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In death, he unites the neighborhood; his quixotism makes him a comic figure of redemption, oddly reminiscent of David Quixano and his symphonic affirmation of America as a place for eschewing the violent hatreds of the past.
Differentiating between the Cervantine, the quixotic, and the picaresque produces not merely a genre distinction (which is widely, if inconsistently, applied in literary scholarship), but a set of crucial character components of quixotism that enable us to extract quixotism productively from its deeply embedded and disorienting genre connotations.
For the reasons that follow, it is necessary not only for character studies of Don Quixote to address "quixotism," but indeed for character studies of Don Quixote to help liberate Don Quixote from recurring questions of genre, allusion, and authorial influence.
Those researching the quixotic have nonetheless developed a useful map of "quixotic" characteristics, which, when disentangled from their genre implications, can begin to move us away from thinking about quixotism as a taxonomic term and toward thinking about the character of quixotism itself.
Cathy Davidson, for example, includes a chapter on "The Picaresque and the Margins of Political Discourse" in Revolution and the Word that discusses, among others, Female Quixotism, Modern Chivalry, and Royall Tyler's The Algerine Captive (1797) as representations of the American picaresque; yet despite Davidson's adept and justifiably influential readings, none of the protagonists in these novels is a picaro, a lowlife struggling to the top.
The issue here is not that there are different and conflicting readings of these texts--this is if anything both unavoidable and beneficial--but rather that these different readings, frequently unconcerned with fleshing out the character of quixotism, get us no closer to a fuller understanding of the quixotic as character mode.
Indeed, most everything about Don Quixote is not low, but mean and plain, such that the pursuit of not merely a better life, but a grander life--a life like the lives he reads about in chivalric romances--is the impetus for quixotism. Don Quixote hails from a part of La Mancha that the narrator chooses not to remember, and that Echevarria calls "a region of Spain of no particular distinction--plain in the literal and figurative sense"; his weekly cuisine is mediocre; his housekeeper is, like himself, aging and unremarkable; and the great majority of his time is spent not in fruitful occupation or active scheming, but in undirected leisure (Echevarria xiv; Cervantes 3-4).
(9) We can see flashes of this aspect of quixotism, for example, in Washington Irving's Diedrich Knickerbocker, a self-described "regular bred historian" whose alacrity in writing his "History of New York" stems from a belief that he is amending the errors and righting the injustices from which his Dutch ancestors suffer in their elision from the historical record of New York (Insko 621).
In this sense, quixotism is an exercise in finding grandiosity in boredom and purposelessness, or elevating the quotidian circumstances of the members of leisured classes to the stuff of noble occupation, if not recorded legend.
This mimetic effect of quixotism is an instrumental facet of the character of quixotes, who are imitators who in turn inspire imitation.
What Davidson has described as the marginality of picaras and picaros, then, might otherwise be considered the exceptionalism of quixotes, whose quixotism renders them frequently aloof and above the prattle of changing and developing societies and their attendant social problems.
(10) To conclude this essay, having briefly outlined the exceptionalist character of quixotes, I would like to invert that critical project of defining the novel from Don Quixote, and apply a definition of quixotism as a kind of exceptionalism to help explain the suitability of quixotes as novel characters.