restricted access Concluding Remarks
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Concluding Remarks It is now a commonplace of literary studies to cite Don Quixote as the forerunner of the modern and contemporary novel. And in my view, among the most perceptive observations on that subject is the following assertion by Robert Alter: "The novel begins out of an erosion of belief in the authority of the written word and it begins with Cervantes" (1975, 3).1 Nonetheless, a possible inference of the preceding study is that in Don Quixote, Cervantes effects an "erosion of belief" that hardly seems confined to "the written word." As both a synthesis and refashioning of Western paradoxy, the text invites readers to question the "authority'' of all human discourse (historical, poetic, oral, or written) that shapes those constructs we call knowledge and history. 1. Parr's elegant and witty Anatomy ofSubversive Discourse (1988) argues that Cervantes' satire of the written word in Don Quixote goes to the extreme of subverting and desacralizing Holy Writ. 232 Concluding Remarks Even if one may justifiably balk at defining its "purpose," an unsettling effect of paradoxy in Don Quixote arises from the drama it creates of discourse undoing its own "authority," or exposing its own fictiveness, and thus revealing through countless examples how deceptively art masquerades as nature, literature as life, or "telling" as "being." Such is the effect of Cervantes' "story'' transparently masquerading as "history'' and, perhaps less transparently, of the mutual masquerade involving historical and poetic discourse in both the Prologue and title page to Part I. Such also is the effect in the main narrative of such parodic characters as the protagonist, Cardenio, Gines de Pasamonte and the youths of the "Feigned Arcadia'' who openly shape their "historical" actions after poetic models. But categories of thought and expression likewise exemplify their own fictiveness in Don Quixote through less parodic characters such as the Captive and Zoraida, whose "lives" seem unwittingly to imitate fictional discourse in the form of a Moorish novel. Moreover, through the verbal medium of Cervantes' text, human discourse exposes its inherent deceitfulness or lack of moral authority through such characters as the "noble" duke and duchess, their subjects, and Sans6n Carrasco in Part II. In the first place, as readers of Cide Hamete's history, in Part I, and as the protagonist's true enemy "enchanters," these individuals both lie and enact their lies in an effort to gain authorial control over the knight's elaborate fiction, the better to use him as their character or plaything and thus entertain themselves at that knight's, or their "fool's," expense. Further, these characters' words and deeds alike expose the inability of discursive categories in thought or language-the most careful plans or authoritative pronouncements-to accommodate the ultimately unfathomable variety of "nature" or "life." As ingenious variations on the topos of the trickster tricked (burlador burlado), these fictional persons unwittingly imitate the protagonist by becoming ensnared as characters within his and their own fictions, trapped by his and their own language, or victims of his and their own art.2 And from yet another perspective, exposing the unfounded "authority'' of discourse is also the effect of how Cervantes characterizes the seemingly exemplary Don Diego de Miranda, content to model his life after commonplaces deriving from works of moral philosophy or Christian piety. Yet, finally, I would contend that undermining the "authority'' and exposing the masquerade of discourse remains integral to the purpose of an author, implied by the text, whose self-undermining discourse creates the illusion of receding depths and of more or less original sources, imitations or models for the "true history'' we 2. Ruth El Saffar, in her groundbreaking study titled Distance and Control (1975), was the first to analyze in detail how characters in Don Quixote lose authorial control over, and distance from, their own fictions. Concluding Remarks 233 are "now reading." For it is the same, textually implied author who "speaks" primarily through the voice of his narrator, a fictional "author," in turn represented as using discourse to beget the "lie" of an Arab source that will lend "authority'' to his "history." Cervantes thus extends Guevara's use of historical "spoof," or what I have termed icastic fantasy, in order to create the Aristotelian contradiction of historical poesis. So what Alter rightly calls the "self-conscious genre" of the novel would seem to begin with Cervantes' purposeful conflation of historical and poetic discourse. Or put another way, it would seem to begin with his conflation of "stories" and "histories...


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