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  • Cervantes and Modernity
  • Jonathan William Wade
Cervantes and Modernity Bucknell University Press, 2007 By Eric Clifford Graf

Although the four essays comprising E. C. Graf's Cervantes and Modernity take on topics as diverse as Islam, Christianity, feminism, and materialism, they collectively affirm the critical and progressive character of Don Quijote. Not only does the author disagree with doubting historicists and postmodernists and their accusations of anachronism and coincidence, but also questions the neither/nor critics comfortably positioned at the crossroads of inquiry. Graf unapologetically puts forward a vision of Cervantes as the counterpoint of an era saturated with religious, social, and political fanaticism. That is not to say that Cervantes's masterpiece transcends early modern Spain altogether, but rather that Don Quijote both anticipates and promotes many of the most prized values of modernity, including social tolerance, feminism, secularism, and materialism. Graf affirms thereby that Don Quijote is not simply the product of a specific time and place, but rather the reflection of an ideology that can be traced from Renaissance humanism to (post)modernity. Situated between these two extremes lies Graf's preferred vantage point for understanding Don Quijote: the Enlightenment. As Graf argues throughout the text, Enlightenment writers such as Voltaire, Feijóo, and Hobbes undoubtedly inherited Cervantes's innovative approach to race, religion, and gender.

In the first essay Graf offers a reading of the novel as a multicultural solution to the racial issues challenging southern Spain. Borrowing from Louis Althusser and Edward Said, Graf takes on the idea that while Cervantes's Euro-centrism may be inescapable, his text represents a counter discourse to the ethnocentric sentiment pervading contemporary thought. By subjecting Don Quixote to the philosophical and theoretical trends of the twentieth century, Graf also demystifies the widely accepted romantic view of Don Quijote. In the second essay Graf advances a vision of Cervantes as a progressive humanist at the helm of a new form of feminist expression. The novel relies on both contemporary and classical models of the picaresque and pastoral, including Apuleius's The Golden Ass, a work Graf directly links to the structural and ideological development of Don Quijote. As he emphasizes, both works demonstrate the potential of female desire to transform male lust into devotion. Overall, The Golden Ass illuminates the Neoplatonic, humanist, and Counter-Reformational strands of feminism in Don Quijote. At the end of this essay Graf offers a transcultural solution to the masculinist ideology and cultural imperialism many critics present in an effort to discount Cervantes's feminism, including a rereading of Zoraida, who he envisions not as the victim of forced exile and conversion, but as a symbol of agency and individuality. [End Page 229]

In the third essay Graf focuses on the pomegranate (1.8-9) as a symbol of Cervantes's endorsement of racial and political tolerance. He not only traces the pomegranate's rich moral and geographic meaning, but also its artistic echoes in Lope de Vega, Boticelli, the Catholic Kings's Monastery of San Juan (Toledo), Song of Solomon, and the Koran. Graf links each one of these works to Don Quijote in an effort to highlight Cervantes's opposition to the widespread ethno-centricity of early modern Spain. In the fourth essay, Graf claims that the various instances of counter-orthodoxy in the novel demonstrate Cervantes's ability to move beyond religious humanism and foreground modern empiricism. The cuerpo muerto adventure (1.19), for which he offers Sulpicius Severus's De vita Beati Martini as a likely source, serves as the point of reference for the entire essay. Graf advances an anti-Inquisitorial vision of Don Quijote's attitude towards excommunication and hagiography. He claims that Hobbes, Enlightenment skepticism, and, ultimately, modern rational empiricism, inherit Cervantes's heretical view of the sacred.

Although Graf runs the risk of stretching his work too thin at times, Cervantes and Modernity ultimately succeeds in its attempt to trace the progressive nature of Don Quijote. In each essay the author seems to purposely extend his ideas beyond their intended frame, only to direct the reader back to his original argument. While critics will undoubtedly dismiss some of Graf's conclusions, they are also...


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