Kurt Reichenberger. Cervantes and the Hermeneutics of Satire

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Kurt Reichenberger. Cervantes and the Hermeneutics of Satire. Kassel: Edition Reichenberger, 2005. 129 pp. ISBN: 3-937734-11-2.

Kurt Reichenberger. Cervantes ?un gran satirico? Los enigmas peligrosos del Quijote descifrados para el "carisimo lector." Kassel: Edition Reichenberger, 2005. 190 pp. ISBN: 3-937734-12-0.

Here we have two new books from an established publisher and scholar. One of them is quite good; the other is something of a mess. This is odd because they purport to be essentially the same work, as suggested by James Parr's remarks that appear in curtailed form on the cover of the Spanish text, and in their entirety as preface to the inferior English volume. The short essays that make up the chapters and appendices of both books read more like notes really (as in MLN or similar publications). Indeed, some of them seem to have originated as entries on the online discussion group that is the Coloquio Cervantes, where they have already stirred healthy debate.

Unfortunately, what is generally acceptable and felicitous prose in Spanish can become inarticulate English, and the author has done himself a disservice in allowing this to pass. While each book consists of twelve similar chapters, those in Spanish tend to be more developed--occasionally whole paragraphs have not made it into the English volume (notably in Chapter 11). This text suffers further from a lack of editing for English idioms and conventions of style, as well as simple carelessness. A complete list of errors would be extensive, but alarm bells go off as early as the first sentence ("Human Rights is a term that sounds very good"), and increase when the third one begins "Having discussed the title of the book": no such discussion takes place until Chapter 3.

The Spanish title asks a question whose answer is never in doubt--it is abundantly clear that, above and beyond any disingenuous effort to debunk chivalric novels, Reichenberger believes in Cervantes as the novel's true hero: a subtle social and political satirist in the tradition of Horace. The question, then, more properly becomes what exactly is being satirized? In this there lies considerable interest. Reichenberger's key to Cervantes' scheme of "encoded messages" is found in the preface's proverb "Debajo de mi manto al rey mato," which he calls "a first notion of the secret sense the author has in mind" (13). The English title is somewhat misleading, given that the term hermeneutics is never clearly defined for the purposes of the analysis, or even mentioned beyond the title page. Indeed, both titles might lead one to expect more pages dedicated to classical and contemporary literary theory, but this is not the case. What remains, however, is a frequently intriguing interpretation, a strong reading of the 1605 Quijote.

There is much repetition of the facts upon which the reading is based: Felipe III's bankrupting of the nation and the resulting monetary scandal; Cervantes' ill-received recitation of a sonnet at the tomb of Felipe II; his frustration as a playwright. The premise is that Cervantes was moved to write Don Quijote when rebuffed for his sonnet on Felipe II's tomb, and to lace the first modern novel with symbolic (yet at the same time highly specific) criticism of his society and its decadent power structures. This is often compelling but not always convincing, as is the idea--found only in the appendix to the Spanish version--that Cervantes' wife Catalina was an inspiration for the novel, as well as a kind of ideal reader, given her converso family ties. One wishes for more sustained argument and less speculative mosaic, dazzling though it may be at times. Again, only in the appendix to the Spanish text do we find a summary of much of what the author is attempting, and even that is oddly placed as an introductory paragraph to an analysis of an allegorical painting called "El banquete de Herodes":

      Los puntos algidos en el Quijote de 1605 son los capitulos sobre
   los molinos de viento; el del furioso ataque a los rebanos de
   ovejas; y el episodio de los cueros de vino, donde la ventera y
   Maritornes . …