Cervantes and Modernity: Four Essays on Don Quijote

Cervantes and Modernity: Four Essays on Don Quijote

Cervantes and Modernity: Four Essays on Don Quijote

Cervantes and Modernity: Four Essays on Don Quijote

Synopsis

This book is arguably the first serious and comprehensive attempt to theorize Cervantes as a modern. It is also a timely study that addresses the novel's relevance for thinking about contemporary issues such as the relation between Islam and Christianity or movements and value systems like feminism and materialism. Graf makes a clear case for Don Quijote as a crucial and primary articulation of modern ideas and sensibilities. E. C. Graf currently teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Excerpt

This book grew out of a conviction that the doubts expressed by both historicists and postmodernists about the critical capacity and progressive nature of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s great novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (part 1, pub. 1605; part 2, pub. 1615) are exaggerated. Historicists will insist that the Renaissance is irrevocably different from the present: Signs of progress in the past are really a quirky confluence of circumstances to which we must attend unbiased by anachronism. Postmodernists would rather digress in order to object to the contemporary injustices of Western civilization: Signs of progress in the past are naive projections by which we obscure the oppressiveness of our own social system. These views may have brought some balance to the study of Cervantes, but lately they strike me as more quarrelsome than informative. Nor do interpretations that abstain, finding authorial ambivalence or positioning the novel at some sort of crossroads, seem as responsible as they once did. To my mind, there are tangible and crucial steps forward in the idealistic worldview of Cervantes’s novel, and although these shouldn’t be read without certain historical and ethical qualifications, neither are they anywhere near as subtle or accidental as many would have them. Even granting that Don Quijote is a text from a more superstitious and repressive era than our own, it still played a vital role in setting the stage for today’s cosmopolitan world. Specifically, Cervantes wrote to reform the more aggressive, ethnocentric, misogynistic, and religiously fanatical readers of his day, thereby anticipating, as well as promulgating, what are arguably some of the most important values of modern civilization: social tolerance, feminism, secularism, and materialism.

The way I see it, the problem stems in large part from the fact that it remains unfashionable for academics to cite the Enlightenment as a turning point in the development of modern ideas. Particularly skeptical are postmodern theorists who stress the . . .

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