La maladie naturelle de leur esprit: Contestation, Subversion, and the Decline of Continental Humanist Poetics
DON QUIJOTE'S IDEAS AND DEEDS REQUIRE A LARGER WORLD THAN THAT OF HIS OWN RE- FLECTIONS AND IMAGINATION TO GENERATE THEM AND RESPOND TO THEM; EL INGENIOSO HIDALGO KEEPS REQUIRING THAT we as readers adjudicate debates between the Don and Sancho, between the knight-errant and his fallen world, between his own lucid and mad interpretations and our own. The art of methexis Cervantes practices is complicit, but it is one that he shares with all those who practice a humanist poetics; there is only a superficial distinction between the Don and Folly, or Bembo, Oisille, or Panurge. One reason humanist poetics produces such striking and enduring works of art is that it insists on raising fundamental questions (and fundamental doubts) about human nature and human achievement; another reason is that it stoutly refuses to answer the questions it raises. Humanist poetics is pronouncedly a poetics that denies closure to its works of art. In the images and constructs of its dialectically situated narratives, it is--sometimes directly, sometimes insinuatingly--always in the interrogative mode.
Victoria Kahn has recently pointed out the similarities between humanist poetics and our own current habits of reading.
Historical knowledge of the humanist emphasis on the activity of reading and judging suggests an analogy with modern critical interest in "reader response"-- if by this we understand the assumption that the meaning of a work does not exist as a timeless object, but is produced in the reader's interaction with the text, that is, in the act of reading. It also makes clear that reader-response