The French word "donquichottery"
refers to the novel "Don Quijote (original spelling:
Quixote) de La Mancha" by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
The dictionary explains Donquichottery as: an unpractical-idealist
course of action, and of course it is derived from the
dreamy chivalrous ideals of this first real romance
It's interesting to determine when Cervantes wrote his
book. This was the 17th century: the renaissance had
passed and the Middle Ages were ancient history. Just
like many people nowadays like to watch series based
on the novels of for instance Jane Austen, and later
have "even" have started reading her books,
in 17th century Spain chivalry novels were very popular.
These were epic tales, in which the high-strung ideals
of the caballeros were glorified, including courtly
love and the honorary code of the knights. During Cervantes'
time the chivalry novels were a way of escaping the
much more prosaic and banal reality of every day. Around
this theme, the author built up a complex novel with
several layers. One of the most famous layers, of course,
is Don Quichote's fascination with chivalry novels,
which goes much further than the more usual private
idolization. Quichote is one of the first "wannabes"
in world literature. He identifies himself to a mad
degree with the figures from his "libros de caballeria"
and completely loses sight of reality. His ideals aren't
just difficult to attain in practice, but in his case
they are totally free from the sober correction of reality.
With that, the tale that is mostly comical is finally
also a tragic romance. Only on his deathbed does Don
Quichote see how foolish he was in mixing up ideal and
Opposite the tragic-comedian - and thereby for the readers
the most sympathetic - figure of Don Quichote, Cervantes
places his just as attractive sidekick Sancho Panza;
a fat, dedicated little and very hedonistic peasant
(Panza = paunch). Mostly typical for Sancho are especially
the countless proverb he bandies about. He represents
a common cliché-wisdom that would in fact be
of more use than the donquichottery of his master.
We are no longer living in the 17th century, but again
we are living in a period that is seen from the prevailing
viewpoint as one of outmoded romanticism. I'm talking
about the idealist years of the sixties and seventies.
People who are still trying to live according to the
ideals of that time are viewed as out of date "losers".
This goes even more for people with radical left-wing
ideas. Neo-liberal thinkers such as Fukoyama go by the
assumption that the capitalists have won almost everywhere,
and that in that sense history has almost ended, meaning
the struggle between major political movements. Within
alternative circles, critical of the social structure,
there is a group that is forced into the role of Don
Quichote extra forcefully: the consistent fighters for
animal rights, and then mainly the "extremists"
in that group, the vegans.
Our ideals are said to be illusory and in fact unattainable.
Instead of chasing them, it would be better to resign
ourselves like a Sancho Panza and to reach compromises
that wouldn't affect social reality in any real sense.
To toast minute improvements of housing systems and
the abolition in an x number of years of a few industrial
branches of institutionalized animal abuse.
Don Quichote will never realize his ideals. He can
only maintain his delusion that he is fighting for an
attainable cause, or either he can wake up. But is this
the right way to look at idealists in our current context?
There are plenty of thinkers and groups who use valid
arguments to fight the paternalistic ridiculing
of a struggle for social alternatives. There is for
instance Noam Chomsky who proves that the image of the
world the media presents us with is very much distorted
by vested interests. Peter Singer who stands up for
animal rights. And radical left-wing groups who fight
the "myth of left-wing wrongs" in which every
socialist or anarchist idea is associated with Marxism-Leninism.
Within the framework of this Passion-project I think
it's time for a breakthrough of the "quichottisation"
of alternative viewpoints. This certainly also goes
for the image of animal rights fighters. Instead of
the archetype of Don Quichote, who is a caricature of
ancient knights, we could for instance go back to an
even older archetype. For instance that of King Arthur
who fights injustice with his knights of the round table
(an image by the way that has been monopolized from
an ultra right-wing corner for too long) from a sort
of sacred, passionate understanding of right and wrong.
A feeling that deserves more respect than the amused
compassion that Don Quichote receives.
Contribution by Titus Rivas
More on www.donquixote.com