The democracy of Don Quixote

Cross-posted at Tilting at Windmills

Here is an interesting article about Don Quixote and the state of the novel. Spoiler Alert: Don’t read the article until you’ve finished DQ. (But you can read my excerpts…)

The article by Jonathan Ree begins:

In or around 1605, European literature changed. No one realised it at the time, but when Don Quixote set off to save the world, a new kind of writing was born. The old forms of storytelling—the epic, the romance, the oral tale—would from now on be pitted against a boisterous young rival. Before long it would be universally acknowledged that a reader hoping to enjoy a good story must be in search of a novel.

Ree provides a pithy overview of the cultural relevance of the novel — and essay — (vis a vis politics), quoting several recent books, among them, Milan Kundera’s The Curtain, which refers to Cervantes and Don Quixote:

By inventing a narrator through whose consciousness such dumb events could be worked up into an affecting “scene,” Cervantes created a form of literature that could do justice to “modest sentiments”; and so a new kind of beauty—Kundera calls it “prosaic beauty”—was born. Henry Fielding took the technique further when he created a narrator who could charm his readers with benign loquacity, and Laurence Sterne completed the development by blithely allowing the story of Tristram Shandy to be ruined by the character trying to recount it.

The article concludes:

The novel, (Mario Vargas Llosa) thinks, articulates a basic human desire—the desire to be “many people, as many as it would take to assuage the burning desires that possess us.” Alternatively, it stands for a basic human right—the right not to be the same as oneself, let alone the same as other people. And the defiant history of democracy began not in politics but in literature, when Cervantes first tackled “the problem of the narrator,” or the question of who gets to tell the story. No doubt about it: Don Quixote is “a 21st-century novel.”

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