Don Quixote, Dissident

It is now four centuries since the birth of a masterpiece whose author and hero both seem younger than we do. The simplest explanation for this may be found in Flaubert’s words about Don Quixote : “I found my origins in this book, which I knew by heart before I learned how to read.” Indeed, at the core of Don Quixote is something essential that we knew even before we read it but which became part of our nature only after we completed its mesmerizing journey. This is the unmistakable stamp of greatness in a writer.

Hunting after his own ghost – an obvious sign of inner unhappiness – Hidalgo searched for a place where dreams, reality, sainthood, love, and justice coexist. In their burlesque approach to humanity, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are the most enduring and endearing clownish couple in world literature.

It is no surprise, then, that for the last 400 years Don Quixote and Panza have bred many relatives and successors, including countless buffoonish boss-and-servant couples. Even the history of the circus is focused on such a pairing: the vain, dignified White Clown and Augustus the Fool, the humble loser who is kicked in the pants by his stiff, pompous partner.

For an East European like myself, it is not easy to ignore the history of the circus – or history itself. The solemn Communist Manifesto announced the specter of the Great Utopia haunting Europe, but failed to warn us of the bloody tyranny. The gullible Sancho Panza was meant to adopt the revolution’s deceptive dogma as entitlement to wage a brutal war against all. The dream of improving the world disguised a farce that affected not only a single life, as in Cervantes’ story, and affected not only the misleading army of buffoons believed to be missionaries. This dream destroyed generations of victims.