pierre menard, author of don quixote

the visible work that this novelist has left is quick and easy to list. the omissions and additions perpetrated by madame Henri Bachelier are, for the most part, impardonable; in a false catalogue which a certain newspaper whose "protestant" tendency is no secret has had the disconsideration to [inferir] to its deplorable readers - as well they be few and calvinist, when not masonic and circumcised. the true friends of Menard have seen this catalogue with alarm, even a certain sadness. [Diriase] (they say?) that yesterday we reunited under the final [marmol] and between the [cipreses] [infaustos] and that already Error attempts to [empanar] his Memory... decidedly, a brief rectification is inevitable.

[me consta] that it is very easy to [recusar] my poor authority. i hope, nonetheless, that you will not prohibit me to mention two elevated testimonies. the baroness Bacourt (at whose unforgettable fridays i had the honour to meet the named poet) has taken to approve highly of the following lines. the countess of Bagnoregio, one of the finest spirits in the principality of monaco (and now in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after her recent marriage to the international philantropist Simon Kautzsch, so slandered, alas, but the victims of his disinterested [maniobras]) has sacrificed "to truth and to death" (such were her words) the [senoril] [reserva] which distinguishes her and in an open letter published in the magazine Luxe concedes me similarly her [beneplacito]. these excutrices, i believe, and not insufficient.

i have said that the visible work of menard is easily enumerable. having examined with [esmero] his particular archive, i have verified that it consists of the following pieces:

a)a symbolist sonnet which appeared twice (with variations) in the magazine La conque (march and october editions, 1899).

b)a monograph on the possibility of constructing a poetic vocabulary from concepts that are not synonyms or paraphrases of those that inform common language, "but rather ideal object created by a convention and essentially destined for poetic needs" (Nimes, 1901)

c)a monograph on "certain connections or affinities" between the thinking of Descartes, Leibniz and of John Wilkins (Nimes,1903)

d)a monograph on Leibniz's characteristica universalis (Nimes,1904)

e)a technical article on the possibility of enriching the game of chess by the removal of one of the castle pieces. menard proposes, recommends, discusses and eventually [rechaza] this innovation.

f)a monograph on Ramon Lull's ars magna generalis (Nimes,1906)

g)a translation, with prologue and notes, of the book of the liberal invention and art of chess by Ruyz Lopez de Segura (Paris, 1907)

h)the [borradores] of a monograph on the symbolic logic of george boole

i)an examination of the essential metrical laws of french prose, illustrated with examples from Saint-Simon (Revue des Langues Modernes, Montpellier, december 1909)

j)a response to Luc Durtain (who had denied the existence of such laws) illustrated with examples from Luc Durtain (Revue des Langues Modernes, Montpellier, december 1909)

k)a manuscript translation of Quevedo's [aguja] of navigating cults, entitled La boussole des précieux

l)a preface to the catalogue for the show of Carolus Hourcade's lithographs (Nimes, 1914)

m)the work Problemes d'un probleme (Paris, 1917) which discusses, in chronological order, the soluciones the the illustrious problem of achilles and the tortoise. two editions of this book have appeared up til now; the second carries as an epigraph Leibniz' advice "ne craignez point, monsieur, la tortue" and updates the chapters dedicated to Russell and to Descartes

n)an obstinate analysis of the "syntactic customs" of Toulet (N.R.F, march 1921) Menard - i recall - declared that to censure and [alabar] were sentimental operations that had nothing to do with criticism

o)a transposition into alexandrines of Paul Valery's Cimetiere marin (N.R.F., january 1928)

p)an invective against Paul Valery, in Jacques Reboul's Pages for the suppression of reality. (this invective, though said in parentheses, is the exact opposite of his true opinion of Valery. He understood it this way, and the old friendship between the two was never in danger.)

q)a "definition" of the countess of Bagnoregio, in the "victorious volume" - the locution is that of the other collaborator, Gabriele D'Annunzio - which that lady publishes annually to rectify the inevitable falsehoods of the papers, and present "to the world and to italy" an authentic effigy of her person, so [expuesta] (a much by reason of her beauty and of her [actuacion]) to erroneous or [apresuradas] interpretations.

r)a cycle of admirable sonnets for the baroness Bacourt (1934)

s) a manuscript list of verses that owe their efficacy to punctuation.[1]

Thus far (with no other omission than soem vague, circumstantial sonnets for the [hospitaliario], or [avido] album of madame Henri Bachelier) the visible work of Menard, in chronological order. I move now to the other: the subterreanean, interminably heroic, the [impar]. also, o for the possibilities of man!, unfinished. This work, perhaps the most significant of our time, consists in the ninth and [trigesimo] eigth of the first part of Don Quixote and a fragment of chapter twenty-two. I know that such an affirmation looks like a [dislate]; to justify this "[dislate]" is the primary object of this note.[2]

two texts, of unequal value, inspired this enterprise. one is that philological fragment of Novalis - numbered 2.005 in the dresden edition - which espouses the theme of total identification with a chosen author. the other is one if thise parasitical books which place Christ on a boulevard, Hamlet in la Cannebiere or Don Quixote on Wall Street. Like all men of good taste, Menrard abhorred these useless carnivals, only appropriate - he said - but to occasion the plebian pleasure of anachronism or (what is worse) to [embelasar] us with the primary idea that all epochs are the same or all distinct. more interesting to him, although contradictory and superficial in execution, was the famous proposition of Daudet: [conjugar] in one figure, who is Tartarin, into the Ingenious [Hidalgo] and his [escudero]... those who insinuate that Menard dedicated his life to writing a contemporary Quixote, slander his bright memory.

