Quijote and errant knights, scattered around the world or shut up within walls, are always the same, past, present or future: wise and mad, heroes and idiots. They don’t come into the world to live better or worse. When the universe of loneliness abandons itself to its misery, they pronounce words of justice, love, beauty and science. He who enters slavery voluntarily does not condemn his life.
Fernando Arrabal, Uno schiavo chiamato Cervantes
“Who is mad? Who is normal?
Perhaps a man who lives in his lucid madness can still do heroic things. What’s more, perhaps a kind of madness is needed – even more than courage – to carry out heroic acts.
Lucid madness is what allows us to suspend – for an endless moment – our sense of limits: that ‘I know we have to die’ that strips human life of its meaning, but merely makes us human.
An animal doesn’t know it has to die: at every moment it’s life or death. The animal knows this and at every moment, it’s life and death together. Emblematic of this is Don Quijote’s contemporary, Hamlet, who asks himself: who wants to labour, struggle, toil unworthily, witness the insolence of power and the rewarding of the unworthy over the deserving, if death is the inevitable end?
Don Quijote goes further: he transcends this knowledge and fights for a heroic moral ideal. An ideal that enriches the value of every daily act. And which – without wishing it – has made him immortal.
Is all this madness? Is it better to live head-down, entrenched in a habitat that precedes us and shapes us, in a network of predetermined rules which in turn determine us? Men who over the centuries have dared to unshackle themselves from this network – through dreams, fantasy, imagination – are often considered ‘mad’. Unless they are later rehabilitated by history itself. After all, it’s the people mad enough to believe in their vision of the world, to swim against the tide, to overturn the table, who deserve to be remembered forever: among others, Galileo, Leonardo, Mozart, Che Guevara, Mandela, Mother Teresa, Steve Jobs and – why not – Don Quijote”.
And I say that Don Quijote and Sancho Panza come into the world so that Cervantes could tell their story and I could explain it and comment on it – or rather, so that Cervantes could tell it and explain it and I could comment on it.
My dear Don Quijote, only one who has been infected by your madness to not die can tell, explain and comment on your life.
So, oh my lord and patron, intercede on my behalf so that your Dulcinea del Toboso, fed up with Sancho’s chastising, may take me by the hand and lead me to immortality of name and reputation. And if life is a dream, let me dream forever!
Miguel de Unamuno, Vita di Don Quijote y Sancho, freely inspired by the novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra