- La concepción cervantina del hablar: Lenguaje y escala de valores en Don Quijote by Guillermo Fernández Rodríguez-Escalona
“Encyclopedic” is the word, and perhaps Isaac Newton the name, that keep coming to mind as you athletically paddle along the intricate mental channels that flow through these 460 carefully organized pages. One spots a whale of a lot of analysis of Cervantes’s classic and the critical tradition it has inspired, combined with a physicist’s drive to map and order every nook and cranny of the universe, indeed a physicist convinced of the human, moral implications of his findings. Scarcely anyone could be more appropriate for this Herculean task than Guillermo Fernández Rodríguez-Escalona, as he is both a dean of humanities, committed to resisting the pressures to know more and more about less and less, and a professor of linguistics and stylistics with a gift for clarity and the illuminating use of abundant textual examples. For your and my purposes today, though, rather than attempt to glide with a passing glance past all the stylistic and ethical capitals that have been identified and explored, we will follow a Rick Steves model of a selective guide that looks for root causes in an immense territory, culture, and history.
The unifying Cervantine principle, the Newtonian gravity that sometimes gets lost to sight among the syntactical fragments that on occasion make up the work’s asteroid belt of linguistic distinctions, is the value of truth. That ranks, it is explained, number one in the author’s essentially Renaissance worldview. What’s more, acting within that master vision’s overarching power to shape the authorial drive toward self-expression, it is also paramount on Cervantes’s scale of moral values. Cervantes’s concept of speech, understood in the general sense of language, also springs from that world view. Ergo, for Cervantes good speech is that which most clearly communicates the truth. Escalona effectively lays the foundation for this point by more than once quoting the novel itself in praise of the language of the discreto courtier; that is, someone intelligent and well-educated, using speech that is “lenguaje puro, el propio, el elegante y claro” (434).
But perhaps to our surprise, the book does not, as the author slightly apologetically confirms in the closing pages, document Cervantes’s use of such speech. While hastening to mention critical studies that have attempted such an analysis, he reports that they are insufficiently inclusive and recommends an evolutionary study from the master’s earliest known work up through [End Page 228] Persiles y Sigismunda. Escalona points out that he has demonstrated, instead, Cervantes’s skillfully varied and nuanced use of substandard language—in many ways unclear and even deceptive—placed in the mouths of his characters in order to expose their wide-ranging personalities and moral flaws.
It follows that perspectivism as an interpretation of the novel is rejected as emotionally destabilizing, cutting out the novel’s guiding keel, while the Romantic high admiration for the protagonist is explicitly endorsed. Though the author often cites critics such as Anthony Close who see the work as overwhelmingly comic, based on parody and satire, he draws the line nonetheless at discovering mockery of Don Quixote himself. In the vein of critics like Mark Van Doren and Miguel de Unamuno, he consistently praises the protagonist’s unflagging will to live according to his own principles in a world full of moral relativism and evasion of the truth. The repeated harm Don Quixote does to others to further his desire for fame is glossed over with the standard excuse of the hidalgo’s fits of uncontrollable madness, and no mention is made of his proclamation of being above the law, his self-centered career ambitions, or his lies to Sancho to cover up his cowardly abandonments of his squire in tight situations.