The Modern Scholar: The Novel that Invented Modernity

  • by Ilan Stavans
  • Narrated by IIan Stavans
  • 4 hrs and 42 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Distinguished man of letters Ilan Stavans believes Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha “invented modern consciousness.” In these lectures, Stavans explores the work’s impact within Renaissance Spain and discusses Cervantes’ career as a soldier, tax collector, and failed playwright. Stavans also focuses on the baroque style and the way Spain has built its national identity around Don Quixote. With a wealth of insight, these enlightening lectures are invaluable both for those already passionate about Cervantes’ masterpiece and for those only about to discover its wonders.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Just what I was looking for

I just read Don Quixote and was fascinated. I wanted a chance to think more carefully about the book and learn something about the author and the historical context in which it was written. The lectures do that perfectly. The lecturer is passionate, engaging and insightful. I highly recommend this and thoroughly enjoyed it. Audible should make more lectures like these available to accompany all of the classic literature they sell. I'd listen to them all.
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- Andrew

Very disappointing

A very mediocre lecture, unlike most of the Modern Scholar series.

To begin with, in the beginning, the lecturer says that Cervantes did not volunteer for the Spanish army but was impressed. Everything I've read says he volunteered. This is an important point, because his volunteering to fight for his country would be an indication of idealism - something Cervantes might have in common with his character, Quixote, and might indicate that Cervantes created Quixote as a lampoon against an excessive idealism that he saw in himself. If there is such a connection, the lecturer doesn't explore it.

Then, he really doesn't talk all that much about the book, especially in the later lectures. He goes on and on, making banal connections between Quixote and other works and Spain and other countries. The connections don't work - they're over-simplistic and falsely modern. For example, he goes on for many minutes about the events of the year 1492, saying (amazingly) that before that time, Spain was a lot like the United States, a pluralistic society. Anyone who knows anything about history knows that NO country in 1492 was anything LIKE the U.S.! This is the fallacy of Presentism, making people and events in the past sound too much like what we see happening today, and drawing out good guys and bad guys accordingly. It's misunderstanding the times and therefore the literature.

Amazingly, then, the lecturer says that the book-burning episode early on in Quixote was Cervantes' critique of the Inquisition! This is even more silly than equating Moorish Spain to the modern U.S. There's nothing in that episode that suggests Cervantes disapproved of the priest and the barber burning up some of the trashier books in Quixote's library. On the contrary - the theme of the book is the harm books of chivalry can do to naive minds. Cervantes may have had mixed feelings about these books - he certainly knew them well. He may even have disapproved of book burning. But there's no hint of a critique of either book burning or of the Inquisition here! The joke was that this sort of literature was so ubiquitous that the priest and barber had read many of them themselves, and had their own favorites, which they set aside despite the protestations of the housekeeper and neice. Another joke is that Cervantes here is critiquing the individual books and even his own work through the mouths of the priest and the barber. But bringing in the Inquisition is a very far-fetched attempt to make Quixote politically correct.

Like a lot of literary critics, the lecturer just doesn't seem to get the humor of the novel, which is a lot like what you see in Monty Python or Napoleon Dynamite or the old TV show Green Acres. A lot of the time, when the lecturer is trying to find serious social commentary, Cervantes is just trying to have fun.

Another thing - the lecturer, amazingly, tries to make us believe that, because Cervantes claims that he didn't really write the book, but that it was an old manuscript translated by a Muslim writer, Cervantes was therefore saying that Spanish literature was not really very Spanish but was instead heavily dependent on Moorish culture and writing! This is maybe the silliest idea of all. Cervantes' pretending that Quixote's story was from an ancient manuscript was his play on the use of the theme in chivalric literature, where everything is made out to be of ancient, mysterious origin. And, in reality, Amadis of Gaul, one of the most popular works of chivalric literature, was of mysterious origin. Cervantes talks about Amadis of Gaul many times in Quixote. I don't think the lecturer ever even mentions it.

And I don't think there was much Islamic literature in those days - I believe they were very restricted as to what they were allowed to write.

There were a lot of things I wanted out of this lecture - more information about chivalric lit, more about Cervantes and his life, more about Spanish country life in the era. I didn't get it. Instead, I got a lot of false parallels in an attempt to make Quixote more politically correct and "relevant." It was what you'd expect from a Hollywood scriptwriter, not a college professor. But then, college professors these days ain't what they used to be.

I gave it two stars because he did mention a few things I didn't know before. But most of it was drivel.
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- C. Sahu

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-28-2014
  • Publisher: Recorded Books