Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 38

University of Toronto Press

Chapter Title: Cervantes and lo real maravilloso

Book Title: Transnational Cervantes

Published by: University of Toronto Press . (2006)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt6wrfqx.6

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

University of Toronto Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Transnational Cervantes.


This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
2 Cervantes and lo real maravilloso

... dice el mismo Alejandro de otro monstruo marino, el cual le certificó un

Diaconeto Bonifacio Napolitano, hombre de muy grande autoridad, haber visto
en España ... que tenía el gesto como hombre algo viejo, la barba y el cabello
crespo y respeluzado, el color casi azul, todos los miembros eran de hombre,
aunque era de muy mayor estatura; solamente se diferenciaba en tener unas
pequeñas alas, con que parecía hendir el agua cuando nadaba.
[... that same Alexander tells of another sea monster, which a certain Diaconeto
Bonifacio Napolitano, a man of great authority, affirms he saw in Spain. He
looked like an old man, with thinning curly hair and beard, and nearly blue skin;
his members were all human, but exceptionally large; he only differed in having
small wings, with which he apparently cut through the waves as he swam.]
Antonio de Torquemada, Jardín de flores curiosas (1570)

... Pelayo corrió en busca de Elisenda, su mujer ... y la llevó hasta el fondo del
patio. Ambos observaron el cuerpo caído con un callado estupor. Estaba vestido
como un trapero. Le quedaban apenas unas hilachas descoloridas en el cráneo
pelado y muy pocos dientes en la boca, y su lastimosa condición de bisabuelo
ensopado lo había desprovisto de toda grandeza. Sus alas de gallinazo grande,
sucias y medio desplumadas, estaban encalladas para siempre en el lodozal.
[Pelayo ran to get Elisenda, his wife ... and he took her to the rear of the
courtyard. They both looked at the fallen body with mute stupor. He was dressed
like a rag picker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very
few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather
had taken away any sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard
wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud.]
Gabriel García Márquez, ‘Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes’ (1972)1

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 45

The juxtaposition above highlights the similarities between early mod-

ern Spanish and postcolonial Latin American efforts to bring the marvel-
lous into contact with the everyday. This chapter is about the Baroque
taste for admiratio and Cervantes’ persistent exploration of its relation to
the world he and his readers shared. This topic necessitates returning to
such familiar issues as the role of neo-Aristotelian precepts in Cervantes’
poetics, especially the ‘legitimacy’ of certain departures from verisimili-
tude, and the place of the romance genre in his fiction. I doubt that it is
possible to provide a more nuanced account of these questions than
Alban K. Forcione’s in Cervantes, Aristotle, and the ‘Persiles.’ I wish instead
to recontextualize within the sphere of cultural politics a topic that up to
now has been dealt with exclusively in terms of a depoliticized history of
aesthetic ideas. My goal is not to demonstrate that Cervantes was a
magical realist avant la lettre, for such a thesis would be untenably anach-
ronistic. Nonetheless, I will try to show that there is a certain common
ground between Cervantine fiction and magical realism, and that the
basis for that common ground is their shared confrontation with
coloniality of power.2

Carpentier, Forcione, and the ‘Persiles’

In his influential prologue to El reino de este mundo (1949), where he first

presented his idea of lo real maravilloso, Carpentier used the presence of
the marvellous in Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda to exemplify the
concept. For Carpentier, the crucial feature distinguishing marvellous
realism from European fantastic literature generally and Surrealism in
particular is the presence in the author’s own social world of a belief
system according to which the marvellous events that take place in the
fiction could really happen:

To begin with, the phenomenon of the marvelous presupposes faith. Those

who do not believe in saints cannot cure themselves with the miracles of
saints, nor can those who are not Quixotes enter, body, soul, and posses-
sions, into the world of Amadis of Gaul or Tirant le Blanc. Certain phrases
of Rutilio about men transformed into wolves from The Trials of Persiles and
Sigismunda turn out to be prodigiously trustworthy because in Cervantes’
time, it was believed that people could suffer from lupine mania. Another
example is the trip a character makes from Tuscany to Norway on a witch’s
blanket. Marco Polo allowed that certain birds flew while carrying elephants

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
46 Decolonizing Cervantes

in their claws. Even Luther saw a demon face to face and threw an inkwell at
its head. (86)

In Europe such beliefs have gradually declined; as a result, attempts, for

example by the Surrealists, to provoke the effect of the marvellous have
become sterile and mechanical. ‘The problem here is that many of them
disguise themselves cheaply as magicians, forgetting that the marvelous
begins to be unmistakably marvelous when it arises from an unexpected
alteration of reality (the miracle)’ (85–6, emphasis added). For this
alteration of reality to be unexpected, it must seem not to have been
simply contrived by the author. According to the logic of Carpentier’s
theory, this can only be avoided if there is a simultaneous presence
within the author’s society of contradictory worldviews. In Latin America
this condition is met, since ‘we have not yet begun to establish an
inventory of our cosmogonies’ (87). Toward the end of the essay,
Carpentier explains further why America is the continent of lo real
maravilloso: ‘Because of the virginity of the land, our upbringing, our
ontology, the Faustian presence of the Indian and the black man, the
revelation constituted by its recent discovery, its fecund racial mixing
[mestizaje], America is far from using up its wealth of mythologies’ (88).
As we have seen however, despite his rejection of European models,
Carpentier claims Cervantes as a predecessor, and justifies the claim by
the historical argument that early modern Europeans had not yet lost
their faith in marvellous occurrences.
In 1949, when Carpentier first published this reading of Persiles y
Sigismunda, the current resurgence of interest in Cervantes’ posthumous
romance was not yet underway. True, Casalduero’s book on Persiles and
Atkinson’s two essays exploring the role of El Pinciano in the poetics
underlying Cervantes’ late work were already available. But it would only
be as a result of Riley’s Cervantes’ Theory of the Novel and Forcione’s
Cervantes, Aristotle, and the ‘Persiles’ that the neo-Aristotelian theory of the
‘legitimate marvellous’ would be definitively established as the appropri-
ate background against which to interpret the inverisimilar events in
Cervantes’ final work. One way to read Carpentier’s comments on Persiles,
then, is as an anticipation of these later critical developments by a fellow
writer who intuitively grasped what Cervantes was doing, though he
lacked the erudition to account for it in historical terms.
Essentially, this is how Frederick de Armas approaches the intertextuality
Carpentier-Cervantes in his well researched and subtly argued study
‘Metamorphosis as Revolt.’ De Armas congratulates Carpentier on his

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 47

prescience: ‘The prólogo to El reino de este mundo evinces an understanding

of the complexities of Cervantes’ Persiles y Sigismunda long before these
were seriously considered by critics’ (315). But this compliment also
establishes an exact equivalence between Carpentier’s reading and those
by Cervantists, effacing any specifically Latin American contribution.
Further, de Armas sees Carpentier’s own practice in El reino de este mundo
as the direct application of what he learned from Persiles; he thereby
assimilates Carpentier to the European literary tradition: ‘Carpentier ...
cannot be fully understood in the American context. His profound
knowledge of Spanish Golden Age literature permeates his fiction’ (315).
Crucial to de Armas’s argument is his claim that both Cervantes and
Carpentier follow Tasso’s advice, in Discorsi del poema eroico, to set marvel-
lous events in distant, exotic lands to assist in the suspension of disbelief.
By vicariously adopting the perspective of the cultural other, we can
indulge in the aesthetic enjoyment of fantastic stories, returning to our
more rational, European worldview when we have completed the read-
ing. This recasts Carpentier and his readers as ‘Western Europeans’ for
whom ‘Haiti is just such a distant and exotic land’ (310), failing (or
refusing) to grasp that Carpentier’s project is precisely to forge a pan-
Caribbean identity in which the European would be seen as a foreign
element. Similarly, de Armas sees Cervantes projecting the marvellous
events of Persiles y Sigismunda to the exoticized northern periphery of
Europe, while maintaining a stricter standard of verisimilitude for the
southern regions with which the reader would be more familiar. Yet
Persiles, too, presses for an increasing interpenetration of the elevated
worlds of romance and the realm of everyday experience. Cervantes, like
Carpentier, appears to aim at a broader definition of Spanish identity in
a transnational context.3
Without being entirely false, then, de Armas’s view is certainly
Eurocentric, indeed unabashedly so. In this chapter, I will attempt the
opposite. Instead of assimilating Carpentier’s practice to Renaissance
literary theory, I will try to read Cervantes from the perspective of Latin
American marvellous realism. Before I proceed with my own argument,
though, some historical background is called for concerning the aes-
thetic category of the legitimate marvellous and how critics have de-
scribed Cervantes’ use of it.
Long before Don Quixote, there was an awareness in European letters
of the seductive power fantastic events (such as those that fill the pages
of chivalric romances) exercised over the imaginations of readers. This
awareness was expressed both in anxiety over the lack of truth-value of

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
48 Decolonizing Cervantes

such fictions, and in a desire to exploit the enjoyment readers derived

from them. A watershed in this issue is the debate over Ariosto’s Orlando
Furioso, which culminates in Tasso’s codification of a system of rules for
poetic composition that could reconcile verisimilitude, religious ortho-
doxy, and marvellous subject matter. The Spanish theorist who most
powerfully articulated similar neo-Aristotelian views was López Pinciano,
with whose 1596 treatise Philosophia antigua poética Cervantes was un-
doubtedly familiar. Indeed, it is widely accepted that it was López
Pinciano’s praise for the Aethiopica that inspired Cervantes to ‘compete
with Heliodorus’ by writing Persiles y Sigismunda in imitation of the
Byzantine romance.4
The precepts for legitimating the marvellous are designed to distance
it from ordinary experience. This amounts to a quarantining of the
products of the imagination, cordoning them off to prevent their con-
taminating the discourses of truth. Thus Luiz Costa Lima has argued
that Italian neo-Aristotelian poetic theory, which presents itself as a
defence of poetry, is in fact an attack on the power of the imagination,
intended to guarantee the epistemological superiority of reason, thereby
constituted as the sole discourse of truth. In Costa Lima’s reading, this
serves the function of guaranteeing that the modern individual will be
subject to the discipline of reason, and the ‘unruly’ imagination will not
be given free rein.
It was Alban K. Forcione who irrefutably demonstrated that Cervantes
both understood and applied the principles of this theory, and at the
same time refused to allow his novelistic practice to be constrained by
them. Forcione showed that while Cervantes exhibits his knowledge of
the Aristotelian principles of verisimilitude and unity, he also under-
stands that it is not these rules that give literature its power. That power,
which may be sharpened or directed by theoretical principles, has its
source in the human imagination. It follows that the freedom of the
artist cannot be absolutely subject to such rules, if works of art are to
move their audiences profoundly. As Forcione amply demonstrates,
even in Persiles y Sigismunda, where Cervantes seems to have had Tasso
very much in mind as he wrote, he openly flouts the rules, thereby
focusing attention on the untamed element of pure fantasy within fic-
tion, which is actually its greatest charm. Forcione’s brilliant reading of
the dialogue between the Canon of Toledo and Don Quixote (chapter 3
of Cervantes, Aristotle, and the ‘Persiles’ ) detected the presence of this
tension there as well, demonstrating, in a sense for the first time, that
Persiles belonged to the same body of work as its author’s undisputed
masterpiece. All who work on Persiles today owe Forcione a great debt,

