Friday, January 18, 2013

a good fellow to have on your side

don quixote by michel foucault

(from the order of things, 1966)

With all their twists and turns, 

Don Quixote’s adventures 
form the boundary: 

they mark the end of the old 

interplay between resemblance and signs 

contain the beginnings 




Don Quixote is not a man given to extravagance, 

but rather a diligent pilgrim breaking his journey before all the marks of similitude. 

He is the hero of the Same. 

He never manages to escape from the familiar 

plain stretching out on all sides of the Analogue, any more 

than he does from his 



without ever crossing the clearly defined frontiers of difference, 

or reaching the heart of identity. 

Moreover, he is himself like a sign, 

a long, thin graphism, 

just escaped from the open pages of a book. His whole being is nothing but language, text, printed pages, stories that have already been written down. He is made up of interwoven words; he is writing itself, wandering through the world among the resemblances of things. Yet not entirely so: for in his reality as an impoverished hidalgo he can become a knight only by listening from afar to the 
age-old epic 
that gives its form 
to Law. 

The book is not so much his existence as his duty. 

He is constantly obliged to consult it in order to know what to do or say, and what signs he should give himself and others in order to show that he really is of the same nature as the text from which he springs.  The chivalric romances have provided once and for all a written prescription for his adventures. And every episode, every decision, every exploit will be yet another sign that Don Quixote is a true likeness of all the signs that he has traced from his book. 

But the fact that he wishes to be like them 


that he must put them to the test, that the (legible) signs no longer resemble (visible) people. All those written texts, all those extravagant romances are, quite literally, unparalleled: no one in the world ever did resemble them; their timeless language remains suspended, unfulfilled by any similitude; they could all be burned in their entirety and the form of the world would not be changed. 

If he is to resemble the texts of which he is the witness, the representation, the real analogue, Don Quixote must also furnish proof and provide the indubitable sign that they are telling the truth, that 





It is incumbent upon him to fulfil the promise of the books. 

It is his task to recreate the epic, 

though by a reverse process: 
the epic recounted (or claimed to recount) real exploits, 



Don Quixote, on the other hand, must endow with reality the signs-without-content of the narrative. His adventures will be a deciphering of the world: a diligent search over the entire surface of the earth for the forms that will prove that what the books say is true. Each exploit must be a proof: it consists, not in a real triumph – which is why victory is not really important – but in an attempt to transform reality into a sign. Into a sign that the signs of language really are in conformity with things themselves. Don Quixote reads the world in order to prove his books. And the only proofs he gives himself are the glittering reflections of resemblances.

His whole journey is a quest for similitudes: 
the slightest analogies 
are pressed into service 
as dormant signs 
that must be reawakened 
and made to speak once more. 

Flocks, serving girls, and inns 

become once more the language of books 
to the imperceptible degree to which they resemble castles, ladies, and armies – a perpetually untenable resemblance which transforms the sought-for proof into derision and leaves the words of the books forever hollow. But non-similitude itself has its model, and one that it imitates in the most servile way: it is to be found in the transformations performed by magicians. So all the indices of non-resemblance, all the signs that prove that the written texts are not telling the truth, resemble the action of sorcery, which introduces difference into the indubitable existence of similitude by means of deceit. And since this magic has been foreseen and described in the books, the illusory difference that it introduces can never be anything but an enchanted similitude, and, therefore, yet another sign that the signs in the books really do resemble the truth..... 

.....The erudition that once read nature and books alike as parts of a single text has been relegated to the same category as its own chimeras: lodged in the yellowed pages of books, the signs of language no longer have any value apart from the slender fiction which they represent. The written word and things no longer resemble one another. 

And between them, 

Don Quixote wanders off 

on his own. 

Yet language has not become entirely impotent. It now possesses new powers, and powers peculiar to it alone. In the second part of the novel, Don Quixote meets characters who have read the first part of his story and recognize him, the real man, as the hero of the book. Cervantes’s text turns back upon itself, thrusts itself back into its own density, and becomes the object of its own narrative. The first part of the hero’s adventures plays in the second part the role originally assumed by the chivalric romances. Don Quixote must remain faithful to the book that he has now become in reality; he must protect it from errors, from counterfeits, from apocryphal sequels; he must fill in the details that have been left out; he must preserve its truth. But Don Quixote himself has not read this book, and does not have to read it, since he is the book in flesh and blood. Having first read so many books that he became a sign, a sign wandering through a world that did not recognize him, he has now, despite himself and without his knowledge, become a book that contains his truth, that records exactly all that he has done and said and seen and thought, and that at last makes him recognizable, so closely does he resemble all those signs whose ineffaceable imprint he has left behind him. Between the first and second parts of the novel, in the narrow gap between those two volumes, and by their power alone, Don Quixote has achieved his reality – a reality he owes to language alone, and which resides entirely inside the words. Don Quixote’s truth is not in the relation of the words to the world but in that slender and constant relation woven between themselves by verbal signs. The hollow fiction of epic exploits has become the representative power of language. Words have swallowed up their own nature as signs...