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Comparative Literature Studies 43.4 (2006) 414-427

Counterdefinitions of Reality:
Translating the World in Don Quijote De La Mancha
Álvaro Ramírez
Saint Mary's College of California

After the famous encounter with the windmills in chapter eight of the first part of Don Quixote (1605), Sancho reproaches his master for not heeding his warnings concerning the so-called giants.1 As usual, Don Quixote does not take it lightly: "'Calla, amigo Sancho,' respondió don Qui[x]ote; 'que las cosas de le guerra, más que otras, están sujetas a continua mudanza; cuanto más, que yo pienso, y es así verdad, que aquel sabio Frestón que me robó el aposento y los libros ha vuelto estos gigantes en molinos'" (58) ["'Be quiet, Sancho my friend,' replied Don Quixote. 'Matters of war, more than any others, are subject to continual change; moreover, I think, and therefore it is true, that the same Frestón the Wise who stole my room and my books has turned these giants into windmills'" (59)]. On the surface, Don Quixote is referring to the theme introduced in the previous chapter that will recur throughout the text; that is, the battle between the knight and the "encantadores" [enchanters]. Nonetheless, the statement has a mysterious undertone that will pique the interest of the discreet reader, especially in view of the fact that the knight brings up the issue of mutability of things in the world just as the text is about to deliver one of its biggest surprises, for without any warning we find out in the following chapter that the novel we are reading is a translation from an Arabic manuscript. This episode has received its share of critical attention, especially from Luis Murillo and James Parr who have offered excellent analyses of the authorial imbroglio that ensues with the appearance of a second author and the Arab historian, Cide Hamete Benengeli.2 Still, I believe it is worthwhile to focus once more on this pivotal [End Page 414] point in the narration and explore the obvious connection Cervantes is making between the act of translating and the mutability of the world.

Most people mistakenly assume that translation is an activity that is limited to written and oral texts. According to Valentín García Yebra: "es traducción cualquier actividad expresiva, toda manifestación que sirva para exteriorizar sensaciones, ideas, afectos o sentimientos" [translation is any expressive activity; all manifestations that serve to reveal sensations, ideas, feelings or sentiments].3 Therefore, translation is as simple as the gesture of a hand or the glance of the eyes. What is more, the movements in a dance or the colors of a painting are also translations of one medium into another, a process which García Yebra calls "semiotic translation." Finally, there is "linguistic translation," both written and oral, which is the activity most of us associate with the term. Concerning the latter, García Yebra makes a distinction between "explicit and implicit translation." In the first, there is a direct transposition of a text from one language to another. In the second, a person does not translate directly from one language to another, but appropriates the content, theme, and style of a work written in a foreign tongue and writes a version in his or her own language (García Yebra, 12–14). Viewed in this way, it is evident that translation is a multifaceted activity that permeates every aspect of human existence, the modus operandi of being in the world. As we shall see shortly, this fact is present from the very start in Cervantes's novel. Indeed, the entire text appears to be an exploration of the very idea of translation, as though the worlds in which its characters exist were nothing but the sum of translating activity.

The notion of things being subject to continuous change, as Don Quixote suggests to Sancho, is already at hand in the prologue of the novel. As many a critic has underscored, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4212
Print ISSN
0010-4132
Pages
pp. 414-427
Launched on MUSE
2007-06-12
Open Access
No
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