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 49

for he can literally be said to have established a place for it within the
Cervantine canon.5
Cervantes, Aristotle, and the ‘Persiles’ thus demonstrated that the appar-
ent orthodoxy of Persiles y Sigismunda with respect to literary form is both
exceeded and contained by a larger ironic assertion of the freedom of
the artist which cannot itself be contained.6 Forcione’s next book, how-
ever, Cervantes’ Christian Romance, presented the work as entirely ortho-
dox from a religious point of view. I argue in chapter 3 below that this
apparent orthodoxy is also exceeded by a fuller sense of human spiritual-
ity, irreducible to a doctrinal message, which refocuses the meaning of
Christianity on the source of its efficacy, local communities and their
practices. Everywhere in Persiles y Sigismunda we see control over religious
faith taken out of the hands of the clergy and restored to individuals and
groups of believers, who integrate its value into their very worldly lives.
To overcome the contradiction between Cervantes’ daring literary
experimentation and his supposed religious orthodoxy, we must grasp
the common grounding of poetics and religious doctrines in the cultural
embodiment of power. As stated above, the remainder of this chapter
attempts to construct an alternative context for Cervantes’ concern with
artistic freedom, in relation to internal colonialism and its consequences.
Drawing on Carpentier’s model of marvellous realism as a superimposi-
tion of at least two worldviews, I will focus on moments of ontological
ambiguity, generic hybridity, and transculturation. By ontological ambi-
guity, I mean an instance in which the marvellous is presented in such a
way that the reader can neither ‘believe’ nor ‘disbelieve’ it; it is left,
rather, indeterminate, suspended. The mixing of genres includes vari-
ous combinations of elevated romance with satire or parody. Transcultural
elements come from two main areas: the Islamic heritage of Spain, and
the Celtic or ‘Pagan’ roots of both chivalric romance and European
witchcraft. Within this context, as I will try to show, Cervantes’ use of the
marvellous becomes a marker of resistance to the church’s monopoly
over the supernatural – which is as much as to say, over what can be
represented as real.
First, however, we will take a brief detour through the cultural history
of a crucial distinction: the marvellous versus the miraculous.

The Marvellous as a Contested Site in European Culture

Is there any greater joy than seeing, before our very eyes, you might say, a great
lake of boiling pitch, and in it, swimming and writhing about, there are many
snakes, serpents, lizards, and many other kinds of fierce and fearsome creatures,

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
50 Decolonizing Cervantes

and from the middle of the lake there comes an extremely sad voice, saying:
‘Thou, O knight, whosoever thou mayest be, who looketh upon this fearful lake,
if thou wishest to grasp the treasure hidden beneath these ebon waters, display
the valor of thy mighty heart and throw thyself into the midst of its black and
burning liquid, for if thou wilt not, thou canst not be worthy of gazing upon the
wondrous marvels contained and enclosed within the seven castles of the seven
enchantresses which lieth beneath this blackness?’ Don Quixote I.50, 428

[¿Hay mayor contento que ver, como si dijésemos, aquí y ahora se muestra
delante de nosotros un gran lago de pez hirviendo a borbollones, y que andan
nadando y cruzando por él muchas serpientes, culebras y lagartos, y otros mu-
chos géneros de animales feroces y espantables, y que del medio del lago sale una
voz tristísima que dice: – Tú, caballero, quienquiera que seas, que el temeroso
lago estás mirando, si quieres alcanzar el bien que debajo destas negras aguas se
encubre, muestra el valor de tu fuerte pecho y arrójate en mitad de su negro y
encendido licor; porque si así no lo haces, no serás digno de ver las altas
maravillas que en sí encierran y contienen los siete castillos de las siete fadas que
debajo desta negregura yacen?] (Don Quijote I.50, 584)

As the quote above indicates, the marvellous as Don Quixote under-

stood it entails an element of risk, of hurling oneself into danger, to
emerge on the other side of a limit that remains undisturbed in ordinary
life. As we saw in the preceding section, Cervantes treated ironically the
sixteenth-century project of controlling this transgressive dimension
of the marvellous through precepts designed to ‘legitimate’ it. In the
following pages, we will look beyond Renaissance poetics, and consider
the struggle for control over the aesthetics of admiratio in a context that
is more than purely literary.
The true point of departure for any discussion of admiratio in modern
European culture is the medieval theological distinction between the
marvellous and the miraculous. The church’s control over the powerful
emotions evoked by the supernatural depended on a hermeneutic of the
miraculous. As long as a theological framework unambiguously con-
tained and domesticated it, admiratio could be effectively harnessed in
support of the authority and power of religious institutions. As signs of
the holy, the mysterious and inexplicable would move believers’ hearts.
But the emotions of fear and awe are volatile; the marvellous, experi-
enced as pure fascination, or even as doubt about what is and is not
possible in the material world, creates an opening in the ontology of
church doctrine, through which the imaginations of believers could be

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 51

drawn. When the marvellous remained intractable to theological expla-

nation, it threatened the onto-epistemological exclusivity of Christianity.
Thus for Jacques Le Goff, the marvellous, having pre-Christian roots
and persisting throughout the Middle Ages, ‘was one form of resistance
to the official ideology of Christianity’ (32). Though initially repressed
by the church, it was partially legitimated through the orthodox category
of the miraculous. The high point of this effort by theologians to explain
the marvellous by reference to the unifying principle of God’s will came
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In terms strikingly similar to
Carpentier’s criticisms of post-Romantic attempts to recreate the fantas-
tic, Le Goff complains of the predictability that results:

The miracle depends only on the will of God, in which respect it may be
distinguished from natural events, which are of course also willed by God
but are determined once and for all by the regularity that God has built into
his creation. Nevertheless, the miracle is also subject to God’s plan and to
regularity of a certain kind. Many miracles are obtained through the inter-
cession of saints, for example. Despite changes in the nature and sources of
hagiography, I think it is possible to detect a growing lassitude in medieval
man’s attitudes toward the saints: the moment a saint appears, one knows
what he is going to do. Given the situation, there is no doubt that he will
multiply loaves or raise the dead or exorcise a demon. There is no surprise
about what will come to pass. In other words, at some point hagiography
ceased to partake of the tradition of the marvelous. (31)

Explicitly denying that it can be reduced to Todorov’s category of the

fantastic, Le Goff suggests that a distinctive feature of the marvellous is
that it is produced by a plurality of forces or organizing principles at
work in the world (30). By suggesting that it comes from God, the
miraculous explains away the marvellous, just as surely as do the laws of
nature. In the case of the fantastic, the supernatural occurrence repre-
sents only a hole in the fabric of the scientifico-rational worldview – it
does not come from an elsewhere that would represent an alternative to
that worldview. As will be discussed further below, unlike the fantastic in
Todorov’s account, the medieval marvellous thus shares with Carpentier’s
real maravilloso the co-presence of more than one explanatory model.
This is an important point, to which I will return.
Research by medieval historians shows the domestication of the mar-
vellous at work in the slow gestation of a characteristically modern form
of rational subjectivity. In Metamorphosis and Identity, Caroline Walker

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
52 Decolonizing Cervantes

Bynum examines theological and learned discourse concerning marvels

in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. She finds evidence of
an increasing fascination with the strange, which she attributes to a
desire to contain it as a threat to stability, ‘an obsession,’ as she puts it,
‘with accounting for change’ (110). ‘The enthusiasm for wonders was
less an impulse to collect the odd than an effort to organize things into
the more or less explicable’ (ibid.). While Christian doctrine demanded
acceptance of irreducible transformations and the mixing of contrary
natures, especially in the mystery of the Incarnation and the daily miracle
of the Eucharist, in other areas there was ‘a profound resistance to
metamorphosis and metempsychosis’ (86). Thus in Gerald of Wales’s
Topographia Hibernica, those who suffer from lycanthropy do not really
change their natures, but merely put on an outer wolf-covering that
disguises them temporarily. Bynum’s findings reinforce Le Goff’s claim
that the clergy sought to explain away any manifestation of the marvel-
lous that could not be reduced to the miraculous. Nothing could be
allowed to disrupt the church’s monopoly on the supernatural. Yet she
also shows that the subject’s ambivalent feelings of fascination and
anxiety when faced with the unexplained were being harnessed in the
service of that monopoly.
According to Benedicta Ward in her seminal study of medieval miracle
collections, this period also saw a significant change in the use of miracle
stories in the biographies of saints. Whereas the primary motivation for
the collection of miracle stories had previously been the prestige gained
for a specific shrine by means of astonishing and wondrous tales, Ward
credits Bernard of Clairvaux with introducing what she terms a ‘didactic
approach’ to miracles, ‘which saw wonders as subservient to virtue’
(175–6). A layer of explanation was thereby added, a buffer between the
portent and the gaping spectator. God’s purpose in permitting certain
individuals to perform miracles was to provide a sign not only of his
power but also of their sanctity, a seal of approval for their virtuous lives.
Around 1200, centralized control of the canonization process was insti-
tuted, vesting the papacy with the final authority it still retains to recog-
nize sainthood. Admission to sainthood was based on an appropriate
combination of miracles and a virtuous life. A regularized bureaucratic
procedure was soon codified. ‘This precision about the place of miracles
and the kind of miracles in the life and after the death of a saint marks a
new stage in the use of miracles for the official recognition of sanctity’
(Ward 191).
It is possible, then, to piece together a process of domestication of the

