June 21, 2011
Our gallant Don Quixote is worthy of continuous and memorable praise—which shouldn’t be denied me, either, for all the hard work and diligence I devoted to searching out the conclusion to this agreeable history; although I’m well aware that if heaven, chance and fortune hadn’t helped me, the world would have been left without the pleasurable entertainment that an attentive reader of this work can enjoy for nearly two hours (Cervantes 74).
I have already treated with this quote in a previous blog post, but I would like to take a look at it again in conjunction with another quote that appears later in Chapter IX:
If there is any objection to be made about the turhtfulness of this history, it can only be that its author was an Arab, and it’s a well-known feature of Arabs that they’re all liars; but since they’re such enemies of ours, it’s to be supposed that he fell short of the truth rather than exaggerating it. And this is, indeed, what I suspect he did, because where he could and should have launched into the praises of such an excellent knight, he seems to have been careful to pass them over in silence, which is something he shouldn’t have done or even thought of doing, because historians should and must be precise, truthful, and unprejudiced, without allowing self-interest or fear, hostility or affection, to turn them away from the path of truth… if anything worthwhile is missing from it [the manuscript of Don Quixote], it’s my belief that it’s the dog of an author who wrote it that’s to blame, rather than any defect in the subject (Cervantes 76).
In the first passage, the “Cervantes” character I have discussed in previous blogs engages in some rather high-blown self-praise for having researched Don Quixote. Of course, the audience recognizes that he discovered the lost manuscript more through luck than through effort. But in the second passage he reviles the author of the manuscript as being untruthful. This goes against what we would typically assume– that the one who wrote the manuscript is more deserving of praise than the one who merely found it. (The narrator didn’t even translate the manuscript– he found someone else to do that. What, in fact, did the narrator do for this story?)
This dichotomy is compounded when we consider the reasons why the “Cervantes” character discredits the Arab author’s account. Firstly, the narrator assumest that all Arab are liars– an assumption as ridiculous as it is false.
Next, he assumes that the Arab let his prejudice against Spaniards get the better of him, and as a result, didn’t praise Don Quixote enough. The narrator emphasizes that “historians should and must be precise, truthful, and unprejudiced.” Meanwhile, he himself engages in the most exaggerated praise of Don Quixote and of himself. Don Quixote is insane and therefore not deserving of such praise, so too, the narrator has accomplished very little in bringing us this story and is also not deserving of much praise. These lines show the narrator’s hypocrisy in letting his prejudices get in the way of his telling of this story.
Further, these lines take on yet another meaning when we consider them in light of the fact that Cervantes is the one and only author of this tale. Thus, in the first passage, as the author, he engages in unbelievable self-praise, and in the second passage he engages in equally unconvincing self-reviling. Reading these two accounts, we tend to believe Cervantes falls somewhere in the middle, which is probably what he intended us to think.