Spring 2005, Vol. 13, No. 2 (requires Adobe Acrobat)

Celebrating 400 Years of Don Quixote

The Warren Center sponsored a conference from November 12th to 13th, 2004, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the publication of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (the first part of which was published in 1605). Faculty and students from across the humanities as well as interested Nashvilleans attended the two day symposium, which consisted of three lectures from distinguished Cervantes scholars on Friday and a roundtable discussion on Saturday. Dean Richard McCarty gave the welcoming
remarks, and the conference organizer Edward Friedman, professor of Spanish and comparative literature, introduced the panelists.

Marina S. Brownlee, Robert Schirmer Professor of Spanish and professor of comparative literature, Princeton University, was unable to attend. However, her paper, “Cervantes’s Doubtful History,” was delivered by Edward Friedman. Brownlee’s paper focused on the nature and function of history in the fictional narrative, drawing on characters in Cervantes’s novel that could be traced to historical sources. Through a reading of “The Captive’s Tale,” with a special focus on the character Zoraida, Brownlee suggests that the hybridity in that segment of the novel is a theoretical model through which to read Don Quixote as a whole. Hybridity is a concept that emerged from post-colonial theory, which identifies the potential for identities to shift and/or merge, suggesting that encounters between different cultural identities need not necessarily be destructive but can be productive of new meaning—of a new way of being. Brownlee posits that “The Captive’s Tale”’s hybridity—in its representation of religious, racial, and gender ambiguities and oppositions—dramatizes the dangers to sixteenth-century Spain’s fascination with racial purity—a fascination that blinds the culture to the complexities of race.

Yvonne Jehenson, professor emerita of Spanish and comparative literature, University of Hartford, delivered a paper titled, “Nostalgia Revisited: Don Quixote’s Golden Age Speech in Historical Context.” Jehenson’s talk centered on the concept of resonance. Jehenson suggests that there are resonances in Don Quixote’s Golden Age speech with contemporary discourses, that of classical historical discourse and the discourse of the period, which lend the fictional character historical weight. Don Quixote’s Golden Age speech outlines the idyllic values that society should return to: individual freedom from law, no ownership of private property, and a work ethic based on selflessness rather than avarice. Citing these three values as central to debates about cultural reform in the sixteenth century, Jehenson identifies traces of the idealized, utopian view of society that Don Quixote promotes in public debates about Spain’s treatment of the American Indians. Suggesting that the ideals of the Golden Age speech are “in the air,” intellectually available to Cervantes, Jehenson claims that Don Quixote is both the product of his age and is made to be the reproducer of early modern Spain’s reform debates.

Howard Mancing, Yvonne Jehenson, and Edward Friedman

Howard Mancing, professor of Spanish, Purdue University, delivered the final talk of the day. Mancing’s talk, “Dulcinea del Toboso—On the Eve of Her 400th Birthday,” took the audience through a whirlwind of stage adaptations and prose retellings of the story of the figment of Don Quixote’s imagination, Dulcinea. Mancing’s presentation drew on the appeal of Don Quixote as a text that fascinates both the academic and generalist reader by discussing Dulcinea both in terms of a theoretical model and in terms of her relationship to popular culture. Bordering on the mythologized, Dulcinea’s multiple adaptations from the seventeenth to the late twentieth centuries, portray her character as a prostitute, a mad woman, an autistic, and even a swimsuit model. Why, Mancing asked, are there so many reincarnations of an absent character—of a character that exists only in another character’s mind? Mancing draws on M. M. Bakhtin’s theory of novelistic images and re-accentuation. Bakhtin discusses “a creation of new images by means of a re-accentuation of old ones” in literature in terms of its historical significance (“Discourse in the Novel,” The Dialogic Imagination [Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981]: 421). Bakhtin goes on to suggest that “in any objective stylistic study of novels from distant epochs it is necessary to take this process [re-accentuation] continually into consideration, and to rigorously coordinate the style under consideration with the background of heteroglossia, appropriate to the era, that dialogizes it. When this is done, the list of all subsequent re-accentuations of images in a given novel—say, the image of Don Quixote—takes on an enormous heuristic significance, deepening and broadening our artistic and ideological understanding of them. For…great novelistic images continue to grow and develop even after the moment of their creation; they are capable of being creatively transformed in different eras, far distant from the day and hour of their original birth” (422). Mancing takes Bakhtin’s identification of Don Quixote as a prototypical example of re-accentuation and claims that Dulcinea goes beyond what Bakhtin theorizes. Not merely creatively transformed, but more alive today than at the century of her birth, Dulcinea opens up the possibility for continued reinterpretations and new permutations of Cervantes’s monumental work.

The conference concluded with a lively roundtable discussion on Saturday, November 13th. Panelists fielded questions from the audience and audience members had the opportunity to engage in scholarly conversation with the panelists not only about Don Quixote but about more general questions relating to the field of early modern literary studies.

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