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 53

marvellous in European culture beginning in the twelfth century; this

process culminates in the Baroque, as we shall see. It is part of the vast
cultural transformation Herbert Frey calls ‘the Europeanization of
Europe,’ through which the rational and individuated subject was
shaped. This transformation involved both the creation of the isolated
individual and the consolidation of transnational bureaucracies. An
important example of this confluence is the institution of annual
private confession in all Catholic lands. Through such measures, ac-
cording to Frey, the values of Christianity were gradually internalized.
Eventually the Europeanization of Europe gave way to the process we
call modernization, whereby, as Foucault argued in such works as
Discipline and Punish and volume 1 of The History of Sexuality, power
penetrated ever deeper into the interiority of subjects taught to think
of themselves as autonomous.
The early modern period marks a new phase in the exploitation of the
marvellous for inculcating official doctrines and values. On the one
hand, the existing structures of the miraculous were beleaguered. Even
before the Diet of Worms in 1521, Christian Humanism had cast doubt
on the institutionalized forms of the miraculous that had grown up
around the cult of saints: relics, images, apparitions, miracle cures.
Luther’s denunciations went further than Erasmus’s gentle satire, under-
mining the church’s use of awesome ceremony and visual spectacle in
the production of faith and extraction of movable goods. Once the
Protestants denied the fundamental marvel of daily life for believers, the
Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, ecclesiastical authorities had to
develop a strategy. The Counter-Reformation would emphasize those
specific points of doctrine through impressive spectacles and festivals,
increasingly widespread by the end of the century. At the same time
however, fear of heresy led to tighter controls over any manifestations of
the supernatural that threatened to cross the line separating the ortho-
dox from the heterodox. William Christian’s book on apparitions traces
the trajectory of one such phenomenon, from a medieval environment
in which those who claimed to have witnessed apparitions were eagerly
supported as illustrious members of local communities, to a changed
atmosphere in the Renaissance, in which publicly claiming to have seen
an apparition had become dangerous.
Such control of popular religious practices is inseparable from a
parallel process in imaginative literature. We must keep in mind the
penetration of religion into every area of culture in our period. The
approval or disapproval of ecclesiastical authorities plays a crucial role,

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
54 Decolonizing Cervantes

both in active literary production and, especially after the mid-sixteenth

century, in terms of censorship. This placed severe limitations on the
autonomy of the literary field. Writers who flirted too openly with the
boundary between orthodox and heretical treatment of supernatural
themes risked incurring the wrath of the Inquisition.
Thus the relative positions of religious and recreational texts deserve
special attention. As Keith Whinnom pointed out in his influential
article on the ‘bestseller’ in the Golden Age, the most popular writer of
the day by far was Fray Luis de Granada, whose Libro de la oración went
through well over one hundred editions. The success of devotional
writings poses a serious challenge to our modern conception of secular
literature. A writer like Cervantes could not simply assume the exist-
ence of a ready-made audience for his libros de entretenimiento; rather, he
had to compete with the church for influence over the imaginations of
his readership, and the marvellous was too powerful a tool to simply
Baroque poetics succeeded in harnessing the marvellous through the
technique of suspensión, described by José Antonio Maravall (Culture of
the Baroque 215–20). As Maravall has shown, the Baroque is not so much
an unleashing of the imagination as a further deployment of its powers
in the service of political and religious orthodoxy. The point of suspensión
was to temporarily disrupt the subject’s ability to react or comprehend in
order to subsequently channel it all the more powerfully in a certain

Such is the meaning of this baroque technique: to employ the most diverse
means to suspend the mind, provoking, after a moment of provisional and
transitory arrest, a more efficacious release, impelled by the bursting forth
of what had been held back and concentrated. This liberating of pent-up
forces must always take place only after they have been situated before a
channel guiding them in a certain predetermined direction. (220)

The possibility exists, however, that the reader or spectator who has been
thus suspended might not follow in the direction that has been laid out,
or might even remain suspended indefinitely. The manipulative power
of the marvellous that suspends and then releases the pent-up energy of
the audience member depends on the active participation and therefore
to some extent on the consent of the subject. However, this consent is
not, or at least not normally, a conscious assent to all the ideological
consequences that result. Rather, it is simply a willingness to experience
the satisfying release of emotional tension. This is in contrast to Cervantes’

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 55

approach to the marvellous, since he often creates texts that provoke the
feeling of suspensión, but do not provide a clear channel in any definite
direction. The reader remains suspended, and in that state is able to
contemplate and reflect upon, as if from outside, mechanisms of
aesthetic response to which he or she is normally subjected. One of the
primary techniques Cervantes uses to achieve this effect is one I call the
‘ambivalent marvellous,’ in order to distinguish it from the ‘legitimate
marvellous.’ As we will see in the next section, it is closely linked to the
blending of romance with more realistic modes, the hallmark of
Cervantes’ mature style.

Ontological Ambiguity and Generic Hybridity in Cervantes

Cuéntase dellas que se convierten en lobos, así machos como hembras, porque
de entrambos géneros hay maléficos y encantadores. Cómo esto pueda ser, yo lo
ignoro y, como cristiano que soy católico, no lo creo; pero la experiencia me muestra
lo contrario.

[It’s said they turn themselves into wolves, males as well as females, for there are
sorcerers and enchanters of both sexes. How this can be, I don’t know, and as a
Catholic Christian I don’t believe it, but experience shows me just the opposite.]
Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda I.8, 189 (emphasis added)

The stories they tell about those old magicians who changed men into beasts only
amount, according to those who know most about it, to the fact that by their
great beauty and their charms they attracted men, made them fall deeply in love
with them, and kept them in subjection to such an extent that, by making them
do whatever they wanted, they seemed like beasts. But in you, my boy, experience
shows me the opposite; for I know you are a rational being and yet I see you in the
form of a dog ... Exemplary Stories 229 (emphasis added)

[Lo que se dice de aquellas antiguas magas, que convertían los hombres en
bestias, dicen los que más saben que no era otra cosa sino que ellas, con su
mucha hermosura y con sus halagos, atraían los hombres de manera a que las
quisiesen bien, y los sujetaban de suerte, sirviéndose dellos en todo cuanto
querían, que parecían bestias. Pero en ti, hijo mío, la experiencia me muestra lo
contrario: que sé que eres persona racional y te veo en semejanza de perro.]
(Novelas ejemplares II, 337; emphasis added)

From the twelfth century forward, secular literature incorporating magi-

cal elements forms a counterpoint to the project of either containing or

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
56 Decolonizing Cervantes

explaining away the marvellous. The primary shape this literature takes
is the romance genre, especially romances of chivalry, where wizards,
monsters, and sundry enchanted beings appear at every turn, in an
astonishing outpouring of fantasy. In Northrop Frye’s formula, ‘romance
is the structural core of all fiction,’ because it unites all fiction in ‘a
single, integrated vision of the world, parallel to the Christian and biblical
vision’ (15 emphasis added). Erich Köhler understands chivalric ro-
mance as a courtly literature in which the lesser nobility (the knightly
stratum) drew on the oral culture of the marvellous (Celtic tales) in an
attempt to oppose the hegemony of the monarchy and the clergy,
erecting an alternative culture to promote its own counter-hegemony
(15–61). Yet this alternative vision also has the metaphysics of Christian-
ity at its core. Thus Fredric Jameson can argue, in his influential essay
on romance, that ‘it would seem that this genre is dependent for its
emergence on the availability of a code of good and evil which is
formulated in a magical, rather than a purely ethical, sense’ (158). Even
while asserting the lesser nobility’s cultural autonomy vis-à-vis ecclesiasti-
cal authority, then, romance is founded on an unambiguous moral code,
and a stable set of values. The characters move in a world of marvellous
events whose meaning (Good vs. Evil) is identical to the miraculous
events in saints’ lives, and is equally clear. As in Bakhtin’s explanation of
the chronotope of chivalric romance, here too the extraordinary has
been reduced to the ordinary, the knight’s ‘native element.’ Paradoxi-
cally, ‘the normal condition of his world’ is ‘the miraculous “suddenly”’
(The Dialogic Imagination 152, emphasis added).
The basis for the chivalric theme in Cervantes’ masterpiece was the
sixteenth-century revival of the genre occasioned by the introduction of
the printing press in Spain. Once more, chivalric tales appealed to the
lesser nobility, though now it is the expression of a backward looking
nostalgia for lost power rather than an orientation toward the future.
Maxime Chevalier explains this in terms of the rise of Absolutism:

For them the Amadís craze was a literature of escape from the unpleasant
realities of their age ... The archaic character of the customs and society
represented in the chivalric romances was the principle of their success.
Passionately reading these heavy volumes, the gentlemen of Charles V’s and
Philip II’s time experienced feelings of nostalgia. Nostalgia, perhaps, for
the vanished knighthood that died with the waning of the Middle Ages.
But nostalgia as well, undoubtedly, for the bygone independence of the
nobility, which retreated further and further before the advance of royal
absolutism. (102)

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 57

As Anthony Cascardi has argued in Ideologies of History in the Spanish

Golden Age, profound changes taking place in the social structure, which
he characterizes in terms of a shift from caste to class, led to a sense that
the previously stable, fixed order of things, which provided the moral
foundation of the magical world of romance, had become uncertain.
What had been understood to be naturally given presented itself as
artificially constructed, and therefore subject to change. The stability of
the romance world gave way to a reconstructed, artificial order, that
covered over but could no longer fill the void of Baroque desengaño.
It was under these conditions that Cervantes reappropriated and
transformed the romance genre and the residual element of magical
narrative for which it was the vehicle, putting them to a new set of uses.
Certainly Don Quixote mocks the nobility’s anachronistic enthusiasm for a
courtly literature that had long before served the political interests of
their class, and still bore the traces of their former glory. Yet, as Ruth El
Saffar and her generation of North American Cervantists demonstrated
in the 1970s and 1980s, there is much more to the story of romance in
Cervantes than this.7 Romance permeates Cervantes’ texts. The list of
works in which scholars have found romance patterns would come close
to being a complete list of his fiction. At most, two of the Novelas
ejemplares – Rinconete y Cortadillo and El licenciado vidriera – might be left
out. Despite its dark realism, El coloquio de los perros, in Forcione’s multi-
layered, finely wrought reading, partakes of the initial movement of
romance, the descent into the underworld. Even its grotesque imagery
of corruption and decay bears a relation to romance: ‘The parodies of
the Colloquy point with a harsh denunciation to the failures of the
present, to the enormous distance that separates them from the
excellences which man normally associates with the formal perfections
of romance and celebrates in his sacred texts. In a sense the Colloquy, like
the anti-romantic genre with which it has obvious affinities, the picaresque
novel, actually preserves romance by assuming and utilizing the moral
power of its imaginative archetypes’ (Cervantes and the Mystery 57).8 Of
course, this critical discovery could be considered a result of the lens
itself with which the texts are studied, a case of archetypal criticism run
amuck. After all, did Frye not tell us that ‘romance is the structural core
of all fiction’ (15, emphasis added), the realist novel merely a ‘displace-
ment’ of romance? Presumably a clever critic looking for such patterns
could find them even in the bleakest naturalist novel. The romance
patterns in Cervantes, however, are not buried at the core of his stories,
or cloaked in displacements – they are there on the surface, in plain
sight, only treated ironically, inviting us, as the above quote by Forcione

