Simanaitis Says

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DON QUIXOTE’S QUEST

THE NEW YORKER’S November 15, 2021, cover is thought-provoking on several levels. 

Painter and graphic novelist Eric Drooker titles it “The Impossible Dream,” in reference to the Man of La Mancha’s dream and current environmental challenges. There’s also Cervantes’ contrast of chivalrous standards with his contemporary times (the early 1600s). And, purely on a personal level, what better time to learn about one of the world’s earliest novels. Here are tidbits encouraged by this cover art of The New Yorker.

Miguel de Cervantes and his World. Cervantes had an adventurous life, working for a cardinal in Rome, fighting for the Spanish Navy infantry, captured by Barbary pirates until being ransomed and returned to Spain. 

He was a late starter as a writer: Wikipedia notes that “the bulk of his surviving work was produced in the three years preceding his death, when he was supported by the Count of Lemos and did not have to work. 

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1547–1616, Spanish writer extraordinaire, preeminent novelist. Portrait possibly by Juan de Jáuregui, c. 1600. 

Part One of Don Quixote was published in 1605; Part Two did not appear until 1615, a year before Cervantes’ death. “Despite this,” Wikipedia notes, “his influence and literary contributions are reflected by the fact that Spanish is often referred to as ‘the language of Cervantes.’ ”

It’s analogous to Italian being the language of Dante and English being the language of Shakespeare. Added to this, Don Quixote is considered among the world’s first novels. (Some say the first, but Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of the Genji predates it by 600 years.)

Don Quixote and his Multiple World Views. Was Don Quixote mad? Or just so caught up in chivalric romances that his imagination augmented reality? Sort of like my infatuation with gumshoe noir, if you get my drift. 

The title page of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, from the 1605 first edition.

To put Cervantes’s (and, novelistically, the don’s) early 1600s in perspective, it was 400 years after chivalry’s development of a knightly code of conduct. 

Don Quixote and his faithful squire Sancho Panza. This and the following image by Gustave Doré, 1863.

 By 1485, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur was something of a retro romance. And in the late 1500s, it was Queen Elizabeth I deciding who was knightly and who was not.   

Don Quixote’s Windmills. In Chapter VIII, the knight’s augmented reality pits him against adversaries that others perceive as windmills: “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay…”

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.  

Don Quixote battles a row of windmills while Sancho Panza watches from below.

Indeed, the venue exists to this day: As detailed in spain.info, the Cerro Calderico ridge, a rocky outcrop rising above the plain of La Mancha in central Spain, “is home to twelve of the thirteen windmills that originally stood here, all of which have been christened with names taken from the immortal work ‘Don Quixote.’ ”

Image from the Spain Info website.

The wind picks up and Don Quixote is vanquished, but takes matters in knightly manner. This, by the way, is the source of the phrase “tilting at windmills,” meaning an attack on imagined enemies. Our language also contains “quixotic,” which Merriam-Webster describes as “foolishly impractical in the pursuit of ideals.”

Today’s Windmill Challenge. Are we being foolishly impractical in the ideal of replacing fossil fuels with wind and solar energy? I suspect not: As described in one variation or another by the quoteinvestigator.com website, “The Stone Age didn’t end because of a lack of stones. It ended because something better came along.” ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

One comment on “DON QUIXOTE’S QUEST

  1. Jack Albrecht
    November 17, 2021

    I work my whole career in fossil fuels…and I vote for those who will put me out of work. There will always be a need for fossil fuels and the products derived from them (e.g. lube oils). But we have to replace fossil fuels as our PRIMARY source of energy, or we will die as a species. It is pretty simple, if painful.

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