The utility of empire



Publication Details

Buchanan, I. 2003, 'The utility of empire', Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 379-385.


No one ever said that you could work hard—harder even than you ever thought possible—and still find yourself sinking ever deeper into poverty and debt (Ehrenreich, 2001).

Today’s reader of Anti-Oedipus cannot help but marvel at the fact that when it was first published in 1972 Deleuze and Guattari thought a revolutionary investment of desire was capable of sowing enough discord to actually bring about radical change at the world-historical level. Capitalist society, they said, ‘can endure many manifestations of interest, but not one manifestation of desire, which would be enough to make its fundamental structures explode, even at the kindergarten level’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, p. 379). Today, it is hard to be so optimistic because we have lost faith in—and accordingly betrayed—the one genuine weapon we had, on their view of things, namely desire: we consistently mistake it for interest and consequently we cannot work out how to get out of our present fix, a situation in which so many interests now compete that action has become impossible. In conditions as unpromising as this, one can easily sense the appeal of Zizek’s call for a return to Lenin, which he says is ‘the endeavour to retrieve the unique moment when a thought already transposes itself into a collective organisation, but does not yet fix itself into an Institution (the established Church, the IPA, the Stalinist Party-State)’ (Zizek, 2002, p. 4). But it doesn’t answer the basic question Deleuze and Guattari foreground in the final (which I’m tempted to call ‘what is to be done?’) section of Anti-Oedipus: ‘where will revolution come from, and in what form within the exploited masses?’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, p. 378).

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