Don Quixote: The Quest for a Superreader and a Supernarratee

James A. Parr

University of California, Riverside

Differences of opinion about narrative meaning seem to increase in direct proportion to the importance attached to the story and the care with which it is interpreted, as commentaries on Homer, the Bible, and the Bhagavad-Gita show. (Martin 156-57)

The number of readers one could identify in Don Quixote comes close to equaling the total number of characters. A notable exception is, of course, Sancho Panza, who makes much of the fact that he does not know how to read. But even those who are illiterate, like Maritornes and the innkeeper, are readers by proxy, in the sense that they often experience reading vicariously. It is stated explicitly, by Maritornes, that the tale of impertinent curiosity is by no means the first story she has heard read aloud at the inn. The situation becomes more complex still when we take into account that certain narrators and pseudo-authors are also readers of all or part of the story we have before us. And it goes without saying that Cervantes must have read what he was writing at least once, as he wrote it. There is some doubt whether he read it over completely a second time, and it seems more doubtful still that he ever corrected galleys.

We may wonder justifiably just how good a reader he was of his own work. He did not have the advantage of reception theory to guide him, nor was he privileged to know about narratology, deconstruction, gynocriticism, or even positivism. Would he qualify as the superreader we are interested in identifying? Would he even be a competent reader by today's standards? Is it fair, or logical, to assume that a writer recognized universally as showing more than a few glimmers of genius was equally adept at decoding what we can now perceive that he encoded? There is a paradox latent in such a question, surely, and I would simply ask my own highly competent reader to puzzle over it in passing. It may be that Cervantes becomes incorporated into the notion of the superreader, but he himself is not that reader.

Let me begin by defining the two terms in my title. The notion of a superreader comes from Michel Riffaterre, and it prompted my coining the term supernarrator for the editorial voice that begins to take shape at the end of I.8 in the 1605 Quixote and comes fully into its own in 1615, dominating the narrative discourse of Part II. An important difference between the two concepts lies in the fact that the supernarrator is thus an intra-textual entity, while the superreader is extratextual, or outside the text. The supernarrator is therefore a part of Cervantes's world, while the superreader is part of ours, today. Another commonality I am reluctant to consider is that both may be phantom beings, conjured up in the minds of Riffaterre, on one hand, and the present writer, on the other. According to the communication model we rely upon in literary studies, deriving from Roman Jakobson, the supernarratee is then the déstinataire, or implicit receiver, of the discourse of the supernarrator. The working hypothesis is that the one implies the other, a supernarrator implies a supernarratee. I am also indebted, of course, to Gerald Prince's insights into the qualities and configuration of the narratee in general.

Some further background is essential. It is a telling commentary on the pace of change in narratological studies that we can speak today of Wayne Booth's Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) as a pioneering study. Its status as a pathfinding work should not suggest that the basic ideas it develops are outdated, however. By no means. The fundamental distinctions Booth elaborated among narrator, author, and implied author, as well as various kinds of distance and the reliability and unreliability of the narrative voice, remain as pertinent and practical today as they were forty years ago.

It is largely thanks to Wayne Booth that we recognize the innocence of studies that fail to distinguish between author and narrator. Booth disabused us of the naive assumption that Miguel de Cervantes speaks to us through narrators or characters. He distanced the historical author from the fictional universe by inserting two fundamental narrative levels between creator and creation. We have mentioned the narrator, more specifically the supernarrator. The second is the implied author, the authorial presence inferrable from the text itself, a presence that might also be called therefore the author-in-the-text. For Cervantes, a case can be made for considerable continuity and consistency in the ironic and subversive manner of the authorial presence made manifest in a number of his texts, as Michael Gerli has taken pains to demonstrate. We should nevertheless allow for the possibility that the authorial presence inferrable from reading Don Quixote may differ considerably from the author-in-the-text one infers from reading the Galatea or the Persiles.