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
58 Decolonizing Cervantes

suggests, to take the measure of the distance between our world and the
idealized world they represent to us. Yet when we try, we find it bafflingly
distant and at the same time tantalizingly close. And we are left, of
course, to reflect upon our own desire. This is one of the most character-
istic effects of Cervantes’ writing, which turns us all into Quixotes at one
time or another. Interpreting (and reinterpreting) this effect is one of
the primary tasks of Cervantes scholarship.
One of the specific ways Cervantes produces it is through what I
propose to call the ambivalent marvellous. This term embraces a range
of features found in numerous Cervantine texts, which I will briefly
exemplify, before going on to take a closer look at El coloquio de los perros.
The texts have in common the element of ontological ambiguity, that is,
a lack of clarity concerning exactly what it is that has happened, or how it
has happened. Is this a supernatural event or does it obey natural
causality? How can we tell? The ambiguity can be of a fairly trivial sort,
as in the love potion (hechizo) a Morisca hechicera prepares for Tomás
Rodaja, in El licenciado vidriera. The narrator, following post-Tridentine
doctrine, explicitly denies such potions can ‘force free will’ (128) (forzar
el libre albedrío [52]). Yet when Tomás recovers from the illness it
provokes, the hechizo has produced a most extraordinary effect:

He got better but remained possessed by the strangest madness anybody

had ever seen. The poor wretch imagined that he was all made of glass, and
under this delusion, when someone came up to him, he would scream out
in the most frightening manner, and using the most convincing arguments
would beg them not to come near him, or they would break him. (128)
[Quedó sano, y loco de la más extraña locura que entre las locuras hasta
entonces se había visto. Imaginóse el desdichado que era todo hecho de
vidrio, y con esta imaginación, cuando alguno se llegaba a él, daba terribles
voces pidiendo y suplicando con palabras y razones concertadas que no se le
acercasen, porque le quebrarían]. (53)

Is this the result of a magic potion or not? The question is undecidable,

but arguably immaterial, since the whole episode of the hechicera serves
as a mere pretext to set up the situation on which the story is based.
Rutilio’s tale presents a similar case in Persiles y Sigismunda. He tells of
flying through the air with a witch from Italy to Norway, and then
stabbing her after she transformed herself into a wolf and attacked him.
The discussion of whether such transformations are possible and the fact
that we have only Rutilio’s word as evidence cast doubt on the ‘veracity’

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 59

(within the fiction) of these supernatural events; on the other hand, no

other explanation is offered for how Rutilio arrived in Scandinavia, and
he is undeniably there when he tells his story. Once again, the supernatu-
ral element, having served its purpose as a pretext for bringing about a
certain narrative result, simply remains suspended, neither confirmed
nor denied. In these and the examples below, the ambivalent marvellous
has the effect of suspending us between two worlds. Sometimes the
movement goes from this world toward the elevated sphere of romance,
and sometimes it moves in the opposite direction; in either case, it is
arrested somewhere in the middle, before the resolution that Maravall
associates with the Baroque technique of suspensión can be completed.9
The running joke of the enchanters Don Quixote says pursue him is
initially presented as a mere delusion, though from the start we have at
least one character other than Don Quixote who believes in them, the
ama, who brings holy water and tells the priest: ‘Take this, Señor Licenti-
ate, and sprinkle this room, so that no enchanter, of the many in these
books, can put a spell on us as punishment for wanting to drive them off
the face of the earth’ (I.6, 45) (Tome, vuestra merced, señor licenciado;
rocíe este aposento, no esté aquí algún encantador de los muchos que
tienen estos libros, y nos encanten, en pena de las que les queremos dar
echándolos del mundo [109]). As the novel continues, however, the
‘fact’ that Don Quixote is pursued by malicious enchanters takes on a
life of its own. For one thing, they become a regular feature of the
imaginative landscape: so much is said about enchanters and enchant-
ment that the reader, though never called on to ‘believe’ in their
extraliterary existence, nevertheless becomes accustomed to hearing
about them. A second reason is that the other characters increasingly
play the role of enchanters, in such a way that Don Quixote’s belief in
them becomes somewhat less the direct consequence of his madness
and more the result of others’ manipulation of him. After all, the
debilitating effect Dulcinea’s enchantment has on him in Part Two is real
within the fiction – real enough to kill him. As Luis Murillo puts it in The
Golden Dial, ‘the “abduction” and enchantment of Dulcinea has become
a psychological fiction. And by this fiction, is not Dulcinea “abducted”
and held “enchanted” by time itself? That is, by time out-of-time, and out
of the reach of the knight’s effectualness?’ (149).
Then there is Cide Hamete Benengeli, the Moorish sage whose source
of knowledge about Don Quixote is never explained within the fiction.
The power of fiction to create worlds and penetrate into their most
secret corners is thematized as a quasi-supernatural phenomenon. Thus

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
60 Decolonizing Cervantes

at the beginning of Part Two the astonished Sancho tells Don Quixote
that their story has been printed:

‘... and he [Sansón Carrasco] says that in it they mention me, Sancho Panza,
by name, and my lady Dulcinea of Toboso, and other things that happened
when we were alone, so that I crossed myself in fear at how the historian who
wrote them could have known about them.’
‘I assure you Sancho,’ said Don Quixote, ‘that the author of our history
must be some wise enchanter, for nothing is hidden from them if they wish
to write about it’ (II.2, 472)
[... y dice que me mientan a mí en ella con mi mesmo nombre de Sancho
Panza, y a la señora Dulcinea del Toboso, con otras cosas que pasamos
nosotros a solas, que me hice cruces de espantado cómo las pudo saber el
historiador que las escribió.
– Yo te aseguro, Sancho – dijo Don Quijote – que debe de ser algún sabio
encantador el autor de nuestra historia; que a los tales no se les encubre
nada de lo que quieren escribir.] (II.2, 57)

Indeed, within their world, as it would be in ours, the narrator’s special

access to events no one has witnessed, and even to characters’ thoughts,
is a violation of the laws of what is possible and probable. This is the last
remnant of the marvellous that the nineteenth-century realist novel
cannot eliminate entirely, but only banish from the mimetic frame. Cide
Hamete Benengeli is a device whereby fiction itself, the human capacity
to create representations of nonexistent things, is thematized as marvel-
lous, even if the effect is a comic one.
Elsewhere we can begin to see more clearly the scandal the unencum-
bered use of this capacity can cause in a society where the marvellous is
directed toward the representation of transcendent but invisible things,
which the public is obligated by law to believe are real: saints, angels,
gods. A pervasive manifestation of the ambivalent marvellous in Cervantes
is its use to represent the quasi-transcendent, a charmed atmosphere
that predominates at certain moments, which the characters attribute to
divine intervention, while the reader understands it to be the author’s
doing. Certainly the most important example of all is the gathering of
four pairs of lovers in the inn (Don Quixote I.32–46), where coincidence
is piled on top of coincidence, and conflicts melt away as if by magic. The
‘magic’ in this case is fiction itself, but from within the narrative it is
experienced as divine Providence. Fernando tells his part of the story of
Luscinda’s abduction, ending with their arrival at the inn, ‘which for him

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 61

had been the same as coming to heaven, where all the misfortunes on
earth reach their conclusion and end’ (I.36, 321) (que para él era haber
llegado al cielo, donde se rematan y tienen fin todas las desventuras de la
tierra [I.36, 456]). In the following chapter, the arrival of Zoraida on a
donkey led by the Captive, who asks for shelter at an inn, a clear
figuration of the Nativity, reinforces the religious overtones of these
Periandro and Auristela (the false names by means of which Persiles
and Sigismunda hide their true identities throughout most of the work)
are often ambiguously portrayed as superior beings, their ‘marvellous
beauty’ serving as a marker of this condition. As I will explore further in
chapter 4 below, Persiles y Sigismunda is a work incorporating multiple
fictional worlds, and these characters are privileged in being able to
travel from one world to another. At times, when they enter a world,
their presence there has a recognizable transformative impact. The
clearest example is their arrival at the Fishermen’s Isle in Book Two,
chapter 10, just in time to prevent two unhappy marriages by switching
the couples in accordance with the wishes of the couples involved, rather
than those of their families and community. The initial greeting directed
to Auristela (‘Oh you – whoever you may be – must be something from
Heaven!’ 141 [¡Oh tú, quienquiera que seas, que no puedes ser sino cosa
del cielo! 343]) gives way to Carino’s confession to Periandro: ‘Because I
believe your arrival at this particular time and juncture was miraculous –
for you’ve delayed my wedding – I’m sure my misfortune will be set to
rights by means of your counsel’ (142) (Por tener milagrosa esta tu
llegada a tal sazón y coyuntura, que con ella has dilatado mis bodas,
tengo por cierto que mi mal ha de tener remedio ... [344]). The episode
culminates with Auristela’s changing the partners of the marriages in the
middle of the ceremony, declaring to those assembled: ‘This is what
Heaven wants’ (144) (Esto quiere el cielo [344]).
The most marvellous thing about the entire work, in fact, is the
presence, throughout most of Book Three, of these characters from the
elevated world of romance in the geographical space of seventeenth-
century Spanish readers’ quotidian experience. Persiles y Sigismunda is
Don Quixote inside out: instead of a madman stranded in La Mancha who
travels in his imagination to the magical lands of adventure, characters
from those magical lands really do visit the everyday world of La Mancha.
What is at stake is not so much the specific content allowable in one or
another narrowly circumscribed recreational space of fiction (the quar-
antining of the marvellous in ‘exotic lands’ contrasting with a more

