Selecciona una palabra y presiona la tecla d para obtener su definición.


ArribaAbajo On Some Central Issues in Quixote Criticism: Society and the Sexual Body

Arthur Efron

In composing my short paper on the bearded waiting women, the lovely lethal female piratemen, and the rest of the sexual boundary shifts in Part II of the Quixote,65 I had a strategy in mind. My strategy was to bring before the reader some vivid and disturbing body images of Cervantes' creation, and, of course, to try to say something of their significance. Given my strategy, I thought that no one would be able to deny the importance of the body, that in fact there would be some who would want to do some serious thinking about it, even if some would want to offer a different interpretation. Did I succeed? There are points at which Cesáreo Bandera seems to accept my strategy. The most notable is his realization that what I am talking about is not «the concept of the body, but the real thing, my body for me, his body for him, her body for her, etc.». And when Dr. Bandera discovers that according to my reading of Cervantes, we can say that «Like a leech or a parasite, authority feeds on the body...», I am disposed to grant his grasp of what I basically mean. Yet aside from these and a few other snippets, my strategy seems to have failed with Bandera, as it well might with other readers. I say it has failed because much before the end of Bandera's disputation, the body has lost its prominence, even though that is a prominence that not I but


Cervantes gave it. Bandera disposes of the problem expertly, finding in his fourth paragraph that the solution «becomes obvious», and that there is «no basis whatsoever» to the opposition of natural body and unnatural society. There is not even any «relevance» to what I am talking about. Bandera suggests there is a simple explanation to the images of the body that I have focused upon in my paper, namely that they all might be seen as a «reflection of the collapse or mismanagement of social authority, since we see so many outlaws, and we also see so many people in authority, like the Duke and the Duchess, stepping below the dignity of their functions in a manner which is explicitly described as reprehensible». This provides «an obvious, reasonable» explanation.

The trouble with this solution is first of all that it relieves the discomfort before it is felt; the reader is being advised to forget the prominence of the vivid body images and look to the «obvious, reasonable» explanation, which is a «rather traditional» one. Thus Melisendra's sliced off nose, the two dead Spanish sailors, the many bandits hanging from trees, the lethal lady Claudia Gerónima, the bearded waiting women, and Sancho's repeatedly exposed, whipped (but not really) buttocks, require no lingering over, no receptivity, no disturbance, and no discussion. Bandera does not discuss them. They were the problem I wanted to have readers confront.

Bandera has reasons for this refusal, but even if these were good reasons they could never be good enough. Sancho's buttocks are there, in Cervantes' masterpiece. There can be no excuse for dodging them. The critical record shows that by and large, the buttocks of Sancho as well as all the other disturbing body images I have brought to attention, and the whole topic of the human body, have been evaded. Instead we have been given «reasonable» and sometimes purportedly «obvious» explanations for the gross, the grotesque, the irrational.

