A Few Notes on Nomadology: The War Machine


Reading this treatise by Deleuze and Guattari makes me realize that it is an enactment of the very rhizomatic negotiations that their thought has taken from the beginning. The negotiations among concepts and differentiations between nomadic and agricultural (sedentary) civilization, the marshalling of the difference between Chess and Go, the movement of weapons systems and work systems, etc. At times one reads through the treatise as if it were sociology, at other times as if it were some strange and deviant treatise on the inner life of war itself; yet, one comes to grasp that it is neither, that theirs is this continuous work of modeling, uncovering the fluidic hydraulic models as compared to the static models that negotiate the boundaries between nomadic and sedentary thought images. This is about the politics of thought itself: the image of thought as nomadic war-machine, fluid and operative in the smooth spaces situated outside the command and control systems of the striated territories of the State.

There is also a philosophy of time that threads its way through the entire text, this juxtaposition between speed (Virilio) and slowness (i.e., “speed itself is a weapons system” (p. 81)), etc. Behind it all seems to be a notion of technology itself as force, but a force that is under the two separate regimes of nomadic and sedentary socio-cultural dispotifs, organized under different and differentiating modalities and milieus.  At times I come on passages that suddenly jut up and mark a specific break, a nodal point that both defines and delimits, crystallizes aspects of their tedious, and, yes, boring investigations that tease out the invisible layers of a sedimented world. Such as this one on the principle of technology:

the principle behind all technology is to demonstrate that a technical element remains abstract, entirely undetermined, as long as one does not relate it to an assemblage it presupposes. It is the machine that is primary in relation to the technical element: not the technical machine, itself a collection of elements, but the social or collective machine, the machinic assemblage that determines what is a technical element at a given moment, what is its usage, extension, comprehension, etc.(p. 80)

Innocuous in itself, just an explanation of how the nomadic or hydraulic model of social organization, as compared to the static model and sedentary social organization define, delimit, and use the various types of work-machines and war-machines, etc. Yet, it centers on the main aspect of how technology is plugged into specific assemblages, and that it is this assemblage that defines the conceptual relations to technology rather than technologies determination of the assemblage (socious, body-without-organs, etc.). To illustrate they’ll differentiate the use of a specific instrument under its use as weapon/tool: as tool it is plugged into a Work model and the nomadic or sedentary assemblage will define its use; and, the same instrument as weapon becomes part of the Free Action model, etc. So that instead of a representational model we enter into external relations among the various artifacts in relation to other relations (i.e., nomad vs. sedentary). And all of these relations will be defined against the ways in which force are mobilized: “from the point of view of force, the tool is tied to a gravity-displacement, weight-height system; the weapon to a speed-perpetuum mobile system” (p. 81).

If one goes back to the beginning of the essay they will begin by comparing the war-machine within the theory of games, using Chess and Go to modulate the differences and differentiations between the two assemblages of nomad (speed, movement, hydraulic model) and State (sedentary, gravitas, static model). In Chess the pieces are coded: subject bound and separated, controlled and delimited by role, movement, and regulatory rules that bind their possibilities, etc.; while in Go pieces anonymous, not bound to role, subjectivity, and are arrayed in impersonal open space, fluid, and related only to the specificities of action, etc.

In my own mind I relate all this back to Deleuze’s calculus of force and desire, of his long battle with Platonic thought, of his differentiating the history of philosophy as this battle between representational and anti-representational images of thought. In this essay we see this being worked out through a philosophical sociology of nomadism which becomes both an experiment in thought and a demonstration in non-representational philosophy (or non-philosophy?). In some ways the problem they set out to solve comes in this statement at the beginning:

The problem is that the exteriority of the war machine in relation to the State apparatus is everywhere apparent, but remains difficult to conceptualize. It is not enough to affirm that the war machine is external to the apparatus. It is necessary to reach the point of conceiving the war machine itself as itself a pure form of exteriority, whereas the State apparatus constitutes the form of interiority we habitually take as a model, or according to which we are in the habit of thinking. (p. 5)

It’s this battle of models, of exterior relations vs. interior, outside vs. inside in our habitual forms of thought and thinking – in our images of thought: the nomadic vs. the sedentary, Platonic (polis) vs. Sophist (deterritorialized thought), representationlism vs. anti-representationalism. This is what the essay sets out to differentiate at the level of the double movement of the virtual and actual image of thought they seek to explicate and comprehend.

