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ArribaAbajoEdward Dudley. The Endless Text. Don Quijote and the Hermeneutics of Romance

Nicholas Spadaccini

Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. 316 pp.

University of Minnesota

This beautifully-written, erudite book is the work of a distinguished comparatist who combines the best tools that philological scholarship has to offer with sophisticated contemporary theories of reading. In the process of doing so he provides a fresh, innovative interpretation of part I of Don Quijote, underscoring Cervantes's well-known commitment to «interpolative structure and to Romance» (229).

What follows is a veritable tour de force which, in the study's first two sections -titled respectively «The Endless Text» and «The Celtic Reserve»- focuses on the use in Don Quixote of rhetorical devices that were found in earlier manifestations of Western romance, from the earliest Celtic tales and chivalric fiction to the medieval romance in the writings of Chrétien de Troyes. And while the ostensible reason for such a book is to demonstrate «how the traditional rhetoric of romance functions in the Quixote to provide the text with its multiple and unending appeal» (xx), the study's scope is, in fact, much broader, as it considers the novel's complex response to the problem of truth and fiction and its «revision to the problem of knowing in literature» which is said to be even more radical than Descartes' revision in philosophy in so far as Cervantes «allowed a more diversified role for the operations of the instinctive and the irrational as modes of knowing» (38).

In tracing the history of chivalric fiction in Western Europe, Dudley is less engaged in positing a question of influence than working from the premise that «the work itself assumes a general awareness on the part of readers of the textual anxieties of Renaissance humanism and Reformation hermeneutics, specifically the problem of garbled texts and the interpretative strategies used to   —149→   extrapolate a variety of meanings» (11). In this respect, Don Quixote as a text would reveal how the hermeneutic possibilities available to the reader are both «enriched and distorted» through various operations of «textual change, suppression, corruption, and linguistic metamorphoses» (24).

Those operations would involve the existence of hidden or forgotten meanings as well as the appearance of «narrative fault lines», which are manifested in fissures in the textuality of the discourse. An example is said to be the confrontation between the Hermes figure Ginés de Pasamonte and the wild and love-mad Cardenio, whose clash would suggest that «the text is taking an abrupt turn», moving from the realm of the picaresque to the problematic of love (19). At the same time, the textual rupture in chapter 23 «ushers in entrelacement as the organizing principle in its narrative development and leads to Dorotea's triumph at the inn» (297).

Of course, through different methods of analysis, other scholars have pointed to these kinds of narrative fault lines, most recently Félix Martínez Bonati, who in an equally splendid study (Don Quijote and the Poetics of the Novel) guides us through the various movements in part I of Cervantes's text, exploring and describing Cervantes's incursions into the multiple and varied regions of the imagination. Dudley's merit, however, is to have located this sort of discussion within a far-more reaching history of Western Romance.

Within such history, Chrétien de Troyes is assigned a central role in a number of areas, including the creation of certain narrative spaces through the domestication or Christianization of pagan Celtic material -a process of transformation that was to receive a new formulation in Don Quijote, a book whose narrative agenda clearly underscores «the problem of hermeneutics» (102); the creation of «an enclosed generic space for the feminine world of intuition and the irrational» (89); and the weaving various narratives into a larger union, a practice which, as Dudley correctly points out, was to be seen «as the fatal defect of Romance in the Renaissance battles concerning neo-Aristotelian aesthetics» (109).

The third and lengthiest section of Dudley's book, titled «Don Quijote: The Reluctant Romance», incorporates detailed textual analysis to underscore what becomes a central motif in this study, namely, how the activity of the writing process is part of the story itself so that «the language of fiction turns out to be the fiction of language» (114). In the end, «the writing as product» is privileged over «what is being written about so that the language of narrativity emerges as an autonomous entity empowered to range freely without serious referential constraints» (115).

Some of Dudley's innovative readings of Cervantes's text may be seen in the discussion of the three mill adventures (los molinos de viento, I, 8; los batanes, I, 20; and el barco encantado, II, 29), which are viewed as signposts or herms that mark the «border crossings» for the hero or hero's identity as well as for the manner in which the story is told (173; 192; 197-98). As such, they are said to have special meaning as they become -like the inns and the various dream episodes- parts or «segments of a signifying system» (202) rather than mere discrete units of «self-contained aventuras» (186-87).


Dudley's magisterial analysis of part I of Don Quijote is nowhere more apparent than in his reading of Dorotea whose chiasmic character and aptitude for evasions and role playing are seen as «the mannerist re-interpretation of the Celtic banshee or fairy woman of the Otherworld sides» (230). Dudley underscores her «dispersive and integrative functions within the overall narrative strategies» (229) and most especially her role as a weaver of tales. She is a consummate reader of texts who is ultimately able to resolve the «enigma of the language of love» (271) and thus confront the slippery, donjuanesque Don Fernando in the language of Romance whose force emanates «from the language of women». It is precisely such language -he argues- which ultimately «undermines the restrictive categories of men's affairs» (302). Here Dudley demonstrates convincingly, I believe, that Dorotea is truly the female protagonist of Don Quijote, part I, as she manages the «many tasks of interlinking the multistoried ontology of the text» in addition to «providing a sufficiently mercurial persona to confront the unraveled psychic needs of Don Quijote, Cardenio, and Don Fernando» (252).

This is an important book, refreshingly free of jargon; it is also a study that while eschewing controversy and staying clear of the culture wars, manages to advance a powerful proposal: that in Dorotea, the female protagonist of part I of Don Quijote, «Romance and the language of women emerge as the dominant force in the creation of the novel as a generic discourse» (297). For unexplained reasons, Dudley's study deals only tangientially with part II of Cervantes's novel, which, subsuming the mannerist composition of the Quijote of 1605 into a baroque structure, traces the very origins of the modern novel.

Thus, while it may well be, as Dudley points out, that Cervantes's fiction «like mannerist painting, holds up the mirror, not to nature, but to art and to the ability of art to reflect nature» (121), it might also be said, in keeping with the metaphor of the mirror, that it is one which is constructed with the fragments of a shattered glass, behaving like a kaleidoscope in a mobile and contradictory manner. In this sense it would be interesting to follow Dudley's argumentations in part II of Cervantes's Don Quijote which not only integrates part I but also inverts its discursive trends. Thus, while the concept of an endless text is perfectly applicable to part I, I am not so certain that the same may be said for part II, whose ultimate proposal is to present novel as genre in terms of a discourse constructed from the end. In fact, one might say that if the story can be told, it is only because the hesitations of the narrator disappear once the main character has, in the process of dying, a definitive name: Alonso Quijano, el Bueno.