Friday, August 27, 2010

The Ellisonian Self

Ralph Waldo Ellison is a titan. It is difficult to finish Invisible Man and not be impressed by both depth of thought that clearly went into its making and the execution with which that product of thought was born. It is also difficult to not take very seriously indeed the thought that lies behind his many essays and interviews. An extraordinarily considered and rhetorically skilled writer, Ellison should be considered a philosopher by any other name.

As you dig into the tissue of the relationship between the first three major post-Harlem Renaissance writers, Wright, Baldwin, and Ellison, it quickly becomes apparent how much Baldwin and Ellison wrote in the wake of Wright's early success in Native Son (Wright did, too), and how important coming to grips with Marxism was for all three. Forcing that confrontation was Wright's gift to Baldwin and Ellison, and there was undoubtedly a dramatic (and dramatized) reaction. While Wright became a very early convert to American Marxism, Baldwin and Ellison saw it as something of a curse on the writer qua writer. The interaction between Native Son and Wright's early programmatic essay, "Blueprint for Negro Writing," Baldwin's essays in Notes of a Native Son (especially "Everybody's Protest Novel" and "Many Thousands Gone"), and Ellison's Invisible Man and his essays "Richard Wright's Blues" and "The World and the Jug" provide enough fuel for reflection on a hundred related topics about literature, literary criticism, philosophy, history and politics.[fn.1]

The below takes on the more strictly philosophical side of Ellison's vision. Ellison was a natural pragmatist in his theoretical orientation: while I'm not sure how well-read Ellison was in the work of professional philosophers, Ellison was a natural amateur philosopher and struggled personally with his namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson (who Cornel West, Harold Bloom, and Richard Poirier have made us realize was the spiritual progenitor of that professional philosophical movement, pragmatism) and enjoyed and used the work of Kenneth Burke (who was also an amateur philosopher, though we do know he read Dewey). Ellison's vision of culture is deep, and includes a vision of the self and its relationship with society (as every Emersonian struggles with). And while I come from Rorty's professional version of what a pragmatist picture of the self should look like, Ellison's picture--which is only too briefly dug into below--provides a fascinating sidelight on essentially the same picture.

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1952, 1980, 1995.

---. The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison. Ed. John F. Callahan. Preface by Saul Bellow. New York: The Modern Library, 1995, 2003.

Kimberly W. Benston, Ed., Speaking for You: The Vision of Ralph Ellison. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1987.

Stanley Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972.

*NOTE* The footnote links won't work unless you're on the specific post page (by clicking on the title link). You'll have to excuse my crappy coding.


A repeated figure in the first part of Invisible Man is variations on the phrase “I am who I am.” What is striking about the figure is the static finality of the verb, and it should make us wonder if this figure is Platonic or Nietzschean in its roots. For the Plato of the Republic, people have essences, bronze, silver, or gold in his myth, and justice is done when each is in their rightful place. The Nietzsche of the Gay Science, on the other hand, wanted us to become who we are. More generally, the Platonic tradition uses metaphors of discovery and being and the Nietzschean metaphors of creation and becoming. With the Invisible Man’s statement that the “end is in the beginning” (Invisible Man 6), there would seem to be a statement of inevitability, of inescapable essence. Yet, the notion of a static essence that each of us has inside and must conform to seems antithetical to the spirit of anti-conformity in Ellison’s work. What kind of self is the Ellisonian self?

To figure out what Ellison means, we shouldn’t start at the level of philosophy and build a theory of the self, but rather begin at the ground level of experiencing selves and tailor our theory to fit what we find there. The reason for this comes out of Ellison himself. What we find in Ellison is a broad rejection of isolated, programmatic theory. For instance, in Ellison’s essay “Society, Morality, and the Novel,” we find a constant denunciation of the maneuvers of literary critics who attempt to bind the artist with their formulations (often in the mode of a joke): “Critics would give you the formula that would make the achievement of a major fiction as certain as making a pre-mixed apple pie” (Essays 699). In Invisible Man, this comes out of the Invisible Man’s relationship to the Brotherhood, which is a veiled reference to Marxism. In referring to the Brotherhood’s “ideology” (e.g., Invisible Man 359), Ellison is ironically calling attention to the Marxist pretension to “science.” Marxism explicitly is not an ideology, which is a term Marx put into currency to distinguish all other modes of life. Marxism is rather a science, a theory, a method of uncovering our rationalizations of injustices (ideology) in order to find the essential path to justice and truth. It is this pretension that the Invisible Man will eventually reject.

