The Man Who Invented Fiction: Cervantes & the Modern World

From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC.>>Georgette Dorn: Good afternoon,
my name is Georgette Dorn and I’m the chief of
the Hispanic Division. It’s a great pleasure to welcome
Professor Egginton to the Library of Congress and this
wonderful, wonderful crowd. Please close all your
electronic devices, so we can hear the
speaker very well. And I want to thank the
Poetry and Literature Center for cosponsoring this event, especially Rob Casper is
director and Anya Creightney. And of course, Talia Guzman-Gonzalez
who organized this event and is Talia who will
introduce our speaker. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Talia Guzman-Gonzalez:
Good afternoon, my name is Talia Guzman-Gonzalez
and I’m a reference librarian and [inaudible] specialist
in the Hispanic Division. I would like to welcome you
all to the Library of Congress, your library as I’d like to say. Before I introduce our
distinguished speaker, I would like to thank
the good people of Poetry and Literature Center, the
director, Robert Casper, and the program specialist,
Anya Creightney, and the intern for helping us with
the co-sponsorship and setting up the room. My colleagues in the Hispanic
Division, especially Catalina Gomez and our Chief Georgette Dorn. Also deserve a big thank you for
their support and help in sorting out all the details for
making this event possible. Today we have the honor to
welcome Professor William Egginton for what I’m sure will
be a fascinating lecture on Miguel de Cervantes
Saavedra and the art of fiction. This talk is the third
and last in a series of events celebrating the
life and work of Cervantes in the 400th year of his death. In case you missed any of our previous events you can
visit our webpage for the webcast and those events and many other
great talks that we organize in the Hispanic Division. Professor Egginton is the Andrew W.
Mellon professor in the humanities and chair of the Department of
German and Romance Languages and Literatures at Johns Hopkins
University where he teaches Spanish and Latin American literature,
literary theory, and the relation between literature and philosophy. He’s also the director of the Alexander Grass
Humanities Institute at Hopkins. Professor Egginton’s body
of work is a testament to the erudition of a true scholar. His breath and depth of research
demonstrates originality, theoretical strength and passion. He is the author of How the
World Became a Stage, Presence, Theatricality and the Question
of Modernity which is based on his dissertation at Stanford
university under the direction of Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht. And Perversity and Ethics,
A Wrinkle in History, The Philosopher’s Desire. The Theater of Truth and In
Defense of Religious Moderation. He’s also the coeditor
with Mike Sandbothe of the Pragmatic Turn in Philosophy. The Translator of Lisa
Block de Behar, The Passion of an Endless Quotation. And the coeditor with David E.
Johnson of Thinking with Borges. And I want to take this opportunity
that he’s also the author of several Borges books and articles
that we’re going to have a talk with Maria Kodama next
week on Wednesday at 6:30. He’s also the author of numerous
articles and book chapters and the contributor for the New
York Times online forum The Stone which his fascinating. And he has written on topics ranging
from neuroscience, law and zombies, there’s a great title there. He’s here today to talk
about his most recent work, The Man Who Invented
Fiction, How Cervantes Ushered in the Modern World
published in 2016, an indication that some good
things did happen in 2016 for sure. Please join me in welcoming
Dr. William Egginton. [ Applause ]>>William Egginton: Thank you
Georgette, thank you Talia, and all the colleagues at the
Library of Congress, it’s an honor and a real pleasure to be here. I’ve visited our library before,
but never in this capacity and it’s a real honor as I say. One brief note just because it’s
so hot off the press David Castillo and I just published our book
Medialogies, Reading Reality in the Age of Inflationary
Media, which had the distinction, it came out two weeks
as someone pointed out on Twitter soon
thereafter of having — we started writing it
three or four years ago. All of our political examples
were in fact about Donald Trump with no knowledge even
that he was going to declare himself as a candidate. So, it’s an analysis of
media practices in the 20th and 21st century from the framework
of media revolutions 400 years ago. So, the idea that the grounds
were laid for this kind of political turmoil 400 years
ago is an interesting one and certainly thought-provoking. So, what I plan to do today, is the
sound good for everyone in the room?>>Yes.>>William Egginton: Yeah? Is a reading from the
Man Who Invented Fiction. It’ll probably be 45 or 50 minutes,
I’ll jump around a little bit here and there in the book and
accompany it with some images, some of them are in the
book, others supplemented. Most of the images
if not all have come from The George Peabody Library,
our Collection of Rare Books at Baltimore which I decided
to focus on in my research. We have such great
collections from 17th and 16th century Spanish literature
that I thought this was a resource that really needed to be
brought to the public eye. So, without further
ado I’ll get into it. Something strange happened
in the winter of 1605, at the heart of the world’s
most powerful empire in a time of economic decline and political
stagnation word started spreading about of all things a book. The dealers quickly sold out, those who could read passed
increasingly threadbare copies from hand to hand, and those who
could not read began to congregate in inns, village squares and taverns
to hear those pages read aloud. Packed in tightly around worn
wooden tables, clutching goblets of acrid wine and warmed by a smoky
hearth those fortunate enough to be in attendance when a literate
benefactor declaimed the opening words were not treated to an
epic rendering of heroic deeds, a lyrical [inaudible]
to a shepherd’s love or a pious reflection on the
martyrdom of a beloved saint. Instead, as they washed back
their dregs and squeezed in closer to get a better seat
they were among the first to hear these now immortal
opening words. Somewhere in La Mancha in a
place whose name I do not care to remember a gentleman
lived not long ago. It would not be long in fact,
until the tipsy crowd was cackling in delight over the misadventures of what would become world
literature’s most recognizable protagonist, a rickety geriatric
member of the lower gentry who foolish enough to have traded in
much of his land for countless books of chivalry quote became
so caught up in reading that he spent his nights
reading from dusk till dawn and his days reading
from sunrise to sunset. And so, with too little sleep and
too much reading his brains dried up causing him to lose his mind. In this state, the pitiful
gentleman has quoting again, the strangest thought any
lunatic in the world ever had, which was that it seemed
reasonable and necessary for him, both for the sake of his honor
as a service to the nation to become a knight errant and
travel the world with his armor and his horse to seek adventures and
engage in everything he had heard that knight errants engage in. Writing all manners of wrong
and by seizing the opportunity and placing himself in danger and writing those wrongs
winning eternal renown and everlasting fame end quote. How they howled with
