If only I could be Pierre Menard

I chose to investigate the character of Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote, because it  was, for me, the least comprehendible yet most comical story. As far as the veracity of any historical figure named Pierre Menard goes, the only fellow of any particular interest was a prominent French-Canadian nobleman from the 18th century by the same. However, this cat didn’t do too much except, well, be a nobleman; whether Borges knew of this Menard or not, I think such a fellow is rather relevant to the overall context of the story, regardless. The name “Pierre Menard” sure sounds elite, though. 

The true legacy of Pierre Menard, the narrator explains, is that he became the author Don Quixote. It took me a moment to actually understand that Menard is simply transcribing Cervantes’ original text. It becomes comic when Borges “compares” the two separate texts; they are, of course, exactly the same. The narrator chooses to describe how much more sagacious and incisive Menard’s latter version is than Cervantes’ original story. For Cervantes, “Written in the seventeenth century, by the ‘ingenious layman’ Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical eulogy of history.” On the other hand Menard’s version is “astounding.” The narrator continues, “Equally vivid is the contrast in styles. The archaic style of Menard – in the last analysis, a foreigner – suffers from a certain affection. Not so of his precursor, who handles easily the ordinary Spanish of his time.”

This is blatantly hilarious, but it brings up some pragmatic points. The setting and reputation of the author surely play a role in the reception of a text for better or worse. I’m reminded of Barthes’ “Death of the Author” and the fissure of ties that must take place between the reader and actual author, who must not be assumed to be the narrator–even in an ambiguous story like this one. If the text is the same, does it really make a difference when or who wrote it? I guess it comes down to whether context matters.


~ by PDG on February 1, 2010.

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