There is something ambiguous, however, about Ellison’s relationship to Marxism that comes out in this passage from Brother Jack: “Remember too, that theory always comes after practice. Act first, theorize later; that’s also a formula, a devastatingly effective one!” (359) Practice before theory is a formula I would commend to Ellison, the pragmatism common to Ellison and Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach.” Ellison’s comment on Marxism would be that, in practice, Marxists don’t put practice ahead of theory, but rather make the evidence fit their theories. This is punched up when the Invisible Man thinks to himself after Jack offers his formula, “He looked at me as though he did not see me…” (359). The metaphor of sight is deployed to register the sense that the Brotherhood’s theories leave out significant portions of reality. “Outside the Brotherhood we were outside history; but inside of it they didn’t see us” (499). What is deficient about the Brotherhood’s interpretation of reality is that they only offer, as Ellison puts it elsewhere, a “statistical interpretation of our lives” (Essays 75): “It was all a swindle, an obscene swindle! They had set themselves up to describe the world. What did they know of us, except that we numbered so many, worked on certain jobs, offered so many votes, and provided so many marchers for some protest parade of theirs?” (Invisible Man 507) The ambiguity in Ellison’s relationship is that though the Invisible Man rebels against the Brotherhood’s classification and organization of reality, he must classify and organize reality somehow. In the moment that the Invisible Man suddenly realizes that he had not been undermining the Brotherhood by working for them, but rather doing exactly what they wanted, he says, “And in defining, in giving organization to the fury, it seemed to spin me around…” (553, emphasis mine). The Invisible Man hasn’t given up classification, but realized a new classification and interpretation of reality. What Ellison rejects is not organization per se, but the idea of a science or theory of organization, the attempt by some to short-circuit the individual’s experience of reality by authoritatively telling them what they are really experiencing (whether they know it or not).

The vision of reality as in need of organization is a typically Kantian one, but in order to avoid epistemological controversies that Ellison pays no heed to, I would call it a rhetorical vision. A rhetorical vision of reality is one that recognizes the constructedness of reality, rooted in the public means of communication. The major problem for rhetoric, however, has been pointed out by Plato in the Gorgias—if rhetoric requires a common vocabulary between speaker and audience, then how is it not just pandering? How does real change occur if public, inferential communication requires a body of common assumptions for understanding? Ellison knows very well the problems of communication, calling the ideal American audience member “the little man behind the stove” (Essays 495), a symbol of the broadly different forms a writer’s readers might take. Ellison says “the novel is rhetorical” (701) and pondered just that question of communicating to a white audience when writing Invisible Man.[fn.2] But if Ellison has to communicate in the terms of a white audience, how can he change them?

This is a difficult practical problem for every writer, and to help to understand Ellison’s solution we might distinguish between two different modes of presentation that Stanley Fish uses: rhetorical and dialectical. A rhetorical presentation is much like Plato would have it: “A presentation is rhetorical if it satisfies the needs of its readers” (Fish 1). However, “this is not to say that in the course of a rhetorical experience one is never told anything unpleasant, but that whatever one is told can be placed and contained within the categories and assumptions of received systems of knowledge” (1). This presents just the problem, for Ellison wishes to overturn the received assumptions about black Americans. To do so, he uses a format for Invisible Man that is dialectical in Fish’s sense, which is “disturbing, for it requires of its readers a searching and rigorous scrutiny of everything they believe in and live by” (1). Fish says of this experience that “it is nothing less than a conversion, not only a changing, but an exchanging of minds” (2).

