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

Homelands: Reevaluating Traditional Approaches to Cervantes through Alternative Biographical Interpretation

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

Homelands: Reevaluating Traditional Approaches to Cervantes through Alternative Biographical Interpretation

Article excerpt

Con frecuencia, se interpreta de forma "positiva" la vida y obra de Cervantes, a pesar de las muchas lagunas que forman parte de su biografia y de la ambiguedad encontrada en las numerosas contradicciones de su prosa. Estas brechas dejan espacio suficiente para unas interpretaciones poco halaguenas que se apartan de las representaciones tradicionales mas hagiograficas del autor. Este ensayo utiliza una interpretacion "negativa" de la vida y obra de Cervantes como punto de partida para leer su legado historico y literario desde el punto de vista del terrorismo moderno y el renegado aurisecular. El objetivo del ensayo es ofrecer un nuevo marco para las interpretaciones alternativas de la biografia del autor y su oeuvre literaria, mientras se deja al descubierto cierta parcialidad hacia tradiciones criticas "positivas."

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WHO WAS MIGUEL DE Cervantes? Jean Canavaggio's rigorous 1990 biography, one of the foundational texts for this present endeavor, paints a relatively detailed picture--perhaps enough to "know" Cervantes. Still, all biographies and histories are rendered opaque by the chasm of time, and Cervantes's case is by no means an exception. Canavaggio is clearly aware of the limitations of his and any other biography of Cervantes, while also recognizing the many attempts that have been made to fill in the gaps of Cervantes's biographical record, especially those that are founded on ahistorical information:

   To rediscover the traces of this existence, beyond the images
   hallowed by posterity, has been for more than two centuries the
   major goal of all who have come up against this enigma. One
   permanent concern has guided them: to reconstruct in its successive
   stages a journey that has long been imperfectly understood. [...]
   The autographs that have come down to us amount to little more than
   notarized records, statements of accounts, and two or three
   letters. Finally, not one of the so-called portraits is
   trustworthy. One can understand why innumerable legends have
   flourished in this shifting soil: Cervantes's love affairs, his
   repeated jailings at Seville and other places, his dealings with
   the powerful, his squabbles with his fellow writers, his bitter
   exchanges with Avellaneda (the mysterious author of the apocryphal
   Don Quixote) are but a few of the episodes in which it is extremely
   difficult to separate true from false. Fictionalizing them may
   irritate or amuse, but it is to some extent excusable. It reflects
   not only the desire to fill--at any cost--the gaps in our
   information; it also reveals a deeper aspiration: to discover,
   beyond the chain of events, the personality of the man who
   experienced them, at the risk of forging a fantasy portrait out of
   them. (5-7)

One only need consider perhaps the oldest bone of contention in Cervantes studies--such as the representation of Cervantes as ingenio lego versus the ideologically driven Cervantes in the vein of Americo Castro--to see how many distinct images of the author are possible. (1)

Recently, representations of Cervantes have multiplied at an exponential rate, fueled by the scant documentary evidence we have about his life. Claims of a converso heritage, of homosexual affairs, and of incestuous desires--to name just a few--have increased in frequency and visibility during the last fifty years. For instance, Carroll Johnson's Madness and Lust: A Psychoanalytical Approach to Don Quixote touches on the latter, while Canavaggio alludes to the former in his biography of Cervantes:

   Another explanation recently advanced suggests that Hassan, whose
   habits we know, felt the fascination that Miguel exercised over
   everyone around him. Hence the pasha's magnanimity; hence also the
   fact that he buys Miguel with his own money before doubling the
   price of his ransom six months later. Reciprocal attraction?
   Without going so far as to affirm it expressly, certain scholars
   have noted that once out of captivity, the author of Don Quixote
   was the object of accusations the substance of which we do not know
   but to which he had to respond with an inquiry into his morals. … 
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