DQ is more than a frothy dessert

Freed from jury duty, she dithers on...

I was feeling a little bogged down in Don Quixote. I really love the novel; it's as bawdy and fun as a funhouse carnival ride. But, at some point, you want to get out of the funhouse and take a spin on the carousel.

Examining this frustration, I wisely decided to visit the Tilting at Windmills reading blog.

Lo and behold, here's a post by the insightful Imani, who admits she fluctuates in her opinion of DQ. Imani, we salute you!

Here is the passage she quoted, from a lecture by Natsume Soseki on Eighteenth-Century English Literature:

What…is the secret of making long stories appear short? It is what we call interest, composed of three things in fiction: character, incident, and scene. And the closer the second draws to the first, the more intense the degree of necessity; and the closer the second swings to the third, the more importance is given to chance. Most novels, being complex, contain all three in varying amounts. But all successful novels must achieve unity. And this unity of the three kinds of “interest” can be achieved through acceleration, development, and change. Out of this unity emerges the theme of a work.

I am not a seeker in the quest for the Absolute Truth on What Makes Novels Work. But I do like my brain to be prodded and poked by original thinkers who struggle to answer the eternal question.

From the spritely comments of the fellow Windmill-Tilters, I gleaned the name of Mikhail Bakhtin, whereupon I Google'd with abandon to find this (in addition to several pop-up windows promising to show me how to make quick money. But that's another story.): From The Problem of Cervantes in Bakhtin's Poetics by Walter L. Reed:

Don Quixote figures significantly as well in this essay in Bakhtin's attempt to develop a more intrinsic poetics of the novel. Cervantes' text becomes the epitome of the “Second Stylistic Line” of the novel's development, a line that is more radically dialogic or heteroglossial than the First Stylistic Line, which opens dialogic possibilities only to foreclose them. The contrast between these two stylistic lines is a more sophisticated version of the traditional distinction between novel and romance. Furthermore, within the Second Stylistic Line, Don Quixote turns out to embody both of the two basic types of testing that purely literary discourse is subjected to: the testing that centers on a hero trying to live according to the books he has read and the testing that centers on an author trying to live by writing a book of his own. “Both these types of testing literary discourse [are] blended into one . . . as early as Don Quixote,” Bakhtin says, noting the importance of Cide Hamete as well as of Quixote himself (p. 413).

Okay, I have to agree with most of you that this sort of bloodless dissection of a juicy novel renders the living patient to a corpse. Not to mention makes me feel really stupid. However, the gist of what they are saying corresponds neatly with my impressions of this novel. It's fun, it's complex, I suspect we are being set up for a change in the second book at which time the pain, much like childbirth, will have been worth it -- yet, the reading of it is a messy, arduous process.

I am not cross-posting this at Tilting, because I am cowed by the collective Reading IQs of the celebrated panel. In case you were wondering. There. I feel much better now. Back to the messy, sprawling DQ -- areba! areba! undele!


Amanda A. said...

I'm a ninny. When I read the title of your blog post, I thought "oh ... goody... Dairy Queen...more than frothy dessert... she must have had a slaw dog...."


Boy was I surpised when you started talking about Don Quixote! :0)

Imani said...

LOL@Amanda. Your comment is even funnier because I have no idea what a slaw dog is. (Some kind of hot dog I imagine. Before I was trying to figure what kind of ice cream concoction could deserve that name.)

LK, no no don't be cowed, post at the group blog whatever you like. I admit I used to be a bit intimidated too - felt as though I had to have something like an essay done up. But I think Darby's two line post cured me of that.

I like what Bahktin had to say -- I dig that "bloodless dissection" -- and probably would take his view over Natsume generally speaking. But Natsume may just have been describing the sort of novels that appeal to me. I've always found crazy, experimental novels a bit hard to take so I'm not surprised that Don Quixote is, at the moment, giving me a rough time.

Nice to know I'm not the only one.

LK said...

DQ will always mean frothy dessert, first and foremost, to me, Amanda. :)

Imani, I need to read more "bloodless dissection" -- even if I am not always sure what it means. Natsume was very interesting, though; I am glad you cited him.

Ted said...

The thing about Bakhtin, and other critics that I really like, is that his analysis is usually the opposite of "bloodless" -- Dorothy mentioned this on the Windmills post. I think dissecting critics like Natsume are the problem: trying to figure out "how a text works" instead of just describing it, loving it, talking about what it means, and generally playing with it -- which is much better and more interesting.

The problem with the Bakhtin quote you posted above is that the vocabulary is so strange, since you (and I) don't know exactly what is meant by "First Stylistic Line." Once you get this stuff into your head, it's actually rather wonderful, I think.

Andi said...


I just typed a really long response and blogger at it. So, in short, good post!


danielle said...

While I have been reading DQ religiously almost daily, I have not been keeping up with posts on the Tilting blog (I'm also too afraid to make any comments)--too show you why--the Reed quote...after starting to read it, my eyes starting glazing over! It is an interesting book--but I am finding I am getting so wrapped up in the interpolated stories that when we do get back to DQ's adventures I am going to be bored with them (well, probably not, but you know what I mean).

d. chedwick bryant said...

I agree with Ted.

stefanie said...

part two is so very different from part one you will be surprised. it gets to be easier reading, but sometimes even then it bogs down. Keep going though. When I was all done I was so happy I had read it.

Dorothy W. said...

Thanks for that quotation -- I'm not reading any criticism of DQ as I go along, but I think I should once I've finished -- there's so much to learn about the novel. I'd like to read Bakhtin on DQ (or critics on Bakhtin on DQ), although that may feel too much like work ... much as I like Bakhtin.