The Medium Is the Message: Francisco Frescobaldi’s Menard’s Quijote  and Contemporary Scholarship
by Eric Ingram
In a recent “review” of Dir. Francisco Frescobaldi’s Menard’s Quijote (written† by Pierre Menard), one obscure, though strikingly prominent in the field of Frescobaldi scholarship, a field which, this Author assures, is suffering under the strain of prophesied drought… critic writes the following: “One of only a couple challenges greater than directing a meta-film is reviewing one. And, as a silent feature, it takes much of the Author’s inner strength to discard taking on, in turn, the form of Frescobaldi’s golden movie, and conducting this very review in utter silence.” Instead of succumbing to the circular blade of meta-awareness, this review will rather begin with silence. This is to say, with a quote from Silence, John Cage’s lecture/essay compilation:
“What silence requires/is that I go on talking.”
Though problematic from a pronominal stance, it appears Frescobaldi, though philosophically committed to destroying this position, has nevertheless taken Cage’s massage to heart, so to speak. Understanding the details of the paradoxy of Frescobalding dogmatism, details first circumnavigated in Menard’s Quijote, we’ll Don a poststructuralist thinking cap and take another, closer look at the movie explained as “figuratively-speaking, it’s like an enigma.” Michel Foucault, in his exposition of Henri Magritte’s Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe, post-structures Magritte’s painting into the seven discrete statements we see that it’s making. The same abstraction can be perfomed “on” Menard’s Quijote. In composing his work, Frescobaldi declares the questions that have nagged us for 10 years, if not 10 centuries, namely: What’s more quixotic than dealing with Quijote? And what, exactly, is the value in exploring the Quijote? Who needs to bother himself to think about a 410-year-old literary figure anyway? What’s the point in dealing with a text written outside of contemporary space, or even any text excreted from the annals of history? Why read anything other than now?
In fact, Menard’s Quijote directly addresses each of these questions, though obliquely and quietly, in form rather than in image or text. Recent scholarship uncovered reveals Pierre Menard (Other of the Quijote) to have drafted countless (some say “almost infinite”) iterations of the Quijote before reaching final completion. Of this Sisyphean tribulation, Frescobaldi writes, in his characteristically-synoptic fashion (understandable, clearly, given the sociopolitical climate): “We all must attack… our Job is to draw the grain from the mill and the watt from the turbine, until in time Destiny will choke us so hard as to reveal thus: Your Turk, My Moor, are none but windmills… And this? Again, we may (and must) charge, but doom to he who fails to find our old mill but a ploy, a mere stone in the true mill’s fundament! So again we charge, only to find ourselves in the endless loop, the maze (no pun intended), a decorated voyâge, but an odyssey is nothing but a circle waiting to be realized… and thus, we have the circle; vaguely unreal, though strange and familiar… all circles, we learn, are one circle, and then to understand our circle to be but the trajectory of a new, truer and greater windmill’s turbine! Its rotation… such is the stuff of nonsense and enlightenment, of nothingness and God…”
The next unexpected blow to scholarship – though, incredibly, predicted in Menard’s Quijote by a Cyclops who Sancho Panza visits, mistaking him for a fortune-teller – came in 1969, after Frescobaldi-biographer Prince Rogers Nelson suffered the “attack” that knocked him out of academia, leaving us with only artifacts familiar to any encyclopedia on the man. What we know is this: Francisco Frescobaldi both:
a) Read the text once per day for, according to sources, up to several years, and
b) Was born in 1879 (same year as Albert Einstein) to parents, with given name E. Dramémiene II.
However slight, what critics have been able to abstract from these mere facts is stonishing. Antoine Napoleona Pînochiolet, who argues, necessarily, that all of American history is contained in Menard’s Don Quijote, sees Frescobaldi as the heir to a Dionysian literary tradition stretching forward into works that have, as of now, even yet to see the light of completion (let alone publication). “For much,” she writes, in a famed 1962 deconstruction titled (something along the lines of) FRESCOBALDI: Artist-Cum-Prophet, “of western history was determined both before and after Plato exited the Cave… what he saw as artifacts, held up to the light of Promethean fire, we take now, more simply, as facts.”
This raises an urgent grammatical question. Given that Pierre Menard has taken up the lance, so to speak, on the most quixotic travail in recent film history, we need to understand the “’s” in Frescobaldi’s title. This is to say, shall we read “the Quijote of Menard,” or, rather, more subversively, “Menard is Quijote!”
And because it is a posthumous film, it behooves us as audience to consider whether some of these aforementioned structural ambiguities were, ahem, intentional…
To see things more clearly: novelist Marshall McLuhan writes (in jest), informed by his 1967 work, The Medium is the Massage, something along the lines of: “I wouldn’t be caught dead with a living work of art!”
On the other hand, Benno von Archimboldi (interestingly and irrelevantly, Pierre Menard’s godson), in his treatise Bifurcaria Bifurcata, suggests recent findings in neuropsychology to show the human mind virtually incapable of distinguishing between contents of memory, and contents of films, pointing to a particularly memorable scene believed to be in Menard’s Quijote, featuring a child’s sandbox depiction of Giambattista Vico’s cycles of history, in reverse order!
How now, Frescobaldi? Thou art, it seems, what Immanuel Kant may have referred to as Meta’s Windmill (the phrase in itself rumored to have been Thomas Pynchon’s working-title for his novella Gravity’s Rainbow). Clearly, there is a liaison to be learned from Francisco Frescobaldi, and it is that one of only a couple challenges greater than directing a meta-film is reviewing one. And, as a silent feature, it takes much of the Author’s inner strength to have discarded taking on, in turn, the form of Frescobaldi’s golden movie, and conducting this very review in utter
1Given that Pierre Menard hadn’t technically published* his magnum opus, it behooves us to note Frescobaldi couldn’t access the absolutely final version… Any discrepancies in plot (or, obviously, setting) come from this temporal disparity.
*This is not to say Menard hadn’t completed it. He had – but of course, given the technological requirements of the era [when discussing matters of history and context, it’s of the greatest importance to take into account what, according to a large minority of scholars, has been one of the, if not the, defining feature of the recent era, namely], he hadn’t yet typed it, per se, until its year of publication (obviously), however, historical and tautological investigations agree that the ideas and events implying the text had already occurred (for the most part), thus Frescobaldi (a method-director par excellence) was able to access the text simply through manifestations of his own pure reason, in tandem with a critic’s knowledge of Pierre Menard (provided now in denizens of scholarly articles), the first of which, coincidentally enough, was published around the same time as the film (and, by extension, its screenplay) in a (now defunct) South American literary journal named after a small shipbuilding town in eastern Oman (which in turn takes its name from a film of Mexican director José Ignacio Gabriel Jorge Retes Balzaretti, based on some legendary travels through Romansch Switzerland and western Iran)