Is ‘Don Quixote’ still relevant today? The councilor of San Bernardino swears yes – San Bernardino dom

May I return to the topic of “Don Quixote”? Many of you chimed in on Miguel de Cervantes’ 1615 novel after my column on how to read and love it. This included a Pomona College literature professor who had a thoughtful outlook.

But first, let me dig into the local corner no one saw coming: the strange intersection between “Don Quixote” and the City of San Bernardino.

It started when I brought the book to a board meeting, passing the 500 page milestone (of 940) while waiting for the meeting to start. Counselor Theodore Sanchez asked me privately what I was reading and felt a competitive impulse come over him.

A couple weeks later, Sanchez told me, “I was about to pass you. I was about to read it in Spanish.

What happened?

“I could only read page 20 and understood only every other word. It’s written in an old Spanish style,” Sanchez admitted. “Now I’ll have to read it in English.”

Before he could, Sanchez, who was re-elected on Nov. 8, was sworn in for his second term on Dec. 21. Why am I telling you this? Because he chose not to take an oath on a Bible. He used a substitute book.

My copy of “Don Quixote”.

He had asked me to bring it. When she saw me at the meeting she asked me if I had it. He was in my car in case it was serious, which it turned out to be, so I retrieved it.

When he moved to take the oath, I discreetly made the handover. He gave the book to the assistant editor, who held it as Sanchez raised his right hand.

And so, Sanchez swore to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, his left hand over my massive “Don Quixote” paperback.

The fictional Don Quixote, wandering Spain as a knight errant and battling imaginary enemies, foreign and domestic, might have watched the scene with pride.

Only a handful of people knew about it. I felt like I was playing a minor and absurd role in local history.

On Facebook, some of you told me that you have read the book and liked it.

Steve Hassler: “I read this in Spanish class at HS. We’ve had it all year. I liked it so much that I saw the show.

Steve Jankiewicz: “English lesson. Great reading and stories.”

Natalie Stalwick: “In college decades ago. I liked it at the time, especially compared to other first year required reading. Since then, getting to know the characters and the episodes has been useful and interesting due to the frequent references to them in literature and in current events.

Martha Q. Bautista: “My son tried to read the Spanish version but when he read it again (in English) he liked it better.”

Others have tried and failed.

Stacy Gustin: “I started reading it during the height of the pandemic. I think I made it to the third chapter. I don’t remember why I stopped. I intend to finish it… someday.”

As I reminded Stacy, getting to chapter 3 meant she quit after 12 pages.

Gayle Twogood: “I started it about five years ago. I guess I wasn’t as dedicated as you. I’ve lost interest.

I hope Gayle is able to finish this column!

On Twitter, reader Cristóbal said that he attempted to read the novel in Spanish, but found the old-fashioned form difficult.

“I’ve tried more than once to finish it, but I always feel like I’m studying for a book report that I have to turn in,” she said. “Plus my mental block at this point.”

Two of many English translations of "Don chisciotte," the Spanish classic seen in the bookstore.  (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Two of the many English translations of ‘Don Quixote’, the Spanish classic, seen in a bookstore. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Via email, Doug Evans told me that he read “Don Quixote” on his first trip to Spain with his wife to visit his host family who were studying abroad.

“One memory I have is taking the book with me to the beach,” Evans recalled. A host family member expressed surprise that he was reading “Quixote”.

“Hasn’t everyone in Spain read it?” Evans asked slyly.

“Yes,” the woman replied, “but not on the beach.”

José Reynaldo Cartagena, an associate professor in the Romance Languages ​​and Literature department at Pomona College, was happy to discuss the novel by email even while he was on the road. He teaches it in the original Spanish, in an edition with explanatory aids, and says students tend to get a lot out of it.

What makes “Don Quixote” the first modern novel, I asked?

Part of it is that Cervantes “represents reality as contradictory and uncertain” through ambiguity, unreliable narrators and other techniques employed by later novelists, Cartagena said.

The novel also raises questions about authorship, readership, and fiction itself. Cervantes pretends that he simply assembled the novel from various “found” accounts. Quixote begins his quest after reading too many adventure novels and going mad.

“It’s a book about books and the effect they have on our lives,” said Cartagena.

“One of the ideas that Cervantes proposes,” he continued, “is that certain kinds of books can be addictively entertaining, making readers lose their grasp of reality.” Lui said a modern version could feature “a character addicted to social media in the post-truth environment we currently live in.”

(Did anyone at the January 6 uprising carry a spear? Just curious.)

Gender, race, class, colonialism, and “unorthodox forms of desire” are among the still relevant cultural issues at play in “Don Quixote,” Cartagena noted, but the novel is also very entertaining.

“Legend has it that when King Philip III of Spain heard a page laughing hysterically and saw him clapping his forehead while reading a book,” Cartagena recounted, “he muttered that the young man was either mad or reading ‘Don Quixote.’ “

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