Saturday, February 05, 2005

lost in, well, la mancha...

if there were readers of this blog missing my absence, my apologies.
i was 'lost in la mancha' writing and presenting a paper at a cervantes conference in delhi called
'lost in la mancha: terry gilliam, Holy fools, pirates and the Mullah'

meanwhile, visits to the blog remained unprecedentedly high via people looking for 'chudai'.
i am so thankful i used that word once in my blog six months ago...
to make a political point!

welcome back, non-chudai readers...

am attaching a short and wicked snippet from the paper, because ther whole 6,000 word lenght of it would be obnoxiously large to paste on the blog... political cervantes!!!

Does this ethical stand, this standing with the sons of Cain, redeem Don Quixote as a figure of hope, and not just an ‘annoying ethnocentric fool, a menace to society who acts out of his infatuation with … laughably antiquated aristocratic ideology…’, as EC Graf paints him? If not, then how is the figure of Don Quixote different from George W. Bush, who went to fight a war in Iraq because of WMDs which no one else could see? Speaking in terms of cultural archetypes, if a village somewhere in Texas is missing an idiot, then Houston, we have a problem. The figure of the Fool, in various cultures a trope of resistance to Power, has now become the very embodiment of Power. We need then, to retain the figure of Don Quixote as a profoundly ethical and even noble figure, as a Holy Fool, whether or not Cervantes intended him to be one. In speculations later on in the paper, I hope to indicate that Cervantes did perhaps intend something like this.


soon to come, a report on the sting concert tonight... for which i have just paid almost ten percent of my monthly income!
...and some thoughts on rana dasgupta's tokyo cancelled, and the importance of folklore for the twenty first century...

but meanwhile

After five years of living in this anarchic polyglot place, with the memory of an older Spain haunting its streets and its cafes, and interacting with Renegades who had turned their back on the New Spain, what might Inquisitorial Spain have felt like to newly returned Cervantes? What might he have thought of its grand chivalric history, as that history played out in the New World as a history of cruelty and terror? And in Spain, as a history of burnings – of books, of heretics, of renegadoes. We do not know what Cervantes thought. Just that he tried to make a living as a novelist and a playwright, and when that didn’t quite work out, he took up a job as a tax collector, and landed up in jail for a time because of an inconsistency in his accounting. The jail in which Don Quixote is supposed to have been conceived.

Sitting in his prison cell, perhaps bitter about the Spain he had chosen to come back to, might he not have remembered his time in Algiers, and a the famous story of Mulla Nasruddin riding his donkey backwards?

One day Nasruddin was riding his donkey facing towards the back. Nasruddin, the people said, you are sitting on your donkey backwards! No, he replied. It's not that I am sitting on the donkey backwards, I'm just interested in where I have been coming from more than where I am going.


An image that reminds us of Benjamin’s ‘Angel of History.’ ‘is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling up wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; this storm irresistibly propels him into future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skywards. This storm is what we call progress.’

Did Cervantes sitting in his prison cell, thinking of the ‘progress’ Spain had made in the last one century think that perhaps the only way one could truly represent the history of this progress was to ride the donkey backwards, to have a character who like Nasruddin, would see the world turned upside down. A character who by provoking laughter at himself, as he and his trusty companion blundered through Spain, drew attention to the ridiculousness of this world turned upside down. Perhaps Cervantes’s complex fiction, that the novel is actually the work of an Arabic historian, Cide Hamet Benengeli, and that he is merely the ‘stepfather’ retelling a tale already told, alludes to this.

Perhaps not.

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