Revisionist resistance: A lesson from Don Quixote
There are two known ways to overturn moral law. One is by ascending towards the principles: challenging the law as secondary, derived, borrowed or ‘general’; denouncing it as involving a second-hand principle which diverts an original force or usurps an original power. The other way, by contrast, is to overturn the law by descending towards the consequences, to which one submits with a too-perfect attention to detail.
–Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 5
Following on the heels of my ‘Socio-economic activism updated!’ post I’d like to take another look at how Deleuze confirms a politico-economic solution exterior to withdrawal, subtraction or cynical hostility. As observed previously, Deleuze discovers a revolutionary path not in resisting the movement of the market but in the opposite direction, accelerating the process of capitalist competition and profiteering. Again, in the quote cited above from an earlier and single-authorship work, Deleuze seems to anticipate the same. That is, one does not challenge the law by denouncing it as arbitrary or inadequately reflecting a higher universal moral law, but by following it to absurd exactness.
As we all know, Deleuze is characteristically anti-Hegelian, which renders this concept utterly baffling coming from Deleuze, given its unquestionable Hegelianism. According to Hegel, the proper nature of dialectic is to reveal how finite categorizations negate themselves and pass into their opposites all on their own accord. The Dialectic’s aim, in other words, involves unmasking the self-limitations of a term and unraveling the self-contradictions therein. Or, what is the same, it discovers the other horn of the same term and thus points out the potential exaggerations internal to understanding. In the Logic Hegel writes of the Dialectic in this way—“But by Dialectic is meant the indwelling tendency outwards by which the one-sidedness and limitation of the predicates of understanding is seen in its true light, and shown to be the negation of them” (§81).
It follows that the Dialectic, by studying things in their own being, reveals the natural finitude, instability, and transience of understanding. By this Hegel does not mean that the Dialectical stage merely introduces confusion and wavers between competing arguments, rather it shows that every fixed proposition of thought inevitably and naturally turns about into its contrary. In this way, the result of the dialectical process is far from purely negative, that is, what Hegel distinguishes as mere skepticism. The Dialectic, in contradistinction to negation pure and simple, is not satisfied to continue with skepticism alone but simultaneously witnesses a positive effect emerge out of the negative.
Perhaps one of the most illuminating examples of this in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is Cervantes’s Don Quixote, the “knight of virtue” who engages in a “sham-fight” trying to resurrect the bygone virtue of the knight-errant in seventeenth century Spain (§386). In effect, Don Quixote, the knight of the rueful figure–as called by his squire Sancho–is so faithful to the code of chivalry to the point of the journey becoming utterly ridiculous. Thus, Cervantes in his prophetic satire, overturns the moral law that was exceedingly popular at the time not by challenging it directly but by submitting to it with a too-perfect attention to detail, ironically the same strategy the anti-Hegelian Deleuze advocates. Granted, this may involve tilting at windmills on occasion.