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The Long Shadow of Don Quixote

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Magdalena Barbaruk

The author traces the resurgence of Don Quixote in the contemporary humanities. In the aftermath of World War II, the figure underwent the most radical re-interpretation since Romanticism. These changes speak volumes about our culture. Drawing on the theoretical framework of the specifically Polish variety of cultural studies, this book makes Don Quixote a patron of cultural reflection. With culture conceptualised as performative, Quixotism is «the cultivation of the soul,» an axiotic space which forms human ways of life across epochs. In this way, the history of culture can be re-written as a history of values frenzy, bibliomania or evil.

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Chapter One Quixotism

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“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 Cer- vantes’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 Qui- xote – 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 ma- niac, 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� With- in 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 41 J� Miodek, Słownik Ojczyzny Polszczyzny, eds� M� Zaśko-Zielińska, and...

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