This is what I think we see in Invisible Man. The novel is a bildungsroman, but the lessons are not didactic, tacking-ons of easily potted moral lessons, but rather shifts in assumptions about the way the world is that the protagonist finds difficult to cohere with the rest of his working body of assumptions. This makes sense of a motif of incomprehensibility that floats along with the Invisible Man. During the battle royal scene, he accidentally grabs onto the leg of a chair: “I feared the rug more than I did the drunk, so I held on, surprising myself for a moment by trying to topple him upon the rug. It was such an enormous idea…” (Invisible Man 28, first and third sets of italics mine). The surprise is the momentary overturning in practice of a conceptual assumption that shapes his reality, one that by itself is too large to work out and fit with the rest of how he thought reality functioned (where you don’t do things like that to whites). When Mr. Norton is passed out in the Golden Day, the Invisible Man thinks to himself that “the very idea that I was responsible for him was too much for me to put into words” (86). In contemplating Clifton’s selling of the dolls, and the possibility that Clifton believed he’d sold out, Ellison writes, “For a moment I weighed the idea, but it was too big for me” (447). In thinking about Rinehart, Ellison writes, “I caught a brief glimpse of the possibilities posed by Rinehart’s multiple personalities and turned away. It was too vast and confusing to contemplate” (499).

The scene in which the Invisible Man is suddenly given new “organization to the fury” begins, “The words struck like bullets fired close range, blasting my satisfaction to the earth” (552). This is emblematic of the experience of conversion that Fish says follows the dialectical presentation. Such radical change in a mental constitution is difficult to comprehend. For example, the lesson that the Invisible Man says that his grandfather never had to learn was that he was human: “Hell, he never had any doubts about his humanity—that was left to his ‘free’ offspring” (580). This thought had suddenly come over the Invisible Man in the psychiatric hospital, though it is forgotten: “But we are all human, I thought, wondering what I meant” (239). The ECT the Invisible Man receives in that chapter is something like a resetting of his personality, an attempt to wipe the slate clean and begin again. But since the process is imperfect, new thoughts fight against old, hence the Invisible Man’s wonderment at meaning. He can’t put the new thought from the new self together with the old thought from the old self, and so lacks a coherent identity.

It is to this purpose in charting dialectical change that I believe enters the role of narrative. The Invisible Man recognizes by the end of the novel that the past is a necessary part of our identity. Whereas Brother Westrum says of Brother Tarp’s leg chain that “things like that don’t do nothin’ but cause confusion,” the objects of the Invisible Man’s past light his way when he falls into the sewer (567-8). The Invisible Man must tell his own story because he has learned that who we are now in the present is partly because of the way we tell the story of our own lives to ourselves.[fn.3] The “end is in the beginning” (6) not because there is an essential telos around which our identity circles, but because the way in which we tell our own story is determined in part by where we are standing when we begin to tell it—in a hole, in the Invisible Man’s case. When he says, “Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are” (577) I take this sense of “where” to be “where in your own story,” which is partly the loss the Invisible Man feels after the ECT. As Ellison says generally, “the novel is obsessed by the relationship between illusion and reality as revealed in duration and process” (Essays 702). Reality is not a static, Platonic notion for Ellison, but is rather generated by the individual’s experience.


[1] "The World and the Jug" was a two-part exchange with the eminent leftist literary critic Irving Howe, whose addition to the conversation between the above texts can be quite profitable. Howe, in "Black Boys and Native Sons" (published in Dissent, Autumn 1963), wrote something like a defense of Wright against his two rebellious younger brothers, Baldwin and Ellison. The frame itself made Ellison a little peevish, and he responded, and then followed a double exchange of Howe's reply and Ellison's further reply. Howe's original essay with two reflections on the incident (one from 1969 and the other from the retrospective vantage point of 1990) can be found in his Selected Writings 1950-1990. Both parts of Ellison's side of the debate became "The World and the Jug." The exchanges between all four of these great men provide a fascinating, agonistic record of internal dialogue between progressive members of the left.

[2] Michel Fabre quotes a letter from Ellison to Kenneth Burke wondering how to write a “Negro character who would incorporate all of the contradictions present in the Negro-white situation in this country and yet be appealing to whites” (“From Native Son to Invisible Man: Some Notes on Ralph Ellison’s Evolution in the 1950s,” in Speaking For You, 213, emphasis mine).

[3] This is a favorite line of mine that I try to reuse as often as possible. It debuted in one of the first original things I wrote for this blog, a weaving of Pirsig, Rorty, and Virginia Woolf, "Phaedrus, the Woolf," and I quickly recycled it in the third part of an extended rethinking of Pirsig's Lila, "Prospectus" (which is the first time I used Fish's distinction to help make this point). My thinking about narrative was deepened after reading MacIntyre's essay, "Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science" (which I talk about here, and which I incorporate in an entangling of this theme with Fredric Jameson and Sherman Alexie called "Narrative and Making Sense").

