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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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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...

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