All 10 entries tagged Lawrence Of Arabia

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February 11, 2007

The Road – motorcycle riding and writing by T.E. Lawrence

One of the best accounts of a motorcycle ride, by a great writer and diarist: T.E. Lawrence, from his RAF journals, The Mint.

The Mint is an extraordinary but often overlooked book. Deliberately rough and forthright, it gives an account of the time spent by T.E. Lawrence as an ordinary cadet and airman in the RAF (hiding under the alias T.E. Ross). There is little joy or freedom in the book. The author seeks out the supression of self that is service, so as to demonstrate, amongst other things, the near moral bankruptcy of the British military post-WWI. However, amidst the depression and squalor, towards the end of the memoirs (and once posted to the much more salubrious Cranwell College), the following chapter stands out.

Lawrence had by this time (1925-26) become an aircraft engineer with experience and knowledge. He found something in this work that even surpassed his time amongst the leadership of the Arab Revolt. Fast machines and freedom. And most of all, motorcycles. This generated perhaps one of the best accounts written of a motorcycle journey. We are given the impression that this exhilerating ride is nothing but an everyday occurence. And no doubt with the fresh tarmac and empty roads of the mid-Thirties, it was just that. These days one rarely has a chance to experience the road in this way, and certainly not to duel with a Bristol Fighter above. Motorcyle safety has also improved somewhat. Lawrence’s Brough Superior, perhaps the 30’s equivalent of a modern Suzuki Hayabusa hyper-sports tourer, had almost no brakes, almost no suspension, and a hand gear change making engine braking a terrifying prospect. And yet it gave 52bhp – almost as much as my R100GS. The rider wore no helmet and no goggles. And certainly no kevlar body armour. And he still pushed it so hard that the bike lunged into a near fatal tank slapper.

Ten years later a similar event led to his death.

One of the greatest accounts of a motorcycle ride…

T.E. Lawrence on Brough Superior

The Road

The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road. So long as roads were tarred blue and straight; not hedged; and empty and dry, so long I was rich.

Nightly I’d run up from the hangar, upon the last stroke of work, spurring my tired feet to be nimble. The very movement refreshed them, after the day-long restraint of service. In five minutes my bed would be down, ready for the night: in four more I was in breeches and puttees, pulling on my gauntlets as I walked over to my bike, which lived in a garage-hut, opposite. Its tyres never wanted air, its engine had a habit of starting at second kick: a good habit, for only by frantic plunges upon the starting pedal could my puny weight force the engine over the seven atmospheres of its compression.

Boanerges’ first glad roar at being alive again nightly jarred the huts of Cadet College into life. ‘There he goes, the noisy bugger,’ someone would say enviously in every flight. It is part of an airman’s profession to be knowing with engines: and a thoroughbred engine is our undying satisfaction. The camp wore the virtue of my Brough like a flower in its cap. Tonight Tug and Dusty came to the step of our hut to see me off. ‘Running down to Smoke, perhaps?’ jeered Dusty; hitting at my regular game of London and back for tea on fine Wednesday afternoons.

Boa is a top-gear machine, as sweet in that as most single-cylinders in middle. I chug lordlily past the guard-room and through the speed limit at no more than sixteen. Round the bend, past the farm, and the way straightens. Now for it. The engine’s final development is fifty-two horse-power. A miracle that all this docile strength waits behind one tiny lever for the pleasure of my hand.

Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England’ straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.

Like arrows the tiny flies pricked my cheeks: and sometimes a heavier body, some house-fly or beetle, would crash into face or lips like a spent bullet. A glance at the speedometer: seventy-eight. Boanerges is warming up. I pull the throttle right open, on the top of the slope, and we swoop flying across the dip, and up-down up-down the switchback beyond: the weighty machine launching itself like a projectile with a whirr of wheels into the air at the take-off of each rise, to land lurchingly with such a snatch of the driving chain as jerks my spine like a rictus.

Once we so fled across the evening light, with the yellow sun on my left, when a huge shadow roared just overhead. A Bristol Fighter, from Whitewash Villas, our neighbour aerodrome, was banking sharply round. I checked speed an instant to wave: and the slip-stream of my impetus snapped my arm and elbow astern, like a raised flail. The pilot pointed down the road towards Lincoln. I sat hard in the saddle, folded back my ears and went away after him, like a dog after a hare. Quickly we drew abreast, as the impulse of his dive to my level exhausted itself.