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
62 Decolonizing Cervantes

realistic style for the familiar), but the bringing into contact of the
marvellous and our everyday world. The monopoly over the supernatu-
ral needed to be challenged in the space of everyday life, and the
legitimization of the marvellous along the lines Tasso envisioned left that
realm entirely intact. This is why Book Three of Persiles y Sigismunda, in
which the idealized couple of the title visit Spain, is crucial to the overall
structure of the work as completed. It is also why it is necessary to see the
limits of Armas’s argument that Cervantes legitimates the marvellous by
locating it in distant lands. Cervantes’ solution, in which ontological
ambiguity plays an important role, is different than Tasso’s. The result is
a fictive discourse that, as Frye says of romance, is parallel to religious
discourse, but at the same time is capable of inflecting ordinary experi-
ence. This practice, rather pointing than toward nineteenth-century
realism, points toward a marvellous realism that undermines attempts to
restrict imagination’s scope to ‘metaphysical’ questions governed by
religious authority.11
In the above examples, the ambivalent marvellous envelops certain
characters or settings in a golden aura of perfection and beauty. The
effect can be also be unsettling, however, and it is this aspect I wish to
focus on in concluding this section, by considering the representation of
witchcraft in The Dogs’ Colloquy (El coloquio de los perros). Not unlike Don
Quixote, El coloquio de los perros hides the profundity of its exploration of
the human predicament behind a veil of playfulness. The very substance
of this text is the ontological doubt concerning who or what the dogs
really are. Stories in which animals talk are as old as Aesop; but to open
the text with their astonishment at the fact that they are speaking is an
original stroke of genius:

Berganza. Brother Scipio, I hear you speak and I know that I am speaking to
you, and I cannot believe it, for it seems to me that our speaking goes
beyond the bounds of nature.
Scipio. That is true, Berganza, and this miracle is greater in that not only are
we speaking but we are speaking coherently, as if we were capable of reason,
when in fact we are so devoid of it that the difference between the brute
beast and man is that man is a rational animal and the brute irrational.
Berganza. All you say, Scipio, I understand, and the fact that you are saying it
and that I understand it makes me even more amazed. (195)
[Berganza. – Cipión, hermano, óyote hablar y sé que te hablo, y no puedo
creerlo, por parecerme que el hablar nosotros pasa de los términos de

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 63

Cipión. – Así es la verdad, Berganza, y viene a ser mayor este milagro en que
no solamente hablamos, sino en que hablamos con discurso, como si fuéra-
mos capaces de razón, estando tan sin ella que la diferencia que hay del
animal bruto al hombre es ser el hombre animal racional, y el bruto,
Berganza. – Todo lo que dices, Cipión, entiendo, y el decirlo tú y entenderlo
yo me causa nueva admiración y nueva maravilla.] (Novelas ejemplares II, 299)

The reader who is of even an only slightly philosophical turn of mind will
quickly recognize that this passage uses talking dogs to thematize the
astonishing fact that the ordinary operation of human language allows
us to communicate our thoughts to one another. Where does this capac-
ity come from? What does it mean? Berganza’s autobiographical dis-
course is immediately framed, then, by the quintessential Renaissance
question of ‘the dignity of man.’
In the course of Berganza’s story, a possible explanation for the dogs’
ability to speak is offered, in the witch Cañizares’ tale of how the famous
hechicera Camacha changed the twin sons of her disciple and rival Montiela
into dogs. Now, it would have been a simple enough matter to write a
fabulous tale about a witch who turns people into animals, and readers
would readily understand that fiction gives such licence without imply-
ing that either author or reader believe such things to be possible in
reality. But Cervantes has created a story in which what happens within
the fictional world is unclear. The narrators are all unreliable, and
moreover, they themselves assert their unreliability: they doubt their
own capacity to know and speak the truth. The central knot is Cañizares’
monologue, a larga arenga that takes up about one tenth of the entire
text. In it, Cervantes makes a self-confessed witch express her own
doubts and uncertainties concerning the very practices in which she
engages. Her knowledge of sorcery is limited, so that she herself is
astonished by the powers of Camacha, who turns people into animals:
‘I’ve never managed to find out how it’s done’ (229) (lo que yo nunca he
podido alcanzar cómo se haga [337]). She admits that even where the
brujería she practices herself is concerned, she does not know whether
what she experiences is real or imaginary:

Some people think we go to these gatherings only in our imagination, and

that through it the devil presents to us images of all those things which we
say afterwards have happened to us. Others deny this, and say that we really
go, body and soul. I myself hold that both these views are true, for we don’t

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
64 Decolonizing Cervantes

know whether we go in imagination, or in reality, because everything that

happens to us in our imagination happens in such an intense way that it
can’t be distinguished from the times when we go really and truly. (232)
[Hay opinión que no vamos a estos convites sino con la fantasía en la cual
nos representa el demonio las imágenes de todas aquellas cosas que después
contamos que nos han sucedido. Otros dicen que no, sino que verdadera-
mente vamos en cuerpo y en ánima; y entrambas opiniones tengo para
mí que son verdaderas, puesto que nosotras no sabemos cuándo vamos de
una o de otra manera, porque todo lo que nos pasa en la fantasía es tan
intensamente que no hay diferenciarlo de cuando vamos real y verdadera-
mente.] (340)

To this confusion Cañizares adds an extraordinary moral ambiguity,

claiming that she desires to repent, but acknowledging herself inca-
pable. Her Celestinesque confession culminates in a frank listing of her
limitations that seems designed to elicit compassion from the reader:

I’m not so old that I can’t live another year, although I am seventy-five. Now
that I can’t fast because of my age, or pray because I get dizzy, or go on
pilgrimages because of the weakness of my legs, or give alms because I am
poor, or think good thoughts because I am addicted to backbiting (and in
order to do good one must first think good thoughts), all my thoughts are
bound to be evil. Nevertheless, I know that God is good and merciful and
that He knows what is to become of me, and that is enough. Now, let’s put
an end to this conversation which is making me very sad. (235)
[No soy tan vieja que no pueda vivir un año, puesto que tengo setenta y
cinco; y ya que no puedo ayunar, por la edad; ni rezar, por los vaguidos; ni
andar romerías, por la flaqueza de mis piernas; ni dar limosna, porque soy
pobre; ni pensar en bien, porque soy amiga de murmurar, y para haberlo de
hacer es forzoso pensarlo primero, así que siempre mis pensamientos han
de ser malos; con todo esto sé que Dios es bueno y misericordioso y que
Él sabe lo que ha de ser de mí, y basta. Y quédese aquí esta plática, que
verdaderamente me entristece.] (343)

This discourse presents the figure of the witch, one of the pillars of that
magical ethics of pure good and pure evil on which Jameson claims
romance is based, as a rather ordinary, even pathetic old woman. This
astonishes Berganza even more than witchcraft per se, leaving him won-
dering: ‘Who made this evil old woman so knowledgeable and so wicked?
How does she know all this about harmful and culpable evil? How does

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 65

she understand and talk so much about God and do so much of the
devil’s work? How does she sin so deliberately without the excuse of
ignorance?’ (236) (¿Quién hizo a esta mala vieja tan discreta y tan mala?
¿De dónde sabe ella cuáles son males de daño y cuáles de culpa? ¿Cómo
entiende y habla tanto de Dios y obra tanto del diablo? ¿Cómo peca tan
de malicia no escusándose con ignorancia? [344]). Over and against the
exploratory, uncertain discourses of Berganza and Cañizares, Cipión’s
judgments are firm and unwavering: ‘All these things and others like
them are frauds, lies or manifestations of the devil ... Camacha was a
false deceiver, and Cañizares a liar, and Montiela a foolish, malicious and
wicked woman’ (278–9) (Todas estas cosas y las semejantes son embelecos,
mentiras o apariencias del demonio ... La Camacha fue burladora falsa, y
la Cañizares embustera, y la Montiela tonta, maliciosa y bellaca [346–7]).
Yet his moral-didactic voice is the equivalent for this text of the Canon of
Toledo in Don Quixote, whose point of view is not ultimately privileged,
and whose statements, despite the confidence with which they are uttered,
resolve nothing. Further, as was the case with Tomás Rodaja’s madness in
El licenciado vidriera or Rutilio’s presence in Scandinavia in Persiles y
Sigismunda, the dogs’ ability to speak is never otherwise explained.
La Camacha really existed. A certain Leonor Rodríguez of Montilla,
nicknamed ‘la Camacha,’ was tried for sorcery by the Inquisition of
Córdoba, and punished with public whipping in an auto-da-fé held there
in December 1572. As González de Amezúa noted, Sebastián de Escabias’s
Libro de casos memorables de Córdoba tells of a local legend that she and her
daughter turned a certain Alonso de Aguilar into a horse (González de
Amezúa II, 455–61).12 The description of the auto transcribed by Rafael
Gracia Boix, however, reveals an entire group of Montilla witches rounded
up in the early 1570s (94–100). Like the other women accused, la
Camacha admits to a series of basically Celestinesque practices including
conjuring the devil and using a variety of love potions and spells. But she
alone insists that she learned her magic from ‘moras y cristianas’ and took
an unbaptized Moor as her lover so he would teach her such things
(echóse con un moro sin bautizar porque la enseñase estas cosas [94]).
Proud of her large repertoire of spells, she explains that she learned
many of them in Granada (95). Cervantes spent time in Montilla around
1591–2, and must have heard about these women. Amezúa derives from
this the conclusion that Cervantes drew his material on witchcraft from
popular beliefs and practices, which were still widespread, ‘a subterra-
nean current, hidden but powerful, running from one region to another
and flourishing in mysterious practices that everywhere take on a similar

