Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Encoded Messaging

I am currently reading Don Quixote (or should it be Don Quijote?) after years of knowing only excerpts and criticism. Reading it in full (in the translation by Edith Grossman) has made me think, once again, about the age-old issue of encoded messaging or meaning in art vs. the personal interpretation of the reader/viewer/listener. Auerbach has mentioned the book's "continuous gaiety," but I have, so far, found nothing of the kind. Comedy, yes, but is Don Quixote meant to be a wildly comic book (or, more pointedly, did Cervantes mean for it to be so?) or does this depend on the reader? Obviously, some critics have found "gaiety," but others have noted the work's insistent darkness. Nabokov said

Both parts of Don Quixote form a veritable encyclopedia of cruelty. From that viewpoint it is one of the most bitter and barbarous books ever written.

Of course, Nabokov then goes on to say that its cruelty is "artistic," but "artistic cruelty" is markedly far from "continuous gaiety."

So, who is perceiving Cervantes' encoded meaning correctly? Those of us who find the adventures of "the Knight of the Sorrowful Face" overwhelmingly sad, or those who find a whirlwind of comedy and...yes, I'll say it again..."gaiety"? Or is the secret, perhaps, that the work's open-armed acceptance of differing interpretations is a characteristic that makes it a cornerstone of literature, and one of the greatest books ever written?

4 comments:

MaLj said...

Harold Bloom writes about the novel that the most remarkable thing in it - a thing not found in any works of Shakespeare - is the strong and equal relation of friendship between Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, and how Cervantes shows the value of really listening to and respect the other (also when the characters are arguing), which can be learned from their through every page of the book ongoing conversations.

Surly Terrier said...

That's very true. Don Quixote makes some half-hearted attempts to put Sancho Panza in his place, but he largely gives in and listens to everything Sancho has to say. At this point in my reading (I am almost finished with the first book) I would have to say that Sancho Panza's is the comic voice in the book. Still, as I observed earlier, I am not convinced that it is a comic novel.

JJ said...

I remember the first time I read Don Quijote I cried heartily when Don Quijote died. I had never read anything so sad and moving.

About "Don Quixote" or "Don Quijote": Letter X was not pronounced "KS", but "SH". That sound changed into our "J" sound. Not sure if that shift happened before or after Cervantes. I don't know the details, but it looks like there were some inconsistencies with letters G before E and I, J and X. Old X still survives in nouns like México, Texas... but it is pronounced as a (Spanish) J, not as a KS.

Whatever: both spellings - Quixote and Quijote - are correct, but you must pronounce them the same way (Quijote). By no means say Quixote with a "KS" !

Surly Terrier said...

JJ, I'm so glad you chimed in! We've missed you. I mentioned the spelling question because the translator said that she debated about how she should spell it. However, she opted for the old spelling because she wanted to echo the spelling of the modern English word, "quixotic," which is most definitely pronounced "kwiksotic." Of course, "quixotic" is derived from the name of our valiant hero, so this makes sense. I have heard the hero's name pronounced "Don Kwiksut" by a few persons of British extraction, but I didn't know whether they were joking or not.