The next mile of road was rough. I braced my feet into the rests, thrust with my arms, and clenched my knees on the tank till its rubber grips goggled under my thighs. Over the first pot-hole Boanerges screamed in surprise, its mud-guard bottoming with a yawp upon the tyre. Through the plunges of the next ten seconds I clung on, wedging my gloved hand in the throttle lever so that no bump should close it and spoil our speed. Then the bicycle wrenched sideways into three long ruts: it swayed dizzily, wagging its tail for thirty awful yards. Out came the clutch, the engine raced freely: Boa checked and straightened his head with a shake, as a Brough should.

The bad ground was passed and on the new road our flight became birdlike. My head was blown out with air so that my ears had failed and we seemed to whirl soundlessly between the sun-gilt stubble fields. I dared, on a rise, to slow imperceptibly and glance sideways into the sky. There the Bif was, two hundred yards and more back. Play with the fellow? Why not? I slowed to ninety: signalled with my hand for him to overtake. Slowed ten more: sat up. Over he rattled. His passenger, a helmeted and goggled grin, hung out of the cock-pit to pass me the ‘Up yer’ Raf randy greeting.

They were hoping I was a flash in the pan, giving them best. Open went my throttle again. Boa crept level, fifty feet below: held them: sailed ahead into the clean and lonely country. An approaching car pulled nearly into its ditch at the sight of our race. The Bif was zooming among the trees and telegraph poles, with my scurrying spot only eighty yards ahead. I gained though, gained steadily: was perhaps five miles an hour the faster. Down went my left hand to give the engine two extra dollops of oil, for fear that something was running hot: but an overhead Jap twin, super-tuned like this one, would carry on to the moon and back, unfaltering.

We drew near the settlement. A long mile before the first houses I closed down and coasted to the cross-roads by the hospital. Bif caught up, banked, climbed and turned for home, waving to me as long as he was in sight. Fourteen miles from camp, we are, here: and fifteen minutes since I left Tug and Dusty at the hut door.

I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill along the tram-lines through the dirty streets and up-hill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdainfully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.

Remigius, earthy old Remigius, looks with more charity on and Boanerges. I stabled the steel magnificence of strength and speed at his west door and went in: to find the organist practising something slow and rhythmical, like a multiplication table in notes on the organ. The fretted, unsatisfying and unsatisfied lace-work of choir screen and spandrels drank in the main sound. Its surplus spilled thoughtfully into my ears.

By then my belly had forgotten its lunch, my eyes smarted and streamed. Out again, to sluice my head under the White Hart’s yard-pump. A cup of real chocolate and a muffin at the teashop: and Boa and I took the Newark road for the last hour of daylight. He ambles at forty-five and when roaring his utmost, surpasses the hundred. A skittish motor-bike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.

At Nottingham I added sausages from my wholesaler to the bacon which I’d bought at Lincoln: bacon so nicely sliced that each rasher meant a penny. The solid pannier-bags behind the saddle took all this and at my next stop a (farm) took also a felt-hammocked box of fifteen eggs. Home by Sleaford, our squalid, purse-proud, local village. Its butcher had six penn’orth of dripping ready for me. For months have I been making my evening round a marketing, twice a week, riding a hundred miles for the joy of it and picking up the best food cheapest, over half the country side.

The full text of The Mint can be found online.

July 10, 2006

Research Notes: A desert delirial materialism in Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Follow-up to Research Notes: Spinoza and desert asceticism, Kant and the urban sublime from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

From Book 7 of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. This is one of the most interesting passages of the book.

