The Strategy of Unbinding: War Machines for Post-nihilist Age

 Writers are sorcerers because they experience the animal as the only population before which they are responsible in principle.

—Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus

In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari compare the games of Chess and Go as war machines with very different systems of capture and release:

Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. Let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game’s form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: “It” makes a move. “It” could be a man, a woman, a louse, an elephant. Go pieces are elements of a nonsubjectified machine assemblage with no intrinsic properties, only situational ones. Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary’s pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology. Finally, the space is not at all the same: in chess, it is a question of arranging a closed space for oneself, thus of going from one point to another, of occupying the maximum number of squares with the minimum number of pieces. In Go, it is a question of arraying oneself in an open space, of holding space, of maintaining the possibility of springing up at any point: the movement is not from one point to another, but becomes perpetual, without aim or destination, without departure or arrival. The “smooth” space of Go, as against the “striated” space of chess. The nomos of Go against the State of chess, nomos against polis. The difference is that chess codes and decodes space, whereas Go proceeds altogether differently, territorializing or deterritorializing it (make the outside a territory in space; consolidate that territory by the construction of a second, adjacent territory; deterritorialize the enemy by shattering his territory from within; deterritorialize oneself by renouncing, by going elsewhere…). Another justice, another movement, another space-time.1

Nomos against polis is the central motif of their argument. Unbinding the strata, deterritorializing the State apparatus, exiting the fictions that structure and synthesize our habitations, map our desires, frame our mental and physical systems in a territory of command and control.

Nomos: from the Greek term for “law” (νόμος, nómos; pl. νόμοι, nómoi). It is the origin of the suffix -onomy, as in astronomy, economy, or taxonomy. In sociology, nomos refers to provisional codes (habits or customs) of social and political behavior, socially constructed and historically (even geographically) specific. The term derives from the Greek νόμος, and it refers not only to explicit laws but to all of the normal rules and forms people take for granted in their day-to-day activities (i.e., their customs and cultural inheritance of behavior and conduct, their mores and ethical norms). Nomos stands for order, valid and binding on those who fall under its jurisdiction; thus it is a social construct with ethical dimensions. It is a belief, opinion or point of view; it is a human invention.

Bernard Stiegler in his recent Automatic Society: The Future of Work argues that nomos is this inherited conglomerate that forms the preindividual funds of the political psychic and collective individuation process, emerging from the new retentional condition of which Hesiod and Thales were contemporaries, and enters into structural conflict with the new epistēmē. This is what Dodds described as a Greek Aufklärung. At its political origin, and as this origin, law (nomos), stemming fundamentally from a transindividuation in letters, such that it is alphabetically tertiarized, literalizes and spatializes the epistēmē, forming the rules (as the explicit circuits of transindividuation) on the basis of which conflict (polemos) can become the dynamic principle of a society within which History appears as such (as Geschichte and as Historie) – starting from the agora. This is why the skholeion is the primordial political institution: citizens are those who read and write these literal traces – which thus form new kinds of associated milieus, which, as we shall see, also constitute regimes of parities establishing regimes of truth. And this is why today, and as the condition of any new constitution of knowledge, the retentional condition of all knowledge must be thematized and elucidated, and particularly that of the apodictic forms of knowledge that nourish the Western experience of rationality.2

Stiegler mentioned E.R. Dodd’s whose work The Greeks and the Irrational describes nomos as standing for the Conglomerate, conceived as the inherited burden of irrational custom; or it could stand for an arbitrary rule consciously imposed by certain classes in their own interest; or it could stand for a rational system of State law, the achievement which distinguished Greeks from barbarians.3 Dodd’s would add that for the first generation of Sophists, in particular Protagoras, they seem to have held a view whose optimism is pathetic in retrospect, but historically intelligible. “Virtue or Efficiency (arete) could be taught”: by criticizing the inherited traditions, by modernising the Nomos which the Sophists ancestors had created and eliminating from it the last vestiges of “barbarian silliness,”  man could acquire a new Art of Living, and human life could be raised to new levels hitherto undreamed of. (GI: KL 3366)

