Cervantes << Rabelais
I feel like I should let the world know I finally finished the reading in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I got done yesterday, I think. I can’t describe my relief.
Now that I’ve read a good deal of the book, including the ending, I can say with confidence that it’s overrated and poorly done. The people who admire this book are just dazzled by its age, and by the fatuous remarks of other fans who preceded them.
One of the last things I read concerned Sancho Panza’s brief experience as pretend governor of an “insula” (island) provided by a duke who enjoyed making fun of him. The people of the island (if it is an island; I didn’t read the part where Cervantes describes it) go to Sancho with three cases to judge. Sancho comes up with very clever solutions to the last two cases, a la Solomon. The solution to the first case isn’t clever at all and appears to be a wild guess which may or may not be just.
The clever solutions are plagiarized from other authors. I’ll give you one example. A man is accused of rape, and the woman demands money. Sancho gives her the man’s money and then tells the man to take it from her. She is too strong for him, and she pushes him away easily. Sancho gives the man his money back, reasoning that if the defendant isn’t strong enough to take her purse, he’s not strong enough to rape her. I forget where the story came from, but the translator, in a note, says it’s stolen.
Plagiarism is one of the marks of a hack. If you have something original to say, you say it, hoping to be credited for your brilliance. If you steal other people’s work, you tacitly admit you have no talent of your own.
When I saw the door to the prison starting to swing open, I started reading another book. I bought a copy of The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick. A friend said I should watch the Amazon series of the same name, so I bought the book, knowing nothing ruins a good book like seeing the movie first.
Now that I think about it, nothing enhances a book like reading a worse book first.
In two sessions, purely for pleasure, I effortlessly breezed through maybe forty pages. What a change of pace. When I was reading Cervantes, twenty pages seemed like the toils of Sisyphus. But then Cervantes is a bad writer, and Dick isn’t.
I know people will argue with me and try to tell me I’m not smart enough to see Cervantes’ hidden genius. Yeah, okay. Keep telling yourselves that. I may not be Maxwell Perkins, but I’m not completely stupid, either. I can tell the difference between Shakespeare and John Grisham.
I guess I shouldn’t use John Grisham as an example. Some people think he’s a good writer. He’s not, but some people think he is. How about Dan Brown? No, I guess some people think he has talent, too.
Barbara Cartman! Harold Robbins! Jacqueline Susann! There must be somebody who will serve as an example.
How about this: “I can tell the difference between Francois Villon and Rod McKuen”?
On the web, I saw people looking for the hidden meaning of Don Quixote. Let me help. There is no hidden meaning. Cervantes isn’t D.H. Lawrence. He wasn’t consciously writing about archetypes that move in all our thoughts. He was a debtor trying to raise cash by writing a popular novel.
You can project hidden meaning onto anything if you try. You’ll probably reveal more about yourself than about whatever it is you’re studying.
The next book on the Columbia College Lit. Hum. list is Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is almost 400 pages of very stuffy blank verse. In case you’re wondering, blank verse is just poetry that doesn’t rhyme. For reasons not entirely clear to me, some writers like to force their work to adhere to certain rhythms without using rhymes to pull it together.
I get rhythm. I totally get rhythm. David Mamet is a master of it. Every naturally funny person understands timing. What I don’t get is sticking to fixed rhythms that don’t improve the work in any way. Why use six syllables when you’re dying to use ten? It turns literature into Twitter.
It reminds me of haikus. Well, I should say, “It reminds me of haiku,” because if you’re really smart, you have to say “haiku” instead of “haikus.” Anyway, haikuS are stupid. God doesn’t charge us by the syllable. Use all you want.
I don’t think anyone really likes haikuS. It’s like pretending to like Japanese rock gardens. Real exciting; three rocks and some sand. Yeah, that’s just as good as the garden at the Tuileries. I can hardly tell the difference.
To grow a real garden, you need artistic talent, enough character to do hard work, and a green thumb. To produce a rock garden, you just need Roundup.
Tip for the Japanese: “garden” implies “foliage.” The English word you’ve been looking for is “sandbox.”
I expect Milton to be a chore, but I’m hoping there will at least be a plot.
I also blew off a lot of the reading in Columbia’s Contemporary Civilization class. It’s similar to Lit. Hum., but it’s philosophy and poltics instead of literature. I was thinking I would do the reading for both classes, but I don’t know if I can stand the pain. Maybe bad literature is inherently more painful than politics and philosophy. Hmm. I could always read two books and see if I can bear to continue.
They had a third class called Art Hum. That one is a breeze. You look at slides. “This is a kouros. This is an Ionian column.” I don’t know if the materials are available, though. It would be a real shame if I had to cancel that project.
I don’t like modern art. I don’t know if I want to suffer with it. Anything past Monet, you can keep. If I have to pretend I like Jackson Pollack and think his “work” has value, I may become ill. I’d rather sit through twelve hours of John Cage.
No I wouldn’t. Not unless it was 4’33” with the MP3 player on repeat. Here’s one of my favorite versions, but I also like the duet Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix are currently doing:
John Cage must be the greatest composer ever, because no matter what other composers write or play while they’re alive, they start playing Cage’s work as soon as they die.
I like Salvador Dali, but I don’t think he’s deep. I think he’s sort of like M.C. Escher. Makes you go “GEE!”, but you wouldn’t want his work to represent earth in an interstellar art competition.
Maybe I’ll do CC and Art Hum. in 2018. It would be unfair to my future self to concentrate all the remaining pleasure into 2017.
Truck pulls! That’s what I really need! I need to watch me some truck pulls! Get me some corn dogs and a Busch Light! ‘Murica! ‘MURICA!!!!
I’m off to Bass Pro Shop to buy some Uncle Buck’s cajun foie gras seasoning.