Into the sources of my energy of will I dared not probe. The conception of antithetical mind and matter, which was basic in the Arab self-surrender, helped me not at all. I achieved surrender (so far as I did achieve it) by the very opposite road, through my notion that mental and physical were inseparably one: that our bodies, the universe, our thoughts and tactilities were conceived in and of the molecular sludge of matter, the universal element through which form drifted as clots and patterns of varying density. It seemed to me unthinkable that assemblages of atoms should cogitate except in atomic terms. My perverse sense of values constrained me to assume that abstract and concrete, as badges, did not denote oppositions more serious than Liberal and Conservative. The practice of our revolt fortified the nihilist attitude in me. During it, we often saw men push themselves or be driven to a cruel extreme of endurance: yet never was there an intimation of physical break. Collapse rose always from a moral weakness eating into the body, which of itself, without traitors from within, had no power over the will. While we rode we were disbodied, unconscious of flesh or feeling: and when at an interval this excitement faded and we did see our bodies, it was with some hostility, with a contemptuous sense that they reached their highest purpose, not as vehicles of the spirit, but when, dissolved, their elements served to manure a field. p.468

May 18, 2006

Research Notes: The conflict between sadism and masochism in Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Follow-up to Research Notes: Bogue on Deleuze on Sade and Masoch from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Relating Deleuze’s analysis of sadism and masochism to travel and Seven Pillars of Wisdom. This starts to make more sene of Deleuze’s Shame and Glory essay on T.E. Lawrence.

It could be argued that sadism and masochism, the formal relations instantiated by each of these conditions, present two different kinds of journey or travel. Sadism as described by Deleuze assimilates every difference to its brutal logic, consuming time, events, into its minimal singularity with an entirely instrumental attitude. The sadist wants to get from A to B without deviation (!), but at the same time must feel some kind of intensity giving matter to the journey. The masochist journey has a plan and material, rehearsed continually. Contrary to Freud’s analysis, the rehearsal is undertaken in the hope of some unanticipated modulation in the script.

The rape scene in Seven Pillars of Wisdom is, contrary to common readings, not some kind of phantasmic product of a sadomasochistic imagination. The continual horror with which T.E. Lawrence recalls the event is genuine. It was in fact a brutal imposition of sadistic practices onto a (moderately) masochistic character. As Deleuze argues, sadism is alien to masochism, hence the terrible effect that the encounter had on Lawrence’s psyche, perhaps ultimately leading to his death.

The clock plays an absolutely key role in the rape scene. To cope with the viscious attack, Lawrence focusses on its sound in order to filter out other intensities. Similarly, in the desert, he focusses on the rhythmic movement of the camel to filter out the pain and the horrors of the conflict. Is this a third mode of travel? How does it relate to Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of the refrain? Minimalism? Rauschenberg?

Research Notes: Bogue on Deleuze on Sade and Masoch

Follow-up to Research Notes: The concept of recirculation from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

In the opening chapter of his Deleuze on Literature, Ronald Bogue focusses on Deleuze's analysis of the conditions of masochism and sadism. These are key concepts linking difference and repetition, circulation and cybernetics, to literary production and psychoanalysis.

Bogue identifies that Deleuze's sigificant claim is that sadism and masochism are formally different conditions, not poles of a single disorder. Sadomasochism is then a 'syndrome' not a disease, a badly analyzed composite of symptoms.

Whereas in Sade erotic scenes are repeated with violent and mechanical reiteration, in Masoch phantasy figures are identified with motionless art objects – statues, portraits, photographs – components of scenes that are repeated in a stuttering sequence of frozen images. Sade seeks the violence of continuous movement and hence abjures the stasis of the art object, whereas Masoch aspires to a world of suspense and waiting, and thus aestheticizes the real as a series of tableaux vivants. p.20

Each is then a solution to the problem of repetition and difference. But they capture and recirculate matter in different ways. Is Sadism closer to mathematics in its relentless application of an algorithm that reduces difference? And Masochism, obviously a theatre focussed on an artistic monument, slowing down differentiation through repetition/rehearsal.

Sade's immediacy – the nomadic war machine? – the desert?
Masoch's theatre – the socius? – the city?
These are conunterposed in Seven Pillars of Wisdom – see my entry on Lawrence and Abu Ghraib

But this is not the phantasm of psychoanalysis. The programme is itself real and complex, with a history of its own. Bogue seems not to see this.

May 17, 2006

Research Notes: The concept of recirculation

The concept of recirculation (repetition/rehearsal and difference) is the key to unfolding Kant, Bergson, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Guattari and T.E. Lawrence.

From an entry on Seven Pillars of Wisdom

The nomads were thus capable of becoming an abstract machine, self–motivated, self–positing, independent but at the same time forming a genuinely connected response to every and any possible experience. The nomad, for example, finds the continuation of the journey as a way of life itself. The journey is the purpose of the journey. The narrower objective being to merely keep circulating within a space that encourages the continuation of the journey, making sedimentation impossible.

And another

This was then a new movement, breaking out of the timeless circulation of peoples and their livestock into and across the desert – a sudden and unprecedented mass carrying with it bodies from the diverse geophysical and social distributions of people into places.

On the will to power

Genetic – quality – affirmative/negative – feedback loops – continuous multiplicity – virtuality

On art and collapse

Art is missing, but why do we need it? My conjecture is this (following, I think, Deleuze and Guattari): 1. That events are organized; this is to say, their repetition and differentiation is controlled by filters of selection. 2. That some of these filters privelige speed and scope of judgement over care and novelty. These filters render the fine detail of events redundant (in the cybernetic sense), so as to cover more ground more quickly. Concepts are such filters. 3. However there is always a side–effect of speed: a loss of feeling (subtle detail). 4. On the contrary, there are filters that amplify detail by taking a set of events and promoting their re–occurrence, emphasing different aspects of the events with each repetition. Artists create such filters. The effect of art is deceleration, or perhaps carefully controlled speed. Art may then prevent the dissociation from the world that is inherent in conceptual activity.

On painting

reduce the world and its vast circuits to a small repetitive loop. In the case of Cezanne, the loop circulates and re–circulates between Mont Saint Victoire, the palette and its oils (themselves reduced to a few greens and blues), the hand, the brush or knife, and the canvas. In this way the artwork is built up over time through a kind of mangrove effect not disimilar to that described by Andy Clark.
Everything is invested – "the artist is already in the canvas" (Deleuze, Logic of Sensation). Then make each run of the circuit entirely dependent upon the last, each time applying a filter modulated by the results of the previous passage (Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bacon and others replace an optical filter with a haptic filter). The circuit carves out an escape route within the imprisonment of actuality. The loops are repetitions, movements between points, but across different virtualities or the infinite and irreducible but necessary slices of reality. This opening up of new degrees of movement is the experiment of the diagram.

On art as monument

The suggestion is that the monument encapsulates a rhythm of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of pleats of matter rising and falling relative to each other, forming tonalities, a whole music of matter that penetrates substance and carries it away into the plane. The monument is then not a static edifice, it is a continual circulation of matter, captured at some point in history, relative to a virtuality which otherwise disappears. It captures a slice of reality, holds it, and then releases it again in the future, in our aesthetic encounter.
Deleuze and Guattari go further: artworks are monuments. All artworks? What does, for example, Cezanne's painting of Mont Saint Victoire commemorate? In paint it captures a circulation of matter ever connected with the mountain. The rhythm of brush strokes is, as Cezanne claimed, the rhythm of the mountain, of nature as he lived it. His method always struggled to capture the tension, the pattern of connections of those rhythms, to make them permanent in a monument.

Next I must relate this to 'the refrain'; the 'journey' of the nomad and its singular rhythm; dematerialization and virtualization; the clock and the rape scene in Seven Pillars; the movement of the camel; and the clockwork running of the engine in Jupiter's Travels.

April 03, 2006

Research Notes: Spinoza and desert asceticism, Kant and the urban sublime

Follow-up to Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Chapter LXIII, whilst bathing in a mountain spring, Lawrence was surprised by the appearance of some kind of wandering outcast, a desert mystic or madman. Earlier he had considered the "periodic rise of intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia" (p.148). Now again, in this spectacular desert setting, he considers the geophilosophy of Ideas.

Upon the water-cleansed and fragrant ledge I undressed my soiled body, and stepped into the little basin, to taste at last a freshness of loving air and water against my tired skin. It was deliciously cool. I lay there quietly, letting the clear, dark red water run over me in a ribbly stream, and rub the travel-dirt away. While I was so happy, a grey-bearded, ragged man, with a hewn face of great power and weariness, came slowly along the path till opposite the spring; and there he let himself down with a sigh upon my clothes spread out over a rock beside the path, for the sun-heat to chase out their thronging vermin.
He heard me and leaned forward, peering with rheumy eyes at this white thing splashing in the hollow beyond the veil of sun-mist. After a long stare he seemed content, and closed his eyes, groaning, 'The love is from God; and of God; and towards God'.