What Dodd’s describes as the Art of Living is what Stiegler terms the skholeion (site of socio-cultural indoctrination – educational apparatus):

The individuation of political public space is conditioned by the formation of each citizen in the skholeion, where citizens accede to the letter (that is, as we shall see, where they organologically re-organize their organic cerebral organ). Citizens, by forming themselves à la lettre – through this interiorization of the letter (by reading) and through its exteriorization (by writing), an internalization and externalization that require the acquisition of this competence as a new automatism written into the cerebral organ through learning, through an apprenticeship – can access the consistences that theoretical knowledge forms, and thereby dis-automatize automatic behaviours, whether biological, psychic or social: if consistence is what makes dis-automatization possible, it is accessible only on the basis of an automatization. (AS: KL 2372)

In fact, as a new epoch of psychic and collective individuation, the political individuation that arose in the seventh century bce implemented the subjective principle of differentiation between fact and law as the criterion of the process of transindividuation that constituted psychic citizens by constituting them politically, in that this criterion is shared by all citizens who internalize it by frequenting the skholē – the skholeion being instituted precisely for this purpose. It is their practical and active frequentation of theorein that constitutes them as citizens. (AS: KL 5592)

Yet, within Deleuze and Guattari’s thought the notion of the nomos escapes the law, exists in the nomadic spaces, the smooth spaces outside the structures of the State. “What becomes clear is that bands, no less than worldwide organizations, imply a form irreducible to the State and that this form of exteriority necessarily presents itself as a diffuse and polymorphous war machine. It is a nomos very different from the “law.” The State-form, as a form of interiority, has a tendency to reproduce itself, remaining identical to itself across its variations and easily recognizable within the limits of its poles, always seeking public recognition (there is no masked State).” (TP: KL 7538) But the nomadic war machine’s form of exteriority is such that it exists only in its own metamorphoses; it exists in an industrial innovation as well as in a technological invention, in a commercial circuit as well as in a religious creation, in all flows and currents that only secondarily allow themselves to be appropriated by the State. (TP: KL 7541)

In this sense if we return to the comparison and differences between Go And Chess where they tell us “a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology.” This sense of a an unregulated war, nomadic, without battle lines: one of pure strategy and a-semiological or diagrammatic, algorithmic and viral. Just here the Left if it is to begin to rethink its place in our post-nihilist age (our age as already the completed form of nihilism within the site of financial capitalism and algorithmic governmentality). The Left is bankrupt, its ideas passé and broken, formed of outmoded historical models that no longer map to our contemporary needs and realities. The Left lives in a decaying fictional system that has and will not work for an age in which its every move is traced, circumvented, and reduplicated as an advert for the economic drift of Capital.  Capital is Hegel’s Absolute absorbing, integrating, subsuming everything in its path under he sign of creation and destruction without end. Bound within a closed system of logic and reason Capital fixes time in a striated space without outlet in which every aspect of existence is artificial and algorithmically anticipated, controlled. The Left must deterritorialize itself and reenter the nomos of the earth, creation and destruction within the invisible (noumenal) zones of zero intensity where the energetic unconscious of the earth lives outside the Law.

Anonymous, unstructured, functional and invisible, diagrammatic and untraceable, invasive and viral like Go pieces that pop up across a striated space as rhizomatic bits of flotsam and jetsam streaming out of nowhere, singular multiplicities or swarming bands, and returning to the rhizome from whence they came. Actors and agents that have no fixed modes or personality, a complete impersonalism and impersonation. Chameleon war machines taking on the hues and colors (tropes) of its enemies. Fluid, flowing, unbound to any mode of command or control. Like the ‘Body of Wind’ of the ancient martial arts: try to catch it, capture it, and it vanishes, dispersed among the cloaked elements of its enemies shadow worlds – a breath of icy wind gathering nothing as its cloak.  As Deleuzeguattari will remind us in “all these respects, there is an opposition between the logos and the nomos, the law and the nomos, prompting the comment that the law still “savors of morality.” This does not mean, however, that the legal model knows nothing of forces, the play of forces.” (TP: KL 7739)

