Women from the Periphery in Don Quixote

Ekphrasis Versus Counter-Narrative

Authored by: Frederick A. de Armas

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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While the adventures of Don Quixote and his conversations with his more down-to-earth squire have enchanted audiences for centuries, and while the amorous adventures in the interpolated narratives have also caught the attention of many, the intrepid women that make an appearance during Don Quixote’s adventures are sometimes forgotten, given the scope of his imaginings. This essay seeks to highlight two women from Iberia’s periphery who in some ways counter the knight’s imperial quest. In each of these adventures, the knight seems to dominate his surroundings by the use of his imagination. As dramatist and artist he transforms or paints over a quotidian space into a place for chivalric adventures. There is no question that the knight urges us to use our sight over and over again: “Ves allí, amigo Sancho Panza, donde se descubren treinta, o poco más desaforados gigantes” (1978, 129); “Dime, ¿no ves aquel caballero que hacia nosotros viene, sobre un caballo rucio rodado, que trae puesto en la cabeza un yelmo de oro? (1978, 253). Indeed, not only does he paint over the landscape, but also he shapes new characters derived from his chivalric imaginings. When asked about Dulcinea, he replies: “píntola en mi imaginación” (1978, 314). Don Quixote believes in the capaciousness of his words to create something new. In ancient rhetoric this capaciousness is tied to a kind of descriptio sometimes called ekphrasis. It is not my intention here to enter into the debates over this term. 1 While Leo Spitzer (1962) once described the technique as “the poetic description of a pictorial or sculptural work of art … the reproduction through the medium of words of sensuously perceptible objects d’art” (1955, 207), Murray Krieger claims as one aspect of ekphrasis the exhilaration felt when the word is able “to freeze itself into a spatial form … [to] recover the immediacy of a sightless vision” (1992, 10). The dazzling images that emerge from Don Quixote’s mind are thus transformed into capacious writing and this grants him the exhilaration felt by the poet. Don Quixote as creator does not feel the opposite reaction that may emerge from ekphrasis: the “exasperation” created because “words cannot have that capacity, cannot be capacios because they have literally, no space” (Krieger 1992, 10). For the knight, the landscape and the characters are truly changed. If his vision is challenged, then it has to do with malefic enchanters who are intent on changing his reality.

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