The Long Shadow of Don Quixote

by Magdalena Barbaruk (Author)
Monographs 288 Pages

Table Of Content

| 9 →


In the second part of Miguel de Cervantes’s novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de La Mancha published in 1615, clever bachelor Samson Carrasco opines: “It is evident to me that every language or nation will have its translation of the book.”1 It was only ten years earlier that the book’s first part was released by Juan de la Cuesta’s printing house in Madrid. The insight attests to Carrasco’s brilliant prognostication skills: reportedly, the novel has had 2,500 editions in no fewer than 70 different languages so far. The extraordinarily opulent literature on Don Quixote makes it the world’s most discussed novel.2

The works of literature that have proven inspirational to the largest number of readers have been labelled “great” by Richard Rorty. Thus conceived, the greatness of Don Quixote has produced remarkable manifestations and implications throughout the history of culture and the study of culture. Translated nearly instantaneously into other European languages,3 Don Quixote soon broke loose from its original socio-historical context and became an object of culture in its own right. The transfiguration of the literary character into a mythical and symbolic ← 9 | 10 → one was precipitated by the alchemy of mass popularity, but that alone does not explain the cultural phenomenon we confront in Don Quixote. This phenomenon – the long shadow cast by Don Quixote, to use Vladimir Nabokov’s metaphor – is notoriously difficult to account for. “It seems as if a literary work has started to live a life of its own,”4 writes Fernando Pérez-Borbujo, who sees the ultimate autonomy of Don Quixote in the protagonist’s eventual parting from Cervantes and in the novel being reputed by “all nations” as a unique “historical chronicle.” What does all this mean? It means that “it does not strike anybody as odd now that so many people know Don Quixote without actually knowing that it was authored by Cervantes.”5 At the same time, the knight’s fortunes and misfortunes are so ubiquitously familiar that they are located in the realm of the myth rather than believed to be a product of the literary imagination.

Illustration 1: A bookshop in Santiago de Chile, photo M. Barbaruk


← 10 | 11 →

As early as in 1925, Américo Castro wrote in “El pensamiento de Cervantes,” by now a classic text of modern criticism: “Everything, or at least nearly everything, has already been said about Cervantes.”6 A 2008 bibliography of studies on Don Quixote and Cervantes, though including publications in seven languages only, lists about 14,000 entries and took fifteen years to compile.7 Without doubt, the problem of Don Quixote is one of those whose magnitude overwhelms and which have engendered an intimidating wealth of varied commentaries. And yet, impossible though it may seem, studies on the cultural dimension of Cervantes’s legacy are scarce, if not altogether non-existent. This, however, is not the primary reason for the task I set for myself. My major impulse was provided by the fact that the contemporary humanities seemed so profoundly and extensively engrossed with the knight-errant that the very fascination called for an in-depth interpretation. My goal, thus, was to find out the reasons for Don Quixote’s unmistakable return, to reflect on the contemporary “uses” of the figure and to establish whether these uses are similar or different, whether they diverge from the prior ones and, if so, whether that change is symptomatic – that is, whether it is entwined with transformations of and in culture. The design seemed promising as it offered an opportunity to capture not only the condition of the humanities but also the condition of culture as such.

Of course, faced with a plethora of studies that define themselves as culture-oriented, we need to remember that the argument in this book subscribes to a certain model and has its distinct provenance; namely, it is underpinned by the theoretical framework developed in kulturoznawstwo, a specifically Polish variety of cultural studies initiated by Wrocław-based culture scholar Stanisław Pietraszko in 1972, which I henceforth will refer to as culture studies.8 Out of ← 11 | 12 → the copious reception of and research on the novel – the output of philosophers, writers and critics, whom Miguel de Unamuno groups in two categories of “Cervantists” and “Quixotists” – I am interested here in what Quixotism reveals when scrutinised through a lens that focuses on culture in its specificity – that is, from a value-oriented perspective. Of course, this delimits Quixotism; instead of a varied entirety of meanings this notion commonly designates, Quixotism as defined in these terms is an axiotic space demarcated by its distinct values – it is a type or a dimension of culture. As such, it can be referred to as axiological Quixotism. Quixotism is, thus, an actually existing order of the human universe externalised in various forms and shapes throughout history. This being so, I could declare, together with José Ortega y Gasset, that “my Quixotism has nothing to do with the merchandise displayed under such a name in the market.”9

Quixotism (donkichotyzm in Polish) as a literary-critical term appeared in Poland in the 19th century. It quickly became common currency and still continues to be a useful descriptive tool principally in literary studies. In the recent Polish publications, Don Quixote tends to be viewed as a structural and generic model for other novels while Quixotism sometimes denotes absorption of the Spanish protagonist by other novelistic traditions.10 In the Spanish research, initiated by what came to be known as the Generation of ’98, Quixotism, as a notion and a term, is discussed first of all in the psychosocial context, for instance, in the fundamental national myth of the “Spanish mentality” or “essential Spanishness” (expressed in such concepts as hidalguía, espaňolidad, hispanidad, casticismo). In this sense, Quixotism is more closely aligned with the perspective I adopt in this book since it abandons “the reality of the text” and exposes the human reality of culture. To clarify, my interest in the texts which link Quixotism to Spanishness neither articulates a theoretical position which sees culture as bound with a particular nation nor signals an inclination to focus on a specific, nation-centred reading of the novel.

Integral to my thinking about Quixotism as recounted in this book was the question of what values must inform one’s being if it is to qualify as an instance of Quixotism. Consequently, the outlining of Quixotism’s axiotic space defined by its ← 12 | 13 → essential “coordinates” – i.e. values – involved attempts at sketching Don Quixote’s cultural description or biography. An inquiry into values as the main reason for and the criterion of interest in certain empirical material, while perhaps not a very handy tool, promises to open up attractive cognitive vistas. I believe that it effectively offers an opportunity comprehensively to examine the changing fates of Don Quixote in culture, to trace his various incarnations also prior to 160511 and to approach these various phenomena and developments as expressions of the culture of Quixotism founded on a specific set of values. I looked for incarnations of Don Quixote in texts which interpret and re-interpret the knight-errant in a variety of ways and in works which do not take Cervantes’s hero on board but feature characters that earn the moniker of Don Quixote. I also put my own hypotheses to the test, suspecting that the ideas that had come to my mind had actually been already formulated elsewhere without me knowing the literature sufficiently to have come across them earlier. Among the populous throng of Don Quixotes in this book, the most important – and hence the most systematically explored – ones are St. Teresa of Jesus, St. Ignacio Loyola, St. James, Columbus, Cyprian K. Norwid, Thomas Mann, Adam Michnik and literary characters such as Sophie, Gustaw, Emma Bovary, Stanisław Wokulski, Jewish traveller Benjamin the Third, Prince Muishkin and SS man Maximilian von Aue. My research practice, so extensively relying on literary fictions, is informed by the notion that literature is “a statement about values” and “not only a reflexion but also a fulcrum of values.”12

Don Quixotes are to be found among readers who stepped out of the library to take up action, putting what they have read in books into practice. Whether rendered literally or metaphorically, this circumstance is perhaps the most important distinctive index of Quixotism in the human world. And this book is largely devoted to analysing particular instances which showcase “the workings of literature in the human world.”13 Such operations are predicated upon interrelatedness of literature and culture, which is far less obvious than the popular ← 13 | 14 → opinion would have it. The literature-culture interconnections can be grasped only when the category of literary culture is conceptualised in a non-philological framework. In the culture-studies perspective, literary culture denotes “a network of unique, literature-mediated relations of humans and values.”14 The goal of literary culture, like of culture in general, is “to instil values.”15 Symptomatically, exploring the axiotic potential of literature, we tend to define literature reductively as a form in which culture is realised. The concept of literary culture may not be useful in studying all aspects of Quixotism and the entire tradition of Don Quixote, but it is certainly functional when a literary work (for example, Cervantes’s novel) can be attributed with stirring, directly or indirectly, human subjects, real or literary, to action.

Much has been written about the interpretations of Don Quixote we have inherited from the 17th century, the Enlightenment and, in particular, Romanticism. One may easily skip the original publications as they are summarised in commonly available primers, even very modest ones. Nearly a hundred years ago, Michał Sobeski construed Quixotism (kiszotyzm in his rendering) as a version of American pragmatic philosophy developed by William James, which was growing in popularity at the time.16 In his Na marginesie Don Kiszota (About Don Quixote), Sobeski observed that, a hundred years before, the Romantics had done exactly the same thing, proclaiming “Don Quixote an artistic equivalent of philosophy flourishing in their day.”17 Sobeski firmly believed that the history of interpretations of Cervantes’s brilliant novel was far from over as the book, “into which so many sundry things have already been inserted, still makes room for quite divergent philosophical systems.”18 And indeed, the 20th century (its second part in particular) thoroughly outdid the preceding one in terms of the sheer volume of critical studies and the diversity of their methods and approaches. As a result, no human being can possibly read everything that has been written about the novel. Don Quixote’s adventure has been outdistanced by the adventure of the literary work, to paraphrase the title of a book by Polish historian and theorist of literature Henryk Markiewicz.19 Recent readings of Don Quixote have not been comprehensively and synthetically described yet, one reason for this being ← 14 | 15 → that they require ever more wide-ranging competences. This lack is acutely felt because the recent interpretive developments concerning the novel – and, thus, changes in what sense is being made of Quixotism – are essential in filling the gap in the history of ideas as well as in studying the identity of our culture today. I believe that by examining the ebbs and tides of interest in the Spanish hero we can extrapolate certain dynamics of culture and outline its continuities and disruptions.

In his essay “Don Quijote, el hijo intrato de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra,” Michel Tournier states that as the tenth or twentieth generation of readers of The Sorrows of Young Werther or Madame Bovary, we are virtually unable to distinguish what the author/s wrote from what was superimposed on that raw texture in the first, second, third and umpteenth reading. In this book, I do not aspire to fill in the lacunae in the interpretive history of Don Quixote, but I do seek to identify the distinctive aspects of contemporary meanings invested in the knight-errant.

In an essay written in 1945, Pedro Salinas, a member of the Spanish Generation of ’27, analysed the status Cervantes’s novel enjoyed at the time and considered it “a classic.” Functionally defined, a classic is a book which always “does the highest quality favour” to people.20 Such a work is, in his opinion, typically capable of asserting its weight and relevance at all times. It places an injunction on the reader to be responsible in thinking and experiencing that which transcends quotidian life. “Its revealing and illuminating value never ceases.”21 Given this, Salinas asks what it is that Don Quixote illuminates now: “What purpose does it serve in this year of 1945, the year of happiness and misery? Does Don Quixote carry any important message for contemporary people?”22 Like many other readers and researchers of the novel, Salinas points out how enlightening it is to locate the novel in subsequent epochs and insists that, accruing ever new meanings in time, it cannot be fully encapsulated in any ultimate interpretation. Well, my ambition in this book is exactly opposite. Rather than elucidating the novel (through the changing world), I intend to illuminate the human world – culture, to be more precise (through the changing interpretations of the novel). My question, then, would be: What does Don Quixote denote today? What does it name in the human way of life? What truth about cultural reality is revealed in its recent “uses”? Can the uses invented by Eco, Foucault, Girard, Kundera, Agamben and Bauman ← 15 | 16 → be called post-modern? Is post-modernism “quintessential Quixotism” today? Certainly, the humanities view both Don Quixote and Don Quixote as a threshold of modernity. I believe that to devise a fitting, pithy label for the contemporary understanding of Quixotism is neither essential nor actually viable even though such attempts feature profusely in current Don Quixote scholarship and criticism. To explore values implicated in the study of the modern and post-modern condition of the knight-errant is an entirely different venture.

The notion that new interpretations and interpretive modes reveal salient changes in culture is encouraged by American literary theorist Derek Attridge, who asserts: “It is only through the accumulation of individual acts of reading and responding, in fact, that large cultural shifts occur, as the inventiveness of a particular work is registered by more and more participants in a particular field.”23 To my mind, the picture of the dynamics of culture Attridge sketches is rather simplified. At this point a disclaimer is in order: not all novel insights about Don Quixote are interesting to a culture scholar. Hence, in what follows I largely omit the semiotic framework inspired by the Russian studies as well as the structuralist, formalist and narratological approaches (therein important work done by the likes of Erich Auerbach, Jurij Lotman, Wiktor Szkłowski and Leo Spitzer). Surprisingly perhaps, I also choose not to dwell on feminist, gender, psychoanalytical and ethical readings.24

What I found cognitively promising was following in the footsteps of Unamuno, who suggested about a hundred years ago that the conquistadors, the Counter-Reformers and the mystics had all been steeped in Quixotism. This observation ← 16 | 17 → seemed to me to open up new signification fields of Quixotism. My next step was to trace other, sometimes controversial, comparisons and cross-references, such as Joanna Tokarska-Bakir’s reading of Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, in which she calls the book’s protagonist – a German Nazi – a Don Quixote. How does it contribute to the notion of Quixotism? Apparently, the problem of evil pervading Quixotism and Cervantes’s novel as such, an issue targeted already by Enlightenment criticism, so disaffected with Don Quixote, and by a handful of later authors, is being articulated anew as an ethical turn in the humanities gathers momentum. Because such articulations are highly pertinent and meaningful, we need to ask what to make of Don Quixote in the post-Auschwitz world. We need to ask whether the knight, who seems to be Scheler’s “moral genius,” may in fact be a “devil incarnate.” Even if the way the Spanish Falangists used the Unamunean interpretation of Don Quixote in the wake of the Spanish civil war still seems an obvious case of overinterpretation and usurpation,25 in hindsight that dispute appears to herald the unveiling of Don Quixote’s devilish facet. Linking the knight to evil is, as such, hardly a stunning thesis given that Cervantes’s book eulogises the soldiering way of life.

Still, the insistence on scrutinising and capturing the latest interpretations of the novel and its protagonists should not overshadow another observation – namely, that in view of this book’s goals, the most important and cognitively fruitful findings are the sightings of Don Quixote on the peripheries of the mainstream criticism, out of his natural element. Crucially, he appears in texts which are not even tangentially related to the history, literature and culture of Spain or to travel reports of visitors to this country. “I thought that it was not a coincidence that my Great Authors – Greimas, Bakhtin, Lotman, Weinrich – had written on Don Quixote at one time or another in their lives,”26 writes Jorge Lozano ← 17 | 18 → in the preface to Asun Bernárde’s, Don Quijote, el lector por excelencia. Bold insights made in the contemporary humanities literature and, most frequently, on its margins were my signposts in exploring Quixotism and informed my choice of issues to be tackled in this book. As I was to discover, those not infrequently revolutionary interpretations were deeply indebted to other texts and kept bringing new titles into play. The exploration of the long and tangled intellectual paths that have made our current readings of Don Quixote as a devil, a monster or a Nazi legitimate was propped also by research subjectivity I endorsed. The analysis of the affinity of Quixotism and evil I present below sprung originally from a reader’s shock induced by Don Quixote,27 an impression that only later came to be corroborated when I found out that there were others – critics, writers, scholars and readers – who thought alike.

How to define the time-frame of interpretations and “uses” of Don Quixote to be examined? It seemed the most convenient solution to focus on contemporary humanist thought. The choice of contemporary, admittedly quite a nebulous notion, rather than of, let’s say, twentieth-century thought, or any moniker derived from the name of this or that framework regarded as the koiné of the humanities at the moment, was dictated by the fact that our current understanding of and thinking about Don Quixote are profoundly informed by century-old interpretations. The year 1905, which witnessed lavish celebrations of the three-hundredth anniversary of the publication of Don Quixote’s first part, was a turning point in the history of the novel’s interpretation. According to María C. Ruta, an Italian Cervantes scholar, it was a milestone of its “hermeneutical renewal.” It was then that Cervantes’s work was erected into a symbol of the Spanish essence and existence. The currently prominent concepts draw on the work of Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish existentialist philosopher (whereby his insights are employed as the groundwork of knowledge on Cervantes’s protagonist rather than a component of history of “Don Quixote philosophy”). Given this, the year 1905, a year that saw the publication of Unamuno’s Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho, seems a good cut-off point, which obviously does not mean that all post-1905 interpretations qualify as relevant to or representative of our current ways of thinking. It was the Salamancan philosopher’s suggestive take on Quixotism that disseminated the romantic, “subjective” vision of the knight-errant and his squire so prevalent today. His romantic revaluing has enhanced the erasure of the parodic in Don Quixote ← 18 | 19 → and prompted the perceptions of the knight as a defender of sundry values which, though differently named, bear a strong affinity to each other.

