From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
5.1 (1985): 59-63.
Copyright © 1985, The Cervantes Society of America
||ROBERT TER HORST|
. . . there is from of old a quarrel between philosophy and poetry.
Mi intento ha sido poner en la plaza de nuestra república una mesa de trucos, donde cada uno pueda llegar a entretenerse, sin daño de barras; digo sin daño ni del alma ni del cuerpo, porque los ejercicios honestos y agradables, antes aprovechan que dañan.
Sí, que no siempre se está en los templos; no siempre se ocupan los oratorios; no siempre se asiste a los negocios, por calificados que sean. Horas hay de recreación, donde el afligido espíritu descanse.
Het drama, opperste en zinrijkste uiting der poëzie, behoudt zyn hooge spelkarakter tot het einde toi.
Spel is ouder dan cultuur . . .
Una fiesta hacer quiero
a mi mismo poder, si considero
que sólo a ostentación de mi grandeza
fiestas hará la gran naturaleza,
y como siempre ha sido
lo que más ha alegrado y divertido
la representación bien aplaudida
y es representación la humana vida,
una comedia sea
la que hoy en tu teatro vea
Qu'on ne dise pas que je n'ai rien dit de nouveau: la disposition des matières est nouvelle; quand on joue à la paume, c'est une même balle dont joue l'un et l'autre, mais l'un la place mieux.
Tous les grands divertissements sont dangereux pour la vie chrétienne; mais entre tous ceux que la monde a inventés, il n'y en a point que soit plus à craindre que la comédie.
Tragedy, as it was anciently compos'd, hath ever been held the gravest, moralest and most profitable of all other Poems . . .
* This is a response
to Cesáreo Bandera's review article, About
Female Art, Male Silence, and the Frivolous in
General, Cervantes 5.1 (1985):
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. . . the poet too must become a pharmakos. This situation goes unperceived by rationalist and humanist critics. Their pursuit of what one might perhaps call the meaning of meaning leads them away from the source of tragic inspiration and away from undifferentiated violence.
IN Violence and the Sacred, René Girard writes
that: The City of Athens prudently kept on hand a number of unfortunate
souls, whom it maintained at public expense, for appointed times as well
as in certain emergencies. Whenever some calamity threatened . . .
there was always a pharmakos at the disposal of the community (p. 94).
Although somewhat perplexed as to whether Calderón: The Secular
Plays constitutes an emergency or an appointed time, I, languishing at
public expense in the dungeons of Arizona, find that the handling of my book
and me in the previous pages, opaque and ill-composed as they are, amounts
to an academic rite of sacrifice for the spiritual well-being of one exceedingly
small interpretative community. Intellectual violence has been done to my
thought in behalf of a peculiar notion of the sacred. At first, like any
victim, one feels bewildered at being ritually abused. But, as anyone who
has ever been a captive knows, one of the great resources of a prisoner is
inwardness and self-containment, that solipsism so rightly dreaded by Girard.
In not a few such solipsistic moments, then, I have meditated on the aggressions
of my assailant and have come to understand them.
The notion of society as something both primordial and sacred has dominated French interpretative thought since Molière's Misanthrope. Even that misfit Rousseau was enraged when Diderot characterized him as bad because Rousseau lived apart. But of course Rousseau's preoccupation was with a society to which he would not have to feel hostile. Similarly, for René Girard society is the indispensable critical context. Athens comes first, we pharmakoi last. And, as my reference to the exalted status of the community as created and guaranteed by the debased condition of those victims who supposedly ensure its health makes clear, this society is a nonarchical one based on religion and one in which there are infinite gradations of degree. Even the most casual reader of the memoirs of the Duke of Saint-Simon will recognize this world with its rivalry for difference and distinction, its pursuit of tabourets de grâce and of a better position in the funeral procession of coaches. But many a reader will also recognize at least one of its alternatives in a withdrawal from the tyrannies of society
|5 (1985)||A Reply to Cesáreo Bandera||61|
into the interiorities of monasteries like that austere one founded by
Saint-Simon's friend M. de la Trappe. Even in Saint-Simon, then, religion
is previous to and greater than society, which looks frivolous once it is
abandoned for an observantine cloister. Girard posits, however, quite another
ordonnance. Community bringing together humans and their hostilities
is primeval. Community as the conflictive catchment for that aggressiveness
which fundamentally characterizes the species is thus his commanding idea.
Next in the sequence comes that violence which is the inevitable result of
social grouping the plague, catastrophe, or calamity. And third in
the series comes the tragic sacrificial cure the immolation of the
pharmakoi, the rise about them of the sacred. Accounts of this genetic event
must, according to Girard, always mask and misapprehend it. Art therefore
conceals reality rather than revealing it: In order to retain its
structuring influence, the generative violence must remain hidden;
misapprehension is indispensable to all religious or postreligious
structuring. Generative violence is thus the core, and the corps, of
one vast monomyth of origin: All religious rituals spring from the
surrogate victim, and all the great institutions of mankind, both secular
and religious, spring from ritual. Such is the case . . . with
political power, legal institutions, medicine, the theater, philosophy and
anthropology itself (p. 306). Moreover, this single mechanism
. . . [is] continually functioning because perpetually
misunderstood (p. 299). Girard unmistakably subordinates society, culture,
and art to a violent tragic vision, by turning away from which those only
fortify and renew, as he would have it. Thus aversion from the tragic is
what Pascal would call, generally, divertissement, and specifically,
la comédie. Like him, Girard castigates both.
In Calderón: The Secular Plays I have quite consciously and methodically interpreted the narrative and the dramatic art of Cervantes and of Calderón as moving apart from the tragic sense in which it nonetheless so richly abounds. For both, I think, the tragic is a datum in their distance from which, a distance ever so intimate, a comic or, better, comedic vision is generated. Since the comic parodies the tragic, it necessarily misapprehends it or at least misrepresents it. The purpose of the distortion is liberation and, ultimately, domination of the dominant. Guard would say that this misreading simply increases tragic potency, which is wise when one considers how often power has been reduced or destroyed by ridicule. Now the usual view of Calderón and Cervantes is that their art, though ludic, is ultimately
|62||ROBERT TER HORST||Cervantes|
subordinate to religion and society. Don Quijote's exemplary death would,
for example, be adduced to support such an understanding. I would argue to
the contrary in terms of art, which not only in Cervantes but well before,
in Manrique's Coplas, appropriates the ultimate moral reality
death in the form of the ars moriendi. Grisóstomo
stages death, as does Basilio, as does Don Quijote himself. Similarly, in
El gran teatro del mundo Calderón theatricalizes human destiny
and God's part in it. Life becomes fiesta, holy day and holiday, the
sacred and an evasion of the sacred. His characters do not stay at home in
Pascal's room to meditate on death. They embark on that sanctified escape,
a pilgrimage, and find death along the pathways of divertissement,
with varying fortune in the afterlife yet having experienced the enormous
consolation of a non-violent society along the road. This pilgrimage, this
perpetual motion so detested by Pascal, is the basic structure also of Cervantine
narration, the multiple salidas of the novelas and the
Quijote culminating in that magnificent romería which
is the Persiles, in which art masters a congruent morality. In this
dual approach to a non-tragic dispensation, Cervantes and Calderón
also begin to overhaul the previous subordination of the female to the male.
Women in their works come to the fore, perhaps because they realize that
women are less addicted to ritual sacrifice than are men. Modern tragedy
for both writers centers on honor, and honor on the female victim. Comedy
is a surrogation of tragic immolation. In El galán fantasma,
the duke of Saxony does not quite murder his rival, and the competitor and
the woman the duke and his rival both desire are banished, the Platonic,
rather than executed, the Athenian solution.
Comedy in Cervantes and Calderón by and large turns the tables on the tragic and so comes to dominate that by which it had once been dominated. Though very close indeed to a much darker ancient perspective, this is a modern outlook, what my antagonist would call liberal optimist or secular humanist. Girard's strategy is to use the very same technique against the comic vision so as to return it to a tragic anthropological monomyth over which he himself is dominant. Speaking of the quarrel between Tiresias and Oedipus, he writes that Truth is on the side of Tiresias and of that interpretation in depth which turns the tables on a former interpreter, but prudently adds Are we so sure that this is the end of the road? So far as I am concerned it is not. Yet I strongly suspect that Girard feels that he has completed his journey, or should I say pilgrimage? His will have been an Odyssey rather than an Iliad, a return rather than an advance:
|5 (1985)||A Reply to Cesáreo Bandera||63|
Far from subordinating religion to sport or play (as does Huizinga in Homo Ludens), we must subordinate play to religion, and in particular to the sacrificial crisis (p. 154). Huizinga's famous theory of play should be inverted. It is not play that envelops the sacred, but the sacred that envelops the notion of play (p. 312). But even though Calderón declares that no hay más fortuna que Dios, fiesta dominates his theatrical cosmos, as it does Cervantes fictive world in which no siempre se está en los templos. My own critical posture is one of subordination to the text, an attitude which my antagonist characterizes as frivolous and meaningless. Yet in treating the text with no small degree of reverence I believe I avoid that tyrannical struggle for interpretative dominance which would not only subordinate me to a monomyth but would also take my hermeneutical license away on grounds of levity. To try to suppress and silence others in the name of an unproven theory of the sacred is no mere academic dispute. It is a deadly game.
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||Prepared with the help of Myrna Douglas||
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