In the cruel matter of fact world of the desert it would be hard to believe in a loving God, one that deliberately arranges the world for the benefit of humans. This desert wanderer had himself been blinded, rendering his staring looks fitting of someone with a more transcendent imaginary. Lawrence had just experienced the erosion of vision himself, with Sherif Aid suddenly losing his sight to the burning sun.

But here, in an abundant pool of otherwise rare water, it seems possible. The contrast between desert asceticism and the bathing pool, between the pain of driving sand and the pleasure of cool water, between thirst and immediate satisfaction, mirrors that between the desert and its necessities and the town and its free-will. The spring at Shallala sits within a sublime geological architecture. Lawrence's choice of words allies the great Wadi Rumm with the city or citadel:

The hills on the right grew taller and sharper, a fair counterpart of the other side which straightened itself to one massive rampart of redness. They drew together until only two miles divided them: and then, towering gradually till their parallel parapets must have been a thousand feet above us, ran forward for an avenue of miles. p.351

Lawrence, an archaeologist with expertise on fortifications, draws the inevitable analogies. The walls are said to be:

built sectionally, in rags like gigantic buildings, along two sides of their street.


The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architecture.

Wadi Rumm is a citadel, an overwhelming and enveloping cave bigger than man but making sense of man. It is said that the:

The Arab armies would have been lost in the length and breadth of it, and within the walls a squadron of aeroplanes could have wheeled in formation. Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills.

Wadi Rumm is Lawrence's sublime. Perhaps it is the closest that he gets to Oedipus?

Landscapes, in childhood's dream, were so vast and silent. We looked backward through our memory for the prototype up which all men had walked between such walls toward such an open square as that in front where this road seemed to end. Later, when we were often riding inland, my mind used to turn me from the direct road, to clear my senses by a night in Rumm and by the ride down its dawn-lit valley towards the shining plains, or up its valley in the sunset towards that glowing square which my timid anticipation never let me reach. I would say, 'Shall I ride on this time, beyond the Khazail, and know it all?' But in truth I liked Rumm too much.

But for Lawrence the city, its sublime, and the shame that it makes possible (the invasion of the citadel at Deraa), are not necessary. Ideas, sweeping out of the desert, may go in one of two directions: the Hellenism of the city (and its Christianity) or the surrender to fate, fact and an impersonal God of desert ascetiicisms. The words of the ragged man at Wadi Rumm had reminded Lawrence of this, and of his ambiguous position between the two (whilst relaxing in the spring, removing the desert dust and returning to the city): 'The love is from God; and of God; and towards God'.

His low-spoken words were caught by some trick distinctly in my water pool. They stopped me suddenly. I had believed Semites unable to use love as a link between themselves and God, indeed, unable to conceive such a relation except with the intellectuality of Spinoza, who loved so rationally and sexlessly, and transcendently that he did not seek, or rather had not permitted, a return. p.356
…expressing the monotheism of open spaces, the pass-through-infinity of pantheism and its everyday usefulness of an all-pervading, household God. p.357
Christianity had seemed to me the first creed to proclaim love in this upper world, from which the desert and the Semite (from Moses to Zeno) had shut it out: and Christianity was a hybrid, except in its first root not essentially Semitic.

This is followed by an exposition of the differing origins of the religions, and their routes out into the world. An academic exposition, but one written by someone at the border of these two great Ideational generators.


Spinoza and desert asceticism, Leibniz and urban excess? Just a thought.

March 29, 2006

Research Notes: deserts, nomadic war machines, smooth space and the maritime model

Follow-up to Research Notes: Akaba is real and not a phantasm from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Chapter LIX of Seven Pillars of Wisdom sees Lawrence again pausing to consider the nature of nomadic war. This is one of the most important texts in the theory of guerrilla war, and has interesting parallels with the chapter in Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus on the Smooth and the Striated.