Bandera is too good a reader to really place much stock in his own counter-explanations, when these bump directly against the Quixote. Would the contribution of civilization toward increased longevity really be appropriate as a counter-argument? Bandera himself is content merely to insinuate that it must mean something, without trying to bring it to bear as an argument; surely it would be ridiculous to explain the whipping and Sancho's being loved by his master along those lines, and in any case, Bandera knows, from my   —173→   article, «The Problem of Don Quixote's Rage»,66 that it is not the mere survival of the body that I am talking about but of the body in adult sexual life. I doubt also that Bandera has much faith in the way that the Duke and Duchess are «explicitly described as reprehensible». All such description is the moral commentary either of Cide Hamete Benengeli, a narrator of no great perspicacity let alone reliability in these matters, or of some other character whose testimony would have to be evaluated critically and not accepted as «obvious».67 My objection to the «obvious» is directed toward better contact with Cervantes' novel. Can we, after the Galley Slave scene in I, 22, safely assume that it is the «mismanagement of social authority» that is at stake, or is it social authority itself, operating quite astutely, that sends the prisoners to their punishment for such dubious reasons as Don Quixote brings out in his questioning?68 I object to the «obvious» also from a basis in political argument: the recourse to the «obvious» explanation that it is only the «mismanagement of social authority» and not its essence, can be taken automatically, without limit. Usually it is, by someone or other who has something to defend. In Don Quixote and the Dulcineated World, (pp. 178-79) I gave the example of the New Laws of the Indies, developed because of the reformer, Bartolomé de las Casas. In Bandera's fashion, some maintain that these Laws, mandating justice to the Indians under Spanish Colonial rule, were the «authority», while the actual destruction of most of the Indian populace was merely the «mismanagement» of authority. I confess an ultimate lack of faith in the distinction, which is not to deny that on occasion it can be made to hold. Although Bandera declines to linger over Sancho's buttocks, or any of the other episodes I discussed, he does bring up one episode from Don Quixote itself. That is the story of the poet Grisóstomo (Chrysostom) in Part One. If we «read again Grisóstomo's desperate song just before he goes to hell», that is, before he commits suicide,   —174→   we will see that Cervantes is actually writing about people who only imagine that there is a threat «out there» in society; these people want only to convince the world and themselves that the threat is «out there», whereas Cervantes is showing that it is inherent in their own minds. I willingly grant that Grisóstomo's song is full of imagined persecution; the «cruelties» he ascribes to the beautiful Marcela plainly are not hers but his own projections. The episode, however, does not give the clear support to Bandera that he needs for his reliance on it in his dispute with me. Suppose that the episode shows not what the human imagination alone can build up by way of imagined persecution, but that it shows this only within the condition of someone already removed from all contact with the other sex. Lest this sound like too modern a way into Cervantes, let me quote the character Ambrosio, who tells us of the conditions in which Grisóstomo wrote his desperate song: «... I must tell you that when the unfortunate man wrote this song he had voluntarily banished himself from Marcela to see if absence would have its customary effect upon him. And as there is nothing that does not vex the absent lover...», he promptly imagined all sorts of horrible things about her.69 Grisóstomo thus does not fit the hypothetical case, suggested by Bandera, of someone who stays home and lives in moderation, tries to avoid any idealistic dangers of adventures in literature and society, and takes good care of his «bodily rhythms», particularly as these involve longing for contact with, or at least an impulse to be near, the loved one. If he did go near her, no doubt he would be mortified again to discover that she is no lover of his as far as she is concerned. But that is a more complicated matter than a man merely dealing with the forces of his own mind, because even as she rejects him, Marcela shows that she is a real woman and not one of his projections. His body would certainly feel the rejection at some level, however much he may try to deny the feeling by idealizing the woman.

Grisóstomo has placed himself in a state of sexual denial; he is repressing himself, as Bandera would surely point out. But whoever finds it worthwhile to take up the topic of sexual repression when it is self-initiated (here I will set aside the issue of where Grisóstomo got his idea of denial), is presupposing that there is such a thing as sexual repression, and that it is worth taking seriously in Don Quixote.


Bandera, however, writes the following: «If you are A. Efron,... you can write in your head a novel in which... worst of all, you will show, oh infinite outrage! that [a man] must deny his healthy sexual urges, by substituting some idealized disgustingly spiritual and dulcineated maiden, for the real, healthy, plump thing». The tone and implication here are unmistakable: Bandera is denying that sexual repression is an important part of the fictional society of the Quixote: it is only something I have written «in my head». He is also denying that the substitution of an idealized, bodiless or desexualized woman for a sexual, real woman, is a matter of importance. Indeed the very notion is ridiculed. To further suggest the unimportance of the issue Bandera introduces the absurd consideration of being «always totally healthy». Bandera also writes that it is «obvious» that social power and bodily power are «the same thing...». This formulation, too, denies that there is a significant transformation of sexuality and of the way the human body is lived, or might be lived, through a process of socialization. There has been no transformation if what we have at the end of the process is «the same thing» that we had at the beginning.

Extremely important and basic issues for Quixote criticism are at stake here. I am glad of the present opportunity to say something about them. Insofar as the issue is one of experiencing the Quixote, it will come down to this: we have a novel in which a huge emphasis is placed on the idealness of Dulcinea and of numerous other female figures, and where there is no corresponding ideal of the fully sexual woman, unidealized. Aldonza the peasant girl is not «the same thing» as Dulcinea, nor is there an effort on the part of the knight or of the other high-minded males to transform their Dulcineas into Aldonzas. The desired transformation is all in the other direction, that is, to make real women as ideal as possible, with a carefully controlled and minimized sexuality, and to live a man's life as if that ideal were either attainable or already attained. It is very hard work. To deny all this is to cripple the reader's mind, because it would extirpate most of the novel that the reader is trying to read. Yet if we follow Bandera's method, I am convinced that that is what we would have to do.

