c. 1315 - 1640: Why Europe? Why not China? Contingency, Ecology and World-History
Excerpt from the editor's Introduction:
In his essay "c. 1315 - 1640: Why Europe? Why not China? Contingency, Ecology and World-History," Jorge Camacho follows up on Deleuze and Guattari's marginal but recurrent concern with the problem of finding a historical explanation for the development of capitalism in Europe vis-à-vis its non-development in China. Its relevance is two-fold.
On the one hand, this problem—and the way it was treated in historical research between Marx or Dobb and Braudel or Chaunu—serves Deleuze and Guattari as a concrete example of a first principle that allows them to revisit and reframe the old topic of Universal History. Such principle, which they enigmatically relate to Marx's thought, entails that history ought to be conceived as the work of pure contingency. Implicit here is, of course, a particular reading and critique of a German tradition (perhaps Kant or Herder, but certainly Hegel) that stressed the role of necessity, rationality and teleology. For Deleuze and Guattari, the historical course in general and, in particular, the sequence leading to the emergence of capitalism, is a concatenation of contingent events: it could have happened differently, elsewhere, in another moment in history or not happened at all. Moreover, their universal history is retrospective from the point of view of capitalism. For them, capitalism is a potential that has haunted all forms of society and it is from this virtual position that it has shaped—negatively, as a nightmare to be warded-off—all the social machines that have emerged in this planet. This being so, what is perplexing for them is nothing but precisely its singularity, the fact that it fully developed only once and in 'one place,' thus Camacho asks with them: why in Europe? Why not in China?
On the other hand, the problem is relevant in the context of this collection because it prompts Deleuze and Guattari to invoke ecological determinations for the course of world history. In the rather sweeping and marginal explanation proposed in the Treatise on Nomadology, they follow Annales-school historians like Braudel in locating the first 'deep cause' in the rather different ecological geographies of Europe and China, and the concomitant agro-technological infrastructures associated with wheat and rice cultivation. Arguably, beyond any form of determinism, Deleuze and Guattari's interest for such geohistorical explanation is precisely the role it grants to concrete contingency in detriment of abstract rationality.
In this way, the objective of Camacho's essay is to revisit and disentangle this problem drawing from historical research that has put an emphasis on its ecological dimension. Most importantly, traveling along these lines it will be possible to extricate the fundamentally ecological character of Deleuze and Guattari's philosophy; in particular, their conception of social formations as heterogeneous assemblages composed and shaped by much more than just people.