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wright and the Figures of Slave Narrative

From a seminar on the three largest post-Harlem Renaissance figures, Wright, Baldwin, and Ellison, this is a fairly pedantic, unexciting piece that just cobbles together some continuities between the slave narrative tradition and the African-American literary tradition that succeeded it. There's no real motivation for it into a thesis, however. The precursor to this, from which I think I borrow a few lines about Douglass, is "Literacy as Symbol and Material Means in Douglass." Like that piece, I was still caught in an overbearing fascination with the orality/literacy thematic, an understanding still largely conditioned at this point by Ong's Orality and Literacy and Havelock's Preface to Plato.

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Eds. John W. Blassingame, John R. McKivigan, and Peter P. Hinks. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001

*NOTE* The footnote links won't work unless you're on the specific post page (by clicking on the title link). You'll have to excuse my crappy coding.


I propose to trace out the functioning of three different figures inherited by Wright from the tradition of slave narrative, taking as emblematic Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: curiosity, literacy, and leisure. I will in each case briefly discuss how they work in Douglass before showing how Wright continues, extends, or alters each figure in the changed cultural landscape some 100 years after Douglass’ escape, though I shall spend most of my time on literacy.

An important theme struck by both Douglass and Wright is the repression of curiosity. In Douglass, this occurs frequently, usually in relation to literacy. Curiosity leads you out of your current nest of experience and into a new experience, thus leading to learning. Douglass, who didn’t even realize that literacy was a forbidden object (much as Wright had to learn his lessons the hard way), was taught the basics by his mistress, Mrs. Auld, before her husband corrected her: “Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. … He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master” (Douglass 31). This is a “new and special revelation” (ibid.) for the young Douglass and it opens up the “pathway from slavery to freedom” (32). Likewise for Wright, in his own first pass at autobiography in “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow,” when he shows curiosity to learn how to grind lenses, Morrie immediately “grew red.” “Whut yuh tryin’ t’ do, nigger, git smart?” (Wright 228) The notion that blacks might be “uppity” immediately changes the whites’ attitudes to them, as the first hint of it sours situations for both Douglass and Wright repeatedly.

The figure of literacy might be the most important figure in Douglass’ Narrative, functioning as both a symbol for freedom and an actual, material precondition for freedom. Literacy for Douglass is a skill that allows for the free acquisition of knowledge and the ability to negotiate the white man’s world. It is also a precious commodity carefully protected by slave masters, as illustrated before. The pathway of literacy consists in the attainment of “the more valuable bread of knowledge” (Douglass 34), which functions in two ways for Douglass: 1) knowing how to read and write aids materially in his ability to escape from captivity and 2) Douglass learns that slavery is a contingent institution and that one of its main means of enforcement is the stripping of the slave of his humanity.

The first echo we might point to is again in “Ethics.” Wright says, “it was almost impossible to get a book to read. It was assumed that after a Negro had imbibed what scanty schooling the state furnished he had no further need for books” (Wright 235). Wright here, however, doesn’t go into depth about the meaning of literacy, nor play it out much—all we see is that though African-Americans can read, they aren’t allowed access by white-run libraries. We get a much stronger look at how Wright uses the symbol of literacy in Lawd, Today! (his first significant piece of fiction, though only published posthumously). When the protagonist, Jake, goes by the Chicago Library on his way to his friend Bob’s, Jake says to himself, “That’s right. I ain’t never looked around in one of them joints” (69). What is striking is not that he hasn’t been in a library, or thinks there’s a cover charge, but that if he did go into a library, he muses, he could “tell old Bob and Al and Slim all about the big books I seen…” (ibid.). Seen—not read, or even opened.

What’s worse, upon seeing a black boy reading in the library, Jake immediately thinks, right on the heels of his reverie of setting his friends aflame with jealousy at all the books he had seen, that “too much reading’s bad” (ibid.). This is one of a series of stunning reversals of thought that happen within moments of each other, another being the rapid switch in the group’s opinion of the International Negro Uplift Association, from “Yeah, they’s smart” to nine lines later “Aw … They nuts as hell” (109). Jake says of reading that “it was all right to read the newspapers … but reading a lot of books … would drive you crazy.” “It addles your brains, and if you addle your brains you’ll sure have bookworms in the brain” (69). He then recalls, as justification and evidence for his view, that “his poor old grandmother had told him that when he was a child, and he had never forgotten it, and had never had bookworms” (ibid.).