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
66 Decolonizing Cervantes

form’ (460). While the most celebrated witch trials in Spain took place
in the North, in Logroño, where the Celtic influence is strong, Leonor
Rodríguez’s confession shows that the ‘subterranean current’ Cervantes
tapped into also included a Morisco element. Indeed, magic appears to
have played an important role in the clandestine culture of the Moriscos,
in which orthodox Islamic beliefs mixed with popular ones in the
absence of any legitimate religious authority. Cervantes shaped the fic-
tional Camacha from such a flowing together of disparate cultural tradi-
At what effect is Cervantes aiming when he merges playful storytelling
and the very real, very current controversy over witchcraft? At the most
immediate level, it is a remarkable achievement to make a fabulous tale
of talking dogs so powerfully tangible and immediate. The dividing line
between a world in which human beings can be turned into animals and
one in which they cannot shifts from the conventional separation be-
tween fiction and real life to an ill-defined, permeable border within the
fiction, creating a powerful illusion of the dogs’ actuality. An echo of that
fictive-actual border enters real life as well, in the similarity of all the
characters the dogs meet to those found in readers’ everyday experi-
ence. The result is an opening of the reader’s capacity for questioning,
turned toward the most mysterious aspects of human existence, the very
ones over which the Church claims the exclusive right to an authoritative
In Forcione’s reading, the principal mystery to be pondered is the
moral corruption of human society, exaggerated in the nightmare vision
of Berganza’s tale. Though the prevailing imagery of Coloquio de los perros
is grotesque, ‘even in his most somber work Cervantes situates his own
exploration of evil within the metaphysical framework provided by or-
thodox Christianity ... The miseries which afflict the human being in his
life on earth ... are somehow necessary ingredients ... of an ultimately
benevolent providential design’ (Cervantes and the Mystery of Lawlessness
63). In reading the text as a ‘Christian miracle,’ whose underlying
pattern is that of sin and redemption, Forcione compares the rhetoric
and imagery to that found in devotional writing such as Juan de Ávila’s
sermons or Luis de Granada’s treatises: ‘From the opening paragraph ...
imagery of physical infirmity, disease, decrepitude, filthiness, and death
dominates the imaginative world of the Coloquio de los perros ... The
imagery of physical infirmity and disease is, of course, prominent in
Christian depictions of sin, its contagious power, and its consequences,
from the Bible on down to the sermons, manuals of piety, guides for
sinners, and religious fictions of Cervantes’ time’ (85). The message of

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 67

redemption, apart from its being an implicit pattern in Christian cul-

ture, is primarily suggested to Forcione by the fact that Campuzano
wakes up just as Peralta finishes reading, so that the closure of the
fictional text is timed to coincide with a reawakening, figured here as a
resurrection. Without denying the validity of such a reading, I consider
the opposite view just as tenable: that the pattern of sin and redemption
established through the generic hybridity of fable, picaresque novel, and
sermon does not achieve the release of completion, and we are left
instead en suspensión, faced with the negative impression of an unre-
deemed, perhaps irredeemable, world.
Forcione confidently distinguishes Peralta’s falling asleep and awaken-
ing from similar actions of Cañizares earlier in the narrative, which are
only ‘a travesty of the sacred.’ The prophecy of Montiel’s sons’ recovery
of their human shape is equally a travesty, surely, of the Last Judgment:
‘They will return to their true form / when they see the mighty speedily
brought down / and the humble exalted / by that hand which has power
to perform it’ (230–1) (Volverán en su forma verdadera / cuando vieren
con presta diligencia /derribar los soberbios levantados, / y alzar a los
humildes abatidos / por poderosa mano para hacerlo [338]). The most
aggressive travesty, of course, are Cañizares’ words to Berganza: ‘I hoped
that heaven would grant that before these eyes of mine closed for the
last time I should see you, my boy, and now that I have seen you, let
death come and take me away from this weary life’ (228) (Bien esperaba
yo en el cielo que antes que estos mis ojos se cerrasen con el último
sueño te había de ver, hijo mío, y ya que te he visto, venga la muerte y
lléveme desta cansada vida [336]), which closely echo Simeon’s prayer of
thanks at having lived to see the Messiah (Luke 2:29–32). An analogy is
thereby created between a true believer encountering the living God,
and an old hag meeting up with a dog that does circus tricks. The
redemption of this world is placed on the same level as the magical
transformations within the fiction. Yet this no more implies that Cervantes
is a religious skeptic than his use of popular belief in witchcraft means
that he personally held spells and potions to be efficacious. Sandwiched
between merely escapist fiction and the intense surveillance of the
Baroque public sphere, Cervantes’ text hints that the world may not be
redeemable, even while its author would deny – would have to deny –
such implications.14
How can we decide between such opposed readings, one of which
views Coloquio de los perros as an expression of Christian orthodoxy, the
other taking it as a deconstruction of Christian doctrine that places it on
the same level with heretical practices such as sorcery and witchcraft? We

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
68 Decolonizing Cervantes

can select whichever of the two readings we choose, but either way we
are viewing Cervantes’ intentions against the backdrop of the church’s
hold on public speculation about the supernatural. Ultimately, the ex-
treme opposition between the possible readings is a product of coloniality
of power, which distorts meanings in such a way that the author’s ‘own’
intentions are placed forever out of reach. Our post-Romantic notions of
self-sufficient authorial intention are out of place in early modern Spain,
where any meaning the author may wish to convey is culturally con-
strained to an unprecedented degree. This undecidability is a far cry
from Tasso’s notion of the legitimate marvellous. Here, the two worldviews
are so insistently superimposed on one another that they become inex-
tricably intertwined. The reader does not merely accept certain marvel-
lous events as verisimilar temporarily because they are represented as
taking place in another geographical and cultural milieu. Both within
the fiction and outside it, the orthodox and the heterodox are simulta-
neously present, so that the reader, disconcerted, does not finally know
what to think.
The above examples of the ambivalent marvellous produce a range of
emotions – comic, sublime, terrifying. There appears to be some correla-
tion between the emotion produced and the kind of supernatural occur-
rence employed. Enchanters of the kind found only in chivalric romance
produce a comic effect because no one really believes in them. Witches,
arguably because of the popularity of belief in them, produce a more
disturbing effect: a shudder runs through the reader’s view of the world.
To return to the first epigraph of this section, in which Rutilio’s Scandi-
navian rescuer explains his contradictory position concerning witch-
craft – ‘as a Catholic Christian I don’t believe it, but experience shows
me just the opposite’ (como cristiano que soy católico, no lo creo,
aunque la experiencia me muestra lo contrario) – it is illuminating to
compare this with the formula of obedience of the Spanish colonial
authorities, cited in chapter 1 above: ‘we obey the law, but do not put it
into practice’ (la ley se acata, pero no se cumple). The need to hold
simultaneously to two competing explanatory systems can thus be seen
as a consequence of internal colonialism. The following section tries to
understand why this is so by focusing on the other within, who becomes
an anchor for the ambivalent marvellous outside the official worldview.

Cide Hamete Benengeli: The Other Within

I immediately went with the Morisco to the cloister of the main church [i.e., the
Cathedral] and asked him to render the notebooks, all those that dealt with Don

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 69

Quixote, into the Castilian language, without taking away or adding anything,
offering him whatever payment he might desire. He was satisfied with two arrobas
of raisins and two fanegas of wheat, and he promised to translate them well and
faithfully and very quickly. But to facilitate the arrangement and not allow such a
wonderful find out of my hands, I brought him to my house, where, in a little
more than a month and a half, he translated the entire history, just as it is
recounted here. Don Quixote I.9, 67–8

[Apartéme luego con el morisco por el claustro de la iglesia mayor, y roguéle me

volviese aquellos cartapacios, todos los que trataban de don Quijote, en lengua
castellana, sin quitarles ni añadirles nada, ofreciéndole la paga que él quisiese.
Contentóse con dos arrobas de pasas y dos fanegas de trigo, y prometió de
traducirlos bien y fielmente y con mucha brevedad. Pero yo, por facilitar más el
negocio y por no dejar de la mano tan buen hallazgo, le truje a mi casa, donde en
poco más de mes y medio la tradujo toda, del mesmo modo que aquí se refiere.]
(Don Quijote I.9, 143–4)

At this point, readers familiar with Todorov’s Introduction à la littérature

fantastique may object that my category of the ambivalent marvellous is
indistinguishable from his concept of the fantastic: a literary mode in
which realism predominates, but something exceptional happens that
defies rational explanation. This genre, like the marvellous, tears a rent
in an established ontological structure, the rational-scientific worldview
of the realist novel. There are two primary differences between Todorov’s
fantastic and the ambivalent marvellous. First, the ontological structure
Cervantes’ fiction challenges is not a rational-scientific one, but is rather
itself a religious conception, maintained by a specific institutional author-
ity. Second, and this is the focus of the pages that follow, the ambivalent
marvellous is not simply a rupture in the prevailing ontology of the work,
but rather a vacillation between two possible, but mutually exclusive
systems of explanation. To understand the importance of this distinc-
tion, it is necessary to return to Carpentier’s prologue to El reino de este
For the purposes of my discussion, there are three salient features in
Carpentier’s definition: (1) marvellous realism arises where there is a co-
presence of a rational worldview with a non-European one (indigenous,
Afro-Caribbean); (2) a similar hybridity of worldviews existed in Europe
itself at an earlier time, as revealed by beliefs in magic and miracles, but
has gradually been lost; and (3) certain features of Cervantes’ work, such
as the elements of the fantastic in Persiles y Sigismunda and Don Quixote’s
belief in the marvellous adventures of chivalric romance, constitute him

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
70 Decolonizing Cervantes

as a practitioner of this mode avant la lettre. Essentially, then, Carpentier’s

theory of lo real maravilloso is a poetics of cultural hybridity under colo-
nialism. In this section I map this cultural poetics onto Cervantes’
ambivalent marvellous, primarily by focusing on Cide Hamete’s Muslim
Le Goff speaks of two great ‘repositories’ of the marvellous in the
medieval West: the ‘Oriental’ and the Celtic. By ‘Oriental’ he means
such tales as circulated in Spain through translations from Arabic and
Greek produced during the reign of Alfonso X, ‘el Sabio’ (the Wise),
such as Calila et Dimna (1251) and Sendebar (1253). These tales combine
elements of low comedy, scenes from everyday life, and the marvellous.
Their cultural presence in Spain could reach Cervantes through the
literary tradition running from Pedro Alfonso’s twelfth-century Disciplina
clericalis through Juan Manuel’s fourteenth-century El conde Lucanor, and
through the continued presence of the Moriscos in Spain until the early
seventeenth century. Of course, Cide Hamete Benengeli is the carrier of
this tradition in Don Quixote. Roberto González Echevarría considers the
multiplication of narrators through Cide Hamete to be the feature of
Don Quixote that has most appealed to Latin American writers, precisely
because of the way it displaces the idea of any essentialized cultural
identity or preordained order to which the text could correspond.16
Significantly, García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad, the quintessential
magical realist novel, employs a similar device, Melquíades’ Sanskrit
manuscript of the Buendía family history. In both Melquíades’ and Cide
Hamete’s manuscripts, crossing between the world of fiction and the
world of the reader’s reality also involves crossing between languages,
cultures, and worldviews. Both of these fictional authors are magicians
with a special power, a gift applicable only to one subject, the Buendía
clan or Don Quixote. Thus Cide Hamete’s pen explains the quasi-
supernatural destiny linking it to the mad knight: ‘For me alone was Don
Quixote born, and I for him’ (II.74, 939) (Para mí sola nació Don
Quijote, y yo para él [II.74, 592]). Through this device, fictional narrative
itself, the very existence of the text we are reading, becomes a marvel.
While there are many studies of Cide Hamete as a structural device in
Don Quixote, focus on his meaning within the historical context of early
modern Spain is relatively recent.17 Cide Hamete’s text, recognized
for its role in destabilizing narrative authority, is insistently linked to
instances of cultural hybridity at three crucial points: when it is first
introduced (I. 9); when it appears to have run out at the end of Part One
(I. 52); and when it is finally and definitively completed at the end of

