In Book 2, Chapter 4 of Don Quixote, the knight is being chatted up by a local wit, a student named Samson. Samson wants to have some fun at Don Quixote’s expense, and thus we know that we can put him under the category of an insiders. The bystanders, in Don Quixote, are either insiders or outsiders, with the insiders being in on the joke of the knight's madness, which often prompts them to some practical joke, while the outsiders react, often with some indignation, to his words and acts as though they spoken and enacted on the same plane of reality as anybody else's words and acts. It isn’t entirely clear what stance we, as readers, are to take to the insiders. They represent us, as readers, and yet their mockery doesn’t quite match our own mixed feelings. And, indeed, are they really in on the joke, especially in Book 2? Aren't they themselves the prey of a certain ontological trap? Samson has been telling Don Quixote and Sancho Panza about the book, Don Quixote, written by a Moor. The pair are not aware that they are in a book, and are naturally interested in this fact. Samson tells them that the author has promised, at the end of Book 1, to find the 2nd book in which their adventures continue:
“And what does the author mean to do?" said Don Quixote.
"What?" replied Samson; "why, as soon as he has found the history
which he is now searching for with extraordinary diligence, he will at
once give it to the press, moved more by the profit that may accrue to
him from doing so than by any thought of praise."
Whereat Sancho observed, "The author looks for money and profit,
does he? It will he a wonder if he succeeds, for it will be only
hurry, hurry, with him, like the tailor on Easter Eve; and works
done in a hurry are never finished as perfectly as they ought to be.
Let master Moor, or whatever he is, pay attention to what he is doing,
and I and my master will give him as much grouting ready to his
hand, in the way of adventures and accidents of all sorts, as would
make up not only one second part, but a hundred. The good man fancies,
no doubt, that we are fast asleep in the straw here, but let him
hold up our feet to be shod and he will see which foot it is we go
lame on. All I say is, that if my master would take my advice, we
would be now afield, redressing outrages and righting wrongs, as is
the use and custom of good knights-errant."
There is a three irreal steps here. The characters in a book want to know what the author of the book wrote about them, thus putting their wonder in a space outside of the book. The author of the book ends the book by promising to find the book in which the characters’ adventures are completed – and by this the author negates himself as an author, insofar as he seeks a book that is already completed, a book in which the characters continue their adventures. And finally, as the author is fancying what the characters are doing – no doubt thinking the characters are “fast asleep in the straw, here” – the characters are about to move on to new adventures, which may either mean the adventures in the book the self-annihilating author is seeking or the book that the author is contemplating writing.
Schlomo Biderman, in Crossing Horizons: the World, Self and Language in Indian and Western Thought (a book LI, under the name Roger Gathman, will be reviewing for the Austin Statesman, ‘moved more by the profit that may accrue to him from doing so than by any thought of praise’), devotes one chapter to the No-Self, contrasting Kafka and the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna’s book, Mulamadhyamakakarika, is dedicated to the proposition that propositions don’t reference any extra-linguistic reality. Nor, according to Nagarjuna, do they reference any inter-linguistic reality. In fact, what we call reality is, upon examination, emptiness.
“A courageous philosopher might rise up and say: since the signpost pointing us to emptiness is itself empty, why need I pay heed to its warning? However, such reaction will not betray great wisdom; it will only reveal a sorrowful myopia, an inability to distinguish properly between claims that try to assert something as opposed to preventive performatives, like those of Nagarjuna. Nargajuna himself clearly emphasizes the peventive-performative function of his claims, likening them to the action of an imaginary person perventing someone from doing something. An imaginary woman, for example, is voeted by a man who mistakenly thinks that she is a flesh and blood woman. Then a doctor arrives and draws the man’s attention to his error, to the fact that he should not have set out on his lustful path in the first place since the object of his desire is but a product of his imagination. Dispensing a course of preventive therapy, the doctor successfully cures the deluded man; he prevents the desperate lover from erring, revealing the illurory nature of the woman he covets. At this point, Nagarjuna surprises us: the doctor preventing the illusion is himself illusory – he too is imagined. Would this illusory doctor fail to cure this man just because he himself is a fictional character? (218)
- In Richard Westfall’s biography of Isaac Newton, he marvels over the paucity of references to Newton in reminiscences of his fellow Cambridge University worthies. There are a handful of stories. They are all about Newton’s famed “absent mindedness” – or what Nagajuna might have recognized as mindedness of absence. And a nexus between the book and madness that Don Quixote’s friends might well recognize, as well. According to William Stukeley:
“As when he has been in the hall at dinner, he has quite neglected to help himslef and the cloth has been taken away before he has eaten anything. That sometime, when on surplice days, he would goe toward S. Mary’s church, instead of college chapel, or perhaps has gone in his surplice to dinner in the hall. That when he had friends to entertain at his chamber, if he stept in to his study for a bottle of wine, and a thought came into his head, he would sit down to paper and forget his friends.”
- His friends. Stukeley implies that he had friends. Westfall found, in Newton’s entire correspondence, only one personal letter in the entire corpus. It was written to Francis Aston, who was going abroad, to Europe, and consisted of advice about what to see and do abroad, copied almost literally from a manuscript by Robert Southwell. Newton had never been abroad. He adds that he would like it if Aston could find a book for him by Michael Maier on astrology. Westfall writes that the letter is “more ludicrous than eloquent.” “It is found today among Newton’s own papers, which suggests that he recognized he was cutting a ridiculous figure as he assumed a ridiculous posture on the basis of one month in London and an essay by Southwell, and decided not to send it.”
- When Newton walked in the fellow’s garden, according to another reminiscence, “if some new gravel happen’d to be laid on the walks, it was sure to be drawn over and over with a bit of stick, in Sir Isaac’s diagrams; which the Fellows would cautiously spare by walking beside them, and there they would sometime remain for a good while.’
- His servant, Humphrey Newton – no relation – when Newton went to give the lectures he was obliged to give “so few went to see him, and fewer that understood him, that oftimes he did in a manner, for want of Hearers, read to the walls.”