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The Humble Story of Don Quixote: Reflections on the Birth of the Modern Novel.

Cesareo Bandera. The Humble Story of Don Quixote: Reflections on the Birth of the Modern Novel.

Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006. xiv + 318 pp. index. bibl. $79.95. ISBN: 0-8132-1452-1.

Since Bandera wrote his seminal Mimesis conflictiva (1975), he has followed logically the Girardian conclusions so brilliantly exposed there. Then, those conclusions were accompanied by the ever-important ingredient of irony, of not quite totalizing, of leaving room for the other (the other explanation, the other critic). In The Humble Story of Don Quixote, however, that room for the other has disappeared. Either you take the argument whole, or you don't. Bandera has overfed his original skandalon (stumbling stone) of 1975 into a wall. Either the reader accepts Christ as the sacrifice to eliminate all sacrifices and all sacrificial crises (but this is unanalytical faith, even if it is grounded in anthropological observations), or Don Quixote has no claim to be the great book it is.

The title itself gives a clue to Bandera's rhetorical posture: exaggerate the "weak" point of Cervantes's masterpiece, so that only through the Girardian supra-sacrificial angle can it be understood as a masterpiece. For anyone who is not a Girardian (and nothing but a Girardian), this book is an exaggeration. It takes one very valid aspect of the complexity of the Quixote and turns it into the aspect. It contains brilliant insights into the picaresque and the pastoral, but channels the potential of these insights into one all-or-nothing paradigm.

Bandera eliminates what may possibly be the most Cervantine characteristic there is--actually, the other reason that Don Quixote is superb: the possibility of alternate, even bad, readings, of ambiguity, of lack of closure. To give but one example, on pages 111-13, Bandera notices how it is not legitimate to separate the Grace of God from the cure of Don Quixote's madness in the last chapter of the novel, and rightly so, because, against the oblivion of most critics, the words "Blessed be the Almighty God who has vouchsafed me" are really there, in connection with the hidalgo's return to sanity. Bandera is an excellent reader, and one welcomes the idea that sanity is intimately God-related. But one--not Bandera--immediately goes beyond the Christian-ist tone, into the critical tone, according to which God is associated with cure, sanity, order, and other things not necessarily good. And one remembers that Don Quixote's last chapter is readable as the ambiguous permanence of unreason, as the ultimate illusion. Bandera, while attributing this onesidedness to authors like Unamuno, does not.

This Original Sin of this otherwise original book cannot be obviated, for it is its mark. A Moebian-aporetic knot makes it go in circles: Don Quixote is "a profoundly Christian novel" (11). It is profound because it is Christian; it is Christian because it is profound, since all things profound are ultimately Christian, given that Christianity is the only human line of thought that solves the profoundest problem of human existence (violence, the sacrificial crisis). If this book could be read without this heavy condition, its meditated attack on the picaresque would add valiantly to the ongoing discussion on genres and social control, or it could highlight its beautiful insights--similar to my own--on how it is the Diana and not the Galatea that serves as a model for the Quixote. Bandera even mends a gap in his Mimesis conflictiva that was pointed out to him by his readers--the absence of analysis of the novella El capitan cautivo. However, even as Bandera recognizes his omission in a footnote, he fails to mention his most outstanding (and fair) critic, one of the first to see both Bandera's greatness and limitations, and to point out the absence of the Cautivo, in her review of Mimesis conflictiva and subsequent exchange of notes in the first issues of the journal Cervantes. I am referring, of course, to Ruth El Saffar.

In sum, The Humble Story of Don Quixote is not a humble book, and if greatness is to be somehow connected to humility--or at least to the possibility of allowing for another reading--then greatness indeed remains with Don Quixote because it allows for such an explosion of irony, doubt, and failure. The exactness of Bandera's faith is, perhaps, and ironically, an Antichrist to the best novel ever written.


University of Colorado at Boulder
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Author:Baena, Julio
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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