Re: [xmca] Don Quixote meets Reinhold Niebuhr

From: Ed Wall (
Date: Thu Oct 13 2005 - 10:56:27 PDT


    I've been listening to the Don Quixote discussion on and off. Some
time in the pass I was in a brief discussion with another person
about, perhaps, similar matters. He noted that in Spain of the 15th &
16th century a rather unique 'experiment' was happening as regards
'religion', 'spirituality', etc. which, he felt, had never happened
before and has never happened since (Kierkegaard comes to mind, but
he was, for the most part, an isolated individual). For part of this
claim he drew on the work of Michel de Certeau "The Mystic Fable:
Volume I." I admit to not having read this carefully cover-to-cover
(although it is on my reading list - smile), but this quote from the
beginning of the second section might give you some of the flavor:

"At nova res novum vocabulum flagitat." In the middle of the
fifteenth century, Lorenzo Valla, in opposition to Bartolomeo Fazio
and others, claimed the right to use terms unknown to classical
antiquity. He affirmed the right of words to be born: "A new reality
requires a new word." This thought itself was novel in that it
connected languages with historicity more than with a structural
order. In the sixteenth century, this notion spread and developed
into a duty to increase the linguistic family ("the more words we
have in our language, the more perfect it will be"), a claim to fame
for the progenitor ("I made new words," said Ronsard), and a literary
agenda, to which Joachim du Bellay devoted an entire chapter of his
Deffence et Illustration de la langue francoyse (volume 2, chapter 6:
"To Invent Words"), A Malthusian countercurrent very soon attempted
to regulate, and would eventually limit, these verbal births. In
1640, however, Sandaeus said the same thing, using almost the same
argumentation, as Valla. But it was no longer a personal statement of
conviction; it was, rather, a view attributed to the mystics. "Where
the thing [res] demands it, we must, they say, command words and not
serve them."' He was already speaking of the past, summarizing a
lexical creativity he catalogued in the Lexicon. It was a heritage,
part of which had become unintelligible, that he collected,
explained, and defended in his Pro Theologica mysticia claris. In
classifying it, he marks the conclusion of an immense production of a
"mystic language" over three centuries. It would be another century
before a comparable linguistic inventiveness would appear (though in
different areas of human knowledge), stimulated by the sudden
development of the science of economics, by giving attention to the
special vocabulary of the trades, or by the "mystic neology" of the
French Revolution."


>While in Spain my wife and I read Don Quixote, well, the first book of Don
>It was an odd experience in some ways because at first the novel is both
>familiar and
>alien. We know some of the most outrageous misadventures but not the book
>from which
>they have been abstracted. We know what it means to be quixotic, or at
>least, we know
>conventional uses of the term.
>But reading an early 16th century novel is not akin to reading John Grisham
>or even Saul Bellow.
>The form of story telling is archaic with many sidetrips and it takes a long
>time (it took me a long time)
>to enter the world imagined up by Cervantes, drawing upon his often bitter
>Talking about the book yesterday we seemed to converge on the idea that part
>of what made the novel
>more compelling the more one read, and after one was through reading, was
>the realization that Don
>Quixote, in his manifest madness, humanized the world around him. Not just
>in his imagination, but
>in the reality as narrated by Cervantes.
>Today, reading the work of a colleague about topics far from xmca discourse,
>apparently, I came upon
>a quotation from ISCAR or mathematics education. Yet it appears to describe
>rather precisely, in the
>idiom of religous thought, the foundations for the power of Don Quixote to
>humanize his enviroment, and,
>oddly enough, the foundations for what I believe to be the efficacy of the
>5th Dimension activities I engage
>in. Here is what Niebuhr wrote. What do you think?
>>From Moral Man and Immoral Society
>Furthermore there must always be a religious element in the hope of a just
>Without the ulrarational hopes and passions of religion no society will ever
>have the
>courage to conquer despair and attempt the impossible; for the vision of a
>society is an impossible one, which can be approximated only by those who do
>regard it as impossible. The truest visions of religion are illusions, which
>may be
>partially realized by being resolutely believed. For what religion believes
>to be true is
>not wholly true but ought to be true; and may become true if its faith is
>not doubted (p. 81)
>xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Nov 01 2005 - 01:00:21 PST