In fact, as they continue the nomos is the consistency of a fuzzy aggregate: it is in this sense that it stands in opposition to the law or the polls, as the backcountry, a mountainside, or the vague expanse around a city (“either nomos or polis”). Therefore, and this is the third point, there is a significant difference between the spaces: sedentary space is striated, by walls, enclosures, and roads between enclosures, while nomad space is smooth, marked only by “traits” that are effaced and displaced with the trajectory. Even the lamellae of the desert slide over each other, producing an inimitable sound. The nomad distributes himself in a smooth space; he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle. It is therefore false to define the nomad by movement. (TP: 7977) We must enter the smooth spaces outside the structures of the logoi, the law, the State: fall between the interstices of the visible into the invisible, exist in the noumenal beyond the encoded labyrinths of capture and the prisons of our socio-cultural straight-jackets.

This is a new type of guerilla warfare in which the very fabric of the logics of the West that have trapped us in a trace world of linguistic and semiotic systems, the dataclaves of a hyperworld meshed in the hyperreality systems of our algorithmic society are dispersed in the smooth and unstriated spaces of nomadic existence outside the Law or State. Or, as Deleuze and Guattari put it:

It is in this sense that nomads have no points, paths, or land, even though they do by all appearances. If the nomad can be called the Deterritorialized par excellence, it is precisely because there is no reterritorialization afterwards with the migrant, or upon something else as with the sedentary (the sedentary’s relation with the earth is mediatized by something else, a property regime, a State apparatus). With the nomad, on the contrary, it is deterritorialization that constitutes the relation to the earth, to such a degree that the nomad reterritorializes on deterritorialization itself. It is the earth that deterritorializes itself, in a way that provides the nomad with a territory. The land ceases to be land, tending to become simply ground (sol) or support. (TP: 7994)

If guerrilla warfare, minority warfare, revolutionary and popular war are in conformity with the essence, it is because they take war as an object all the more necessary for being merely “supplementary”: they can make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else, if only new nonorganic social relations. The difference between the two poles is great, even, and especially, from the point of view of death: the line of flight that creates, or turns into a line of destruction; the plane of consistency that constitutes itself, even piece by piece, or turns into a plan(e) of organization and domination. We are constantly reminded that there is communication between these two lines or planes, that each takes nourishment from the other, borrows from the other: the worst of the world war machines reconstitutes a smooth space to surround and enclose the earth. But the earth asserts its own powers of deterritorialization, its lines of flight, its smooth spaces that live and blaze their way for a new earth. The question is not one of quantities but of the incommensurable character of the quantities that confront one another in the two kinds of war machine, according to the two poles. War machines take shape against the apparatuses that appropriate the machine and make war their affair and their object: they bring connections to bear against the great conjunction of the apparatuses of capture or domination. (TP: 8861)

Becomings-animal: Rat pack, Wolf pack – Metamorphosis

Becomings-animal are neither dreams nor phantasies. They are perfectly real. But which reality is at issue here?

—Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus

In the Deleuzeanguattarian cosmos becomings are rhizomatic and a multiplicity. “But what exactly does that mean, the animal as band or pack? Does a band not imply a filiation, bringing us back to the reproduction of given characteristics? How can we conceive of a peopling, a propagation, a becoming that is without filiation or hereditary production?”4 Instead as they explain,

We oppose epidemic to filiation, contagion to heredity, peopling by contagion to sexual reproduction, sexual production. Bands, human or animal, proliferate by contagion, epidemics, battlefields, and catastrophes. Like hybrids, which are in themselves sterile, born of a sexual union that will not reproduce itself, but which begins over again every time, gaining that much more ground. Unnatural participations or nuptials are the true Nature spanning the kingdoms of nature. Propagation by epidemic, by contagion, has nothing to do with filiation by heredity, even if the two themes intermingle and require each other. The vampire does not filiate, it infects. The difference is that contagion, epidemic, involves terms that are entirely heterogeneous: for example, a human being, an animal, and a bacterium, a virus, a molecule, a microorganism. Or in the case of the truffle, a tree, a fly, and a pig. These combinations are neither genetic nor structural; they are interkingdoms, unnatural participations.

