The question posed in my title -«Do We Really Need to Read Avellaneda?»- could appear to many to be self-serving, at the very least, and my answer to it, quite predictable. Anyone who has spent the time and energy necessary to write a six-hundred-page book on the subject of the relationship between Cervantes and Avellaneda is very likely to respond in the affirmative, and vigorously so. Alas, I won't surprise you all with a poignantly self-critical gesture, admitting that I was actually all wrong in wasting my life on a peripheral subject and a second-rate author. Rather, Ed Friedman's kind invitation to speak today has, in fact, provided me with a bully pulpit for making my case before this select group of cervantistas in the hopes of convincing at least some of you to engage in a reconsideration of a matter which has lately been relegated to the margins of Cervantes studies. While doing so, I won't resist the obvious temptation of putting —68→ in a plug for my new book51.
Those who even flirt with the idea of reflecting on the whole Avellaneda problem begin to encounter strong countervailing winds at a very early stage in their careers as cervantistas. Just think what the effect on impressionable young minds must be when they come across the following passage in Manuel Durán's piece entitled «El Quijote de Avellaneda» in Suma cervantina, that canonical collection of essays which has served many years as a trusty companion guide for those of us who teach Cervantes:
The disdain expressed in these words simply represents the logical extension of a well-entrenched tradition within Cervantes criticism, one which makes most of us feel perfectly justified, almost axiomatically, in not even having to think about the problem of Avellaneda, except -of course- as we retrace Cervantes' ingenious attacks on the interloper starting at Chapter 59 in Part II.
Needless to say, it was with Cervantes himself that this whole tradition began. Let's not forget the anecdote in the Prologue of Part II in which Avellaneda's literary talents are rather explicitly compared to those of a madman whose primary claim to fame is his ability to inflate dogs through the behind. The fact that we continue to take our cue from Cervantes some four hundred years later, allowing him to predetermine our study of Avellaneda, is —69→ eloquent -and ultimately quite amazing- testimony of the successfulness of his strategy of revenge as well as of his enormous power as a cultural icon.
As we all are aware, critics over the past two hundred years have uniformly tended to classify Avellaneda's novel as a crude and misguided imitation of the Cervantine masterpiece52. Moreover, Avellaneda himself has slowly been turned into a character from a morality play, one in which he is portrayed as a nasty bully who picks on a poor, innocent Cervantes encumbered by illness, old age, poverty and physical disability. Indeed, the ritualized vilification to which Avellaneda is subjected in Cervantes studies often reminds me of the histrionic booing the «bad guy» receives at professional wrestling matches.
To show I'm not exaggerating, let's quickly go over a pair of
«botones de muestra» found in a well-known book by a former
President of this organization, Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce's Don
Quijote como forma de vida:
«Y hete aquí que en 1614 alguien que no
se atreve a dar la cara y se esconde bajo el seudónimo (como los
raptores de hoy día, al fin de cuentas) comete un inicuo secuestro
literario y le roba a Cervantes su más querida y valiosa criatura» (41);
«la puñalada trapera del falsario y secuestrador Avellaneda le
había llegado al hondón del alma» (44).
Avalle-Arce is by no means alone in deploying a rhetoric redolent of moral outrage in dealing with Avellaneda. It's found throughout the critical corpus. Once we fall into that mode of conceiving of the problem -that is, Avellaneda as a «bad person»- we effectively tend to shut off our critical capacities. Indeed, we might even decide to «punish» him by never reading his work at all... (though we would never admit this in public to our colleagues, of course).
Now it would be erroneous to say that Cervantes scholars have not wanted to think about Avellaneda at all. To the contrary, since he is a literary felon of the first magnitude, he must be brought to —70→ justice. As all of those present know, the greater bulk of critical attention paid to the Segundo tomo has focused on identifying the actual historical figure who hid behind the pseudonym of «Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda». It is, of course, one of the more intriguing «whodunits» in literary history, and it is no doubt great fun trying to chase down the rapscallion responsible for inflicting so much pain on our poor don Miguel. Among the most sustained recent efforts in this line is Martín de Riquer's attempt to pin the crime on Gerónimo de Pasamonte, who, despite being pursued by mischievous devils disguised as «frailecicos», somehow managed to learn how to write reasonably well at some point after composing his wretchedly bad autobiography53. Literally dozens of other candidates have been proposed by the critics, including the Borgesian possibility that it was Cervantes himself54.
