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  • Quixotism as Global HeuristicAtlantic and Pacific Diasporas
  • Aaron R. Hanlon (bio)

The fact that quixotism behaves like a meme in eighteenth-century literatures in English has significant bearing on how we understand “global” or “world” literatures today. Each time a version of Don Quixote appears in a British or early American text, from Parson Adams in Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742) to Dorcasina in Tabitha Gilman Tenney’s Female Quixotism (1801), it becomes increasingly difficult to say that the cultural phenomenon of quixotism belongs to Cervantes. In other words, when Quixote becomes “globalized,” he also becomes deracinated, complicated by what Eve Tavor Bannet identifies as his role in negotiating “the relation between local cultures and transnational models.”1

Quixote does this work of cultural translation between the local and the global more prominently than most characters in eighteenth-century fiction because the Quixote character was so widely reproduced, an archetype so influential that it creates its own set of heuristic problems. Along with The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Robinson Crusoe (1719), Don Quixote (1605–15) was one of the few books that Samuel Johnson famously wished was even longer, a sentiment that reflects the extent to which eighteenth-century readers and writers demanded both translations and reproductions of Quixote.2 Such extensive rewriting of Quixote lends the character what David Brewer calls the quality of “inexhaustibility.” As Brewer writes [End Page 49] of another inexhaustible character, Shakespeare’s Falstaff, “the proof of … detachability and inexhaustibility lies in his capacity to migrate into new texts.”3 Crucial here is the relationship between inexhaustibility and detachability, the capacity of Quixote to become something bigger and more culturally variegated than Cervantes’ hidalgo as he migrates into new texts written for differing regional and national audiences with conflicting political purposes.

Not only, then, can we think about world literature in terms of character migration, how characters take on new meaning when written for different national or international audiences. We can also look to quixotism specifically as a model for addressing the heuristic problem of world literature: the problem of literature’s “belonging” once it leaves home and is changed by the journey. Quixote is a model of heuristic problems arising from deracination, imitation, and distortion, a figure belonging simultaneously to the Spanish golden age and the wider literary world. As a globally claimed and consumed character, he is also an archetype of archetypes, a figure for whom imitation of a preexisting and prominent character model—the chivalric knight—is a defining and regenerative feature.

In this sense, we might say that the heuristic problem of quixotism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—the period over which the quixote became a character archetype beyond Spanish borders and across the Atlantic—is also the heuristic problem of world literature, which necessarily reflects tensions between the local ownership and the global impact of narratives that migrate. Accordingly, this essay argues for the importance of eighteenth-century quixotism for contemporary discussions of world literature. By linking eighteenth-century quixotism in the English-language tradition with the role of Quixote in mediating nineteenth-century Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, I will demonstrate the transhistorical and transhemispheric reach of eighteenth-century quixotism as a case study in world literature. Given that Quixote’s influence in the Atlantic world is well documented, linking Atlantic quixotism with Pacific quixotism—in this case through an examination of Filipino author Jose Rizal—also demonstrates how the study of quixotism can challenge Eurocentric models of world literature even as quixotism was used for Spanish colonialist objectives in the Philippines. [End Page 50]

World Literature

As Franco Moretti declared at the turn of the millennium, “world literature is not an object, it’s a problem.”4 World literature is specifically a heuristic problem because circulation, translation, shifting contexts and national borders, and shifting demographics and geopolitical relations all create complications for texts that migrate. If world literature is, as David Damrosch describes it, “not an infinite, ungraspable canon of works but rather a mode of circulation and reading,” a mode that becomes relevant when a text is launched, like Don Quixote, “out into a broader world beyond its linguistic and cultural point of...


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