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ArribaAbajo Cervantes' Portraits and Literary Theory in the Text of Fiction46

Mary Gaylord Randel

Cornell University

En el presente ensayo (continuación de un estudio anterior [Cervantes, Fall 1983] sobre los retratos cervantinos del escritor), se propone una nueva manera de entender la presencia de la teoría literaria en una obra de ficción. Partiendo de la hipótesis de que la teoría, en cuanto creación lingüística, ha de consistir necesariamente en ficciones, se someten a un análisis literario las principales Poéticas escritas por los contemporáneos de Cervantes. En ellas se revelan figuras, imágenes, estructuras retóricas, narraciones, y mitos -es decir, la representación imaginativa de cuestiones doctrinales- que dejarán en la obra del gran novelista una huella mucho más profunda que la de las sentencias y preceptos por las que son ya conocidas y reconocidas en los textos cervantinos.

Cervantes' place of honor as «originator» or as one of the originators of the modern novel makes the critics' search for his theory of literature inevitable. Yet the father of modern prose fiction left us no Art of the Novel: his discussions of what he was up to are not only hard to locate, but often ambiguous, sometimes even plainly contradictory. Many critics have set about gathering up loose threads from the fiction into a sort of poetics. The resulting studies often picture the author engaged in a semi-covert, but rather straight-forward dialogue with contemporary theorists about literary principles. They try to determine «what he thought» or «where he stood» on the burning questions of his day47. That portion of   —58→   Cervantes' literary practice most applauded by posterity (Don Quixote, the Novelas Ejemplares, and the Entremeses) seems to cast him roughly as a neo-Aristotelian. Moreover, since a large number, though not all, of the theoretical pronouncements found in his books (on imitation, verisimilitude and the marvelous, unity and variety, etc.) reinforce that connection, investigations of his theory have fixed on that first impression. It was quite natural, then, that seeking Cervantes' ties with theoretical writings of the late Renaissance, we should have looked first to the author of Spain's principal neo-Aristotelian poetics, Alonso López Pinciano, and, having found what we were after, looked no further.

A few years ago, rereading El Pinciano after a long hiatus, I saw his 1596 treatise not simply as the compendium of Aristotelian precepts I had expected. The Philosophía Antigua Poética imitated its classical model, to be sure, but at the same time distanced itself from it. In particular, the powerful images generated by the metaphor of art as a deformed body, and specifically as Vulcan, the «artífice coxo» or crippled artifex, led me to suspect that the very original language of Pinciano's treatise had an effect on Cervantes' creative process perhaps even more profound than his neo-Aristotelian litanies48. Pursuing that tack, I elaborated my current project, whose working title (Cervantes' Portraits of the Artist) reflects my belief that Cervantes dealt not so much with precepts as with figures and stories. The anatomy of the artist and of art offered me a means to bring together a variety of questions that had most often been treated piecemeal. The book I envisage looks at the anatomy of art from four major angles: 1) historical and critical fictions of Cervantes as author (a question external to the works themselves but central to our reading); 2) Cervantes' «theories» of literature and the authorial role in the context of the poetics of his time; 3) actual portraits of the artist which we find in Cervantes' works, either as self-portraiture or as characterization; and 4) anatomy as a figure applied by the narrator and others to the verbal body of the fiction, the cuerpo de fábula.

When I agreed to report on my progress to the annual MLA meeting of the Cervantes Society, I planned to develop an aspect of the third or fourth of these questions: that is, to show how the image of Art's creative deformity takes conspicuous shape in the fiction itself. Some business with the second question, however, remained   —59→   unfinished. My own investigation, it seemed, had produced an ironic result. My reading indeed confirmed the central role of El Pinciano, but it did so in a way that challenged the traditional neo-Aristotelian grounds for believing in his importance. A supposed book of theory, it emerged, probably interested Cervantes less for its theories than as a linguistic artifact in itself, a repository of images and narratives. The next question was obvious: if Cervantes read El Pinciano in this way, did he not perhaps read other works of theory in a similar fashion? I was already convinced that he had read the works of Fernando de Herrera with closer attention and results more complex than had been supposed. Although I was frankly doubtful of finding anything so significant in the works of less-known authors, I returned to the poetics described in Antonio Vilanova's monograph, «Preceptistas españoles de los siglos XVI y XVII»49. The admiratio I had experienced reading El Pinciano was repeated: once again I found highly suggestive material somehow invisible to the author of a learned digest.

Gradually the question at issue has become clearer to me. It is not just a question of one supposed historical reading, Cervantes', but rather of reading in general, our reading, and particularly of the very different ways in which we go about reading theory and fiction. We might suppose that in 1984 our expectations would not differ so radically with respect to fiction and theory. After all, we expect fiction -good fiction, interesting fiction- to be «theoretical». We have made a kind of cottage industry out of finding «theory in the text of fiction», as my title promises to do; that is, of discovering how texts comment on themselves and on their condition and possibilities as art. Discussions of Cervantes' «theory» or indebtedness to particular theorists has often taken the form of isolating sentencias or dicta placed in the mouths of particular characters. We have tended to mine these nuggets of theoretical gold with little regard for the decimated text we leave behind. The tacit premise for this mining operation is that authoritative statements have greater truth value than narrative or dialogue. By isolating such utterances and severing them from contexts, we give them a disproportionate significance. We may justify our hastiness to identify certain pronouncements with the   —60→   «truth» of a work by invoking an author's agreed-upon sympathies. Yet we should not forget that it is the author who has chosen to set those truths in dialogue as personal utterance -in contexts, in other words, which make these dicta only partial signs, and which thereby challenge their independent aesthetic authority.

