Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tilting at Windmills: Reflections on Don Quixote de la Mancha


THROWBACK THURSDAY

"We can easily forgive a child when he is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." ~ Plato

What I initially find intriguing here is that Plato's observation was written 2500 years ago and is still relevant today.

This month I have been reading Cervantes' Don Quixote and continue to be astonished at the wit and wisdom captured in this 16th century classic story, considered by many to be the first novel. As one reads the book it is about so much more than the strange tales of a knight errant who tilts at windmills. Like classic stories of all time, it conveys classic truths about all facets of life. It is remarkably entertaining and even hilarious at times. Yet because it is a "classic" most modern people imagine it to be dull and a waste of time to read.

I do not know if public education is to blame for this attitude toward classic literature, or whether modern culture is at fault with its emphasis on things fast paced and modern. I only know that there is a fantastic array of great literature at our fingertips offering diversions both stimulating and insightful. Most surprising is how relevant these great books are.

In reading Cervantes one quickly notices that his own knowledge of the classics is vast, citing passages from Homer and the histories of ancient Greeks. The guy spins it all out in a tapestry of images that make you think and at times make you laugh out loud.

The story is primarily about Don Quixote, a gentleman of La Mancha in central Spain who has imbibed too many tales about the great deeds of knights and chivalry. But it is far more than this. Was he a madman? A modern existential hero? Or did he have a vision that the rest of his peers have lost? He certainly had a very different, even strange, way of interpreting the world and his experiences in it.

In more than one section of the book his friends and family try to get him to see himself as he is: off his rocker. But the storytelling reveals that their own motives are less than pure. Who is it who needs to be unmasked?

Has Don Quixote created this role as heroic knight in order to avoid facing up to the emptiness of his own situation? Has he created this fictional self because he can't face his real self?

In truth, we all have things about ourselves which are difficult to face. It is to our great merit when in humility we can face up to our limitations and weaknesses. Self understanding is the first step toward self improvement. Much like renovating an apartment, the task of personal growth is managed one room at a time. It's an important project, and one that requires commitment because it takes a lifetime.


Tribute to Don Quixote

“I have read this book both in English and Spanish, and I can honestly say that it loses very little of its power, wit or message in translation. For all those who have considered reading this book, here are a few good reasons: this book is a very nuanced look at escapism and identity, a wonderful parody of knight stories, along with being a rousing (and very funny) adventure centering around the titular hero, a man who reads one too many books about knighthood and chivalry and decides to become a knight-errant himself. After recruiting a sidekick and choosing a lady to woo per narrative convention, he sets out to conquer the forces of evil, which include, among other things, giant windmills and rogue "knights". Cervantes' insight and ability to parody were both ahead of his time, and in a time where escapism and voyeurism are well and thriving, it is not difficult to imagine someone watching too many TV shows and believing they're a wild west outlaw or what-have-you. A very fascinating experience, and it works well in any language. Highly recommended.”
--Adam Dukovich, Amazon.com visitor & reviewer

Having just finished Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote, I felt a need to send a message into cyberspace noting that this book, which many if not most literary historians call “the first novel”, lives up to its billing as one of the most significant works of Western literature.

Many of the great writers of the Western literary tradition pay tribute to the influence of Cervantes including Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, Flaubert, Melville, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Joyce and Borges.

I myself have been strongly influenced by the musical Man of La Mancha which I experienced when I was in college. To this day, a portion of my own life mission takes its inspiration from this first exposure to Don Quixote: To do what no one else can do; to be what no one else can be. To fulfill my purpose in being. To reach an unreachable star.

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The two short posts above were written in 2007. Here are a three Miguel de Cervantes quotes from the book itself to carry you through.

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“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

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“Until death it is all life”

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“He who reads much and walks much, goes far and knows much."

May your weekend be one of adventures!

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