Three additional observations concerning Booth: 1) as I have proposed more than once, a more apt descriptor for his implied author is "inferred author," since that presence is in fact an inference made by the competent reader once the text has been consumed and assimilated. Seymour Chatman's attempted clarification is more confusing than illuminating, but it helps make my point. Chatman asserts that the implied author is "reconstructed by the reader from the narrative" (162). Isn't that what an inference is--a reconstruction made by the recipient of a message?; 2) Booth's concept of the unreliable narrator is often misunderstood; basically narrators are reliable when their postures and pronouncements are in conformity with the values and attitudes of the inferred author; they are unreliable when they diverge from the values and attitudes we assign to that figure. Reliability therefore has little to do with truthfulness. In a story that presents itself as a lie from beginning to end, a lying narrator might be 'reliable' in Booth's terms because he would be in conformity with the norms established in and by the text; 3) although point of view has undergone subsequent revision, Booth was highly insightful in maintaining that "the 'person' in which a story is told is far less important than the privilege the narrator is accorded to see into the characters' hearts (or to find them opaque), to know the end of the story at the beginning (or to come to each new event in surprise), to judge and comment on the agents and their acts" (Richter 100).

Genette and Bal will redefine point of view as focalization, contrasting it with narration. Two basic questions to be asked of narrative instances in texts are: Who sees? and Who speaks? The one who sees is the focalizer; the one who speaks (or seems to speak) is, of course, the narrator. Sometimes they are one and the same; sometimes not, because often the action is focalized through a character. For instance, Don Diego de Miranda's house has already been focalized through the eyes of Don Quixote when the translator arbitrarily decides to suppress that description at the beginning of II.18. Genette will introduce a refined and rarefied terminology to categorize narrators as autodiegetic, homodiegetic, or heterodiegetic and narrative levels as extradiegetic, intradiegetic, metadiegetic--terms that are fairly familiar by now to all of us. He also offers analepsis and prolepsis to replace the more traditional flashback and flashforward. But his most useful concept for understanding the narrative structure of the Quixote is metalepsis, which has to do with narrative transgressions or the fracturing of the internal or external narrative frames.

Gerald Prince published his notion of the "narratee" around 1971 (Genre 4: 100-05), and in 1988 he articulated a concept of the disnarrated, with its subcategories of the unnarrated (ellipsis) and the unnarratable (things that fall below the threshold of narrativity). Both of these are useful in appreciating Cervantes's narrative technique. I advanced my notion of the supernarrator for the first time in print in 1986, although it had surfaced in papers given previously at Arizona State and at the AIH at Brown University, then it was incorporated into my 1988 Anatomy of Subversive Discourse. More recently, at the AIH meeting in Birmingham, England, I proposed that we can refer to the narrators and pseudo-authors of the Quixote as motivated and unmotivated, just as we do for characters enmeshed in a mimetic action.

The supernarrator is the extradiegetic-heterodiegetic text speaker, who functions as orchestrator and editor, within the text of the Quixote. This entity orders, organizes, and comments upon the efforts of the pseudo-authors and sometime narrators of record, most especially Cide Hamete, and that most especially in Part II. It is particularly in Part II that the supernarrator comes into his own also, and this very much at the expense of poor Cide Hamete, as the ruse of the found manuscript and the Moorish historian becomes increasingly unstable and ultimately untenable. The concept of a supernarrator is apt for several reasons, as José María Paz Gago has recognized in his 1995 Semiótica del 'Quijote,' where he utilizes the concept with discernment and efficacy. "Super" is intended to suggest that this narrative voice is assigned superior insight and control in comparison to the other narrative voices and pseudo-authors and also that it is situated above them in the hierarchy of such entities, as in "superimposed."

Since the Quixote is recognized to be an experimental text, it would follow that Cervantes might experiment with narrative voices and pseudo-authors in telling his tale. He parodies the found manuscript device and, along with it, the pseudo-author of exotic background who writes in an equally exotic language that must, naturally, be translated into cristiano. Oddly enough, this parodic device seems to have occurred to him only after he was well launched into his story, for Cide Hamete does not appear until chapter 9. Equally curious is the fact that Cide Hamete goes underground, so to speak, following chapter 27, and does not resurface under his own name until the first sentence of the 1615 continuation. José Manuel Martín Morán has developed a compelling thesis regarding the Moor's meandering into and out of Part I, and I have taken my cue from him, and also from Tom Lathrop, in offering an interpretation of his even more inverisimilar presence in Part II, which is to say largely in refutation of Avellaneda's Alisolán. The point is that Cide Hamete is part of the diegetic experiment and a not very satisfactory or fruitful one at that. His presence is gratuitous in Part I, as we infer from his virtual absence in chapters 1-8 and also 28-52. The frequent allusions to him and his manuscript are an in-joke shared with the discreet reader in Part II, but they soon become a bit tedious.

