Don Quixote: A Manual for Madness

Eddie Ejjbair
4 min readNov 20, 2022

Cervantes’s Don Quixote is about a man who engineers his own reality. Inspired by his excessive reading, Alonso Quixano wakes up one day and decides to become a character in his very own tale of chivalry. He creates a makeshift suit of armor, mounts his pony, and declares himself Don Quixote de La Mancha. He became, in the words of his critics, a ‘living anachronism’, a ‘madman’, and the laughing stock of Cervantes’s satire.

Others, however, have idealized Don Quixote. The Romantics, for instance, ‘see Quixote as hero, not fool; decline to read the book primarily as satire; and find in the work a metaphysical or visionary attitude regarding the Don’s quest’ (Bloom). He is, according to this interpretation, one of the most ‘gloriously irrational characters’ in all of world literature (Schmidt). It’s not that he’s not mad (few people could convincingly make that argument); it’s that he is undeterred by social pressure. His madness is ‘a refusal to accept what Freud called “reality testing,” or the reality principle’ (Bloom). The German philosopher, Schelling, once said that the theme of the novel, ‘is the Real in conflict with the ideal’. As with William Blake’s ‘two-fold vision’, Don Quixote ‘sees what we see, yet he sees something else also’. At the start of his adventure, reality begins to contradict his fantasy, but he ignores this grayscale reality and, through ‘sheer will’, sticks to his polychromatic vision:

In the midst of these activities a sow-gelder happened to arrive at the inn, and as he did so he sounded his pan-pipes four or five times, which convinced Don Quixote that he was indeed in some famous castle, and that he was being served to the accompaniment of music, and that the salt cod was trout, the bread baked from the whitest wheat-flour, the prostitutes fine ladies and the innkeeper the lord of the castle; and it all confirmed that his decision to sally forth had been a wise one

With the Don’s impenetrable defence mechanisms, ‘we have entered a world of self-perpetuating delusion that no reality can destroy’ (Watt). The greatest example of his deliberate folly is his attack on the windmills, which has become synonymous with…

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Eddie Ejjbair

‘Gradually it’s become clear to me what every great philosophy has been: a personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’