To dream … the impossible dream …
I prefer the madness of Don Quixote to the sanity of most other men.
Cervante’s Knight of the Rueful Countenance, Don Quixote de la Mancha is alleged to have become deluded by the brain-addling effects of his continued immersion in the reading of chivalric tales of “enchantments, knightly encounters, battles, challenges, wounds…..love and its torments, and all sorts of impossible things.”
Ignoring the staid dissuasion of family and friends, this quiet, middle-aged, country-village gentleman gave way to his madness and decided to sally forth to spend the remainder of his life as a knight-errant.
Though he exaggerated his own importance, had a distorted view of what he encountered, and overestimated his chances of setting things to right, the world into which he sallied forth was really (like our own) unjust.
Perhaps it demands such a holy fool as Don Quixote to take the evil of the world seriously enough and to imagine himself sufficiently adequate to be willing to dedicate his life to improving the suffering lot of others.
It takes “a Gothic Christ, torn by modern anguish to face the sufferings of this absurd world; a ridiculous Christ of our own neighborhood, created by a sorrowful imagination which has lost its innocence and its will and is striving to replace them.”
Life is very dull for those too timid, too unimaginative, too sane to bring to it a sense of personal style, of individual purpose, of color, of verve, fun, and excitement.
Don Quixote’s quest, the personal pilgrimage of his mad life, was to live in “the world as it is traversed by man as he ought to be.”
If this is the wine of madness, then as an artist and creator I say: “Come fill my cup.”
I do not mean to suggest, by all the foregoing discussion of the value of madness, that craziness as such is a good thing. Rather, I wish to point out that in a world in which true madness masquerades as sanity, creative struggles against the status quo will be seen as eccentric and will be labeled as “crazy” by the challenged establishment in power.
Of course it greatly upset the other members of Don Quixote’s family and his community to learn that he had chosen to believe in himself. They were contemptuous of his wish to follow his dream.
This head-on encounter with naysayers and unbelievers is a common thread that weaves its way into the stories of many artists, writers and creative sorts of all kinds. It reminds me of my own story and the stories I have personally heard told to me from other artists. Following your calling to be an artist is often met with great resistance.
At the end of a series of colorfully zany misadventures, Don Quixote also (unfortunately?) achieved sanity.
On his deathbed he had to endure the moralistic admonishment of his deadly sane housekeeper: “Stay at home, attend to your affairs, go often to confession, be charitable to the poor.”
Such is the lesson of sane virtue, “but a man may have to go through hell to learn it.”
And so, safe from any further threat of madness, Don Quixote died, “having gained his reason and lost his reasons for living.”
It should be clear to the reader who has accompanied me through the labyrinth of this writing that I do not have any once-and-for-all clear understanding of madness and passion or the delicate boundaries between the two. Sometimes it seems like it is the only way to travel in a dully sane and destructively stable world. In other instances it seems to me to be an irresponsibly willful cop-out. And in any given situation, it may seem like some of each.
My hope would not be to totally avoid madness.
I value my own craziness and the creative and artistic places it can take me, free of the constraints of pedestrian Reason and unimaginative predictability.