‘Seizing Cervantes’ by Antônio Xerxenesky


From Words Without Borders:

When it all began, that is, when the Skeptic Party rose to power in the United Kingdom, in 2070, I was completely in favor. The group’s plan to completely forbid religious practice pleased me greatly. I was brought up in an intellectual environment, the son of a family that never believed in any god and always associated the religious figure with some guy with a double-digit IQ or a fanatical human bomb. I admit, I voted for the Skeptic Party as soon as it came into existence. But I’m a guardian of culture—that’s what I hold teachers to be—and if the plans I found out about are real, something needs to be done.

The beginning of the story isn’t based in fact but stems from a couple of wisecracks made at a dinner party at my house. Joseph remarked that the Skeptic Party (which had now been in power fifteen years) had plans to alter Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. The extreme skeptics would sabotage Alonso Quixano’s library before the old man decided to become the knight Don Quixote, replacing the fantasy books about honorable adventurers, damsels in distress, and evil sorcerers with . . . scientific treatises. These would be the books that would obsess Quixano; these works full of numbers and mathematical proofs would mediate between the world of books and reality.

In this new version of Cervantes’s novel, then, things would be inverted. Thus, Sancho Panza, who had always been seen by critics as representing “reason and clearheadedness,” would be the one to convince Alonso Quixano to set off on adventures. In the memorable windmill scene, Sancho would say: “Look over there, Don Quixote, they’re giants!” only to receive a tsk-tsk in response: “They’re no such thing, Sancho, they’re just windmills. If you want, I can trace the trajectory of each blade, calculate the equation of their motion. Would you like me to? And my name isn’t Quixote, it’s Alonso Quixano.” Poor Sancho, yearning for adventures, frustrated like a woman with an impotent husband. According to the friend who cracked the joke, the government’s goal in making this substitution would be to trim Cervantes’s nine-hundred-page novel, making it far more palatable to high-school students, forced from the age of five by their parents to take medicine to treat hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders.

Up to that point, fine, a tasteless story at a dinner party. Badmouthing the government is as common as breathing, it doesn’t matter which party is in power. And that’s that.

One day, however, chance led me to enter a café and sit at the same table where a government agent had been seated just before.

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