Wright seems to be, at least in part, displaying literacy as a forgotten means of freedom. The psychology of oral vs. literate culture is such that remembered words and phrases, in an oral culture, function as thought-gatekeepers far more than in a literate culture. Words in the mind tumble over each other in sometimes quite odd associations, but the better and easier remembered (like in proverbs, rhymed aphorisms, or bits of wisdom from authoritative sources, like grandmothers), the more likely these bits will be recalled in connection with current experience. For instance, Jake assigns some prestige to books and being in the library, but then Jake sees the black boy, and thinks, “reading’s bad.” Why? Because “his mind went back to his boyhood; he remembered a schoolmate of his who had become queer from trying to memorize the Bible” (ibid.). When Jake saw the boy, he saw his queer schoolmate, and reacted to himself turning queer—his earlier thought (books good, maybe I should go into the library) was derailed by this fragment of memory. And then his mind immediately reinforced this new thought with a further stock association, the wisdom of his grandmother. His brain doesn’t quit, though, and Wright adds a further illustrative crinkle, as Jake then thinks, “But it was all right if you were studying for the pulpit” (ibid.), because God will protect you from going crazy—but then what happened to the kid memorizing the Bible? Jake’s mind has already moved on, however, and such reversals are never brought to account. A mind brought up in a literate culture, however, because of the opportunity to reinforce the ephemeral spoken word with the unchanging written word, has better opportunity to not be led down mental avenues with no hope of returning and asking, “Did anything I just think (say) make sense?” And when you write it down, you can look it over.

There are two other examples with Jake we might recur to for reinforcement. One is the scene in which he reads the newspaper, as he has said is okay to do. The joke of the chapter is that, when Jake reads the newspaper, all he does is read the headline out loud and then run off at the mouth about whatever he thinks about what he thinks the headline means. But there are several telling moments for my purposes. When Jake goes off on FDR and the Democrats, he closes by saying, “I’m going to stick with the Republicans. Old Abe Lincoln is the ship and all else is the sea . . . Now, who said that?” (29) That old chestnut for black electoral politics tells Jake who to vote for, but it is not an actual evaluation of who would be best for him.[fn.1] When Jake attempts to engage with Lil, she says “I wasn’t listening to you reading” (31)—by which she really means, listening to him spout—and Jake replies, “You could learn something if you didn’t keep that empty head of yours stuck into them Gawddamn Unity books all the time” (ibid.). The irony is, of course, that Lil is actually reading, whereas Jake does not (except for advertisements, which he spends much more time reading the entirety of as we see in the following chapter). But what’s more is what Jake says about God: “Gawd’s hooey! It’s a gyp game, that’s all!” It isn’t apparent that Jake is just saying this eristically, but that he truly believes it—at the time, for compare his relative reverence and respect for God in the Library scene discussed above. And finally, there’s the dialectical series between Jake and Lil beginning with his rant about the Communists. Lil counters him on every response, actually challenging him, recurring to the newspaper as a source of her views. Jake, possibly recalling the moment before she interceded having said, “That’s no lie, I was reading it just the other day in the Tribune…” (33), eventually finds himself backed into a corner and says, “Woman, is you a Red?” (ibid.) There are several fascinating points to this exchange: 1) he appears entirely sincere in his thought process and in thinking that Lil must be a Red for challenging him as she does; 2) it isn’t clear at all that Jake is cognizant of having just lost the debate or the jagged shifts in thought; 3) it isn’t clear why he didn’t recur to his response to Einstein, that “these old newspapers sure tries hard to fool folks” (32), when Lil challenged him, and since that is clearly a legitimately open mental avenue for Jake, it just punches up how rough and random any particular turn his mind seems to take.

