As the story goes, Don Quixote has read too many books about knights and experiences the world through the eyes of a valiant soldier. He is a hero and a fool. He is, simply speaking, insane. When Don Quixote encounters windmills,... [more]
As the story goes, Don Quixote has read too many books about knights and experiences the world through the eyes of a valiant soldier. He is a hero and a fool. He is, simply speaking, insane.
When Don Quixote encounters windmills, he sees giants and attacks them as any good knight would. As his sword sinks into the wood, he realizes that these giants are, in fact, windmills, but he does not question his original assumption. Instead, he denounces the sorcerer that has changed the giants into windmills. Don Quixote simply continues on, seeking out further adventures -- he will not be brought to reason. Incurably addled by his forays into literature, his delirium is resolute. Quixote's reality is, without the slightest difference, the reality he has read.
With his whimsical tale of a literary lunatic, Cervantes sought to critique what he saw as a vulgar, fantastic form of literature and to mock the effects this literature had on its readers. And yet, the author's intentions approached something much more elaborate and complex than simple mockery.
Cervantes' critique of fiction points to the power literature wields. The written word slips into things, into the minds of readers, and configures Quixote's experience of the world. In the second half of the book, it turns out that Quixote's adventures have been written down and disseminated. His reputation precedes him everywhere he goes. But rather than contesting his delusions and attempting to bring him to his senses, the people he meets play into his madness. They fabricate absurd, fantastic scenarios to entice him. The literature of knights that has made him mad gives rise to the literature of the man made mad by the literature of knights, and this literature in turn makes everyone else mad. Layers of representation multiply, realities proliferate, and the referent (the real itself, if there ever was one) is permanently lost. In a way, Cervantes wrote the first Postmodern novel.
The fact that Cervantes' masterpiece is, apart from being an extremely complex work, also relentlessly entertaining and often hysterically funny, shows that Cervantes was far more than a thinker. Like Don Quixote, he was a traveler and a soldier in several wars. He was captured at sea by Algerian corsairs in 1572 and spent five years as a slave in Algiers. After a stint in Madrid, he traveled throughout Andalusia for ten years as a tax collector until he was jailed for money problems with the government. In fact, it was in jail in Seville that he began writing "Don Quixote." The book became an immediate success, and Cervantes was economically free to write for the rest of his life. [show less]