he did not wish to compose another Quixote - that is easy - but "the" Quixote. It is pointless to [agregar] that he never [encarar] a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. his admirable ambition was to produce some pages which would coincide - word for word and line by line - with those of Miguel de Cervantes.

"my proposition is merely surprising," he wrote to me on the 30 september 1934, from bayonne. "the ultimate end of a teleological or metaphysical demonstration - the external world, God, causality, the universal forms - is no less anterior and common than my [divulgada] novel. the only difference is that the philosophers publish, in cheerful volumes, the intermediate [etapas] of their labour, and i have resolved to lose them." in effect, there is not a single eraser left that testifies to this work of years.

The initial method that he envisaged was relatively simple. Learn spanish well, recover the catholic faith, fight against the moors and the turks, forget the history of europe between 1602 and 1918, be Miguel de Cervantes. Pierre Menard studied this process (i know that he managed a faithful enough [manejo] of sixteenth-century spanish) but [descartar] it as easy. better as impossible!, the reader will say. Agreed, but the work was [de antemano] impossible, and of all the impossible means to reach the end, that was the least interesting. to be, in the twentieth century, a popular novelist of the seventeenth, seemed like a diminuition to him. to be, in some way, Cervantes and arrive at Quixote seemed less arduous - and it follows, less interesting - than to continue being Pierre Menard and arrive at Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard. (this conviction, [dicho sea de paso], made him exclude the autpbiographical prologue from the second part of Don Quixote. to include this prologue would have been to create another character - Cervantes - but would also have signified that the presentation of the work was the job of this character, not of Menard. naturally, he denied this facility.) "my work is not difficult, essentially," i read elsewhere in the letter, "it would suffice to be immortal to complete it." shall i confess that i am used yto imagine that he finished it, and i read Quixote - all of Quixote - as if Menard had thought it? nights past, on leafing through chapter XXVI - never attempted by him- i recognised the style of our friend, something like his voice in the exceptional phrase, "las ninfas de los rios, la dolorosa y humida Eco". this effective conjunction of a moral adjective, and a physical one, brought to my memory a verse of Shakespeare's, which we discussed one afternoon:

Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk...

why particularly Quixote? our reader will say. this preference, in a spaniard, would not have been inexplicable; but without doubt it is in a symbolist from Nimes, an essential devotee of Poe, who begat Baudelaire, who begat Mallarme, who begat Valery, who begat Edmund Teste. the [precitada] letter illuminates this point. "Quixote", clarifies Menard, "interests me profoundly because it does not seem, how shall i put it, inevitable to me. i cannot imagine the universe without the interjection of Edgar Allen Poe:

Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!

or without the Bateau ivre or the Ancient Mariner, but i know i am capable of imagining it without Quijote. (i speak, naturally, or my personal capacity, not of the historical resonance of these works.) Quixote is a contingent book, Quijote is an unneccesary book. i can premeditate the writing of it, i can write it, without incurring a tautology. at twelve or thirteen years old i read it, perhaps integrally. since then, i have read some chapters with attention, those that i will not attempt for now. i have also [cursado] the appetisers, the comedies, La Galatea, the Exemplary Novels, the doubtless laborious works of Persiles y Sigismunda and the Journey to Parnassus... my general memory of Quixote, simplified by forgetting and by indifference, can equal the imprecise, anterior image of a book not yet written. with this image postulated (which nobody can by rights deny me) it is unarguable that my problem is [harto] more difficult that that of Cervantes. my complacent precursor did not [rehusar] the collaboration of chance: he went about composing the immortal work a little a la diable, carried by inertisa of language and invention. i have [contraer] the mysterious necessity of literally reconstructing his spontaneous work. my solitary game is governed by two polar laws. the first permits me to attempt variations of a formal or psychological kind; the second obliges me to sacrifice them to the "original" text and to reason this annhilation in a irrefutable way. to compose the Quixote on seventeeth-century principles is a reasonable, necessary, almost fatalistic enterprise; with twentieth-century principles, it is almost impossible. three hundred years have not [transcurrido] in vain, [cargados] with very complex works. between those, to mention just one - Quixote."

Despite those three obstacles, Menard's fragmentary Quixote is more subtle than that of Cervantes. That, in a [burdo] fashion, opposes the fictional knight-errantry with the poor provincial reality of his country; Menard chooses as "reality" the land of Carmen during the century of Lepanto and Lope. [que espanoladas no habria aconsejado esa eleccion a Maurice Barres o al doctor Rodriguez Larreta!] Menard, with all naturalness, eludes them. in his work there are no gipseries, no conqusitadores or mystics of Philip II or autos de fe. he [desatiende] or proscribes such local color. That disdain indicates a new sense of the historical novel. That disdain condemns Salammbo, [inapelablemente].

