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Wednesday, October 26, 2005 (read 389 times)
don Quijote de la Mancha-maniaby Christophe
In a student city like Salamanca, where the streets are awash with quixotic, aspiring intellectuals, it is not at all uncommon to inadvertently become involved in a philosophical debate. Such a thing happened to me recently when I became entangled in a discussion about the definition of art, always a tricky business.
It's a classic but as I walked home later that night, I thought of what I should have said. It came to me when I passed the don Quijote café. Why is El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha beyond any doubt a great work of art? Because it has been around for 400 years and still manages to beguile and inspire people! Notwithstanding the incredible changes in society and Spanish language, this book still has countless fans all over the world.
Art is a lot more easy to define if you qualify it first. Who cares what's hot and what's not, truly great art is any expression of creativity that lasts through the ages. I don't know if the latest abstract painter or this year's best-selling writer deserve to be called artists - ask me again in a couple of centuries…
I suddenly started noticing el Quijote everywhere: street names, businesses, English language (although I must admit I had to go a little out of my way to use the word quixotic in a sentence). I also met devoted don Quijote enthusiasts such as René de Jong, the founder and director of the Spanish schools I am attending, appropriately named don Quijote. He told me that, in a survey organised by the Norwegian Book Clubs in Oslo, Don Quijote de la Mancha was voted the best book ever written by a group of 100 writers from 54 countries, among them Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, Milan Kundera, John Irving, Seamus Heaney and Norman Mailer. It beat its closest contender by a 50% margin, that's quite the recommendation!
René de Jong also launched a virtual don Quijote museum. Seeing the abundance of works in this museum that were all inspired on Cervantes novel filled me with awe. I had never known how significant this book was and dashed to the library to get a copy. One warning though; grossly overestimating my Spanish reading capacities I had borrowed the original-language version, which is probably the Spanish equivalent of Shakespearean English. Shamefaced I went back to the library the next day to exchange it for a nice illustrated version for 12- to 16-year-olds. This I can read, although I hope to someday be able to read the original. Meanwhile I'll keep you posted on how I am liking this one.