laughter as they heard for the first time the exploits of this ridiculous geezer wandering
a countryside they recognize as their own and coming
face-to-face with the kinds of people they spent
their days with, the kinds of people they
were likely rubbing shoulders with as they listened to this tale. Mule drivers and scullery
maids, farmers and prostitutes, barbers
and innkeepers. For the first half hour,
our tavern crowd is treated to the circus it came for. The aging madman mistakes
a [inaudible] for a castle, its owner for a noble knight and two
common wenches for exquisite ladies. He requests the boon of an official
dubbing from the wily innkeeper who knows his tales of chivalry
enough to keep in character, even as the hapless hero
wreaks havoc on his guests and provokes giggles in
the ladies of easy virtue. As he chastises a farmer
and he chastises a farmer for beating a servant, but then
trusts in his chivalry enough to send them off together again
with a mere promise of recompense to the farmer’s like sly delight
and the servant’s enduring agony. The story our tavern
crowd is hearing in other words is pure embodied
satire, an unbridled ribbing of an impoverished and
degenerate gentry anesthetized by the cliched literature
of a previous century. Well into their second
or third round of libations our tavern goers
hear how the aged gentleman comes to realize he’s missing
something and resolves quote, to return to his house
and outfit himself with everything, including a squire. Thinking he would take on a neighbor
of his, a peasant who was poor and had children, but
was very well-suited to the chivalric occupation
of a squire. At home for two weeks the delusional
knight convinces his peasant neighbor to join him
promising him upon completion of their quest an island,
which he insists on calling in proper epic form by its
Latinate name an insular. Insouciant to the geographically
inconvenient fact that they are wandering
around the arid plains of central Spain many days travel
from any significant body of water. The introduction of this stout
simple neighbor changes everything. For the listeners and the tavern and
for us they’re literary descendants until Don Quixote seeks
out Sancho Panza for these of course are the characters
I’ve been describing. He is but a foil, a rube, a
brilliantly crafted one to be sure, but nonetheless an
object of derision that our tavern fellows would
feel comfortable ridiculing. At the time of the writing,
the mentally ill were protected from prosecution from certain
crimes, but they were not protected from abuse, marginalization and
being used as the butt of a joke for a populist star
for entertainment. Having found Sancho Panza though
Quixote suddenly becomes something quite different. Within a page or two of setting
off together the two companions encounter their most
iconic adventure. Good fortune is guiding our affairs
better than we could have desired for you see here Sancho, 30 or more
enormous giants with whom I intend to do battle and whose
lives I intend to take. And with the spoils we
shall now begin to grow rich for this is righteous warfare and it
is a great service to God to remove so evil a breed from
the face of the earth. What giants said Sancho Panza. Those over there replied his
master with the long arms, sometimes they’re almost
two leagues long. Look your grace Sancho
responded, those things that appear over there aren’t giants,
but windmills and what looks like their arms are the sails
that are turned by the wind to make the grindstone move. Predictably, famously Don Quixote
does not heed his good squire’s commonsense admonitions, but instead
charges ahead spearing the enormous sail of a windmill’s arm with
his lance being lifted horse and all off the ground
and smashed back down in a miserable aching heap. Sancho’s reaction to his mishap
though is different from those that greeted all his
previous antics. Where the others treated Quixote
as a spectacle, an entertainment or a nuisance Sancho
responds with compassion. Seeing his master lying
next to his fallen horse and shattered lance Sancho quote,
hurried to help him as fast as his donkey could carry him. And when he reached them, he discovered that Don Quixote
could not move because he had taken so hard to fall on [inaudible]. God save me said Sancho,
didn’t I tell your grace to watch what you were that
these were nothing but windmills and only somebody whose head was
full of them wouldn’t know that. From the limited outlook of his own
simplicity Sancho sees his master fail, sees the calamitous
consequences of his delusions, and yet decides to
accept him despite them. Quoting again, it’s in
God’s hands said Sancho, I believe everything
your grace says, but sit a little straighter
it looks like you’re tilting, it must be the battering
that you took. In the space of a few pages
what had started as an exercise in comic ridicule and
as the narrator insists on several occasions, a
satirical sendup of the tales of chivalry has taken on an
entirely different dimension. It has begun to transform itself
into the story of a relationship between two characters
whose incompatible takes on the world are bridged
by friendship, loyalty, and eventually love. When deep in the second part
published 10 years after the first, a mischievous duchess
elicits Sancho’s confession that he does indeed know that
Quixote is mad and then accuses him of being quote, more of
a madman and a dimwit than his master for following him. Sancho replies, if I were clever man
I would’ve left my master days ago, but this is my fate and
this is my misfortune. I can’t help it. I have to follow him, we’re
from the same village, I’ve eaten his bread,
I love him dearly. He’s a grateful man, he gave me his
donkeys and more than anything else, I’m faithful so it’s impossible for
anything to separate us except a man with his pick and shovel. As the great German Scholar
Eric Alba [phonetic] wrote of Sancho’s attachment to Quixote,
the former quote, learns from him and refuses to part from him and in Quixote’s company he
becomes cleverer and better than he was before, end quote. The fire light flickering
across the faces of our eager listeners registers
no [inaudible] cast by this change. The raucous tavern crowd
continues to laugh as before. But as the innkeeper shouts for last
call and starts to close up shop, as the stragglers put down
their empty cups and make for the door chattering about
the tale and making plans to return the next evening so as not to miss what happens next something
imperceptible to them has happened. The crowd that arrived that first
evening was used to ridicule, they were fluent in
the language of satire. With Don Quixote they were
learning a new language, today we call that language fiction. Most of us if asked would
probably define fiction as an untrue story we
read for entertainment in full knowledge that
it’s not true. And certainly, that
much is accurate. But think about what
actually happens to us when our eyes start reading the
words on the page or the characters in our favorite show start
to interact with one another. In a memorable scene from F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s the Great Gatsby, Nick Caraway’s mind drifts out of
the apartment where he’s entangled in some debauchery and imagines how
quote, high over the city our line of yellow windows must have
contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual
watcher in the darkening streets and I saw him too looking
up and wondering. I was within and without
