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PostReading Quixote in Iran (Massoud Malek, USA, 09/07/14 10:44 am)
Pure entertainment for the masses as well as for a more sophisticated audience formed an important part of the non-religious literature of the Muslim world. Badi al-Zaman Hamedani (d.1008) of Hamedan, Iran, is credited with the creation of the literary genre of Maqamat, in which a wandering vagabond or dervish makes his living by delivering with eloquence and without note or text, rhymed prose and dramatic anecdotes. Even today, you may see a dervish in Iran mesmerizing his audience with his Maqamat. Arabic literature, which was read widely in Spain, created a new literary genre in Spain and Europe, known as picaresque literature.
I grew up in a house with no TV. Instead, my father would pay us for reading books. So I started reading books at an early age. One of my first non-Persian books was Gil Blas, a picaresque novel by the French author, Alain-René Lesage, translated into Farsi. After that I read another picaresque novel, The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, by the British author, James Justinian Morier, published in 1824. Anyone interested in the Persian national character and Persian society, should read the book by this British diplomat who lived about seven years in Iran. By observing Persians, he was able to read their innermost thoughts. After almost two hundred years, the book has kept its freshness and its accuracy.
Later I got interested in Greek and Indian philosophy; eventually I discovered Jean-Paul Sartre. I also loved Russian literature, and every Friday afternoon I listened to stories by Chekhov on the radio.
When I was fifteen or sixteen, I became fascinated by Franz Kafka. In his funniest novel, Amerika, Kafka tells us how Karl, the main character, started his picaresque adventures in America, after an embarrassing sexual misadventure. I read Metamorphosis, my favorite tale, when my grandfather who was known to be able to multiply large numbers in his head, was dying of senility and Alzheimer's disease. He would tell us for example that he just came from Mecca and brought us brooms. I realized as a young boy, that after a certain age we all become Gregor Samsa. I found out later that Franz Kafka and his friend Max Brod tried to write Richard and Samuel, a novel based on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
Every month we received a French Art magazine, courtesy of my father. Everybody in my family knew that I loved Paul Cézanne and Salvador Dali. One day, my older brother told me that he was reading a book by a Spanish author. The story is about a mad man by the name of Don Quixote who rides an old horse, calls himself a knight, and fights against windmills. One night an enchanter who holds a grudge against Don Quixote comes on a cloud with a dragon and takes all his books. To defeat the enchanter, Don Quixote needs a companion, so he promises a farmer that he will make him the caliph of an island with no water around it, if he leaves his wife and children to follow him in his journey. The farmer is so excited about being a caliph that he gets on his donkey and follows him.
At once I discovered that four hundred years ago, a countryman of Dali created the first universe of absurdity; I begged my brother to finish the book as soon as possible, I even told him that I would give him half of the money that I would earn, if I could get the book within two weeks.
Don Quixote was the only book that mesmerized me from the first page up to the last. I left an adventure on one page and stepped into a new one on the next. I felt that Cervantes was a con artist who was robbing me of my sanity by his Kafkaesque stories. Even Salvador Dali, who masterfully melted clocks in his painting, couldn't melt the helmet of Mambrino, the Moorish king, into a basin that changed a barber into a knight.
In my book, Cide Hamete Benengeli (a fictional Moorish author created by Cervantes who wrote the adventures of Don Quixote) was an Arab by the name of Seyyed (descendent of Muhammad) Hamid Bademjan (Eggplant). I remember asking my father if he could get me a book by Seyyed Hamid Bademjan; after visiting many bookstores and talking to his educated friends, he told me that unfortunately Bademjan's books were not translated into Farsi.
In his book Cervantes describes the metamorphosis of Alonso Quijano, a gentleman and a rational man of sound reason, into a mad man by reading books of chivalry. Unlike Gregor Samsa who remains an insect for the rest of his life, Alonso Quijano eventually returns to sanity.
In the late 1960s or maybe early 1970s, I cut short my vacation in Geneva, and hitchhiked to Paris to see the French musical, L'homme de la Mancha, written and played by my favorite singer Jacques Brel. I don't know Spanish but I enjoyed the Don Quixote play that I saw in Buenos Aires.
Most of these books may be downloaded free of charge from Gutenberg website.
JE comments: A wonderful literary reflection. And it sets the mood for my afternoon, as I'll be spending the next few hours studying DQ for tomorrow's seminar.
I am especially grateful to Massoud Malek for being the first to respond to my invitation for WAISers to reflect on their readings (first, or subsequent) of the Cervantes masterpiece. I look forward to other colleagues' responses. This is my third go at the novel, and I am getting much more out of it at 50 than at 20. Quijano himself was about 50 when he set out on his adventures. By the standards of 17th-century Spain, he is a rather old man.
