From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 5.2 (1985): 149-61.
Copyright © 1985, The Cervantes Society of America

Cervantes and the Shape of Experience


  “Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”1


     The imperious simplicity of this injunction might seem to define the task of the reader in so self-evident a way as to disarm (or frustrate) any searcher after more complex strategies of reading. How else, indeed, are we to read but in the order of the words, from the first to the last, and especially when ordered to do so at a trial in a court of law? But as we read what it is that the White Rabbit actually recites, what we take as obvious begins to appear less so. The beginning of the poem as it is read in court does not look or sound like the beginning of anything; rather it seems to be fussing over something already begun.

They told me you had been to her,
     And mentioned me to him:
She gave me a good character
     But said I could not swim.

     The end, likewise, may well be where the text stops, but it no more gives the sense of an ending than the opening lines gave the sense of a beginning. And in the absence of a beginning

     1 Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (“Lewis Carroll”), Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, ch. 12, “Alice's Evidence”. I quote from Martin Gardner's “The Annotated Alice” (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1960) pp. 158-59.


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recognizable as such, and of a formal closure, there can be no significant middle (Gardner describes the poem as “six verses with confused pronouns and very little sense,” p. 158, n. 2.). If we turn aside from the formal qualities, its existence as manifested in temporal order and attempt to seek its origin as text, we find ourselves similarly baffled by absence. The poem that is read out in court in Alice in Wonderland is the result of a reworking of an earlier nonsense poem by the author of Alice: “She's all my fancy painted him.” This was, in turn, a parody of a sentimental song by William Mee, “Alice Gray,” popular at the time and addressed to another Alice.
     Where, then, does the White Rabbit's text begin, for the reader of Alice? Where, indeed, does the trial begin, and who is being tried? The reader is obliged to experience different levels of engagement with the text and with the pre-text. All reading is ‘start: go to the end: stop,’ and there is tension between this and the phenomenological encounter that moves in other directions than just forward. One possible role of the critic is to describe as completely as possible these other directions and the other levels on which the reader's consciousness is engaged. In doing this, the critic will attempt to reconstitute the meaning of the tensions between the linear process imposed by our existence in time, by literary convention, by authorial stipulation, and the transgressions of that linearity by the text in its game of origins and unfolding of paradigms.
     In Cervantes' El casamiento engañoso y coloquio de los perros this doubleness is not just generic, it is deliberate, and goes far beyond the simple flashback technique of romance. The Licenciate Peralta is given a story to read, from beginning to end, which he does, though with some reluctance, after expressing his reservations about its truthfulness. This time the fictional reader is persuaded by a friend's entreaty, not a king's command, and that friend presents himself as the authority for its truth. However he can claim only to be its transcriber, not its author. This is the first signal to the reader that the text is problematic in its origin. As in Don Quixote, Cervantes is once again concerned to make us aware of the uncertain connection between our beginning to read a text and the declared or imputed origin of that text. The act of reading is conditioned by what the text tells us initially about its relation to the world that it evokes and its validation in that world. It is also dependent upon our perception of its probable truth value and this may depend in turn upon what we believe was its origin in the world we inhabit.

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     The problems of origin, of truth value, and their effect on the reader's commitment to the act of reading, are explicitly raised for El coloquio de los perros by the licenciado Peralta, the reader of the manuscript. Campuzano claims that the dialogue was truly spoken by the dogs. But this is only the most obvious example of the novel's foregrounding of its relation with the reader, and its thematizing of the question of the truth of fictions. Note how often we are made to begin reading. We begin at the beginning of the narrator's discourse: “Salía del Hospital de la Resurrección, que está en Valladolid, fuera de la puerta del Campo . . .” in a place located with documentary precision. Within a couple of pages we begin reading El casamiento engañoso, and from the end of this story we quickly move through a brief dialogue between the licenciado and the alférez to the beginning of the Coloquio. But this is not all, for the opening of the narrative presents the meeting of two former friends in a new beginning for a relationship that has to take account of the drastically changed condition of one of them. At the same time, this encounter of friends points to the past, to a friendship whose origin is hidden from us. And if the narrative denies us knowledge of the beginning of the friendship, El casamiento engañoso denies us knowledge, in any profound, intimate sense, of the origin of the alférez's desire for Estefanía.
     If we disentangle the temporal sequence that Cervantes so deliberately ravelled up, we discover that he begins his telling almost at the end of the sequence, when two friends are reunited, to their mutual astonishment. Not until we have read the Casamiento and the Coloquio and reflected on the last words of the whole (“Vamos . . . y con esto, se fueron”) do we perceive that this insignificant event has been the climax, the recognition scene of the untold story. What the telling of the Casamiento and the Coloquio does is to transform an event into an experience. The reader who first simply observes two men embracing each other comes to understand it from within, as a re-cognition, a rich and profound spiritual experience. Between the beginning and the ending, the matter is almost all presented in “flashbacks”; and the most extraordinary flashbacks they are for many reasons, not the least being that they do not bear the usual casual relation to the narrative that frames them. Rather than explain a developing situation, or create new suspense in the principal narrative (the story of a friendship) they displace and even efface it from the attention of the reader. Here is one of many ways in which Cervantes defeats the reader's expectations concerning structure, temporal sequence, causality.