I have also suggested that Cide Hamete represents writing, écriture, and thus the dangerous deferral and distance inherent in that supplement to primary orality. He is not offered to us as a text-speaker but rather as a text-writer. If he is an author, it would also follow that he is an extratextual presence with regard to his own manuscript and the story attributed to him about the deeds and discourse of a certain country gentleman of La Mancha. Since he is relegated to extratextual status, as an ungainly scribbler, it is unlikely indeed--if we follow the operative communication model--that he could also be a narrator, which is to say an intratextual voice within his own story. Following the rules of the game a step further, if he is not a narrator, he cannot, by definition, be considered to address a narratee.

To cut to the chase, we need to ask, then, who is the primary text speaker? Or, if Cide Hamete represents writing, who simulates and speaks for orality? Who possesses a voice, as opposed to an ostrich quill? My answer is the obvious one: it is the editor persona or supernarrator, particularly so in Part II. How is this principal narrative voice characterized? First of all, in the culture wars of the day, he is not a Moor but a Christian. Or at least he employs typically Christian discourse ("Válame Dios," etc.) and he takes the Christian side in disputes between the two cultures (see II.63, where he speaks of "nuestras galeras"). Second, he typically surfaces unexpectedly from within what appears to be Cide Hamete's manuscript. Or he may appear without warning in other contexts, as occurs at the end of chapter 8 of Part I. The device made manifest in such sightings--some of which call for close reading, by the way--is metalepsis, or the infraction of narrative level.

While I once thought that Cervantes was feeling his way in the first nine chapters of Part I, striving to situate the dominant narrative voice, I am inclined to think now that his interests are more playful in nature, that this ludic manner permeates both Parts, and that one of the favorite devices deployed in pursuit of that agenda is precisely metalepsis. I have argued that metalepsis occurs at the end of chapter 8, also in the "Válame Dios" expletive in chapter 9, but that it is by no means limited to those instances. What is tentative in this regard in Part I becomes fully developed in Part II, where metalepsis is one of the dominant diegetic features.

I have referred to the instance of the naval battle off the coast of Barcelona, narrated in II.63, where Cide Hamete's discourse is undermined from within by a clandestine Christian presence who affirms solidarity with the Christian forces, and with his narratee, while also affirming mastery over his medium. Further evidence of the supernarrator's Hermes-like nature (with a nod to Edward Dudley) lies in the fact that he is always already there, cunningly lying in wait for just the right moment to intervene and assert himself. I have referred to three instances: the end of I.8, an early stage in Cide Hamete's manuscript in I.9, and the naval skirmish in II.63, but there are many more. Let me cite only three. In II.70, we find: "Durmiéronse los dos, y en este tiempo quiso escribir y dar cuenta Cide Hamete, autor desta grande historia, qué les movió a los duques a levantar el edificio de la máquina referida [...]." In II.53: "Pensar que en esta vida las cosas della han de durar siempre en un estado, es pensar en lo escusado; [...] esto dice Cide Hamete, filósofo mahomético [...]." And in II.38: "[...] miraron que por ella se debía llamar la condesa Trifaldi, como si dijésemos la condesa de las tres faldas; y así dice Benengeli que fue verdad, y que de su propio apellido se llama la condesa Lobuna [...]." In these three instances, it is abundantly clear that someone else is narrating the story, not Cide Hamete, and that voice refers routinely, even somewhat mechanically after a time, to the written text in Arabic.

