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The Bounds of Reason: Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Flaubert Hardcover – October 15, 1986
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PLEASE NOTE: Previous owner's name written on first, and last blank page. See my pictures I have posted above. ISBN: 0231062125. ***The bounds of Reason: Cervantes, Dostoevsky, and Flauber*** by Anthony J. Cascardi. (1986 Columbia University Press, New York).
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The author writes that the novels he uses to explore the issues are forms of access to knowledge not available through "pure reason" alone. These other forms of knowledge result from relationships between individuals (or the word he often uses, "bodies" - in order to make the distinction from "minds") in the course of social interaction within the human community. The knowledge that results can be self-knowledge, human empathy and the capacity to love.
Mr. Cascardi's "point of departure" is Cervantes' Don Quixote, which he considers the first novel premised upon the problem of perspective, or what can be thought of as, "Just what can we believe about the text and what is the product of either the narrator's or the characters' personal versions of 'reality'"). The character Don Quixote arrives at knowledge not through the bounds of 'reason' but through the experiences his chivalric adventures produce when they confront the conventional, largely base, world. As we all know, Don Quixote emerges in some ways a defeated and disillusioned man, but importantly he ends his days retaining the same sense of honor that fueled, perhaps in an exaggerated way, his adventures.
Now it may be commonly known, but this was the first time I associated Don Quixote's experiences as a perfect model for adolescence, which really is nothing but an extended exercise in role-playing within the world as we undergo the process of self-discovery, or aligning our self-image with "reality" (hopefully we emerge at a younger age than the Don). Growing up is a function of learning from mistakes, as I recall.
Cascardi's discussion of the interplay and mutual learning experienced by Don Quixote and Sancho is wonderful. They not only react to one another, but they need establish a vocabulary to bridge their differences (he had me at "baciyelmo" - pg. 13).
Cascardi's next stop on the train of thought is Dostoevsky, with particular focus upon The Idiot as well as Crime and Punishment. There is an extended treatment of anticipating death, or the developing sense of mortality that comes with maturity. Dostoevsky's characters often learn this lesson at an accelerated rate as a result or capital punishment for a crime, as he nearly did at a young age. The awareness of mortality, a form of self-knowledge for certain, is also gained through interaction with the world, as our native psychology persistently tends to want to overlook the option (Did I really write "option"? What a self-revelatory word choice!).
Although Cascardi doesn't emphasize the specific point, his reference to the description of the pending execution of the prisoner at Lyons in The Idiot (pg. 89) itself highlights a comment on perspective and skepticism. The doomed man complains of the ironic mockery and cruelty of being provided a breakfast of coffee, wine and boiled beef on his last morning, which he claims is provided out of his keepers' "pure (but misguided) kindness", when it is just as likely that the breakfast is provided for the keepers' own benefit (having nothing to do with kindness or him): it allows the people of the "system" to remain convinced they are compassionate, decent humans. Just a thought.
Of course Crime and Punishment can be endlessly discussed (and the discussion in this book is excellent), but one of Cascardi's main points is that Raskolnikov must, as a person with a conscience, ultimately confess to his crime in order to reconcile his behavior with the standards (or bounds) of the human community, not his intellectual theories. (Not addressed in the book is an alternative approach, i.e., a person lacking a conscience is not forced to reconcile behavior, as exposited in Koestler's excellent 'Darkness at Noon.")
Then there's Flaubert. Well, again the point is that the characters created by all three authors overcome their skepticism, or arrive at knowledge, not through "the bounds of reason" but through their recognition of the world, their role within it, and their dependence upon it. In words he uses, " ... our lives in the world, as that which we fashion together, so that the creation of the world ... is the creation of a common ground, is that which we make among us."
Okay, there is no getting around the fact that the text is peppered with references to Descartes, Hegel, and Wittgenstein, et al, but its not like you have to read them in the original, thank Goodness. Great novels seem far more interesting, understandable, and instructive for many of us. It is fortunate that there are several ways of learning, since we all have our strengths and weaknesses.
Last I checked used copies were available for a couple of bucks. That seems reasonable.