Possibly the most illustrative example of the oral cast of mind in Jake, and therefore the importance of literacy to the idea of freedom, occurs when Jake is raging about the inspector at work: “You sonofabitch! It ain’t always going to be this way! His mind went abruptly blank. He could not keep on with that thought, because he did not know where that thought led. He did not know of any other way things could be, if not this way. Yet he longed for them not to be this way” (142). Literacy is the key to other worlds, the key to seeing how things might be another way. An imagination that cannot stretch beyond the things told to it by its immediates is an impaired imagination. Reading is what did it for Douglass and for Wright. Reading allows one to escape immediate surroundings and take flight, either to other actual realities (like in nonfiction, history, etc.) or to made-up realities—the effect is the same, as the circle of possibilities expands outwards, thus increasing the flex of mind that allows you to imagine more for yourself.

The last figure of leisure leads directly from here and shows Wright exerting a tremendous alteration over it. For Douglass, leisure time meant time to strategize and to think. The path to freedom lay open, but obscured, and at one point he says, amidst the “perpetual whirl of excitement” of working at the docks in Baltimore, that “I could think of nothing, scarcely, but my life; and in thinking of my life, I almost forgot my liberty” (Douglass 70) The most obvious shift from slave narratives to neo-slave narratives, of course, is that people like Douglass were escaping a fairly literal slavery, while that which holds Wright and his contemporaries is the more intangible cultural slavery left from continued racism. So, in Wright the figure of leisure plays differently. The image of the “lazy” black man is created. But why? Wright tells us—as the group watches some white students get off work, Jakes thinks, “Them white boys always in a hurry to get somewhere. And soon’s they get out of school they’s going to be bigshots. But a nigger just stays a nigger” (117). “Yeah, but ain’t no use of a black man rushing.” “Naw, ‘cause we ain’t going nowhere” (118). Douglass could imagine that slavery could be ended, and that eventually people could co-exist peacefully. Wright, 100 years later, is displaying the crushing, felt defeat at the hands of whites that debilitates the common black imagination and that begins to repeat itself—like Jake’s grandmother telling him that reading is bad.


[1] It was, in fact, Frederick Douglass about the Republican Party. I suspect this was a veiled slap at Douglass by Wright, with regards to the changed landscape of politics and how Douglass stuck by the Republican Party even after its disastrous effort at Reconstruction and subsequent takeover by the rich, of whom Jake says, “them men owns and runs the country!” (29)

Friday, August 06, 2010

One of the Most Important Chapters in the Entire History

I don't think this piece is as interesting as my first piece on the Don, "The Necessity of Adapting to Changing Circumstances," but it fills in a connection with another preoccupation of mine, Romanticism and the form of life it spawns. I use below a trope I like to use to describe that lebensform: a fish-blink life, the life of someone for whom each moment is their first. "Oh, a rhinestone!" [blink] "Oh, a rhinestone!" [blink] "Oh, a rhinestone!" This is an idea that Wyndham Lewis best explicated in Time and Western Man as what the embodiment would be if someone lived the apotheosis of the immediate found in the English Romantics and theorized by Bergson. I find it quite resonate not only with those who philosophize the Quest for Immediacy, but also the regular kinds of people who extol immediacy and the derived mysticisms from that idea. Combine this with Don Quixote's madness, and you have a thesis project.

References are to:
Samuel Putnam's translation of Don Quixote (1949).
The 1971 translation of Foucault's The Order of Things.
Evelyn Rugg and Diego Marin's translation of Jose Ortega y Gasset's Meditations on Quixote (1966).
Anna Bostock's translation of Georg Lukács's The Theory of the Novel.


Taking well in hand the notice that use of superlative is rife throughout Don Quixote, I think we should yet take special note of Chapter 6, Part 2: “Of What Took Place Between Don Quixote and His Housekeeper, Which Is One of the Most Important Chapters in the Entire History.” This chapter functions as something like a portal in Part 2, which as Cid Hamete Benengeli, our Moorish author, says doesn’t really get started until Chapter 8 (Cervantes 651). What we get in this chapter are a series of repeated figures in Don Quixote, most of which we are quite familiar with by now, but some of which are brought to the fore in a special way.

The chapter opens with the niece and housekeeper noticing that Don Quixote, still caught by “his ill-errant conception of knighthood” (637), is bent on going out on more, as the housekeeper says, “adventures but which I call misfortunes” (ibid.). These revaluations of situations between Don Quixote’s view and on-lookers are, of course, a constant feature, but these two, in particular, call on Don Quixote to give us his view of knighthood, and thereby adventure. When asked why he can’t just stay at court like other knights, Don Quixote gives us a neat division between courtiers and knights-errant. Whereas courtiers, Don Quixote says, “may travel all over the earth merely by looking at a map,” we knights-errant “take the measure of the entire globe with our feet” (638). Don Quixote locks down the significance by saying, “We know our enemies not from pictures but as they really are” (ibid., italics mine), which is extraordinary given how Don Quixote’s reality—how things really are for him—is taken from books of chivalry.

