Why Don Quixote is So Great | 2336

“Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes, is hailed as the first modern novel. A unique blend of humor, tragedy, and critique nestled within a meta-narrative on chivalry and storytelling. Jay reflects on the enduring relevance of Don Quixote’s adventures through the lens of modern fan fiction and intellectual property debates.

Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2023/11/04/301-2336-why-don-quixote-is-so-great/

Support the show! 
Subscribe to the zine
Watch on Youtube

Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded by @thejaymo


Why Don Quixote is So Great

One of my favourite books of all time is Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and I’m going to tell you why.

I read it once as a teenager and I’ve read Edith Grossman’s 2003 translation twice as an adult. I have the paperback edition with Picasso’s sketch on the cover.

As I’ve grown older, the book has only got better. Not because the story has changed, but because I have. My understanding of the novel and its wider context has grown.

Don Quixote, is of course a story about an otaku shut-in named Alonso Quijano. A man who does nothing but read chivalric romances. Eventually, after collecting and consuming so many stories he loses his mind and decides to become a knight-errant himself. Seeking to revive chivalry in his modern era, he adopts the moniker of Don Quixote. And navigates the world of the novel, as if he were a character in a chivalric romance story. 

Long time listeners will of course immediately recognise this affliction or condition. Brainworms; acquired from the media he was consuming – the world he was immersing himself in.

Don Quixote is regarded as the first ever novel

The book is also a sort of meta-commentary on the narrative environment that Cervantes found himself working in. The pivot between the collective ownership of story and the authorial driven narrative form we know today.  

Most stories at the time – usually written under pen names – were versions or extensions of common oral tales passed from one person to another. Media that had emerged from a storytelling tradition that treats characters as a kind of collective property, shared. Think of high mediaeval chivalric romances as a kind of extended and shared permissive IP, or fandom universe.  

Cervantes’ other main innovation as an author and what makes it the first novel. Was to explore the psychological state of his characters. Still the defining feature of the novel as a form. We see the story play out through the eyes of Sancho Panza and Quixote, and we are privy to their inner lives and motivations.

In the chivalric romances, and more generally of fiction in this period, characters rarely ever explained themselves – if at all. If they did, they would usually do so in the form of a soliloquy or grandiose pronouncement.

So we have a character, who is navigating the world of novel through a world(view) adopted from the media he has consumed. Who goes off on adventures, (and due to his delusional obsession), gets in and out of tragic and comical situations. Don Quixote is a comment on the disconnect between the romantic imagination and the harsh realities of life. A critique of the unrealistic and impractical ideals of chivalric romance.

Don Quixote is also one of the first works of metafiction

The book comments on its own narrative form and even comments on the nature of storytelling itself. To explain why, we must turn our minds to the modern phenomenon of fan fiction. 

Like fan fiction, Don Quixote is a work in dialogue with both reader and genre. Contemporary readers would have been familiar with other chivalric romance stories and the conventions of the genre. Cervantes subverts both by having Quixote be a fan of the genre and operate by its conventions. If alive today, I imagine that he would have been writing all sorts of fan fiction and posting it on archive of our own and self publishing on Amazon.

Don Quixote was written in two parts. The first part was published in 1605. But 4 years after its publication, an unauthorised follow up called: “The Second Book of the Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha” was published.

As you can imagine Cervantes was not a fan of this *at all*. And began writing his own follow up. To illustrate how incredibly meta this novel is, Cervantes puts the unauthorised sequel into the world of the book. As after all Don Quixote is a book about a reader of books.

In Part 2 Don Quixote visits a printing-house in Barcelona and finds the unofficial sequel being printed there. The character of Quixote then proceeds to read a real book about himself. Which, from his point of view (and the authors) is a complete fabrication. Later an irate Quixote and long suffering sidekick Panza then meet one of the characters from the unsanctioned sequel. They make him swear that the “other” Quixote and Sancho are impostors.

This self-referential meta commentary, to the reader, still feels incredibly modern. It illustrates the evolving literary culture of the time. There was a growing awareness of the literary marketplace and economic value of creative work. It takes a position on authorial intent, authenticity and literary value. All things that eventually birth copyright a hundred years later in 1710. Issues that in the age of AI, we are still wrestling with.

By responding to the unauthorised sequel, inside the world of the book and dismissing it, Cervantes engages with the very modern ideas of intellectual property and canon. The idea that someone can own or authorise character. Rather than collective stewardship of characters by multiple authors that had been tradition. 

There are 3 worlds nested inside the novel. Each porous to one another. The first is the characters psychological interiority, Inside the world of the book, written by a fourth wall breaking self referential author.

Honestly, if you haven’t ever read Don Quixote it’s very good.

Watch

Prefer Email? 📨

Join 4,519 other subscribers.