The early 20th century is identified as the time of “an important shift” in the critical discourse on Don Quixote also by another Italian Cervantes scholar, Paola Laura Gorla. However, she pictures the genealogy of the shift in entirely different terms: “While earlier the critical attention had focused on the figure of Don Quixote himself, possibly in his relation to Sancho (as a comical supplement, a speculative reflection, an alter ego or a counterpoint), now it shifted onto the totality of the work, the dynamic interrelations of its two parts and, finally, the author himself.”28 As my interest does not lie in Cervantes himself and his masterpiece as such, the guiding spirit of my argument is Unamuno while the Italian scholar picks up the thread of Ortega y Gasset. I explore Quixotism of the character while Ortega is engrossed with “Quixotism” of Cervantes’s literary style. That is why I analyse only the texts which delve into what I call axiological Quixotism. Hence, I do not refer to the multiple meta-literary interpretations which argue that Cervantes was a post-modernist. Since “the work itself, heterogeneous and multidimensional as it is, (…) provides ample material for divergent analyses,”29 the corresponding spaces of Quixotism are capacious indeed. This affected my approach to the cases I selected – each time I sought to analyse a single aspect (e.g. bibliomania) rather than to produce an all-embracing account.30 Consequently, my analyses strove to identify values, or properties of values, that made it possible to recognise the culture of Quixotism in the material I had accumulated.

The object of research I delineated refers to what could be labelled the Don Quixote tradition in humanist thought. The category of tradition locates my research in an important context – the incommensurability of the work Miguel de Cervantes actually wrote and its contemporary status enmeshed in a variety of interpretations. Addressed since Unamuno’s days, the incommensurability is manifest in different forms, such as, for example, reiterated statements that Cervantes failed to understand Don Quixote, that Don Quixote now is an entirely different book from what it was in the 17th century, or that the novel’s protagonist is now far more real than Cervantes himself. The tradition, thus, does not entail petrification of the figure, the motif, the idea or the notion; on the contrary, it enunciates their vitality, openness and mutability. Crucially, the category of tradition helps ← 19 | 20 → steer clear of the diluted vocabulary bound up with the still fashionable notion of intertextuality. It seems, namely, that for my non-philological, cognitive purposes, what is quite commonly studied today in terms of intertextuality could be best approached in terms of tradition as a relevant axiotic mechanism of culture.31 I do not explore the Don Quixote tradition directly, but having this category in mind helps muster the meaningful, meta-theoretical reasons for studying the Cervantes hero, such as the intent to trace continuity of certain dimensions of culture and to show how certain axiotic spaces endure in time, constantly re-casting themselves in new images.

In 1884, Polish writer Bolesław Prus reflected on the profound significance of certain literary characters to the human sciences: “Such characters as Hamlet, Macbeth, Falstaff or Don Quixote are discoveries that count at least as much in psychology as the laws of planetary motion do in astronomy; Shakespeare’s value equals Kepler’s.”32 To paraphrase that, Cervantes is to psychology what Kepler is to physics. The psychological dimension of the Don Quixote figure33 is far more thoroughly researched than the cultural one. One problem with Don Quixote is that although innumerable studies, seminars and publications have investigated him (and still do), the humanities do not take him truly in earnest. “Is Don Quixote only a farce perchance?”34 wondered Hermann Cohen in Ethik des Reinen Willens. In their essentially cognitive reflection, the culture sciences tend to under-employ the knight-errant figure and concepts related to him although ← 20 | 21 → his uses are certainly becoming more and more pronounced.35 This book’s meta-theoretical purpose is, thus, to produce a synthesis of the history of culture through a scrutiny of axiotic spaces conjured up by various figures, symbols and myths.36 Its other purpose is tentatively to define the contemporary identity of the culture of Quixotism as well as to contribute to the methodology of culture studies and, more generally, the humanities dedicated to the study of culture. Using a literary character as a unique tool for analysing heterogeneous historical and literary material may be seen as an attempt on the part of culture studies to face up to the challenge of empirical research.

In his last Lecture at Harvard University, devoted to multiplicity in literature, Italo Calvino said: “Let us remember that the book many call the most complete introduction to the culture of our century is itself a novel: Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. It is not too much to say that the small, enclosed world of an alpine sanatorium is a starting point for all the threads that were destined to be followed by the maîtres à penser of the century: all the subjects under discussion today were heralded and reviewed there.”37 If the cognitive potential of The Magic Mountain is, in Calvino’s opinion, bound up with the 20th century, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha leads us into a culture whose temporal boundaries are difficult to pinpoint. This encourages me to supplant The Magic Mountain with Don Quixote and “an alpine sanatorium” with the roads of La Mancha. Leafing through the 17th-century work, the reader can hardly resist the impression that Cervantes has anticipated virtually everything. Such must have been Zygmunt Bauman’s Don Quixote experience if he proclaims Cervantes “the founding father of humanities,” whose ground-breaking discoveries in the knowledge of human life have never slid into oblivion: “Cervantes was the first to ← 21 | 22 → accomplish what we all working in humanities try, with only mixed success and within our limited abilities (…) We all, in humanities, follow the trail which that great discovery laid open. It is thanks to Cervantes that we are here.”38

Illustration 2: A Miguel de Cervantes memorial, Toledo, photo M. Barbaruk


Alluding to the Book of Joshua, José Ortega y Gasset offers an insight that “[a] work as great as Quixote has to be taken like Jericho was taken.”39 To take Jericho, the Israelites had to march around the city several times.40 Before one ventures ← 22 | 23 → to outline the content of Quixotism, one must similarly circumnavigate it several times, in ever wider circles, giving it a multi-sided scrutiny and deliberate reflection. This book consists of five chapters, two of which are theoretical and methodological with the remaining three devoted to empirical analyses which reconstruct the axiotic spaces of Quixotism. First, Quixotism (donkichotyzm) is defined from the culture-studies perspective, whereby the differences from the meanings it has in literary studies and colloquial language are spelt out, and the humanities tradition is surveyed for approaches to Quixotism that approximate ways of thinking specific to culture-studies. I propose to treat the knight-errant as a patron of contemporary reflection on culture, in which culture is envisaged in terms of the Ciceronian metaphor of “the cultivation of the soul.” I also propose to include the notions of Quixotism and the culture of Quixotism into the terminology of the culture sciences.

The literary character and the notions it has instated may serve as tools to analyse varied literary and empirical material, but for that they certainly need solid theoretical grounding. In Chapter Two titled “Research Tools: Between the Reader, the Book and the World,” I present my “toolkit” – a set of instruments compiled as a methodological bricolage, characteristic of culture-studies research. I survey theoretical concepts and categories which seemed useful to my purposes and which are borrowed from other disciplines: literary studies, anthropology and psychology. Also, I attempt to operationalise the selected theories in which the knight serves as a model for explicating cultural reality (R. Girard, C. Castilla del Pino).

In Chapter Three titled “The Names of Don Quixote,” I demonstrate how the concept of Quixotism provides a vantage point on heterogeneous research material, a source of significant, but still inadequately examined, insights. I reflect on why certain characters, behaviours, gestures and situations may be referred to as “Quixotic.” I classify and describe the manifestations of the culture of Quixotism in the human world as addressed in criticism and more popular writings, and I interpret those which I find attractive for Quixotism studies but still largely unrecognised. The motifs that merit more analysis include, for example, the Quixotism of the Generation of ’68 portrayed in Paul Berman’s Power and the Idealists. A comprehensive survey of examples of Quixotism seemed necessary to me because I analyse genuinely in-depth only two of Quixotism’s many contexts: bibliomania and evil. In this book, I decided to show various shades ← 23 | 24 → of Quixotism using various examples, realising that one complex expression of Quixotism may serve to illustrate many themes.

The epistemological contribution of the notion of Quixotism to the culture sciences is presented in quasi-monographic Chapters Four and Five. Relying on an array of illustrations, “Bibliomania: The Adventure of Reading” tells the story of Quixotic bibliomania, portrays reading as the most important “spiritual exercise” and highlights the intrinsic features of the book mania. The last Chapter titled “Quixotism and Evil” presents multiple facets of evil interlaced with Quixotism (ranging from “yurodivy” evil to “totalitarian” evil) and addresses the errancy of Quixotism, where erring is comprehended in the primary meaning of the word.

1 M. de Cervantes, Don Quixote trans. E. Grossman, with an introduction by H. Bloom (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), p. 475. The full title of Cervantes’s novel is The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, but throughout this book, I will be using its shortened version, i.e. Don Quixote, as this is a common convention both in the critical discourse an in colloquial language.

2 Such estimates were made by J. M. Paz Gago in 1995. Cf. María C. Ruta, Memoria delQuijote” (Alcalá de Henares: Centro de Estudios Cervantinos, 2008), p. 20. The novel immediately became famous among men of letters. Before its first part was actually published, Lope de Vega, hostile to Cervantes, mentions it in a letter posted from Toledo to Valladolid, dated on 14 August, 1604. In the same year, Don Quixote is referred to – side by side with the epoch’s other famed literary protagonists, such as Celestina and Lazarillo de Tormes – by Francisco López de Úbeda in Pícara Justina. Cf. J. R. Muñoz Sanchez, “Una lectura actual del Quijote,” in Lecciones de literatura, ed. D. Noguera Guirao (Madrid: Ediciones de la Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, 2006), p. 25.

3 The earliest translation of Don Quixote’s first part appeared as early as in 1612 in England. Thomas Shelton worked on the translation from 1607 to 1611. This version was known to William Shakespeare and served as the plot source of The History of Cardenio he co-authored with John Fletcher (1612). In 1620 Shelton translated also the novel’s second part. Cf. C. Alvar, El Quijote: letras, armas, vida (Madrid: Sial, 2009), pp. 163–164.

4 F. Pérez-Borbujo, Tres miradas sobre el Quijote. Unamuno-Ortega-Zambrano (Barcelona: Herder, 2010), p. 27.

5 F. Pérez-Borbujo, Tres miradas…, p. 27.

6 Qtd. in E. Martinez Mata, Cervantes comenta el “Quijote” (Madrid: Cátedra, 2008), p. 13.

7 J. Fernández catalogued texts published in the 20th and 21st centuries in Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Catalan. J. Fernández, Bibliografia del Quijote por unidades narrativas y materiales de la novela. Vols. I and II (Alcalá de Henares: Centro de Estudios Cervantinos, 2008).

8 In many texts, kulturoznawstwo is actually translated as cultural studies. But I believe that the term cultural studies as used in the English-speaking world evokes a certain set of both methodological tools and ideological assumptions that significantly differ from the instruments, perspectives and positions to be found in Polish kulturoznawstwo (literally: knowledge of culture), which is more intimately affiliated with the classic German tradition of Kulturwissenschaft. Undoubtedly, certain interests and approaches of cultural studies and kulturoznawstwo do overlap, but divergences between the two are rather considerable. Hence, to avoid misleading connotations, I choose to refer to kulturoznawstwo as culture studies throughout this book, fully realising the possible awkwardness of this choice.

9 J. Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Quixote, trans. E. Rugg and D. Marín, introduction and notes Julián Marías (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), p. 50.

10 As is the case with W. Nowicki’s interesting study Awatary szaleństwa. O zjawisku donkichotyzmu w powieści angielskiej XVIII wieku (Lublin: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej, 2008).

11 That historical and literary Quixotic types predated Cervantes’s novel was argued convincingly alread by Spanish historian of ideas, literature and culture M. Menéndez y Pelayo. Simply, before the knight of La Mancha was conjured up by Cervantes, Quixotism had been incapable of expressing itself.

12 R. Sulima, Słowo i etos. Szkice o kulturze (Kraków: Zakład Wydawniczy FA ZMW “Galicja,” 1992), pp. 29, 34. My belief that literature is instrumental to the study of culture is encouraged, among others, by Sulima’s research on the values of peasant culture “mediated” by words, literature and peasants’ writings.

13 S. Pietraszko, Kultura. Studia teoretyczne i metodologiczne (Wrocław: Wrocławskie Wydawnicto Naukowe Atla 2, 2012), p. 150.

14 S. Pietraszko, Kultura…, p. 152.

15 S. Pietraszko, Kultura…, p. 155.

16 M. Sobeski, Na marginesie Don Kiszota (Poznań: Ostoja, 1919), p. 101.

17 M. Sobeski, Na marginesie…, p. 100.

18 M. Sobeski, Na marginesie…, p. 101.

19 H. Markiewicz, Przygody dzieł literackich (Gdańsk: słowo/obraz terytoria, 2004). In English, the title would read “adventures of literary works.”

20 P. Salinas, Quijote y lectura. Defensas y fragmentos (Madrid: Biblioteca ELR Ediciones, 2005), p. 30.

21 P. Salinas, Quijote y lectura…, p. 31.

22 P. Salinas, Quijote y lectura…, p. 32.

23 D. Attridge, The Singularity of Literature (London/New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 79.

24 In this book I devote relatively little attention to S. Hutchinson’s immensely interesting Economía ética en Cervantes even though it delves into issues of interest to culture studies. Namely, he explores singular “economic” principles that govern the human world: “By ethical economy I mean a system of valorisations, obligations, reciprocities, claims, services, ‘debts,’ ‘payments,’ loyalties, contracts, betrayals, prestige, slightings, insults, damages, forgiveness, revenge, guilt, justifications, punishments, merits, the acts of being liked or disliked… – the system that underlies all these interpersonal relations.” S. Hutchinson, Economía ética en Cervantes (Alcalá de Henares: Biblioteca de Estudios Cervantinos, 2001), p. 21. His analyses are more useful in investigating what social relations are based on and how they function. His main goal is to shed a new light on the themes of Cervantes’s work. Hutchinson admittedly claims that the rules of the ethical economy, which Cervantes depicted so boldly and insightfully, shape also our present ways of life, but he concentrates mainly on the economy behind the actions of protagonists in works starting with Galathea and ending with The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda.

25 The Falangists used Unamuno’s writings in the context of an interpretive war waged in Spain at the turn of the 19th century by the Generation of ’98 and writers from the regeneracionismo movement. Unamuno’s case emphatically shows that the political context of the Don Quixote dispute does not neutralise axiological issues but, on the contrary, exposes important points of the figure’s moral topography. The dispute is analysed by E. Górski in Hiszpańska refleksja egzystencjalna. Studium filozofii i myśli politycznej Miguela de Unamuno (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1979). I. Krupecka’s book Don Kichote w krainie filozofów. O kichotyzmie Pokolenia ’98 jako poszukiwaniu nowoczesnej formuły podmiotowości (Toruń: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika, 2012) is the latest comprehensive study of the significance of the knight-errant to the Generation of ’98.

26 J. Lozano, “Prólogo,” in A. Bernárdez, Don Quijote, el lector por excelencia (lectores y lectura como estrategias de comunicación), Madrid 2000, p. 9.

27 I discuss this point extensively in “Błąd Don Kichota,” dwutygodnik 56 (2011). http://www.dwutygodnik.com.pl/artykul/2165-blad-don-kichota.html.

28 P. L. Gorla, Rutas cervantinas (Salamanca: Renacimiento, 2007), p. 14.

29 J. Borejsza, “Problem Don Kichota.” Wiedza i Życie 9 (1938), p. 595.

30 For example, no attempts are made to prove that Columbus’s all thoughts and actions are thoroughly “Quixotic.”

31 Interestingly, P. Kowalski defined intertextuality as a game with literary tradition in which values are brought to the fore. Cf. P. Kowalski, “Encyklopedia i palimpsest,” in Poszukiwanie sensów. Lekcje z czytania kultury, eds. P. Kowalski and Z. Libera (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, 2006), p. 39.

32 B. Prus, Ogniem i mieczem. Studia literackie…, qtd. in H. Markiewicz, “Posłowie. Powieść z wielkich pytań naszej epoki,” in B. Prus, Lalka. Vol. II (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1982), p. 400.

33 The problem often addressed in psychological accounts of Don Quixote is, expectedly, his madness. It has been contemplated in a range of studies, which are expertly surveyed by psychiatrist Juan J. Arechederra in Locura y realidad. Lectura psicoantropologica delQuijote,” a book he co-authored with philosopher Jacinto Choza (Sevilla: Themata, 2007). Memorable psychological contexts in which Don Quixote has been used include Freud’s Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious and studies on Bovarism, largely underpinned by the knowledge of Quixotism. See C. Castilla del Pino, Cordura y locura en Cervantes (Barcelona: Ediciones Península, 2005).

