Friday, February 01, 2019

Soon, Quixote

Accelerating my Spanish is succeeding well, and my second run at Tormento has been a great success: I sprinted to the end out of real curiosity to see how on earth Pérez Galdós was going to end it. Looking around for the next read, I find Don Quixote looming ever closer. Perhaps not the next undertaking, but soon.

Don Quixote sits queerly in my mind's attic. I read it in translation at age seventeen or eighteen, my first year at Evergreen, when I read so many of the classics that have stayed with me, and I thoroughly disliked it. Its sexism and casual acceptance of violence -- which were probably no worse than in any other 17th Century book -- displeased me. In those days I was ferociously idealistic, and I roundly disliked snark and satire. (I never have developed much of a taste for them: but if anything would dispose me that way, it's been the government of the last couple years.) My heart was with bold dreamers such as William Blake, or sad ones such as William Butler Yeats. And anyway the damned book went on and on: nearly a thousand pages of small print, and yet things never came to any point, that I could see. Somebody would get beaten up and everybody would laugh. What fun.

It was really the only classic, of the many I read that year, that I failed to connect with. I was a generous reader, for my age, but Quixote defeated me. I couldn't figure out a way to like it. I remember confessing this to my favorite Professor, who thought a bit and said that when he disliked a classic, it generally meant that it had something to teach that he was reluctant to learn. I thought, and think, that was probably true. And I retain my unfashionable reverence for classics. So I've always had in the back of my mind the project of taking another run at Quixote.

So now, as I cast about in Spanish literature -- in a situation strangely like that of my seventeenth year, confronted with a new wealth of classics on every side, but uncertain of my guides -- I go browsing among lists of imprescindibles libros en castellano, and what I find, again and again, at the head of the lists, is -- Don Quixote. 

So -- soon, I think. I find, when I turn the lamp right on it, that I have acquired a sense of incapacity, which startles me: a sense that I would not be able to read 17th Century Spanish. Where I came by that nonsense, I don't know, but I'm highly displeased to find it creeping up on me. Of course I can read 17th Century Spanish. If you don't know a word, look it up; if you don't know a phrase, google it. For heaven's sake. I've read in far more obscure and difficult languages than that. 

So -- soon, it's Quixote. A couple more middling-hard novels first, I think. But soon.

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