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The Long Shadow of Don Quixote


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 Five: Quixotism and Evil


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Chapter Five Quixotism and Evil

“Don Quixote, or Don Devil…”

“I am the devil. I am looking for Don Quixote de La Mancha.”

Miguel de Cervantes

“Beware of knights errant!

They are out for adventure; they are drawn to calamity.”

Pascal Quignard

1. Madness of Violence

Preparing his 1951–1952 Harvard lectures on Don Quixote, Vladimir Nabokov wondered how it was at all possible to read that “cruel and crude old book”604 as a story of a genial madman and how on earth “quixotic” had come to mean “admirably idealistic,” instead of “hallucinated,” “self-hypnotized” or “play in collision with reality.” Nabokov invited the students to revisit the book, “tear it apart” and purge it of popular, sentimentalising interpretations. The writer postulated, thus, an opposite of what this book seeks to accomplish. I am interested in “the long shadow of Quixote” (to use Nabokov’s evocative metaphor) and not in Don Quixote as a literary work (its structure, content, setting, plotting, etc.). Still, it must be admitted that a careful reading of the 17th-century text is indeed ethically discomfiting for the contemporary reader.605 With Nabokov, the embarrassment resulted in a breakthrough interpretation in the history of Don Quixote criticism: ← 199 | 200 →

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