Or subscribe to my physical zine mailing list from £5 a month


Leave a Comment 💬

Click to Expand

2 responses to “Why Don Quixote is So Great | 2336”

  1. Jettie H. van den Boom avatar
    Jettie H. van den Boom

    1) One of my favourite books of all time is Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, you say.. only Cervantes was not the writer.. You still don’t know?? You don’t’believe it yourself, because you have said his name 8 times!!!”
    2) “But 4 years after its publication, an unauthorised follow up called: “The Second Book of the Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha” was published,” you write, but it was not 4 years later, but it was 9 years later.. and it was not La Mancha.. that’s the mistake most translators make!!
    The area where the story takes place was called Mancha, but Don Quixote was not named after La Mancha with a capital letter -L- (47): that indicates an administrative area of modern Spain. Previously, Mancha was only an administrative whole that remained under the control of the Taifa (kingdom) of Toledo.
    No capital letter for the region called Mancha, a plain where mainly spawning grass grew, -a) a dry grass species, which the Arabs called manχa: so, Don Quixote of the Manxa, of the flounder! In 1691, so 75 years after the books on Don Quixote, a region has been established called La Mancha with Toledo as capital. I wouldn’t be surprised if this name has caused a furore thanks to the books about Don Quixote and that Spain therefore decided to call the area that way and elevate it to a real official region.
    b) Of course there will be another joke behind the name: Don Quixote is a Knight of the Mancha. It is no coincidence that at the time the word Mancha corresponded to the name of the English Channel, which is called in French “ la Manche”, the sleeve. It has been named as a metaphor for the estuary between France and England. Don Quixote is therefore both (land)knight of the grass and (see)knight of the channel: Don Quixote of the Manche. Throughout the Spanish first part the name is always written as Don-Quixote de la Mancha, in the second part also Don Quixote de la Mancha. Never Don Quixote de La Mancha.. that is the mistake every translator makes. By the way, why translate from a translation?
    c) And the third meaning, the one with a smile: la mancha is Spanish for the spot, the stain, the dirt-mark.

    3) “As you can imagine Cervantes was not a fan of this *at all*. And began writing his own follow up,” is what you think!! But first of all.. Cervantes did not write the DQ:
    The Englishman Francis Bacon was the brain behind the three books of Don Quixote; he wrote the part of the hero: He was Don Quixote..
    Ben Jonson took on the role of Sancho Panza, John Donne wrote the poems, “the two friends” Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher were assigned the task of writing loose stories. These authors made use of the library owned by Robert Cotton.
    The printer, William Stansby, inserted concealed clues into the text, in order for the reader to be able to draw conclusions…

    1- When Cide Hamete Benengeli is the fictional name of the writer and Miguel de Cervantes is not mentioned, but is omitted as the writer of this book in the English edition, then I also omit him in the name. The -H- and the -U- are silent letters, you don’t pronounce them. As mentioned earlier; the -V- you pronounce as the -B-. Cervantes sometimes signed as Cerbantes. What ’s left of Cid Hamete Benengeli minus Miguel de Cervantes = Siren
    What does that mean?

    the name of Avellaneda, the writer of the ‘false’ DQ:
    Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. Let’s say the same method is applied. I’ll try not with omitting Miguel de Cervantes, but his second surname ‘i Saavedra’
    Avellaneda minus ‘i Saavedra’= Siren II, Siren two or too, in other words: this is the second written book by Siren or: it is also a book written by Siren.

    Siren is the abbreviation of the Sireniacals, a group of the best writers in London at that time, in other words: the Fraternity of the Sireniacal Gentlemen, they met every first Friday of the month in the Mere-maide in Breadstreet

    4) “Later an irate Quixote and long suffering sidekick Panza then meet one of the characters from the unsanctioned sequel. ( don Álvero Tarfe) They make him swear that the “other” Quixote and Sancho are impostors,” you say..
    Robert Cotton = don Álvaro Tarfe;
    Cotton in Spanish is álgodon ( so he had really ‘don’ at the end):
    Don Álvaro Tarfe menos Algodón; rests -go- ( in those days -goe- but you do not pronounce the -e- that’s why you can erase that letter) You goe – in Spanish is Usted va: just erase go for va.. leaves us “ro Tarfe, this is an anagram of O FRATER.. The name frater means brot(h)er; this is an anagram of Robert: O(h) Robert Cotton = an anagram of don Álvaro Tarfe. ( In steganography you can join letters which are mute, or add them)

    5) By responding to the unauthorised sequel, inside the world of the book and dismissing it, Cervantes… ( the writer) engages with the very modern ideas of intellectual property and canon. The idea that someone can own or authorise character. Rather than collective stewardship of characters by multiple authors that had been tradition, you say.. but it’s all confusion ..it’s a game. And the reader is fooled. So many times the real writer explains it, but the reader cannot read properly.. He explains in the first sentence when the Avellaneda begins: ‘El sabio Alisolán, historiador no menos moderno que verdadero..’ The wise Alisolán, historian no less modern than true..
    If there is an indication then it is in this name again: El sa… BIO ALISOLÁN is an anagram of O(H) ISLA ALBIÓN. Albion was the name England had in antiquity, but more or less in a humoristic way, ‘you insolent Albion!

    6) “There are 3 worlds nested inside the novel. Each porous to one another. The first is the characters psychological interiority, Inside the world of the book, written by a fourth wall breaking self referential author,” you say.. I agree 3 worlds, but I explain: instinctively, intuition, inspiration: in other words.. for the everage reader:

    The book begins with the subconscious world that always has the urge to act, the most primitive instinctual reaction. This is the adventure novel.
    There is a second level, the conscious world, which includes freedom of perception. Here all kinds of discourses are held that go deeper: studies such as theology, medicines, astronomy and astrology, law, etc. make these books a valuable addition to the knowledge of many scholars, especially at that time.
    And then the third level, the spiritual world, the superconscious world, the soul of this story – the initiation.. on the way.

    F.B. wrote the DQ not to kill the knight stories, but to put the emphasis on them again. He casts an anchor to dredge up those stories and emphasises the Ark and the Holy Grail and its protectors. He is initiated and knows more than we do..

    But who cares?
    Jettie H. van den Boom

    1. Jay avatar

      Thanks for your comment! is your book available in English?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *