restricted access 4. Paradoxes of Imitation: The Quest for Origins and Originality
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Paradoxes of Imitation The Questfor Origins and Originality One unsettling consequence of identifYing the coincidence between art and life, and identifYing all human discourse as insubstantial artifice, is that we come to perceive much of "life" (specifically, knowledge, history, and therefore historiography ) as an infinite series of imitations imitating imitations. In addition, the insubstantiality of discourse in both the historical and poetic modes paves the way for an infinite number of imitations within imitations. For it seems clear that in historical discourse and, indeed, in "histories," reportedly factual accounts may derive from what someone said about what someone said about what someone said, ad infinitum. And it seems clear, as well, that the fictional "I" or "we" within an actual author's poetic utterance can be saidto produce a poetic utterance containing a (more) fictional speaking subject, who in turn can be said to do likewise , and so on. More simply, the insubstantiality of discourse allows us to insert an utterance within an utterance and to generate a potentially endless series of 164 Inventing a Tale, Inventing a Self either fictional or non-fictional stories, or a potentially infinite number of stories within stories within stories. Thus in Don Quixote, the author's dramatization of the time-honored paradox of life in art and art in life repeatedly leads us to confront a literary variation on the equally classical paradoxes of infinite series and infinite regress. Whether, in a manner of speaking, we move laterally or horizontally within the text, instances of imitation in Don Quixote leave us with the impression that with each succeeding or receding imitation, we find ourselves at a farther remove from the original source, the original utterance, and the original model, and thus from "truth," "life," and "nature." In particular, the author of the fiction exploits the insubstantiality of discourse through such related narrative techniques as the frame story, embedding, the effect of Chinese boxes, mise en abime, and levels of narration, in order to enhance the appearance of the knight's and the squire's "reality," as well as the "history's" "veracity." As Riley asserts, such feats of poetic legerdemain "give the novel an appearance of receding depths, by comparison with which most other prose fiction is two-dimensional" (1962, 42). Indeed, it seems clear that Cervantes draws on such techniques in order to test the limits of and dramatize the overlap between literary "verisimilitude" and historical "truth" (Riley 1962, 43). Additionally, however, it also seems clear that the author of Don Quixote enlists such techniques in order to underscore their status as techniques and to draw the interested reader's attention to the appearance of "more original sources" and the "receding depths" of "reality'' as illusions or discursive tricks. In part, my aim in the following pages is to discuss how the fiction's artful discourse of imitation flaunts the insubstantiality and trickery of discourse itself as a form of artistic imitatio that calls for inventio. In this chapter I will pay special attention to how Cervantes conflates such apparent contraries as source and copy, model and imitation, or container and contained. And I will examine how, as a result of these conflations, Cervantes encourages and frustrates our efforts to identify the "reliability'' of competing voices and the "reality'' of competing versions that relate the same "events." Through an inventive use and demonstration of discursive trickery, Don Quixote represents an instance of discourse and imitation acting against themselves. Yet the work also represents, for the very same reasons, an effective use of discourse and imitation acting in their own defense. Cervantes' text invites us to take part in a complex, literary game and to do so both in jest and in earnest. For if the fiction reveals that both the process and products of imitation and discourse involve the creation of "appearance," it also reveals that only within that process and its products is "truth"-as learned ignorance-able to occur. Paradoxes of Imitation 165 Hence the present analysis centers on a use of imitation and discourse in Don Quixote that is inherently festive. The work presents both a parody and celebration , praise and censure, of imitation and discourse, whose insubstantiality guarantees , not only their fictiveness, but also their suppleness. As Cervantes' mock encomium of discourse reveals, our recognizing the fictiveness of our discourse and imitations allows us to fashion, refashion, and enlarge the categories by which we fashion or refashion ourselves and our experience. We can thus undertake such refashionings and...