With Cervantes -so ironically ambivalent in the face of the great «truths» his friend trots out in the Prologue to the 1605 Quixote- it is easy to caution against reductiveness, to argue for non-programmatic reading. With works of theory, however, this kind of reading tends to be the unquestioned rule. We usually approach a work titled Arte poética or Philosophía Antigua Poética with certain expectations and an agenda tailored to match, that of identifying the body of doctrines contained in it. Accordingly, the work succeeds or fails in our eyes to the extent that it fulfills or disappoints those expectations, to the extent that it sets forth a coherent set of principles that appear to us to have some validity independent of the mode of their expression. From a work of theory, in short, we want consistency, unambiguous enunciation of principles, analytical (i. e., rational) clarity, considerable erudition, and some degree of originality. If the book in question can also offer the charm of a graceful or witty style, so much the better, of course. But that quality remains subordinate to the central enterprise of theory -or so it has often seemed.

Vilanova's monograph on the preceptistas, a splendid piece of scholarship and one from which we all continue to learn, exhibits nonetheless just the sort of bias I have been describing. Vilanova does not hesitate to pronounce judgment, to separate sheep from goats, admitting some into the company of theorists worthy of the name while excluding others. The failings of these exiles show up as the negative of the expectations I have outlined: in consistency, lack of analytical rigor, shallow erudition, derivative concepts. El Pinciano prospers, with Vilanova and with us, over unfortunates such as Miguel Sánchez de Lima, Juan Díaz Rengifo, Luis Alfonso de Carvallo and Bartolomé Ximénez Patón, because he provides a relatively more complete exposition of Aristotelian theory. Fernando de Herrera receives deferential treatment for the extraordinary range of his «poetic erudition», but hardly a critic (myself included) has failed to lament the absence or disappearance of a full-blown, systematic elaboration of his poetics. We have traditionally busied ourselves with rectifying his theoretical sins of omission by reconstituting his poetics from the concentrate of the discourses interspersed in the Anotaciones.

Now this kind of investigation assumes that theoretical and   —61→   imaginative activity have clearly separable origins, methods, and aims. The theoretical enterprise claims the ordering authority of reason, while artistic creation looks to the inspiration of imagination. Both the eighteenth-century champions of Reason and the Romantic prophets of the imagination fostered this separation. But Cervantes' contemporaries did not always insist on such rigid distinctions. Virtually every sort of inquiry (history, law, moral philosophy, theology, «empirical» science, aesthetics) could and did find the common ground of shared literary forms. A scientist could validate his observations with the testimony of history, legend or Scripture; while the poet might look to ancient science or philosophy to support his claims about the workings of the human heart. Moreover, the learned written tradition shared its authority with the living body of oral tradition -folk tales, versified history and legend, and of course the homey wisdom of the refranes. While Cervantes uses the figure of Don Quixote himself to ridicule the unrestrained mixing of history, fiction, philosophy, it is also clear that his own intent is to blur the lines separating those fields, and that the merging of a variety of languages is an essential basis for the modern novel50.

The vantage point of the twentieth century once again permits us to perceive as less rigid the boundaries between kinds of discourse. We have cultivated a healthy respect not only for the intricate discourses of fiction, but for the fictional character of all discourse. We have learned to recognize the fictions of Scripture, of history, of philosophy, of scientific theory, of psychoanalysis and -closest to our professional home- of criticism. Yet while literary theorists of our own time struggle with a sense of the inescapable complicity of their own discursive fictions and those of the objects of their scrutiny, we have not in general wrestled with the same issues in connection with the «theoretical» works of earlier periods. Although we have often scavenged for scraps of theory in the texts of fiction, we have rarely looked for fiction in the text of theory.

Why have we been so reluctant to read theory as fiction? Theory does not necessarily lose in this reversal, even though we might appear to be robbing it of its truth value by obliging it to keep company with known liars. For it is just as limiting in the end to read   —62→   theory with the aim of isolating «truths» as it would be to read novels with such a program. Furthermore, in both cases we run the serious risk of missing the point: hybrid forms of discourse, contradictions, ambivalence, do not necessarily prove the absence of a poetics. They may instead, with the diversity of their signs, point to the very core of that poetics.

Begging leave to reverse my original title, then, I propose to explore some of the most important fictions of theory I believe Cervantes knew, and to take up the question of what these have to tell us about the status of literary theory in the texts of Cervantes' fiction. We begin with a book important to Cervantes that does not really belong to the group of preceptistas who will be our principal object of inquiry. This is the Examen de ingenios para las ciencias of Doctor Juan Huarte de San Juan, published in 1575, and thereby immediately prior both to the appearance of a series of vernacular poetics in the last decades of the sixteenth century and the first years of the seventeenth, and to the publication of La Galatea in 158551. Huarte's interests in this instant bestseller are not restricted to the creative arts, but his analysis of ingenios -men's wits- includes a theory of literary production grounded in human creativity. As a physician attempting to understand the diversity of human beings and their achievements, Huarte focuses not on the rules of art, but on the human soil from which it springs, not on Poetry or Poetics, but on poets as men -with bodies52. Even more uncertain than the sciences of philosophy and medicine, he cautions, is his own inquiry, «donde se hace con el entendimiento anatomía de cosa tan oscura y dificultosa como son las potencias y habilidades del ánima racional, en la cual materia se ofrecen tantas dudas y argumentos que no queda doctrina llana sobre que restribar» (134). «Hacer anatomía» has a double sense here: 1) figuratively, it suggests Huarte's work of analytical dissection, the «taking apart» of the human mind; 2) but it also describes literally his method of giving material concreteness to elusive spiritual   —63→   qualities, revealing their anatomical reality and linking particular intellectual qualities to differences of stature and physiognomy, as well as of health and environment.

