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Mexican writer hails Cervantes and "Don Quixote"

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Mexico City, Dec 7 (EFE).- Mexican writer Sergio Pitol, winner of this year's prestigious Cervantes literary prize, says all major schools and styles of prose fiction of the past four centuries owe something to "Don Quixote."

The author gave a lecture on the works of Miguel Cervantes last night at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), just a few days after he was awarded the most prestigious literary accolade in the Spanish language.

Pitol, whose talk came as the literary world celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of Cervantes' masterwork, said that "'Don Quixote' was ahead of its time."

"There is no subsequent literary trend of importance that does not owe it something: the various branches of realism, romanticism, symbolism, expressionism, literature of the absurd, the new French novel, and many more have their roots in Cervantes' work," he said.

"In 1922, Viktor Skolvski discovered that 'Don Quixote' was not only the most innovative work of Cervantes' time, but even compared with the most avant-garde works of the 20th century remained the most contemporary of all," Pitol said.

"Some months ago in the Cervantes Institute of New York, Harold Bloom gave a paper on Cervantes and Shakespeare. Bloom believes that these two authors reign supreme over all other western writers, from the Renaissance to our own time," he said.

"The radical difference between them," he said, "is that while Shakespeare teaches us to know ourselves, Cervantes on the contrary teaches us to understand and speak with many different kinds of people," he said.

The writer reminded students and the academic community at UNAM, where he graduated, that Cervantes "never went to university." And the first time his name appears on the printed page is "next to some pretty mediocre poems."

"That a poor youth who never attended university and who was not a career soldier could move among aristocrats, cardinals, and magnates seems almost inconceivable," he said.

"Cervantes managed to write a work of exceptional grandeur. Until the last day of his life, at 69, he did not stop creating masterpieces," he added.

Pitol said that "Don Quixote" was a work that took even cultured Spaniards of the period a long time to understand.

"The form, the structure, the personalities, the theme of madness itself are innovative, and all that would be enough to stir our interest, but 'Don Quixote' is something more," he said.

"It is a work of genius, of a writer who has woven into his novel every stage of his life - barracks, hospitals, the battlefront, the Italian renaissance,the Algerian baths, crowds of people from different countries speaking different languages.

"Thousands of miles on muleback, 30 years of wandering, of humiliating jobs, the studies and the lowlife, the infamy, the persecution of those he had known - but also the ecstacy, the happiness, the laughs and the magnificence of the world. All that is here," he added.

"From being crazy or a clown, Don Quixote becomes a universal champion of justice, honor, freedom, almost holiness," he said.

Pitol, 72, commented that in the novel madness becomes a kind of liberty.

"Cervantes also took liberties with the structure of 'Don Quixote,'" he said. "Other novels of the time - picaresque, pastoral, or chivalrous - were linear and followed strict rules." EFE

Copyright 2005 Efe. All Rights Reserved.

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