Smooth space and striated space – nomad space and sedentary space – the space in which the war machine develops and the space instituted by the State apparatus – are not of the same nature. A Thousand Plateaus p.474

…initially the Arab nomadic war machine and the Turkish state are different in kind. The task of the rebellion is to break down the discontinuous multiplicity of the Turkish state into a continuous multiplicity into which it can flow and overwhelm. To achieve this, the nomadic war machine must intensify and multiply the striations of the State, rendering it into pulp or pushing it across a threshold of intensity that makes every striation unique and hence the assemblage a flow of pure matter without identity. Not every nomadic formation is a nomadic war machine. It only becomes such when there is necessary relation to a State. The nomadic war machine and its opposing State apparatus thus operates as a translating machine, deterritorializing-reterritorializing, cutting and connecting, between the sedentary and the nomadic…

No sooner do we note a simple opposition between the two kinds of space than we must indicate a much more complex difference by virtue of which the successive terms of the oppositions fail to coincide entirely. And no sooner have we done that than we must remind ourselves that the two spaces in fact exist only in mixture: smooth space is constantly being translated, transversed into striated space; striated space is constantly being reversed, returned to a smooth space. In the first case one organizes even the desert; in the second, the desert gains and grows. ibid p.474–475

…this breaking down requires an outmanouvering and out-acceleration of striations and strategies, such that the nomadic war machine is always disappearing before engagement takes place, thus driving the State apparatus into a frenzy of reaction. Such speed and mobility is achievable with the adoption of the "maritime model" as Deleuze and Guattari say. At liberty to either engage the enemy or dissolve into the desert, guerrilla warfare as non-battle. Lawrence on the maritime model of desert warfare…

In character our operations of development for the final stroke should be like naval war, in mobility, ubiquity, independence of bases and communications, ignoring of ground features, of strategic areas, of fixed directions, of fixed points. 'He who commands the sea is at great liberty, and may take as much or as little of the was as he will.' Seven Pillars of Wisdom p.337
And we commanded the desert. Camel raiding parties, self-contained like ships, might cruise confidently along the enemy's cultivation-frontier, sure of an unhindered retreat into the desert-element which the Turks could not explore.

…was it Montgomery or Rommel who, after the El Alamein, described desert war as more properly modeled along maritime lines? Anyhow, Lawrence was there first. And to what ends?...

Discrimination of what point of the enemy organism to disarrange would come to us with war practice. Our tactics should be to tip and run: not pushes, but strokes. We should never try to improve an advantage. We should use the smallest force in the quickest time at the farthest place. p338

…war against the organism, attacking without reason or pattern anywhere at any time…

The distribution of the raiding parties was unorthodox…we aimed at the widest dissipation of force; and we added fluidity to speed by using one district on Monday, another on Tuesday, a third on Wednesday. Thus natural mobility was reinforced.

…sending the enemy organism into defensive reactionary spasms and deranging its command hierarchies and communications, rendering it as a Body without Organs, returned to a materialty without difference in kind, such that it can be pulled and manipulated, drawn and pressurised…

In a real sense maximum disorder was our equilibrium.

…their order was in chaos…

The internal economy of our raiding parties achieved irregularity and extreme articulation. Our circumstances were not twice similar, so no system could fit them twice: and our diversity threw the enemy intelligence off the track. p.339

…the derangement of the enemy is intensified through planting a terrifying Idea: invisible but omniscient battalions stalk them at all times, let their own imaginations do the work…

By identical battalions and divisions information built itself up, until corps could be inferred on corpses from three companies. Our strengths deoended upon whim.

March 27, 2006

Research Notes: Akaba is real and not a phantasm

Follow-up to Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Desire seems to be a paradox. In obtaining that which is desired, the object of desire is fundamentally altered, and consequently unobtainable. Is desire doomed to lack from the outset and in its finality? Is such lack a cruel conditioning sublimated by a deeper originary dialectic? An originary psychic act, a fixation, an unconscious product of a series of acts to be regressively analysed retreating in time to the big fixation: oedipus? In his geophilosophical campaign, T.E.Lawrence discovered an answer to the paradox of desire, one without lack or originary schism. But at the same time one founded on schisms, differences. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I argue, is a work of schizoanalysis fundamentally uanavailable to psychoanalysis.