34 Qtd. in J. Ortega y Gasset, Meditations…, p. 57.

35 Also in Polish culture studies, more and more texts meaningfully employ the figure of the knight-errant. Cf. e.g. E. Rewers, “Powrót Don Kichota, czyli o antropomorfizacji sztuki postmodernistycznej i jej konsekwencjach,” in Kultura Współczesna (Przestrzenie kultury – dyskursy teorii), eds. A. Gwóźdź and A. Zeidler-Janiszewska (Warszawa: Narodowe Centrum Kultury, 2008), pp. 131–142; M. Matysek-Imielińska, “Nierozum i szaleństwo, czyli o doświadczaniu granic i granicach interpretacji: rzecz o błędnym rycerzu,” in Granice kultury, ed. A. Gwóźdź, in collaboration with M. Kempna-Pieniążek (Katowice: Wydawnictwo Naukowe “Śląsk,” 2010), pp. 74–92.

36 This approach to the history of culture is to be found also in other disciplines. What I propose in this book ties in with the proposals put forward by cultural anthropologist Piotr Kowalski and his concept of palimpsestic culture, a vision of culture as distintly dilatory and cumulative, cf. P. Kowalski, “Encyklopedia i palimpsest…,” p. 37.

37 I. Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, trans. P. Creagh (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988), p. 116.

38 Z. Bauman, This Is Not a Diary (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), pp. 47. Originally, it was an acceptance speech delivered by Bauman at the Prince of Asturias Award Ceremony at Oviedo on 10 October, 2010.

39 J. Ortega y Gasset, Meditations…, p. 52.

40 The Jericho story (Joshua 6:1–27) includes slaughtering the city’s king and dwellers as well as cursing all its material goods, except gold, silver and vessels of iron and brass to be offered to Jehovah and put in his treasury. Consequently, Ortega y Gasset’s interpretive directive is as intriguing as it is disquieting. King James Bible. The Authorised Version. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org. Retrieved 23 June, 2015.

| 25 →

Chapter One

“What has Don Quixote bequeathed to Kultur?

(…) Quixotism, and that is no little thing!”

Miguel de Unamuno

1. From the Proper Name to a Common Noun

The fortunes of the knight-errant figure in culture are perfectly encapsulated in Don Quijote’s devolution into a quijote (and Don Kichot into a donkichot), turning into what he is now popularly taken to be – a symbol, a myth, an archetype. In several languages (e.g. Polish and Spanish), the different spellings – with or without capitalisation – designate two different entities: the protagonist of Cervantes’s novel and a person displaying a characteristic attitude to reality, inclined to behave in particular ways and/or cherishing certain idea(l)s. And so, Don Quixote – as a quixote in many languages has become a common noun, an entry in dictionaries, “a general and metaphorical term denoting any daydreamer, fantast and noble-minded idealist that disregards reality”41 or “a fighter for a noble cause who, however, being out of touch with reality, comes across as ridiculous; a maniac, an oddball; sometimes also – a strikingly lanky man.”42

The figure underwent an instantaneous transformation, which Cervantes himself actually predicted: “The book enjoyed a grand, triumphant march. Within a year, as many as six editions were issued. In Lisbon, the novel was illegally reprinted. The names of the characters became common currency in various languages.43 Masked balls across the ocean were graced by revellers disguised ← 25 | 26 → as the Knight and the Squire.”44 Francisco Rodríguez Marín in Don Quijote en América describes no fewer than ten instances of such parties between 1605 and 1621. The very year that the book’s first part was published, Portuguese caballero Jorge de Lima Barreto dons a Don Quixote disguise during the celebrations of the birth of prince Philip in Valladolid.45 The novel’s several other characters have been likewise transfigured. In the second part of Don Quixote, Samson Carrasco reports that the novel is “so widely read and so well-known by every kind of person that as soon as people see a skinny old nag, they say: ‘There goes Rocinante.’”46 In French, an ugly and slovenly maidservant is called a maritornes, as evidenced in Theophile Gautier’s account of his journey to Spain.47

What a culture scholar finds even more fascinating is that the nouns derived from the knight-errant’s name – Quixotism and Quixoticism – are to be found in probably all European languages, which implies that culture across Europe has a set of common features (concluding that, I assume a profound relationship between culture and language as a representation of the world). This insight is befittingly articulated in Cezary Rowiński’s essay “Don Kichote i Don Juan” (it is a good idea, by the way, to bracket off the quotation below from the rest of the text, in particular from the Hegelianism- and Marxism-inflected explication of the content of Quixotism):

Both Don Quixote and Don Juan are human myths, human legends, symbols of certain existential, social and ideological attitudes; they represent man’s position vis-à-vis the world and society, a human being’s place in being as such. Unlike in Rastignac, Wokulski or Anna Karenina, we are little interested in Don Quixote’s and Don Juan’s individual, personal qualities: what absorbs us is, first of all, their take on reality. (…) It is by no means a coincidence that nearly all European languages have nouns derived from the names of the knight of the doleful countenance and the seducer from Seville: “Quixotism,” “Quixoticism” and “Don Juanism,” which designate a characteristic human attitude to reality, to other people and to the very core of human existence. The nouns “Quixotism” and “Don Juanism” define people’s behaviours, thoughts and beliefs as lastingly framed by the behaviours, thoughts and beliefs of their literary prototypes. The challenge that generations of historians of literature, philosophers and thinkers cope with is not only how to explicate the very figures of Don Quixote and Don Juan but also how to ← 26 | 27 → interpret Quixotism and Don Juanism. In this, we can see clearly how literature – the representational – merges inextricably with empirical reality to produce, within a given culture, a closed circle of the human world.48

The contemporary Spanish lexicon associated with the Don Quixote figure is abundant. Let me provide just a handful of the most important examples. In Spanish, we can say that a person is un quiijote or that a person’s behaviour is una quijotada. Quijotismo – the Spanish equivalent of “Quixotism” – differs from a far more rarely used quijotidad (the difference, however, is difficult to render in other languages). A near synonym of quijotismo is, of course, quijotería. The frequently used adjective “Quixotic” has two equivalents in Spanish – quijotesco and quijotil. Spanish dictionaries usually do not feature an entry for the verb quijotizar (reflexive form: aquijotizarse), but the neologism tends to be employed by critics, with the examples of usage including the process of Sancho’s transformation under the influence of the adventures he is involved in following the knight-errant.49 The verb has also its opposite – desquijotizar – used, for instance, by J. M. Marinas, who wished his essay to “de-Quixotise” all those that, spurred by the elation of the novel’s four-hundredth anniversary, began “to consume,” “to disguise as Don Quixote.” As Marinas puts it, they became enquijotados.50 The wealth of vocabulary generated by the literary character may be taken as implying how pivotal and nuanced the cultural reality discussed here is, actually. At the same time, this does not gainsay Marinas’s belief that the allegorical and symbolic expressions reiterated over decades have already gone “stale.”

The noun quijotismo and the adjective quijotesco as descriptive terms first appeared in A Dictionary published by the Real Academia Espaňola in 1840. Prominent Cervantes scholar Jean Canavaggio explains: “The adjective quijotesco (Quixotic), which does not necessarily have negative connotations, is used to refer to any conduct that resembles Don Quixote’s behaviour while the noun quijotismo (Quixotism) first denotes behaviour before it comes to denote, as opposed to ← 27 | 28 → Cervantism, a clear prioritisation of the protagonist over his author.”51 One of the first Polish authors to apply the term Quixotism was 19th-century literary critic Stefania Chłędowska, who employed it to designate “a certain kind of the individual’s mental attitude and conduct resulting from it.”52 In her Nowe i dawne kierunki romansu (Romance: The Past and Current Directions) (1878), Chłędowska gave Quixotism a pejorative tint (uselessness of actions which have no grounding in truth). What deserves special attention in her definition is that it revolves around “the individual.” It suggests that Chłędowska viewed Don Quixote as a quixote, that is, a general human type, any idealist resembling the knight-errant of La Mancha. In Polish historical literary studies, the term Quixotism and its derivatives (e.g. donkichotada [Don-Quixotade] as a strictly defined kind of imitations of Don Quixote) were employed in the 1920s by Zygmunt Matkowski, who embarked upon an ambitious venture of inventorying “Cervantes in Poland.”53 He studied, among others, the Quixotism of characters created by Polish Romantic Adam Mickiewicz. The echoes of Matkowski’s take on Quixotism, though quite narrow and limited to the motifs of “romance madness” and “love madness,” reverberate in the understanding of the term that I am attempting to sketch in this book.

Illustration 3: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza at a Peruvian market stand, Pisac, photo M. Barbaruk


← 28 | 29 →

In Polish, referring to a person as a Don Quixote sounds ambivalent, if not blatantly negative. As registered by lexicographers, the denotations and connotations of the famed knight’s name in colloquial language boast a considerable range:

The evaluative capacity of the word Quixotism ensues from this very ambivalence. This is after all the case in probably all European languages. There is quite a clear tendency to comprehend the term as derogatory. In Russia, Lev Shestov vilified, in his day, “scientific Don-Quixotism,” by which he meant almost fetishistic hopes invested in the scientistic methodology, and advised trying “to see sheep as sheep.”55 Ivan Turgenev wrote in his “Hamlet and Don Quixote” (1860): “By the term ‘Don Quixote’ we often simply mean ‘a joke’; the word ‘quixoticism’ in Russian is equivalent to the word ‘absurdity.’” He also regretted that even the Russian peasantry used the knight’s appellation as a derisive nickname.56 Whether the notion of Quixotism is similarly coloured in contemporary colloquial Spanish is difficult to determine for a lack of representative studies, but this should be expected as in its latest dictionary the Real Academia Espaňola lists two meanings of quijotismo. Quijotismo denotes: first, an exaggeration of chivalric sentiments and, second, arrogance, pride and haughtiness.57

Discussing the ambiguities of the notion of “Quixotism” in Meditations on Quixote, Ortega y Gasset believed the following disclaimer was in order: “My ← 29 | 30 → Quixotism has nothing to do with the merchandise displayed under such a name in the market.”58 Specifically, his interest lay in Quixotism of the novel’s style whereas commonly Quixotism refers to the novel’s protagonist. Still, is there actually any dominant mode of understanding Quixotism in Spanish thought? Fernando Pérez-Borbujo, the author of Tres miradas sobre el Quijote, suggests that the issue has not been adequately researched yet:

A lot has been said about “Quixotism,” and many authoritatively informed conclusions about its meaning have been inferred from adventures of but one knight-errant. Little, however, has been done to come up with a lucid definition or explanation of what that “Quixotism” is or what it entails. Like Cassirer, who speaks of a new force which emerged in Western culture and which he calls reason in order to describe the phenomenon engendered by the Enlightenment, I believe, we shall not go astray if we speak of Quixotism as a new spirituality engendered by the striving to spread the Christian spirit across the world after centuries-long confinement in monasteries and hermitages, caused by relentless persecutions provoked by the preponderance the Gnostic, Neo-Platonic and Plotinian components had been given in the Christian doctrine in its early days.59

The rather narrow understanding of Quixotism proposed by Pérez-Borbujo is interesting because of its evidently culture-oriented character – on his model, Quixotism is an objective force: a kind of spirituality related to the onset of modernity, which shapes human reality.

2. The Culture-Studies Perspective

Importantly, the attention that the culture sciences devote to universal problems and recurrent patterns of human reality makes me focus on those elements of the Don Quixote figure which are incorporated into the notion of Quixotism since they pertain to a specific way of life shared by very many different people. Such components of the general, dictionary notion of Quixotism as “an attitude to life,” “(a way of) conduct” and “behaviours, thoughts and beliefs” oriented toward characteristic goals – and, hence, also values – are traditional fields of interest in culture scholarship. Such an approach to Quixotism is signalled in some publications – e.g. in Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce’s Don Quijote como forma de vida (Don Quixote as a form of life) and Leopoldo Benítez Vinueza’s “El quijotismo como actitud” (“Quixotism as an attitude”) – whose very titles unmistakably announce this particular vantage point. ← 30 | 31 →

Importantly, the category of the way (of life) procures a certain ontology of the phenomena under study. As a designation of culture which determines its particular type or variety, the notion of Quixotism pertains to non-observable phenomena whose ontic locus is to be found in the structural rather than in the physical or the mental (Pietraszko). Culture depends on other orders of the antroposphere and materialises in the physical and mental realm in what is referred to as manifestations or correlates of culture (which I describe in “The Names of Don Quixote” below). Any definition of Quixotism as framed by culture studies – that is, of axiological Quixotism – must spell out its enmeshment in values since, within the conception that fundamentally underpins this book, it is being according to values that establishes the order of culture. To map out the axiotic space of Quixotism, we must inquire what values are the hallmarks of being/living (acting, thinking, feeling, etc) that may be qualified as a realisation or actualisation of Quixotism.60

In identifying the topography of Quixotism, one cannot fail to notice that most texts which use Quixotism and Don Quixote himself to describe or analyse culture take on board, specifically, Spanish culture: its “genius,” “the Castilian soul” or the Spanish national character as such. Binding culture directly with nation contradicts the theoretical tenets of this book,61 so an admonition is in ← 31 | 32 → order that any use that is made of these texts here must not be taken to champion the reductive view of Quixotism as a Spanish national specialty. Granted, Don Quixote was produced by a Spaniard and, with him, by what some are apt to call “the Spanish people”; by the same token, Spain might well have been necessary for the Knight of the Doleful Countenance to ever come into existence. But, and it is a crucial but, this ensemble of commonplaces emphatically does not include the assertion that the knight-errant was engendered by Spanish culture, synonymous though the phrase may seem. In this book, I decidedly refuse to make an individual, a nation, a society or any other discrete human group the subject of culture. The subject proper of culture are values. Types of culture are distinguished based on specific configurations of values distinct to particular historical conjunctures. Reflecting on “whether there is a culture of the People’s Republic of Poland,” Dorota Wolska formulates her position on the subject of culture in the following way:

Culture is enacted by particular individuals. This goes without saying, but in view of a relative autonomy of culture and the objective status of values, it can by no means be claimed that nations create their cultures (which is a characteristically sociological thesis). That is why Quixotism can be discussed in disjunction from a national or social background. Likewise, we can inquire to what extent this type of culture (type of space whose coordinates are determined by particular values) is, or may be, universal; for example, should we expect to come across its manifestations beyond (Christian) Europe?63

I believe it is legitimate to speak of an ethos of Quixotism, if ethos is defined in the vein proposed by sociologist of morality Maria Ossowska – as “a life style of a given community, a general (…) orientation of a given culture, the hierarchy of values it endorses, which is either explicitly formulated or implicit in people’s ← 32 | 33 → behaviours.”64 Nevertheless, since the study of ethos – and Ossowska examined the chivalric ethos – presupposes a strict conjunction of values and the social subject, it belongs to the sociology of culture rather than to culture studies.65 To speak of the ethos of Quixotism is pointless when the notion accrues depreciatory meanings. Don Quixote becomes a role model – indicating a hierarchy of values to be pursued by his imitators – if he is viewed as an object of aspiration. Ossowska notes that the belief in the worth of the knight-errant need not be conscious in fact. More options are provided by ethos as a descriptive, analytical notion propounded by culture scholar and anthropologist Roch Sulima in his volume of essays titled Słowo i etos (The Word and the Ethos). Sulima insists that “[e]thos should be approached as a historical issue which can be usefully employed to reconstruct transformations of signs and symbols of values in history and to study ‘the pastness in the present.’”66 Associated with ethos, axiology-related issues have been re-cast in the recent decades as tying in not only with the norm-producing processes – “‘obligations’ toward the system of culture” – but also with “the acts of individual self-creation.”67

3. Don Quixote as a Symbol

Ideas convergent with the definition of Quixotism adopted in this book are to be found in Leopoldo Benítez Vinueza’s classic work on quijotismo. Even though the author of “El quijotismo como actitud”68 underscores the arch-Spanish texture of Quixotism, his paper is a good introduction to charting a general semantic map of the notion and, first of all, to exploring the status of Don Quixote as a symbol.

