restricted access 3. "This Is Not a Prologue": Paradoxy and the Prologue to Don Quixote Part I
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INVEN lNG A TALE, INVENTIN A SELF "This Is Not a Prologue" Paradoxy and the Prologue to Don Quixote, Part I A Typology of Renaissance Paradoxy As suggested at the beginning of the previous chapter, despite the important precedents documented there, a true epidemic of paradoxical discourse occurs later in Spain than in the rest of Europe. Yet, when it does break out, near the beginning of the seventeenth century, that epidemic is no less extreme than elsewhere . Indeed, paradoxy lies at the heart of the poetic imagination, or ingenio, belonging to Spain's late Renaissance and Baroque period, during which periods it would prove difficult, if not impossible, to identify a major Spanish author for whom paradox was not a governing trope. Critics have suggested a host of classifications for different "types" of paradoxical discourse which prevailed in the Renaissance. Colie provides the most comprehensive grouping, devoting the different parts of her study to paradoxes 76 Inventing a Tale, Inventing a Self that she identifies as "rhetorical," "psychological," "ontological," and "epistemological " (1966). Yet she does not seem to intend her designations as systematic categories of paradoxical types. For example, in her superb study, "rhetorical paradox" refers to the genre of the paradoxical encomium as well as the artistic practice of rhypography, regardless of genre. Her designations "ontological paradox " and "psychological paradox" derive from the subject matter being discussed in a paradoxical fashion. Last, she uses "epistemological paradox" largely in connection with a particular effect of paradoxical discourse: namely, that of forcing the beholder to "question the process of human thought, as well as the categories thought out (by human thought) to express human thought" (1966, 7). Without denying the utility of Colie's designations, and without denying that one may classify the subject in more than one way, I would suggest that the tradition of paradoxy inherited by Renaissance and Baroque authors reveals five topical strains that bear on the general subject matter that those authors discuss or dramatize in their works. First, what one may call an ontologicalor metaphysical strain of paradoxy treats of transcendental questions relating to the ultimate nature of being and, therefore, to the nature of truth, beauty, goodness, the One, and God. The resort to paradoxy in such matters results from the simultaneous necessity and inability of time-bound discourse to express what are thought to be eternal, nondiscursive verities. A writer adopts a discourse of paradoxy because finite categories of language and logic fail to encompass, signify, or even approach the infinite, except through negative assertions or the ultimately nonsensical method of the via negativa. To the degree that such discourse bears on earthly phenomena, it does so through the prism of the transcendental questions . Ontological paradoxy underscores the status of earthly matters as appearances ("images" in the language of Cusanus), or as imperfect manifestations of ultimate being and being's intangible, "transcendental" aspects: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Oneness. In the West, this strain of paradoxy originates in the questions that Plato discusses in the Parmenides concerning being and nonbeing, likeness and unlikeness, or the one and the many. And ontological paradoxy reaches Renaissance and Baroque authors after having been Christianized by such mystical writers as Pseudo-Dionysius and Nicolaus Cusanus. Second, a cosmological strain of paradoxy treats specifically of the temporal rather than eternal order. To be sure, this strain of paradoxy among Renaissance and Baroque authors is predicated upon the assumption that the temporal order represents an imperfect manifestation of the transcendent (the One, God, Truth, Being). Further, as part of its imperfection, that temporal order remains unstable and in motion, resulting in a discordia concors, or a perennially unfolding admixture of contraries (coincidentia oppositorum). Nonetheless, this cosmological "This Is Not a Prologue" 77 strain of paradoxy arises when an author devotes direct attention to earthly phenomena , and only secondary attention to the relation between the temporal order and transcendent "reality." And yet, because of its relation to transcendent reality, together with its status as an unfolding of nonexclusive opposites in time, the cosmos remains a continuing source of wonderment (admiratio). To varying degrees, mystical authors (Plato, Psuedo-Dionysius, Cusanus, et al.) tend to downplay the importance of the ephemeral and the mutable world, often insisting that it is wholly or chiefly a site of deceitful shimmer and vanity. This largely Platonist tradition reaches an extreme in the Spanish, Baroque idea of the world as a source of"illusion" (engafio). Yet, Renaissance writers generally show a more naturalist tendency (particularly the...