Kawsmouth first learned of the Quixote Pages through posts on literary websites abuzz about the mysterious artist Boethius, who had drawn portraits on every page of Don Quixote, hiding 360 of the 460 total pages in a dozen bookstores in San Francisco. We later learned the Quixote Pages were the work of Peter Gordon Mann, an artist and historian who teaches in the Structured Liberal Education program at Stanford University. Peter, a Kansas City native, took the time to fill us in about the creation of the Quixote Pages, and also provided us with this month’s excellent cover image, a woodcut of boss Tom Pendergast.
This project began over two years ago with the remaining half of a torn paperback copy of Don Quixote languishing on my bookshelf. I had read DQ for the first time while hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and, in order to avoid extra weight in my pack, I tore off Part One as soon as I finished it.
Initially, I doodled on a page simply because it was there, and because I find it easier and more fun to draw on anything other than a blank piece of paper. But after a couple pages I could no longer ignore that I was drawing on the Quixote— the seed and crown of all novels, and one of my favorites.
The idea of a public art project quickly took shape, wherein I would draw on every page of the novel and disseminate them inside other books for people to find. I adopted the moniker Boethius from the ancient philosopher revered by Ignatius Reilly, the quixotic hero of John Kennedy Toole’s hilarious novel A Confederacy of Dunces.
I never intended for the drawings to be illustrations, but I naturally gravitated toward the novel’s themes: madness, tragicomic heroism, the struggle between imagination and reality, literary pursuits, and other manifestations of knight-errantry.
At first, I neglected the specific text on the page. But, again, Cervantes refused to be ignored. I then had a lot of fun isolating and combining individual words and sentences. I was thrilled to see that even in a collaged sentence from a single page, the Quixote spoke.
Sometimes the text inspired the drawing, though more often the drawing inspired the text I later highlighted. I liked being free to draw half-consciously first, and to search for connections afterward. This way I felt like I was finding the image’s meaning in the text, rather than just illustrating.
For source material, I alternated between pure imaginative doodle and a hodgepodge of books of old historical photographs and prints— especially those charming slender illustrated history books with titles like The Age of Peter the Great, or The Conquistadors, or Pioneers of the Old West. But my chief treasure trove was an Illustrated Biographical Dictionary.
As for the particular historical figures depicted, I was drawn to knights errant of the pen: writers, philosophers, and such. It’s easy to see Western intellectual history as a long series of noble delusions, book-induced reveries, and untimely sallies— at once tragic and comic— and I fully indulged this view here.
Also, with Don Quixote, I think Cervantes struck the theme of modern thought and literature: creating a self to navigate the conflicting worlds of reality and imagination. In this way, Freud, Emerson, Ibsen, Schopenhauer, André Gide, Thomas Mann, Max Weber, and Jorge Luis Borges—some of the familiar faces you’ll find in the drawings—are all the children of Quixote.
But, lest I crowd the work with too many august countenances, I made sure to include plenty of nameless buffoons from my own mind.