The Allure of the Undead: Jan Potocki’s Manuscript Found in Saragossa
This paper considers Jan Potocki’s Manuscript Found in Saragossa in light of its intervention into 19th century struggles between the romantic and the novelistic. Potocki’s text illuminates the links between debates about genre and discourses of civilization and savagery, highlighting the ambiguous role of reading in the formation of the ‘civilized’ modern subject.
Considered by Tzvetan Todorov to be an emblematic example of the fantastic, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa details the adventures of a young soldier named Alfons van Worden as he travels through the Sierra Morena, the mountain range that borders La Mancha. This proximity to the setting of Don Quixote is not coincidental; indeed, the novel engages with many of the questions raised by Cervantes’ famous work, particularly that of the relationship between literature and reality, and the question of whether fiction is an art of moral instruction or of dangerous illusions.
As Alfons’ trek continues, he becomes caught up in a web of what appear to be supernatural machinations, haunted by ghosts and demons and tempted with illicit pleasures. Simultaneously, he is joined by a band of travelers who pass the time by telling stories, many of which are related to the otherworldly occurrences that he struggles to rationalize. The action of the novel shifts from encounters with a foreign world to encounters with exotic tales, becoming a quest of interpretation that blurs the lines between fiction and experience.
Date: 14 December 2011
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