Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Quixotic Materialism: An Economic Reprocessing of Cervantes's Imagined Worlds (A Review Article)

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Quixotic Materialism: An Economic Reprocessing of Cervantes's Imagined Worlds (A Review Article)

Article excerpt

QUIXOTIC MATERIALISM: AN ECONOMIC REPROCESSING OF CERVANTES'S IMAGINED WORLDS (A REVIEW ARTICLE)

In the seven essays included in Cervantes and the Material World (Urbana: University of Illinois Press), Carroll B. Johnson explores the relations between Cervantes's writings and the historical conditions that account for their creation and find representation, directly or obliquely, in their specific fictional forms. He proposes, for example, that Rinconete y Cortadillo's comic underworld of criminals, stylized violence, and bizarre ceremonies and initiations should be seen as representing critically the corrupt practices in the commercial monopoly exercised by Sevilla in Spain's thriving overseas trade network. A key to the establishment of this link lies in the various suggestions that Johnson finds in the name of the ringleader of the thieves, Monipodio, who might in fact represent a major profiteer in the system, the Duke of Medina Sidonia. Turning to the Quixote, Johnson reminds us that the character Ricote, his professional success as shopkeeper, his accumulated wealth, his emigration, his pessimistic attitudes toward racially mixed marriages, and his efforts at money smuggling are all parts in an accurate representation of the real experience of the contemporary moriscos; that the character's name itself-evoking, on the one hand, the Valle de Ricote, a region known for its industrious moriscos and their expulsion, on the other hand, vast accumulations of wealth-points directly to two of the fundamental issues of the controversies that preceded the exile of the unfortunate minority-labor and hoarding; and that Augsburg, the site of Ricotes's respite in his wanderings through Germany, was a historical center of international banking, and as such provides a crucial allusion to the two themes informing the whole narrative, money and religion. When Johnson goes beyond such straightforward matters of loose documentation to more comprehensive interpretations of specific literary worlds, his arguments can become quite elusive and his conclusions more difficult to accept. As a "paradigmatic figure," Ricote expands enormously. "Through him is enacted in miniature and at the personal level, the classic trajectory of Spanish capital in the sixteenth century: from the mines of America, through Spain, to the waiting coffers of foreign bankers." The obscurity thickens in a contorted and elliptical argument to show that the "prognosis" for the married life of his beautiful daughter, Ana Felix, and the dashing youth, Don Gregorio, an old Christian who shares her ordeals in the treacherous world of Algiers, is "not good." A cryptic pronouncement crowns the complexities of the interpretation, but it does little to bring clarity: Johnson claims that, in concluding with a conflict between ideology and business (he describes the facilitator of the deliverance of Ricote's family, Don Antonio Moreno, as "a prototypical Catalan businessman") rather than between ideology and young love, the story "validates the currently discredited relationship between base and superstructure so central to classical Marxist analysis," and that, by pointing this out, he himself risks "falling out of favor with the guardians of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton new world order." Whoever the latter might be, one surely hopes that they have other more important things on which to focus their worries and favors. Such "relevant asides" are frequent and create a distracting counterpoint of political opinion running through the book. While vigorously calling for an historicizing rather than a "timeless" or a "universalist" approach to Cervantes's fiction, Johnson can be anything but rigorous when interpreting Cervantes's world through identifications with contemporary history ("the analogies with our own situation are so precise and so compelling on so many occasions- juros and tax-free munis, for example-that they cry out to be made explicit" [p. 200].) We are told that the argument of Don Quixote, Juan Haldudo, and the unfortunate Andres is the first labor-management debate in history, that the economically debilitating censeo is comparable to the "funny money" of the Reagan period in American economic history, that the economic collapse of Spain in the 1590's resembles that of America in the 1990's, and that governor Sancho's efforts to deal with the poverty of Barataria are superior in their humanitarianism and lack of phoniness to "what we now call welfare 'reform' and surround with a rhetoric of morality and family values in late-twentiethcentury America. …

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