The Dream of Red Chamber and Don Quijote there are many
references to folly, which significantly share some common features.
The most striking correspondence is the definition of folly, or rather
the problematizing of any definite conception. People and their ways
of life are judged as insensible, idiotic, naive, or simply insane from
diverse perspectives. The meaning of folly becomes ambiguous and unstable,
being constantly displaced from one value system to another. The multiplicity
of criteria leads to the disintegration of political, moral and epistemological
hierarchy. The categorization of the powerful, the virtuous and the
true fails to attain absolute certainty. In short, both texts play a
game of paradox, simultaneously constructing and deconstructing the
concept of folly.
to the first common feature is the association of the wise moron with
artistic and literary creativity. The characters, whose madness nourishes
an unusual sensibility and imagination, claim to enlightenment in a
separate world. Likewise, the authors, who refer to themselves as short
of wit and call their works nonsense, apparently refuse to be classified
according to any measurement that the reader may bring to the reading.
The texts stand assertive about their autonomy.
analogies drawn above between the two texts will suggest the necessity
of a comparison of irrationality in East and West. The obsession of
the Renaissance culture with fools and folly marks the questioning of
reason and human capacity of knowing. Meanwhile, the emergence of the
philosophy of "Ch'ing" in late Imperial China advocates a rediscovery
and exploration of the emotional qualities of human beings. Fools were
often regarded as suffering from some excess of feelings. The configuration
of religion, ethics, science (medicine, for example), and other social
factors in the conception of folly in both cultures is crucial to the
understanding of the similarities and differences in the formation of
the so-called modern subject.
to the two texts, my interest is mainly about the common features in
their treatment of folly. It is the self-consciousness of the fictional
morons and of the authors/fools that awakens my self-consciousness as
reader and my realization that reading is essentially irrational. To
compare folly in the Dream and the Quijote not only erases
the cultural and historical boundary between texts, but also reduces
binary oppositions established from various critical perspectives such
as femininity vs. masculinity, unconscious vs. superego, and the self
vs. the other. Very much aware of imposing my personal taste, which
is a critical folly, I believe to discern hints in both texts that suggest
a reading with the spirit of Erasmus' Moria, the goddess of folly. That
is, a reading of the Dream and the Quijote as a comedy
(despite many tearful moments) of fools.