Inscribing himself in the tradition of studying Quixotic types in culture and literature, Vinueza assumes that Quixotism had been there before Cervantes ← 33 | 34 → wrote his novel and functioned back then as the eponymous actitud, a term with a dual dictionary denotation of “an attitude” and “a posture.” This indirect confirmation of the ontological autonomy of Quixotism encourages addressing the problem of Don Quixote in the culture-studies framework. It seems, namely, that quijotismo can be comprehended as an essentially and distinctly Spanish reality of ideas or values (best expressing espaňolidad), with Cervantes merely giving this reality a literary embodiment. On this take, Cervantes’s role was to supply that pre-existing ideal entity with a form and “a body,” to provide a “material” skeleton – Don Quixote – for a symbol to rest on.

According to Benitez, Quixotism unfolds on three “planes”: in the figure of Don Quixote, in Cervantes and in the history of Spain. In each of them, he finds fertile soil for analysing the notion. Although the defining, indisputable, core property of Quixotism is notoriously difficult to pinpoint, Benitez foregrounds the incompatibility of man and the world, paired with the inadequacy of the means the individual possesses to the ends he pursues.69 This incongruity was meant to produce comic effects in the novel, but, as it progresses, we witness the book change and “Quixotise” Cervantes while the figure of Don Quixote grows remarkably autonomous from his designs. Don Quixote ceases to be an “ordinary” knight-errant and, gradually, turns into a symbol. The original idea of plot construction is abandoned while the contrast of the individual and the world imbues the character with dramatic profundity.

The symbol and the axiotic order come to be interconnected in the Ecuadorian’s text when he treats Don Quixote as an “ethical symbol” that conveys “the drama of human existence.”70 Casting Quixotism (or rather values that constitute it) as an embodied symbol accords both with Stanisław Pietraszko’s conceptualisation of symbol in culture and with his thesis about culture’s relational and structural ontic status. Pietraszko draws on the non-semiological interpretation of culture developed in humanist thought, where “symbol” goes beyond “sign” and is associated, “as if compulsorily, with the order of values.”71 In this ← 34 | 35 → framework, symbol is “a vehicle of value or even its objectified concretisation.”72 Benitez traces Don Quixote’s protracted metamorphosis: the sequence of transformations undergone by the Cervantes figure proceeds from hidalgo Alonso Quijano, who imitates knights-errant of Celtic and Germanic tales (distorted Amadis), to an authentic caballero andante (the way of life according to chivalric values), to relative independence and transfiguration into a new being: a symbol of ideal (in the Platonic sense of the term) justice and freedom. According to Benitez, Don Quixote as a symbol encompasses a far more comprehensive ethical ideal than the ideal that plunged him into madness. Of course, it still comprises the chief constituents of the Breton and Germanic cycles, such as fantasy, idealism, the cult of love and honour, the religion of sword and revenge, and oversensitive egotism. Yet the ethical ideal of Quixotism is broader – it seeks to institute justice and freedom as a norm for the world destructively assaulted by evil. Valour is not an end in itself but a means to these supreme ends. Don Quixote as s symbol transcends the representation of values of knight-errantry. Admittedly, “El quijotismo como actitud” fails to distinguish clearly what is specific to Don Quixote from what is unique to Quixotism (treating the two as synonymously interchangeable at moments), but the essence of the latter can be considered to lie in the “ethical ideal of freedom and justice,”73 with the symbolic figure of the knight evoking inexhaustible, profound, nearly religious vistas.

As already mentioned, Quixotism could not find an expression without the literary figure of Cervantes’s making. Benitez stresses that symbol is capable of intimating what is otherwise inexpressible. In his view, the entire Don Quixote is essentially “unaware” of itself (which tends to be the case with works begotten from genuine artistic inspiration). This mirrors the opinion that, unlike other signs, symbol “is conceived as representing something that basically cannot be represented otherwise, something that symbol is not simply a sign of, but rather a participant in or an incarnation of.”74 Ascribing such a – symbolic – mode of being to Don Quixote highlights his immersion in values that exist independently of humans, values which need to be actualised in behaviours, judgments and emotional states if they are to crop up in the anthroposphere in the first place.

The argument above suggests that there is a difference between Don Quixote as a symbol (crucially, not all aspects of the symbol are cultural in nature; that is, not all of them represent values), an allegory (in which the primary, literal, ← 35 | 36 → explicit meaning and the other, concealed meaning are related by translation) and a variously conceived archetype. In this book, my object is to trace in Don Quixote first of all the aspects connected with the axiotic order, that is, with culture (symbol, myth), secondly those connected with the realm of signs and, only thirdly, the archetypal ones, though the last is a relatively common venture (which shows the popular striving to confer ubuiquitous relevance and universality on the Spanish knight).

In his essay “Symbols in Architecture,” Rudolf Arnheim discussed the durability of symbol (its resistance to changes in philosophies and doctrines), an issue often addressed side by side with the universality of symbol. The durability of Don Quixote involves, in equal measure, resistance and a capacity to absorb as well as to inscribe itself into the philosophical context of all epochs. This unique trait was noticed by Sobeski, who himself saw Quixotism as a quintessence of pragmatic philosophy. He insisted that the novel possessed that capacity,

The obscure, the latent and the mysterious in symbol cannot be expressed in any other, more direct way but must rely on the properties and capacities of the “vehicle.” Thus, the multiplicity of interpretations that the knight figure has accrued stems from the irreducible instability of symbol, a trait which the literature refers to as its polyvalence. Drawing on the hermeneutically-inclined, anthropological and sociological approach to symbol developed by Marcin Czerwiński, Izolda Topp writes that “a symbol has a history of its own and changes as the cultural landscape changes.”76 Though “motivated” (by a work, a legend, a ritual, that is, by what is called the primary source of meaning), a symbol is ambiguous and open. Interestingly, Michał Sobeski, who does not address symbolism explicitly, grasps the uniqueness of symbolic representation (ambiguity) and its groundwork (tradition, or the so-called cultural context):

Following Czerwiński, we could say that the modus in which symbol operates is tradition – “an order that imbues it with a signifying function.”78 It is tradition that “brings forth the ambiguity of symbol since tradition both demands and fosters multiple readings. Symbol is thus an open structure whose meaning is co-constituted by the recipient.”79 The open structure of symbol requires a community that actualises it (thus, erudite “symbol-expertise” is clearly not at stake here). The excerpt above unmistakably specifies what tradition is a higher-order structure vis-à-vis the Don Quixote symbol: patently, it is the chivalric ideal which, though captured by a particular “Spanish soul,” that is, Cervantes, pertains to the entire “myriad-coloured backdrop” of the Spanish nation. Symbol’s polysemy is always curbed by its dependence on culture (its main axiotic mechanism, i.e. tradition), on a particular community (not necessarily a sociologically defined one) and on the physicality of the “vehicle” (a single thought about how Don Quixote’s appearance differs from Sancho Panza’s suffices to conclude that the distribution of values these figures represent or embody is hardly a matter of contingency). Sobeski’s comparison of symbol’s meanings to Gioconda’s richly equivocal smile is exceptionally well-chosen: the meanings a symbol carries cannot be conclusively numbered because they are in themselves difficult to single out as they intersect, interpenetrate and mutate into each other. Symbol is flickering – its meanings appear only to suddenly disappear, just like a smile appears and disappears in an instant. Symbol is also dynamic and capable of transforming its complex structure, of mingling, tearing apart and re-grouping the objects of relations that constitute it – i.e. values.

So far we have passed over the co-presence in Cervantes’s novelistic world of other important characters, notably Sancho Panza and Dulcinea, as well as some widely known, already culturally objectified adventures of the knight (e.g. reading ← 37 | 38 → books of chivalry, tilting at windmills, mistaking a sheep herd for an army, visions at Montesinos’s cave, etc.). All of them definitely qualify as significant components adding up to the totality of the Don Quixote-related symbolic structure. Regardless of the historically changing interpretations of the squire figure and its originally negative and then increasingly favourable appraisals, to attempt a reconstruction of the meanings of Quixotism discarding “Sanchism” would be an exercise in futility. It is so first of all because Sancho, whose attitude to the world differs from Don Quixote’s like the realist does from the idealist, produces dynamics and conflicts of attitudes and values, which are as relevant to the charting of the axiotic map as relations of affinity and complementation are. The contradictions personified in the knight and the squire, instead of being mutually exclusive, make up the very essence of the antagonised world.80 Cervantes is even proclaimed to have been the first to picture the world in the categories of “modern dialectics” (Rowiński). Secondly, the nuanced visions of the squire, such as the reading proposed by Claudio Magris, assert that “authentic Quixotism dissociated from rhetoric sides with Sancho Panza”81 since his is the salutary role to “dip the banner of the ideal in the dust of the everyday.”82 The juxtaposition of the two characters prompts a surprising realisation that it is Sancho who performs “better” Quixotism. As for Dulcinea, if she is omitted from the symbolic structure, Don Quixote’s key choices, obligations, judgments and preferences (aesthetic, but primarily axiological ones) are evacuated from the field of interest. “In me she does combat, and in me she conquers, and I live and breathe in her, and have life and being,”83 says the knight-errant about Dulcinea. These characters and symbolic adventures are thus a “cohesive system,” in which “the tight interdependence of elements invests each of the components, as well as the system as a whole, with ← 38 | 39 → a new function.”84 Such an “extension” of the signifying element of symbol finds a theoretical corroboration in postcards, which are kept by many long after they fulfilled their informative function. In his analysis of relations among elements of the postcard, focusing on its icon and verbal text, Pietraszko claimed that “what makes a symbol in this case is the composite expression of all mutual relations among all the structural elements of the postcard.”85 Thus, to state that Don Quixote is a symbol is a certain simplification that neglects basic relationships of elements that form the symbolic structure proper.

On the other hand, we could also consider whether Don Quixote himself is not, perhaps, too “commodious” to be a symbol. Perhaps it is his tilting at windmills – which requires legitimation by referring to a higher-order structure (the fable of the literary text, Don Quixote as a character, etc.) – that is a symbol. If we make such a point, however, further doubts arise: what if the windmill adventure – which, according to Szmydtowa, was the cradle of the concept of Quixotism, focalising the readers’ attention as “an action undertaken by people who have lost touch with reality,” people of noble intentions and genuine eagerness, whose efforts are, nevertheless, futile – is an “uprooted” symbol today?86 Doesn’t it epitomise the workings of the semiotic mechanism of conventionalisation, of emancipation of the symbol, in which it transforms into a cultural “token,” an erudite dead quotation, part and parcel of “a repository of ready-made signs catalogued in encyclopaedias and dictionaries?”87 I believe that if tilting at windmills is a symbol, it is not so much an “uprooted” one as one in which the vitality of culture has run its course and the “flickering” is dimmed. To avoid misunderstanding, I mean the vitality of “the material vehicle” of the symbol and not the vitality of the meanings it evokes. If this vitality is viewed as an element of the “cohesive system” formed around the Don Quixote figure, we could observe that today the windmill adventure – a fragment of the space of Quixotism bound up with futile effort – has been subsumed into the remaining “live” symbolic structure, first of all into the knight-errant figure. ← 39 | 40 →

Illustration 4: A poster in Villanueva de los Infantes, photo M. Barbaruk


4. Mundo Quijotesco as a Space of Values

Reflecting on how symbol can function in a “dis-enchanted” world which is no longer a cosmic whole, Izolda Topp follows Ernst Cassirer to observe that symbol took the place of Platonic beings, “erstwhile embodiments and promise of the unity of the human world.”88 Intriguingly, Benitez believes that Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophy, “ensuing from symbol,”89 is implicit in Cervantes’s work. His observation, however, pertains to another issue. According to the Ecuadorian ← 40 | 41 → philosopher, Don Quixote upholds Platonic “perfect idealism.” This means that for the knight-errant only that part of the sensory world which partakes in the idea exists for real. Whatever there is in the world that does not refer to the idea is not reality. The cliché that Don Quixote lives in the world of the imagination misses the mark in this sense as it is the sensory reality perceivable by the human majority that is denied strong ontological anchoring:

These ideas resemble Alfred Schütz’s theses about diverse, equally valid micro-worlds in Cervantes’s novelistic world and, even more, Steven Hutchinson’s notion of two equivalent “ethical economies”91 at work in the worlds of the knight-errant and common people. Benitez writes that “the Quixotic world” is an ethical one but infers from this more far-ranging consequences than Schütz and Hutchinson. What does it actually mean that the mundo quijotesco is the only one that really exists, as Benitez suggests? This thesis has implications relevant to culture studies: the locus proper of Quixotism is the objectively existing world of values. Solely the world of values has a real and “sturdy” existence although this assumption is correct insofar as the concept of values is comparable with the Platonic notion of ideas. It seems that Benitez would subscribe to such an approach as it brings in an ethical context for reflection on ideas. Furthermore, Benitez seems to espouse the notion of values as objects, which overlaps with the thinking about values endorsed in this argument. For example, he contends that courage as such is a value only ostensibly since its nature is “adjectival” and, for Don Quixote, it is not an end in itself. If we agree that the appropriate perspective in which to consider Don Quixote is determined by the mundo ético, it becomes clear that Don Quixote’s lot is tragic not because of the inadequacy of his imagination-dictated actions vis-à-vis reality but because of the incommensurability, the conflict between value-worlds inhabited by the knight-errant and the people he encounters in his adventure-strewn travels. We could say, thus, that the tragic dimension of the novel refers either to the fact that Don Quixote ← 41 | 42 → lives in a different culture than other people or to the fantastic literary device by which Don Quixote is the only human being that lives a cultural life complying with values while the rest of humanity, by failing to live in the real world (what is discrepant with the mundo quijotesco does not exist for real), actually fail to live in culture. If, in Cervantes’s work, the only real world is the world of values represented in Don Quixote, the novel can be viewed as a powerful metaphor of the condition of the cultural being – homo culturalis – who is, at the core, homo aestimans. If “man is an axiocentric being – that is, a being that not only pursues values but usually subordinates all his active life to such a pursuit”92 – Don Quixote is certainly a model or, as we have shown, a symbol of human being-in-culture. As there are two Don Quixotes – a mortal one from the novel’s second part, who loses faith in the sense of his deeds and dies of melancholy, and an immortal one, who battles ceaselessly and mutates from a literary figure into a mythical one – it is evident that only the latter Don Quixote qualifies as a model of homo culturalis.93

5. Homo Culturalis

The language employed in this book to discuss the culture of Quixotism may stir controversy as to its provenance, timeliness and the implied ontology of the phenomena under study. It may be suspected of championing various outdated paradigms and cognitive reductionisms as it speaks once and again of totality, synthesis of culture, structure, pattern, type, objectivity – the vocabulary that made Cracow-based anthropologist Dariusz Czaja so anxious that he resolved, in his prominent manifesto of an essay titled “Życie czyli nieprzejrzystość. Poza antropologię – kultury” (“Life as Opacity: Beyond the Anthropology of – Culture”), to rid the scholarly lexicon of culture as well. Therefore, it seems appropriate, before proceeding further, to point out that the category central to my thinking about culture – i.e. a specifically conceived way of life – does guarantee and promise “novelty”:

The categories of life style and way of life according to values are becoming more and more attractive as the time passes and we are faced repeatedly with paradigmatic changes and subsequent shifts in the humanities which highlight the processual, historical, local and individual dimensions of culture and culture research. These categories make ← 42 | 43 → it possible to take into account subjective references to values and replace their metaphysical grounding with a plurality of “particular situations of experiencing values.”94

In the context of construing culture as living according to values, Topp finds it advisable to revisit its etymology and the Ciceronian metaphor of cultura animi. Beneficially, unique resumptions of the traditional meaning of culture may be undertaken exactly under the aegis of Don Quixote. Although German ethnologist Ivo Strecker promoted the knight-errant into an icon of the theory of rhetorical culture,95 I suggest that we should see Don Quixote as a patron of theory of culture without any appended modifier, of culture as such, the notion of which is rooted in the old agricultural metaphor of the cultivation of the soul, but which receives a new articulation coupled with a critique of its modern, “modified” interpretations. The knight, who – as Peter L. Berger envisioned him – stands alone at the threshold of modernity, may serve as a tool to dismantle the “sinful” modern concept of culture accused of “hegemonising, hypostatising, homogenising, totalising and substantialising”96 culture in a number of ways discussed below.