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     Both the Casamiento engañoso and the Coloquio are bounded and defined by formal beginnings that are plainly marked. The dialogue of Cipión and Berganza is itself constituted by a succession of new beginnings on the level of the story and on that of the discourse. There are other origins that are occluded or obscure, and desires for origin that are fueled by demonic stories, and become obsessive fantasies. The dog Berganza's belief in the story told him by the witch Cañizares, that he was a changeling, is the most prominent of these. And the ‘prophetic’ verses foretell a sort of personal apocalypse, a final return to an ‘original’ shape by means of which the end will reinstate the beginning. This desire of Berganza for an end that will confirm his beginning and so make sense of his existence becomes a fixation for him. Because it is mediated by the devil's representative it is a dangerous illusion, but nevertheless it points to a pattern which may carry either a negative or a positive sign: the search for the ending that justifies the beginning and thereby confers direction, significance and structure upon the middle. By such strategies we read stories and lives, our own and others.


     Alban K. Forcione's new reading of this work does not follow the convoluted order of Cervantes' plot.2 Nor does it unravel the linear history of the events, which would immediately reveal the absence of a beginning, of an authoritative origin for what happens in the narrative. Forcione begins instead with the Coloquio. He first draws the reader's attention, in his Introduction, to the ugliness of the subject matter, the foulness of the world as it is experienced by the canine narrator, “a seemingly endless and unrelieved exploitation of the spectacular activities of man as beast” (16). Cervantes appears to contradict his most cherished aesthetic principles in following the satiric impulse, and in endorsing the apparently uncontrolled structure of Berganza's narrative. (Cipión's plea to Berganza to go straight on with his story “sin que la hagas que parezca pulpo según la vas añadiendo colas” does not, cannot, of course cancel Berganza's words. Cervantes' art thus accommodates both the offending narrative and the editorial comments.)
     “In no other work does Cervantes so exhaustively explore the absurdities and disorderly conduct of which man is capable, and in no other work does he appear to be striving so relentlessly for an

     2 Cervantes and the Mystery of Lawlessness. A Study of ‘El casamiento engañoso y El coloquio de los perros’. (Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1984).

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effect of riotous disorder in his narrative form” (13). This riotous disorder is evident in the transgressions of generic purity: “In its assimilation and refashioning of traditional genres —including the picaresque novel, the Lucianic satire, the philosophical dialogue, the miracle narrative, the devotional and consolatory treatise, the sermon, the fable, the aphorism, and the anecdote— it goes beyond any of Cervantes' other works except the Quixote . . .” (17). The question then, for Forcione, is why did Cervantes choose to close his collection of Novelas ejemplares with a work in which “ugliness is nearly overwhelming” (13) and where the disorders of which humankind is capable are matched by disorder in the form? How (we may ask) can it fit with the author's frequent eulogies of poetry as a bright jewel, and with his admonitions to poets to preserve its purity, by eschewing matters that are sordid, harsh, or indecorous? If we recognize that the work is written not in a mode of expressive realism, but of satire we still have to confront the obstacle that satire was regarded as an impure genre, of its nature evil (11); how then could Cervantes bring his collection to a close with such a piece? The project that Forcione sets himself, then, is to follow Cervantes' exploration of evil. The dogs' dialogue is developed on two planes: first Berganza's picaresque narrative of his life, as observer and victim, and second the Lucianesque satire to which the conversations give rise. The dogs' lamentations about what they could say if time allowed, hint at the endless proliferation of evil. It is also worth noting that the awareness of time spurs the dogs to a manifest and exemplary self-discipline, of a kind that the humans in the story conspicuously lack.
     Forcione's book is divided into two parts: One, “The Mystery of Lawlessness,” and two “The Awakening at the End of the Night.” Each part contains three chapters. The six chapters are titled: I “The Anatomy of the Monster”; II “Cervantes' Apocalypse: The Descent into the Grave”; III “The Imaginative Unity of the Colloquy: The Center and the Parts”; IV “God's Infinite Mercy: El casamiento engañoso as a Christian Miracle”; V “The Survival of the Humanist Vision”; VI “Language: Divine or Diabolical Gift?” Each of these chapters has subsections. The first part shows how the disruption, fragmentation, and disorderliness in the narrative, are appropriate to satire. The symbolic descent, the midnight encounter with the witch, the recurrent images and archetypes that hold the work's vision steady are part of the repertory of satire. The second part brings out the countervailing movements, the movement out from darkness, up from the depths, the sustained ethical pressure, the

