Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Governor Sancho and the Politics of Insularity

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Governor Sancho and the Politics of Insularity

Article excerpt

Part II of Don Quijote (1615) opens with a discussion between the knight, the priest, and the barber, on the topic of "esto que llaman 'razón de estado' y modos de gobierno." As they debate, the friends become the prophets of a self-consciously "modern" politics of reform:

enmendando este abuso y condenando aquél, reformando una costumbre y desterrando otra, haciéndose cada uno de los tres un nuevo legislador, un Licurgo moderno o un Solón flamante, y de tal manera renovaron la república, que no pareció sino que la habían puesto en una fragua y sacado otra de la que pusieron. (Cervantes II, 549-50)

What stands out about this triply emphatic formulation of political modernity is the striking lack of detail, concrete references, and political programs. This silence contrasts with the proliferation of at times inconsistent political references during Governor Sancho's rule on the ínsula Barataría, which recall and parody not only the books of chivalry but also biblical and classical tropes and the minutiae of contemporary Spanish law. What, then, are the politics of the insula and, by extension, the Quijote7. While critics have attempted to address this question by analyzing Sancho's acts as ruler, in this essay I take a different approach. Rather than focusing on the politics that take place on the insula, I take as my starting point the politics of the insula itself. What purpose does this insularity serve? The Barataría episode draws on a long cultural and discursive history of insularity that shaped and was shaped by contemporary debates about transatlantic colonialism and governance. Insularity here performs a set of simultaneous operations that are fundamental for understanding the modernity of the Quijotes politics: it articulates a legitimacy of possession to colonize a space of sovereign jurisdiction while at the same time deploying this textual domain as the closed space of a sort of colonial "laboratory of modernity" aimed at resolving the political and economic crisis that was devastating Cervantes's Spain.1

While unstated, the contemporary Spanish reader would likely have understood the "abusos" of the hero's friendly debate as a reference to this crisis that had generated, by the end of the sixteenth century, a tangible sense of decline.2 This perception sparked an explosion of political commentary by social critics seeking to generate solutions to the crisis. Although many of these so-called arbitrios were ridiculed in public discourse and literature and, as John Huxtable Elliott rather caustically notes, "no doubt richly deserved the oblivion which overtook them," others offered "sensible programmes of reform" (Spain and Its World 231). 3 In fact, despite this ridicule, much Golden Age literature participates in a similar kind of critique. Augustin Redondo has thus suggested that Don Quijote can be read as a form of literary arbitrismo, in that the alarming conditions of the Spanish countryside and the desire to fix them are precisely what push the hero to take on the identity of the Caballero de la Triste Figura (Redondo 60) - his desire is not for adventure but for "el servicio de la república" (Cervantes I, 31).

But for many of the arbitristas, this "república" extended far beyond the Iberian peninsula, making it impossible to separate Spain's crisis from the question of empire and the Americas.4 When Francisco López de Gomara declared in his Historia general de las Indias (1552) that "La mayor cosa después de la creación del mundo, sacando la encarnación y muerte del que lo crió, es el descubrimiento de Indias" (5), the American colonies were already serving as Spain's principal source of wealth, exporting ever- increasing shipments of gold and silver to the metropolis. Paradoxically, however, these precious metals at the same time brought about the crippling inflation and debt associated with what Earl Hamilton originally called the "price revolution" of the sixteenth century. As the arbitrista Martín González de Cellorigo put it in 1600, "el no haber dinero, oro ni plata en España, es por haberlo, y el no ser rica es por serlo" (90). …

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