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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but ..., 4 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (Swerve Editions) (Paperback)
I read this when it first appeared and found it spellbinding (to the extent that elements of its vision became part of my own). However,revisiting the book recently I was struck by its latent eurocentrism. Indeed, stripped of its Deleuzian lexicon and Braudelian materiality De Landa's thousand year non-linear history seems perilously close to the familiar and all too linear history of the inevitable triumph of the West over a homogeneous, benighted 'rest'.

By way of illustration consider the following: 'in northern Europe in the middle ages, there was a gene coding for an enzyme that allowed adult humans to digest raw milk. Elsewhere, in the populations of China and Islam, the gene did not exist'. Given that the prevalence of said gene was about equal in the populations of Southern Europe and the 'populations of Islam'[sic] and far more prevalent than those of the Far East, the conjunction here of the latter two seems intent on biologizing an orientalist narrative. These concerns become acute in the case of the establishment of the 'neo-Europes' wherein the brutal violence entailed in the colonization of the Americas is absolved by the flow of genes. Non-linear history has no place for the kind of sickening, systematic violence chronicled in work like Las Casas' 'Devastation of the Indies'. But as others have noted the the extraordinary susceptibility of these populations to novel pathogens cannot be separated from savagery they endured, their displacement of huge numbers as slave labour, and subsequent malnutrition-factors that barely warrant mention in De Landa's account.

Perhaps the clearest expression of the text's underlying assumptions are found in its claim to 'disclose the self-directed processes of matter interfacing with the whim and will of human history itself to form a panoramic vision of the West, free of rigid teleology...The source of all concrete forms in the West's history rather, are shown to derive from internal morphogenetic capabilities that lie within the flow of matter-energy itself'. To be brief: where does the line between 'will of human history' and the emergent properties of matter lie; why should an account of the latter only yield a panoramic vision of the West; is the implication that only the West's concrete forms result from matter's innate morphogenetic potencies-- what of the concrete forms it liquidated ??

Ultimately De Landa appears to suggest that to raise questions of power and domination with regard to the concrete forms of conquest and genocide is a irrelevant as a morality of geology. But as Mike Davis 'Late Victorian Holocausts' shows there is no reason why a history alert to the impact of large scale non-linear processes (El Nino)cannot be combined with a exacting political economic analysis (the exacerbation of the former's effects by policies of various colonial administrations). In light of this, and taken in conjunction with his insistence that Deleuze and Guattari's be expunged of all residual Marxism, De Landa's reduction of political violence to the abstract movements of matter appears as a tacit endorsement of the kind of ideology more commonly associated with likes of Niall Ferguson.
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