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Comparative Literature Studies 43.4 (2006) 535-537

Reviewed by
Denise M. DiPuccio

University of North Carolina, Wilmington

Don Quixote: A Touchstone for Literary Criticism. By James A. Parr. Kassel: Edition Reichenberger, 2005. x + 290 pp. €47.00.

This study is an expanded and updated version of Parr's Anatomy of Subversive Discourse (Newark, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta, 1988). Most of the textual changes are relatively minor. References to the contemporary world have been updated from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, and the politically correct "she" occasionally replaces "he" when identifying an anonymous reader. A few parenthetical elaborations have been added to several diagrams throughout the book. Parr also revised the bibliography to include or expand entries for theorists, such as Gérard Genette, Gerald Prince, and Jacques Derrida, who were still relatively new to Hispanists in 1988. The heftiest expansion is the appendices, which contain book reviews written by Parr himself from 1976 to 2004 on Cervantes criticism. 

An unexpected bonus of reviewing this book in 2006 is reading about ideas that began percolating in a colleague's mind sometime ago and were later developed. For example, Part II ends with a brief commentary on the relationship between orality and literacy in the Quixote. Later, in the "Coda," Parr states that deconstruction of Cervantes's masterpiece "begins with the title" (170). These are just two ideas that come to fruition in Don Quixote, Don Juan, and Related Subjects (Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna UP, 2004). Such deliberation appears to be the norm for Parr. He explains that the ideas presented in Part IV of this study began taking shape while he was directing [End Page 535] a doctoral dissertation in 1975. Only long gestation periods like these can produce such coherent and subtle analyses.

Part I, "The Diegetic Domain-Narration," contains two chapters, "Narrators, Authors, Pseudo-authors, Presences" and "Authority and Subversion." In detail, Parr identifies, describes, compares, and contrasts eleven narrative voices and presences, many of whom compete and sometimes discredit one another throughout the Quixote. Three highlights from this part merit special attention: identifying a supernarrator who takes charge of the story after Part I, chapter 8; taking Cide Hamete down a rung or two on the narrative ladder; and defining an inferred author who teaches readers to doubt the written word, be it fictional or scriptural.

In Part II, "Point of View," chapters 3 and 4, "Authorial Perspective" and "Levels and Transgressions," deal with storytellers and their attitudes toward their fictional material. Through an analysis of extratextual materials, such as the title, prologues, and dedications, Parr pins down Cervantes's mockery of his protagonist and the fictional world he inhabits. This perspective, in turn, formulates complementary reader expectations and responses. Basing his commentary on Gérard Genette's theory on narration, Parr identifies various diegetic levels and demonstrates how several of the narrators commit infractions, such as metalepsis and archaic usages, that draw attention to the narrative construct and clearly suggest that Cervantes was more interested in how he told his story than in what he was saying. In chapter 5, "Affinity and Alienation," Parr turns his attention to the relationship between the inferred author and two specific readers, a competent modern-day reader and her seventeenth-century counterpart. Parr adroitly argues that, while the readers are distanced from Don Quixote, they develop an affinity for the author, thereby privileging the diegetic over the mimetic text.

Parr's own analyses also center more on the telling of the story than on the story itself, as evidenced by the fact the only one portion of the book, Part III, "The Mimetic Domain-Characterization," actually deals with Don Quixote, in two chapters titled "The Protagonist: Ut Pictura Poesis" and "Paradoxical Polymorphous Pharmakos." After examining comments by critics, narrators, chroniclers, translators, secondary characters, and the protagonist himself, Parr portrays Don Quixote in an overwhelmingly negative light as a mad pedant with a violent streak. Moreover, Parr asserts that, contrary to what many critics propose, the fake knight-errant does not become saner...


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