5.1 Subjectivity Turn

By now, it has become a cliché that Don Quixote marks the border of the Middle Ages and the modern era. Cervantes’s novel features a concrete, biographically framed subject (even though his is a specific, cultural biography). José M. Marinas is certainly right when he avers: “If the way Don Quixote speaks is so strikingly novel, melancholy and dazzling, it is because his is the speech of a male who talks about himself and his interiority in an age when to talk in this way was at best a precarious and at worst a perilous thing.”97 Nevertheless, the “subjectivity turn” in the title of this section is not meant to highlight the appearance of individual inwardness in literature. Instead, it is supposed to foreground the relevance the ← 43 | 44 → Don Quixote figure has, or may have, to the contemporary culture sciences. The knight-errant – if we treat him as a heading of culture theory – brings the human individual back within its scope. What does it mean? The knight-errant not only refuses to fade away amidst the dominant patterns and systems but also wages open battle against them. He is not a typical epitome of culture at a particular time and place, but, emulating the imaginary, old, ideal patterns and even turning things upside down in his madness, he invents in fact his own destiny.98

In his insightful study of the ethical economy in Cervantes’s works, Steven Hutchinson argues that Don Quixote demonstrates something that challenges contemporary egalitarian ideologies: he shows that some people’s worth exceeds others’. Let us follow this thread a bit further: he shows that an individual may matter more than a collective. That the person’s worth surpasses others’ does not entail any special rights or privileges beyond a demand that this worth be recognised, appraised and respected and that others behave accordingly – “worth obligates; it makes others indebted in a way.”99 Symptomatically, Don Quixote devotes a lot energy to make others realise who they deal with and recognise a knight-errant in him. To accomplish this aim, he will not shun any means, including violence (I discuss this in detail in “Quixotism and Evil”).

The alterity of Don Quixote’s actions and thinking is so subversive that he is capable of unsettling the foundations of the social relations system grounded on the ethical economy. What does the knight’s unique, individual “ethical economy” presuppose? Hutchinson writes:

Contrasting the chivalric world inhabited, first of all, by Don Quixote with the world as experienced by most other characters, Don Quixote juxtaposes and puts on display various systems of interests, “debts” and “payments.” As we know, Don Quixote participates in both worlds, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes alternately. Other characters also move between the two worlds. This produces constant wonder, a play of mirrors and echoings. Don Quixote does not accept other people’s ethical economy: he does not valorise people and things in the same way, acts as if he was unfamiliar with the rudimentary social conventions and contracts, explains things based on different cause-effect laws (…), does not feel either satisfaction or sorrow the way he is expected to, etc. Don Quixote’s madness transforms him into a being that is socially virginal so to speak. In this way, on many occasions, he disrupts the sanctioned order, which is both comic ← 44 | 45 → and absurd, but at the same time his transgression of the norms emphatically discloses the absurdity and formality of significant aspects of the ethical economy underpinning social relations; in this way the parody never targets only the chivalric. Even his attitude to the literary world of knight-errantry, which has an ethical economy of its own, is more than problematic. Don Quixote turns himself into a topsy-turvy knight-errant, falls in love inversely, does penance without any discernible cause, promises to pay his squire and feels obligated to do and say many other things which his readings definitely do not authorise.100

Of course, my point is not that our interest in the individual should make us quit discussing larger entities, such as cultures or their recurring patterns. Anointing the “socially virginal” Don Quixote as a patron of culture-studies thought and foregrounding the culture of Quixotism as one of prominent axiotic spaces, I seek to emphasise the autonomy of culture – and, in this particular case, even of homo culturalis, the subject that enacts values – from social, national, historical and biological determinations. Innumerable personal incarnations of Quixotism, that is, various Don Quixotes sharing a unique way of living, acting, experiencing, knowing and thinking, can be found, to put it bluntly, at all places and all times.

5.2 “I Know Who I Am!”

If culture is conceived as the cultivation of the soul, we should see the knight-errant as an agent today and approach him in the framework of the “care of the self” or Taylorian “ethics of authenticity.”101 Don Quixote takes the helm of his life in his hands and engages in combat for the world and against the human condition defined through modern states and sentiments: boredom, passivity, inertia and banality of existence. Don Quixote is sometimes construed as a species of the Cartesian subject (Cartesian cogito),102 who constructs knowledge of ← 45 | 46 → the world and of the self relying exclusively on his own self-consciousness. What is emphasised in this model, however, is the transition from simple intellectual self-consciousness to practical and volitional one in the vein of Fichte’s ethical idealism. In his The Vocation of Man (1800), Fichte wrote: “I am thoroughly my own creation. I could have blindly followed the promptings of my own spiritual nature. I did not want to be nature, but my own work; and I have become so by willing it.”103

“I know who I am!” (Yo sé quién soy!) spurts out Don Quixote, putting a conversation with his neighbour Pedro Alonso to a halt when his interlocutor tries to convince him that he is no knight-errant but Alonso Quijano. This famous statement was showered with attention and a variety of interpretations by many 20th-century humanists.104 Miguel de Unamuno, likely the first in the series, construed it as a symptom of Don Quixote’s heroism, residing in the consciousness of who he wants to be.105 “Of cardinal importance is what you want to be,”106 wrote Unamuno in The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho more than a century ago. The sentence, the “humble resolve with which he pronounces [it],”107 encapsulates Don Quixote’s essential greatness. According to philosopher Eulalio Ramiro León, this is what Quixotism is all about. Quixotism means sustained authenticity – being true to oneself – predicated upon inalterable moral imperatives.108 The freedom and boundlessness of will are perhaps the knight’s greatest folly (the folly of modern subjectivity). “To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what not, what has meaning and importance ← 46 | 47 → for you and what is trivial and secondary,”109 writes Charles Taylor in Sources of the Self.

Yet, the powerful imperative of the freedom and boundlessness of will invites also different assessments which reveal more ominous facets of Quixotism. How about Philip II’s enterprise of erecting the monumental Escorial? Wasn’t it by any chance driven by a similar folly, a folly of “the sheer effort” (Ortega y Gasset)? Built in Cervantes’s times, the huge palace with the royal tomb at its heart seems to speak of the Spaniards: “We only want to be great.”110 In his masterful “Preface” to one of the Polish editions of Don Quixote, Jan Gondowicz writes: “Greatness, however, requires a technique of educating the soul. The trivial, the sordid, the lacklustre, the mundane, the insignificant must all be sifted away. To conquer the world turning at the same time one’s back on it – this is a path to true greatness. Also Don Quixote does not let the world cross the threshold of his soul. And there is as much pride in his attitude as there is contempt.”111

In Philosophy as a Way of Life, Pierre Hadot portrays practices of spiritual exercises intrinsic to a range of ancient Greco-Latin philosophies, adopted and re-worked in early and later Christian versions (e.g. Ignacio Loyola’s Exercitia spiritualia) as well as in nearly present-day forms. Doing this, he seeks to give expression to his profound belief that the practice of philosophy involves not only abstract constructs of conceptual systems and intellectual cognition, but also, first and foremost, “a way of being in the strongest sense of the term.”112 Spiritual exercises, like physical exercises yet engaging the totality of the soul instead of the body, were meant to effect a transformation of whatever was subjected to such exercises in the human being. They all aimed at “improvement and self-realization” and rested on the premise that until they were undertaken the individual “does not live a genuine life, nor is he truly himself.” To resort to Plotinus’s metaphor: ← 47 | 48 → human self-realisation is envisaged as “sculpting one’s own statue,” removing what is redundant, returning to oneself and living according to paideia instead of according to social conventions or superstitions. As the principle of gnothi seauton – “know thyself” – has it, the subject’s inner transformation is possible owing to the freedom of will. It is the freedom of will that enables man to “modify, improve and realise himself.”113

The category of spiritual exercises revived by Hadot may effectively help clothe Don Quixote in an ancient philosopher’s toga. The sculpting of a “new” identity, which Don Quixote undertakes with full resolve, can also be rendered by a hunting metaphor employed by Ortega y Gasset.114 The disciplined imagination and the obsessive gaze, fixed on its target, attentive to things unforeseen, bring to mind a hunter tracking his game. Neither hunting nor adventure is aimless loitering, a coincidental and hesitant act. Nor do they entail walking along a scrupulously outlined path, familiar even before one sets out (which is where the knight differs from the modern subjects). Don Quixote is a huntsman rather than an uprooted, post-modern nomad receptive to the contingency of life. As Pérez-Borbujo puts it: “He knows what he wants and plunges himself into the world with a well-defined intent that informs all his actions, imbuing them with internal coherence.”115 He acts according to intentions and not according to a plan. Of course, I do not mean a “physical” path here. This was never chosen by the knight, who – as Claudio Magris rightly notices – relied on chance, that is, on Rocinante.116

Plunging himself into the world, Don Quixote specifies his reasons: he seeks to combat injustice. Yet his desire to garner immortal fame and his vested interest in “how they speak of me at this place” make the knight-errant akin to the aristocrats of the soul, who believed that it was man’s duty to abide by the principle of “the care of the self,” comprehended as an inherently Socratic imperative of self-knowledge, fathoming existence and telling the truth of oneself and the meaning of human life. To fulfil this “obligation to oneself” (Kant) – that is, to self-educate – one must not only gain self-knowledge but also design the evolution of one’s personality founded ← 48 | 49 → on the drive to freedom and autonomy. Freedom is not given to humans; rather, it requires long and arduous self-improvement.

5.3 Axiocentricity of Madness

The spaciousness of Cervantes’s novel makes it possible to witness the constitution of the subject as a moral subject and to observe “how man becomes” in and through enacting a kind of Foucauldian “culture of the self.” The Quixotic cultivation of the soul involves actualisation of values which the knight feels place an extraordinary obligation on him. This is what Don Quixote’s madness, resting on the three main pillars of justice, freedom and beauty, basically involves. His madness is neither a romantic frenzy nor a struggle against socio-cultural rules and conventions. His madness is a medieval ethical maximalism, as Jurij Lotman suggests in Culture and Explosion. The chivalric mania, thus, is not an individualistic rebellion. The knight “endeavours to worship the community’s values as he understands them.”117 His folly lies in the utterly scrupulous observance of the norms inscribed in the chivalric ethos; it is folly because such conduct was by no means expected of a normal man.118 His actions, clearly, are not coincidental – they all make sense and the sense that they make is produced by connectedness with values. The chivalric mania is just another name of amplified human axiocentricity. Don Quixote sees prostitutes as ladies – his madness is blind to picaresque ugliness and evil, discerning in the world only what is good in it. His world-transfiguring madness is “an idealism of good,” writes Pérez-Borbujo.119

Hutchinson, studying diverse acts of evaluation in the social world, relies on a subjectivist concept of value. Value is what we find precious. With such tenets, it is impossible to define values and avoid a tautology at the same time. However, this perspective usefully helps describe Don Quixote’s valuation frenzy. Ascription of value to things and people changes their identities: Aldonza becomes Dulcinea, and the barber’s basin becomes Mambrino’s helmet. Don Quixote’s madness lies in valorising everything that may become a part of another adventure and denying the status of the real to those elements of reality that do not nurture or substantiate his fantastic world. His madness is expressed in his ← 49 | 50 → “psychological capacity to appraise the world upon the criterion of ‘because it has value to me’ (‘para lo que a mí me vale’).”120

A potent driving force behind this kind of madness is a specific kind of literature and its application to reality. As Lotman insightfully comments: “Literature assigns the unprecedented and fantastical standards of heroic behaviour and heroes attempt to realise them in real life. Literature does not reproduce life, but rather it is life that attempts to recreate literature.”121 I discuss this salient issue in detail in the Chapter “Bibliomania: The Adventure of Reading.” At this point I only want to remark that Don Quixote’s book mania cannot be discussed without addressing the ethical programme that the knight’s readings obligated him to perform. Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes put it in the following way: “Don Quixote, the madman, is mad not only because he has believed all he has read. He is also mad because he believes, as a knight-errant, that justice is his duty and that justice is possible.”122

5.4 Dialogue as a Spiritual Exercise

Ivo Strecker and Stephen Tyler – the founders of rhetorical culture theory, which provided a new paradigm for the culture sciences – claim that no other book equals Don Quixote in the centrality awarded to conversations or dialogue. It seems that throughout the plot all episodes are pretexts for Don Quixote’s conversations with Sancho Panza. This discovery is corroborated by what the knight-errant himself admits: “…for in all the books of chivalry I have read, which are infinite in number, I have never found any squire who talks as much with his master as you with me.”123 Still to justify equating “rhetoric” with “conversation” and “dialogue” and to narrow down the meaning of the latter, we need to specify the function of conversation as such, the function that Don Quixote emphatically enhances. It seems that the common denominator of rhetoric, conversation and dialogue is their agency. The characters’ conversations are, in fact, a performance. Cervantes’s masterpiece, Strecker and Tylor contend, may make reflective readers conclude that human life is directed by rhetoric and its tropes. “[I]t is perhaps the most persuasive example of the rhetorically produced and fantastic ← 50 | 51 → nature of culture,”124 they claim; and “Don Quixote may be comprehended as an allegory of a culturally induced madness, or, more precisely, of culture’s power to transform people.”125 Simplifying slightly, we could say that culture, on this take, is a product of rhetoric, which sounds convincing when we witness Sancho “Quixotised” by the conversations with the knight. Nominating Don Quixote the icon of rhetorical culture theory helps promote understanding that through inward126 and outward rhetoric people are inclined to persuade themselves and others to embrace extraordinary thought and action. Binding culture and action through language is also encouraged by M. Bakhtin’s concept of dialogicity and, especially, by performativity of culture, a widely debated notion at present. Both frameworks effectively “capture” Don Quixote, demonstrating what is no longer to be doubted – that the knight is a deeply performative figure.

Discursive figures, such as metaphor, metonymy and irony, substantially contribute to the production of the fantastic, mysterious and magical elements in culture, but the main reason why the social sciences and anthropology are interested in tropology is preoccupation with how rhetorical figures can be used persuasively to “effect social interactions.”127 James Fernandez McClintock, whose concept of tropology is the driving force behind Strecker’s essay, enumerates its ancient antecedents, evoking Greek rhetors, Sophists, Aristotle, Cicero and, first of all, Quintilian, born in the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Calahorra). In his Institutio oratoria (translated into English as The Orator’s Education or Institutes of Oratory), Quintilian wrote about teaching young patricians to speak effectively in public and, as a result, to manage the Roman Empire efficiently. The care and efforts of the first, state-funded rhetoric teacher were thus less aesthetically-oriented and more practically-minded. The susceptibility of reality to the linguistic, rhetorical “definition of situation” produced in human interaction was given a pithy formulation by Fernandez McClintock, who used William I. ← 51 | 52 → Thomas’s maxim for the purpose: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”128 This is also what he sees as “the Cervantine principle.”

Why is Sancho transformed by conversations with Don Quixote? Is it perhaps because Don Quixote’s rhetorical talent is in fact a psychagogic gift, an art of enthralling souls? “Learning to dialogue” is, as Hadot tells us, one of spiritual exercises which lead to a transformation, “a conversion which turns our entire life upside down, changing the life of the person who goes through it.”129 Mastery in this realm belonged to Socrates, who guided his interlocutor to the point where one could not only discover the truth but also “know oneself in one’s true moral state.”130 The knight and the squire’s journeying together is a metaphor of conversation as an exercise in which the process of arriving at the conclusion matters more than solving the problem as such.

Rooted in the ancient philosophical tradition, moral-cum-existential exercises involve learning to live, to dialogue (therein meditate, reflect, sustain dialogue with oneself), to die and to read. A more fitting language to discuss the knight-errant’s way of being is difficult to imagine although Strecker’s model also directs inquiry in the right direction. Namely, it promotes Don Quixote to a patron of culture defined in terms of the metaphor of cultura animi: culture that is functional, performative, practical and bound up with individual self-perfection of the human soul. Given this, Don Quixote is a homo rhetoricus, yet, above all, he is a homo culturalis.

5.5 Performance: Action that Transforms the World

Quixotism – “a practice of living in sustained effort to incorporate values into everyday reality”131 – calls for a reality-transforming action. Though not being ideology as such, it has tended to be associated with various ideologies. Leaving the library to mend the world according to the truth of books may be viewed as taking a position in the dispute on the status of humanistic knowledge, a voice evidently backing the advocates of its practical dimension. The knight-errant as a patron of non-cognitive functions of reflection on culture, of its responsibility and (usually political) engagement, forces a realisation that the concept of culture is still ← 52 | 53 → comprised of a normative and evaluative component (wherein reflection on culture is, at the same time, a critique of culture). Expectedly, knowledge as practical wisdom – phronesis – proves impractical in the literal sense, as evidenced by the symbolic scene of tilting at windmills and by Ortega’s notion of “the sheer effort” as encapsulating the knight’s actions. We can also go about it Sobeski’s way: “The sequence of agonies Don Quixote puts himself through in Sierra Morena are supposed to show Dulcinea what lunacies he would be up to in earnest if he raves so now for no reason whatsoever – what he, as the text has it, would do in the moist if he does so much in the dry. From this point of view, his goat-like prancing and bounces or pounding his head against a rock are things of infinite beauty. For they are an end in themselves; they are purposefully purposeless, to use the Kantian coinage. These are spiritual exercises for their own sake.”132 This pointlessness of the actions undertaken by the knight as a patron of culture theory conveys the through-and-through cultural – because autotelic – nature of the deed (in terms of Sobeski’s opulently metaphorical diction, such an action could be called “an action of the soul”). Mind you, “only” the order of civilisation is constituted on account of utility.133 The practicality of the humanities does not eye such utility.

Action is foregrounded also in the concept of modern experience presented by Giorgio Agamben in Infanzia e storia. Distruzione dell’esperienza e origine della storia and by Paola L. Gorla, an Italian Agamben and Cervantes scholar, in Rutas cervantinas, a commentary on Infanzia…. In Infancy and History, with “infancy” evoking its original, etymological meaning of “inability to speak,”134 Agamben contrasts two subjects of knowledge at the threshold of modernity. One of them is Sancho, who has experience originating in proverbs, a reservoir of knowledge founded upon the authority of tradition, but never undergoes it (literally, Gorla speaks of not-doing experience). On the strength of that authority, each new experience possible in the real world is always ascribed to the already acquired knowledge, and, as such, it is automatically “old,” as Gorla concludes.135 Sancho traverses the world carrying the baggage of tradition-derived experience. His opposite is the knight-errant, the subject of knowledge that constantly does (undergoes) experience without ever having a chance to acquire it. Don Quixote does ← 53 | 54 → not have experience because he does not learn from his mistakes and, undaunted, nose-dives into one adventure after another, making a fresh start again and again. “Quixotism never looks back,”136 writes Ramiro Léon. Like many contemporary researchers of Cervantes’s novel, Agamben does not treat Don Quixote and Sancho as two autonomous entities, but as one whole. In this way, having experience and doing experience coalesce in one construct – a subject that stands at the border of modernity and marks a turn in the history of knowledge. Defined thus, man is no longer a proprietor of certain closed experience shared with the community but is not yet fully expropriated of it and doomed to experiment permanently and to quantify his experiments. Man is a homo performaticus.

Framed as a symbol of the emergent modern attitude, the Don Quixote figure, which embodies the condition of man who, divested of tradition, must create himself anew by doing, ties in with the etymological meaning of culture as practice and activity. In Cervantes’s novel, the knight is persistently referred to as “the son of his own works.” What does this phrase mean? In Tres miradas sobre el Quijote, Pérez-Borbujo relates it to the fact that Don Quixote is deprived of “the past and memory.” Indeed:

We know nothing about his youth and childhood, about what has formed his soul. His soul is born ex ovo, like Cartesian reason (…) A lack of tradition and legacy is one defining feature of modernity. Indeed, modernity is born in an act of the imagination in which everything that has been is severed off in order to commence a new narrative about the world. Certainly, this is how our famous hero starts off, thereby making sure that Don Quixote will be solely that which will be presented: only deed (Tathandlung) determines our figure.137

The explicit reference to Fichte’s concept of Tathandlung (a deed/an act), which may be understood as an absolutely primal activity and an unconditional principle underlying consciousness,138 underscores how seminal the decision to act is to the birth of the knight-errant. It is by no means a coincidence that Pérez-Borbujo evokes the central category of Fichte’s philosophy: the word Tathandlung was used by Ludwig Tieck, an eminent Romantic translator of Don Quixote into German, as the equivalent of Spanish hazaña, that is, “a heroic deed.” Herman ← 54 | 55 → Cohen, incited by conversations with José Ortega y Gasset, put off working on his Aesthetik to read Don Quixote. He was so astonished by this re-reading experience that whenever he met the Spanish philosopher, looking up from the book, he would welcome him with: “Really, this Sancho uses the word on which Fichte founded his philosophy.”139 Pedro Cerezo Galán claims that Tieck could not possibly have translated the word “deed” better since no other philosophy has more affinity with the Quixotic spirit than Fichtean idealism.140 The Quixotic deed is, thus, in its essence an act of will, a decision.

5.6 Second Birth in Culture

The world and La Mancha start together with Don Quixote, writes José Miguel Marinas. Alonso Quijano’s self-enclosure in the library and the scarcity of information about the life that the hidalgo lived before turning knight-errant trigger an abundance of interpretations, predominantly philosophical ones. We could mention axiological, cultural blindness, i.e. hubris,141 or the gentleman’s exclusion from the human world. The transformation into Don Quixote is intriguing, be it for no other reason than the difference between the two ways of being: of the noble and of the knight-errant. At this point, let us dwell briefly on man’s birth in culture (a motif that has a bearing on my argument), which absorbed German philosophers in the 18th century and, as I will try to prove, has not lost its attractiveness to contemporary culture studies. Perhaps not fully consciously, Michał Sobeski recalled this motif in his book Na marginesie Don Kiszota (1919), writing: “And although, for excessive reading and sleeplessness, he lost his reason as a lay man, as Alonso Quijano, he gained it hundredfold as Don Quijote. Born anew in the spirit, he had to adopt a new name.”142 The “new” birth and all its trappings (adopting a new name, altering verbal expression and leaving the home behind) are associated by Sobeski with the sanctity of the knight-errant, an idea originating in Unamunean philosophy of Quixotism he discusses. But this ← 55 | 56 → transformation may also be conceptualised in different terms. Although the novel mentions “confirmation,” taking a new name may be interpreted as christening – as showing that a homo culturalis has been born and baptised. Don Quixote “felt pure like a man new born.”143 In “Linguistic Perspectivism in Don Quixote,” Leo Spitzer highlights the patent instability of character names in Cervantes’s novel. The polyonomastics bound up with the functions the name fulfilled in chivalric customs is, he believes, meaningful as it binds language and values:

[A]ny knight of romance, Amadis or Perceval or Yvain, is presented as undergoing an inner evolution, whose outward manifestations are different “adventures” which mark his career; and it is by virtue of these adventures that he acquires different names, each of which is revelatory of the particular stage attained; in this way, the evolution is clearly labeled (…) The name under which he [knight] appears has a somewhat objective, temporally definable validity.144

Concomitant with the adoption of the name of the patron, spiritual birth can be comprehended within the framework of the Christian baptismal rites, which served as a model for rituals of chivalry. However, in more recent humanist thought, it is associated rather with the rise of the modern, “morally-oriented life style.”145 In Los nombres del Quijote. Una alegoría de la ética moderna, Marinas differentiates “Romanesque naming”146 from “modern naming.” In his view, the change in name-giving signals a significant cultural transformation and is a hallmark of the nascent modern ethics. Cervantes’s novel with its “onomastic festival” helps us witness how that change came to pass. To fulfil his fantastical intents, the self-appointed knight must go through necessary preparations: he undertakes to combine the identities he has just inaugurated with newly coined names. The names are meant to grasp the metamorphosis a creature (or a thing) has undergone,147 but Marinas rightly emphasises that the names conferred by Alonso are chiefly supposed to sound lofty and poetic: “musical and beautiful and filled with significance.”148 If in the “Romanesque” mode, name-giving entailed finding a name that precisely corresponded ← 56 | 57 → to the nature of the thing named (the name was conferred once and for all), in Don Quixote we see that name-giving grows far more “open.” Don Quixote chooses names “to his liking.” A name must be “sonorous” or “musical” (músico in the original) because it is to be paraded in the public space, known among the folk and “repeated from mouth to mouth.” Names must not only present (represent a person or a thing) but also be presented in a theatrical or courtly way: “They are names to be taken out onto a plaza in order to be defended and demand recognition.”149 Modern names, thus, have a performative dimension to them. According to Pedro Cerezo Galán, it is the desire to be recognised and re-asserted in his own “name” that permeates Don Quixote’s interest in reputation and fame, so strongly underscored in the novel’s second part. The name ties in with modern ethics, whose central premise holds that the subject’s identity is not “given” (inherited) but “assigned” and attained. The idea was communicated by Cervantes in a number of ways, among which Marinas picks up the reiterated maxim that “each man is the child of his deeds.”150 The name-giving in Don Quixote projects the gradual process in which the modern subject acquires autonomy151 and portends the dawning of a new “moral style” based on freedom and responsibility.

However, the transmutation of Alonso Quijano into Don Quixote reminds us also of Herder’s famous concept of man’s double birth: first into nature and second into culture. Initiation into culture, synonymous with an awakening of the spiritual element in man, was accomplished, according to Herder, by education, teaching, tradition and language. The ultimate goal of this process was the attainment of humanity (distinguished by reason, freedom and speech), which instead of being pegged by the standard of universally endorsed rationality was to be estimated individually by each man’s inner measure. This development was envisaged as tuning in with the individual’s specific strengths (hence Don Quixote loses one kind of reason only to gain another one which our ingrained habits consider insane). The key role in Herder’s concept of culture is attributed to speech. Hence, “language change” is absolutely critical, even symbolic. For the German pre-Romantic, speech is not only an instrument of thought but also a way of recognising and realising values. It is through and in speech that man becomes reflective and learns to make choices. Speech is thus a cradle of culture and reason. Don Quixote’s new way of speaking, characteristic of knights-errant, may thus imply that his conduct falls under the regulation of a particular order ← 57 | 58 → of values. Importantly, Herder approaches speech, reason and freedom (that is, humanity) as objects and not as attributes: treated as the highest goods (values), they are objects of human actions, that is, their ends. In this way, “humanity” shapes the human way of life. Human pursuit of “happiness,” which should be thought of as pluralistic (“that which is considered the best”), means living according to some order of values. That is why the most essential human property is neither reason nor even speech, but the will since it is the will that makes it possible to direct conduct toward the attainment of values. The will – “the sheer effort” – is something that Don Quixote is indubitably endowed with. Crucially, Herder does not have the individual will in mind since the vital role in this process is attributed to tradition understood as a mechanism of the development of culture. This, clearly, pertains to Don Quixote, who carries on the tradition of medieval knighthood.

Immanuel Kant stressed that the attainment of goals worthy of the nature of man required effort – discipline and skill. The effort of setting off onto the roads of La Mancha can be seen as corresponding to the process in which humans became cultural beings, described in Kant’s “Conjectural Beginning of Human History.” On such a reading, quitting the library is an equivalent not of leaving the paradise – as the library is a symbol of tradition and, consequently, of culture – but of man’s second birth into culture, and third birth as such. The first birth into culture is connected with internalisation of inherited models and adjustment to living in diverse human communities; the second birth, in turn, is associated with building authenticity and constructing an individual life-path, i.e. with the practice of freedom, which is the foundation of morality. In this framework, Quixotism would figure as the utter saturation of the individual with culture – the extreme pole of the culture-nature binary.

It seems that classic thinkers on culture – Herder and Kant – offer corroboration of our hypothesis.152 Would Don Quixote thus stand as a paragon of a cultural being in whom humanity is embodied to the fullest? Many interpreters argue the ← 58 | 59 → philosophy propounded by Cervantes should be called humanism (etymologically derived from “humanity”) rather than idealism. Humanism is defined by Cerezo Galán as “the belief in man’s, any man’s, ability to determine his destiny as well as to understand and co-exist with any other man.”153 This kind of humanism, with a relativist and ironic tang, is a specialty of Michel de Montaigne rather than of Erasmus of Rotterdam, born a century earlier, who is habitually associated with the ideology of Cervantes’s novel. Appointing Don Quixote a patron of the contemporary theory of culture – a theory that is nevertheless founded upon the traditional, etymologically motivated understanding of culture – demands that we examine the later fortunes of the term as well as developments in culture itself. As compared with the Ciceronian approach to culture, the modern age has definitely given predominance to a new value – freedom. This is well conveyed in the definition I find binding for this book: “Quixotism does not reside in words, but in fertile actions; it is a new culture and cultivation of freedom.”154

Making Don Quixote a patron of the theory of culture promises that the dichotomy Pietraszko perceived between pedagogically defined culture as the cultivation of man and culture as the cultivation of values can be overcome “if the former is framed as the question of identity and the latter is understood as practice or experience. The categories of life style and way of life make such a venture viable.”155

6. Axiotic Topography of Quixotism: An Example of Justice

Quixotism is not one value but an axiotic space, a dimension of culture, a framework (Taylor) demarcated by values which interact with each other.156 Quixotism is thus a bigger entity and, in sociological parlance, could be referred to as a subculture if only social groups, and not values, were the subject of culture. Relations among values, which elude direct observation and are empirically perceivable in the anthroposphere in particular manifestations produced by historically changeable, values-regulated human ways of life, are vital to defining the identity ← 59 | 60 → of culture. Realising values, individuals each time follow different and unique protocols, so although the “ensemble” of values as such exists objectively, that is, independently of humans, human ways of life according to values – human “ethoses” – mutate in history.157

The “character” of culture is determined by how values are ordered (complementation, similarity, contrast, etc), because the ordering determines the content of values. The semantic identity of a value is structural and cannot be grasped in an isolated description dissociated from other values. An example could clarify this:

For Don Quixote, justice is permeated with freedom. (…) The absolute ideal of justice is nearly the same as the Platonic idea of justice. The discrepancy between the justice that we could call judiciary, the justice of minstrels and the justice of scholars contravenes, according to Ganivet, the ideal of justice embraced in the Quixotic deed. (…) Ideal justice mends and punishes through higher goals, through its own immanence. For Don Quixote, deprivation of freedom, which is constitutive of humanity, is unjust. For this reason, justice and freedom are equated and conflated. The Quixotic ideal reigns based on the ethical ideal of justice and freedom, which are Platonic virtues. Don Quixote feels that he must institute the age of happiness, sword in hand. Valour is prerequisite to achieving it. The islands – profit and fame – are for Sancho. What remains for Don Quixote is life, that is, imposition and administration of justice.158

Although justice can be said to be the most salient value of Quixotism, it cannot be comprehended in disjunction from freedom (this is an important observation insofar as their interrelationship is far from obvious; for example, “the execution of justice” usually connotes a situation in which freedom is curbed). If we see justice in the totality of its relations with other values, and above all with freedom, we begin to understand how Don Quixote could be turned into a model of an anarchist or a modern rebel. Such shifts in the concept of Quixotism are unrelated to changes in values themselves but linked to place- and time-bound re-orderings in relations among values. ← 60 | 61 →

Buczyńska-Garewicz resorts to a similar example to show that, besides capturing the relations of justice with other values (the question is: what values?), it is also necessary to determine the position it occupies in the hierarchy of values (the question is: how high does it rank?): “To know values, it does not suffice to grasp their quality, for example the meaning of justice. For that, they must also be situated in the entire axiological universe as superior or inferior to other values.”159

In culture studies, the analysis of various interpretations of the Don Quixote figure (or Cervantes’s novel) and the shifting meanings of Quixotism may involve pinpointing the changes in how values are realised in culture (establishing their mutual relationships, identifying constitutive values of particular periods, tracing modifications in the repertoire of “Quixotic” values, etc.). The impossibility to study values as such does not render the discussion of their realisations or manifestations pointless (and in this way we “go back to values”). Crucially, interpretations of Quixotism are, in and of themselves, actualisations of values, so to speak. Explorations of the content of Quixotism presented in this and the following Chapters are not so much a report on the fortunes of values in culture as rather, at places, their extensive, synchronic and selective register. The values, unfortunately, do not add up to “a table of elements” of the culture of Quixotism.160 But it is not my intention to say everything there is to say about Quixotism; my intention is only to describe what surfaced most powerfully and pertinently in the 20th-century humanities. My interest in the permanent in culture (the search for Quixotism in various expressions of culture) intersects with the thesis that the world of values is objective. The vitality of some values, traced and confirmed across time and space (e.g. the appearance of traveller Benjamin – a “Jewish Don Quixote” – in Russia at the end of the 19th century), proves that values are independent of the heteronomies of culture. What I attempt in this book is, thus, to seek – indirectly, of course – “evidence” of the permanence of values.

41 J. Miodek, Słownik Ojczyzny Polszczyzny, eds. M. Zaśko-Zielińska, and T. Piekot (Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Europa, 2002), pp. 158–159.

42 Mały słownik języka polskiego (Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1993), p. 145.

43 From A. Fredro’s facetiae we know that the notion of donkiszotyzm (Quixotism), derived from the knight-errant’s name and adventures, started to be widely used in Poland in the Enlightenment. It was then that, based on the book’s French version, Don Quixote got translated into Polish for the first time. Dated to 1781–1786, the translation – by Count Franciszek Podoski – was a rather free adaptation of the novel.

44 Z. Szmydtowa, Don Kiszot Cervantesa (Warszawa: Państwowe Zakłady Wydawnictw Szkolnych, 1969) p. 18.

45 A. Bernárdez, Don Quijote, el lector por excelencia (Madrid: Huerga y Fierro editores, 2000), p. 93.

46 M. de Cervantes, Don Quixote…, p. 478.

47 T. Gautier, Viaje a España, trans. and ed. J. Cantera Ortiz de Urbina (Madrid: Cátedra, 1998), p. 86.

48 C. Rowiński, Przestrzeń logosu i czas historii (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1984), pp. 11–12.

49 In Diálogos, Sabato formulates a sentence containing two verbs – neologisms – which denote the two protagonists’ reciprocal influence; one of them is derived from the name of the knight while the other from the name of the squire: “el Qujote se asancha, en la ínsula Barataria, y Sancho se aquijota.” Diálogos Borges-Sabato, ed. O. Barone (Buenos Aires: emcee, 2007), p. 75.

50 J. M. Marinas, Los nombres del Quijote. Una alegoría de la ética moderna (Madrid: el rapto de europa, 2005), p. 10.

51 J. Canavaggio, Don Quijote del libro al mito, trans. M. Armiño (Madrid: Espasa, 2006), p. 159.

52 K. Sabik, “Don Kichote,” in Słownik literatury polskiej, eds. J. Bachórz and A. Kowalczykowa (Wrocław: Ossolineum, 1991), p. 167.

53 Z. Matkowski, “Cervantes w Polsce. I. Don Kichote a Dziady wileńsko-kowieńskie.” Pamiętnik Literacki 16. III/IV (1918).

54 P. Sawicki, “Od Norwida do …(I). Poczet Don Kiszotów polskich (dalece niepełny).” Rozprawy Komisji Językowej. Vol. XXXIII, eds. J. Miodek and W. Wysoczański (Wrocław: Wrocławskie Towarzystwo Naukowe, 2006), p. 274.

55 The critique of “scientific Don-Quixotism” – one of Shestov’s chief objects in Apotheosis of Groundlessness – serves as a methodological motto of Dariusz Czaja’s Sygnatura i fragment. Narracje antropologiczne (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, 2004), p. 6.

56 I. S. Turgenev, “Hamlet and Don Quixote” in The Essential Turgenev, ed. E. Ch. Allen (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1994), pp. 547–548.

57 Interestingly, the same dictionary defines the noun quijote in far more favourable terms: it designates a person who puts their ideals above self-comfort and acts disinterestedly for what they perceive as a just cause only to suffer humiliation as a result. http://buscon.rae.es/draeI/SrvltConsulta?TIPO_BUS=3&LEMA=quijote.

58 J. Ortega y Gasset, Meditations…, p. 50.

59 F. Pérez-Borbujo, Tres miradas…, p. 82.

60 “The axiology of Don Quixote” has been studied by Mexican philosopher, jurist and writer Agustín Basave Fernández del Valle. His book Filosofía del Quijote: un estudio de antropología axiológica is not a culture-studies dissertation but a philosophical essay informed by German philosophy of values (e.g. M. Scheler and N. Hartmann). Focusing on the universal meaning of Don Quixote residing in chivalry (el valor de lo caballeresco), it treats the knight-errant himself as a “vehicle” of this value. Comprehended as chivalry, Quixotism comprises honour, courage, noble deeds, dutifulness, discipline, sacrifice and defence of justice and the vulnerable. According to the author, Cervantes’s novel insists that ideals and life should not be disjoined as “the ideals of life” and “living by ideals” may be combined in human lives. Such a fusion is predicated on the freedom of will and the need for values. Don Quixote overcomes the external and internal obstacles to a life of values and service of the good by love. For more details, see A. Basave Fernández del Valle, Filosofía del Quijote: un estudio de antropología axiológica (Alicante: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2002) (retrieved from http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/servlet/SirveObras/cerv/01589962085700942210102/index.htm) The digital version of the book is based on its 2nd edition (Meksyk: Espasa-Calpe Mexicana, 1968).

61 “To specify varieties or types of culture based on their alleged social agents is thus ungrounded even though these cultures may in this way or another be related to the ways of living of particular social strata or classes.” S. Pietraszko, Kultura…, p. 160.

62 D. Wolska, “Wstyd i bezwstyd. Przyczynek do badań nad kulturą i PRL-em,” in Nim będzie zapomniana. Szkice o kulturze PRL-u, ed. S. Bednarek (Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 1997), p. 63.

63 The query would likely be answered in the negative by Unamuno, who saw Quixotism as intertwined with Christianity, more precisely – with popular, “subconscious” Catholicism. Cf. M. de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, trans. J.E. Crawford Flitch (New York: Dover Publications, 1954).

64 M. Ossowska, Ethos rycerski i jego odmiany (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 2000), p. 7.

65 Similar objections might be raised in relation to conceiving Quixotism as a life style, an approach encouraged by A. Schütz’s assertion that: “Knight errantry is first of all a way of life.” Of course, we should remember that Quixotism is a rather singular re-working of the code of knight errantry and, as such, cannot be fully identified with it. A. Schütz, “Don Quixote and the Problem of Reality,” in Collected Papers II: Studies in Social Theory, ed. A. Brodersen (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976), p. 138.

66 R. Sulima, Słowo…, p. 20.

67 R. Sulima, Słowo…, p. 20.

68 L. Benítez Vinueza’s “El quijotismo como actitud” appeared originally in Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana 5 (1947), pp. 75–116. Here retrieved from http://cvc.cervantes.es/obref/quijote_america/ecuador/benitez.htm#arriba (unpaged).

69 That incompatibility is showcased in Don Quixote’s melancholy musing on the Golden Age, “lost for ever in the course of time, yet always vivid in the memory of the nation and people.” F. Pérez-Borbujo, Tres miradas…, p. 82. The knight boldly tells the goatherds about the world long gone and the infinite perfection and beauty rousing the souls of poets. According to Pérez-Borbujo, “Quixotism” is born in such strivings to instill the Christian spirit in the world grown hostile and indifferent to it.

70 L. Benitez Vinueza, “El quijotismo…”.

71 S. Pietraszko, Kultura…, p. 126.

72 S. Pietraszko, Kultura…, p. 126.

73 L. Benítez Vinueza, “El quijotismo…”.

74 L. Kołakowski, Kultura i fetysze. Zbiór rozpraw (Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1967), qtd. in S. Pietraszko, Kultura…, p. 134.

75 M. Sobeski, Na marginesie…, p. 101.

76 I. Topp, “Kultura postsymboliczna? Symbol we współczesnej polskiej refleksji o kulturze,” in Wiedza o kulturze polskiej u progu XXI wieku, eds. S. Bednarek and K. Łukasiewicz (Wrocław: Silesia, 2000), p. 188.

77 M. Sobeski, Na marginesie…, p. 102.

78 Qtd. in I. Topp, “Kultura postsymboliczna…,” p. 189.

79 I. Topp, “Kultura postsymboliczna…,” p. 189.

80 Interestingly, Spanish culture tends to be described as a realm of conflicting rather than harmonious values. Cf. S. Ciesielska-Borkowska’s memories from travels in Spain: “Another reflection concerns the intricacy of issues Iberia evokes as a land of contrasts stemming from its primal internal structure. The beautiful and the grotesque, sublime idealism and mundane realism, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.” S. Ciesielska-Borkowska, “Hiszpania przed burzą,” in Hiszpania malowniczo-historyczna. Zapirenejskie wędrówki Polaków w latach 1838–1930, edited and introduced by P. Sawicki (Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego 1996), p. 475.

81 C. Magris, “Utopía y desencanto,” in Don Quijote alrededor del mundo, introd. H. Bloom (Barcelona: Instituto Cervantes, Galaxia Gutenberg Círculo de Lectores, 2005), p. 109.

82 C. Magris, “Utopía y desencanto…,” p. 109.

83 M. de Cervantes, Don Quixote…, p. 255.

84 J. Woźniakowski, Czy artyście wolno się żenić (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1978).

85 S. Pietraszko, Kultura…, p. 135.

86 Cf. I. Topp, “Kultura postsymboliczna…,” p. 190.

87 I. Topp, “Kultura postsymboliczna…,” p. 190.

88 I. Topp, “Kultura postsymboliczna…,” p. 179.

89 Don Quixote is neither a book of philosophy nor an ethics primer. It does not formulate philosophical questions either directly or indirectly. Yet there is a philosophy that emerges from the symbol. Don Quixote is a book; Don Quixote is a human attitude, a symbol which expresses a certain attitude to life. And it does so beyond the author’s will.” L. Benitez Vinueza, “El quijotismo…”.

90 L. Benitez Vinueza, “El quijotismo…”.

91 S. Hutchinson, Economía…, p. 41.

92 S. Pietraszko, Kultura…, p. 367.

93 I refer here to the mortal and immortal Don Quixotes from Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life.

94 I. Topp, “Kultura jako kult i jako trans. O religijnych kontekstach metaforycznego języka współczesnej refleksji o kulturze.” Prace Kulturoznawcze (Kultura jako cultura) XII (2011), p. 50.

95 “In this essay, I would like to argue that in Don Quixote of La Mancha Miguel de Cervantes created the character – both literally and metaphorically – that is a perfect icon of the contermporary theory of rhetorical culture.” I. Strecker, “Don Quijote: icono de la teoría de la cultura de la retórica. Una contribucion a James Fernandez. ‘La tropología y la figuración del pensamiento y de la acción social.’” Revista de Antropología Social 15 (2006), p. 22.

96 K. Łukasiewicz, “O grzeszności nowoczesnego pojęcia kultury.” Prace Kulturoznawcze (Aksjotyczne przestrzenie kultury) IX (2005), p. 179.

97 J. M. Marinas, Los nombres…, p. 17.

98 Don Quixote’s alterity can also be approached in more traditional ways, as Ruth Benedict did, stating that the knight embodies “the person unsupported by the standards of his time and place and left naked to the winds of ridicule,” the person that by declining to enact his generation’s practical standards “became a simpleton.” R. Benedict, Patterns of Culture, New York: Mariner Books, 2006 [1934]), pp. 270–271.

99 S. Hutchinson, Economía…, p. 66.

100 S. Hutchinson, Economía…, p. 41.

101 Authenticity is a modern moral ideal involving being true to oneself. Its conemporary – degraded and grotesque – forms transpire in the trivialised slogan of self-realisation. Taylor would presumably see Don Quixote as a patron of restoration of the proper meaning of the authenticity ideal and renewal of human practices. That is, of course, had the knight errant been true to his own “originality” instead of imitating knight-errants. Ch. Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991). The ethics of authenticity as related to Don Quixote is discussed by P. Cerezo Galán in “‘Meditaciones del Quijote’ o el estilo del héroe.” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 21 (1996).

102 P. Cerezo Galán, “La autoconciencia del héroe. Del entusiasmo heroico a la melancolia,” in “El Quijote” y el pensamiento moderno. Vol. I, eds. J. L. Gonzáles Quirós and J. M. Paz Gago (Madrid: Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales 2005).

103 J. G. Fichte, The Vocation of Man, trans. P. Preuss (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987), p. 73.

104 It has also been re-cast and travestied as, for example, in Claudio Magris’s “Here I know who I am” (emphasis mine). This is what Don Quixote would say traversing La Mancha, “the place that has almost physically become his part or extension.” C. Magris, Podróż bez końca (L’infinito viaggiare), trans. J. Ugniewska (Warszawa: Zeszyty Literackie, 2009), p. 10.

105 “Only the hero can say ‘I know who I am!’ because for him being is aspiring to be; the hero knows who he is, who he wants to be, and only he and God know it.” M. de Unamuno, The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho: Part I, in Selected Works of Miguel de Unamuno. Volume 3: Our Lord Don Quixote, trans. A. Kerrigan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1967), p. 52. Unamuno’s interpretation is nearly verbatim repeated by Sobeski in Na marginesie… (p. 85).

106 M. de Unamuno, The Life…, p. 51.

107 C. Magris, Podróż…., p. 31.

108 E. Ramiro León, Paisaje moral del quijotismo (Madrid: Nueva Acropolis, 1988), p. 18.

109 Ch. Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge et al: Cambridge UP, 2004), p. 28.

110 J. Ortega y Gasset, Dehumanizacja sztuki i inne eseje, trans. P. Niklewicz (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1980), p. 8. Thought the volume is titled Dehumanisation of Art and Other Essays, it contains a different collection of Ortega y Gasset’s writings than the likewise titled English publication. The quoted sentence comes from “Meditation on the Escorial.”

111 J. Gondowicz, “Czytelnik rusza w drogę,” in M. Cervantes, Przemyślny szlachcic Don Quixote z Manczy, trans. A.L. Czerny and Z. Czerny (Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2004), p. 1000, emphasis mine.

112 P. Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. M. Chase, ed. A. Davidson (Oxford et al.: Blackwell Publishing, 1995), p. 81.

113 P. Hadot, Philosophy…, p. 56.

114 The metaphor is aptly interpreted by F. Pérez Borbujo, Tres miradas…, p. 74.

115 F. Pérez Borbujo, Tres miradas…, p. 74.

116 C. Magris, Podróż…, p. 29. Cf.: “…came to his imagination the crossroads where knights errant would begin to ponder which of those roads they would follow, and in order to imitate them, he (…) loosened the reins and subjected his will to Rocinante’s…” M. de Cervantes, Don Quixote…, p. 21.

117 I. Enkvist, “‘El Quijote’, la ideal del héroe y la reflexión ética de nuestros días,” in “El Quijote” y el pensamiento moderno. Vol. I, eds. J. Luis Gonzáles Quirós and J. M. Paz Gago (Madrid: Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales, 2005), p. 357.

118 Cf. J. Lotman, Culture and Explosion, trans. W. Clark, ed. M. Grishakova (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009), pp. 41–45.

119 F. Pérez-Borbujo, Tres miradas…, p. 76.

120 S. Hutchinson, Economía…, pp. 78–79.

121 J. Lotman, Culture…, p. 47.

122 C. Fuentes, Don Quixote: Or, The Critique of Reading (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), p. 46.

123 M. de Cervantes, Don Quixote…, p. 151.

124 S. Tyler, I. Strecker, “The Rhetoric Culture Project,” in Culture and Rhetoric, eds. I. Strecker and S. Tyler (New York/Oford: Berghahn Books, 2009), p. 27.

125 I. Strecker, “Don Quijote: icono…,” p. 29.

126 Rhetoric is not reduced here to the art of public elocution; on the contrary, emphasis is placed on the “inwardness” of rhetoric, which is extended onto all kinds of symbolic expression capable of affecting human lives. The notion of “internal” rhetoric was introduced by Strecker in order to show how rhetorical figurations – in particular, self-perception and self-persuasion exemplified in the speeches both Achilles and Ulisses address to themselves in The Iliad – become reality in the human world.

127 I. Strecker, “Don Quijote: icono…,” p. 10.

128 Qtd. in J. Fernandez McClintock, “La tropología y la figuración del pensamiento y de la acción social.” Revista de Antropologia Social 15 (2006), p. 8.

129 P. Hadot, Philosophy…, p. 83.

130 P. Hadot, Philosophy…, p. 90.

131 E. Ramiro León, Paisaje…, p. 69.

132 M. Sobeski, Na marginesie…, pp. 87–88, emphasis mine.

133 Interestingly, there are conceptions arguing that Don Quixote is a patron of the civilisation progress. Cf. P. Salinas, Quijote y lectura…, p. 33.

