What better way to celebrate Don Miguel Cervantes's masterpiece than with other enlightened readers, sitting around a table fascinated how one author could engender such universal feelings in a story as surreal as Don Quixote? Uninhibited, us readers comfortably shared our reactions and hypotheses on the subject of "the Quixote", protesting the online anonymous extemporaneous conversations that drone on past the capacity of a scroll bar, shelved inside the "Read more" block in the online threads (as most of our conversations happen online don't they?)? This discussion was friendly, and unified us, a delicious bookend to the summer of Quixote put on by my friends at the San Francisco Public Library as part of the Don Quixote and the Golden Age exhibit.
No discussion I've had in any previous book club meeting was so enriching. - all that was shared made me giddy to read more. I had not come close to finishing the epic, but the themes are woven so strongly across the book, you need not read it all to understand its importance and relevance to this day. (I will be reading on!) The author, Cervantes lived a life worthy of his own story, and Jaime Manrique tackled this with gusto in El callejón de Cervantes. We would believe most of it to be fiction. Quixote garnered interest and influence in places as far away in the Spanish empire as Bolivia. Professor Quiroz, who attended the Quixote tertulia dedicated significant time to revealing his countrymen and Cervantes's mutual interest and Bolivia in his expository work., Cervantes y Don Quijote en Bolivia. I learned Cervantes had applied for a government position in Bolivia, which was denied by the Spanish crown. This position was post-mortem and Bolivians have carried on paying homage to Quixote in their own literature and more..
Don Quixote is a work that draws on the human experience, but does not interpret this experience in terms of science, but rather through art, finding humor in human folly, error and (mis?)understandings. Cervantes encodes this experience in the characters of Don Quixote de la Mancha and Sancho Panza with such force, convincing us that we are not so much products of the past, as we are a continuation of it, barely distinguishable, just as surreal: the world Cervantes knew is fascinating, a barely governed or barely governable Spain, the character of Quixote an expert in the custom and rule of knights-errant, able to cohabit and subdue by decree, some sort of might-is-right-righteousness and notion of justice, with a soft side.
I feel we are still tethered to romantic customs we want to break from, but ultimately find ourselves perpetuating: asserting we are nobility entitled to our own wild lands and a uniquely beautiful prince or princess, an imagined destiny personally crafted from a collection of stories read, breaking slightly from them and the traditions they came out of, so we can call our stories our own. Don't we all come from hometowns that were stifling, but miraculously able to produce us, great men and women, with a capacity for compassion, love and forgiveness.? We are Quixotes, and Quixote is a man-child, a person free from everything except his attraction to legend and destiny, loathe to admit defeat.
We can see our struggle for perfection and the path to each of our own destinies through the book. Specifically, finding a princess and likening our own wanderings about the earth may not resonate on their face, because they sound like the same storybook we grew up with unless you read on, but our momentary despair, injuries and perseverance are similar. - we forget these and move on, shedding skin and fears, repeating this process until we die. We are all kind of crusaders and we all fall off our nags, which we imagine to be great horses - metaphors for our jobs or successful careers. We all sort of aggrandize our turmoil and success, right? Our admission of not-so-greatness does not pass into our conversations. Is this what is most universal about Don Quixote? According to the group, I met with at the reading room esconced neatly beneath the main library first floor away from the bustling of readers and those seeking a clean refuge from the Civic Center SF streets, we nobly agreed the Quixote is as current as can be.
Write, post, publish, prophet!