Could this be the translator speaking? Although the translator's role is enhanced in Part II, the pattern is set for his interventions in II.5, where we read: "Llegando a escribir el traductor desta historia este quinto capítulo, dice que le tiene por apócrifo [...]." In other words, the translator's sporadic comments are always announced and then quoted by the supernarrator. Again, the comment seems to emanate from within Cide Hamete's manuscript--another metalepsis--for there is no indication to the contrary. But Cide Hamete cannot have foreseen what a translator might say, sometime in the future, about his manuscript. That would strain credibility to the breaking point.

We might succinctly summarize the characteristics and role of the supernarrator as follows: 1) it is a useful concept for understanding and appreciating the narrative hierarchy in the text, and he is important also for appreciating Cervantes's achievement as an innovative and experimental teller of tales; 2) my supernarrator is, in Genette's terms, the extradiegetic-heterodiegetic narrator, but I hope my coinage may be a little simpler and easier to understand than Genette's more technical jargon; 3) the supernarrator is configured by the manner in which he configures the text and by his interventions from within it; 4) the supernarrator is sometimes overt in his overtures, but, often as not, he is stealthy and somewhat devious, like Hermes, as when his voice irrupts in the text without warning or fanfare; 5) the supernarrator's voice is a decidedly Christian one, which serves to counterbalance that of the heathen historian; 6) the supernarrator is a voice, rather than a presence who merely mills about, like Cide Hamete; he represents orality, whereas the Moor, whipping boy that he is, represents writing. Orality takes precedence in the telling of this tale--even Cide Hamete's writing is frequently presented as speech ("Aquí hace Cide Hamete un paréntesis, y dice [...])--but, significantly, that orality cannot stand alone. It needs the support of its supplement, and for that framing and sustaining écriture we are indebted, not to Cide Hamete, of course, but to Miguel de Cervantes.

The supernarratee can be inferred only from the discourse of the supernarrator, which is the reason for this lengthy excursus into that entity's attributes and interventions. It seems fair and safe to say that the intended receiver of this narrator's discourse is assumed to be a Christian and not a Moor. The narrator may be said to assume implicitly that his narratee will share his values and perspective ("nuestras galeras"). Whether one or both are New Christians or Old Christians is something we probably need not address; I find no markers pointing in either direction. We may suppose also that this narratee is considered capable of following the constant oscillation between speaking and writing (for instance, the frequent "dice Cide Hamete," which is synonymous with "dice la historia"). The supernarratee is also assumed adept enough to follow convoluted passages like the beginning of II.44, to which I have devoted space on other occasions ("Dicen que en el propio original desta historia se lee que [...]") and also to deal with the surprising revelation that there is a single "propio original" at the source, rather than a plethora of texts by the "varios autores" alluded to by our long-abdicated first author (of I.1-8), who must by now be living in retirement in some unspecified lugar de la Mancha. However that may be, it is evident that the supernarrator addresses someone whom he assumes to be an uncommonly discreet, extraordinarily competent interlocutor, one who will be able to tune in to his voice as it irrupts periodically, seemingly from within Cide Hamete's manuscript. This narrator is, without doubt, demanding. He assumes a narratee on the same wavelength. He does not narrate for just any ordinary receptor.

This brief stroll through the fictional woods (with a bow to Umberto Eco) leads to two fairly obvious conclusions: 1) the posture and tone of the narrator serves in large part to configure the narratee he addresses; an ironic narrator, like the first author (I.1-8), presupposes a narratee of that set of mind, or capable of entering into that frame of mind; an enthusiastic and highly involved narrator, like the second author of I.9, takes for granted a narratee of like mind, or at least one susceptible of having his or her enthusiasm aroused; 2) the supernarrator is the most demanding of those who intervene in the transmission of meaning; he assumes that his narratee will be able to follow the many instances of metalepsis, recognizing his voice whenever it surfaces, will not be confused by the interplay between speaking and writing, or by disnarration in all its forms, but above all, he must assume that the supernarratee will recognize that he is the narrator, not Cide Hamete, and that the frequent allusions he makes to the Moorish historian serve to relegate that figure to the periphery, emphasizing his marginality and "supplementarity" (since he representes writing), rather than centrality.

