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16 / 06 / 2004
José María Beneyto: “The Quixote is one of the great myths of the modern european conscience”

The Dialogue “The Quixote and modern thinking” this afternoon dealt with the modern values of the work and analyzed the research presented by Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Unamuno around 1905 on the work by Cervantes

More information about Don Quixote and Modern Thought

José María Beneyto, from the University of San Pablo in Madrid, has dealt with the theme of “The Quixote and the identity of European culture”. In this sense Beneyto said “the Quixote is one of the great myths of the modern European conscience”. Some of the characteristics that Beneyto has found in the European psyche that can also be found in the work are: willingness for action, dialogue, unity and plurality, balance and creative freedom. He explained “the difference between Ortega and Unamuno is that the former defends Quixotism as a vitalizing movement for the Europeanization of Spain and the latter defends Quixotization along the lines of the tragic history of Spain”. Beneyto also mentioned Jorge Luis Borges from whom he quoted “the Quixote is a European nobility or better still: it is the novel of Europe”.

On the other hand, Rafael Alvira, from the University of Navarra, spoke on “The Quixote and Spanish modernity”. Alvira noted some characteristics that the work shares with modernity such as today’s interest in the method of speech and an interest in what is popular, and on the struggle for the impossibility he added: “The impossible, seen not as the irrational, but rather as that which can be considered beyond the bounds of reason”. This heroism is related to the traditional Spanish Christian heroism based on faith. As an example of modernity he quoted mystics the likes of Saint Theresa of Avila, the Spanish Conquistadors such as Hernán Cortés and Don Quixote himself. For Alvira, in the Quixote “faith results in reason remaining reasonable and also real”. In this sense, he who “aspires to what is impossible is a madman, although the only way to live without losing your sense of reason is to accept madness”, said Alvira. The Professor from the University of Navarra pointed out that although Romanticism has appropriated the Quixote this itself “reveals nothing of the Romantic in its acts”.

Ignacio Sánchez Cámara, from the University of La Coruña, spoke on the visions that Miguel de Unamuno and Ortega y Gasset held on Cervantes’ work. For him, Unamuno distinguishes clearly between the work and the author, which means, between Quixotism and Cervantism and emphasizes the former of the two. According to Cámara “Unamuno stays with the Quixote and rescues the existence of the nobleman as an idealized collective soul”. The position taken by Unamuno is such that he said “the Quixote does not belong to Cervantes but rather to all those who read the work, which is why Cervantes is secondary to the Quixote, Cervantes was a simple instrument through which Spain has come to have a Quixote”.

While Unamuno advocates the ideal in Quixotism, Ortega y Gasset said that Quixotism is the Spanish error, blind force, the adventure that fails to bear in mind what is rational. Cámara states that Ortega takes on Cervantes and writes against the idealization of Quixotism, while Unamuno exaggerates this. According to Cámara the two writers coincide in the symbol of modernity, in the idea of character and the dichotomy of reality – an idea of the Quixote.

The writer from Madrid, Rafael Nuñez Florencio, gave an historical description of the characters that have shaped the archetype held abroad of Spain and the Spanish people. Florencio said that in the 18th century the character representing Spain was Figaro from the Barber of Seville, an entertaining and comic character, but one representing a decadent society. During the 19th century the archetype was Carmen, a gypsy who represented the Spain of flamenco and the tambourine. According to Florencio, “writers who choose this archetype see Spain as a backward country, more African than European. It is not until 1890 and 1936 that the Quixote that makes Spain a country based on excesses, pride, values and unbridled individualism is taken as a model. In addition, this archetype makes people think towards geographical determinism, “the desert climate making people believe in illusion and mirage”. “The Quixote is a melting pot which brings together the other myths from Spanish history”, concluded Florencio.

Isidoro Reguera, from the University of Extremadura has thrown into doubt the ideals of the Generation of ‘98 “which once again placed the Quixote as the political ideal for the construction of the country”. For Reguera “the critical base for a post-modern Spain – plural and European – could have been dealt with, but wasn’t. Instead, the traditionalist Spain of the monarchists was vindicated”. Reguera proposes “recovering the idealist Quixote though not as the only intellectual argument, but rather in order to understand that in Spain there is a shortage of ideals and values and that we need to construct Europe”. “The Quixote carries on, in spite of knowing that he may well fail”, concluded Reguera.