There is, of course, another relatively common way of looking at Avellaneda. Rather than centering on him as a kind of «moral reprobate», Avellaneda is studied as an exemplary «artistic failure». The notion is that we learn how great an artist Cervantes is by studying how bad Avellaneda, that tawdry «dog-inflater», is by comparison. Let's return again to the Manuel Durán piece cited earlier:
Alas, even Edward Aylward, who some ten years ago had the
courage to suggest that it was time to take another look at Avellaneda, ends up following a similar tack. This critic defends the quality of Avellaneda's work by saying that it is a fairly reasonable
attempt to imitate the first twenty-two chapters of the 1605 Quijote -that is, the part which engages in broader, more slapstick
comedy. He then goes on, however, to suggest that Cervantes' art
matures immeasurably after our protagonist reaches the Sierra
Morena, at which point Avellaneda is left coughing in the dust:
«Ironically, then, Avellaneda's book has a great deal to tell us about
how Cervantes' theoretical focus sharpened and his narrative skills
matured after he began to compose the adventures in Sierra Morena» (12).
Quite frankly, I'm not sure we need Avellaneda to plumb the depths of the enormous differences separating Cervantes' narrative art from that of his contemporaries. I would submit that they all suffer by comparison and that we need not learn why Cervantes is so magnificent by specifically studying our favorite whipping-boy.
So, to get back to my original question: why bother to study Avellaneda at all?
Those assembled here today are well aware that the fundamental debate over Cervantes' work for the past two centuries revolves to a large degree around the issue of (a) whether it was in some way socially or politically «dissident» in its focus and (b) whether it was perceived as such by readers of his day. The big divide in Cervantes studies for many years has been between the so-called «hard school», which insists that Don Quijote is primarily a «funny book» with little or no contestatory pretensions whatsoever, and the so-called «soft school», which dares to suggest that there might, —72→ in fact, be something at least mildly «heterodox» about it. The former group attacks the latter for being woefully ahistorical, projecting the «isms» of twentieth-century culture wars back on to an unsuspecting and defenseless seventeenth-century literary parody.
Unfortunately, there are, in fact, very few means to reconstruct reader response toward the Quijote at such an historical distance -no way of retroactively engaging in a reader's poll which could then be subjected to precise statistical analysis. References to the work by contemporary writers, while acknowledging its great popularity, tend to be somewhat dismissive or noncommital, as Paolo Cherchi has shown (56). Many of the more openly hostile reactions, such as one found in an anonymous poem (often attributed to Lope) which suggests that Cervantes' work might make for a good bottom-wipe, are often hard to disentangle from the petty infighting typical of literary circles, then and now56.
In Avellaneda's continuation, on the other hand, we have an entire book which can be analyzed as an example of contemporary reception. In its pages we find a rich and comprehensive image of Cervantes' text as that text was filtered through and decoded by the mind of a Spanish reader of the same historical moment. And this is where my fellow Cervantes scholars have thrown away an extraordinary opportunity. Rather than looking at Avellaneda's work as a precious time capsule enabling us to reconstruct reception, —73→ we've allowed ourselves to become thoroughly engrossed in that morality play in which Avellaneda is the villain we all love to hate.
Yes, there is an exception to the rule -a very distinguished exception in this case. In 1951, Stephen Gilman published his Cervantes y Avellaneda: estudio de una imitación in which he suggested that Avellaneda, rather than being a bumbling epigone, was in fact a «good reader» of the Quijote, but one who felt a deep antipathy for its artistic and ideological coordinates, and who consequently attempted to channel his own continuation in a very different direction.
