In the prologue to the second part of Don Quixote, written a decade after the successful first part, Cervantes tells two obtuse parables. They are directly about another person, someone Cervantes’s contemporaries would have known well. Yet the stories are like something that Pozzo may have told Vladimir and Estragon: cruel, sardonic and with a bitter after-taste. Four hundred years later, they are, at initial reading, hard to decipher, but still resonant today in a world of digital publishing and copyright wars.
In the first story, which Cervantes says is a witty way to address his unnamed accomplice; he tells a story of a madman in Seville who using a reed inflates a dog into a ball, then pats it saying to a watching throng, “Do you think it is easy thing to blow up a dog?”
Not content with that tale, Cervantes goes on to tell a second story of another madman in Cordoba who walks about with a stone, or marble, block on his head which he drops on dogs to make them squeal and scurry away. One day the madman does that to a dog belonging to a hatter and the hatter saw him; flew into a rage and beat the madman saying to him, “That’s my dog, you see, my pointer” And repeating the word “pointer” the madman was beaten off. The madman lay low for a month and then reappeared in the town with another weight but he never dropped it on a dog. Observing an animal – with a stone – he would say, “It’s a pointer, Look out!”
At the close of the second story Cervantes addresses a story-teller; which might seem to be himself as in the man morally assessing the novelist in the same skin, but it is another person altogether.
Reading these little stories reminded me of an algebra problem, where it was only partially clear what it meant. The first and obvious thing to clear up is that dogs had a bad time of it in sixteenth century Spain. It seems dogs had rotten lives and bore the brunt of metaphorical and real beatings. That aside, the real target, and meaning, behind the tales was Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, who published an unauthorized sequel to Don Quixote.
Cervantes is saying that Avellaneda had distorted his book, blown it up. He has done something simple and claimed it was a skill. In Hollywood it’s called a high-concept movie. With the stone story Cervantes says that Avellaneda has violently smashed his novel. He says, “He (Avellaneda) may never venture again to discharge the load of his wit in the form of a book, for bad books are harder than rocks.” Like any author, Cervantes was inflamed by the theft of his work and by the inflated posturing of the thief.
In a week when some English crime writers have been embroiled in allegations, then confessions, over puffed-up online reviews; where corporations tirelessly assure us that the works of Shakespeare and Cervantes would not have existed in a word of file –sharing, and by implication copyright violation, on the scale we now have, the truth of what Cervantes struggled with is as present today as it was for him.
7 September 2012
Note: Analysis of Don Quixote from, “El nombre de podenco:” The Dog as Book in the Prologue of Part II of Don Quijote, John Beusterien, Texas Tech University, 2010