Insofar as the basic issue concerns the values and needs of civilization itself, we are dealing with immense assumptions that not only need to be made overt; they need to be connected with the evidence that makes them into working assumptions. Let me give an idea of what I mean by this. Someone claims that bodily power is the   —176→   same thing as social power, only looked at from the other, the social pole. But is it? When a child masturbates, and is forbidden to do so by his or her parent, the two powers are quite different. One does oppose the other, and self-regulated decision is in fact taken over by society's pre-decision. The masturbation taboo has had great impact, and it is a taboo that is now weakening in many societies. This weakening will make a real difference in bodily life; the results will not be just more of «the same thing».

Another example, if one is needed, is the current revival of birthing patterns that avoid the assaultive practices against the newborn which have become standard in many hospitals. I would take it as clear that «birth without violence» is a body/society interface that is not «the same thing» as birth with violence.

In his denials and in his treatment of these issues Bandera is much indebted to the social thought of René Girard, whose reading of the Quixote I have criticized in my book (pp. 148, 173, 177-78). Elsewhere I have written that Girard's assumptions require an inborn dualism in which the mind is inherently disposed to make human beings aim for gratifications that can only be achieved through acts of violence against the human body. For Girard, violence is inherently linked with the sacred as a necessity of cultural organization.70 This would make any discussion of the bodily «costs» of social order almost beside the point. Girard, however, is not unquestionable. As I noted in my article, my own assumptions about the body lean heavily on the social thought of Wilhelm Reich. Reich found significance in the example of the «youth house». Some societies have found it feasible to foster a degree of sexual freedom among youth that is incompatible with the standard justifications for sexual repression, such as this by Girard: «Sexuality leads to quarrels, jealous rages, mortal combats. It is a permanent source of disorder even within the most harmonious societies».71 If that is so, then a society with a youth-house, such as the Trobriand Islanders had, should have been unlivable. Trobriand adolescents were sent to live co-educationally in small houses, about four to a house, without adult supervision, for several years. But as   —177→   Reich argued in The Invasion of Compulsory Sex-Morality, expectations on our part that this would lead to an especially ferocious society proved totally false. In fact the opposite was the case.

Bandera attributes assumptions about society and civilization to me that are not mine. The confusions are not uncommon ones in Quixote criticism. I am said to believe that «the authority» evoked and criticized in the Quixote «is whole and powerful, sure of itself, unquestioning and unquestionable». «Social authority always proves stronger...» than the claims of the human body. Bandera does not mean to suggest that Spanish royal authority was in danger of collapse at the time of the Quixote; we may suppose, for example, that the banishment of the Moors will remain in force, even if Madrid is going to be asked to entertain a plea for the readmission of Anna Ricote. On the other hand, Bandera is right to suggest that Spanish authority was not totally secure or omnipresent. I did not say that it was.

Bandera apparently has forgotten large portions of my book on the Quixote: my supposition that perhaps Basilio cleverly eluded the pressures of society to give up his beloved Quiteria to the mores of upper-class marriage, my argument that Sancho never allows society to take from him completely his sense of his body for him, nor does he allow it to squelch his critical voice that speaks against all such efforts. Cervantes' novel itself is a «joyous imaginative act of liberation», addressed to the individual reader, as I put it in the last sentence of my book.72 I have implied, I would have thought, that the society of the Quixote is not really sure of itself: hence, its continual and nervous efforts to insure conformity among all the inhabitants, and the considerable resistance some of then show in conforming (Fernando, for example, in Part I).

Similarly, Bandera believes that I would draw a picture of civilization making a victim of the human body, «throughout history». I would remind him, first of all, that he heard me deliver a paper entitled «A New Homage to Catalonia», in which I praised the social organizations, including that of the affinity group, invented by the Spanish anarchists.73 There are some areas of history, in other words,   —178→   where the powers of authoritarian civilization have not been supreme. In In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization, Stanley Diamond draws attention to the existence, until recently, of Igbo society, in which some four million people were organized socially without benefit of central authority.74 Apparently Bandera's assumption is that because I oppose authoritarian organization I therefore oppose «organization» itself. The «Epilogue» to Don Quixote and the Dulcineated World (p. 141) refers explicitly to a need, conveyed by Cervantes' novel, «to organize life in a radically different way». I admit that there is much in my position that is problematical, but I must insist that the possibility of non-authoritarian social organization be considered. I find that Bandera's way of arguing forecloses this possibility altogether, preventing it from reaching consciousness. I cannot regard that as a contribution to the serious consideration of the Quixote and to the major issues of civilization that are inherent in it.