In its crude attempt to bring «scientific» system to the study of the human mind, Huarte's enterprise produced many contradictions. Indeed, if we read his tract with the expectations of theoretical clarity outlined earlier, we condemn ourselves to disappointment. In his reliance on «proof» from the «empirical» evidence of direct and reported experience (testimony of Scripture and folklore included), which takes the textual shape of endless stories, Huarte undermines the basis of his classificatory schemes53. Even within major types, no real norm prevails: each human being functions according to a unique balance or imbalance of faculties. «Normal psychology» is really abnormal psychology. Cases are not generalizable, not truly exemplary, because the world is a casa de locos. Although the biological determinism of the Examen de ingenios did not sit well with Counter-Reformation orthodoxy, in one sense its author was giving «modern», «scientific» expression to one unimpeachably orthodox article of Catholic doctrine, the fundamentally flawed nature of Man after the Fall. Living outside the Garden, and outside the perfect climate of Greece, in an unbalanced («destemplado») environment, Man is fated to participate in a cosmic «distemper». Men are not perfect wholes: each person's own equilibrium results from the imbalance in his being of the three faculties of the ánima racional -memoria, entendimiento and imaginativa. Strengths as well as weaknesses derive from the quirks of a cockeyed makeup. The fundamental rule is that one person can't have it all: a strong memory, solid understanding or imagination -any one of these will be enjoyed at the expense of the others.

But if Huarte makes the body the literal referent of his investigation, the qualities of mind which most intrigue him continue to elude a stable representation. The paradoxical result is that the scientist finds himself engaged in a new figuration of human consciousness. Not only does he tell stories about human beings who illustrate particular traits; he also tells stories about the traits themselves, as though they were human beings. Memoria, entendimiento, and imaginativa are not only analyzed; they are also characterized, personified. Memory, for example, which flourishes in the same humid conditions   —64→   that go with the feminine, motherhood and small children, takes on their blandness, passivity and subservience. The disciplines a good memory aids (grammar, Latin and other languages, theory of jurisprudence, teología positiva, cosmography and arithmetic) are those already fully constituted, which impose their authority on a receptive, docile mind. Entendimiento, the dry wit, whose province includes scholastic theology, dialectic, natural and moral philosophy, theory of medicine and the practice of jurisprudence, «es la potencia más noble del hombre y de mayor dignidad» (217), a manly actor on the intellectual stage -composing, arguing, reasoning, a solid conceptual builder.

Yet ultimately Huarte's hero is «la buena imaginativa» (141), whose extraordinary range suggests a dozen faculties rather than just one -«todas las artes y ciencias que consisten en figura, correspondencia, armonía y proporción,... poesía, elocuencia, música, saber predicar; la práctica de la medicina, matemáticas, astrología; gobernar una república, el arte militar; pintar, trazar, escribir, leer, ser un hombre gracioso»,... etc. (164). Light and agile, product of heat and thereby dangerously close to cólera and madness, imaginativa has the wildness of reckless students and mozos enamoradizos. It fabricates fantastic structures («montes de oro y bueyes volando» [191]). Like a «perro ventor [one who sniffs the wind] que le busque y le traiga la caza a la mano» (190), it belongs with the most inventive wits, called «en la lengua Toscana caprichosos, por la semejanza que tienen con la cabra en el andar y pacer». Imaginativa's figure resembles the highest forms of intelligence:

Esta jamás huelga por lo llano; siempre es amiga de andar a sus solas por los riscos y alturas, y asomarse a las grandes profundidades;... jamás huelga en ninguna contemplación, todo es andar inquieta buscando cosas nuevas que saber y entender. De esta manera de ánima se verifica aquel dicho de Hipócrates: animae deambulatio, coguitatio hominibus [translated «Paseo del alma, pensamiento del hombre»]


Huarte clearly separates the goats from the sheep, the imaginative intellectual adventurers from the docile herd. Imaginativa, difficult to separate from Huarte's idea of intellectual energy, evokes the reckless male vigor of mocedad, equally estranged from maternal softness and the paternal good sense of maturity. Although he unquestionably plays favorites, Huarte leaves up in the air the question of the relative desirability of entendimiento and imaginativa; their interaction promises   —65→   an unending struggle. If he intended to give the life of the mind a solid material basis, the author of the Examen also gave a new mythical vitality to the «paseos del alma», the wanderings of thought and imagination.

From the foregoing we can derive several important implications of Huarte's work for subsequent poetics and fiction. The first concerns the role of the anatomical figure. The Examen de ingenios sees anatomy in the first instance not as metaphor, but as a physical reality that fuses the spiritual or intellectual to man's bodily existence. The case of poetry provides the most pointed illustration. In fact, Huarte grounds his entire theory on a revision of Cicero's claim that great poets are born not made. This holds true not only for poetic gifts, he insists, but for all manners of abilities. The body does not, as in Aristotle's Poetics (and before it Plato's Phaedrus), serve as figure for the organic unity of the work of art; it is the human composite which will generate and determine that work. The second implication arises from the nature of that body and of all bodies in the Examen. Where «body» in Aristotle connotes harmonious balance of parts, here the ideal of equilibrium shines by its absence. For Huarte the body offers material proof of man's irremediable imperfection, source of both his triumphs and defeats. Finally, the challenge of giving concrete form to the mysterious activity of the mind causes Huarte to fall back onto the resources of metaphor and fable. Not only does he set forth analytical concepts (on which other writers can model their own types), but he also recreates these types in verbal fictions, in a new fabulation that evokes in mythic terms the struggles of the mind-body to conquer the world and master itself54. These aspects of Huarte's book have as their common denominator the focus on man as the center and origin of literary creation. Art emerges not as a series of fixed principles and immutable truths, but as the bold and dangerous, admirable and reprehensible activity of the human mind. It might be argued that the rules were never Huarte's concern. Yet his insistence on the human context of art will affect a number of bona fide preceptistas whose primary focus was in fact the inherited principles governing the literary work.

