The Passion of Don Quixote


The French word "donquichottery" refers to the novel "Don Quijote (original spelling: Quixote) de La Mancha" by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The dictionary explains Donquichottery as: an unpractical-idealist course of action, and of course it is derived from the dreamy chivalrous ideals of this first real romance novel hero. It's interesting to determine when Cervantes wrote his book. This was the 17th century: the renaissance had passed and the Middle Ages were ancient history. Just like many people nowadays like to watch series based on the novels of for instance Jane Austen, and later have "even" have started reading her books, in 17th century Spain chivalry novels were very popular. These were epic tales, in which the high-strung ideals of the caballeros were glorified, including courtly love and the honorary code of the knights. During Cervantes' time the chivalry novels were a way of escaping the much more prosaic and banal reality of every day. Around this theme, the author built up a complex novel with several layers. One of the most famous layers, of course, is Don Quichote's fascination with chivalry novels, which goes much further than the more usual private idolization. Quichote is one of the first "wannabes" in world literature. He identifies himself to a mad degree with the figures from his "libros de caballeria" and completely loses sight of reality. His ideals aren't just difficult to attain in practice, but in his case they are totally free from the sober correction of reality. With that, the tale that is mostly comical is finally also a tragic romance. Only on his deathbed does Don Quichote see how foolish he was in mixing up ideal and reality. Opposite the tragic-comedian - and thereby for the readers the most sympathetic - figure of Don Quichote, Cervantes places his just as attractive sidekick Sancho Panza; a fat, dedicated little and very hedonistic peasant (Panza = paunch). Mostly typical for Sancho are especially the countless proverb he bandies about. He represents a common cliché-wisdom that would in fact be of more use than the donquichottery of his master. We are no longer living in the 17th century, but again we are living in a period that is seen from the prevailing viewpoint as one of outmoded romanticism. I'm talking about the idealist years of the sixties and seventies. People who are still trying to live according to the ideals of that time are viewed as out of date "losers". This goes even more for people with radical left-wing ideas. Neo-liberal thinkers such as Fukoyama go by the assumption that the capitalists have won almost everywhere, and that in that sense history has almost ended, meaning the struggle between major political movements. Within alternative circles, critical of the social structure, there is a group that is forced into the role of Don Quichote extra forcefully: the consistent fighters for animal rights, and then mainly the "extremists" in that group, the vegans. Our ideals are said to be illusory and in fact unattainable. Instead of chasing them, it would be better to resign ourselves like a Sancho Panza and to reach compromises that wouldn't affect social reality in any real sense. To toast minute improvements of housing systems and the abolition in an x number of years of a few industrial branches of institutionalized animal abuse. Don Quichote will never realize his ideals. He can only maintain his delusion that he is fighting for an attainable cause, or either he can wake up. But is this the right way to look at idealists in our current context? There are plenty of thinkers and groups who use valid arguments to fight the paternalistic ridiculing of a struggle for social alternatives. There is for instance Noam Chomsky who proves that the image of the world the media presents us with is very much distorted by vested interests. Peter Singer who stands up for animal rights. And radical left-wing groups who fight the "myth of left-wing wrongs" in which every socialist or anarchist idea is associated with Marxism-Leninism. Within the framework of this Passion-project I think it's time for a breakthrough of the "quichottisation" of alternative viewpoints. This certainly also goes for the image of animal rights fighters. Instead of the archetype of Don Quichote, who is a caricature of ancient knights, we could for instance go back to an even older archetype. For instance that of King Arthur who fights injustice with his knights of the round table (an image by the way that has been monopolized from an ultra right-wing corner for too long) from a sort of sacred, passionate understanding of right and wrong. A feeling that deserves more respect than the amused compassion that Don Quichote receives. Contribution by . More on www.donquixote.com

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