simultaneously enchanted by and repelled by the inexhaustible
variety of life, end quote. Like Nick when we engage with
fiction we are both within and without the story we
are reading or watching. We are simultaneously ourselves
locked into our own particular view on the world and someone else,
maybe even someone very different from ourselves feeling how he or she inhabits a very
different world from ours. And like Nick, we can
on the pages of our book or on the screen before our
eyes be simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the
inexhaustible variety of life. That ability to experience different and at times even contradictory
realities without rejecting one or the other is one of the
main reasons we are drawn to fiction in all its forms. About a half year before on
a hot August day in 1604, a man walked through the
dusty streets of [inaudible], Spain clutching in his
right hand a heavy package. In the absence of any authentic
portraits we must trust his own words to know that he was
brown haired and silver bearded with an aquiline, but
well-proportioned he adds, nose and cheerful eyes
partly hidden behind a pair of smeared spectacles not shown in
this 19th century rendition here. Resembling in the words of one of his literary rivals
badly fried eggs. Of medium build and missing most of
his teeth, which was common enough in those times for a man
just shy of 60 years. He had lost the use of his left hand
many years earlier when he was hit by [inaudible] shot while
boarding a Turkish galleon at the battle of [inaudible]. His clothes from the wide
rough collar around his neck to the tight stockings
exposing the hardened muscles of his calves would have broadcast
to his fellow pedestrians his status as a member of the gentry. Just as their ragged state would’ve
advertised his rather precarious financial straits. Even though only recently arrived, the man would hardly have been
a stranger to his neighbors in [inaudible] meatpacking quarter
[foreign language], where he and his extended family occupied
the floor above a raucous tavern. The [foreign language] was
on the outskirts of a town that in 1604 could not keep pace
with its exploding population. The rush of newcomers
driven by the transfer of King Philip the third’s court
from Madrid four years earlier and brought new life and
glamor to [inaudible]. But it has also imposed
a severe housing crisis. While the government tried to
control growth and crowding by issuing zoning laws limiting the
city’s brightly colored buildings to two stories the city’s
savvy landlords responded by constructing houses with
hidden stories in the back. Thus, this motley family
was not alone in the landlord [inaudible] house, all told there were some 20 tenants
living in its 13 rooms almost all of them friends or relations
of Miguel de Cervantes. As the aging soldier stepped
gingerly over the rivulets of blood and awful that cut through
the district’s packed dirt and stone streets his
one good arm hugged that heavy package
tightly to his chest. In it were hundreds of sheets
of paper, each sheet packed to the margins with a neat slanted
hand of a professional scribe. Cervantes’ own more round and
slightly meandering script which would have overflowed
the many more hundreds of pages of his blotted, scratched and corrected manuscripts
can only be seen today on a few precious remnants. A signed document from his 1597
stay in in Seville’s municipal jail where his thought that he first
dreamt up Don Quixote and a letter to the Archbishop of
[inaudible] shown here. The very prologue whose words he
penned only days before both speaks to his evident concern that he be
too closely associated with the book and bears witness to the style of
writing that its pages initiated. Though I seem to be the father
he tells his idle reader, I’m the stepfather of Don Quixote. And then he proceeds to inform
the reader that he won’t beg him to ignore or forgive the
book’s faults because quote, you have a soul in your body and a
will as free as anyone’s and you are in your own house where
you were Lord as the sovereign is
master of his revenues. And you know the old
saying, under the cover of my cloak I can kill the king. If the book seems to be to you
readers critical of society, if it appears to you to
be saying the wrong kind of thing Cervantes seems
to be telling his readers, that’s your responsibility. You are free to judge not only the
book, but the world you live in, free to resist, free revolt against the values you’ve
been forced to believe in. And most shockingly, in a prologue
approved under the royal seal under the cloak of your
own thoughts you are free to kill the king himself. Cervantes is a valiant soldier and
a committed Christian had changed over a lifetime of disappointments. He had grown weary and wary of his country’s vaunted
certainty, cynical of its promises. But while he could never openly
accuse the crown in Spanish society of hypocrisy of deceit of
having abandoned all true values and noble virtues in
exchange for a tissue of false convictions
and scapegoated excuses. He could and did write a book that
showed precisely these things. Like so many around him Cervantes
had been pulled from Madrid to [inaudible] with a transfer of
the royal court, hoping to benefit in some small way from
the constant flurry of economic opportunity created
by the monarchies granting of favors and paid posts. As he looked around him at the rush to profit though he must’ve felt
the sardonic resignation of a man who had himself too often
followed this very route, only to be disappointed. A student and intellectual he had
escaped his homeland as a young man after wounding another man in a duel and experienced firsthand
the Spanish state’s violent confrontations with Islam
and the Mediterranean. Returning to Spain a decorated
hero he had been captured by barbarous pirates and
held in squalid captivity for five years during which time
he experienced both the depravities and the humanity of
an enemy culture. Ransomed at last he regained
a homeland that seemed to have forgotten his
sacrifices and that was intent on covering the patent failures
of its domestic and foreign policy with a patchwork of religious
fanaticism and ethnic scapegoating. Rebuffed and humiliated
repeatedly in his quest for reward and recognition for his service the
aging warrior gradually turned back to his first love, writing. Eventually producing
Don Quixote along with a treasure trove
of other great works. Ironically, it seems his
unparalleled success was forged by life of almost continuous
failure. A century before Cervantes’ birth
time still fresh in people’s memory. Spain was not even a nation
and kings were a little more than local lords, psions of
landowning families with deep ties to region language and local
population, the population that tilled their lands and fed
them in exchange for promises of protection from
neighboring powers. In that time people knew
their place in the world. It was written into their flesh
and spoken through their words and gestures, clothes, and
habitats and the rituals that mark their births,
marriages and deaths. In the time since then
though a man’s place in the world had somehow
become more mobile. New horizons opened up for
exploration and new possibilities for attaining a higher
rung on the social ladder. But with that change came questions
and uncertainties, who to become, how to get there, how to survive. Cervantes’ own grandfather
had benefited from that new mobility just
