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Utopies et devenirs deleuziens by Philippe Mengue (review)
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Reviewed by
Philippe Mengue. Utopies et devenirs deleuziens. Collection ouverture philosophique. Paris: L’Harmattant, 2009. 116 pp. Paperback, €12.00, ISBN 9782296108462.

In Utopies et devenirs deleuziens (Utopias and Deleuzian becomings), Philippe Mengue reflects on the complex and sometimes problematic relationship between the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the concept of utopia. As argued by Mengue, Deleuze’s position on utopia is distinctive and can bring interesting insights into contemporary discussions on both philosophy and utopias. While Mengue is not a specialist of utopias, he certainly presents a respectable expertise on Deleuze and his thought, making this book an original contribution to the field. Mengue’s project emanates from lectures given at L’Université Populaire d’Avignon in 2008. Utopies et devenirs deleuziens targets a rather wide audience of specialists and nonspecialists alike, providing that the reader possesses the ability to read French.

The book is divided into six chapters. After briefly introducing the notion of utopia and considering its necessity, Mengue delves into Deleuze’s complex system of thought, and through tracing Deleuze’s philosophical influences, he presents the two main problems Deleuze finds with the concept of utopia. Then, considering the main tenants of Deleuzian philosophy, Mengue outlines the alternative to utopias as suggested by Deleuze. Finally, he reflects on the significance and impact of Deleuze’s position.

Mengue explains that Deleuze distinguishes between the transcendental utopia, which refers to the classical notion of utopia, and the “immanent utopia,” which is a Deleuzian creation. Deleuze addresses two main criticisms to the transcendental utopia: its reference to Ideals and its historicism. The notion of an idealized society starkly conflicts with Deleuzian philosophy, which aims to overcome Platonism with its system of transcendental Ideas. Influenced by Spinoza and Nietzsche, Deleuze argues that the utopian, in that he is seeking an Ideal to imitate, ineluctably negates life. Deleuze holds [End Page 158] that life is about struggle and relations of force and that any system trying to suppress this in order to promote a flawless and “flattened” society goes against life. The second criticism refers to the historicism of utopia. As stated by Mengue, Deleuze carefully differentiates becoming and history, and this distinction is central to his argumentation on utopia. For Deleuze, philosophy has a subversive function: philosophy criticizes the present and by doing so, escapes the contingency of time. In this sense, philosophy does not belong to history, and in fact, philosophy needs to be freed from history, as otherwise the subversive act as well as the creation of novelty would not be possible. The concept of becoming allows us to account for the development of novelty and difference; becoming always escapes history. Therefore, the possibility of revolution is not encountered in the historical development of events but, rather, in the revolutionary becoming of individuals.

To the classical transcendental utopia, Deleuze opposes the immanent utopia. He calls for the creation of a new world, a new people, but when he does so, he does not promote the rise of a world with different bases, a world without injustice and unfairness (this would be a utopia of transcendence). In fact, Deleuze promotes the emergence of a new world with different systems of injustice and domination and where new forms of struggle will be developed thanks to philosophy, the Arts, and subversive practices. In Deleuzian terms, resistance is then only achieved through the preservation of becomings. If conflicts, difficulties, and injustices were to disappear, then this would imply the promotion of a transcendental utopia and the negation of life insofar as life is about struggle and tensions. This new people that Deleuze is calling for will always remain in a becoming phase; they will never come as such.

Mengue rightfully shows that Deleuze links the utopias of immanence to acts of resistance. As argued by Mengue, the notions of resistance and “guerillas” are central to Deleuze. Power and control have been incorporated into society in such a way that control presupposes liberties, and therefore control is exerted in open spaces. Consequently, constant forms of resistance need to operate in order to create becomings and to promote life; if death and emptiness are on the side of the Ideal, it is...