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Quixote's Partial Spells

Jorge Luis Borges

    It is likely that these observations have already been mentioned at some point, and who knows many times; the discussion of its novelty interests me less than that of its possible truth.

   Collated with other classic books (theIliad, TheAeneid, ThePharsalia, TheComedy dantesca, Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies), Quixote is realistic; this realism, however, differs essentially from that exercised in the nineteenth century. Joseph Conrad could write that he excluded the supernatural from his work because to admit it would be like denying that everyday life was wonderful: I don't know if Miguel de Cervantes shared this intuition, but I do know that the form of Quixote led him to oppose an imaginary world and poetic the real and prosaic world. Conrad and Henry James romanticized reality because they found it poetic; for Cervantes, the real and the poetic are antinomies. To the vast and vague geographies of theamadishe opposes the dusty roads and sordid inns of Castile; let us imagine a novelist of our time who parodicly highlighted gas stations. Cervantes created the poetry of seventeenth-century Spain for us, but neither that century nor that Spain was poetic in his eyes; men like Unamuno, Azorín or Antonio Machado, moved by the evocation of Mancha, would have been incomprehensible to him. The plan of his work prohibited the marvelous; this had to figure, however indirectly, like crimes and mystery in a parody of the detective novel. Cervantes could not resort to talismans or spells, but he insinuated the supernatural in a subtle and, therefore, more effective way. Deep down, Cervantes loved the supernatural. Paul Groussac, in 1924, observed: “With some ill-fixed tincture of Latin and Italian, Cervantes' literary harvest came mainly from pastoral and chivalric romances, fables lulling captivity”. Quixote is less an antidote to these fictions than a secret nostalgic farewell.

    In reality, every novel resides in an ideal plane; Cervantes takes pleasure in confusing the objective and the subjective, the world of the reader and the world of the book. In those chapters which discuss whether the barber's basin is a helmet and the saddle a harness, the problem is dealt with explicitly; in other passages, as I have already pointed out, it is only hinted at. In the sixth chapter of the first part, the priest and the barber review Don Quixote's library; to our astonishment, one of the books examined is theGalateaof Cervantes, and it happens that the barber is a friend of his and does not admire him very much, and he adds that he is more versed in misfortunes than in verse, and that his book, although it has something of a good invention, proposes something and concludes nothing. . The barber, a dream of Cervantes or the form of a dream of Cervantes, judges Cervantes ... It is also surprising to learn, at the beginning of the ninth chapter, that the entire novel has been translated from Arabic and that Cervantes acquired the manuscript in the Toledo market and ordered the translation to a Moorish man, whom he lodged in his house for more than a month and a half, until he completed the task. We think of Carlyle, who invented that theSartor Resartusit was a partial version of a work published in Germany by Dr. Diógenes Teufelsdroeckh; we think of the Castilian rabbi Moisés de León, who composed OZoharorbook del Splendor, publicizing it as the work of a third-century Palestinian rabbi.

   This game of strange ambiguities culminates in the second part: the protagonists have already read the first; the protagonists ofQuixoteare also readers of theQuixote. Here it is inevitable to remember the case of Shakespeare, which includes in the scenario ofHamletanother stage, where a tragedy is enacted that is more or less that of Hamlet; the imperfect correspondence between the main and secondary work diminishes the effectiveness of this inclusion. An artifice similar to that of Cervantes, and even more astonishing, appears in theRamayana, poem by Valmiki, which narrates the exploits of Rama and his war with the demons. In the last book, the sons of Rama, who do not know who the father is, seek refuge in a forest, where an ascetic teaches them to read. That master is, oddly enough, Valmiki; the book in which they study, theRamayana. Rama orders a horse sacrifice; Valmiki and his students are present at this party: accompanied by a lute, they sing theRamayana. Rama hears his own story, recognizes the children and immediately rewards the poet ... Something similar operated chance nas One Thousand and One Nights. This compilation of fantastic stories duplicates and reduplicates to vertigo the branching of a central tale into adventitious tales, but it does not attempt to grade their realities, and the effect (which should be profound) is superficial, like a Persian rug. The liminal story of the series is well known: the desolate oath of the king who every night marries a virgin who has her beheaded at dawn, and Scheherazade's resolution to distract him with fables until 1001 nights have passed over them and she tells him show your child. The need to complete 1001 sections forced the work's copyists to make all kinds of interpolations. None, however, as disturbing as that of the DCII night, magical among all. That night, the King hears his own story from the Queen's lips. She hears the beginning of the story, which encompasses all the others, and also - monstrously - herself. Will the reader clearly intuit the vast possibility of this interpolation? Your curious danger? If the queen continues, the king will forever hear the garbled story of the e uma Noites, now infinite and circular … The inventions of philosophy are no less fantastic than those of art: Josiah Royce, in the first volume of the workThe World and the Individual(1899), formulated the following: “Let us imagine that a portion of the soil of England has been perfectly leveled and that on it a cartographer draws a map of England. The work is perfect; there is no detail of the soil of England, however minute, which is not registered on the map; everything has its correspondence there. If so, that map must contain a map of the map, which must contain a map of the map of the map, and so on ad infinitum.”

   Why are we concerned that the map is included in the map and the thousand and one nights in the book ofOne Thousand and One Nights? Why are we concerned that Don Quixote is a reader of theQuixoteand Hamlet spectator ofHamlet? I believe I have found the cause: such inversions suggest that, if the characters of a fiction can be readers or spectators, we, its readers or spectators, can be fictitious. In 1833 Carlyle observed that universal history is an infinite holy book which all men write, and read, and seek to understand, and in which they are also inscribed.

          _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_    (Essay published in Other Inquisitions, in Complete Works, Companhia das Letras, 2007)

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