1. Desire is the production of the different in kind by the different in degree. That which is different in kind is said to be changed in nature by any act of division or analysis. An un-bounding perception or possession of that which is different in kind, an attempt to become materiality continuous with it, serves only to differentiate itself from itself as a qualitative not a quantative difference. It is thus experienced as a discontinuous multiplicity rather than a continuous multiplicity.

A long march through the desert, much negotiation with uncertain tribes, skirmishes with the Turks, and the Arab army entered their goal victorious:

Through the whirling dust we percieved that Akaba was all a ruin. Repeated bombardment by French and English warships had degraded the place to its original rubbish. The poor houses stood about in a litter, dirty and contemptible, lacking entirely that dignity which the durability of their time-challenging bones conferred on ancient remains. Chapter LV page 314
For months Akaba had been the horizon of our minds, the goal: we had had no thought, we had reduced thought, on anything beside, Now, in achievement, we were a litle despising the entities which had spent their extremest effort on an object whose attainment changed nothing radical either in mind or body.

The virtuality or "mind's horizon" that was Akaba as imagined from the desert to the East, was in becoming actual in fact ruined. Consequently, there had been no transcendent unity of the imagination of the army and the body of the city. There were only cold brute facts to be despised.

In the blank light of victory we could scarcely identify ourselves. We spoke with surprise, sat emptily, fingered upon our white skirts; doubtful if we could understand or learn whom we were. Others' noise was a dreamlike unreality, a singing in ears drowned deep in water. Against the astonishment of this unmasked-for continued life we did not know how to turn our gift to account.

The gift then seemed value less, unable to be turned to account. Life continued as it was, a material extension of the desert force down to the sea. No difference in kind, Lawrence's phantasm unveiled:

Especially for me it was hard, because though my sight was sharp, I never saw men's features: always I peered beyond, imagining for myself a spirit-reality of this or that: and to-day each man owned his desire so utterly that he was fulfilled in it, and became meaningless.

The fall in intensity from the heights of the Idea of the revolt follows a multiplicity continuous with the desert geography, camels and the hungered bodies of the warriors. "Hunger called us out of our trance." For the Englishman, it is diverted into patterns ill-atuned to the nomad life:

The asiduous food-habit of a lifetime had trained the English body to the pitch of producing a punctual nervous excitation in the upper belly at the fixed hour of each meal.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a book of hunger. But is it therefore a book of lack? Much later (Chapter CIII) Lawrence reflected upon desire:

When a thing was in my reach, I no longer wanted it; my delight lay in the desire. Everything which my mind could consistently wish for was attainable, as with all the ambitions of all sane men, and when a desire gained head, I used to strive until I had just to open my hand and take it. Then I would turn away, content that it had been within my strength. I sought only to assure myself, and cared not a jot to make the others know it.

The defeat of Akaba is one of the few true thresholds in the book. The slaughter at Tafas is another. Deraa is a third. At these times, differences in kind become naked facts. Akaba is ripped apart by the entrance of the Arab army. Akaba becomes something different again in kind upon the material extension of the nomads through its walls. This is an event or threshold. The virtual is actualised violently. Lawrence states clearly that he is a seeker of limits and not of thresholds. His aim is to reach the edge of the event, assess its force, and then let the intensity fall away. Not a destruction of the different in kind, not a badly analysed composite in which material extension annihilates difference in kind, but rather a careful appreciation of it (he is foremost a writer and creator of concepts). Lawrence seeks to escape the fate of the Idea, forever in lack. His defence is the lightness of the concept. He feels the hunger of the Englishman, the conditioning of the Idea of the meal (breakfast, lunchtime, tea, dinner). But he strives to achieve a more immanent and liminal mode of desiring:

Arab hunger was the cry of a long-empty labouring body fainting with weakness. They lived on a fraction of our bulk-food, and their systems made exhaustive use of what they got.

Concepts are like this "Arab hunger". A concept borders many limits (components), setting them at ease with each other. Whereas the Idea disrupts all components, plunging them across the threshold into catastrophe . In this way the virtual can become repeatedly actualized, nomdadically carried across terrains:

There was a special attraction in beginnings, which drove me into everlasting endeavour to free my personality from accretions and project it on a fresh medium, that my curiosity to see its naked shadow might be fed. The invisible self appeared to be reflected clearest in the still water of another man's yet incurious mind. Considered judgements, which had in them of the past and the future, were worthless compared with the revealing first sight, the instinctive opening or closing of a man as he met the stranger. CHAPTER CIII, Book 9

This is the desire of the nomad (or travelling writer). A desire that extends materially, a continuous multiplicity, whilst at the same time actualizing and refreshing discontinuous multiplicities.