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recovery of the humanist vision, the liberating force of dialogue, and the freedom of the spirit to find its true powers in language.
     In Chapter I Forcione demonstrates two contrary motions in the Coloquio. The events and encounters of Berganza succeed one another with abrupt changes of rhythm in an expanding movement. Yet, at the same time as the narrative continually breaks down, as scene follows scene, or as repellent episodes are interrupted by horrified comments from either Berganza or Cipión, an opposing dynamism is operating: the narrative turns inward, in concentric confessions. The alférez began with a confession to his friend, of which El casamiento engañoso is but the most developed part. Berganza's biographical monologue is a confession and, within that, we see him receive the confession of the witch Cañizares. Hers is not the kind of confession that liberates, because it is unrepentant in its revelation of evil. Not only does it not free Cañizares, it ensnares Berganza also. Although he is prompted by revulsion to drag her repulsive body out onto the street, he remains fascinated by the possibility that he may be a changeling that could revert to its original human form, and by the fraudulent prophecy. Berganza's penetration of the witch's hovel is a discovery of the source of evil and bestiality. Her narrow room recalls the other narrow room where the alférez stared into an empty trunk at his own evil and his moral bankruptcy. The witch's trance recalls his unmotivated, mysterious sleep in the church, which gave Estefanía time to escape from his desire for revenge. Doubles evoke each other from part to part, story to story and disintegrate; images of sin, death, tomb, sleep, night, awakening, repeat and parody themselves.
     These parodies and reversals, of course, are congruent with a world in which hallowed images are violated and travestied; in which, for example, shepherds are killers of sheep. But this process of degradation, this motion of descent is also about to be countered through redemptive transformations and transvaluation of these images. For if our religious and social archetypes of the pastoral are profaned by murder, and by a demonic feast whose “pure” type is Cañizares' orgiastic banquet (92-4), this ritual of the damned will be again reversed when Campuzano and Peralta share a meal in quiet celebration of the former's re-emergence into the world. The witch Cañizares tells of her refusal of the hand of God, a hand which, in the language of the prophecy, will have power to cast down the proud and raise up the humble, the hand which, in the words of the alférez, bound him with sleep so that he could not pursue his treacherous wife. This image of trust and of justice reverses that of

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the pure white hands of the temptress that still haunts the memory of the alférez, and of Berganza (82-3). The open chest which, to the alférez, is a tomb announces a psychic drama of death and resurrection, and the hospital where he undergoes his forty sweatings is a nightmare of purgatory. These imaginative correspondences and reversals of imagery indicate the hidden presence of the concept of “fruitful evil” (143); this is the doctrine of the Fortunate Fall familiar to students of Milton and (pace Carlos Blanco Aguinaga) it brings the coloquio conceptually closer to Guzmán de Alfarache.
     Forcione's final chapter presents the world of language in its deep ambivalences: the evil tongues that deceive, mutilate, and destroy are set in contrast to the truth seekers who match word and identity. There are languages that are stultified and divorced from reality (Don Quixote's rhetoric of love, for example) and others that reach for full human reality. Where language in its social fabric is concerned, oppositions are more subtle than that. There are endearing insults, as Sancho Panza recognized in his conversation with Tomé Cecial, flattery is not all evil and “white lies” are not just admissible but desirable, given the necessity for “civilized codes of deception” (232). All of this is backed by the authority of Erasmus.
     So, proceeding from the dismaying ugliness of the fictional universe and the “riotous disorder” of its form, Forcione arrives at final affirmation of the value of human discourse. If the horror of this world is redeemed through images of suffering, death and rebirth, the imagination of the artist is sustained by his humanist vision through all its temptations to corrosive satire, to paradox and to dogmatism. And Forcione himself in this volume, as in the previous one (Cervantes and the Humanist Vision, Princeton U. P., [1983]) is guided and nourished by his conviction of the intellectual inclusiveness of Erasmian humanism and the images of conciliation that it underwrites.
     My summary of the book does little justice to its complexity, to its rich tissue of argument and allusion, or to the peculiarly forthright subtlety (to risk an oxymoron) of its analysis. Very learned and very earnest, it wastes little space either on academic quarrels or on ritual bows in the direction of other scholars. Also there is something curiously spoken about it. Not that it is colloquial or lacking in formality, but that it has rather the character of an immensely long monologue which, like the dogs' conversation, has found its way into print. The argument is mapped out in broad terms and then allowed to run through long paragraphs and extensive footnotes. Some readers may think it is old fashioned

