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400 Years Of Don Quixote

Published: October 15, 2015

The Quixote Quadricentennial: A SoCal Symposium gallops into CSULB windmill-free on Wednesday, Oct. 28, at the Karl Anatol Center (AS-110) from 1-7 p.m. Co-sponsors of this Scholarly Intersections event include Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures (RGRLL), English, Philosophy, Chicano and Latino Studies, Comparative World Literature and Classics as well as the University Library, Latin American Studies, the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Spanish Graduate Student Association. The symposium is just part of the novel Don Quixote’s 400th anniversary celebration worldwide.

The program begins at 1 p.m. with a greeting from program organizer Bonnie Gasior, professor of Spanish, followed by remarks from RGRLL Chair Markus Muller and CSULB President Jane Close Conoley. Select current and past students will speak briefly about the novel’s impact on their own B.A. and M.A. studies.

Presentations begin at 1:30 p.m. with “Discreet Reading, Indiscreet Implications” by UC Riverside’s James Parr, followed by “Cervantes’ Genealogy of Sexual Knowledge in the Cave of Montesino” from USC’s Sherry Velasco; “No soy Hermosa: El Quijote y la historia de la fealdad” from Pomona College’s José Cartagena-Calderón; “Dulcinea desaparece” by UC Irvine’s Luis Aviles; and “Don Quixote and The 21st Century Undergraduate: Reflections and Directions” from CSU San Marcos’ Darci Strother. The mix of Spanish and English pays tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month as well as CSULB’s status as a Hispanic-serving institution.

Gasior selected her panel for its Cervantes expertise.

“Each scholar has published and presented on Don Quixote and is considered an authority on the novel. Howard Mancing, for example, literally wrote the book on Don Quixote with his 863-page Cervantes Encyclopedia,” she said.

The program continues at 3:15 p.m. with a question-and-answer session followed at 4 p.m. by a 30-minute screening of Stephen Ritz-Barr and the Metropolitan Puppet Authority’s Claymation animated feature, “Don Quixote.” The program concludes with a keynote, “Don Quixote in Context,” by Cervantes’ scholar Howard Mancing of Purdue University. Gasior will close the conference at 5:30 p.m. followed by a 6-7 p.m. reception in the Anatol Patio.

“It is exciting to see intellectual events like this, in which planning spans the course of nearly a year, come to fruition,” remarked Gasior, who joined the university in 2001. “And to bring a keynote speaker as renowned as Howard Mancing, one of the leading Cervantes’ scholars in the world to our campus, is a huge draw. On a personal level, it is even more meaningful because Howard was my professor at Purdue.”

When asked why she thought this novel in particular has stood the test of time, Gasior responded, “It’s natural to wonder why other novels written centuries ago have been forgotten about,” she asked. “For me, Don Quixote’s success stems from the multi-dimensionality of Cervantes’ characters and their complex psychological profiles (most literary knights of chivalry were one-dimensional); the literary devices Cervantes employed (consider, for example, the inclusion of multiple narrators); and the way Cervantes plays with the notions of history versus fiction (only Cervantes would have his Don Quixote and Sancho Panza meet other characters in Part II who recognized them on the street after claiming to have read part I. These defining features are also what qualify it as the first modern novel. People, particularly students, often ask ‘In what way is a 400-year-old novel `modern?’ If you look at all the literary innovations implemented by Cervantes’ own hand, the result is absolutely astonishing. Couple that with the universal theme of pursuing the impossible dream (who can’t relate to that?) and, well, I predict this novel will remain relevant for as long as we continue to read and appreciate literature. These are just some of the reasons why Don Quixote is such a tour-de-force.”

Symposium Celebrates 400 Years Of Quixote

A synopsis of the novel reads as a middle-aged Spaniard whose obsession with books of chivalry causes him to lose touch with reality and set off in search of adventures, imitating those knights he reads about alongside his humble neighbor and squire, Sancho Panza. Together, the two interact with a wide swath of society, including shepherds, aristocrats, criminals, priests, damsels in distress, prostitutes and actors. They also read about, listen to and weigh in on mini-novels recounted within the novel. Through their travels, the reader gets a sense of Cervantes’ creative, literary genius and, at the same time, early modern Spain’s cultural, historic and religious profile.

Don Quixote offers a little something for everyone and is much more than mere windmills. It is at once tragic, philosophical, critical, and, of course, funny,” added Gasior. “It never fails that, during a semester when I teach the novel, the students are already all laughing as I enter the classroom. It is such a pleasure to teach a text that has that kind of effect on readers.”

Although there have been multiple attempts to turn the novel into a musical or a movie, Gasior believes neither Hollywood nor Broadway will never come close to visually reproducing the novel.

“‘Man of La Mancha’, for example, is no substitute for the novel,” she expressed. “While I am thrilled that filmmakers and directors take on that challenge of adaptation, as it serves as a reminder of and promotes the Quixote literary tradition, at the end of the day, people should read the novel first.”

Gasior encourages the campus community to (re)discover Cervantes in light of the novel’s 400th anniversary.

Don Quixote celebrations are taking place worldwide, from Mexico to Montreal to Madrid,” she said. “By attending this event, people become part of history in the making. The event is free and open to the campus and Long Beach community.”

–Richard Manly