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Untilting Knight Seeks Windmill | davelovell.net
Sep 032010

I like lists, although I do think that my lists get together and make fun of me some­times. Most of my lists enu­mer­ate things that I would like to do, should do, or may just look good on a list.  One of these lists con­tains the titles of very impor­tant books that very smart peo­ple have told me I should read in order to be smart enough to tell other peo­ple what books should be on their lists.  Some of the titles have a lit­tle check by them; I love to check things off lists!  But oth­ers, some near the top of the list (denot­ing a longer period of res­i­dency on said list) stare back at me in mock­ing laugh­ter; these are the books that know they are smarter than I am.  They are Clas­sics, a term that I am sure was devel­oped by those same very smart peo­ple and applied to books they knew I wouldn’t under­stand, just too make me feel a lit­tle worse.

Proust and Cer­vantes authored two of those clas­sics; just the men­tion of those men can give you street cred with those lib­eral elites that are so darn mean to Sarah Palin.  Of course the dan­ger in men­tion­ing them is that you might run into that 1 in 10,000 who has actu­ally read them, and they might ask you about more than just the author and title…

I’ve made three attempts with Proust, but it seems that Swan’s Way is not my way.  I even went to see his old haunts in Paris and stared at his grave in hopes that some post-mortality essence might yet linger in the air, but no.  I will try again, even if I have to buy a beret, start smok­ing Gitanes and drink­ing absinthe.

The Cer­vantes work is dif­fer­ent; I think the rea­son I can’t ever get all the way through it may be the fact that I already know the story — and so do you.

Don Quixote, the main char­ac­ter, has become one of the great icons of West­ern lit­er­a­ture, and tilt­ing at wind­mills is some­thing we vaguely know we should avoid.  The Don is every­thing sad and com­i­cal, even pathetic about the old world from Cer­vantes’ point of view.  An unheroic man, who reads him­self into a faith in some­thing that no longer exists, and fights bat­tles against imag­ined foes.  I think in its most pos­i­tive spin, the Don can be seen as noble, will­ing to take on insur­mount­able chal­lenges – to fight the good fight.  Noth­ing wrong there… good icon.  At the other end, the Don is cham­pi­oning a dead cause, here Cer­vantes may have been cri­tiquing the bur­geon­ing nation­al­ism of his day, fight­ing a mean­ing­less foe – all sound and fury sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing… bad icon.

In my own life I have taken aim at both real and imag­ined wind­mills, as I sup­pose we all have.  In my first three decades or so, I had an untar­nished record and came to pos­sess a pretty high regard for my aim and the power of my lance.  That ended about five years ago when I took dead aim at one of the worlds more cyclo­pean wind­mills.  I charged with­out hes­i­ta­tion, low­ered my lance at what I per­ceived to be the weak spot, kicked my trusty stead into full gal­lop – and didn’t even make a dent, not a scratch.  I found myself laid out, Quixote like; lance shat­tered, stead hob­bled and hubris embraced.

In the years since, I have come to bet­ter under­stand this book that I haven’t read – not every wind­mill is the same, some are real and evil and could do with a good lance-poking.  Oth­ers are more self-created wind­mills (…sound, fury, yada yada yada).  We build them-up all on our own so that we can suit-up, grab our lances and have at them.  We may feel bet­ter, but we waste a per­fectly good tilt.

There are plenty of real-life wind­mills out there, and nowhere near enough Dons will­ing to charge them, it seems the chal­lenge is to know the strength of your own lance, the sta­mina of your mount and the strength of the oppos­ing windmill.

I’ve recov­ered now, dusted-off the ole’ lance and begun try­ing to get the war-horse back in fight­ing shape.  But before I saddle-up, I’m going to read Cer­vantes; cover-to-cover, just to make sure the next wind­mill I take aim at is a real one, lest I tend toward too much tilting.

  One Response to “Untilting Knight Seeks Windmill”

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