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  • Fighting Melancholia: Don Quixote's Teaching by Françoise Davoine
  • Howard Mancing (bio)
Françoise Davoine. Fighting Melancholia: Don Quixote's Teaching. Trans. Agnès Jacob. London: Karnac Books. xiv + 277 pp. ISBN 13:978-1-78220-365-0.

This book by psychiatrist Françoise Davoine was first published in French as Don Quichotte, pour combattre la mélancolie (2008). Davoine worked for decades in the area of trauma, mostly in collaboration with Jean-Max Gaudillère. Her best-known works, in collaboration with Gaudillère, are History beyond Trauma: Whereof One Cannot Speak, Thereof One Cannot Stay Silent (2004) and Histoire et trauma: La folie des guerres (2006). An apparent sequel to the book under review here, À bon entendeur, salut!: Face à la perversion, le retour de Don Quichotte (2013) has not yet been translated.

Not surprisingly, Davoine reads Cervantes's 1605 novel as a series of scenes that reveal aspects of the great trauma of his life: his experiences in war and his five-year captivity in Algiers. Almost every scene in the novel is discussed as a traumatic revival of events from Cervantes's captivity. The novel is Cervantes's way of working through the trauma, melancholia, and dejection occasioned by these crucial events in his life. For instance, in the very early chapters of the novel, the beating of Andrés is straight from the punishment of captives [End Page 215] in Algiers; the encounter with the Toledan merchants recalls the caravans of north Africa; the help provided by Pedro Alonso illustrates the kindness soldiers show one another on the battlefield. The windmills are the phantom wars Cervantes never fought. The basin/helmet recalls young Cervantes's days in his father's barbershop and is seen as a symbol of the name of the father; at the same time it is a reminder of the inadequate armament provided to soldiers in combat. The galley slaves recall the slaves in chains in Algiers. Don Quixote's after-dinner speech on arms and letters is a symposium on war trauma. And so it goes.

Devoine takes very literally Cervantes's reference to his book and character as his son (or stepson), and sees Don Quixote as the author's son, because it is a truth that the offspring of soldiers who suffer from PTSD reproduce the inherited symptoms of the parent. Now, as María Antonia Garcés and a number of other Hispanic scholars and historians have shown, there is no question that Cervantes's experiences in war and as a captive in Algiers, had a profound impact on much of his writing. But does this really mean that every page of Don Quixote is a reflection of those experiences, especially a psychoanalytic reflection or a reenactment of trauma? Davoine's answer is an unqualified yes.

Various characters, at different times, serve as therapist or analyst (therapon): Sancho, Maritornes, the goatherds of Sierra Morena, and so forth. But the most important therapist is Don Quixote himself. Chapter seven, one of the key sections of the book, is titled "Don Quixote becomes a psychoanalyst in the Sierra Morena" (113-58). Devoine carefully traces the way in which Quixote brilliantly deals with Cardenio's madness, employing all the skills of a trained psychoanalyst. In this chapter Devoine makes Cervantes, through his son Don Quixote, into a psychiatrist avant la lettre, showing that Freud copies his technique (124); that he uses the teachings of Wittgenstein and Winnecott (142); that he knows as much about sexual desire as Freud and Lacan (147): "At the end of his treks through the Sierra Mountains we can presume that he is a psychoanalyst, with all the transference required, including to his books" (159). Davoine does not hesitate to tell us that she knows Cervantes's true intention in writing his novel: "There is no doubt that the novel was written to attest to the madness inherent in survival" (213).

The book opens with a recollection of a scene that convinced Davoine that she was on the right track with her book. In 2007, during a visit to Cornell University, she was given a copy of Garcés's acclaimed book Cervantes [End Page...


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