Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Cervantes as Narrator of Don Quijote

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Cervantes as Narrator of Don Quijote

Article excerpt

For Jay Allen

I. The Author.

In this essay I would like to take a look at some questions often contemplated by literary scholars and casual readers alike: What is the relationship of the author to his or her text? Is the author or, at least, the author's voice, to be found in the text and, if so, where? Who tells the story; who is the narrator? As we try to identify the disembodied narrative voice that speaks to us from within the text, we might recall the image used by the Victor Talking Machine company, later RCA Victor, in the early days of sound recordings: Nipper the dog, sitting with head cocked, listening curiously to the bell-shaped speaker of a phonograph, as though wondering where his master is. (1) As has often been noted, it seems that when we read a novel we want to have the experience of communicating with another human being, with the author. (2)

But modern literary scholarship would seem to have banished the historical author from any role whatsoever in the text. Today most literary scholars labor under the influence of New Critical formalism, where the text stands alone and the author is irrelevant; or structuralism, where the text embodies culture and the author is irrelevant; and/or some form of poststructuralist theory, where the reader creates, or deconstructs, the text and the author is irrelevant. The author is dead, proclaims Roland Barthes; not quite dead, responds Michel Foucault, but merely a function of the text, and an eighteenth-century invention, at that. It is often (condescendingly) assumed to be critically naive to talk and write of authors in serious scholarly discourse. (3)

I would like to bring the author--in this case Cervantes-back into consideration as I look closely at the narrative structure of Don Quijote. Few issues in Cervantine scholarship have attracted more attention than the identification of the narrative voices in the novel and the clarification of relationships among them. (4) A high point of sorts is achieved by James A. Parr in his book Don Quijote, Ah Anatomy of Subversive Discourse, in which he describes no fewer than eleven "voices" and "presences" in Cervantes' novel and draws an elaborate chart to illustrate their relationships (30-36).

Without reviewing in detail the history of scholarly approaches to the subject of the narrative structure of Don Quijote, I would like to examine the issue in some detail, tracing the reader's perception of narrative voices from the beginning of the book to the end. In particular, I want to call into question the nearly universal assumption that the author himself, Miguel de Cervantes, is absolutely absent from the text. In doing this, I hope to illustrate the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the narrative strategies in the text and to consider the nature of the narrative achievement of Cervantes. My method will be to take the book as it exists and read it from cover to cover, commenting in turn on each narrative element as it is perceived.

II. The Title Page.

It would seem unnecessary to state the obvious: the fact that on the title page of the book it is announced that the work was "compuesto por Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra." It may be obvious, but one sometimes gets the impression that the poststructuralist assertion that authors do not exist is taken quite literally by some very sophisticated readers. There are times when one searches in vain for a reference to "Cervantes" in a great deal of current critical commentary. Parr, for example, constructs an elaborate, eleven-point "hierarchy" of what he calls "narrative voices and presences" in Don Quijote, beginning with "the extra-textual historical author, a presence." First of all, it would have been easier and more direct simply to say "Cervantes" than to utilize the somewhat awkward phrase "extra-textual historical author." More to the point, though Parr goes on to discuss the role and significance of each of the voices and presences he perceives in the text, he dismisses "the historical Cervantes" in a single sentence, while the ten others all receive at least a full paragraph of attention. …

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