Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra, Juan de Jauregui y Aguilar, Wikimedia Commons
Last week the world mourned the death and celebrated the life of a uniquely creative, internationally famed, widely prolific, flamboyantly attired artist: Miguel de Cervantes, who died four hundred years ago April 22. Much has been made of the coincidence of his death date with Shakespeare’s, and multiple observances, many involving period garb, have ensued. There’s no ruff required to visit our archives, where you can salute the great Spanish writer with Antônio Xerxenesky’s “Seizing Cervantes,” translated from Portuguese by Kim M. Hastings for our Apocalypse issue of January 2012. In the second half of the twenty-first century, virtually all texts are digital, and the government uses the more secure paper (“if there were some emergency, some breach of confidentiality, copies were simply burned”) for its classified communications. A teacher in the UK finds a bureaucrat’s briefcase, stuffed with a five-hundred-page folio, in a cafe and stumbles upon a plot by the reigning political party to revise Don Quixote gradually, over time, “so that no one would notice and collective memories would forget the details.” In the absence of bound copies of Cervantes’s masterpiece, and given the country’s dwindling number of literary specialists and (thanks to anti-immigration policies) Spanish speakers, this improbable scheme is alarmingly plausible. To his dismay, the teacher learns that the plan is to pin Quixote’s delusions on myopia, rather than madness: his age and compulsive reading would have weakened his vision, and of course we know he did not wear glasses . . . . In the face of this cultural short-sightedness, the narrator switches from espresso to whisky and from incredulity to despair: “I could see the future arriving faster and faster.” Why not stop time for now and check out this quixotic homage to the classic?