The superreader is an extra-textual entity, one of us, potentially any one of us. It can be viewed as a heuristic device, but also as an individual instance of a given reader reading. As I have adapted it here from Riffaterre's composite model, it is merely another name for the highly informed, highly competent reader we work hard to create in our graduate programs. I would go so far as to say that any reader capable of entering into the text in order to become Cervantes's ideal or inferred or model reader is, perforce, a superreader. Two tests the superreader should pass, in order to be certified as such, are, first, to show an understanding of the concepts that come into play here and, second, to demonstrate an ability to capture and appreciate the flow of sense and nonsense between supernarrator and supernarratee. The superreader should be well-grounded in the cultural and intellectual history of Cervantes's day, also in modern literary theory, while being, in addition, a meta-critic, which is to say a critical reader of other critics. First and foremost, however, it is someone capable of moving beyond a focus on character, plot, and theme in order to concentrate on the level of telling rather than showing and on the ways information moves along the communication model from senders to receivers.


Works Cited

Booth, Wayne C. The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1961.

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. Ed. Salvador

J. Fajardo and James A. Parr. Asheville, NC: Pegasus Press, 1998.

Chatman, Seymour. "Voice" [excerpted from his 1980 Story and Discourse]. Richter, 161-69.

.Dudley, Edward J. The Endless Text: 'Don Quixote' and the Hermeneutics of Romance. Albany: SUNY Press, 1997.

Eco, Umberto. Six Walks in the Fictional Woods. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1994.

Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980.

Gerli, E. Michael. Refiguring Authority: Reading, Writing, and Rewriting in Cervantes. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1995.

Jakobson, Roman. "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics." Style in Language. Ed. Thomas Sebeok. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1960. 350-77.

Lathrop, Thomas. "Avellaneda y Cervantes: el nombre de don Quijote." JHP 10 (1986): 203-09.

Martin, Wallace. Recent Theories of Narrative. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1986.

Martín Morán, Juan Manuel. El 'Quijote' en ciernes: los descuidos de Cervantes y las fases de la elaboración textual. Alessandria: Dell'Orso, 1990.

Parr, James A. 'Don Quixote': An Anatomy of Subversive Discourse. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 1988.

---. "Plato, Cervantes, Derrida: Framing Speaking and Writing in Don Quixote." On Cervantes: Essays for L. A. Murillo. Ed. J. A. Parr. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 1991. 163-87.

---. "Del interés de los narradores del 'Quijote.'" Actas del XII Congreso de la Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas. Gen. Ed. Trevor J. Dadson. 7 vols. Birmingham: University of Birmingham, Dept. of Hispanic Studies, 1998. 3: 102-07.

---. "The Role of Cide Hamete Benengeli: Between Renaissance Paradox and Baroque Emblematics." Indiana Journal of Hispanic Literatures 1.1 (1992): 101-14.

---. "Las voces del Quijote y la subversión de la autoridad." Actas del VIII Congreso de la Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas. 2 vols. Ed. José Amor y Vázquez et al. Madrid: Ediciones Istmo, 1986. 2: 401-08.

---. "Don Quijote: meditación del marco." Actas del X Congreso de la Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas. 4 vols. Ed. Antonio Vilanova. Barcelona: PPU, 1992. 4: 661-69.

---. "Don Quixote: On the Preeminence of Formal Features." 'Ingeniosa Invención': Essays on Golden Age Spanish Literature for Geoffrey Stagg. Ed. Ellen Anderson and Amy R. Williamsen. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 1998. 165-80.

Paz Gago, José María. Semiótica del 'Quijote': teoría y práctica de la ficción narrativa. Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi, 1995.

Prince, Gerald. "Introduction to the Study of the Narratee." Richter, 226-41.

---. "The Disnarrated." Style 22 (1988): 1-8.

Richter, David H., ed. Narrative / Theory. White Plains, NY: Longman, 1996.

Riffaterre, Michael. "Describing Poetic Structures: Two Approaches to Baudelaire's 'Les Chats.'" Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism. Ed. Jane P. Tompkins. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. 26-40.