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 71

Part Two, with Cide Hamete’s farewell to his pen (II. 74). Significantly,
he is introduced at a point in the narrative containing references to the
marginal cultures and languages of Spain, and echoes of medieval Ibe-
rian multiculturalism. The manuscript in Arabic sold on the streets of
Toledo recalls an earlier time, before that language and the customs
associated with it had been outlawed in Spain. The ease with which a
Morisco translator is found leads the narrator to comment: ‘it was not
very difficult to find this kind of interpreter, for even if I had sought a
speaker of a better and older language, I would have found him’ (I.9,
67) (no fue muy dificultoso hallar intérprete semejante, pues aunque le
buscara de otra mejor y más antigua lengua le hallara [I.9, 108]),
referring, of course, to Hebrew. This is one of the few references to the
conversos in Cervantes’ entire œuvre. Thus the Toledo of the three
religions and Alfonso el Sabio’s school of translation are implicitly con-
trasted with the current situation. Carlos Moreno has shown that the
process of translation and transcription on which the fictional text is
based reenacts in a detailed way the practice of translation from Arabic,
mainly by Jewish scholars, in thirteenth-century Toledo (209). The
Morisco’s laughter at the marginal note about Dulcinea’s having ‘the
best hand for salting pork’ (67) (la mejor mano para salar puercos
[108]), meat forbidden to Muslims, further emphasizes the dividing line
between cultures.18
Eric Graf reads the fight with the Basque that frames the discovery of
the manuscript as a parody of militarist fables of Castilian hegemony,
into which Cervantes ‘weaves the laughter of the Arabic Other’ creating
‘a dizzying deconstruction of national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic
subject positions’ (77). That the narrator, under these circumstances,
should use the cathedral of Toledo, epicenter of Castilian Catholicism,
as an out-of-the-way spot, suited for the negotiation of the terms of the
translation, constitutes a radical infiltration of Islam into Castilian
religious identity as well. Although stated in an offhand manner, his
invitation to the Morisco to live in his own home as his guest during the
time it takes him to translate Cide Hamete’s manuscript opens the
possibility of intimate intercultural dialogue, in a space free of suspicious
The naturalness with which the Morisco and the narrator undertake
this project contrasts starkly with the historical reality of the time. We are
fortunate to have detailed documentation of a specific occasion when a
need for translators from Arabic arose as a result of found manuscripts.
When the primary narrator runs out of information at the end of Part

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
72 Decolonizing Cervantes

One of Don Quixote, he explains that a lead box was found in the
foundations of an old hermitage, containing poems about Don Quixote
and the other characters. Thomas E. Case has persuasively argued that
this lead box is a reference to the libros plúmbeos hoax. The libros plúmbeos,
circular lead tablets inscribed in Arabic found on Granada’s Sacromonte
in 1595 (whence the name, ‘holy mount,’ by which that area is still
known today), purported to be pre-Islamic sacred writings, but were
actually carefully crafted, probably by Alonso del Castillo and Miguel de
Luna, to form a syncretic bridge between Christianity and Islam. The
perpetrators of the hoax were apparently making a last, desperate
attempt to create a hybrid identity that would facilitate the Moriscos’
integration into Spanish society. The ‘discovery,’ which sparked a lively
controversy over the authenticity of the relics, was preceded by the
‘recovery,’ in 1588, of a lead box containing a parchment in Latin and
other supposedly sacred objects. As Case shows, the lead box at the end
of Part One is clearly patterned on the events of 1588, and therefore
constitutes an ambiguous reference to the Morisco crisis.19
The libros plúmbeos created a need for translators. The archbishop of
Granada, Pedro Vaca de Castro y Quiñones, who believed wholeheart-
edly in their authenticity, sought out anyone who could read Arabic. A
Morisco by the name of al-Hajari, living in Granada at the time, explains
in an autobiographical narrative how a priest who had gotten wind of his
knowledge of Arabic took him to see the archbishop:

[T]he priest looked at me and said, ‘You know how to read Arabic? Do not
be afraid [to admit it], because the archbishop is looking for someone who
knows something of reading Arabic, so that he may explain something written
in that language that has come to light.’
He took me to his house. He had books of every art and language. He
brought me books in the Arabic language. I read and translated for him
some words which he was unable to read. Then he met me another day and
told me: ‘The archbishop has ordered me to bring you with me to his
presence.’ I said to myself, ‘How shall I save myself, as the Christians kill and
burn everyone on whom they find an Arabic book or of whom they know that he reads
Arabic?’ (Harvey 278; emphasis added)

In the event, the archbishop is quite pleased with al-Hajari’s translation

and pays him well. He also gives him written authorization to translate
from Arabic to Spanish and vice versa. Some time later, friends from his
hometown visit al-Hajari in Granada and are terrified to see he owns a
book in Arabic:

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 73

After greeting them in the customary way, I opened the book. But when they
saw that it was written in Arabic they became extremely afraid because of the
Christians. I told them: ‘Do not be afraid. The Christians honor me and
respect me for my ability to read Arabic.’ But all the people from my town
thought that the Christian Inquisitors who used to sentence and burn to
death everyone who manifested his adherence to Islam in any way, or was
reading the books of the Muslims, would condemn me as well. Driven by
this extreme fear, the Andalusians used to be afraid of each other. They only
spoke about religious matters with someone who was ‘safe,’ that is, someone
who could be trusted completely. Many of them were afraid of one another.
(Harvey 280)

Al-Hajari’s account helps us see the scene in the Alcaná of Toledo as a

parody of the entire libros plúmbeos affair. But rather than simply ridicul-
ing the participants, it draws attention to the distance separating that
celebration of a newfound Arab-Christian tradition from the prevailing
atmosphere of suspicion and fear. As often happens with Cervantes’
optimistic images of social life in early modern Spain, the contrast with
how things really were is so sharp that we must assume his readers would
have perceived the irony.20
Both Case and Ellen M. Anderson share the view that Cide Hamete
himself is perhaps not an Arab but a Morisco. The textual basis for this is
a passage concerning the arriero who punches Don Quixote at the inn:
‘he was one of the wealthy muledrivers of Arévalo, according to the
author of this history, who makes particular mention of this muledriver
because he knew him very well; there are even some who say he was a
distant relation’ (I.16, 112) (era uno de los ricos arrieros de Arévalo,
según lo dice el autor desta historia que deste arriero hace particular
mención, porque le conocía muy bien, y aun quieren decir que era algo
pariente suyo [I.16, 201]). Cide Hamete could therefore be thought of
as a convert to Christianity, possibly practising Islam in secret, in accor-
dance with the doctrine of taquiyya, which allows Muslims to pretend to
practise another religion in order to avoid persecution (see Cardaillac
85–98). Yet another layer to his complex, hybrid identity is added by the
possibility of thinking of his manuscript as having been written in
aljamiado, that is, Spanish written with Arabic characters, used by the
Moriscos to circulate clandestine manuscripts, including religious trea-
tises and even translations of the Qur’an (see the section on the historic-
ity of reading practices in chapter 1 above).
In a suggestive article, Luce López-Baralt has analysed the intertextuality
between Cide Hamete’s farewell to his pen and Sura 68 of the Qur’an,

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
74 Decolonizing Cervantes

which concerns Al-Qalam, the divine pen, first of Allah’s creations, by

means of which everything that came after was created. In both texts the
uniqueness of the pen is emphasized, as are its power and authority, and
the association between what it writes and destiny. Further, López Baralt
focuses attention on the theme of madness pervading Sura 68 – people
will think the prophet is mad for what the divine pen has written through
him. In this close comparison, numerous details are shown to corre-
spond in surprising ways. For example, Cide Hamete’s pen is hung from
an espetera as if to dry it out. López Baralt ties this to the notion that the
ink of Allah’s creation has long since dried and what is written is written;
neither Avellaneda nor anyone else should try to write another sally for
Don Quixote. López-Baralt points out that Cervantes could have ac-
quired minimal knowledge of the Qur’an in Algeria, or just as easily
through contact with Moriscos from Granada who had been relocated
after the Guerra de las Alpujarras. She describes the drawings of Al-
Qalam frequently found in aljamiado manuscripts from this period:
‘More than once I have come across in the clandestine manuscripts a
giant pen of light that writes its transcendent message across the sky,
while on other occasions ... the calamus writes on a piece of silk carried
by the archangel Gabriel (Yibril). The calamus always writes alone,
without any hand touching it’ (346). Thus she finds Cervantes introduc-
ing an element of hybridity with Islamic culture precisely at the moment
in which he playfully endows his act of creation with a mystic aura.
The other great repository of the marvellous mentioned by Le Goff
are Celtic tales of magical adventures. The best known example of the
eruption of Celtic material into medieval high culture is of course the
chivalric romance, especially as practiced by Chrétien de Troyes. In one
of the most profoundly original works of scholarship on Cervantes in
recent years, Edward Dudley has shown how the Celtic material resur-
faces in Don Quixote in ways that cannot be explained away as mere
parody. Dudley has patiently studied extant versions of the Celtic tales
from which chivalric romance derived its supernatural elements, demon-
strating that much of what appears to the modern reader to poke fun at
the courtly romances can actually be found in the older legends on
which they were based. For example, the fact that Don Quixote is
greeted on his arrival at the inn by a swineherd’s horn is reinterpreted by
Dudley in relation to the swine god Moch (128–42), associated with
enchantments, secret meanings, and hidden identities. This reading
shows Cervantes’ text to be permeated by disguised symbols and motifs
from Celtic myths. The composite Dorotea/Princesa Micomicona is rein-
terpreted as a banshee, a shape-shifting Celtic fairy (230, 252–3). Indeed,