The truly extraordinary event—and fairly new as far as self-evaluations of his own situation go—occurs when Don Quixote then promptly says that “We pay no attention to the childish rules that are supposed to govern knightly duels…” (ibid.). For one who is as intent on following the law and letter of the order and rules of chivalry, such stark scorn is startling. Even as Don Quixote might easily reply that he’s only ever upheld the rules for knights-errant, which is what he’s talking about in contradistinction to courtiers, the repeated figure is still that of the order of chivalry, which does go wider than just knights-errant (as the commonality between Don Fernando and Don Quixote displays). The nearest predecessor to this newer explication is even more startling: “Who is so ignorant as not to know that knights-errant are beyond all jurisdiction…?” (481), this to the Holy Brotherhood at the Inn in Part I.

I’ll come back to this figure, but for now I’d like to continue with Don Quixote’s discourse. What we get in chapter 6 is a window into Don Quixote’s sense of self, his sense of what chivalry and knight-errantry are all about, as a result of his (vain) attempt to persuade his niece and housekeeper that all is right in the world. We get the color of this window when the niece attempts to rebut Don Quixote with the obvious (to us) retort, “your Grace must remember that all this you are saying about knights-errant is a fable and a lie” (639). To this Don Quixote exclaims that this is a “blasphemy you have uttered” (ibid.), which is a curious, religious turn of phrase. You normally would only blaspheme against God and his sacred vassals, but—as Don Quixote later explains—“chivalry is a religion in itself” (657).

That the niece would “presume to criticize these knightly histories” (639) prompts Don Quixote to give another extraordinary discourse, this time on a distinction between knights within knight-errantry. Letting loose his anger, Don Quixote recurs to the great Amadis: “What would my lord Amadis say if he could hear such a thing?” (639) Hearing himself exclaim in such a manner as to figure Amadis for vengeance causes Don Quixote—within each distinct moment as he ever is—to hasten to add, “To be sure, he would pardon you…. But there are others who might have heard you, and in that case it would not have gone so well with you” (ibid.). This distinction between Amadis and “rascals” gives us a picture of knight-errantry much like the double figure of God—both smiter and forgiver.

I think we should take Don Quixote’s exclamation of Amadis as a surprising moment for Don Quixote himself, for which he then has to patch up and look reasoned with his further discourse on the two kinds of knights-errant. I think the niece hits the nail when, after this discourse, she says, “in a pinch you could get right up in the pulpit or go out and start preaching in the streets” (640, italics mine). The reason I think we should take Don Quixote as somewhat surprised at himself is that I think Lukács is describing Don Quixote when he says, “The complete absence of an inwardly experienced problematic transforms such a soul into pure activity” (Lukács 99, italics mine). Don Quixote has the unshakeable “inner certitude” (ibid.) from the centeredness he takes from his faith in the order of chivalry, and so simply enacts that order on the reality that confronts him. Now, Lukács says that such a soul is “incapable of any contemplation” (ibid.), to which the obvious rejoinder in the case of Don Quixote would be—does he not reason quite often and quite intelligently? He does, but Don Quixote does not think, he holds forth in speeches and lectures, all internal functions becoming immediately externalized. There is never an “inwardly experienced problematic,” for there never really is any problem—on the inside. All of Don Quixote’s problems arise from his externalizations.