134 Dorota Wolska’s Polish translation of the book – Niemowlęctwo i historia – emphasises this inability even more emphatically as the stem of “no speech” (nie and mowa) is quite directly recognizable in “niemowlęctwo” (infancy).

135 P. L. Gorla, Rutas…, p. 22.

136 E. Ramiro León, Paisaje…, p. 14.

137 F. Pérez-Borbujo, Tres miradas…, p. 72.

138 “In this way, Don Quixote emerges as a modern figure, and his modernity precedes the rise of Cartesian modern philosophy and its simple voluntarism, which will culminate in Proteism proclaimed by German idealism visible in Fichte, its founder, who in Wissenschaftslehre formulated his concept of Tathandlung as an originary, founding act.” F. Pérez-Borbujo, Tres miradas…, p. 72.

139 Qtd. in J. Ortega y Gasset, Dehumanizacja sztuki…, p. 92.

140 He suggests, however, that the philosophy developed in Don Quixote should be labelled “humanism” rather than “idealism.”

141 I draw here on J. Ortega y Gasset although in writing about hubris, he targeted not Alonso Quijano but Basque hidalgos, whose houses – stone cubes embellished with coats-of-arms only – represented in his eyes pride, i.e. “a sense of being self-contained and sufficient unto themselves” and “innate blindness toward the value of others.” J. Ortega y Gasset, Invertebrate Spain, trans. M. Adams, (New York: Howard Fertig, 1974), pp. 144–157.

142 M. Sobeski, Na marginesie…, p. 84, empasis mine.

143 E. Ramiro León, Paisaje…, p. 17.

144 L. Spitzer, Linguistics and Literary History: Essays in Stylistics (New York: Russel and Russel, 1962), p. 74.

145 J. M. Marinas, Los nombres…, p. 10.

146 Marinas borrowed the term “Romanesque,” as designating the pre-modern times, from Ortega y Gasset.

147 In the case of Rocinante, “he was looking for the precise name that would declare what the horse had been before its master became a knight errant and what it was now.” M. de Cervantes, Don Quixote…, p. 22.

148 M. de Cervantes, Don Quixote…, p. 24.

149 J. M. Marinas, Los nombres…, p. 32.

150 M. de Cervantes, Don Quixote…, p. 37.

151 To label this modern process of naming “on one’s own behalf,” J. Marinas coins a neologism autonimia (Los nombres…, p. 10).

152 Although the knight’s history is close to the spirit of Rousseau’s philosophy (the physical and spiritual torments Don Quixote goes through as he pursues the ideals promulgated by his books lead him to the loss of faith, melancholy and death), I will not delve into this affinity to retain the clarity of my argument. Rousseau, namely, is a “naturalist” professing that “culture is alienation” while my goal is to argue the opposite – that “alienation is culture,” a position H. Schnädelbach attributes to “culturalist” Kant. E. Martens and H. Schnädelbach (eds.), Filozofia. Podstawowe pytania (Philosophie. Ein Grundkurs), trans. K. Krzemieniowa, (Warszawa: Wiedza Powszechna, 1995).

153 E. Martens and H. Schnädelbach, Filozofia…, p. 219.

154 El quijotismo no se fundamentará en palabras, sino en hechos fecundos, será una nueva cultura en un nuevo cultivo de libertad. The word cultivo, translated as both cultivation and culture conveys the history of the notion of culture. E. Ramiro León, Paisaje…, p. 14.

155 I. Topp, “Kultura jako kult…,” p. 50.

156 That the dimensions of culture are demarcated by particular values is posited by R. Tańczuk and D. Wolska in “O kulturze i wartościach raz jeszcze.” Prace Kulturoznawcze (Aksjotyczne przestrzenie kultury) IX (2005).

157 This thinking, inspired by German philosophy (in particular by Max Scheler), is espoused by Hanna Buczyńska-Garewicz: “The universe of values is independent of various forms of axiological consciousness and various ethoses reflecting it. At the same time, however, without the ethoses the universe is entirely concealed; values can appear and be realised in the empirical world solely through these ethoses, their possible deformations notwithstanding.” H. Buczyńska-Garewicz, Milczenie i mowa filozofii (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo IFiS PAN, 2003), p. 148.

158 L. Benitez Vinueza, “El quijotismo…”.

159 H. Buczyńska-Garewicz, Milczenie…, p. 151.

160 I purposefully hint at R. Sulima’s “table of elements of peasant culture,” which yields a comprehensive image of the section of the world of values the researcher focuses on. Cf. R. Sulima, Słowo…, p. 23.

| 63 →

Chapter Two
Research Tools: Between the Reader, the Book and the World

1. Testaments and Styles of Don Quixote’s Reception: Literary-Theoretical Inspirations

Announced in the previous Chapter, the focus of my argument – that is, what values are actualised in various interpretations of Don Quixote (the character and the novel alike) – my research aims and my empirical material require a suitable theoretical framework. As I rely mainly on language sources, I suggest to delimit the question to: What values are actualised in the various readings of Don Quixote circulating in the humanities? A similar question was posed by literature theorist Michał Głowiński in his well-known study “Świadectwa i style odbioru” (“Testaments and Styles of Reception”). In it, Głowiński sought to fathom how Don Quixote was read by Polish Romantic poet Cyprian K. Norwid, whose impression upon reading the book inspired his famous poem “Epos-nasza. 1848.” Głowiński’s argument deserves to be quoted at length also because, as Wrocław-based Spanish studies scholar Piotr Sawicki claims, Norwid’s reading was a blueprint for later Polish interpretations of the knight-errant’s history161:

The poem is, obviously, something more than just a story of reading or a vignette from childhood, but that notwithstanding, it still is a poetic record of a concretisation of Don Quixote. The very title [“An Epic-Ours. 1848”] suggests its direction. Those familiar with Norwid’s ideas about the novel as a genre will not be surprised to see that the title of the poem devoted to Cervantes’s work, popularly taken as a novel, evokes an older literary form. It is the first indicator, and a deeply meaningful one, of the concretisation Norwid performed: Cervantes’s work deserves reading because it is ascribed values that the poet believed intrinsic to an epic poem only, among all other narrative genres. Such a reading presents Don Quixote as a hero of the traditional epic calibre, a figure mythical and, simultaneously, symbolic; in the novelistic reading of Cervantes’s texts, such reception is hampered, if not ruled out altogether. There is more, however; in his concretisation of Don Quixote, Norwid actualised also other values characteristic of his times: Cervantes’s protagonist is not only a heroic epic figure; he is also – in a degree, at least – an equivalent of a Romantic poet. Norwid is not interested in what the ← 63 | 64 → 20th-century interpreters of the book considered a fundamental matter – namely, the gap between illusions and reality. His attention was not captured by the false consciousness that oppresses the hero. He sees illusion as a form of poetic activity, as creation. It seems that the kind of reading of Don Quixote that unfolds in Norwid’s poem exemplifies the Romantic reception of Cervantes’s novel.162

Any study of various reception styles of a literary work is rife with practical problems related to the selection of research material: “The fact of reception is not directly given to a literary historian, as a rule. It must be first reconstructed, and that on the basis of a partiucular kind of texts. Namely, the texts which are interpretable as testaments to this work. And they amass into a highly heterogeneous territory.”163 The reception testimonies available in the humanities suggest that they have focused on the “scholarly” style of Don Quixote’s reception. According to Głowiński, this mode of reading pertains to denotation, a meticulous reconstruction of the text’s meanings. This reading style of Don Quixote finds its fullest expression in philological studies, which I consciously leave out from this book.164 I am namely interested in texts that make up highly diversified, contemporary humanist thought, texts that circulate within it but are often produced outside it (e.g. literary reminiscences on the reading of Don Quixote), texts that interpret the book freely but usually observe the scholarly standards of their age. In Głowiński’s parlance, I am interested in the connotations of the novel rather than in its denotations.

Głowiński wisely advises that, in order to explore the styles of the reception of Cervantes’s work, one should consider also illustrations in the book’s editions since “Romantic illustrations to Don Quixote attest to quite a different reading than 20th-century illustrations do.”165 Undoubtedly, transcriptions of Don Quixote into various media – music, theatre and film – could also teach us a lot ← 64 | 65 → about the novel’s reception styles.166 Alterations to be registered in them do not document individual readerly interpretations but record “certain tendencies in literary culture.”167 As Głowiński puts it, “we deal with styles of reception, analogous to literary styles.”168 The testimonies produced in the humanities discourse are addressed in this book as far as it is reasonably possible.

Drawing on Głowiński’s typology of reception styles, we could conclude that over more than four centuries, Cervantes’s novel has been subject to nearly all modes of reading, with the symbolic approach predominating, but allegorical, instrumental, expressive, mimetic and aestheticising ones by no means negligible. And so, the novel was read symbolically and allegorically when Don Quixote was construed as a symbol or an allegory of a certain attitude to reality (e.g. idealism). It was read instrumentally when the novel was posited to have aimed to discourage reading of chivalric romances. It was read expressively when the raders tried to extract from Don Quixote some information about Cervantes and fathom the mystery of his genius. It was read mimetically when the work served to understand the causes of the collapse of 17th-century Spain. It was read in an aestheticising way when the picaresque and ludic facets of the novel were highlighted. This diversity of interpretive styles is definitely related to the fact that Don Quixote functions in a number of various contexts or, more precisely, literary cultures (which partly overlap with different cultural epochs). Yet the interpretive multiplicity ensues also from the open-ended nature of the novel itself. The reception style is defined by Głowiński as “a mode of reading that results from the properties of the culture of the epoch in which reception takes place.”169 Although the intensity of interest in Don Quixote has fluctuated, the novel seems never to have lost its essential legibility.170 The changing contexts in which the ← 65 | 66 → work has been read – that is, the various “coordinates of culture” that condition the manner of reading (especially those generated by literary culture) – have been altering the meanings and the rank of Don Quixote, but they have never evacuated it from what is referred to as literature’s communication process. The connotational wealth of Don Quixote – a certain surplus of the work’s significations, the content commonly attributed to it but transcending what it comprises in and by itself (i.e. the things characteristic of the culture of a given period rather than related to individual readerly associations) – has gone through a number of changes, and the differences have been symptomatic. Don Quixote boasted probably the greatest connotational capacity in the Romanticism. It has ascended to a similar level of power again in our times. This observation is absolutely crucial if we contend that “culture reveals itself not in the sphere of denotation but in the realm of connotations.”171 Głowiński states that unlike a document or a propaganda piece, both demanding that the recipient decipher the intentions and content as pre-programmed by the author/s or “use” the text on a particular occasion in a very particular way, a literary work is “a durable good.” This formulation fits Cervantes’s novel perfectly. That a literary work, besides lending itself to a scholarly reconstruction, is capable of evoking connotations proves that it partakes in “the literary communication process intrinsic to a given culture.”172 This participation depends not only on the work itself but also on the immanent tendencies of the epoch’s literary culture, which co-determines and “selects” the works which, intelligible, will be the vehicles of that semantic surplus, sifting away those which will be consigned to “the storehouses of literature.” This is how culturally determined renaissances of some works or styles come to pass.

Is the current resurgence of Don Quixote marked by the domination of any particular reception style? Is it the symbolic style? If so, is that a distinguishing feature of the present literary culture? Does the contemporary, pluralistic world allow a dominant reading style? Do historically different reception styles of Don Quixote affect each other and/or overlap? Or do they change as literary culture transforms? These questions could be juxtaposed with remarks in Głowiński’s other study (from the same volume), in which he discusses the utility of the category of concretisation developed by Roman Ingarden. Głowiński reflects on how the ← 66 | 67 → contemporary understandings of a work are entangled in its prior concretisations, divergent from the literary culture of a given epoch:

In the case of Cervantes’s novel, modes of reception tend to aggregate, which means that contemporary interpretations of Don Quixote depend on how the novel has been received so far. The statement sounds banal, indeed, but its apparent triviality evaporates when we look into specific examples. Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of the novel is an illuminating one. Classified as “independent,” the filmmaker very much depends on the Romantic interpretation of the knight (Don Quixote as a dreamer, idealist and romantic) even though he partly modernises the novel.174 Sometimes the impact of tradition on the mode of reading the text surmounts the influence of the current culture. “It occurs when the readers approach the works aware of their role (…) in the history of culture or in the history of a given society.”175 That is why Poles read their “great Romantics” in a way discrepant from contemporary reading modes. Interpretations of Cervantes’s masterpiece, however, are a far more complex case though its role in the history of the Spanish nation is no less significant.

The limits to communication capacities of literary works depend on the literary culture(s) in which they originated and in which they are read, on whether the two acts are, or are not, seriously at variance. Defining literary communication central to his concept of reception styles, underscoring its non-utilitarian nature and formulating the ostensibly tautological statement that “a literary work communicates itself” (and, consequently, that it is not simply a transparent transmitter of information),176 Głowiński highlights an issue of utmost interest ← 67 | 68 → to culture studies; namely, that a literary work may be “treated, in the second place, as a form of action or of testimony, as expression or a moral model.”177 The “second-place” issues, highlighting the heteronomy of literature and its external, non-specific modalities, imply, of course, the regulatory potency of culture.

2. Literary Culture: The Axiotic Potential of Literature

The remarks above result from of a slightly tendentious reading of Michał Głowiński’s essays. Style odbioru (Reception styles) is a volume of literary-theoretical studies, but I read them as a culture scholar and, hence, quote passages concerning the dependence of reading modes on objectified literary culture as if Głowiński considered the acts of reading to be autonomous of other factors. The concept of literary culture as outlined above is interesting to me insofar as it defies simple mentalistic categorisations. It does not pertain to people’s mental competences in literature (which is the common way literary culture is conceived of in the Polish language, even in scholarship) though, according to Pietraszko, it is “an exclusively technological account,” reducing culture to communication. Though I disagree with his assessment of Głowiński’s concepts, I do concur with Pietraszko’s other observation: how Głowiński actually understands literary culture must be inferred from his dispersed theoretical comments as he actually never defines it, focusing instead on the category of literary communication. Consequently the concept of literary culture evades, basically speaking, any discussion. Still, Pietraszko finds Głowiński’s ideas interesting since “even though Głowiński endorses a common semio-communicative approach to the issue, his is certainly the notion of communication broad and capacious enough to accommodate important intuitions about and references to, for example, the normative components of communication (…) which, nota bene, seem more specific to culture as a unique ‘order’ of the human world than to communication.”178 The remark suggests that Głowiński’s notion of communication is non-instrumental. This is, after all, announced in the opening of Style odbioru, where Głowiński insists that communication is an act “of singular nature, unique and inimitable,”179 irreducible to “values of other kinds.” The concept of literary culture inferable from Głowiński’s studies on “indexes of culture” serving as reading directives presents a broad and heterogeneous but objectivist and descriptive take on culture. On his model, communication is an inherently conscious and intentional activity. ← 68 | 69 →

This outline of Głowiński’s concept of literary culture, albeit brief, helps understand literature as a form in which culture is realised and explains why “it can be applied in culture research, especially if that research is to explain the unique ‘order’ of literature’s being and workings in the human world.”180 The following part of this Chapter is devoted to this issue. Literary culture is here understood basically in Pietraszko’s terms: it is not an attribute of the human mind, but an objective, relatively autonomous structure that shares fundamental properties with its overarching structure –culture. Literary culture is, thus, “a unique network of human relations with values, mediated by literature and literary forms.”181 I include the notion of literary culture into my toolkit because in my research on Quixotism I seek to clarify the complicated interconnections between literature and human ways of living according to values. Also Pietraszko emphasises the utility of the literary culture category for culture research, which means a lot, especially in view of his considerably cautious attitude to empirical uses culture theory is put to:

This category significantly augments the apparatus of culture research and expands its explanatory horizon, serving to explore both culture itself and its literary realisations as well as its roles and the ways people relate to it individually and socially.182

Without the category of literary culture, it is would be impossible to describe the vital features of Quixotic reading. The specific axiotic potential of “literariness” or “artistry” (the linguistic and stylistic means of expressing and representing values, rooted in the traditions of literature) may also explain the power of the novel or the chivalric romance as literary genres.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 288 pp., 16 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Magdalena Barbaruk (Author)

Magdalena Barbaruk lectures at the University of Wrocław. She researches the culture of Spanish-speaking countries and the cultural potential of literature.


Title: The Long Shadow of Don Quixote