I'm still reading
I'm still reading the Bible: Now I've read up until Abraham's search for Isaac's wife. We learned that Sarah really is a sort of sister with Abraham--his half-sister. And Rebecca is Isaac's first cousin once removed (I think that's how it goes--Abraham's grandniece is Isaac's first cousin once)? Noticed stuff that wouldn't have gotten a commentary in Hebrew School--the plague that struck Pharaoh when he attempted to have intercourse with Sarah would have been leprosy--gawd--on his penis? Whoa. Don't mess with people's sisters.
Simultaneously, I'm attempting "Don Quixote." We were supposed to read it in Spanish in 9th grade, but that's when I discovered there were some things that I could just show up for, pay attention, and ace tests on without actually doing the work--like reading DQ on my own time at home. Now I am trying, for the third or fourth time, to read it in English. To dream, the impossible dream.
This version is translated by Edith Grossman. It's the best,most liveliest version I've seen. I've actually pushed past Book I and made it to the Two!! Like most who came after him, Cervantes makes the secondary character more interesting by the second part, and shows major growth to enhance his interest. Sancho is no longer a buffoon by Part II--he is a politician--using what he's learned about knight errantry to keep himself and DQ safer. By the end of Book I, he says, "When you can recognize people, there's no enchantment at all, just a lot of bruising, and a lot of bad luck." Hence, his cunning devices in Book II,when he decides to make his own luck.
DQ in the first part, shows the downward trajectory of mental illness. Up until the age of 50, he has led a rather usual life for the down at heels gentry. He has his home, a housekeeper, books, friends, good name. And then, at age 50, suddenly, he has read too many books and they have turned his head. Keep in mind, 50 then was probably like 70 now, given the worse nutrition, hygiene, education. So it is possible that his mania reflects Low T, autoimmune disorder, depression, pseudo-dementia? What else happens at this time? Was he bereaved and his mourning given no credit? Why is a single man with a good name and land all alone in the world? Why did he pick Aldonza Lorenzo? Was she a mistress in his younger days, but could not rescue him from financial woes? Certainly, no knight errant would let that stop him--but he is only poor Alonso Quijanes, and he needs to eat and pay taxes. In any case, he picks her as his muse, believes himself to be a knight errant, has delusions which cannot be shaken when faced with reality. Like taxes and upkeep. Maybe the delusions are better than what could replace them--a lonely man facing the end with no help mate? And yet, even when delusional, he has moments of clarity. In his charitable act of setting the prisoners free, the guard warns him: "Don't go looking for three legged cats." To which he replies, "You are the cat, the rat, and the scoundrel." Clear as Lake Lucerne. This guard is the predecessor to ICE. And maybe he is not so much delusional as determined to dwell in his castle in Spain--as he tells Sancho, after they "ride" Clavijo to rescue Anosmia from her enchantment, and Sancho believes that he was able to get off at the Goat Constellation and play with multihued "nanny goats"--"Don't ask me questions about my experiences in the Cave of Montesinos (where he claims he saw the enchanted Dulcinea, and I won't ask you about this." Or Maybe, like Hamlet, he is only mad "north by northwest." When the hawks in the handsaw, however.....
Who else has his head turned at age 50? Bilbo Baggins, who, like DQ, has read a lot of things in books that he has never done in life. Bilbo is also a comfortable, narrow-minded bachelor. Only Tolkien allows him to become the hero, not the buffoon, to become a politician and save the world. Knight errantry doesn't have to end badly. There are several parallels between DJ and LOTR. I will touch on that at another time. But LOTR was clearly influenced by WWI. As DQ was by the Battle of Lepanto.
DQ reminds me of how we treat homeless people in our time. In fact, he is like a homeless person. Perhaps they see sheep as invading armies, windmills as giants, etc. Only when they shove people off platforms, stick knives in their ribs, etc, it's no amusing narrative. It's a felony. Yet, the homeless may have come from comfortable quarters themselves, and suffered many losses that were never validated. The homeless are uncles, fathers, mothers, aunts, cousins. Somewhere.lost in time, they were a pink-footed baby who was cosseted and gave hope to someone.
Don Quixote would be incarcerated now--if only for theft of services (he never pays for bed and board at the various inns stayed at, let alone destroying wine casks and vandalizing rooms--sort of a predecessor to our rock stars). Like a schizophrenic, he dresses oddly and attributes magical properties to a shaving basin.
What is allowed for a rock star is not permitted for the mentally ill. When Sancho tells him local peasant girls on jennies are Dulcinea and her ladies on palfreys, he kneels before them and tries to win their favors. They curse him and abuse him and take off. They are not amused. They do not take pity on an someone who is obviously down on his luck. Few teenagers today would do any different.
The cures are worse than the disease. First, they burn his books and brick up his library--playing fire with fire--an enchanter hath done this. This doesn't stop him. Then, they bring him home in oxcart jail, telling him he is a prisoner of enchantment. And that doesn't stop him. Then,they humor him--Sanson Carrasco, as the Knight of the Mirrors, tries to best him at jousting--and loses. And forgets the purpose. At this point in the novel, he is not looking to cure DQ. He wants revenge!! And he gets it. He wins, DQ loses. Not only the joust, but his entire modus vivendi. This is the one loss from which he cannot recover. And from which we may assume --there were others, which preceded the action (all the way before we got to page 900 or so). To each his Dulcinea, which is not to be dashed, dissed, or destroyed.
Don't diss the demented--just as Claudius says, he may have made it to middle age with only half his wits, but the flowers of Rome have died or been assassinated with all theirs intact.
Books take me away and restore to me my bookish adolescence, when it seemed to me that if I could get out of Unfunky Scummedrine, there would be no boundaries, I would be free,anything would be possible. And COVID has shown me the lie in this, the boundaries, the loneliness, the stress. I am trammeled once more, and furthered burdened by the knowledge that in this "lockdown," my mother has finally lost her mind. Nothing like a tome to take this away.
Next up: CATCH 22.