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

'Yo Se Quien Soy': How Don Quijote Does Things with Words (Part 1, Chaps. 1-5)

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

'Yo Se Quien Soy': How Don Quijote Does Things with Words (Part 1, Chaps. 1-5)

Article excerpt

THE MANY COMPLEX PROBLEMS surrounding the related concepts of identity and subjectivity continue to be the focus of much critical thought and have been very close to the center of debate in Spanish Golden-Age studies for more than thirty years. One fine example of this concern is George Mariscal's Contradictory Subjects: Quevedo, Cervantes, and Seventeenth-Century Spanish Culture (1991). This insightful study of the discursive construction of subjectivity provides the following notion that will serve as a fundamental assumption throughout this essay:

   ... the subject is constituted by multiple and often contradictory
   subject positions and thus is always only a provisionally fixed
   entity located at various sites within the general relations of
   production, systems of signification, and relations of power ....
   early modern culture produced subjects through a wide range of
   discourses and practices ... to view any of these as autonomous and
   originary is to efface the ways in which the construct of the
   individual was emerging from competition between discourses and was
   being constituted within writing itself. (5)

Within speaking, as well, I would add. As we all know, modern linguistics points out the dialectical construction of subjectivity as something inherent to language. In his Problems in General Linguistics, for example, Emile Benveniste posits subjectivity, not as pre-existent to discourse nor as its origin, but rather as a function of it: "I is the individual who utters the present instance of discourse containing the linguistic instance I" (218). There is, of course, an implicit dialectic to this concept, and not only in the most obvious way; just as the "I" cannot be conceived outside of a dialogical situation--a context that necessarily includes a potential other, a "you"--so does it contain a tension between the grammatical subject of a sentence and the discoursing subject that produces it: both uttered and utterer. The subject emerges as invariably dialogical: producer and produced, referrer and referred, subject and object, potential "I" and potential "you," contingent upon a variety of factors. Jurgen Habermas echoes this dialogical and "contradictory" aspect of subjectivity within his general theory of communicative competence:

   The system of personal pronouns enables every participant to assume
   incompatible roles simultaneously, namely that of the I and that of
   the You. Every being who says "I" to himself asserts himself
   towards the Other as absolutely different. And yet at the same time
   he recognizes himself in the latter as another I, and is conscious
   of the reciprocity of this relationship; every being is potentially
   his own Other. (370)

This formulation finds harmony, not only with Mariscal's 'contradictory' subjects and with structuralist and post-structuralist notions of identity, which are, after all, largely based on linguistics (two obvious examples are Derrida's and Lacan's), but also with earlier conceptualizations in analytic philosophy, such as speech act theory.

If J.L. Auston's theory of speech acts has taught us anything at all, it is that to say something is always also to do something: the theory is, in effect, not simply one of language, but also one of agency and communicative pragmatics. Beginning with How to Do Things with Words, first published in 1962, the theory has exercised enormous influence over a variety of contemporary modes of criticism and philosophy. I would like to begin by quickly reviewing one or two essential concepts from Auston's text and then briefly addressing some of the (Derridean) critiques they inspired. Despite the fact that this debate is now over thirty years old, its parameters are still vital to the concept of subjectivity which I am here attempting to elaborate. The second part of this essay aims to suggest how a speech-act lexicon might be useful in generating a critical approach to subjectivity in Don Quijote. …

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