thanks, Isabella!
I went to Borders and headed for the literature section and found four translations of Don Quixote which weren't the Grossman one. I pouted for a minute and then settled down with a book that I had listened to in audio format until my player broke several chapters from the end. I finished the book and then put it back in the "featured titles" section. I had about 20 minutes still to kill, so I perused that section some more and there on the bottom was the Grossman Don Quixote. It was meant to be. I took it back to the chairs and read the first several chapters. I figure if I read about 40 pages a day, I'll be able to get through it on deadline and when my copy does arrive I can read even more each day.

One thing I hope to accomplish with this classic-book program is more comfort with reading The Classics. I get intimidated. I blazed through the ending of The Memory of Running with virtually no effort and with only 3/4 of my mind focused on it. I didn't feel stressed about catching all of the "important" parts. I assumed that if it was important, I'd notice it. I was relaxed and having fun.

Then with Don Quixote, I stiffened up. This was Real Reading. I couldn't let any detail get by me, because if I did, I might not Get It. This is why I am insisting on this translation. I keep hearing that it is more enjoyable than any other to read, and I want to enjoy this.

Of course, in The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer does say that reading popular fiction is different than reading classical literature, and that it requires different brain functions. It's been awhile since I read her book, so I don't remember exactly how she worded it except that I remember feeling relieved that no, I wasn't stupid. Not in this, anyway.

Does anyone else struggle with these feelings of inadequacy in reading this and other classic works?

Don Quixote Kickoff

OK, I'm just going to start this... This will be more of a housekeeping entry. ;)

I thought it might be nicer to have a record of our discussions all in one place than scattered emails. Does this format work for everyone? In lieu of me posting and others merely commenting, I was thinking that everyone who wants to can sign up as a poster here. I know that it's an easy thing to set up; I just haven't actually done it before. If you comment here on this post, I'll go ahead and play with that, with getting you your own poster status. Maybe you need to set up your own blogger account/profile first? We'll work that out.

I am still anxiously awaiting the arrival of my coveted Grossman translation. I'm embarrassed by this because I have a perfectly good version of the book literally within eyesight, but I so want to enjoy this (versus trudge through it) that I am going to treat myself to the much-lauded version instead. On the other hand, it's a long book and I don't want to be stuck with having to cram it all into the last two weeks of the month, so... I'm off to Borders now to sneak in a few chapters.

Has everyone else started reading yet? I am so looking forward to this!