Professor Steven Alvarez
29 March 2011
The Loss of Identity in a Postcolonial Nation: Robert Young’s Explanation of Colonialism in “Colonialism and the Desiring Machine”
In his article titled “Colonialism and the Desiring Machine,” Richard Young reveals the consequences behind capitalism for oppressed nations and people. Using Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of deterritorialization, Young depicts the power relations within a capitalist order. He describes how capitalism reduces formerly established institutions and cultures only to rebuild them in a way that serves the capitalist system. He applies this same interpretation of capitalism to colonialism, exposing the loss of culture for the oppressed people in a postcolonial world. Colonialism deconstructs all ways off life stemming from marginalized civilizations and reconstructs them in ways that work within the preferences of those in power. Without a connection to their own culture, subjugated groups lose once integral parts of their lives, resulting in loss of identity. In his article, Young illustrates his analysis of capitalism, stating:
it has to operate through a double movement because it must first of all do away with the institutions and cultures that have already been developed. The basic need of capitalism is to engineer an encounter between the deterritorialized wealth of capital and the labour capacity of the deterritorialized worker. The reduction of everything, including production and labour to the abstract value of money enables it to decode flows, and ‘deterritorialize’ the socius. Having achieved a universal form of exchange, it then reterritorializes –institutes or restores all sorts of residual and artificial imaginary or symbolic territorialities such as nation, states or families [ . . . ]. (82)
Young describes the base notions behind capitalism, depicting it as a “double movement” since it must first take apart anything formerly built before it can construct its own enterprise. On one side of the capitalist movement, previously developed and currently active “institutions and cultures” must be broken apart and “do[ne] away with” before new institutions and cultures can take their place and integrate into society. Young utilizes Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of deterritorialization to explain how capitalism aims to “engineer” the relationship between “wealth of capital” and the worker. After capital and the worker end up “deterritorialized” and taken out of their previous conceptualizations, capitalism reduces them to “the value of money”. Capitalism then “reterritorializes” everything in terms of money, establishing its own “institutions and cultures”. The capitalist point of view recreates the very ideas of “nations, states or families”. When Western society infiltrates other nations with a capitalist desire and interest at its core, these populations lose their own “institutions and culture”. Young recognizes that capitalism shares the same “violent physical and ideological procedures of colonization” (82). He explains how just as capitalism takes apart old “institutions and cultures” to create new ones, colonialism implements a process of “deculturation and acculturation” to achieve the same goal. Colonized communities must abandon their cultural beliefs and adapt to the new culture that their oppressors impose upon them. Young states that the “indigenous society must be disrupted, dissolved, and then restriped according to the needs of the apparatus of the occupying power” (82). Similarly to how capitalism must “deterritorialize” old “institutions and cultures”, colonialism must “disrupt and dissolve” indigenous culture. As “the occupying power,” the colonizers reconstruct society to fit their needs just as a capitalist enterprise restructures society around money. Colonialism completely destroys native culture, taking away a huge part of peoples lives. Without this culture, dominated nations lose access to parts of their identity that come from deeply rooted traditions, stories, and ways of life.
Young, Robert J. C. “Colonialism and the Desiring Machine.” Postcolonial Discourses:
An Anthology. Ed. Gregory Castle. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001. 73-98.