on 2 July 2007
This late, short essay of Guattari's has been packaged in such a way as to expand it into a full-length book. The title essay makes up less than fifty pages of the total, with the book padded up to its 170-page length by a translator's introduction, extensive editorially-added footnotes and a long essay by Gary Genosko on Guattari's intellectual development.
The essay itself is more accessible than much of Guattari's work, and clearly focused on the political problems of the day. The three ecologies of the title - psychological, social and natural - are the focus of the essay, in which he discusses the problems of neoliberal capital as a combination of mental dulling, social homogenisation and conformity, and ecological destruction and crisis. There is a need, he argues, to recover intensities through a process of developing heterogeneity and dissensus, though at the same time constructing a unified social movement against neoliberalism. People need to reclaim their subjectivities and build existential territories of their own. Part of the essay focuses on the need to find new escape routes which can release trapped energies and flows, and which may be as simple as a single event which re-subjectifies. In relation to natural ecology, Guattari insists on a need for active agency to construct natural spaces and relations, rather than defending a supposed pre-existing purity. Along with such political perspectives, Guattari develops an analysis of "integrated world capitalism" which owes much to World Systems Theory, suggesting an interior link between immiseration of some parts of the world and the perpetuation of the system.
While Guattari's psychological and social perspectives remain as radical as ever, there are hints of a certain moderation creeping into his political positions, possibly due to the crushing of the Italian radical movements which so inspired him earlier; he has reconciled himself to the state, prisons, etc, even though he wishes to pare them back. Guattari's technophilia is less surprising, though the way he naturalises such phenomena as technological development and population growth jars with the radicality of his critique of other taken-for-granted phenomena. Certain aspects of the essay prefigure the analysis, and the weaknesses, of Hardt and Negri's Empire and Multitude. While interesting in its own right, The Three Ecologies is by no means exhaustive or in some regards typical of Guattari's political writings. Readers interested in Guattari's politics should also consult Guattari and Negri's "Communists Like Us", Guattari and Alliez's "Capitalistic Systems and Processes", the essay on subject-groups in "Chaosophy", his two pieces on microfascism, the politics section of the Guattari Reader, and the chapters Nomadology and Apparatus of Capture in Deleuze and Guattari's "A Thousand Plateaus"
Genosko's essay is somewhat out of place here, mainly providing an introduction to Guattari's early work, explaining key concepts such as transversality. A solid enough essay in its own right, it would have made a good chapter of an introduction to Guattari (better for this purpose than most of Genosko's Aberrant Introduction in fact), but the concepts discussed here are barely apparent in "The Three Ecologies". The translator's introduction, by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton, is very much in the tradition of Anglo-American receptions of French thought, picking up the outlines of a perspective and transposing it into the domain of cultural studies. The reference to J18 is apposite but otherwise I'd question how much it adds to the text. Similarly, many of the footnotes are superfluous or at best tendentious, providing less a clarification than an authorial interpretation by the editors.