as his father had suffered from the needs that it generated. The former Juan de Cervantes
has been a well-regarded lawyer from a family of cloth merchants
in [inaudible], city that while under Christian domination since
the early 13th century had been the capital of the Muslim
caliphate of [inaudible] and had long exemplified Spain’s
unique blend of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures. As a young man newly
married to the daughter of a [inaudible] physician he took
a job as an assistant magistrate in Alcala de Henares,
north of Cordoba in the high plains of Castile. This is a beautiful
16th-century painting of Alcala, a view taken from outside
of its walls and here is a contemporary
map hand-painted also from the Peabody collection,
which I’ve centered Alcala. It’s hard to see from there, but
it’s bigger and more important at the time than Madrid
would have been. Rodrigo, his second son, and eventual father Miguel
was born there in 1509, the same year that the Cardinal
Francisco Jimenez Cisneros founded the city’s university. Alcala would become one of
Spain’s greatest centers of learning during the 16th
century, second only and renowned to Salamanca and home of the first
complete multilingual printed Bible. That Bible would henceforth be known
as the [inaudible] Bible in honor of the Latin name for
Alcala [foreign language]. The University of Alcala
would later be moved to Madrid where it is now the largest
university in Spain and one of the largest in the
world [foreign language]. Rodrigo’s attempt to support
his growing family as a surgeon in a university town where as
Cervantes would later write quote, of the 5,000 students
who studied that year at the university 2,000 were
studying medicine clearly led to not. His money problems followed him
to [inaudible] where he tried to insinuate himself into
a wealthier clientele by padding the family’s
lifestyle on borrowed funds. In the summer of 1552, only a few
weeks before his daughter Magdalena was born he was jailed for
failing to pay his debts and his property was impounded. It is during this stint in
debtors’ prison that Rodrigo tried to take advantages of the
inequities governing Spanish society at the time by getting a court
to rule that he wasn’t in fact of noble lineage and not
subject to debtor laws. At first, he was unable to
establish a legal basis for this and the court dismissed his suit. This initial failure to establish
his exempt status raised the possibility that Cervantes’ family
by and large, educated and literate and dissenting as they did from Cordovan merchants
had Jewish forebears. Back in by [inaudible]
toward the end of his own life Cervantes
cannot help but have reflected on his father’s failures there, the
lawsuits, the debts, the time spent in prison whose forbidding walls
he must’ve passed with frequency. He could also not have forgotten
his own scrapes with the law and especially the
two months at least, maybe more he spent among
the wretched inhabitants of Seville’s municipal jail. Indeed, it may have been in its dark
cells that he dreamt up Don Quixote, which as he tells us in his famous
preface was begotten in a prison where every discomfort has its place and every mournful
sound makes its home. Now, almost 20 years
later, the pages he gripped in his one good hand would complete
their journey from captivity to freedom, from darkness
to light via the caustic wit of an inveterate gambler,
adventurer, soldier and storyteller, a man born on the threshold of a New
World who had learned the hard way that freeing oneself from
history and tradition could lead to other sorts of bondage. As the criminalization of
Spanish urban society took route over the second half of the
16th century it was accompanied by the emergence of a
genre of literature devoted to the social outcast
and criminal deviant. What has been called the
literature of roguery or the [foreign language]
reached its acme in Europe at the end of the 16th century. And in Spain with the
runaway success of Mateo Aleman’s novel
Guzman de Alfarache which was published simultaneously
with the republication of the famous anonymous book that has been called the first
picaresque novel [foreign language]. [Foreign language] had
been published in 1554, although the Spanish
literary historian, Americo Castro dates its
composition to the 1530’s. But the censorship of
the inquisition ensured that it would only be reprinted
once before the end of the century. And in that reprinting, it was a
highly, highly abridged version. Riding on the coattails of the
Guzman, however, the new edition of [foreign language] was an
extraordinary success leading to nine different editions
being in circulation by 1603. Guzman has clearly tapped
into a real desire on the part of Spanish readers to delve into
the world of the underclasses, to experience it from the
perspective of one of its own. Indeed, Aleman’s book
immediately sparked imitators, including a sequel by a [inaudible]
lawyer named Juan Martine [phonetic], of which 14 editions
were printed before Mateo Aleman could come out with his
own second part in 1604. The picaresque as typified by the
Guzman and its followers centered on a criminal life narrated
by the criminal himself. The [inaudible] desires only
freedom and the satisfaction of his basest desires
and he has no scruples about how to achieve his goals. When Guzman encounters a sympathetic
priest in Italy who takes him in and tries to help him he repays
the good man by robbing him and then loses all
the money gambling. The fact that this genre
became so popular just as urban criminality rose
to unprecedented levels in Spanish society was responding
with an ever-increasing legal and punitive bureaucracy
should not be a surprise. Whereas, the inquisition
censored [inaudible] such that the 1577
edition was printed without its fourth
and fifth chapters. Guzman, along with [inaudible] and other highly successful
books made it through the censors unscathed in
the early years of the 17th century. It is clear that the
portrayal of a social outcast and his parasitic perspective on
society serve the regime’s purposes in the kind of image it wanted
to project to the outside world. This image was that of
religious, moral public being beset by parasitic outsiders and whose
only protection was their loyalty to the Spanish crown and its laws. At the same time, the
reading public and members of acceptable Spanish society
were titillated by the possibility of entering into the
rogue’s perspective and having their own
prejudices about his evil and sociopathic ways confirmed. Sitting in a dank, stinking
cell in Seville choked by the smoke oil lamps when
lit at all and surrounded by and unwashed mass of society’s
dregs Cervantes spent many months, we don’t know for sure but perhaps
up to a half of a year between 1597 and 98, savoring firsthand the
perspectives of rogues and outcasts. Knowing the truth of his
own story, a hero abandoned by his country forced to accept
whatever demeaning labor came his way and then maligned,
libeled and imprisoned for his efforts gave Cervantes a
different kind of understanding of the lives of those who
occupy society’s bottom floors. And how they could contrast
with the image painted of them by books and the stage. He could see in them the
gamblers, tricksters, and hopeful social climbers that
would populate his novels and tales, each and every one of them either
battling against or profiting from the inability of others to
see them for who they really were. In this world, people lived or
died by the sword of illusion and Cervantes from the depths