Although it means doing violence to chronological order, we turn at this point to Alonso López Pinciano, because of his closeness to   —66→   Huarte. Pinciano, too, was a physician. He composed the Philosophía Antigua Poética under the double sign of Apollo, «médico y poeta, por ser estas artes tan afines que ninguna más» (I, 8)55. In the thirteen three-way dialogues (four-way, if we include the epistolary responses of the friend Gabriel), Pinciano plays the simpleton, supplier of the right naive questions; Fadrique represents the knowledgeable voice of «letras»; and Ugo exemplifies the fertile combination of medicine and poetry. Poetry's medical connections make it natural that the treatise should present art not as something otherworldly, but in terms of man. What is man? What is human felicity? These are the necessary preliminary questions to a discussion of the nature of poetry. El Pinciano's first epistle openly borrows Huarte's ideas on the contradictory powers of the imagination, but the entire treatise, through its dependence on the anatomical figure, echoes his work in a way both more general and more profound. The Philosophía Antigua, following Aristotle, insists on the primary importance of fable, «ánima de la poesía» (I, 204). Where the poem is, like man, «un compuesto de alma y cuerpo» (I, 239), language plays the body while imitación or fábula plays the soul. Pinciano uses this distinction to relegate verse form to a position of secondary importance. Many important poets, after all -he ranks Plato chief among them!- never wrote anything in verse. Verse can even mar the perfection of a poetic imitation, just as flesh corrupts souls. Without a true, «living» imitation, the (bad) poem «es un cuerpo muerto adornado» (I, 279), absurdly shrouded in verse. Initially Ugo uses the body as a rich source of metaphors for describing the structure of a work of art, almost as the corpse which allows the poet-doctor to teach the anatomy of fable. Episodes, he maintains, should neither overburden the action or leave it manca; they are properly like intestines, intertwined with each other and with the vientre's (fábula's) encasing membrane. The principal fábula governs episodes and language just as the heart dominates the functioning of other organs (II, 15 and 41). Initially Ugo reinforces Aristotle's desire for fable to be «un animal perfecto y acabado» (II, 39). It should have all of its own members and not those of another beast (II, 40), which would turn it into a monster; it should not be «echo pedaçosh», «manco» (the word crops up insistently), like snakes and lizards who can survive dismemberment and live on as   —67→   fragments. As the discussion confronts the contradictory requirements of art, however, it turns from the perfect «animal fábula» to the vision of a flawed art. Sometimes, Fadrique concedes, a work's imperfections must be blamed not on an inept poet, but on art itself, «la misma arte, la qual assi como todas las demás tiene sus fragilidades y impotencias» (II, 73). El Pinciano quickly supplies the connection with classical mythology. «Ya lo veo,... que por esto los antiguos hizieron y fingieron sanos a todos sus dioses, excepto uno que entre ellos era artífice, el qual era coxo» (ibid.). The personification of art in the disfigured form of the cripple crystallizes the axiom of Art's necessary, constitutive imperfection. That idea explains and determines the Philosophía Antigua's preference for the mixed genre of epic and the still more adulterated form of the prose epic, which most aptly represents his compromise concept of poetry as an «arte media» (I, 155-56), neither fully contemplative nor wholly frivolous, «ni vil ni noble, y es como una corneja, que ni es cuervo ni paloma» (I, 159).

The route this poetics takes -as well as some of its stops- is very close to Huarte's. Setting out from the familiar Aristotelian metaphor of bodily perfection, it subjects that trope to literal dissection at the hands of a good Castilian physician, only to see the membra disecta return to «life» in the dismembered body of Vulcan as a myth of Art and the artifex. We need to reiterate Fadrique's caution: this cripple is not simply an unskilled or uninspired artist, a bad poet. The crippled artifex represents Art itself as a human endeavor with its soaring ambitions and its built-in obstacles to perfection. This fusion of Art and artifex, of Poetry and poet, in works which the author of Don Quixote knew well, amounts to a mythology of writing, which in turn helps us to appreciate the complexity of Cervantes' portraits of poets in drama, verse and prose fiction. Never mere sources of hilarity, even the most ridiculous of the «bards» of the entremeses act out the struggle, made no less moving by its absurdity, of desire for a lost wholeness.

We next consider a very different set of books, whose possible relevance for Cervantes' poetics has been all but ignored. These are treatises of metric art and rhetoric, published between 1580 and 1604, which proclaim the rather belated intention of «introducing» Italian metric schemes and style to a Spain already in the full bloom of «la nueva poesía»56. The two most striking are Miguel Sánchez de Lima's Arte Poética en Romance Castellano (Alcalá de Henares, 1580, only five   —68→   years before La Galatea's publication there), and Luis Alfonso de Carvallo's Cisne de Apolo (Medina del Campo, 1602)57. In part because they promise to take up such concrete questions as «what is a hendecasyllable?» (canción, sonnet, tercet, sextina, etc.), and in part because their preliminary formulations of aesthetics have been judged second-rate, these books have not found their way into the standard manuals of bibliography and thereby into any extended literary canon, as the more fortunate works of Huarte and El Pinciano have done. Clearly our expectations about what would most likely have appealed to Cervantes have played a significant role. After all, he makes fun of poets and mere versifiers. Moreover, as a sort of neo-Aristotelian himself, he would not -we suppose- have found a neo-Platonic poetics like Carvallo's at all congenial58.

But if they have been denied both the status of Literature and a high rank among theorists, neither Sánchez de Lima's nor Carvallo's book is simply a manual59. Both works take the form of dialogues. Only one -the second- of Sánchez de Lima's three dialogues is devoted to the rules, while Carvallo manages to concentrate the mechanics of versification and genre in the middle two of four dialogues. Both preceptistas take pains to prepare the way to the rules, setting out respectively the «esencia y causas de la poesía» or the symbology of the swan of Apollo. Their elaborate preliminaries amount to the defense of poetry which will make possible its illustration in the French sense.

Why should poetry require a defense? First, because it is by nature strange. In both works, dialogue dramatizes the approach to this essential strangeness of poetry. The Arte poética introduces us first to a skeptical Silvio; through his eyes we watch the impassioned apologist of Poetry approach. Gesticulating and talking animatedly to himself, apparently building castles in the air, this Calidonio looks like a madman. In fact, he is composing a sonnet. He needs all the heat of   —69→   argument suggested by his name to talk his friend out of the opinion that poets are madmen, scarcely men at all, and that sonnets in particular are «locuras discretas o discreciones locas» (36). The Cisne de Apolo uses a similar strategy. The author-character Carvallo converses with his teacher, Lectura, «de quien todo lo he sabido» (I, 25), and one Zoylo, named for a famous detractor of Homer, mentioned by Cervantes in the Dedicatoria to the Novelas ejemplares and also in the Viaje del Parnaso. Lectura has herself already learned -by reading- to make sense of Poetry's strangeness, of what Michael Riffaterre calls its ungrammaticalities60. At the other extreme, Zoylo adheres doggedly to literal interpretation (of the title Cisne de Apolo, for example) and scoffs at theoretical hair-splitting on the greater plausibility of some kinds of lies over others. The author explains that this troublemaker -«que en nombre del vulgo, y los malsines arguye contra la poesía»- has been introduced «para tener ocasión de refutarles sus falsas opiniones» (I, 25). Zoylo fleshes out the more tentative irreverence of Silvio, giving it a rich humor and plebeian flavor closely akin to Sancho Panza's. Lectura and Carvallo undertake jointly the challenge of making poetry intelligible to the uninitiated representative of el lector masa.

Structurally, both of these modest volumes have an outside and an inside. On the outside is the poet-madman, or the figure of Poetry as either apparent nonsense or furor divino; on the inside are the rules. At first the external appearance of madness obscures the method contained within. In a deliberate process of gradual approximation, the manuals move toward the moment of grasping what was initially strange, of making sense of the nonsensical. They promise to reveal, if you will, the method in the madness and the madness as a method. The experience of the dialogued poetics as a whole is captured in miniature in the anecdote Carvallo's final dialogue uses to answer the question «si la vena de los poetas es locura, como dize el vulgo».

El que de lexos vee alguna persona dançar, y no oye el son y música, juzgará que está loca la tal persona, mas llegando más cerca, y conociendo la armonía de la música, y la conformidad que el vayle con ella tiene, y como no se menea el pie sino guiado por el son, verá que es cosa de ingenio y de gran concierto. Pues ansí el que considera la obra del Poeta sin entender sus causas, processos y   —70→   fines, la juzgará por vna cosa de locos, y disparatados, mas considerando la sotileza del estylo, el pensamiento del Poeta, el intento y fin de la tal obra, la limitación y orden a que está subjeto, no ay duda, sino que juzgará al que la hizo por hombre de gran ingenio, y no por loco desatinado

(II, 196-97)61.                

Structure itself testifies eloquently to Poetry's need for a defense: neither the method nor the madness can stand alone. The prose apology is required to legitimate the mechanics of verse. Understanding of the craft in turn makes visible Poetry's rigorous inner order, the rhythm of its dance.

But Poetry stands in need of defense not only because of the permanent paradox of its discreta locura and loca discreción. Living in historical time, Poetry shares the perils of temporal contingency. Sánchez de Lima and Carvallo (along with their theorist contemporaries and Cervantes) belong to the European Renaissance movement of «defenses and illustrations» whose champions included Bembo, Du Bellay, Ronsard, Sir Philip Sydney and Juan de Valdés62. The apologues of Poetry often made common cause with champions of the vernacular tongues, since to argue the serious worth of a vernacular literature was also to affirm the dignity of modern languages for such an undertaking. Most defenders of the potential of the present felt constrained to confront the question of their own relationship to ancient times, where literary perfection could most confidently be located. Like many of their contemporaries, Sánchez de Lima and Carvallo saw history as a fall from an original state of grace and decline. Carvallo even makes Poetry part of Adam's patrimony in the Garden of Eden, and its lost harmony part of the price paid for original sin.


In what has been called a «digression» into an Erasmian satire of the «mundo al revés» or «world turned upside down»63, Sánchez de Lima makes the plight of Poetry and of language one and the same as the general crisis of civilization. The critical turn which plunged history into decadence coincided with the divorce of lanza and pluma. True Poetry has gone the way of the «good old days» when most poets were also soldiers, when rulers and society at large knew the value of both the military and the fine arts. In the Iron Age of the work's present, an effete, emasculated language is converted to hard currency by writers who make a living out of flattery and ladies who prefer doblones to coplas. Even the epic poem has slid into the monstrous corruption of the libros de caballerías (42-43). True poets are held to be madmen, while a downtrodden Lady Poetry (the same Doncella Poesía of Don Quixote and La gitanilla), unrespected and unrecognized, here finds herself up for auction in the public square with no one to bid more than three blancas for her. Silvio submits his friend's sonnet as evidence of Poesía's hopeless degradation:

En tres blancas esta la Poesia,
    Ay quien puje, quien de mas, o quien la quiera,
    Yo se que en algun tiempo no se diera,
    Que tuuo presumpcion y fantasia.

Mas ya pueden dezir, passo solia,
    Y vino mal pecado, que quienquiera
    Se pone con palabras de frulera
    A darle por mil partes bateria.

Llegad, arrastrado sea tal barato,
    Que a fe que es harto bella la donzella,
    Si el tosco que la compra no la estraga.

Ala vna, y alas dos, que la remato,
    Pues no ay quien puje, ni hallo mas por ella,
    Que buena, buena, y buena pro le haga


Where the skeptic sees literary bankruptcy, however, the believer hears a call to arms. Silvio's sordid vision of the fall of history and the demise of Poetry is converted directly into the definition of the literary mission. This new crusade seeks nothing less than the restoration of a new Golden Age to be presided over by a regal Poesía, queen mother of sciences and wits, who will carry out a frankly militant campaign against vice and ignorance -«la Poesia es la que mata la necedad, y destierra la ignorancia, auiua el ingenio, adelgaza y labra el   —72→   entendimiento, exercita la memoria» (40) -subjecting her minions («paniaguados» [33]) to a demanding course of training. By the end of the first dialogue, Calidonio's friend sets doubt aside, volunteering himself as Poesía's soldier, «que en todo tiempo y lugar seguire su pendon y bandera» (45). Chivalric language -appearing first upside down in the terms of Erasmian satire, then righted through a careful conversion- makes poets into heroes, writer-knights called to save Poetry and redeem the Iron Age.

