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But because he possesses his readings, Don Quixote possesses his identity: that of the knight errant, that of the ancient epic hero.'' Don Quixote'' tells us that being modern is not a question of sacrificing the past in favor of the new but of maintaining, comparing and remembering values we have created, making them modern so as not to lose the value of the modern.This is our challenge as contemporary individuals and, indeed, as present-day writers.While visiting the rare-book collection at the University of Virginia in the late 1970's, Carlos Fuentes happened on a 1755 edition of Miguel de Cervantes' '' Don Quixote'' translated by Tobias Smollett. Fuentes had not known the translation existed and was intrigued.
For if '' Don Quixote,'' by its very nature, does not define the modern world but only an aspect of it, it does, I believe, at least define the central problems of the modern novel.
I remember discussing the matter over luncheon one cold day in 1975 with Andre Malraux: he chose Mme.
If it is a work of the Renaissance, it also maintains a lively medieval carnival of games, puns and references not far from the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin's definition of festive humor in the novel, breaking down the frontiers between actors and audience.
And, finally, if it opens for all the adventure of modern reading, it remains a book deeply immersed in the society and the history of Spain.
'' to the moment when Macbeth prepares to die, '' Why should I . '' All the world's a stage, and the words spoken from it are, indeed, full of sound and fury. '' All is possible,'' says Marsilio Ficino, the 15th-century Italian philosopher.
'' All is in doubt,'' says John Donne.
He makes evident a challenge that we consider peculiarly ours: how to accept the diversity and mutation of the world while retaining the mind's power for analogy and unity, so that this changing world shall not become meaningless. ,'' passing through the central questions of the play, '' Is this a dagger which I see before me?
Perhaps it is not fortuitous that '' Don Quixote,'' '' King Lear'' and '' Macbeth'' should all bear the same date of birth, 1605: two old fools and a young assassin appear simultaneously on the stage of the world to dramatize this transition of two ages of the world. Wilson Knight has observed, is a drama written with question marks, from the moment the Witches ask themselves, '' When shall we three meet again? '' and '' Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?
Yet I shall not travel the road of Quixote's modernity alone. the problem of appearance and reality.'' This all-encompassing fictitiousness in Cervantes is not at odds with Harry Levin's vision of its modernity: '' Don Quixote'' is seen by Levin as ''the prototype of all realistic novels,'' for it deals with ''the literary technique of systematic disillusionment.'' And its universality is not in contradiction to Alejo Carpentier's discovery in Cervantes of the imaginary dimension within the individual: Cervantes invents a new I, says the Cuban novelist, much as Malraux said of Mme. Wayne Booth's self-conscious narrator in '' Don Quixote''; Marthe Robert's conception of '' Don Quixote'' as a novel in search of itself; Robert Coover's vision of '' Don Quixote'' in a world divided between reality and illusion, sanity and madness, the erotic and the ludicrous, the visionary and the eschatological - all of these highly articulate and penetrating discussions on the modernity and relevance of Cervantes accompany me in my own search for '' Don Quixote.'' But it is, perhaps, Michel Foucault who has best described the displacement that occurs in the dynamic world of Cervantes: '' Don Quixote,'' writes Foucault in '' The Order of Things,'' is the sign of a modern divorce between words and things.
After all, as Lionel Trilling once wrote, '' All prose fiction is a variation of the theme of ' Don Quixote': . '' Don Quixote'' is desperately searching for a new coincidence, for a new similitude in a world where nothing seems to resemble what it once resembled.'' Don Quixote,'' it is true, bears all of the marks of what it leaves behind.