Bandera also ascribes to me the assumption that the threats of civilization to the natural sexual body are completely external, whereas, as he reminds us, there is such a thing as violent fantasy within the human mind itself. I do not deny the existence of sadomasochistic fantasy. In «The Problem of Don Quixote's Rage», I state, in fact, that while Quixote sees in the giants (to us, windmills), huge amorphous dangerous bodies that he believes his God (his culture) would like to have wiped out, these giants are also rooted «invitingly» within «the deep fantasy» of his own emotional life (p. 37). This in no way invalidates the conflict between society and the body that I have described. To locate the fantasies within the self as well as within culture is necessary for any psychology that would hope to deal with the experience of the Quixote. As Reich put it, society «anchors» its repressive ideas in both body and mind, but as he also argued, interestingly, the sheer existence of a destructive fantasy is no evidence that it is a central motivating force. The much-ridiculed «healthy   —179→   rhythms» of the body, including its sexuality, Reich theorized, could function to prevent sadomasochistic fantasy from becoming central to the person. Reich aside, these fantasies can be loaded up with our major energies, or they can be de-energized to the point of remaining dormant. Civilization largely works toward the former.

Finally, the boring part. Bandera characterizes me throughout his paper as unaware of any view but my own, and charges that my argument is self-confirming because of this. Partly this accusation is due to my failure, as he sees it, to explain the origin of authoritarian social organization, or as Reich put it, the origin of the «armoring», in body and emotion, by human beings, against themselves. But there is no greater duty incumbent upon me to explain that origin than there is on Bandera. I hope I have said enough to discredit his implied explanation, in the manner of Girard, that it was sheer necessity combined with ultimate benefit to life, that did it.

There is no reason in any case why Cervantes cannot raise the question of the costs of civilized living to those who live it, without offering an explanation of origins. Here again, in this question of «origins», I maintain that Bandera has obscured what might otherwise have been heard. There is, however, another reason for Bandera's accusation that I am being dogmatic: I do not «bother» to explain why my way of handling the body imagery in the Quixote is superior to the traditional ways or to any other ways. To Bandera, I seem merely to gather evidence to fit preconception, without confronting alternative views. He complains that he can find no «clue» in my paper as to why society cannot accept the body. For anyone interested in what I have to say, however, Bandera's accusations on this score are seriously misleading. Let us take first the alleged absence of a single clue about why the human body is rejected. In the very paragraph from which Bandera lifts the objectionable overall statement, in the six sentences that immediately precede this offending statement, I discuss the notion of a «jirón», or wonderful vein, that is supposed to be stored within Dulcinea's body (interestingly, she does have a body, here): the «jirón» will produce fortune and lineage comparable with the highest. The «clue», if I may be obvious, is that society cannot admit that the body is unrelated to class or lineage or fortune; it is finally a natural entity (despite its potential for symbolic meanings) that contradicts these notions of social hierarchy. To admit that would be to admit more than hierarchy can afford. It would be like admitting that the 600,000 millionaires in the U.S. today are not really superior to   —180→   anyone else. And if they are not superior, how is it that they are entitled to all that money?

This clue, to be sure, is not an expression of all that I meant in the «tentative conclusion» (Bandera forgets this qualifier). There is no need to take my paper on «Bearded Waiting Women...» as a complete work in itself. It was an M.L.A. paper scheduled for 20 minutes, offering an exposition of a view of the body in the Quixote that has been obscured up to now. As such it cannot be consulted for treatment of alternative interpretations. However, my book as well as later articles on the Quixote adhere to a policy of confronting the alternatives in detail. I spend many pages on this in Don Quixote and the Dulcineated World, after announcing (p. 21) that it is my intention to do so. In the course of practicing those fine old civilized values of moderation and organization, Bandera might have noticed my practice, instead of making me into his «theoretical subject» who suffers from a great personal defect. Cesáreo Bandera's strategy was to try to deflect discussion to this «subject». I am sure he did this for sincerely held reasons. But such strategy can lead to little more than an «in» joke. I continue to think that Cervantes criticism needs and deserves a much better level of relationship.