Reading Quixote; Martin de Riquer and Francisco Rico
(Enrique Torner, USA
09/09/14 6:52 AM)
In response to John E's invitation to comment on Don Quixote, I have been blessed with getting to personally know some of the best scholars of this literary classic: Martín de Riquer, Francisco Rico, E.C. Riley, and Howard Mancing.
I had the pleasure of having two daughters of Martín de Riquer as classmates in my literature courses at the University of Barcelona, and we became good friends. The first time I went to their house I was mesmerized by the amazing library that their father had amassed: first and second editions of many important classics in Spanish and French literature, including a first edition of Don Quixote that was on a lectern right by the toilet in one of their bathrooms, so you could read it while doing your necessities!
Martín de Riquer had published a critical edition of Don Quixote, as well as the important Aproximación al Quijote, which still stands as a classic, basic reading on the novel, even though it was published in 1967. Riquer was probably among the best professors I ever had as a college student, and he was very humble and approachable.
Francisco Rico, unlike him, was extremely arrogant, and he made you feel really stupid when you talked to him. I know a funny anecdote about him. Once, a publisher for whom I was working, went to his house to discuss a publication we were working on. Rico had a "finca" (country house) outside of Barcelona. The editor had parked outside the gate to his house, and was looking for the doorbell, but could not find it, so he opened the gate and walked in. He walked to the house entrance, and, again, could not see a doorbell. The door was ajar, so he walked inside and called out his name. He waited. A minute later, a hand coming from behind was suddenly laid on his shoulder. "What are you doing inside my house?" Rico asked in an angry voice. "I am ____, and I had an appointment to see you. I didn't see a doorbell anywhere, and the door was open, so I walked in and called you, but got no answer," the editor replied. "That's no excuse. It's unacceptable to walk inside somebody's house without permission," said Rico. Then, he grabbed him by his jacket and dragged him outside the gate. There, he brushed some vine off of the gate pillar, and showed him where the doorbell was.
Well, amazingly, the editor didn't leave, and they still had their business meeting, but that was not a good way to start a relationship with a publisher. Now, Rico is the main editor of Crítica Publishers, which has been eaten up by a multinational. Crítica has the best collection of critical books on Spanish and Spanish-American literature. I especially recommend his Historia y Crítica de la Literatura Española, in 8 plus volumes, as well as his companion on Spanish American literature. Finally, I also recommend Introducción al Quijote, by E.C. Riley, which I translated from English into Spanish, with Riley's assistance. The Spanish translation is actually better than the original, because he made some additions and changes to it.
JE comments: A priceless Paco Rico anecdote. His Historia y Crítica series is the Bible for budding Hispanists preparing for comprehensive exams--at least for those of us who came of age in the 1980s. I can still remember the heft, the sober black cover, and the distinctive smell of H y C.
A Juan de la Cuesta first edition of Quijote in the loo? That is an example of living dangerously. I couldn't find any first editions for sale on the 'Net, but here's a Valencia "fifth" edition from the initial year of publication (1605). It will set you back $126,000, plus (absurdly) $11.60 for shipping and handling. Now imagine dropping that into the toilet:
My thanks to Enrique Torner for Chapter 2 of the WAIS "Reading Quixote" series. Who's next? I'd like to ask a question of Massoud Malek: the text of Quixote refers to Muhammad as a "false prophet" on at least one occasion. How have these passages been translated into Farsi--or Arabic, for that matter?
And now, I'm going to return to my Quixote.
Muhammad as "False Prophet" in Quixote; Don Juan of Persia
(Massoud Malek, USA
09/10/14 2:21 PM)
In response to John Eipper's question, the reference to Muhammad as a "false prophet" was omitted in the Persian translation of Quixote. In one of don Quixote's narratives, the father of the beautiful girl wanted the Muslim king to convert to Christianity.
Is anyone in WAISworld familiar with Don Juan of Persia?
Uruch Beg was the nephew of a Persian ambassador to Europe, who converted to Christianity in Spain and changed his name to Don Juan. In 1604 he was killed in a fight. His mutilated body was eaten by dogs.
The book, Don Juan of Persia, is the first travel account of a Persian in Europe. Alfonso Remon helped Don Juan in the translation of his journal from Persian to Castilian. The book was published in 1604, one year before the first volume of Quixote. I suspect that Cervantes read the book. Could we conjecture that he even incorporated some passages of the book in his second volume? I read Don Juan of Persia about five years ago; it has full of inaccuracies, but it is fun to read. I felt that the book was written by a Spanish author, not a Persian.
A few years ago, I wrote a WAIS post saying that Don Quixote was superior to any book by Shakespeare, but I was attacked by several WAISers. In 2002, a survey of 100 famous authors conducted by the Norwegian Nobel Institute named Don Quixote the greatest book of all time.
