Don Quijote | Chapter 14: A Hand, and a Thread of Hope
Multi-lingual with English, French and Spanish subtitles, 16 channel video installation, 2019
14: A Hand, and a Thread of Hope
The inserted novella of the Captive’s Tale (I, 39-41) serves to demonstrate how culture can enable the traumatized subject to deploy his imagination as a cure against madness. The novella can be read as a small version of Cervantes’ own deployment of the imagination as a cure as I imagine it – offering this possibility to the whole world, for all times. Which could well be the primary reason for the novel’s world-wide and enduring success. The novella is generally considered the most autobiographical section of the novel. The story is summarily enacted in this turbulent scene, which describes the everyday life of the slaves, and breaks that painful routine when it narrates the offering of an envelope containing money, a proposal to escape, and to marry. The offer is made to the Captive by Zoraida; a reversal of the Western fairy-tale cliché of the Prince on the White Horse. As the scene “She, too” has intimated, she can feel empathy for the slaves from her own experience of confinement. The slaves need to appeal to a translator, since her letter is in Arabic. The Captive appeals to a “renegade”, a crucial figure of someone who converted to Islam to save himself. Compelled conversion is only too well-known in the Spain of the Inquisition, and still happens today.
This scene contains a dialogue on the crucial question of trust. Mired in total despair, imagining a fairy-tale of rescue by a beautiful woman enables the (former?) slave to crawl out from under and begin a new life of creativity. But caught in his trauma, he risks remaining a slave forever. This scene, where the harsh reality transforms into a dream of rescue, is based on an enigmatic gesture the Captive (thinks he) sees, which can draw him out of his stagnation. Issues alluded to are intercultural, interlingual translation, and the collaboration and trust this requires. Also, the intermedial transformation from literature, that remains present in the quotations, into audiovisual, and the anachronisms that entails, are prominent in this episode. With the need to have a trusted translator help with the letter, the multilingualism that permeates this exhibition, so typical of the contemporary world, is here put to the test of trusting someone who has chosen a different path to freedom.
The renegade turns out to be as much in need of affection and solidarity as the slaves. “He, too” could be the motto of his intervention. His freedom is qualified, and affection and trust are not in the package. This is why he is so keen on the approval and confidence of the slaves. This dilemma also alludes to the dilemma of political choices, between staying close to one’s principles and going for a political solution that, approximating opportunism, may also be the only way to improve a situation. Again, there is no answer given to this dilemma. Trust is the mediator between the two positions. The somewhat sentimental quotations of the renegade’s discourse, selected from the novel, are meant to keep the sentimentalism of unthinking identification at bay, while reminding us that religion, although differently functioning today, is not behind us.
Images: Magdalena Engrup, Ebba Sund