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 75

Don Quixote’s madness itself can be associated with the eccentric be-
haviour that served as a distinguishing feature of the hero in Celtic lore.
Dudley analyses the narrative structure of the work in terms of a latent
rivalry between Don Quixote and Cide Hamete, as a consequence of
which the debunking of a ludicrous madman is recast as the expression
of a malevolent bias on the part of the Arabic historian against the
Christian knight (210). By linking up all the Celtic motifs and by displac-
ing the realist spin the narrator places on the mad knight’s adventures, The
Endless Text establishes what amounts to a reading of Don Quixote in a Celtic
key. Dudley’s Quixote is a result of hybridity between pre-Christian Celtic,
medieval Christian, Arabo-Islamic, and early modern proto-rationalist
worldviews. The catalyst of this hybridity is the mock-heroic struggle be-
tween a knight enthralled by Celtic legends of magical adventures, and an
Arab historian who is part Moorish enchanter, part sceptical Morisco.
The challenge that the chivalric romances inherently posed to ecclesi-
astical authority has already been discussed above in connection with the
contested site of the marvellous. This is perhaps an appropriate place
to recall Vivaldo’s feigned discomfort with the fact that knights errant
commend themselves to their ladies before going into battle, but not to
God (I.13, 175). Though his tone is jesting, he acknowledges, in effect,
that the chivalric romance as a genre offered a rival vision to official
religious discourse. Especially in Part Two, Cide Hamete Benengeli
displaces the authoritative discourse of Christianity in another direction.
He invokes Allah’s blessing once the third sally gets underway (II.8, 92),
and swears by Mohammed (II.48, 399), but also insists on his knowledge
of ‘Christian’ values: ‘I, though a Moor, know very well, through the
communication I have had with Christians, that holiness consists of
charity, humility, faith, obedience, and poverty’ (II.44, 741) (Yo, aunque
moro, bien sé, por la comunicación que he tenido con cristianos, que la
santidad consiste en la caridad, humildad, fee, obediencia y pobreza
[II.44, 371]). In fact, there is nothing in this definition of holiness that
Cide Hamete would not know already as a Muslim. The most perplexing
passage where he expresses himself in religious terms comes at the
beginning of chapter 27, when he is about to reveal that Maese Pedro is
really Ginés de Pasamonte. So startling is his language that the Morisco
translator feels the need to intervene with an explanation:

Cide Hamete, the chronicler of this great history, begins this chapter with
the words I swear as a Catholic Christian ..., to which his translator says that
Cide Hamete swearing as a Catholic Christian when he was a Moor, which
he undoubtedly was, meant only that just as the Catholic Christian, when he

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
76 Decolonizing Cervantes

swears, swears or should swear the truth, and tell the truth in everything he
says, so too he was telling the truth, as if he were swearing as a Catholic
Christian, when he wrote about Don Quixote, especially when he told who
Maese Pedro was ... (II.27, 637)
[Entra Cide Hamete, coronista desta grande historia, con estas palabras en
este capítulo: ‘Juro como católico cristiano ...’; a lo que su traductor dice
que el jurar Cide Hamete como católico cristiano siendo él moro, como sin
duda lo era, no quiso decir otra cosa sino que así como el católico cristiano
cuando jura, jura, o debe jurar, verdad, y decirla en lo que dijere, así él la
decía, como si jurara como cristiano católico, en lo que quería escribir de
don Quijote, especialmente en decir quién era maese Pedro ...] (II.27, 249)

Whether intentionally or not, this passage encapsulates the transition

from mudéjar to Morisco, which is to say, from autonomous religious
minority to internal colony. According to the translator’s interpreta-
tion, Cide Hamete swears as a Muslim, but with the same conviction and
sincerity as a Christian would swear. This view harks back to the thir-
teenth-century arrangement, whereby in order to give legal testimony
Christians swore by the Bible, Jews by the Torah, and Muslims by
the Qur’an, each at the entrance to their respective places of worship
(O’Callaghan, ch. 7). There is obviously a more malicious way of under-
standing Cide Hamete’s oath, which is that he, as a Muslim practicing
taquiyya, falsely pretends to be a Christian. A Muslim, he swears as a
Christian to tell the truth about Ginés de Pasamonte’s deception! After the
prohibition of Islam, many Muslims found themselves forced to convert,
at least externally. Of course, like the previously mentioned discussion of
sanctity and Christian values, this passage ultimately hints that the dis-
tinction is less significant than the dogmatic systems in question would
make it appear, since in either case, one is morally obligated to tell the
truth if one swears to do so, under whatever label. Despite their rivalry at
one level, Don Quixote and Cide Hamete conspire, as it were, to dis-
place the religious discourse of Christianity, opening another discursive
space for fiction, in which cultural/religious identity and truth are fluid
constructs negotiated between narrator and audience.


We shall see the far from accidental convergence between the patterns of narra-
tive authority constitutive of the novel on the one hand, and, on the other, a
complex ideological configuration underlying the tendency to imperialism.
Said, Culture and Imperialism

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 77

I conclude this chapter by examining some implications for literary

history resulting from my claims about Cervantes, generally understood
to be one of the founders of modern literature and a giant of the
European canon. To link his work to medieval repositories of the marvel-
lous and pre- or early modern hybridity of cultures in Spain, rather than
to the realist novel and nineteenth-century nationalism, is to reopen the
question of his ‘place’ in literary history. What kinds of periodization
and geography of cultures could replace those time-honoured – but
arguably distorting – concepts?
First, disassociating Cervantes’ practice as a fiction writer from high
realism disrupts the illusory continuity of the linear development of the
novel. It therefore implies a rethinking of what we are accustomed to
calling the European tradition. Underlying that construct is the notion
of a single culture that passes through distinct phases (classical, medi-
eval, modern, postmodern) while remaining in some fundamental sense
‘one.’ This tradition is capable of simultaneously preserving and renew-
ing itself so that nothing is lost. Each succeeding epoch, each succeeding
generation absorbs what came before and then adds its pinnacle to the
top. Yet such a view cannot withstand scrutiny. At its origin we find the
scandal of the quixotic marvellous covered over by the repetition ad
nauseam that Don Quixote is the first modern novel – making it the
originator of a tradition to which it does not itself belong.21
Once the coherence of the so-called European tradition is placed in
question, it becomes possible to configure other geographies for distinct
periods of what had been taken to form a single line of development.
Born in the mid-sixteenth century on the Iberian Peninsula and writing
in Spanish, Cervantes belongs simultaneously to three overlapping geog-
raphies: the European (still conceptualized at that time as ‘Christendom,’)
split by the Catholic-Protestant divide; the Mediterranean, divided into
North and South, but also East and West; and the Atlantic, which for him
meant Seville and the Spanish colonies of the New World. As a model for
a transnational historiography of culture, Paul Gilroy’s construct of the
Black Atlantic is instructive in this context. Gilroy uses the chronotope
of the ship – a favourite one for Cervantes, especially in Persiles y Sigis-
munda – as a way of talking about the multilingual, multi-ethnic space of
the Atlantic. Certainly a similar cultural space could be conceived for the
Mediterranean, and that would seem to be the geography within which
Cervantes’ imagination was most at home, despite the pull exerted by
both America and the Northern lands.22 Seen in this light, ‘Spain’ as a
national unity dissolves into a number of distinct regions positioned
differently in relation to the three transnational spaces I have named.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
78 Decolonizing Cervantes

The privileging of ‘Europe’ is displaced, as is the definition of Cervantes

as only a Spanish/European writer.
In Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, Cervantes’ most insistently
transnational and multilingual work, the motif of pilgrimage serves to
incorporate the Iberian peninsula into a vast continuum linking the
geography of characters’ trajectories to Europe, the Mediterranean, and
the New World.23 The same narrative that links these geographical
entities also figures them as distinct fictional worlds regulated by an array
of different stylistic principles. Where Don Quixote uses parody to de-
centre narrative authority, Persiles y Sigismunda goes even deeper, chal-
lenging the underlying coherence of mimetic uniformity. As we will see
over the course of the next two chapters, this challenge figuratively
denounces Hapsburg authoritarianism and the support it drew from
both the Church and the prevailing patriarchal family structure. The
effort to represent ‘reality’ homogeneously is thereby linked to the
attempt to define the nation monologically. Thus I approach Persiles y
Sigismunda as a transnational romance that subjects the imperialist model
of Spanish identity to a deterritorialization, in which the ‘closed’ Spain
of the Counter-Reformation is reintegrated into the community of
nations surrounding it.
In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said ascribes to the novel a privi-
leged role in what he terms the ‘consolidation’ of post-Enlightenment
European colonialism. For Said, one of the ‘principal purposes’ of the
realist novel was ‘almost unnoticeably sustaining the society’s consent in
overseas expansion’ (12). It was thus part of the same hegemonic project
that brought the bourgeoisie to power and sustained its dominance over
the working classes. In penetrating readings of, among others, Conrad
and Kipling, Said shows that even when the specific content of novels
seems to question the imperialist project, it does so in terms that implic-
itly accept the presuppositions that make empire possible, thus circum-
venting a more radical critique. One of the main reasons the realist
novel can perform this function is that a conception of power compat-
ible with colonialism is embedded in its very structure:

The crucial aspect of what I have been calling the novel’s consolidation of
authority is not simply connected to the functioning of social power and
governance, but made to appear both normative and sovereign, that is, self-
validating in the course of the narrative ... There is first the authority of the
author – someone writing out the processes of society in an acceptable
institutionalized manner, observing conventions, following patterns, and so

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Cervantes and lo real maravilloso 79

forth. Then there is the authority of the narrator, whose discourse anchors
the narrative in recognizable, and hence existentially referential, circum-
stances. Last, there is what might be called the authority of the community,
whose representative most often is the family but also is the nation, the
specific locality, and the concrete historical moment. (77)

As we have seen in this chapter, Cervantes’ writing undoes the consoli-

dating authority Said mentions. The primary agent of that undoing in
Don Quixote is an Arab historian and magician. Although his practice of
fiction writing cannot simply be assimilated to Latin American magical
realism, it is closer to that post-realist poetics than to the nineteenth-
century European novel. Only a very reductive reading of his master-
piece as a stage in the development of high realism, coupled with an
extreme neglect of the rest of his œuvre, especially Persiles y Sigismunda,
has made it possible to misconstrue Cervantes as a modern European
writer tout court. From within modernity, such misconstruing was not just
excusable – it was almost inevitable, due to the overriding need to claim
strong cultural antecedents as precursors. Today, however, in our
postcolonial/postmodern age, we need to construct a different Cervantes,
one more attuned to our own sensibilities and concerns. The following
two chapters offer a reading of Persiles y Sigismunda designed to accom-
plish such a reconstruction.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
This page intentionally left blank

This content downloaded from on Sun, 27 Dec 2015 18:36:03 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions