Our Lord Don Quixote by Miguel de Unamuno, a book with a title so packed with meaning that it has influenced my thinking about Don Quixote ever since I learned the book existed twenty years ago. Even better, Unamuno never wrote a book with this title. He wrote The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho (1905), and someone, perhaps the translator, Andrew Kerrigan, chose the more pungent title for the English version, which is also filled out by a number of related essays.
Still, the phrase is Unamuno’s.
Not even madness is understood here [Spain] any longer. They go so far as to say and think that a madman must have a hidden reason or an economic motivation for being mad. The “reason of unreason” has become a fact for these wretches. If Our Lord Don Quixote were to rise from the dead and return to this Spain, they would seek out the ulterior motives behind his noble extravagance. (9)
Yes, Our Lord Don Quixote is an example of everyone’s favorite genre, the Lucianic satire, a genuine sequel to The Praise of Folly (1511). The truest sequel I can think of, since even more than Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1833) it is a book-length praise of folly, a defense of Quixotism and Sanchopanzism. As with Carlyle’s novel, it can be hard to tell when the author is serious and when he is joking or rhetorizing. My sense with both books is that the more outrageous the idea, the more serious the author. That is more or less the point of writing this kind of book.
I do not want to be reasonable in accordance with that wretched reasoning which feeds the opportunists. Madden me, my Don Quixote!
Long live Don Quixote! Long live Don Quixote in his battered defeat! Long live Don Quixote in death! Grant me the gift of your madness, our eternal Don Quixote, and let me rest in your bosom. If you know how I suffer, my Don Quixote, among these countrymen of yours, whose entire reserves of heroic madness you seem to have used up, leaving them only the presumptuous madness which undid you! (281)
Setting aside the specifically Spanish aspect of the book, which I did find a little cryptic – for example, the call to a mad heroism as a response to Spain’s recent defeat in the Spanish-American War, if I am getting that right, which I doubt – the core argument is that faith in unreason is a better way to live than a corrosive, inevitably faithless reason. It is a proto-existentialism, where futile activity beats sensible inaction.
Don Quixote has just freed the galley slaves, and Unamuno has defended the action at length:
At this point I can see you, timid readers, raising your hands to your head and exclaiming: What atrocious ideas! And then you will talk of social order and security and other such gibberish. (106)
These satires always abuse their readers.
Reader, listen: though I do not know you, I love you so much that if I could hold you in my hands, I would open up your breast and in your heart’s core I would make a wound and into it I would rub vinegar and salt, so that you might never again know peace but would live in continual anguish and endless longing. If I have not succeeded in disquieting you with this Quixote of mine it is because of my heavy-handedness, believe me, and because the dead paper on which I write neither shrieks, nor cries out, nor sighs, nor laments, and because language was not made for you and me to understand each other. (305)
How rarely a book so perfectly lives up to its title.