In this sense the a-political epidemics of the future will infest our world with singular multiplicities and swarming intelligences, alliances rather than filiations. Unnatural participations and rituals of contagion, viral and functional. Nature operates against itself, producing and produced by contagion rather than reproduction. “For us, on the other hand, there are as many sexes as there are terms in symbiosis, as many differences as elements contributing to a process of contagion.” (TP: KL 5050) Instead of the Oedipal, Mommy, Daddy, child triune there is becomings-animal by contagion and epidemic without the reductions of sex to some characteristic or series. Against filiation, alliance.

But we should not confuse these dark assemblages, which stir what is deepest within us, with organizations such as the institution of the family and the State apparatus. We could cite hunting societies, war societies, secret societies, crime societies, etc. … These are tales, or narratives and statements of becoming. It is therefore absurd to establish a hierarchy even of animal collectivities from the standpoint of a whimsical evolutionism according to which packs are lower on the scale and are superseded by State or familial societies. On the contrary, there is a difference in nature. The origin of packs is entirely different from that of families and States; they continually work them from within and trouble them from without, with other forms of content, other forms of expression. The pack is simultaneously an animal reality, and the reality of the becoming-animal of the human being; contagion is simultaneously an animal peopling, and the propagation of the animal peopling of the human being. The hunting machine, the war machine, the crime machine entail all kinds of becomings-animal that are not articulated in myth, still less in totemism. (TP)

Sorcerers have always held the anomalous position, at the edge of the fields or woods. They haunt the fringes. They are at the borderline of the village, or between villages. The important thing is their affinity with alliance, with the pact, which gives them a status opposed to that of filiation. The relation with the anomalous is one of alliance. The sorcerer has a relation of alliance with the demon as the power of the anomalous. (TP: KL 5136)

Living in that non-space in-between in a pack, unaffiliated. “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance.” (TP: KL 729) And a rhizome,

A rhizome as subterranean stem is absolutely different from roots and radicles. Bulbs and tubers are rhizomes. Plants with roots or radicles may be rhizomorphic in other respects altogether: the question is whether plant life in its specificity is not entirely rhizomatic. Even some animals are, in their pack form. Rats are rhizomes. Burrows are too, in all of their functions of shelter, supply, movement, evasion, and breakout. The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers. When rats swarm over each other. The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couchgrass, or the weed. Animal and plant, couchgrass is crabgrass. We get the distinct feeling that we will convince no one unless we enumerate certain approximate characteristics of the rhizome. (TP: KL 339)

The new subversions of the a-political epidemic of swarms and packs: function as shelters, suppliers, movement-transport, evasion, and breakout. Think of the American Civil War of the underground railroad. Underground alliances outside the trace worlds of the Big Data. Untraceable. Unaffiliated and viral. Digital and analogue. Impersonal and indifferent. Outside law and its traces… “A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. A semiotic chain is like a tuber agglomerating very diverse acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic, gestural, and cognitive: there is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages.” (TP: KL 356)

It’s a question of movement… I disagree with Andrew Culp when he says we must move beyond rhizomes:

Enough with rhizomes. Although they were a suggestive image of thought thirty-five years ago, our present is dominated by the Cold War technology of the Internet that was made as a rhizomatic network for surviving nuclear war. The rhizome was a convincing snapshot of things to come, but Deleuze and Guattari left out a few things, most notably the question of movement. How does a rhizome advance, except in the crawl of the blob that slowly takes over everything?5

For Deleuze and Guattari the question of movement was the question of “smooth spaces” outside or in-between the striated and controlled spaces of logic and reason, command and control. It is not a “blob that takes over everything,” rather it is that in-between space outside the trace, undiscoverable by the logic or reason of those within the Law. As they’d say

Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points. Nomad space is “smooth,” or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other. Its mode of distribution is the nomos: arraying oneself in an open space (hold the street), as opposed to the logos of entrenching oneself in a closed space (hold the fort). (TP: KL 155)

