There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless. A philosophical doctrine begins as a plausible description of the universe; with the passage of the years it becomes a mere chapter–if not a paragraph or a name–in the history of philosophy. In literature, this eventual caducity is even more notorious. The Quixote–Menard told me–was, above all, an entertaining book; now it is the occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical insolence and obscene de luxe editions. Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst.
The story was in my mind yesterday as I was going over page proofs for mine (and Robert Leston’s) forthcoming book, Beyond the Blogosphere: Information and Its Children, where I use the story to illustrate a point. Naturally, then, I thought of it this morning when, in The New York Times, I read William Egginton’s piece “‘Quixote,’ Colbert and the Reality of Fiction.”
Who says serendipity is dead?
Anyhow, Egginton takes issue with Alex Rosenberg’s contention that literary theory, like fiction (in his view) is merely entertainment, nothing more than fun.
Personally, I don’t believe that fun excludes import or intellect–but that’s another topic. Let me just say, in regard to that, that entertainment is one of the best entranceways to knowledge… probably the best, when coupled with a little guidance.
But, as I said, that’s another topic. What interested me in Egginton’s piece was his depiction of Don Quixote. He quotes, approvingly, Harold Bloom from his introduction to Edith Grossman’s translation of the Cervantes work, that it “contains within itself all the novels that have followed in its sublime wake.” If that were not enough, Egginton then claims, “What he passed down to those who would write in his wake… was not merely a new genre but an implicit worldview that would infiltrate every aspect of social life: fiction.”
Personally, I am not sure who Egginton is talking about, Cervantes or Menard. The book published in the early 17th century, or the book Egginton reads (and writes, as he filters it through his own mind).