But the chivalric mode saturates not only the text of Sánchez de Lima's dialogue. The image of the poet-soldier strikes the reader of the Arte Poética visually on the very first page of the book in its frontispiece (on the cover of this issue). This drawing probably did not originate with the author, and therefore tells us not about his intentions, only about some early reception of the book. The artist himself may have read the manuscript, but he could have worked from an oral digest of its contents provided by the printer or another person familiar with the work. While the print, therefore, has no demonstrable relationship with either the author or the artist as reader, it necessarily becomes part of all subsequent readings, including both our own and Cervantes'. The drawing, entitled «Pegaso», sets a massive, wingless steed against a severe, windswept Castilian landscape dotted with a few signs of civilization (probably castles and churches). At the animal's head, in soldier's garb and helmet, stands the would-be rider, with one foot raised to the stirrup («puesto ya el pie en el estribo», as Cervantes' favorite romance goes), but in so awkward a fashion that we suspect he might have some trouble actually mounting. Most striking of all, on his face we see the slanting lines of sadness: this soldier, by implication the aspiring poet who would ride Pegasus, is a Knight of Sorrowful Countenance, engaged in a sobering enterprise of doubtful issue. In the reader's experience of the Arte, the initial image of this Caballero de la Triste Figura will be succeeded by the experience of the poet as a madman who emerges as a loco discreto by elaborating a vision of poets embarked on a mission to save Literature and with it the very noblest values of civilization. To describe the Arte Poética and the Cisne de Apolo as «influences», however, would be both to overstate and to understate the case. Works like these add to our understanding of the many collisions of images, whose powerfully suggestive force must surely have contributed to Cervantes' own developing picture of the artist, and especially of Don Quixote.


The «theoretical» literature of the chivalric defense of poetry brings us to the last book that falls within the scope of this inquiry, the famous Annotations to the works of Garcilaso de la Vega by Fernando de Herrera64. Here we have another telling instance of the power of preconceptions. The door to the study of Cervantes and Herrera has been held barely ajar by the knowledge that the younger writer admired the poetry of «el divino Herrera» and knew the Anotaciones, borrowing heavily from their Dedicatoria when he wrote his own for Don Quixote, Part I. Yet even this apparent homage -Cervantes' reference, for example, to his novel as «desnudo de aquel precioso ornamento de elegancia y erudición de que suelen andar vestidas las obras que se componen en las casas de los hombres que saben»- seems to be inching toward the author's fully ironic stance on annotations in the Prologue, and his cryptic allusion to a «Garcilaso sin comento» in El licenciado Vidriera. Cervantes frequently mocks the poetic erudition that was a cornerstone of Herrera's poetics, and the latter for his part left no theoretical writing about prose or the theatre, areas of Cervantes' greatest achievement. These superficial points of contact, however, have often been used to support the view that there is no truly significant connection between the two. I want, nonetheless, to insist on pursuing the «Herrera connection», which can only be sketched roughly here. Clearly, as these contradictory cues of homage and mockery suggest, any relation of Cervantes to a very unhumorous, unironic Herrera will have to be ambivalent.

In my study of the historical prose65, I suggested that Herrera's ideas of history and literature are cut from the same cloth, informed by the same Messianic vision: heroic virtue can/will/must restore the world's threatened integrity. The poet's conception of man's role in history casts the individual as protagonist of several concurrent quests, played out on an epic landscape. One of these quests is political, religious and military: Spain and Spaniards, by conquering self, will rescue Christendom. Parallel to the political enterprise is a literary mission: Spanish poets and writers are called to effect the heroic redemption and restitution of their language and its poetry.


The lyric dramatizes a third quest, the lover-poet's pilgrimage along the same mountainous desert road where virtue always struggles with weakness. So thoroughly fused are the languages of these three quests that it is impossible to separate one from the others. I myself have voiced the standard lament that Herrera did not publish a full-blown treatise entirely devoted to aesthetic concepts. But to wish for some supposed «purity» of theoretical enunciation is, I now believe, to miss the point. Herrera does not «digress» distractedly into imperial politics; his apparent «detours» into the world of history do not lead us away from his poetics but rather into its very center.

In the Annotations, as in the works of Sánchez de Lima and Carvallo, writing is a form of heroism. What is more, writing is chivalry raised to the nth power, meta-chivalry. Through the famous discourse prompted by Garcilaso' s phrase «el osado espanol» (Egloga II), Herrera deplores the failure of Spanish poets and historians to commemorate their compatriots' heroic achievements, which will perish in oblivion, as though they had never happened, in the absence of writing: «Pues sabemos que no faltaron á España en algun tiempo varones eroicos; faltaron escritores cuerdos i sabios, que los dedicassen con immortal estilo á la eternidad de la memoria» (615). Elaborating the classical locus from Cicero and Horace that elevates words over deeds, poets over heroes, Homer over Alexander the Great, Herrera makes writing more heroic than heroism. Writers are the superheroes who must rise to the challenge of history and rescue the spoils of Spanish national memory, «los despojos dela memoria de aquellos invencibles cavalleros» (616), from the unpardonable forgetfulness of the Italians.

Where writing is chivalry, the writer must boast heroic virtues. Of Garcilaso's use of neologisms, Herrera writes: «Osó G. L. entremeter en la lengua i platica Español muchas vozes Latinas, Italianas i nuevas, i sucedio le bien esta osadia». Why, he asks, should his own generation hesitate to do the same? «Apartese este rustico miedo de nuestro animo; sigamos el exemplo de aquellos antiguos varones, que enriquecieron el sermon Romano con las vozes Griegas i peregrinas i con las barbaras mesmas» (573). The Marqués de Santillana, among the first to bring Italianate verse to Spain, «gran capitan Español i fortissimo cavallero, tentó primero con singular osadia, i se arrojó venturosamente en aquel mar no conocido, i bolvió a su nacion con los despojos de las riquezas peregrinas» (75). The greatness of Spanish language and history exert inescapable pressure on a man of spirit, «compelido de su magestad y espiritu» (74) to follow these lofty examples and to   —75→   rise to the external challenge of great foreign writers like the Italians. «Quien es tan descuidado i perezoso», he asks with undisguised disdain, «que solo se entregue a una simple imitacion?» (72). «Quien ái tan olvidado de su naturaleza, del respeto que se deve a la cortesia i a la mesma verdad, que sufra sin indinacion... las injurias con que [Paolo Giovio] afrenta a los Españoles?» (611). Herrera's writer, always engaged in a struggle between daring and faintheartedness, needs an ánimo as macho and virile as Huarte's imaginativa.