This sense that it is the assemblage that defines the war-machine and work-machine is central:

“Assemblages are passional, they are compositions of desire. Desire has nothing to do with a natural or spontaneous determination; there is no desire but assembling, assembled, engineered desire. The rationality, the efficiency of an assemblage does not exist without the passions that the assemblage puts into play, without the desires that constitute it as much as it constitutes them. (pp. 82-83)

This sense that desire is not some gravitational field that suddenly rises up on the social, but is rather something engineered, assembled by the assemblage of nomadic or sedentary systems or machinic phylum is to show how it is part of a modeling process that can be both channeled and captured. What their showing is how capitalism captures and puts to work in war and industry the very desires that are virtual potentials. And, yet, the very same desires and passions can be displaced in a Free Action machine, a nomadic machine that is a counter to the State based machines of global capitalism. As they’ll admit what’s important here is not that all assemblages are organized desire, but that the question and problem is to know whether the assemblages of war and work, considered in themselves, do not fundamentally mobilize passions of different orders” (p. 83).

The regime of work is one of Form, one that binds and formulates a subject of work within a space of striated habits that can be controlled. The regime of the war-machine is one of affects related only to movement of bodies and speed: “affect is the active discharge of emotion, the counterattack, whereas feeling is always displaced, retarded, resisting emotion. Affects are projectiles just like weapons, while feelings are introceptive like tools.” (pp. 83-84) The nomadic assemblage – the war-machine learns to undo things, and to undo oneself, is proper to the war machine: the “not-doing” of the warrior, the undoing of the subject. (p. 84) “A movement of decoding traverses the war machine, while overcoding solders the tool to an organization of work and of the State” (p. 84). This sense of two ways of assembling desire, to assemblages: the war-machine (nomadism, free action, mobility) and the State (sedentary work, habit, enslavement of desire).

It’s at this point that the notion of semiotization plays its card: “for there to be work, there must be a capture of activity (feelings) by the State apparatus, and a semiotization of activity by writing” (p. 85). The opposite is true of the nomadic war-machine: it is a relation to jewelry, not signs: minor art, the “barbarian” art of metalworking, etc. This art of metalworking, on plaques “constitute traits of expression of pure speed, carried on objects that are themselves mobile and moving. They do not enter into relation of form-matter, but one of motif-support, where the earth is no longer anything more than ground, where there is no longer even any ground at all, since the support is as mobile as the motif” (p. 86). Rather than representation of Platonic form or Ideas being constituted, we have this sense of the embellishment of motif on the surface of the war-machine that is itself an enabler of the forces of desire in movement as pure speed. “They give the colors of the speed of light, turning gold to red to silver into a white light” (p. 86). They’ll emphasize that these embellished weapons are of the “order of free action” – a realm of mobility and ambulatory action, rather than the “order of work” in which people are bound to the conditions of gravity, resistance and expenditure.

The difference between this art as motif-support, compared to art as form-matter is bound to the differential traits of the specific assemblage within which it is operative. As they tell us it “is therefore the differential method which establishes the distinction between weapons and tools…” So this is the method that Deleuze has been slowly describing and using in his analysis of the war-machine. This method incorporates five modalities:

1) the direction (projection-introspection),
2) the vector (speed-gravity),
3) the model (free action – work),
4) the expression (jewelry-signs),
5) the passional or desiring tonality (affect-feeling).

Against any archaizing tendency in such a differential methodology they will counter that we live in a differential time, a nomadic moment in which the forces of sedentary civilization and the new nomadism are in collision. “The shared line of flight of the weapon and the tool: a pure possibility, a mutation” (p. 90):

There arise subterranean, aerial, submarine technicians who belong more or less to the world order, but who involuntarily invent and amass virtual charges of knowledge and action that are useable by others, minute but easily acquired for new assemblages. The borrowings between warfare and the military apparatus, work and free action, always run both directions, for a struggle is all the more varied. (p. 90)

 1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Nomadology: The War Machine (Semiotext(e) 1986)

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