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This article is taken from PN Review 165, Volume 32 Number 1, September - October 2005.

A Lance for Hire: Four Hundred Years of Don Quixote Iain Bamforth

Miguel de Unamuno called it 'the Spanish Bible'; Don Quixote may not be holy writ, but like all great literature it describes us. Cervantes steps out of Spain when its golden age had waned so rapidly as to seem 'no more than an illusion' and tarries in ours. We, on the other hand, remain within its thousand pages and are unable to step outside its rather plot-poor scenery in order to establish the vanishing point that would bring it wholly within our historical purview.

I mention the vanishing point advertantly, because Cervantes lived at a juncture in European history that had already witnessed not only the Iberian discovery of the globe in the search for precious metals and spices and the invention of the printing press in the Rhine Valley, but also a ground-breaking shift in trade practices that would eventually lead to the superseding of feudal Europe itself. With the import of that dangerous cipher zero out of the east came the discovery in Florence of perspective in art and architecture. Zero has no referent in nature: it exists only in the mind. The Renaissance was therefore built on the perplexing discovery that the origin is the product of what it originates, a notion which explodes all crudely naturalistic links between systems of representation and the reality they purportedly represent. If feudal Europe was essentially a barter system, money was the source of value in the world of activity and ...

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