To consider [aislados] chapters is no less surprising. for example, let us examine the first part of XXXVIII, "which describes a curious discourse of don Quixote's on arms and letters". it is know that don Quixote (like Quevedo in the analogous passage, and previously, of La hora de todos) [falla el pleito] against letters in favour of arms. Cervantes was an old [militar]: his [fallo] explains him. but the don Quixote of Pierre Menard - a man contemporary with La trahison de clercs and of Bertrand Russell - [reincida] in those nebulous sophistries! Madame Bachelier has seen in those an admirable and typical subordination of the author to the psychology of the hero ; others (no-one perceptively) a transcription of Quixote; the baroness Bacourt, the influence of Nietzsche. to this third interpretation - which i judge irrefutable - i don't know if [me atrevere] to add a fourth, that [condice] very well with the almost divine modesty of Pierre Menard: his resigned, or ironic, habit of propagating ideas which are the exact opposite of those he preferred. (Let us remember again his diatribe against Paul Valery in the ephemeral surrealist sheet of Jacques Reboul). the texts of Cervantes and of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is near infinitely more rich. (more ambiguous, its detractors will say, but ambiguity is a richness).

It is a revelation to put the Don Quixote of Pierre Menard next to that of Cervantes. the latter, for example, wrote (Don Quixote, first part, ninth chapter):

"...the truth, whose mother is history, [emula] of Time, repository of actions, witness to the past, example and advice to the present, advertisement of what is to come." [a]

framed in the seventeenth century, framed by the "[ingenio lego]" Cervantes, this list is a mere rhetorical elegy to history. Menard, alternatively, writes:

"...the truth, whose mother is history, [emula] of Time, repository of actions, witness to the past, example and advice to the present, advertisement of what is to come."

History, "mother" of truth; the idea is startling. Menard, contemporary of William James, does not define history as a [indagar](cion) of reality, but as its origin. historical truth, for him, is not tat which happened; it is that which we judge to have happened. the final clauses - "example and advice to the present, advertisement of what is to come." - are [descaradamente] pragmatic.

The contrast of the styles is also vivid. the archaising style of Menard - a foreigner to the end - [adolece] of some affectation. Not so that of his precursor, who [maneja] with [desenfado] the current spanish of his era.

there is no intellectual exercise that is not ultimately useless. A doctrine is at the start a realistic description of the universe; the years turn, and it is a mere chapter - when not a paragraph or name - in the history of philosophy. in literature, this [caducidad] is even more notorious. Quixote - Menard told me - was before everything an agreeable book; now it is an occasion for patriotic [brindis], grammatical [soberbia], obscene de luxe editions. the glory is an incomprehension and perhaps [la peor].

those nihilist [comprobaciones] are nothing new; what is singular is the decision that Pierre Menard derived from them. He resolved [adelantar]se the vanity that [aguarda] all the efforts of humanity; [acometir](io) a hugely complex enterprise, [de antemano] pointless. he dedicated his scruples and vigils to the repetition, in a foreign langauge, of an existing book. the erasers multiplied; [corregir]io tenaciously and [desgarrar] thousands of manuscript pages. [3]. He would permit no-one to examine them, and took care that they should not survive him. In vain have i attempted to reconstruct them.

I have reflected that it is admissible to see the "final" Quixote as a kind of palimpsest, in which the [rastros] must [transcluir]se - tenuous but not indecipherable - of the "previous" writings of out friend. [desgraciadamente], only a second Pierre Menard, inverting the work of the previous, could exhume and resuscitate those Troys...

"To think, to write, to invent -" he also wrote to me - "are not anomalous acts, they are the noral respiration of intelligence. to glorify the occasional achievement of that function, to treasure ancient and foreign thought, to record in incredulous stupor what the [doctor universalis] wrote, is to confess our languor or our barbarism. Everyone must be capable of all ideas, and i understand that in the future, that will be the case."

Menard (almost without wishing it) has enriched via a new technique the [detenido] and rudimentary art of reading: the technique of deliberate anachronism and erroneous attributions. This technique of infinite application [nos insta] to [recorrer] the Odyssey as if it pre-dated the Aeneid, and madame Henri Bachelier's book Le Jardin du Centaure as if it were by madame Henri Bachelier. This technique [puebla] with adventure the calmest books. to attribute to Louis Ferdinand Celine or to James Joyce the Imitation of Christ, is that not a sufficient renovation of that tenuous spiritual advice?

Nimes, 1939

* * *

[1] madame Henri Bachelier also lists a literal version of a literal version by Quevedo of Francisco de Sales' Introduction a la vie devote. In the library of Pierre Menard there are no traces of this work. this must be some joke of our friend's, imperfectly overheard.


[a]"... la verdad, cuye madre es la historia, émula del tiempo, depósito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo por venir."