of his disillusion was seeing that world clearly,
perhaps for the first time. Don Quixote was published only a
few years after Guzman de Alfarache. But in his 22nd chapter there is
a clear reference to Mateo Aleman, the author of Guzman de
Alfarache to Alemon’s success in creating a whole new
genre of literature. At the outset of that chapter Don
Quixote looks up to see quote, coming toward him on the same road
he was traveling approximately 12 men on foot strung together
by their necks like beads on a great iron chain and
all of them wearing manacles. Asking or asked by Quixote what they
are Sancho replies, this is a chain of galley slaves, people forced
by the king to go to the galleys. What do you mean forced Quixote
shoots back, is it possible that the king forces anybody. When Sancho explains that they
have been condemned to the galleys because of their crimes
Quixote concludes that quote, because these people are
being taken by force and not of their own free will
here it is fitting to put into practice my profession to
right wrongs and come to the aid and assistance of the
wretched, end quote. Sancho quickly tries to clarify
that as they are being punished for their crimes, it’s not
exactly accurate to say that the king is forcing
or doing wrong to them. But Quixote ignores him and
proceeds upon receiving permission from the guards to talk
to several of the men. Each describes to him the crime of
greater or lesser severity that led to his having been
condemned to the galleys. The last one Quixote interrogates
is a certain Geneste Passamonte who the guards tell the
knight is famous on account of the book he has
written about his life. When Quixote asks if the book
is finished Geneste replies, how can it be finished if
my life isn’t finished yet. Having finished his interrogation
of the prisoners Quixote decides that it is indeed his
duty to free them all. But after he has attacked the guards and released their charges
he is rewarded for his mercy by being stoned by them before they
run off in different directions. Thus, at the simplest level,
the episode would appear to be sending a similar
message to that of the Guzman or any
of its followers. These are criminals, they
are different from you and me don’t feel pity on them. And indeed, should Cervantes written
an episode in which prisoners on the way to the galley
were shown as truly deserving of their fate it would certainly
have fallen afoul to censors and gotten Cervantes
himself in hot water. What he did though
was far more astute, by making the principal
prisoner an obvious stand-in for the literary character Guzman
de Alfarache who himself ends up being condemned to the galleys. Cervantes is telling his reading
public, not that prisoners are evil and deserve no pity, but that what
they think they know about prisoners and outlaws is nothing but illusions
made up for their own entertainment. The other prisoners who tell their
tales before being overshadowed by Geneste are a hodgepodge of minor
sad characters, an old man serving as a go-between who is
suspected of sorcery. Another who had stolen some laundry. One who failed to withstand
trial by ordeal. Another who had sexual
relations with his relative. But all of them convicted on
shady or suspect evidence. Only the literary character, only Geneste Passamonte
is an obvious villain for only Cervantes
seems to be saying, only a fiction would be
so obvious and guilty. In Cervantes’ tales when
scalawags and scullions turn out to have been people of quality
these revelations undermine the very idea of a rapacious but alien
underclass that was being spread by the literature known
as the picaresque. Rogues are the projections
of the fears and desires of an established social order. Criminality is not something
they do, it is stitched in the very fabric of society up to
and including the highest echelons of political and ecclesiastic power. But Cervantes who emerged
from months of imprisonment in 1598 was a changed man. This was the man who had around that
time would start writing what would soon be published as Don
Quixote, along with some of the stories he would
later publish in his collection of
exemplary novels. Regardless of whether the
writing began in prison or shortly thereafter the
experiences he accumulated in prison had an enormous
impact on the period of creativity that was to follow. But those experiences influenced
him in other ways as well. The Cervantes who emerged from
that prison no longer believed in the idea that Spanish society and its government had been
selling his entire life. While he had encountered many
reasons to doubt the official story over the course of the previous
20 years, having been thrown into prison for doing his job for
his government was the last straw. The Cervantes who would as
would be expected from a poet of renowned published
an ode in honor of Philip the Second upon
his death later that year. Would no longer write the kind of
laudatory verse he had produced for the death of Elisabeth of
Valois 30 years earlier or even for the felicitous
Armada 10 years earlier. The poem published for
Philip’s death was a masterpiece of critical irony depicting
not the greatness of Philip, but a man pompously declaring
the greatness of Philip. His speech then quickly seconded
by someone Cervantes described as a bully who calls it true,
accuses all who would question it as lying like dogs and then
furtively glances both ways before slipping away. It makes sense that
Cervantes while inspired by Aleman’s remarkable success
with the newly popular genre of the picaresque would engage that literature an entirely
different way from those around him. Cervantes who had tried to live by
the rules and follow the ideology of the Spanish state, who had
been disappointed and rebuffed at every turn, who had spent five
years among the infidels and come to know their ways, who would
learn the techniques of the theater and use them to analyze how
humans buy into illusions and work to keep them alive. And who had now lived on
the other side of the law and had experience for himself. This Cervantes understood
that the picero [phonetic] like every other category of his
or that his society promulgated for understanding the world
was a farce, an invention, an illusion whose purpose
was to ensure that the crown subjects
kept buying into the myth of their own superiority. And that their dependence
and their dependence on the state for their protection. He couldn’t say all of
this in so many words, but he could use the tools
he handled best to try to get that message across in legally
and politically viable ways. And so, he made his stories
about the society’s outcasts, these stories in fact, about
the fictional framework that made them outcasts
in the first place. The man who walked the
streets of his nation’s capital on that hot August day knew that
he had written something good. He also certainly understood
that it was something new, which he tells us himself
in several places. There is no way, however,
that either he or anyone else could have predicted
what would happen in January of the following year when the
press of Juan de la Cuesta, a Madrid-based printer whom
Francisco de Robles hired to produce the actual book
would release the first of what would be countless editions of the ingenious gentlemen
Don Quixote of La Mancha. Within a few months of its original
publication Cervantes needed to apply for a new license to have the book distributed
throughout the Iberian Peninsula. And Robles and de la Cuesta
began to work on a second edition to be released that same summer. Before that edition hit the
bookstores two pirated editions appeared in London, along
with two others in Zaragoza. Already by April Robles
was spending a good part of his time preparing legal suits against the purveyors
of pirated copies. Within only a few months
stacks of copies were loaded onto the galleons embarking
from Seville for the New World. And by June of the same year
the book’s protagonists, the diluted Don Quixote and his squat simple sidekick Sancho
Panza had become iconic figures. Their effigies carried in
parades and imitators popping up in celebrations both
royal and [inaudible]. Upon seeing a student doubled up in raucous laughter one day
King Philip the Third was reported to have said, that student
is either out of his mind or he’s reading the
story of Don Quixote. Cervantes’ newfound fame was not
limited to the Spanish world. Spain’s cultural influence
of the time was as widespread as its political and
military presence. And Spanish works were regularly
disseminated and translated in England, France and Germany,
not to mention in the Netherlands and Italy which were still
under Spanish control. Brussels saw two editions
released by 1611, figures dressed as Don Quixote and Sancho appeared at a procession in
Heidelberg in 1613. And in England, John Fletcher
and Francis Beaumont adapted one of the novel’s interpolated
stories into their play, the [inaudible] Cone written
between 1608 and 1610. In 1612, Thomas Shelton published
his enormously successful English translation, The History
of the Valorous and Witty Knight Don
Quixote of La Mancha. And although, it has been lost sadly
William Shakespeare joined forces with John Fletcher to write a play
called Cardenio that was inspired by another famous episode
from the novel. From its publication in
the early days of 1605 to the present Don Quixote has
become perhaps the most published work of literature in history. More than that, its
influence on the writers that have followed
has been unparalleled. In the words of the critic Harold
Bloom, Don Quixote is a novel that quote, contains
within itself all the novels that have followed
in its sublime wake. When the Norwegian Nobel Institute
polled a hundred leading fiction writers to name the single most
important work of literature in history more than half
of them named Don Quixote. No other author’s work came close. In 1997, Life Magazine declared
the book’s publication one of the hundred most important
events of the entire millennium. If Cervantes’ direct
influence on the history of literature is unparalleled
his indirect influence on intellectual history
is simply immeasurable. His books were to be found on
the shelves of every intellectual in early modern Europe and
many of the Americas as well. In 19th century England a
critic could take great umbrage at a fellow scholar’s inadequate
translation of Don Quixote referring or writing quote, what judgment I
formed of you and your abilities as an editor of Don Quixote, that’s
how it’s pronounced in England of course, may easily be guessed by this first token
you gave me of them. It was plain that your book
would prove perfectly useless to all classes of readers and
even hurtful to all learners of that tongue if you
were to be its corrector. And the stories of Don and his
squire were packaged into all shapes and sizes, including for
the youngest readers. And I’m going to skip over a
few slides because I had to cut out a few pages of my presentation. So, this is one abridged and
adapted to youthful by Sir Mar — this is the Sir Marvelous
crack joke. This is an early, no late
19th century edition. Let me show you some of the artwork and the plates are really marvelous
here and the colors they’re even on the screen not even
close to what you see if you hold the edition
in your hand. This we presume is Quixote himself
with his lance at the ready buried in his books at the
beginning of the novel. While writers like Fielding
and Flaubert and philosophers like Schelling and Hagel have put
down for posterity what they thought of Cervantes, his indirect influence
on thinkers like Locke, Descartes, Kant and countless others whose
ideas would lay the foundations for how modern individuals in societies understand
themselves was just as profound. In 1787, and this is fitting that
in this building or the building at least next-door we
would mention this. Thomas Jefferson wrote to a
nephew about the Spanish language that he should quote, bestow great
attention on this and endeavor to acquire an accurate
knowledge of it. Our future connection with Spain
and Spanish America will render that language a valuable
acquisition. Well he no doubt meant
his admonitions about geopolitics Jefferson’s
own interest in Spanish culture in fact came from his
fascination with Don Quixote which he had borrowed from John
Cabot in advance of a sea voyage to France in 1784 and used
alongside a Spanish dictionary to master the language
during his 19-day voyage. This was noted by John Quincy
Adams in a journal entry he jotted down after a dinner
with Jefferson in 1804. Although Adams then adds
a little note quote, but Mr. Jefferson tells
large stories. What is undeniable though is
the importance Jefferson placed on the novel of which
he owned several copies that one can still see at Monticello
in which he mentions dozens of times in his letters over the years. What took hold of his imagination,
like it did with that of so many men and women was that central
idea of reality’s pliability in the face of political interests. As he wrote in a pensive
letter to Edmund Randolph, who would’ve conceived in 1789
that within 10 years we should have to combat such windmills, end quote. Jefferson’s comment as superficial as it seems nevertheless
leaves us a clue as to why Cervantes’ invention
had the impact it did. With the publication of Don Quixote
Cervantes had managed at once to encapsulate a problem that had
been encroaching on Western culture for some time and to
offer a way forward. The problem was that of how to
freely exercise the imagination in a culture that strictly
controlled such expressions by dictating the norms of truth. The solution was the creation
of a new form of writing that exempted itself from the
narrowest conception of truth at the same time as it
revealed an even greater truth. That reality itself was subject
to political distortions and that to change the world one had to
reveal these for what they were. In 1995, UNESCO declared April 23rd,
the international day of the book, at least partly in recognition
of the almost simultaneous deaths in 1616 of two of the
greatest writers of all time. That the deaths of
William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes
neither coincided, the former died some 10 days later,
but England at the time had not yet adopted the Gregorian
calendar we use today, nor actually fell on April 23rd. Cervantes probably died the
previous day and was buried on that date later
etched into posterity. Bestows on that date
a fitting irony. The date of the book celebrates
those who write fiction. The glorious artifacts that
aren’t, histories that didn’t happen and lies that revealed
truths papered over by the habits of everyday life. Both Cervantes and his greatest
character die quietly in their beds, surrounded by their loved ones. But whereas the night of the
mournful countenance admits defeat and renounces fantasy for a death of stalled virtue his author’s
mighty imagination lived on in ways no one could
have predicted and that few even grasp today. On April 18th, 1616, Cervantes
was given his last rites at home in Madrid, surrounded by
his wife and his sisters, although not his daughter Isabel. A dedication to the Count of Lemos
he composed the next day begins with the words quote, with my
foot already placed in the stirrup and full of fear in the face of
death great Lord, I write this. Yesterday, they gave
me extreme unction and today I write these words. Time is short, my anguish grows,
my hopes diminish and yet, despite all this I
carry it on my life with the desire I have
to keep living. Desire against reality. The theme that resonates throughout
his greatest creations comes to the fore in his last
statement to the world. Critics have made much of the fact that Don Quixote renounces
his madness on his deathbed, cursing the passion for the
books of chivalry that drove him out of his sanity and embracing his
real name Alonso Quixano, the good. They’ve insisted that
this ending along with the Cervantes’ apparent
protestations that his only purpose in writing the book was to skewer
the romances of chivalry should put to rest any suspicions that Don
Quixote can mean anything other than that. But these critics it seems to
me failed to get his last joke. It is as if they really believed
that the only alternative to this reduction of
the extraordinary wealth of the world’s first and greatest
work of modern fiction would be to interpret it as
expressing the opposing thesis that somehow we Cervantes’
readers then and now should be emulating
the tales of chivalry. But the meaning of Don Quixote
cannot be either Cervantes’ distaste for or his love of
the tales of chivalry. Indeed, asking what
Don Quixote means as if such a shorthand answer could
ever be given already misses the boat entirely. If we really want to know let us
attend the deathbed scene our author composed only a year
or so before his own. Approaching their village
in the twilight hours of their adventure
together the heroes pause on a hillside overlooking
their home. When he saw it, Sancho
dropped to his knees and said, open your eyes my beloved country
and see that your son, Sancho Panza, has come back to you if not very
rich, at least well flogged. Open your arms and receive
as well your son Don Quixote who though he returns conquered by another returns the
conqueror of himself. And as he has told me, that is the
greatest conquest anyone can desire. To conquer oneself, to rein in
the force of desire the pull of illusion this more
than the imminence of death is what Quixote fears and
foresees crying, [foreign language] as he enters the village
for passing two boys in the street he overhears
their patter and he misinterprets the sentence,
you won’t see it in all the days of your life as referring to
the imaginary lady Dulcinea. As he has learned to do, Sancho
hastens to reassure his friend. Strangely though this time his
down to earth realism in the face of Quixote’s superstitions
is intended to save his illusions
not to dispel them. He gathers from under his donkey
the terrified hair whose flight from a pack of dogs
Don Quixote first took as an evil omen, a
[foreign language]. And carefully hands this shuttering,
shaking hair to his master saying, your grace is a puzzle let’s suppose
that this hair is Dulcinea El Toboso and these greyhounds chasing
her are the wicked enchanters who changed her into peasants. She flees, I catch her and
turn her over to your grace who holds her and cares for her. What kind of sign is that, what
kind of evil omen can you find here? How far we have come
since Sancho sought to set a windmill battered
Quixote right in his saddle and straighten his
interpretation of reality. For Sancho over the course of
his journeys and travails imposed on him has learned to love
not only Quixote, the man, but also the world
Quixote’s dreamed for himself. If you follow the errant
knight out of a fool’s wish to govern an [foreign language], his desire to shelter his
master’s illusions at the twilight of their adventure seems born of
wiser sentiments, almost noble. A few days later, Alonso
Quixano having fallen ill and now under the loving care of his niece
and housekeeper loudly declares that he is cured of his illusions,
renounces the tales of chivalry and calls for a confessor and
a scribe to take down his will. Immediately those around him, especially his friend Sanson
Carrasco and Sancho Panza begin to protest that he’s wrong and
how can he say such things. Quote, when we have news of the
disenchantment of lady Dulcinea and now that we’re on the point
of becoming like shepherds and spending our lives in song like princes now your grace
wishes to become a hermit. For God sake, be quiet come to your
senses and tell us no more tales. While the knight urges
reason, his companions know that such realism is madness. They realize that he is giving
up the essence of who he is and has become even as reality
tightens its noose the urge to be free reasserts itself. The narrator, our supposed
ventriloquist of the Arab historian, [inaudible] then tells us that the
news of his impending death quote, put terrible pressure on the already
full eyes of his housekeeper, his niece and his good squire Sancho
Panza forcing tears from their eyes and a thousand deep sighs from
their bosoms because the truth is as has already been said, that whether Don Quixote
was simply Alonso Quixano or whether he was Don Quixote of La
Mancha he had a gentle disposition, was kind in his treatment of others, and for that reason he was
dearly loved not only by those in his household, but by
everyone who knew him. Just as a character Don Quixote
had espoused and emulated the tales of chivalry, another character
Alonso Quixano [inaudible] them deciding that one is right and the other wrong is exactly what
Cervantes’ book doesn’t allow us to do. For the space it opens,
the space of fiction is one in which exactly those questions can
never be resolved because the space of fiction does not refer
to the reality in question, to the place where either
books of chivalry are evil or they are harmless fun, the space
of fiction refers to that place where such debates take place
and where we are called upon to make a judgment about
them and about ourselves. Whether Quixote was Quixano or
Quixano Quixote Cervantes seems to be telling his present-day
interpreters he was still good one way or the other. And so, in a last joke on his readers Cervantes has the
priest draw up a document stating for posterity that quote, Alonso
Quixano the good commonly known as Don Quixote had passed from
his life and died a natural death and that he and only he could
ever be recognized as his author. But of course, Cervantes didn’t
name himself as that author, but someone else, the fictional
historian [inaudible] whose historical account has ostensibly
been the source of the book and who’s owed to his
own pen now ends it. Here is the ode, 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. So, idol listeners as Cervantes
might say, if you really want to believe that as the author
writes one last time quote, my only desire has been to have
people reject and despise the false and nonsensical books
of chivalry, end quote. By all means be my guest after
all, it’s [inaudible] who told you so himself and he always
tells the truth. Thank you very much. [ Applause ]>>Thank you so much. Professor Egginton will
take some questions. But I want to remind you
also that [inaudible].>>I read your book and
I liked it very much. The fact that it started [inaudible]
