this text will appear in "Deleuze and the Contemporary World" early next year. Treatise on Militarism Doubtless, the present situation is highly discouraging. - Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (422) The 2004 US election must have...
this is one of two texts that will appear early next year in a volume Ian is editing, called "Deleuze and the Contemporary World" -- he kindly allowed us to post it here.
The Axiomatic, or, The Seven Givens of the Contemporary World
It is the real characteristics of axiomatics that lead us to say that capitalism and present-day politics are an axiomatic in the literal sense.
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
In his book on Nietzsche, Deleuze says that you can never know a philosopher properly until to you know what he or she is against. To know them at all, you have to know what puts fire in their soul, what makes them take up the nearly impossible challenge of trying to say anything at all. Too many people are content to say Deleuze, like Nietzsche, was against Hegel without ever asking why. And those who do trouble themselves to ask this question are too often satisfied with a merely philosophical answer. But if Deleuze found Hegel’s philosophy intolerable it was not simply because he thought that the dialectic was a badly made concept, or that he objected to a metaphysics predicated on negation. These are the complaints of a sandbox philosopher and Deleuze was certainly not that. Hegel’s philosophy was intolerable to Deleuze because in his eyes it offers a slave’s view of the world. Worse, it is a model of thought that seems to participate in the legitimation of the very system that enslaves us by installing the master-slave dialectic at the centre our ratiocination, making it seem like this is the only choice we have, effectively denying us in advance the option of asking our own questions and forming our own problematics. But this critique is only meaningful (i.e., authentically critical) to the extent that it is read in terms of their conception of philosophy’s purpose, which is precisely Marxian to the extent that, like Marx, they hold that the point of philosophy is not simply to understand society, but to change it.
Our answer to the question of what Deleuze and Guattari are against, then, is this: the axiomatic. The axiomatic is the latest form of social organisation, which for Deleuze and Guattari always means the organisation of the flows of desire. For Deleuze and Guattari desire is a kind of cosmic energy that is constantly being deformed into the desire-for-something; but, in their view, its true form is that of production itself. It is, in other words, a process rather than a thing. Desire is the force in the universe that brings things together, but does so without plan or purpose and the results are always uncertain. It may lead to the formation of new compositions, but it might also lead to decomposition. As such, desire is an ambivalent force - without it, we shrivel up and die, but if it isn’t carefully harnessed it can tear us apart. Deleuze and Guattari’s handling of the concept is similarly ambivalent: on the one hand, they are constantly demanding that desire be unbound from the various shackles of guilt, repression and shame, but on the other hand they caution that this process needs to be done slowly and with care.