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because of its attention to themes and symbols and imaginative correspondences between parts, and because of its implicit belief in an authorial presence (“text” is a term that is scarcely to be found here). But with his awareness of the generic traditions and their significance, (including such neglected forms as the miracle narrative), of the intellectual and moral concerns of writers, of Cervantes' preoccupation with language and the limits of rationality, Forcione has given us an excellent example of contextual criticism. The book also abounds in intertextual insights, such as Cervantes' “rewriting of La Celestina” (91).


     As we have observed earlier, the author begins by noting the Coloquio's presentation of ugly material, and he asks why Cervantes chose to balance La gitanilla, with its central Platonic apotheosis of Preciosa under the stars, against a narration containing the incarnation of evil in another female form on another night, this one starless. The contrast between the first and the last of the novelas is made several times in this book, and as an example I quote from page 133:

Whatever Cervantes may have thought about the total design of his collection Las novelas ejemplares, it remains a fact that his concluding tale is deeply pessimistic in tone, that it conveys an overwhelming vision of disorder, and that it presents nature, man, the family, society, the state, and literature as helplessly caught in the grip of evil and wrenched into shapes that violently disfigure their proper forms as they appear in La gitanilla.

The contrast is valid and, as Forcione notes, Joaquín Casalduero gave importance to it in his structural analysis of the whole collection. But perhaps it is overstated: on the one hand the paean for Preciosa is voiced in a world that, for the questing Andrés, is dark and purgatorial, and on the other hand the darkness of the Coloquio clears to reveal the restorative and redemptive signs present in the lives of the two friends. Forcione recognizes this movement when he writes of Cervantes leading us “into a long and nearly endless night. But light is ultimately there as our reward and, once it is perceived, we recognize that it has been there all along, and that, like the flickering glow of Berganza's lantern, it shines all the more brightly and warmly because of the surrounding darkness” (18). Later, he reminds himself and us that “the colloquy begins and ends with discussions of the wondrous benefits of language” (215). The darkness, I insist, is inescapable in both works, though in the

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one it is a condition of the quest elected by the aspirant hero, while in the other it is generated in the mutual deceit of the Casamiento engañoso, as well as in the greed, violence, and treachery of the world at large as witnessed by the dogs. The alférez's consequent sickness and suffering become a true purgation of the soul when he perceives that the evil in his own life flows into the great sewer of the world that is explored by his dogs. His understanding of himself and his relation to the world is mediated by the dogs of his dream, (or his fiction, or his vision, call it what we will) by their example of endurance as the only available heroism, their humility, their unpretentious companionableness, their faith in the power of language to redeem the meanest experience.
     Ernst Cassirer noted that a meaningful conversation

is never simply a question of imparting information, but of statement and response. It is only in this twofold process that true thought emerges. Plato has said that “questioning and answering each other in discourse” is our only access to the world of the “idea”. In question and answer “I” and “you” must be distinguished, not only that they may understand each other, but even if each is ever to know himself . . . .  And by virtue of this interaction each constructs for himself a “shared world” of meaning within the medium of language.” (Original italics).3

The dumb creatures of the Coloquio acquire the power of speech and are immediately transformed by this “miracle”: “este milagro en que no solamente hablamos, sino en que hablamos con discurso, como si fueramos capaces de razon, estando tan sin ella, que la diferencia que hay del animal bruto al hombre es ser el hombre animal racional, y el bruto irracional.”4 Speech, discourse, reason, are dimensions of one another: as soon as the dogs speak, they enter into dialogue and cease to be “creatures without reason,” they become self-aware and can even reflect upon their capacity for self-deception. In them the alférez perceives examples for himself, and not least in their urgency under the pressure of time in the face of that final silence that they foresee. A reductive explanation would say that they are simply projections of his unconscious motives upon a world which is a generalized image of the world of El casamiento engañoso. Yet there is nothing in the past of the alférez that rationally explains why these “projections” should be of a kind that will transform him, create a new relation to the sordid world of his

     3 Ernst Cassirer, The Logic of the Humanities, trans. Clarence Smith Howe (New Haven and London, Yale Univ. Press, 1960), p. 113.
     4 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Novelas ejemplares, ed. Harry Sieber (Madrid: Cátedra, 1980), II, 299.

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and Everydog's experience, and establish a universe of dialogue with the lost and newly found friend Peralta. This is no less a miracle (as Forcione is aware) than talking dogs or than the fine and intuitive understanding achieved between armas and letras, those old antagonists that the two friends represent.
     In view of all the foregoing, perhaps the relation between the Coloquio and La gitanilla has to be seen in somewhat different terms than the opposition proposed by Forcione, an opposition that he mitigates whenever he refers to the “redemption” or renewal of the alférez, to the “light” that breaks through the horrible night of lawlessness, and to language as the origin and necessary condition of both reason and community. The composite novela of El casamiento engañoso y Coloquio de Cipión y Berganza takes the narrative, thematic, and symbolic materials and the generic conventions of the preceding novellas and recombines and condenses them, violating the generic boundaries in order to create an astonishing new kind of work. It contains and transfigures what has gone before. It bears a relation to the preceding pieces like that of the Diabelli Variations to the preceding piano works of Beethoven, both as a summation and as a revolutionary transformation of the earlier compositional material. The comparison can be taken further: Beethoven's vindication of musical thought and language takes for its basic material not a pretty or “promising” theme but Diabelli's trivial, repulsive little waltz. The trivial and the ugly are here embraced by Beethoven, but if we say that they are changed, beautified, transcended, that he escapes or leaves them behind, we shall be off the mark. Each variation incorporates the theme in a new modality, each musical triumph has emerged from the composer's wrestling with that same trivial and ugly little theme, over and over. The triumphant affirmation of the art and language of music could not have been achieved without it, and the more it is transformed, the more it is shown to be the necessary ground of his art. In Cervantes' final novela a squalid little story of mutual deceit, of “the biter bit,” and its thematic opposite, the reunion of two friends, are combined. The first is a fully developed anecdote, and while the motivation is left mysteriously subliminal (we recognize evil by the fact that it is underdetermined) the pattern of events and consequences might be said to contain, in emblematic form, the whole history of sexual folly. The second, which is the real frame story, is formally detachable, but organically nourished by the other, once we have read a third component, the Coloquio. If there is, in Forcione's terms, one miracle in the mysterious transformations of evil and in the redemption of the protagonist, and another in the deepening of

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consciousness through the exercise of its special instrument, language, there is of course a third that readers must acknowledge as we ponder Cervantes' strange and unaccountable art. An art which, in wrestling with the sordid and the commonplace, the devious and the repugnant, with cruelty and treachery, reminds us that, in life, there are no more challenging materials than these for fashioning an existence in dignity and hope.
     If the whole final novela absorbs and transforms the materials that make up the preceding ones in the collection (the quests and trials, the visit to the underworld in its modern Sevillian settings, the miraculous reappearances and unexpected reunions, and so forth) there still remains the question of what special relation it may have with La gitanilla. From our earlier observations it seems to me that rather than opposition we might think of structural inversion and reversal of viewpoint. The paean to Preciosa in La gitanilla gives a vision of beauty in a companionable setting; the darkness has metaphysical implications indeed, but the narrative structure already points in the direction of a quest to be attained, trials to be satisfactorily undergone, suffering that will not be lost in the final accounting. The Coloquio has a revelation of the source of evil, in which the witch talks and the dog cannot respond. Not only are there no companions here to be drawn together in celebration, but Berganza is being alienated from his own canine origin, tempted by the vision of a lost nature that is a travesty of the human myth of the fall. And the anagnorisis, when it comes, depends not on external tokens, but on that mysterious movement within the alférez that causes him to confess his Casamiento to his friend, and on the sympathetic resonance within the licenciado who consents to read the Coloquio though not believing in it. In this story the recognition is not mediated by material tokens, birthmarks, jewels, or matching pieces of paper, but by the assembled fragments of an experience that add up to a truth that must not be lost, but can only be validated inwardly. As Forcione observes, there is confession within confession. Let us not fail to notice that there is also recognition within recognition, epiphany within epiphany.
     But I return to the question with which we started: how do we “begin at the beginning” with this work of Cervantes? How many ways can we re-read it? We are plunged in medias res and in classic fashion we retrace the events that have brought Campuzano to this point in his story. But his story is only a small part of his life. Even his friendship with Peralta (the frame story) will not be retraced to its origin. The conclusion presents a corresponding asymmetry. We learn nothing of the continuing life of the alférez, even whether he is