Postulating that behind the mask of Avellaneda hid an ecclesiastical figure (possibly a Dominican friar), my dearly missed friend insisted on the need to read the latter's work in the light of the numerous ascetically oriented Counter-Reformation tracts which had inundated Spain from the middle of the sixteenth century. On doing so, we can easily detect the sources of the antagonism toward a Cervantes allied, according to Gilman, with Renaissance humanism and its individualist vitality, its tolerance and relativistic perspectivism (45). Moved by the repugnance the work of 1605 produced in him, Avellaneda attempts to «reform» it (60). The final product of that effort ends up being, in Gilman's words, an «Anti-Quijote» (62).
There are many aspects of this reading that strike me as being quite sound, particularly regarding Avellaneda's fundamental conservatism. At the same time, however, I can't help but feel somewhat worried by the excessive emphasis placed on the doctrinal and theological nexus in Gilman's analysis. This approach prevents us, in my opinion, from seeing other crucial dimensions of the so-called «false» Part II -precisely those dimensions which would force us to reformulate parts of Gilman's approach57.
And here we come to the second «lock-box», if I may, into which Cervantes scholars have placed their minds when it comes to Avellaneda. To the degree that cervantistas have wanted to think about Avellaneda's text as something more than a crude imitation, —74→ they have tended to accept Gilman's reading almost in toto. Despite the fact that his book was published a half century ago, Cervantes scholars -of all ideological stripes, I might add58- tend to accept his arguments virtually without modification. One perceives a distinct sense that all that needs to be said has been said. It's now safe to take off our thinking caps.
It was this somewhat stifling atmosphere of received wisdom surrounding Avellaneda that served as a catalyst for my own research and subsequent book project. I must admit -and will do so now in public- that I didn't bother to read Avellaneda's work with serious attention until I was some ten years into my career of teaching the Quijote (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!). And when I did so -already having read Gilman, I should add- I was left somewhat flabbergasted to find something very different from what I expected.
Virtually all students of Avellaneda's Don Quijote point out, first, the predominance of the comic in the work, and second, the «crude» or «uncouth» nature of the sense of humor behind it. When an attempt is made to reconcile the overwhelming presence of this coarse humor with the supposedly somber ideological background studied by Gilman, we often find ourselves confronted by fairly serious contradictions. Personally I believe it more productive to begin with this comic vein when trying to reveal the ideological orientation of the work and not with the sporadic moralizing commentaries, the references to the rosary, etc. It is precisely there -in the type of laughter the work incites and in the type actually depicted in its pages- where we find the true key to Avellaneda's ideological project more than in any other place.
But before speaking about the presence and function of laughter in the text, I first should identify what irritates Avellaneda in Cervantes' Don Quijote. (All of what follows is documented at length in my aforementioned study.) Let me begin by saying that Avellaneda does, in fact, have a tremendous capacity to detect anything that even smells of being «oppositional» or «contestatory» in the work of 1605; that he has an acute sensibility with respect to —75→ all that might even seem anti-aristocratic, anti-clerical or in any other way «destabilizing».
I would also add that Avellaneda realizes perfectly well that the better part of that potentially unsettling message is transmitted not by means of direct statements, but through the very mechanisms of comicity of the work. He intuits that the dynamics of reversibility which lie at the heart of Don Quijote, that «loco-cuerdo», and Sancho Panza, that «tonto-listo», produce a disquieting, even liberating, variety of laughter (as my late friend Maurice Molho pointed out so well in his classic article, «Raíz folklórica de Sancho Panza»). He perceives very well the entire «carnivalesque» or «popular-festive» dimension of its main characters and many of the episodes in which they participate. He detects the emancipatory or utopian pulse which is still felt in those festivals which descend from the Roman Saturnalia, with its emphasis on the return to a Golden Age characterized by egalitarian relations and material abundance, and recognizes that pulse still beating in many aspects of Don Quijote's project. He perceives the latent destabilizing power of our duo's physical mobility and its links to the desire for social mobility. Finally, he perceives the profound and provocative ambivalence that marks the specific variety of our hidalgo's madness, which serves as the driving force of the entire work.
And having read well, and feeling especially irked by the slippery nature of all these unsettling elements, Avellaneda decides to put together his counter-offensive. But he does so by fighting on the same terrain occupied by his opponent, that is, within the perimeters of the comic. By means of his own particular mobilization of the comic and laughter, methodically controlled from the top downward by aristocratic characters, he will strive -whether consciously or unconsciously- to neutralize or rechannel all those worrying currents pointed out above so as to engender a work which will embody an ideology much closer to his own.
Frankly, I am not sure how useful it is to identify that ideology with the Church of the Counter-Reformation. Nor am I sure whether we should insist that Avellaneda was a clergyman of some sort. Rather, I prefer to think that he was one of the many lay intellectuals, often of the lower nobility, seeking favor in courtly circles. A writer who had embraced the «inmovilista» positions —76→ -using Maravall's terms- of the absolute monarchy and its allies in the highest echelons of the Spanish aristocracy. A writer who objected to any notion of social ascent on the part of «self-made men» from the lower ranks. In sum, a profoundly elitist writer, steeped in urban culture with all its typical prejudices against the peasant population, and deeply concerned about the latter's increasing tendency, disastrous for the Spanish economy, to abandon its lands in search of a better life in the city.
My own analysis also shows, however, that it's necessary to go beyond what might be considered the more narrow ideological objectives of Avellaneda's endeavor and examine its roots in a whole series of historical phenomena of great complexity. We not only have the changes in the attitude toward madness at the time with all its social consequences, but the growing professionalization of the figure of the buffoon within the absolute monarchy and the steady confiscation or cooption of popular-festive culture on the part of the aristocracy and the civil authorities59.
Moreover, I would suggest that in Avellaneda's humor we have an exemplification of the new court-centered attitude toward the bodily functions, brilliantly studied by Norbert Elias in his pioneering The Development of Manners: Changes in the Code of Conduct and Feeling in Early Modern Times. That is to say, Avellaneda goes along piling up scatological details and references which at first glance might appear to be derived from the popular-festive matrix, so ably studied by Bakhtin, but which subsequently turn out to have been refracted through the courtly prism from which they emerge with that negative aura they carry up to the present day. Little in common with a Rabelais or with our Cervantes, but much indeed, I would suggest, with a Francisco de Quevedo. My own gut feeling (no pun intended) is that Avellaneda himself very probably belonged to that generation of writers born around 1580 (the year of don Francisco's birth).
Now, what is the reaction of Cervantes to Avellaneda's attempt —77→ to reorient his work? Just as Avellaneda turned out to be a «good reader» of the original Don Quijote de la Mancha, Cervantes was a «good reader» of his rival's alternative continuation. I believe Cervantes perceived very well the whole attempt to rid his work of all of its quirky pockets of destabilizing energy. And although he was not necessarily on the extreme opposite ideological pole from Avellaneda, he was indeed far enough from it so as to feel deeply annoyed by the transformation his characters and text had undergone.
There is no time today to analyze the counterattack Cervantes mounts to reestablish control over the ideological dimension of his creation, but I will point out at least some of the directions it takes60.
I should clarify immediately that it is a big mistake to take for granted, as do many well-known Cervantes scholars, that our author was quite literally in the middle of writing that Chapter 59 when he found out about Avellaneda's work, and that his reaction to it is reducible solely to the overt references he makes toward it from that point on61. The counter-measures Cervantes takes are much more pervasive and appear much earlier. (I should point out that Cervantes would have had between five and eight months to carry out modifications in his own text after learning of Avellaneda's -more than enough time to alter a text which is fundamentally episodic in nature and thus much easier to tinker with than a Proust or late Henry James novel62.)
First, there is a significant effort to revitalize the reversibility of his two protagonists, giving them back their status of «loco cuerdo» —78→ and «tonto listo» which had been stripped from them by Avellaneda. He even employs the explicit reactions and comments of other characters to highlight their complex ambivalence in forceful fashion. Let us remember, as just one example, the reaction of Don Diego de Miranda in the episode where Don Quijote frees the lion:
|(II, 17; 166)|
As I point out in my book, such explicit underlinings of the precise nature of Don Quijote's madness could have been added without having to alter fundamental dimensions of the plot.
But Cervantes is also willing to fight with Avellaneda on the same terrain the latter had established as the natural habitat of his two buffoonish characters. Much of what occurs in the palace of the duke and duchess would seem to constitute a direct reply to the «courtly strategy» of Avellaneda, showing him that he -Cervantes- is also perfectly capable of inventing «adventures» of this type, and that he does it even better, that is, with greater ingenuity and sophistication. What's more, he does it without allowing the complete conversion of his two protagonists into buffoons. Although they do play the role of «hombres de placer» in the palace of the duke and duchess, they still maintain a certain dignity amidst the elaborate hoaxes played on them, and they are also capable of leaving, of recovering their mobility, instead of succumbing to the temptation of courtly lassitude. (Let's remember that Avellaneda's Sancho, on the other hand, ends up being a professional buffoon in the house of a powerful nobleman in Madrid.)
Furthermore, we have a great difference in the attitude displayed
toward the aristocratic pranksters. Whereas in Avellaneda
the «caballeros de buen gusto» who dominate the text are presented in an unequivocally favorable light, in Cervantes a critical
perspective is made manifest in various ways, including such
sharp words as these:
«Y dice más Cide Hamete: que tiene para sí
ser tan locos los burladores como los burlados, y que no estaban los
duques dos dedos de parecer tontos, pues tanto ahínco ponían en
burlarse de dos tontos» (II, 70; 56465).
There are many other aspects of Cervantes' differentiating strategy which might be pointed out, the sum total of which is to radicalize, in many ways, the sociopolitical problematic of Part I. (Many critics feel that Part II is more conservative a work than Part I, a notion with which I strongly disagree63.) But perhaps the most important difference is that found in the respective endings of the two works. In my book I comment at length on the ramifications of Avellaneda's hero's confinement to an insane asylum -that is, his trivialization as a «mere madman» who must be taken off the streets. Now Cervantes' decision to «kill off» don Quijote might seem an even more orthodox or conservative measure than that taken by his opponent. And in fact, I feel that we must not disregard the possibility that Cervantes obliquely allies himself with the power structure of his day by ending the work in this fashion.
But on the other hand, one cannot help but think that allowing
Don Quijote to die might be an attempt on Cervantes' part to save
him from wearing that foolish barber's basin on his head for all
eternity. Let's not forget that it is only at this last moment, when
our protagonist is on his death bed, that his first name is mentioned:
«'Dadme albricias, buenos señores, de que ya no soy don
Quijote de la Mancha, sino Alonso Quijano, a quien mis costumbres me dieron renombre de Bueno'» (II, 74; 588). Scant importance
has been given to the fact that Avellaneda did give him a first
name from the very beginning -that is, Martín, a name closely
associated at the time with madmen, fools, etc. By giving him the
name Alonso, Cervantes removes the stigma represented by that
And it is worth noting, I might add, that on dying the
protagonist's surname is finally stabilized in the form of Quijano.
Avellaneda had adopted the variant «Quijada», which carries
heavy connotations of imbecility and buffoonery, as Augustin
Redondo has pointed out65.
In sum, who knows how Don Quijote would have ended up
in Cervantes' Part II had Avellaneda not interned him in an insane
asylum? Despite the many fine critical analyses of why Don Quijote «must die» at the finale of the work, I would aver the contrary:
little, or nothing, in the fundamental dynamics of the text «demands» his death (as two seventeenth-century translators, one
French and the other German, realized)66.
And without Don Quijote's death, needless to say, many of the philosophizing treatments
of the novel in the Romantic and post-Romantic mode -i. e., the
one still dominant today- would have had much less raw material on which to work.
My own intuitions on the pervasive effect of Avellaneda's text on Cervantes' Part II have been bolstered over the last decade or so by a number of other scholars, including Nicolás Marín, José Manuel Martín Morán and Carlos Romero67. If these fellow cervantistas and I are even potentially right in our hypotheses, it seems strange that more attention has not been paid to a giant intertext of Cervantes' Part II sitting right in front of us. After all, we chase —81→ after every tiny literary source which may possibly have found its way into Cervantes' workshop, thus providing us with the opportunity to present yet another pleasant little conference paper. Meanwhile, there sits Avellaneda with his dunce's cap in a corner, ignored because he was a «bad person» or because, unlike the rest of us, he wasn't able to figure out how to write as well as Cervantes.
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