Spanish and Portuguese | Seminar in Hispanic Studies
S708 | 28325 | S. Wagschal

Professor Steven Wagschal
email: swagscha

S708	Seminar in Hispanic Studies

R 4:00p – 6:30p/section# 28326/3 cr./BH 105

Topic:  Cervantes’ Brain: Intention, Interpretation and Don Quixote

In "The Critique of The Power of Judgment", Kant suggested that the
human mind seeks to explain a complex pattern in experience by
attributing to it purposiveness as if it were designed. Although
Kant’s insight on how the mind works may well be correct, it does
not follow that all patterns are indeed purposive (take, for
instance, the formation of clouds that might look like an animal or
human face). Similarly, readers of literature have a propensity to
inquire into patterns that are based on repetition (of sounds,
rhythms, words, images, motifs, themes, characters), and then to
attribute literary significance to these repetitions. Literary
critics often rely on accounts of the repetition of an item (word,
image, etc.) in a given narrative context and its re-iteration in
one or more subsequent contexts to justify their readings. While
such inquiries generate a teleological explanation, they may point,
nevertheless, like the face in the clouds to arbitrary repetitions.
If the distinction between arbitrary and non-arbitrary
characteristics of a text is tenable, then non-arbitrary repetitions
would seem to have something to do with the intentionality behind
the literary text’s creation, with what we call “the author.”

In answering the question, “What is an author?,” Michel Foucault
famously characterized “it” as a “complex and variable function of
discourse.” Some twenty years before that, Wimsatt and Beardsley had
labelled as “fallacy” the possibility of knowing an author’s
intentions through a literary text. For its part, psychoanalysis
called into question the role of consciousness in authorship,
favoring instead a focus on unconscious processes. However, with the
cognitive turn in literary studies, more theoretical attention has
been turned to author intentionality. Taking a cue from Mary Thomas
Crane’s work on Shakespeare and Cognitive Studies, the seminar seeks
to explore the limits of the author’s intentionality and of literary
interpretation through a study of the work of Spain’s early modern
iconic author, Cervantes. Without any metaphysical notion of what
a “mind” is, at a minimum we should all be able to agree that
Cervantes’ brain sent signals to his (good) hand that made it write
and revise the manuscript of "Don Quixote". What more, if anything,
follows from that?

The seminar assumes the participants’ prior familiary with "Don
Quixote" Parts I and II. While re-reading the novel in its entirety,
analyzing it for arbitrary and non-arbitrary patterns of repetition,
and looking at several of its major (and mututally exclusive)
interpretations from the Seventeenth through the Twentieth
Centuries, the course will interrogate historical and current
theoretical notions of author intentionality. To this end, we will
investigate: (1) the twentieth-century debate on the so-
called “Intentional Fallacy,” (2) the sympathetic reception of this
idea in some poststructuralist formulations of the death of the
author, (3) subsequent philosophical theorization of intentionality,
and (4) explore what value Cognitive Studies may hold for literary
criticism. Seminar students will also read other early modern texts
including the complete Novelas ejemplares and either "El Persiles"
or "La Galatea".