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17 / 06 / 2004
Fernando Savater: When we admit we are not don Quixote we die

Experts such as Fernando Savater and Gonzalo Navajas were speakers in the morning session of the dialogue “Don Quixote and Modern Thought” organized by Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales (State Cultural Association)

Fernando Savater, professor of the Universidad Complutense, described in his talk Don Quixote’s admirable attitude when confronted with his own death. “The quixotic struggle consists of a long battle against the inevitability of death which overwhelms man: not to allow death to overcome him”, pointed out Savater. The professor added that “Don Quixote dies when he ceases to be, when he is resigned to death and becomes Alonso Quijano again”. Savater believes to deny death is only possible when there’s a purpose. “Basically we all live the Don Quixote we have inside ourselves and when we admit we are not really like that we die”, said Savater. The interpretation the philosopher makes of Cervantes work is that he chooses the role of knight-errant as the personal crusade of Don Quixote to fight against death. Savater says, “Cervantes understands that it is not about man becoming immortal but living as if he deserves to be immortal”.

Savater went on to explain that although the book is considered melancholy, Cervantes’ aim “was to reject and combat melancholy”. In his view Cervantes used humor personified in Don Quixote, and it was exactly his transformation that made him escape from that melancholy which, according to Savater, makes us live with one foot in the grave”. This is exactly the kind of humor Cervantes used “to mock all those who mocked Don Quixote”. Savater described the work as “merry” and concluded by saying, in the words of Nicolás Gómez Dávila “in literature laughs die quickly, but smiles never die”.

Gonzalo Navajas, professor at the University of California-Irvine, spoke about how Don Quixote is included in three new metaphorical adaptations of the literature the professor is currently working on. In this sense, Navajas referred to the digital camera, the architecture and the new virtual library which is the search engine Google. This last adaptation “offers a new easy way of accessing information, although it can lead to learning about trivia”, said Navajas. Don Quixote can be applied to this new culture of multiple images, because Cervantes “applies to the present a Utopian vision of the future and sets up a dialogue in the present recalling past cultures”, concluded Navajas.

Darío Villanueva, from the University of Santiago, explained that Cervantes “designs his work as a model for discussion, because it fosters dialogue and language.” Vilanueva said the most important thing is that Don Quixote as literature is written at a crucial time for communication, as it was when the printing press was invented as a new form of understanding the world. Cervantes adds value to literature because he produced believable dialogue, and Don Quixote focuses on the transition between the oral and the written.

Carlos Nieto Blanco, professor at the University of Cantabria, emphasized the obvious result of reading tales of chivalry in Don Quixote, which the transformation of Alonso Quijano bring about. In this sense, his madness is produced as a way of substituting his own reality with the reality in the tales. “When Don Quixote speaks like a knight he is not a person but a product, a work of written lines, as distinct from Sancho Panza whose reality is not contaminated by literature”, explained Professor Blanco. The presence of Cervantes in the work is becoming larger as the action unfolds until the death of Don Quixote, when the author takes over the story and takes Quixote as his own.

Fernando Cabo Aseguinolaza, professor at the University of Santiago, explained that “contemporary thinking is a model for the analysis of literary works, and this thinking feeds on such works in order to develop”. Aseguinolaza pointed out that “there is no generic tradition that has arisen out of Don Quixote, nor any great debates about it, although that doesn’t mean the work has not been used in developing modern thought and forming theories”.

Javier Ordóñez, professor de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, drew a parallel with the influence of Cervantes in Don Quixote with that of an autobiography. Ordóñez said the Quixote “is a biography that Cervantes had the pleasure of writing, and in that sense he was more modern than we are”. Ordóñez analyzed aspects of Cervantes’ life that appear in Quixote, such as his military stage and his phobia about weapons caused by his involvement in the Battle of Lepanto. In this regard Ordóñez confirmed that weapons do not appear in the novel until almost the end, as windmills are the Dutch symbol of war. Thus, “Cervantes turns Alonso Quijano into Quijote without anything to make him quixotic, that is, without weapons to defend himself except a sword and a lance”, explained Ordóñez. In his view, the book is a critique of tales of chivalry which has become “the last word in this genre”.