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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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Don Quixote’s quest across La Mancha is not only a metaphor of travelling and travel writing but also an apt rendering of my research project. Travel entails “dismantling, re-ordering, re-arranging.”838 What is Don Quixote like today? The argument above challenges some of popular opinions about Quixotism. To me, Don Quixote is menacing rather than amusing, dangerous rather than harmless and tragic rather than comic. Yet when in colloquial conversations we hear once and again about tilting at windmills, we should remember that the disquieting conclusions of this book’s last Chapter tune in only with some of the voices in the debate on the knight-errant. And they are made in full consciousness of the irreducible subjectivity of the researcher.

In this book, I wanted to present Quixotism as a neutral notion which neither lauds nor condemns in and by itself. The meaning/s invested in the Don Quixote figure, his behaviour and his situation differ from one use to another. That the book closes with reflections on evil, which seems to be the latest focus in the humanistic discussion on Quixotism and Don Quixote, should not be taken as implying that Quixotism has come to be univocally (negatively) evaluative. I believe writing on Quixotism and calling people/characters Don Quixotes to be far more nuanced and the very reality conveyed in the coinage of the culture of Quixotism to be exceptionally lively and rich – as polyvalent as the symbol of Don Quixote. Consequently, my discussion could not but...

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