David Ross (dyvyd) wrote,
David Ross

Saragossa 6: Cervantes and Patocki-- a Literary Handoff, or Dropped Baton?

      It is amazing how differently Don Quixote reads to me as a 65-year-old-guy versus the 20-year-old I was back when I first read Part 1 in college. Then, I was bored to tears and swore off Part II with the greatest resolve.  Although I remembered some key elements from that distant reading-- and we all know the most famous adventures of el ingenioso hildago very well--but somehow, in the first reading, I missed everything important.  I was reading it as though it were a comic book, something for the vulgar entertainment of the masses. Others have read it that way too, including the enterprising author Avellaneda who managed to publish a Part II even before Cervantes could produce his own continuation. That author has reduced the characters to the level of stooges if we take Cervantes' word for it.
     What I could not see back then were things like: the beauty and humanity of Cervantes' choices-- his restraint! He sets up the situation, and transfers it to your brain, where, if it finds fertile soil, it grows to something beyond the mere words; the struggle between chaos and order, between morality and indifference; the social and psychological relativity of good and evil; the question of truth--is it to be found in the struggle for honor, ideals, illusions, or, in the literal acceptance of common opinion, reality, common sense?  Though Cervantes seems merely to explain what happens in the most general way, he does so often with great elaboration of detail producing a deeply rich context that one learns to savor by giving things time to sink in. He's not a fast read if read properly, or so I would suggest. In fact, his prose is like a full-bodied cigar, it may seem simple in small doses, but it will also make you dizzy if you deeply inhale.
    I see neither Quixote or Pancho as fools, nor do I think Cervantes did. What I see are two equal Wittgensteins, one on horse, one on donkey, each debating with the other about reality as they see it, each in relativistic way being correct. My thought experiment about Wittgenstien is that, even if he had an identical twin, he would hate him, and proclaim him to be wrong about everything-- and his twin would be just like him!
    And now for the topic.  I had heard somehow before about Don Quixote entering in the lists at Saragossa, and since this happened at the end of Part II, I was sure that Patocki had placed his Manuscript Found in Saragossa there as a clear indication that he was continuing on with a work indebted to Cervantes' Don Quixote.  When, in Part II Cervantes has his hero avoid Saragossa, no one was more surprised than me!  Plot twist: the Saragossa joust occurred only in Avellaneda's apocryphal work, and Cervantes refuted the validity of that story by having Quixote do something else entirely.  The rumor is that the faux writer had somehow got hold of Cervantes' story outline.  Cervantes allows Quixote to know of the false Part II, and in a hilarious bit of meta-fiction, Quixote refuses to go anywhere near Saragossa. The meta-fiction becomes quite mind-boggling later on as the one "true" fictional Quixote asks for and obtains an affidavit from another character attesting that the other fictional Quixote is a false one.
    Patocki's title is undoubtedly some reference to the debt he owes Cervantes, but what that means I will allow the reader to tease out for himself having given him the Quixotic context.

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