The Rhizome is outside the law, it is nomos or the Body-without-Organs opposed to Logos and trace, unaccountable, unindexible, incalculable. As they’ll say at the end of ,

A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb “to be,” but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, “and… and… and…” This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb “to be.” Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you heading for? These are totally useless questions. Making a clean slate, starting or beginning again from ground zero, seeking a beginning or a foundation — all imply a false conception of voyage and movement (a conception that is methodical, pedagogical, initiatory, symbolic…). But Kleist, Lenz, and Biichner have another way of traveling and moving: proceeding from the middle, through the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing. American literature, and already English literature, manifest this rhizomatic direction to an even greater extent; they know how to move between things, establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings. They know how to practice pragmatics. The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. Between things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle. (TP: 729)

Against Being, against ontology, against philosophy: the movement of AND.  The acceleration of that movement of the middle, in-between, a transversal movement outside the Law – a new nomos of Earth. The movement of the middle, of having another way of traveling and moving: proceeding from the middle, through the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing.

As Franco Berardi in his book AND: Phenomenology of the End tells us,

Rhizome is simultaneously the announcement of a transformation of reality and the premise to a new methodology of thought. A description of the chaotic deterritorialization following Modern Rationalism, and a methodology for the critique of deterritorialized capitalism.6

For Berardi we’re undergoing a major change in sensibility, one that he’s “been unrolling all along this text is the mutation of sensibility in an age of creeping abstraction, and the dissonance and pain that this mutation is bringing about” (AND: 235). Nothing is secure, and like Stiegler we could go down a rabbit hole of no return and destruction:

Aesthetics and the Economy converge and collide: as long as the social body will be unable to get rid of the process of ever expanding abstraction, aesthetic research will border with psychopathology, and will be concerned with stress, acceleration and suffering. (AND: 239)

His prognosis is of a dangerous world ahead, one in which techics and technology become so pervasive that even the age old notions of the individual give way to the onslaught of our completed nihilism. A semiocapitalist society bound within a matrix of infospheric connections:

In the interaction between individual and collective sphere, in the link between individual neuro-activity and connective concatenation, the conscious and sensitive organism is evolving. The neuro-plasticity of the subindividual components of the organism (the molecular decomposition and recomposition of biological matter) interacts with the rhythms and the super-individual automatisms of the techno-linguistic swarm, the bio-informatic super-organism which is embedded in the totalitarian governance of semiocapitalism. Techno-linguistic interfaces are linking the organism with the bio-info super-organism of the Net, and language is subjected to the automated wiring. Cognition is taken in the inescapable loop of this endless self-confirmation. Only the excess of imagination can find the way for a conscious and consciously managed neuroplasticity, but we cannot know if the imagination excess still functions when cognitive wiring is set. This is the question that we are going to deal with in the coming decades, this is the next game, the neo-human game that we can barely sense beyond the apparently unstoppable and irreversible catastrophe of the human civilization that is underway. (AND:  236)

Unlike most Leftist thinkers Berardi has seen the Beast and it is us, and we are already beyond any old Marxian salvation clause, instead we are in the midst of a catastrophe for the human species in which the scenario playing out is one of mutation and transformation into an alterity (neo-human) from which nothing of our current knowledge systems, our memories or perceptions will remain. Humanity will have metamorphsied into something else. All that is left is to provide therapy through this transitional process. There can be no resistance, no stopping it now. It is accelerating out of control and into a neo-human future where nothing is known or knowable. Join in or sink into oblivion. Is this the gamble? An end game or beginning again? A movement into the rhizome, a middle-way of speed and accelerating travels?


  1. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 7369-7389). A&C Black. Kindle Edition. (TP)
  2. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1987-2005). Wiley. Kindle Edition. (AS)
  3. Dodds, E. R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) (Kindle Locations 3660-3662). University of California Press – A. Kindle Edition. (GI)
  4. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 5038-5040). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.
  5. Culp, Andrew. Dark Deleuze (Forerunners: Ideas First) (Kindle Locations 593-596). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
  6. Berardi, Franco. AND Phenomenology of the End. (Aalto, 2014)

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