Sunday, November 7, 2010

Impossible dreams?

November 8, 2010

Dear friends,

This week I have thought about change--no change!! (Smiles.) Actually, what I have been considering is the complex power of language to evoke change in behavior.

While wondering about this, I talked briefly today with friends about Don Quixote. You may remember that in Cervantes's tale Don Quixote accompanied by his faithful servant Sancho Panza set out as a knight errant determined to right the wrongs he met in a suffering world. The story is a great one, and worth reading at a number of levels.

The issue of language and change was not a major theme of Cervantes, but the story provides material for thought about this none-the-less. One incident occurs in the infamous confrontation of Don Quixote with the windmills. Don Quixote identified the windmills as giants. He then rode furiously into battle with them only to be unceremoniously knocked off his horse. There was little appreciable damage done to the windmills, but Don Quixote was much the worse for the adventure. At another point, Don Quixote identified a flock of sheep as an army. Despite his good intentions, his confrontation with the sheep (army) was little more successful than his confrontation with the windmills (giants).

The limits of language to evoke change seem quite apparent: windmills remained windmills, and sheep remained sheep. Don Quixote, however, acquired numerous dents in his armor and bruises both to his body and pride as a result of his linguistic adventures. Change resulted as injury to the one whose deception about reality was reflected in the misuse of language.

In the novel, Aldonza was a neighboring farm woman whom Don Quixote dubbed the Lady Dulcinea in whose honor Quixote was undertaking his quest. In the text, Aldonza does not herself become aware of this alleged new identity.

However, when Cervantes's novel was made into a Broadway musical, The Man of La Mancha, the script recast Aldonza as a maid in the inn, who first angrily rejected the identity Quixote had ascribed to her, then began to believe it with transforming yet tragic consequences.

It is interesting to consider the adaptations incorporated into the romanticized rewriting of Cervantes's novel that made it successful as modern theater, but perhaps most interesting (at least in the context of the relationship between language and change) is the development of Aldonza as Dulcinea. To change the name is to change the identity, according to the Man of La Mancha script.

I wonder: if I condemn myself, do I make myself a guilty person? if I believe that I can persevere do I make myself resilient? What was the force of language that shaped Aldonza into Dulcinea? Is it significant that this change as it occurred in the Broadway production is absent from the novel? What meaning should we assign to Cervantes's decision in the novel to keep Alzonza ignorant of her assigned exalted identity? If Aldonza had known she was "Dulcinea" in name would she have become "Dulcinea" in character?

John the Apostle thought about language and change. He wrote: "See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God: and so we are. . . . we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we shall be like him. . . . And everyone who thus hopes.. . purifies himself. . . " [1 John 3:1-3].

What name do you give yourself in your private inner world? Who do you say that you are?

Thinking with you about the way self-talk shapes identity and evokes behavior.

See you next week.


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