The knight-writer honors and protects two ladies -the Lady Poetry and the Castilian tongue. While Poesía figures as the free and generous monarch of the wide open spaces of literary imagination (575), the Spanish language appears in a double feminine characterization, contrasted with the Italian. «La toscana» plays the lady of easy virtue -«mui florida, abundosa, blanda i compuesta; pero libre, laciva, desmayada, i demasiadamente enternecida i muelle i llena de afetacion... pero la nuestra es grave, religiosa, onesta, alta, manifica, suave, tierna, afetuosissima i llena de sentimientos, i tan copiosa i abundante, que ninguna otra puede gloriarse desta riqueza i fertilidad mas justamente. no sufre ni permite vocablos estraños i baxos, ni regalos lacivos. es mas recatada i osservante,... antes toda entera i perpetua muestra su castidad i cultura i admirable grandeza i espiritu» (74-75). No compliant mistress, the Castilian tongue is a demanding sovereign who keeps her subjects at a distance, always challenging them to outdo themselves (in his best poems Garcilaso «se ecede de suerte, que con grandissima ventaja queda superior de si mesmo» [77]). The literary enterprise promises no comfortable laurels: complacency in the belief of having reached perfection would only betray meanness of spirit. Herrera sets the adventure of language on an epic landscape of hard, high roads, vast stormy oceans, the unknown territories awaiting the explorer -part of Spain's «real mythic» landscape of conquest in the age of Empire. While he never outlines -like many of his Spanish and Italian theorist contemporaries- a series of precepts on the writing of epics, he does evoke imaginatively the epic of writing, conceived as the true and most definitive conquest of time. The fusion of art and the man, of arms and letters; the exaltation of the great Castilian literary and political mission with its real-allegorical geography of heroism; the concept of erudite reading of the classics, transformed through admiratio into the imperative of creative imitation; and finally the urgent appeal to poets and historians honor-bound to respond to the challenge sounded by Spain's glorious history -all of these essential parts of Herrera's poetics were well   —76→   known to the author of both La Numancia and Don Quixote. These heady images of the Writer-Knight, of historian enchanters («escritores sabios i cuerdos») who will rescue and redeem, move always in an ascending trajectory in Herrera -one that might have struck Cervantes as ripe for the ironic twist that would, with a few pushes from the likes of Silvio or Zoylo or Sancho Panza, send them plummeting into the ridiculous. While Herrera does not, like Sánchez de Lima, Carvallo and El Pinciano, write dialogues, he often subjects a collective national ignoramus -literally absent- to rhetorical tongue-lashings for their sins of omission. Herrera's self-disciplined sense of the writer's role dictates disdain for the mean-spirited regularly produces violent outbursts of indignation. Torrents of indignant questions, disrupting his decorous erudition, find their echo in Don Quixote's passionate protests about the unsung heroes of his books and the abuses he imagines he suffers at the hands of his Moorish chronicler. Even more with Herrera than with the romances of chivalry, Cervantes' parodic stance is charged with ambivalence. The poetics of «el Divino' 'is both ridiculous and sublime; in Cervantes' own works, its figures surface both right side up and upside down.

We can now appreciate the insistent presence in late sixteenth-century poetics of a number of striking non-doctrinal features which elude our notice if we attend only to their presentation of the rules. 1) A focus on the writer as a man, an individual with a body. The prism of anatomy projects art always in human terms, as a function of the powers and desires of a human being. Very often, as we have seen, the Aristotelian metaphor is literalized only to be recast as a new myth. 2) The form of the dialogue. Even in the exception to the rule, Herrera's Anotaciones, an absent listener is strongly implied and his characteristics serve to shape the argument. Theory is not set forth in tidy bundles of rules, but within the play of different viewpoints. Poetry (i. e., Literature) is pictured simultaneously from the outside and from the inside, as both confusion and order, madness and method. The paradox of cordura-locura had flourished before Don Quixote not only in Erasmian satire, but in literary discussion as well. 3) The fusion of the language of poetry with the epic-chivalric language of history. This double discourse brings to poetics a view of history, especially of Spanish history, of Paradise Lost, a fall into the Iron Age, and the coming restoration of the Golden Age. Imposed by this vision of history is the heroic mission of the writer-soldier-hero to rescue damsels in distress, even to rehabilitate fallen women, to «enderezar tuertos». The defense of poetry intends not merely the protection of a kind of   —77→   writing, but the safeguarding of Value and values. Poetry (serious writing) and Poetics are not represented as static arts, but rather as the continuing pursuit of an ideal, one which by definition, like Dulcinea, always eludes possession. In short this fusion of languages makes poetics itself into a quest romance.

As we recognize that literary theory, even in the manual or treatise, cannot be reduced to ordered sets of principles, at least not without doing violence to the signifying power of its language and structure, we must necessarily alter the way we go about looking for theoretical discourse in fictional texts. It is not enough either to locate precepts in the mouths of more or less reliable characters, or to demonstrate that a particular work or character has been fashioned along the lines of a doctrinal recipe. The works of literary theory Cervantes read tell their own stories, dramatize issues in dialogue, use metaphor and personification, borrow rhetorical systems wholesale from other fields. Furthermore, their authors often choose to harness the multiple reference and signification of language as a fundamental part of their message. It stands to reason, then, that these same stories, dialogues, personifications, metaphors, rhetorical tropes can and do perform that work of multiple reference and signification just as effectively within the fictional text as in the text of theory.

