Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026265, Fri, 3 Jul 2015 21:05:57 -0300

Dom Quixote: a world of cruelty and the author's task
Jansy Mello: IÂ’ve always been surprised at the famous bouts of criticism
V.Nabokov directed against “Dom Quixote,” because his “Lecture on Quixote”
was lovingly researched and presented. There are wonderful paragraphs in
which one can feel how closely VN followed the crazy knightÂ’s adventures and
understood his suffering ( As for example, on page 69 of his Quixote lecture
we find: “The wretched sense of poverty mingles with his general dejection
and he finally goes to bed, moody and heavy-hearted. Is it only Sancho´s
absence and the burst threads of his stockings that induce this sadness,
this Spanish soledad, this Portuguese saudades, this French angoisse, this
German sensucht, this Russian toska? We wonder – we wonder if it does not
go deeper.”)
A few months ago I found a statement relating VNÂ’s criticism about this
“cruel and crude …book” to the way in which Cervantes treated his character
and not to any other kind of cruelty pertaining to its action nor in
relation to the readers.

I donÂ’t think I can fully understand VNÂ’s indignation nor am I able to
amplify its resonance to embrace other authors, novels and their characters:
itÂ’s so very new to me to imagine kindness and pity as an authorÂ’s
“obligation” towards his characters. Where does the recognition about
characters being “galley slaves” fit in ? Krug and Lolita are examples of
brief testimonies of authorial pity, an emotion that could also be curiously
extended towards Humbert –but not Hermann.
Is VN demonstrating, through his rejection of CervantesÂ’s writing that, in
any novel, lifeÂ’s destructiveness and evil are to be portrayed only as
aspects of the real cruelty of the external world and its inhabitants? That
an author should never be an accomplice of the worldÂ’s evil to remain, at
most, an impartial observer? (“For me a work of fiction exists only insofar
as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense
of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art
(curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.”)
While I was browsing the net to find if the quote I need appears on line, I
found: The Secret Jewish History of Don Quixote, by Benjamin Ivry (February
17, 2014)
Read more:

“Was Don Quixote’s impossible dream a Yiddisher one? The French author
Dominique Aubier, whose study “Don Quixote: Prophet of Israel” has just been
reprinted, apparently thinks so.
AubierÂ’s book, which originally appeared in 1966, is based on the thesis now
generally accepted by literary historians that the author of “Don Quixote,”
Miguel de Cervantes, likely hailed from a family of conversos , or converts,
Spanish Jews who in 1492 were faced with the choice of leaving their
homeland or staying on as Christians. Extrapolating from this likelihood,
Aubier advanced controversial theories, for example that “Don Quixote”
contains numerous references to the Kabbalah and other Jewish themes. The
protagonistÂ’s very name, according to Aubier, is derived from the Aramaic
word qeshot , meaning truth or certainty, often used in the Zohar, a key
text in Kabbalah.
Critics of AubierÂ’s ideas are plentiful among Spanish literature experts
(the Cervantes scholar Daniel Eisenberg has termed her book “highly
misleading”), who point out that it is near impossible that Cervantes could
have had access to Jewish mystical literature in Spain. When “Don Quixote”
was originally published, from 1605 to 1610, observant Jews had long since
been expelled from the country. Among AubierÂ’s other suggestions is one
concerning Dulcinea del Toboso, Don QuixoteÂ’s ideal woman who was in reality
a peasant-like “brawny girl,” as Quixote’s servant Sancho Panza described
her. Aubier states that Dulcinea symbolizes the Shekhinah, which in talmudic
tradition has been described as representing feminine attributes of GodÂ’s
presence. “Don Quixote: Prophet of Israel” also offers an etymology for
DulcineaÂ’s town El Toboso as deriving from the Hebrew words tov and sod , or
good and hidden meaning.
The novelist Vladimir Nabokov termed “Don Quixote” a “cruel and crude old
book,” an observation justified by a readily available online summary of the
novel’s action: “Don Quixote promises to make a balsam to cure Sancho… Don
Quixote mixes ingredients and drinks the potion. He vomits immediately and
passes outÂ… Sancho also takes the potion, and although it makes him
tremendously ill, he does not vomitÂ… Don Quixote rushes into the battle and
kills seven sheep before two shepherds throw stones at him and knock out
several of his teethÂ… Don Quixote takes more of the balsam, and as Sancho
comes close to see how badly his masterÂ’s teeth have been injured, Don
Quixote vomits on him. Nauseous, Sancho then vomits on Don Quixote.”
Yet in appetizing English-language versions by the acclaimed Jewish
translators J. M. Cohen, Burton Raffel and Edith Grossman, “Don Quixote” is
no stomach turner. The literature-obsessed knight of doleful countenance was
a man of the book, simultaneously a schlemiel and schlemazel, who seems
destined to remain irresistible to Jewish readers. Even Nabokov, in his
“Lectures on Don Quixote,” admitted that by the novel’s end, “we do not
laugh at [Don Quixote] any longer. His blazon is pity, his banner is beauty.
He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure, unselfish and

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