SPANNING four centuries of popular and critical acclaim, the classic novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes continues to shape the literary landscape. In line with the 400th year of its publication last 2005, the Instituto de Cervantes of Manila, the Spanish cultural agency, organized a series of lectures by three accomplished Filipino writers representing three generations of readers of Don Quixote.

These lectures are now compiled and published in a book, If a Filipino Writer Reads Don Quixote (Instituto de Cervantes and UST Publishing House, 2007). The book instantly places the reader in a position of curious familiarity with the often deranged but chivalric man from La Mancha, thus asking, “What if a Filipino writer reads Don Quixote?”

Alfred Yuson’s essay, “Of Windmills and Literature: A Filipino Novelist’s Musings on Don Quixote,” immediately answers this question: “We can draw lessons from Don Quixote, about the value of absorbing literature of high quality, and the fundamental treasure that is the reading habit.” Yuson shows the power and influence of Cervantes’ novel citing that it has been transformed into comics, plays, musicals, and films, thus influencing other important works in literature such as Jorge Luis Borges’ Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Yuson also points out that Rizal’s novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, echo one of Quixote’s foremost ideals—liberty, something that Filipinos strive for, “what with our reality often appearing to be farce.”

In “The Don’s Divinest Sense,” novelist Groyon admits that he had just recently read the novel in its entirety since he was born in a generation “nursed and educated by the television set,” and that “it was difficult to approach such an intimidating volume, thick as a bible, and often translated into archaic English.” Groyon said that works by Borges, Fowles, and other postmodern-labeled books would seem like copycats when placed beside Don Quixote, since the latter already made use of postmodern devices and is even considered as the first modern and postmodern novel. “All the traits of postmodern writing—the infinitely nested narratives, unreliable narrators… are all seen, suddenly, startingly, as emanating from Cervantes,” Groyon says.

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Groyon points out the resonances of the novel in the Philippines such as in Benigno Aquino’s assassination. Upon his death, his supporters had chosen “The Impossible Dream” from the Broadway musical The Man of La Mancha, as one of the anthems to stir public emotion. For Groyon, it is a song that “glorifies the courageous, idealistic underdog willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause,” just like Quixote.

Lastly, F.Sionil Jose’s lecture has his name juxtaposed with Don Quixote’s for its title, “Don Quixote and I,” which shows the National Artist’s personal affinity with the novel’s protagonist. Here, he writes how Don Quixote influenced his characters Pepe Samson and Salvador dela Raza in his novels Mass and Viajero, since they all “embark on a labyrinthine, inward passage which all of us must also take, if we are to find ourselves, our lucid purpose, if we are to prevail—not merely survive.” He says that when he was writing Mass, he consciously had Don Quixote in mind not as an old man but as a “listless youth, cynical, and full of questions.” In Viajero, Jose says his character Salvador dela Raza has a disease just like Quixote, preventing him to act decisively, which the National Artist considers as “a metaphor for the shackles that deter so many of us from doing our duty,” which leads to an inner journey into the self.

Jose also states that there is always the “quixotic” in all of us, and since Filipinos are facing critical times, when people generally distrust the state, including the Church, “We must believe now in something pure, true, ennobling like knighthood, and raise that shining shield against the looming despair and the darkness that follows.” Kristine Joy L. Dabbay

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