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C H A P T E R IV The Narrator and His Audience The Liberation of the Imagination You can baptize them and give them any names you like, fathering them on Prester John of the Indies or the Emperor of Trebizond; who, I have heard it rumored, were famous poets: and even if they were not, and some pedants and gradu­ ates turned up to snap and growl at you behind your back in the name of truth, you need not bother about them a bit; for even if they convict you of a falsehood, they cannot cut off the hand you wrote with. A friend of Cervantes1 IN THE ANALYSIS of the literary discourse that concludes the first part of Don Quixote, we observed Cervantes' preoccupation with the problem that so insistently plagued Tasso. If the artistic quality of a work of art is contingent on its observation of the principle of verisimilitude, and if verisimilitude depends ultimately on the audi­ ences' willingness to accept the literal truth of the subject matter, how is the poet to know how far he may strain their capacities for belief? For Don Quixote the matter presented no problem. He could mischievously put his finger on the difficulty raised by the canon's acceptance of the assumption underlying his theory of admiratio (i.e., that the pleasures of the marvelous presuppose audi­ ence belief), suggest its baffling consequences, and proceed to dismiss the whole problem as idle, postulating as valid an aesthetic pleasure which is in no way circumscribed by the notion of the possible. Cervantes could not dismiss this perplexing problem of sixteenthcentury literary theory as readily as his protagonist could. The ambivalence marking his attitudes toward nearly all areas of hu­ man experience, which criticism has come to regard as the basic principle of his Weltanschauung and artistry, is also in evidence in his relationship to contemporary literary theory. The artist is pulled 1 ". . . los podeis bautizar y poner el nombre que quisieredes, ahijandolos al Preste Juan de las Indias ο al Emperador de Trapisonda, de quien yo se que hay noticia que fueron famosos poetas; y cuando no Io hayan sido y hubiere algunos pedantes y bachilleres que por detras os muerdan y murmuren desta verdad, no se os de dos maravedis; porque ya que os averigiien la mentira, no os han de cortar la mano con que Io escribistes" (I, 22). 131 Cervantes & the Classical Aesthetic toward two opposing poles of critical thought, and the dialectic movement of the opposing tendencies overlays many of the scenes of the Quixote and the Persiles with a dimension of meaning that is not immediately apparent. At this point it is well to examine a series of related scenes from both works, which reenact dramatically the literary debate between the canon and Don Quixote and which illuminate the instability of the aesthetic foundations of the Persiles. THE NARRATING AUTHOR VS. THE CRITICAL AUDIENCE One of Cervantes' favorite structural devices is to bring storyteller and audience into his work. The most familiar case is the scene in the inn of Juan Palomeque el Zurdo, where people from various stations in society have assembled to listen to the history of the Curioso impertinente and the Captive's narration of his life story. In this situation the major elements are the lengthy stories themselves , which are told for the entertainment of the audience within and the reader. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that they are placed within the framework of literary debate by a foregoing discussion of the effects of the chivalric romances on various types of readers and by the curate's critical commentary on the Curioso impertinente. As in the dialogue between the canon and Don Quixote, two basic critical tendencies are played off against one another and are held together as if by centripetal force in the all-embracing irony of Cervantes . The innkeeper and his family defend the romances in much the same manner as does Don Quixote in his response to the canon. Indeed Palomeque employs in his defense a description of the marvels of a knight's perilous journey to the otherworld, a description which prefigures Don Quixote's account of the Knight of the Lake.2 2 This discussion, as well as the commentaries on the intercalated tales, looks backward to the scrutiny of Don Quixote's library, in which the issues are public morality and good taste in literature, and to Don Quixote's distinction between poetic...


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