JE comments: No need to "diss" Shakespeare at the expense of Cervantes, or vice versa. I would put Dostoevsky up there with both of them.
I've added Don Juan of Persia to my reading list. As a Hispanist, I should have heard of Alfonso Remon (Ramón?), but haven't. Can you give us more details, Massoud?
Next up in the "Reading Quixote" series: Anthony Candil. I hope the majority of WAISers are enjoying this conversation (half as) much as I am.
- Reading Quixote Today (Anthony J Candil, USA 09/10/14 4:05 PM)
What does Don Quixote mean today?
Don Quixote was the Spanish version in the 1600s of our Lone Ranger, and Sancho is no other than Tonto. However, I believe our American heroes were far better mounted, as Silver definitively looks nicer than Rocinante, and Tonto rode no donkey but a nice mustang.
By the way, does anyone recall that John Steinbeck--when traveling with his poodle Charley--named his RV Rocinante? Funny, isn't it? To a point I can imagine Steinbeck as a Californian Quixote, but poor Charley is no Sancho at all.
Quixotism is still a synonym for idealism, courage, noble behavior and sincerity, while there is also a high percentage of madness or foolishness in it. On the contrary, Sancho represents opportunism, corrupt behavior, pragmatism... and politics, if I am allowed to say.
Don Quixote has survived precisely because it represents and portrays basic human behavior, no matter within which society.
The problem nowadays is that there are far more Sanchos in this world than Quixotes. Or maybe it has always been like that?
JE comments: I've been reminded over the last few weeks that Don Quixote (the character) was fond of picking fights with innocent people. He did it for the noblest of reasons, but society these days wouldn't put up with it. And DQ wasn't beyond giving Sancho a smack or two when he got out of line. In literature's original "bromance," shouldn't this be called domestic violence?
Quixotes make society more interesting, but without the Sanchos, society wouldn't work.
Reading Quixote: Sancho in Mexican Popular Culture; J. Frank Dobie
(Richard Hancock, USA
09/11/14 12:54 PM)
El Sancho in Mexico has the meaning of "pet." To the braceros of the 1950s and '60s, El Sancho was the guy that stayed at home and took care of their wives and girlfriends. It was a common expression when I worked as the labor director of braceros in the 1950s. If you encountered a group of braceros sitting in the shade and asked them how they were, a common reply was, "Al Sancho." I don't know the origin of this name. I don't think that most uneducated Mexicans would relate it to Don Quijote. Some years ago I was listening to a Spanish radio program broadcast from Oklahoma City. The broadcaster was calling people and asking them if they were acquainted with Cervantes. If they answered correctly, they were given some free product. He must have called ten people and found that Cervantes was unknown to them. Finally, he called a man who replied with uncertainty, "Pos, no fue él quien escribió El Quijote? Incidentally, one of every four students presently in the Oklahoma City school system is Hispanic.
The Texas folklorist, J. Frank Dobie, wrote of a steer called El Sancho who became a pet of a Mexican woman. He stood under a mesquite tree near her home and ate all manner of food that she threw away--stale tortillas, tamales, frijoles, rice, etc. The owner of this ranch gathered El Sancho along with 1500 head of cattle and drove them up the Chisholm trail to Abilene and eventually to Wyoming. The Mexicana was sad to see El Sancho leave but delighted six months later to find him again, standing in his accustomed place under her back-yard mesquite. He had returned some 1500 miles from Wyoming to his "querencia" in south Texas. The ranch owner assured her that El Sancho would never again be trailed north, and he remained standing and lying under the mesquite until he died at the advanced age of 15 years.
Frank Dobie (1888-1964) was a bilingual, bicultural Texas folklorist who served as a U Texas professor and wrote some 15 books about Texas and Mexico. He was a high school teacher of my parents in Alpine, Texas, which is why I became acquainted with his work. In the early 1900s he rode horseback through much of northern Mexico and gathered information that led to his later books on Mexico and the Southwest. He was born on a ranch in the brush country south of San Antonio, and was a true transnational of the type found on both sides of the US-Mexican border.
JE comments: Richard Hancock's tales of the Old West are among my favorite WAIS genres! Here's Wikipedia on Frank Dobie, a fascinating figure. He taught at Cambridge (UK) during WWII, and upon his return to U Texas, was dismissed for coming to the defense of a colleague who had been fired for his liberal views.
Put Dobie in the WAIS search engine, and you'll find several of Richard Hancock's vintage posts. I also came across this Dobie quote cited by Randy Black (2010): "The average PhD thesis is the transference of bones from one graveyard to another."
That's wisdom for the ages, Amigo Sancho.