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cured of his sickness, but the friendship is rejoined and reaffirmed, in a few small symbolic acts of communion and by the acts of talking and listening that make up the whole narrative. The friendship is not given any special prominence, it has no story within the story, and yet it contains all the rest, brings it all into being. It is not just that the friendship of the two men is a frame in the formal sense, but that without it the rest could not exist. Without the established relation of friendship Campuzano would not have related his Casamiento engañoso in its confessional mode, and Peralta would not have taken the licence to make his sharp comment by means of the lines from Petrarch, and without it Peralta would not have become the model reader of the Coloquio, in an attitude of tolerant suspension of disbelief. Without it the telling of the Casamiento and the reading of the Coloquio would not have been, for both men, an experience that enhances their silent understanding of each other and of themselves, as they refresh “los [ojos] del entendimiento.” The friendship, then, has an essential part in the origin of the narration and its discourse, and on the way each character performs the act of narration or the act of reading. We, the readers of the whole, cannot fail to be influenced by a strategy of closure in which the characters have, in true readerly fashion, already restructured the provisional meanings of their partial texts.
     If the friendship of the two men is not accounted for but accounts for much, the infatuation of Campuzano for Estefanía is another beginning that is simply ‘there’, but resonates through all that happens to the alférez thereafter. The way that these two play out their singularly unconvincing drama of desire suggests a form of possession by fantasies that have little to do with mature passion. The alférez's pursuit of his shabby femme fatale; Estefanía simulating the reformed wanton; these postures reveal them acting according to the script of debased cultural codes, courtly and domestic. The mystery here is the deceit, which is more disturbing than lawlessness because it is less public and because it is blind to its origins and to its effects. Neither he nor she has anything to gain by it. Moreover, their narrative and not only their marriage is engañoso. The story is a brilliant example of mimetic form, deceiving the reader by its seeming simplicity, its easy symmetries. El casamiento engañoso demands to be complemented by the Coloquio on one level because it is too neat; its compactness, its terseness, its symmetries, its ordered repetitions are evidences of the repression that has made its composition possible and that will be partially unravelled in the dialogue of the dogs.

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     For modern readers there are other mysteries in addition to lawlessness and the operations of evil, which Forcione explores so powerfully. We have given some attention to the problem of the beginnings of narrative and the origins of an experience. We note that friendship here motivates the desire to tell, the desire to listen, and the desire to read and to understand. It is what, in the world of the fiction, makes possible the telling of both the Casamiento and the Coloquio together. But this is no more than a start. Cervantes tantalizes us with the mystery of origins, and beyond that lie the mysteries of desire and of narrativity, which we have scarcely begun to explore. We see him effacing and symbolically displacing the origins of his characters' experiences and making a playful mystery of the source of the dogs' ability to discourse in human language. By this blocking and problematizing the reader's desire and quest for origins, he points directly to the matter of some of the most compelling critical interests of our post-structuralist age.5 I hope to deal with these matters elsewhere.
     In all narrative structures there is an intimate implication of beginnings and endings, so I will return once more to the question that began Forcione's book. Within the universe of the Novelas ejemplares, is the beginning of the Casamiento y Coloquio to be located in La gitanilla? Or in all of them together, as a theme with variations? Perhaps it is in the ‘Prologo’ to the Novelas where the stories are compared to a sociable “mesa de trucos” and where we, like Peralta, are asked to find the truth in them for ourselves (the author, like his dogs and the other characters, telling us that time is too short to explain what the truth is to those who can't see it). The ending would then be our closing the book and our going forth to see the world anew, “a recrear los ojos del cuerpo,” having “recreado los del entendimiento.” In the end, a new beginning.


     5 I refer to the work of Jacques Derrida and Paul Ricoeur as well as philosophers writing in English who are also interested in the relation of narrativity and the language of experience: Stephen Crites, Alasdair MacIntyre, the late Louis O. Mink among others. Also, I am indebted to Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot (New York: Knopf, 1984).

Prepared with the help of Myrna Douglas
Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes