Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Don Quixote, Seeming, & Being

We've been discussing how Don Quixote--the character--manifests with different facets highlighted in different versions: Cervantes's 1605 and 1615 novel, Nureyev's ballet film Don Quixote, the musical Man of La Mancha, in the levels of irony in the documentary Lost in La Mancha about Terry Gilliam's quixotic failed quest to make his film of Don Quixote, and in the visualizations in the graphic novel adaptation.

We began with some excerpts from a lecture from Professor Roberto González EchevarrĂ­a's Yale University course on Don Quixote (so we know how to say Quixote!) and that gave us a strong foundation in a literary approach to the novel. Our interest, however, is how Don Quixote becomes an romanticized hero whose preference--or insistence--on internal reality over external reality is something to be valued not (only) mocked.   For Quixote, in the ballet, in Gilliam's vision, in the popular imagination, illusion is his reality; he cannot differentiate between seeming and being. The 20th-century texts question why it is necessary to make that distinction, and, in a very different way than Machiavelli, who makes the case for seeming over being in The Prince.  Let's talk about those differences.

Momchil Mladenov as Don Quixote and Sonia Rodriguez as
 Dulcinea in the Suzanne Farrell Ballet's production at the Kennedy Center.

INTERNAL & EXTERNAL REALITY: The twentieth-century texts dramatize and visualize Don Quixote's internal reality, and as they do that so we can see it, we are more interested in and open to his perspective.  Visually, dramatically, and narratively, they get more equal weight than in the Cervantes novel.  When we see Quixote's imagined Dulcinea dancing in the ballet, she exists, as opposed to the pure fantasy of the text Dulcinea, or the taking on of the role of Dulcinea by Aldonza in Man of La Mancha.  The modern, post-modern interest in Don Quixote stems from our interest in subjectivity, in how individuals perceive the world (and this is where the readings by Maurice Merleau-Ponty come in).

Realizing Don Quixote's internal reality is what Terry Gilliam wanted to do.  As we watch the documentary, we can see how he could see, in his mind's eye, how he wanted his film to show the giants, for example.  But he could not make that internal vision into an external reality of a film, and so he, like Don Quixote, experiences a gap between interior and exterior realities.  This is the non-insane,
modern version of Quixote, and it is the artist's eternal difficulty, that chasm between what we hear or see or imagine and what can be actualized in performance or art so it can be shared.

PERFORMANCE: We have two central ideas about performance for this unit: the performance of self in everyday life, and the idea that performance is always for someone, so there is a sense of doubling.  These are two themes we will see in Hamlet.  An interesting question is whether Don Quixote is performing?  He takes on the role of "knight" and speaks and acts, to his mind, accordingly, despite external reality, but is there a doubling?  Again, this is a question we'll encounter again in Hamlet.

Finally, let's consider one of the famous quotations from Don Quixote in the context of our overall course themes and areas of inquiry: “I know who I am, and who I may be, if I choose.”

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