Ever since I read the book, I’ve sought the answer to what may be the most important question of civilization: how did Cervantes come to write it? In the interim, since I first read Don Quixote, men have traveled to the moon, my wife left me, my daughter produced two grand daughters and so much has happened that the world today could not be understood as a predictable consequence of the world I knew then and much less, the world of Miguel Cervantes or his alter egos, Sancho Panza and Don Quejano.
You are wondering why I place such importance on this seemingly arcane question. You are thinking that even if Cervantes had not invented the literary form we call, the novel, someone else would eventually have done so, which would by similar paths have led to the world we now know of cinema, YouTube videos and the deadly logic of propaganda. But even if someone else had been the ape that made the leap, although the name of the author would change, the question would remain. How did it happen? What insight did the author discover? In every culture throughout time, history must begin somewhere, a Moses fetches the tablets, an angel appears to Abraham, a Leda is seduced by a swan.
Illiteracy is, so far, a constant in human evolution. Perhaps, a greater proportion of the world’s population is able to read road signs, subtitles and vehicle code books today than ever before in history but at the same time, the evolution of the television melodrama, CGI and graphic presentation in all it’s sundry forms of packaging, promotion and electronic gadgets, has substantially reduced the proportion of those who appreciate literature, who know Leopold Bloom intimately or Emma Bovary, William Blake or Lady Ottoline Morrell. I fear this new form of functional illiteracy is making a difference. By functionally illiterate, I mean those who know the language but not the literature.
The seeds that became Rocky and His Friends as well as The Garden of the Finzi-Continis as well as Triumph of the Will, Holden Caulfield, Young Frankenstein, The Godfather, Matrix III, Kamikaze Girls and The Jerk have all fallen from a tree Cervantes planted. The discovery of the truth of this proposition is a treat I won’t deny you and so I leave it to you to examine the histories of the great libraries of the modern era in Alexandria, Constantinople and Toledo; to follow the evolution of print media following the implementation of Herr Gutenberg’s metal type and the Frankfort Book Fair and the material produced during the early history of commercial publication; and then to follow the path of literature that Cervantes invented in Book II, published in Brussels in 1615.
I have come upon the answer to this greatest question of our time and, as in the case of any significant discovery that changes the very foundation of civilization, while the answer may be easily proven in formula (like Einstein’s e = mc2), to be meaningful, the proposition must have an empirical proof (like nuclear fission).
I detest the product of authors and filmmakers who, lacking a story, build tension by anti-climax. Cervantes’ does not waste time or words on irrelevancies, poetic pretense, earnest sophism or nonsensical propositions. These tasks he assigns to Señors Quixote and Panza, as appropriate, for which faults the fictional contemporaries of the two characters rightly punished them or were punished themselves for their own ignorance. Cervantes assigned blame for authoring the first book of his novel to an Arab named, Cide Hamete Benengeli. He claimed, in false modesty to be a step-father to it’s creation, that Benengeli was the true and natural father of the history of Don Quixote, a copy of which Cervantes alleges he bought from a boy in Toledo market and had translated by a Morisco, e.g., a Jew, while the evidence suggests Cervantes de Saavedra was himself, Morisco.