We have, to be sure, long recognized that Cervantes wrote the great book about the writing of the book. The author of Don Quixote is modern criticism's patron saint of self-conscious fiction, and more recently Hispanists have extended that category to include virtually all the rest of his work. But this sense of a Cervantes who continually evokes the fictional status of his texts has frequently been posed as a question separate from the presence of particular historical theories of literature in his books. Students of Don Quixote's radically self-reflexive character, for example, find the text's «straight» eulogies of poetry cumbersome. What I want to suggest with the evidence offered here, and what I believe to be the novelty of my argument, is that Cervantes' most characteristic self-conscious figures and gestures (especially Don Quixote) emerge from a contemporary context of discussions about Literature which had already merged or juxtaposed many of the key terms.

The celebrated «self-consciousness» of Cervantes' writing, then, does not derive simply from our late twentieth-century will to see all texts in this light. His attention to the aesthetic concerns of his day extends far beyond the already demonstrated awareness of the rules,   —78→   into a profound involvement with the fictional language of his contemporaries' theoretical discourse. The search for a coherent set of principles can never lead us to Cervantes' poetics, or any other poetics he would have thought worthy of the name, as the satirical portraits of «walking manuals» in the Coloquio de los perros, Don Quixote, and the Persiles suggest. Cervantes' poetics, like those he knew, is constituted not only in precepts but in perspectives, as Américo Castro showed us, on the literary art and craft. The impossibility of reducing his theory to a single unitary scheme emerges dramatically from the dialogued context of virtually all discussions of literature in his works. Pitting the skeptic against the fervent apologist, the man of letters against the vulgo, the cleric against the knight, Cervantes' literary colloquies bear out the truth of Tasso's Discourse on the Art of the Dialogue, which reminds the reader to attend «not only to the discussion but also to the characters, the setting and the actions; a dialogue's meaning emerges from the interplay of all its elements»66. The neo-Aristotelian or Horatian poetics we have come to expect from Cervantes, presented in the self-questioning form of dialogue, move closer to a Platonic concern for Poetry's limitations and dangerous powers. Poetry and parallel vocations like Don Quixote's offer a perfect paradox: a loca discreción and a discreta locura, simultaneously a method and a madness. Ambivalence -in the radical sense- about the literary enterprise permeates all of Cervantes' books, generating their contradictions, such as the merciless ridicule of bad or pompous poets counterbalanced by the reverent defense of «la Doncella Poesía» and truly great poets.

Nowhere do we see self-contradiction so clearly as in Cervantes' relationship to the epic discourse which encompasses history, literature and poetics. In the manner of the preceptistas, Cervantes launched his own career in the prologue to La Galatea in 1585 as a literary rescue operation for a hostage Poetry. It is surely no accident that his national dramatic epic of the same year, La Numancia, responded to Herrera's summons to rescue the heroic Spanish past -the spoils of memory- from oblivion. Don Quixote, of course, is the pivotal text where Cervantes fuses literary and active heroism, perfecting the paradoxes of Chivalry's/Poetry's methodical madness, their hopeful but hopelessly anachronistic mission. In the great novel, both the Don and the author raise the banner of the Defense of   —79→   Poetry: but whereas for the personified author the defense of Poetry intends the destruction of a decadent epic (the romances of chivalry), for the character the causes of chivalry and Poetry are perfectly joined. La Doncella Poesía is Dulcinea's twin. Cervantes stands not only as a sort of padrastro to his protagonist, but as a sort of hijastro to Fernando de Herrera. That poet's recipe for the literary adventure mirrors Don Quixote's in seriousness and grandiloquence. The novel's landscape -half-real, half-allegorical like Herrera's epic scene of wide-open spaces, difficult ascents, degrading falls and doubtful conquests- serves as a backdrop for the doubled adventures of works and words. The view that chivalric language enters the novel for the sole purpose of preparing a parodic inversion, and that as parody Don Quixote is exclusively or primarily a funny book, does not, I think, adequately account for the work's serious aesthetic involvement with the language of epic67. In its connections with sixteenth-century epic poetics (meaning the epic of poetry rather than the poetics of the epic poem), Don Quixote may have more legitimate ties to an epic of the Spanish people, as Unamuno felt, than our late twentieth-century way of conceiving aesthetic issues would grant. Whatever the work's interest in Spanish history, its multi-contextual, ambivalent epic language guarantees that Literature is never isolated from other human activity. The quests of Writing and Chivalry serve as a double metaphor for human desire.

Our search for Cervantes' poetics leads us to a poetics that is itself a search, and it is surely the case that our quest entails no fewer contradictions than the one we seek to understand. In a paper which contends that theory is in the end not a privileged discourse, but a fabric of images, dialogues and stories, it seems only fitting to conclude with a tale. Many readers will recall the winter tracking expedition of A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. One fine day the Piglet catches Pooh out for a walk in the snow, «tracking something», as Pooh explains, without answering for Piglet or himself the question of what he is tracking. The two friends continue in a circular route round a thicket, coming upon first two sets of tracks, then three and so on. The mysterious object of their search -soon christened «Woozle»- grows more menacing in the plural («Do you see, Piglet?   —80→   Look at their tracks! Three, as it were, Woozles, and one as it was, Wizzle. Another Woozle has joined them!»), until the cowardly Piglet, suddenly remembering another pressing commitment, backs out. At this point, Christopher Robin, seated on a tree branch above, rescues Pooh from his distress, with the comforting if humiliating information that they have both been following their own tracks. Pooh concludes that he has been «Foolish and Deluded», and is «a Bear of No Brain at All», wherewith all three go home for lunch. As critics, to a certain extent we all resemble Piglet and Pooh: we are searching for «something», and we are often quicker to give a name to our quarry than to know exactly what we are looking for. I do not intend to play Christopher Robin, either by pointing the finger at our critical foolishness or by suggesting literally or figuratively that we all go home for lunch. But I do think we should recognize, with Cervantes, that what we are attempting to follow is itself a quest, and that some of the tracks we spot in the snow are sure to be our own.