- Memories of Don Quixote (Patrick Mears, -Germany 10/08/14 3:19 AM)
John's reference to Don Quixote (see my post of 7 October) reminded me of his request several weeks ago for stories of how WAISers came to know Cervantes's masterpiece.
Just a few short comments on that: I attended a small Roman Catholic school in Flint, Michigan in the late-1950s/1960s, graduating in 1969. In 11th grade, my English teacher, Sister Mary Olympia of the Order of St. Joseph, required us to select a "classic" novel to read and report on to the class. So I selected Don Quixote, primarily because I wanted to read it and I thought that the compulsion of a mandatory book report would compel me to read it cover to cover. After I turned my selection in, Sr. Olympia said to me, "Sorry, but Don Quixote is on the list of forbidden books prescribed by the Vatican." Ok, so that was not to be, at least not then.
It wasn't until I first traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico, and visited the Quixote "Museum" there, which is really an art gallery, that I said to myself, "Now is the time." I picked it up and loved every page of it. This past January, I visited in Guanajuato again the Quixote museum and found it even more interesting than my first visit, which was due to my reading of the novel.
In between those two visits, I traveled to London and happened to be in Notting Hill during one of its weekend "sidewalk sales," for want of a better moniker. There, I came across a framed cartoon from what was obviously included in a 19th-century publication that depicted the English King at the time being bounced up and down by members of Parliament on a large cloth. There were dialogue bubbles for the various characters about the particular political issue that was the subject of the sketch. The cartoon was a parody of the scene in Quixote where Sancho Panza received the same treatment in the courtyard of a Spanish inn. I debated buying the framed cartoon, but declined, and now I am sorry that I did not do so. Thinking about that incident now, it strikes one that-- isn't such a literary cartoon rare nowadays. That absence is a loss for us.
JE comments: A priceless anecdote. Pat Mears's experience is surprising, as the Inquisitorial censors in 17th-century Spain found nothing objectionable or blasphemous in Cervantes's work. Three of these "aprobaciones" are printed in the introduction to the second part. Perhaps Sister Mary Olympia was a Hispanophobe.
Aldona, sister-in-law Justyna, and I are hoping to return to Guanajuato at year's end. If we do, a second visit to the Museo Iconográfico del Quijote is definitely on the agenda.
Vatican's Index Librorum Prohibitorum
(John Heelan, -UK
10/09/14 3:35 AM)
Patrick Mears's problem with getting access to Don Quixote (8 October) struck a chord with me. Coming from a strictly Roman Catholic family, in my mid-teens I recall one of my cousins--the local librarian--refusing to let me take out James Joyce's Ulysses because it was on the Vatican's Index of banned books. This set back my literary education for a couple of years. I wonder just how many literary careers were stymied or even quashed by this draconian attitude that was not discarded until 1966. The list of banned books by Enlightenment authors, philosophers and others can be seen at:
JE comments: Already post-1966, I managed to check Ulysses out of the local library. My problem was different: no 14 year-old can understand it, and unfortunately the juicy parts are hard to find.
I notice the Index does not list Don Quixote. Perhaps Pat Mears's teacher, Sister Mary Olympia, wanted to err on the side of caution. This was the attitude of the priest and the barber when they went through DQ's library and burned most of it.
Speaking of literature, this year's Nobel Prize is going to be announced any minute now.
Vatican's Index Librorum Prohibitorum
(Roy Domenico, USA
10/09/14 11:29 AM)
I was struck when I read John Heelan's post on the Catholic Index (9 October). That a librarian at a (public or a school?) library wouldn't let him see Ulysses bears out some of my own research.
In my work on Catholic censorship in the 1950s and '60s, I've been looking into the Index and its history. One conclusion becomes more and more apparent--it was an entirely slipshod and mismanaged affair. The institution bans a book in Italy ... so what, it's published in Italian by a Dutch firm. The entire works of an author are banned. Why? Because the priests were too lazy to read it all. You might find one zealous priest (or librarian) in one town and a totally lax attitude down the road. Be careful in attributing any monolithic rigor to the Index!
JE comments: Excellent point. And in the Spanish New World, all books of "deleite" (amusement, meaning fiction in general) were banned. But does this mean people didn't read them? Haha.
And congratulations, by the way, to Patrick Modiano (France), this year's Nobel Laureate in Literature. Do I know Modiano's work? Well, I hope someone in WAISworld does...
- Vatican's Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Roy Domenico, USA 10/09/14 11:29 AM)
- Memories of Don Quixote (Patrick Mears, -Germany 10/08/14 3:19 AM)
- Reading Quixote Today (Anthony J Candil, USA 09/10/14 4:05 PM)
- Muhammad as "False Prophet" in Quixote; Don Juan of Persia (Massoud Malek, USA 09/10/14 2:21 PM)