to understand to the general reader. And I also appreciated the fact
that [inaudible] not content centric which focused more on Quixote itself
and just illuminated the cultural like history [inaudible]
on the book, so I thought that was
refreshing as well. And my question to you
is have you ever thought of the economic relationships in
the book and how it correlates to [inaudible] in the book?>>William Egginton:
Thank you and thank you for the nice comments on the book. I mean to a certain extent as
you know since you’ve read it, I try and balance this analysis
of what fiction is and how came about at this particular time with
this larger geopolitical history of a kind of pivotal moment
in Western history not just in Spanish history, but where the
Spanish Empire was also playing a pivotal role. And of course, that role is
economical to a certain extent. I mean we talk about discussing
the book, the question of inflation for example that racks the
Spanish economy leading to maybe over the course of
Philip and his son and his grandson six
bankruptcies of the Spanish crown. And these clearly had a direct
impact on Cervantes’ life, the question of debt is
constant in Cervantes’ writing. As you know, gambling is
obviously an economic issue as well and Cervantes was as
I say in one point of this reading today
an inveterate gambler. And he writes he shows enormous
knowledge about the gambling world and the skills that the
cardplayers in particular need. And so, he played a lot in
prison surrounded by people there for economic crimes as well and
he was a tax collector for a time in his life and a requisition
for the Armada. So, he was deeply embedded in this massive blooming early
modern imperial economy with all of its incredible ups and downs. Thanks for the question.>>I appreciated how
much you pointed out that Don Quixote was clearly
influential [inaudible] the western world and that it reflects
Spain at that time and it’s a very [inaudible] book. But I’m going to just look at
one particular aspect of it. You said at the beginning Don
Quixote [inaudible] person, also a geezer. Okay, I was wondering
what is the perception of Don Quixote being depicted that
way and by [inaudible] for example, Native America example
where I don’t think such a character would
be part of their culture.>>William Egginton: Yeah, no
it’s quite possible and in fact, our reception — if you think about, if you kind of reconstruct the
history and the age Quixote much like Cervantes at the time that
he’s writing Quixote would have been from our perspective
a middle-aged man. But the period if you’ve
made it to your late 50’s or early 60’s you’re
an outlier at the time. As Cervantes talks about in his own
self-description, I’ve lost most of my teeth, but you know
hey so has everyone else. He was known as the [foreign
language], so he was a cripple. In many ways he himself was, in
some ways I should say a model for the kind of physical appearance
that he describes for Quixote, but then he exaggerates it right. He elongates Quixote, he makes
Sancho squatter, he intensifies, enhances this representation
in certain ways. So, I’m not sure that it had
any in its many translations into the eastern world towards the
end of the century that this was in any way looked upon as
different or particularly adverse as a representation
of the character.>>Yeah, just a quick,
a very quick question. I haven’t had the privilege
yet of reading your book, but I was wondering did Miguel de
Cervantes did he become wealthy from publishing this book?>>William Egginton: No.>>And his stature within the
society was it raised at all?>>William Egginton: It
was, his stature was raised to a certain extent,
but not to the extent that he would’ve wanted it to be. And this is something I do go
into quite some depth in the book because it’s a fascinating story. You know the literary world, in
particular in Madrid, but in Seville as well he frequented
both literary worlds. This was very cutthroat. He knew everybody and
everybody knew him. So, you were all, you were
writing for a broader public, but you were also writing for
your peers, the other playwrights. That was his first attempt
was to become a playwright. A poet was considered
kind of the highest level and then the playwrights
because they were poets also. And then what he was doing this
strange hodgepodge of prose and throwing some poems in there
and occasionally this was, you know, he was clearly a scraper in a way. And comedy was considered
sort of the lowest form. So, his books were
extraordinarily successful, but you know he would sell the
rights for 1,500 reales which was, you know, a couple months’
rent or something like that. And then before you knew it he was
back borrowing money to live again. And he was constantly making
reference in his prologue as he was trying, the way that he
figured he could get by is finally to get a sponsorship
essentially from a great lord. And he did fine one [inaudible],
but it was in a sense too late. That selling his wit in
his prologues was the way that he was going to
finally make it, get by. But he was always making
fun of his own poverty. Well, there’s a great — let
just give you an exact example because in the preface to the second
volume which he rushed to press, not in the preface excuse me, I take
it back, in the censor’s approval, the approbation given
by the official censor. The censor ostensibly is
telling a story about Cervantes in which the censor says I
was working, I had this book. Now censors don’t usually
go into these long stories, but suddenly this censor
starts telling this story and his approbation. I have this book on my desk because
I was working on censoring it. And these French dignitaries came
to visit and one of them said, oh are you working on a book by Miguel de Cervantes
tell us about him. What is his station, how is he
doing and I was forced to answer? Well his station is quite
low, he’s quite poor and he’s always complaining
about his lack of funds. Now what we’ve pretty much
established that Cervantes at this point knew the censors
as a literary community so well that he actually wrote this
under the censor’s name and then had him slide it in. So, he’s always finding a way to
point out that look I should be, I’m world-famous at
this point right. That they know me in China as
he says in one of his prefaces. They’re asking me to come
and form a school in China. I told the Emperor of China
how much are you going to pay because I can only
come if you’re going to really give me some money for it. So, he’s always making this point.>>Don Quixote is the first modern
novel, but also it has as air of postmodernism [inaudible],
kind of metafictional attitude to greatness [inaudible]. And most general a quite skeptical
view of the established view of things and an objective truth, putting objective truth
itself into question. I mean, what is real, what is not and the deceptiveness
of [inaudible] itself.>>William Egginton: So that’s
in some ways one of my points is that what we have sometimes been
taught to call postmodern is in fact already there from the
beginnings of the genre itself. It’s already there in the very first
works of modern fiction everything that we’re calling postmodern play, kind of encapsulating
representations within representations
that make one unsure about what reality once
[inaudible] it’s all there, it’s all from the very
beginning yeah.>>Thank you so much.>>William Egginton:
Thank you, my pleasure. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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