Liberate Yourself with Meta-Awareness, But Don’t Let It Kill the Romance

Becoming a reader and critic of his own story leads Don Quixote eventually to sanity. Toward the end of the second volume, he slips out of his chivalric role more and more often, even doubting his most fabulous adventure: the Cave of Montesino. When an “enchanted boat” capsizes and gets pulverized in a mill, the bedraggled knight, dripping on the bank, sputters, “Yo no puedo más” (Cervantes Saavedra 752) (“I can’t take it anymore”), betraying a defeatist attitude for the first time. His increased meta-awareness causes our heroic knight to lose faith in his chivalric role, drop the pretense, and return, alas, to sanity.

Don Quixote Dying

As an empowered reader, I can overlook the disappointing ending and go back to the first chapter: “In fine, having lost his wits, he fell into one of the strangest conceits that ever entered the head of any madman,” which was to become a “knight-errant, and wander through the world, with his horse and arms, in quest of adventures” (Cervantes 23). Just like that, the proud but pitiful Don Quixote rides again.

If you are reading me right, meta-awareness is a means of giving yourself some power over your narratives, but too much self-knowledge can kill the romance. Don Quixote, remember, can never step out of narrative language; he can only trade one fiction for another, turning in the noble tale he fashioned for himself for the mundane history that others wrote: Señor Quixano, the country gentleman.

Know yourself, yes, acknowledge your shortcomings, but feel free to choose a new name, don a fresh costume and assume a nobler role – even if it is just a fantasy. Not all dreams come true, but no dream is realized if not first imagined. Remember that no one is born a rock star, scholar or hero; you must first pretend.

You may fail to achieve your aspirations, but, because of your delusions, you might succeed in becoming a hero in unexpected ways, as did Don Quixote. He was a nobler, more interesting man as a knight in battered armor, and he improved the lives of certain people – especially Sancho Panza, who found some wisdom (and many bruises) while traveling by his side.

(An extract of my book Narrative Madness, edited by Katie Foxwhich you can get at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon.)

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