Repeatable Tragedy of Don Quixote

Light of truth


Paul Thelakat

1. The Possession
The Ingenious Nobleman of named Alonso Quixano who reads so many chivalric romances loses his sanity and decides to become a knight-errant, reviving chivalry and serving his country, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. A simple farmer, Sancho Panza follows his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote’s rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. Don Quixote does not see the world for what it is and prefers to see it as it should be or we may say imagines that he is living out a knightly story. He sells his property to buy books and his brain is eaten by those readings. Every book is a version of the world. So he may be said to have been possessed of the epic midlevel phenomenon called the knight. So there are three charterers in the classic novel of epic nature, Alonso who is struck by the ideal world of the knight vests himself as a knight. It is literally a story of a possession. He is not himself, he is other. The two have become one, the double acts as one. A person who is moon-struck or struck by another world. He is really confused as Baudelino of Umberto Eco: “I confuse between what I see with what I wish to see.” The Man of La Mancha: “the greatest madness of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.” He paints it all in his mind exactly as he wants it to be. Bishop Berkeley’s philosophical observation is especially apt in this context, “esse est percipi”: to be is to be perceived. Berkeley’s argument is that man cannot know an object as it is, but only as he perceives it. Therefore, all that an individual knows about is his world, his reality, is their unique perception of it. In Don Quixote, illusion is necessary, because it undermines conventional perception and provides another way to view reality. The third charterer is, as Kafka rightly wrote, “A free man, Sancho Panza philosophically followed Don Quixote on his crusades, perhaps out of a sense of responsibility, and had of them a great and edifying entertainment to the end of his days.”

2. The Hard Times
Don Quixote, a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, is the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. A founding work of modern literature, it is the work of a writer who lived at the time of William Shakespeare and died in the same year of (1616) as Shakespeare. Perhaps the greatest work of fiction ever published is also the best literary work ever written. Cervantes writes it at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition was started in 1462 to deal with problems of potential heresy or continued Judaizing among the converted, many of whom had only recently converted to Christianity. Later, the emphasis of the organization expanded to include prosecution of Protestants who opposed the particular interpretation of Christianity of the Catholic Church, which were deemed “dangerous” for their role in the dissemination of heretical ideas. The result was near-hysteria among the authorities that led to a well-orchestrated surge of popular hatred of heretics. The public furore further empowered Inquisitors. Following the exposure of these Protestant groups, both the offices of Spanish regent Philip II and Pope Sixtus V acquired new levels of support. There followed dramatic public spectacles organized to demonstrate the power of the Inquisition and to instil in the masses a dread of heresy. No fewer than 100 men and women were condemned to be burnt alive at such public spectacles. Writing at such time was very dangerous, and so the story is written in codes and mysterious designs of concealing the content, and its form is shaped by a literary man who also worked as a spy. Leo Strauss exposes the truth about its style: “Persecution, then, gives rise to a peculiar technique of writing, and therewith to a peculiar type of literature, in which the truth about all crucial things is presented exclusively between the line… It has all the advantages of public communication without having its greatest disadvantage—capital punishment for the author.”

3. Evangelical Writing
The most important question: who is Quixote? Miguel de Unamuno calls Cervantes “Don Quixote’s evangelist” who most profoundly understood his spirit. Although Don Quixote is mocked for his idealism by both the ignorant and the educated, he functions as a misunderstood saviour, as Christ does in the Christian Bible. Unamuno speculates that if Christ were to return, the critics of quixotism “would take him for a madman or a dangerous agitator and would seek to give him an equally ignominious death.” Don Quixote hurtled into action and exposed himself to the mockery of mankind; he was thus one of the purest examples of true humility. We will never recover our ancient spirit until we turn mockery into truth and until we play Quixote in dead earnest, not in a routine and unbelieving way, wrote Unamuno. Cervantes by his ingenuity identifies the Roman period of persecution with the Spanish Inquisition. ‘Ichthus’ is used as substitute for Jesus Christ the Saviour, because the corresponding Greek ‘Ichthus’ is a pregnant anagram, containing the initials of the words: ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.’ Cervantes says, “Some educated men believe that these were the fish that Saint Peter, by order our God and Lord, pulled out of the sea.” Don Quixote, the novel, contains graphic and linguistic distortions aimed at extending meanings and revealing hidden messages.

The intellectual freedom and the ethical treatment of human beings that Unamuno finds always meet with opposition and oppression. He quixotically defended personal freedom and the quality of life. Thus quixotism, instead of defending faith as a general concept from the repressive bureaucracy of the Church, as well as promoting individual religious freedom in ecclesiastical structures and rules as its theme. The quixotic believer cannot merely believe in the existence of love and compassion, but also has to act to alleviate suffering and promote dignity. Thus, in quixotism, religious principles are not merely pieces of knowledge, but guidelines to be put into practice in life. Quixote says, “I know that the path of virtue is very narrow, and the road of vice broad and spacious; I know that their ends and goals are different, because the broad and easy road of vice ends in death, and the narrow and toilsome one of virtue ends in life.” It is practically the same as in Sermon on the Mount of Matthew Ch.7.

4. The Abductors of Our Lady
In Part one chpt.52 we find Quixote marching against a Church procession of penitents or flagellants who are hooded and are wiping themselves carrying the statue of Our Lady in procession. He did not stop for the shouts of Sancho calling after him, “Where are you going, Senor Don Quixote? What devils have possessed you to set you on against our Catholic faith? Plague take me! mind, that is a procession of penitents, and the lady they are carrying on that stand there is the blessed image of the immaculate Virgin. Take care what you are doing, senor, for this time it may be safely said you don’t know what you are about.” He stops the procession and demands, “I will say it in one,” replied Don Quixote, “and it is this; that at once, this very instant, ye release that fair lady whose tears and sad aspect show plainly that ye are carrying her off against her will, and that ye have committed some scandalous outrage against her; and I, who was born into the world to redress all such like wrongs, will not permit you to advance another step until you have restored to her the liberty she pines for and deserves.” The accusation that they have kidnapped the lady meets with derision and he is beaten down. He does not bother, he says, “There is undoubtedly still some educated clown that will come and tell me I confuse logical truth with moral truth, as well as a mistake with a lie, and that there can be someone who is led to do something by an obvious illusion and succeeds, no matter what their purpose is. To which I would say that then the illusion is the most truthful truth, and that there is nothing more logical than morality. And I will be true to everything I have said. And that’s enough.” Don Quixote entered the road and stood there. He launched his challenge, and that was when a herd of bulls and steers came and knocked him down, and trampled on him. That’s what happens when you challenge people in order to defend a truth; bulls and steers, and even oxen come, and trample you. Many critics came to view the work as a tragedy for Don Quixote’s idealism and nobility are viewed by the post-chivalric world as insane, and are defeated and rendered useless by common reality.

5. The Return to Sanity
The story ends with his return home and he tell his most trusted follower, “Forgive me, my friend, for the opportunity I gave you to seem as mad as I, making you fall into the error into which I fell, thinking that there were and are knights errant in the world.” “Oh!” responded Sancho, weeping. “Don’t die, Senor; your grace should take my advice and live for many years, because the greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy. Look, don’t be lazy, but get up from that bed and let’s go to the countryside dressed as shepherds, just like we arranged: maybe behind some bush we’ll find Senora Dona Dulcinea disenchanted, as pretty as you please. If you’re dying of sorrow over being defeated.”“ Senores,” said Don Quixote, “let us go slowly, for there are no birds today in yesterday’s nests. I was mad, and now I am sane; I was Don Quixote of La Mancha, and now I am, as I have said, Alonso Quixano the Good.” Finally we read his tomb stone: “Here lies the mighty Gentleman who rose to such heights of valour that death itself did not triumph over his life with his death. He did not esteem the world; he was the frightening threat to the world, in this respect, for it was his great good fortune to live a madman, and die sane.”

Indeed it a tragedy; “the tragic sense of life” of the Spanish Christ. But it could be read as the tragedy of any call to the Christian way of life of a priest, religious or a bishop. It is indeed the story of one called and possessed by the Other, the Kingdom of God. In the Spectres of Marx of Derrida we read the on-going influence of Marx. It is the story of contagion or influence of Christ. The resurrected Christ possesses us and we are in His shoes. Any priest acts in the person of Christ, takes up his garments and acts on His behalf. The ordained minister can be an instrument in the production of grace, because he is the instrument of Christ, the minister of Christ, and another Christ. According to St Augustine, a priest acts in the name and in the person of Christ, and Christ baptizes. The call of Christ one to live and act as he did in this time and space, every Christian is called to be editions of Christ in the context to which one is called. A Christian lives not by light but by faith, which is a perspective or an optics of seeing the world and its realities. The optics becomes an ethics of life which is so different from the world and its sanity. Plato in Phaedrus claimed that he preferred God-sent madness to man-made sanity. He spoke of madness because of “the divine disturbance in human conduct.” These he called to four categories: poets, prophets, mystics and lovers. Evangelist John wrote that Jesus was accused of being possessed and mad. “He hath a devil, and is mad” (Jh 10:20). The mad man is the minority of one.

6. The Last Temptation
The tragedy of the Church today is that there are many who are called to the mad ways of life – the prophetic, poetic and mystic call to be in the world but not of the world. But some become sane and return from the evil possession to the sanity of life. They still put on the Persona or the mask – the attire and the habit, but are no more influenced or have the identity of the optics or vision. They have become sane with worldly ways and outlooks, and the habits born indicate the contradistinction within. They slowly succumb to the what T.S. Eliot called the last Temptation: “To do right things for the wrong reasons.” The Chorus of the Murder in the Cathedral speaks while the Knights kill the archbishop, and Eliot implies by this stage direction that the words are chief point of interest, not the deed: “In life there is not time to grieve long. But this, this is out of life, this is out of time, an instant eternity of evil and wrong.” The Archbishop was between the thrones of King and God. It would be the highest perversity and mockery to done the habit of Christ and seek to secure power, or acquire political might. The temptations are strong and varied. Cervantes, who died as a penniless poor Franciscan third order, made the point of temptation: “O happy age, which our first parents called the age of gold! Not because gold, so much adored in this iron age was then easily purchased, but because those two fatal words mine and thine were distinctions unknown to people of those fortunate times; for all things were in common in that blessed age… But in this degenerate age, fraud and a legion of ills infecting the world, no virtue can be safe, no honour be secure; while wanton desires diffused into the hearts of man, corrupt, the strictest watches and the closes retreats which though as intricate and unknown as the labyrinth of Crete, are no security for chastity.” But Eliot made his point of the Last Temptation thus: “Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain: Temptation shall not come in this kind again. The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

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