All Don Quixote ever experiences are external problems, which we can otherwise call “adventures.” As Lukács says, “the life of a person with such a soul,” as Don Quixote has, “becomes an uninterrupted series of adventures” (ibid.). And as Ortega says, “each adventure is a new birth of the world, a unique process” (Ortega 132). Don Quixote moves through the world like a fish—every time the fish blinks, it confronts a new world in isolation from the old, and so mainly too with every new, demarcated adventure. That is what it is to be a being of pure action—like a fish-blink life, your whole set of habits are brought to bear fresh on each situation devoid of context, once the “adventure” signal is given. An exemplary example of this is Master Pedro’s puppet show. Don Quixote interrupts the show twice to critique the proceedings, clearly not caught up in the action of the show, but still not reflective on what’s happening. Don Quixote is rather commenting on it from his inner source of action: he interrupts the second time to say that the bells are inaccurate, full of inner certitude at the bells being “beyond a doubt a great piece of nonsense” (Cervantes 807). To this Master Pedro retorts, “Don’t be looking for trifles,” and Don Quixote—action met with action, in this case speech with speech—backs down (“You have spoken the truth”), not because he’s reflected on the issue, but like a sword being parried by another, he must accept the parry and move on—just like his own parry of himself when he surprisingly figured Amadis for vengeance. And from this context of being completely not caught up in the action of the puppet show, Don Quixote suddenly and inexplicably is, as Ortega puts it, “snatched up in the illusory vortex” (Ortega 133). Typically, we would think of a show like this as bringing people like Don Quixote under a spell, slowly putting them to sleep, but Don Quixote's reactions in this scene are like being wide awake one moment and sawing logs the next. The only plausible explanation is through the Ortegean sense of adventure—Don Quixote suddenly received the mysterious signal that a new adventure had started (“Upon seeing such a lot of Moors and hearing such a din,” Cervantes 808), one that required its own new problematic (the Moors are attacking!) and solutions (save “so famous a knight and so bold a lover as Don Gaiferos,” ibid.).

These adventures are the externalized manifestation of the hero’s reality principle. The hero seeks adventures to prove this reality principle, which is why, as Ortega adds, Don Quixote’s will is “obsessed with one single goal: adventure” (Ortega 136). The adventure is the externalization of the hero’s will, which is to be oneself, which is to bring us around in a circle, for the hero's self is his reality principle. Ortega says, “this will to be oneself is heroism” (149). This radical involution—adventure is the externalized will of the hero; the hero’s will is to be himself; he is his reality principle; Don Quixote’s reality is knight-errantry which is adventure—is at the heart of such surprisingly forthright statements of honesty as “We pay no attention to the childish rules” (Cervantes 638) and “knights-errant are beyond all jurisdiction” (481). The order of chivalry attains primacy for Don Quixote only because of a previous act of will, as he continually intimates at almost all points—e.g., in chapter 6, “Heaven wills, fate ordains, reason asks, and, above all, my own will desires” (642, italics mine). Ortega says at one point, “Far from the tragic originating in fate, then, it is essential for the hero to want his tragic destiny” (Ortega 154). The ultimate act of expression for a titanic will like Don Quixote’s was to will the restraints of the order of chivalry on himself, which at the same time are the restraints of constant adventure and enactment of one’s will, “beyond all jurisdiction.”

If one asks what the external point of all this willing of oneself and seeking of adventure to prove the reality of one’s will (or rather, the will of one’s reality) is, then it can only be the record of that titanic will—fame and immortality. Though we get more and more reflections on fame and eternal glory as we move through Part II, more and more involved with the books on Don Quixote as they come out (and Chapter 8 provides us with the first good treatment of fame), Chapter 6 does have those subtle inflections of essential thematic that are inherent in the reiterable essence of chivalry that is Don Quixote. After his taxonomy of knights and then knights-errant, Don Quixote gives us a theory of people: those on the upswing, on the downswing, always up, and always down. Of the latter, he says they had “neither a good start nor a subsequent history that was in any way out of the ordinary and who accordingly will have a nameless end…” (Cervantes 640, italics mine). They “increase the number of the living without any other claim to fame, since they have achieved no form of greatness that entitles them to praise” (641, italics mine). Don Quixote sees “greatness,” not as money or land, or honor or virtue, but as deeds that are recorded—becoming a “name.” The former list falls out from the attainment of the latter, as the promise of an island is continually held out to Sancho Panza. And that is Don Quixote’s tragedy. Don Quixote’s tragic fate, which he wills and desires, is to be Don Quixote—his will is to be the titanic will of Don Quixote, that laughable figure of titanic will. Don Quixote’s tragic fate is to be the immortal, literary figure of Don Quixote. Which is Ortega’s point about epic—the titanic will is out of place, and Don Quixote is that exemplification of an out of place will, and as such is both tragic and comic, buffoonish and sad.