February 28, 2006

Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism

Follow-up to Research Notes: T.E. Lawrence and Abu Ghraib – the necessary consequences of war from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

One hundred and fifty pages into Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, with the Arabian campaign fully open, a wider and still relevant geophilosophical perspective is ever present.

In the opening chapters of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence foretells the geo-ideational forces arising when the Arab army is released from its territorial and tribal divisions, into the delirial existence of nomadic desert fighters. Contrary to the myth and the movie, many of the constituent parties of the army, accounted for meticulously in the text, were not Bedouin desert dwellers, rather having come down from the hills of the Hejaz or from the more comfortable coastal plains. This was then a new movement, breaking out of the timeless circulation of peoples and their livestock into and across the desert – a sudden and unprecedented mass carrying with it bodies from the diverse geophysical and social distributions of people into places.

As the great Arab army of Feisal embarks upon its first significant campaign, across inhospitable desert terrain, Lawrence again revisits the geo-ideational effects of the desert upon those who adapt to it. The momentum towards battle is stayed briefly with a consideration of asceticism, as exhibited by one of the many tribes within the march.

The Wahabis, followers of a fanatical Moslem heresy, had imposed their strict rules on easy and civilized Kasim. In Kasim their was but little coffee-hospitality, much prayer and fasting, no tobacco, no artistic dalliance with women, no silk clothes, no gold and silver head-ropes. Everything was forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical. p.148

A significant point in understanding Lawrence is here, in that this rejection of the will to pleasure, by a fundamentalist sect, is not posed as anti-nature. Rather, Lawrence conceives it as being immanent to the geographical, meteorological and cosmological plane in which it grows. Lawrence the map maker seeks to draw a cartography of ideation.

It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise of intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the votaries found their neighbours' beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed like the tides or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in its excess of rightness. p.148

There is, in this natural phenomenon, a desert aesthetic. The asceticism of the desert is a kind of unchecked delirium of the senses, that is to say, a movement so light and without relation that the only remaining sense is that of the movement itself, without distraction. And at the same time the movement becomes almost imperceptible, thus bearing the mind down more anxiously upon its continuation and progress. Distances are far, out on the gravel plains and in the dune fields. Looking into these horizons, the eye covers innumerable grains of reality in an instant, whilst the body traverses the distances so slowly as to become absorbed to the point of almost being part of the desert itself – just another grain of sand, but with a will to overcome casual drifting. A will all the more powerful in response to the enveloping power of emptiness and geological flow.

Seemingly it was a plain, with an illimitable view downhill to the east, where one gentle level after another slowly modulated into a distance only to be called a distance because it was a softer blue, and more hazy. p.245 Chapter XLII
The Fejr Bedouin, whose property it was, called our plain El Houl because it was desolate; and to-day we rode in it without seeing signs of life; no tracks of gazelle, no lizards, no burrowing of rats, not even any birds. We, ourselves, felt tiny in it, and our urgent progress across its immensity was a stillness or immobility of futile effort. p.246 – Chapter XLII

The nomad must, by necessity, travel with few social connections and possessions. But at the same time must enter into this plain with a single strong possession – a belief in the journey, a righteousness of the path. At the extreme, the body and its immediate functional extensions (camel, cloak, water container, dagger) becomes one of five reference points, along with the sun, the earth, the day and the night. At its most extreme, travel by day becomes impossible due to the extreme heat, and so darkness removes even the earth as a point of reference. The passage into the desert may then work to transpose the traveller from the un-fathomable chaos of urban life (a virtuality of which he will never be master), into the immense but conceivable chaos of desert (a virtuality over which skill can be obtained).

Doubtless they must recur so long as the causes – sun, moon, wind, acting in the emptiness of open spaces, weigh without check on the unhurried and uncumbered minds of the desert dwellers. p.148

A plane of immanence is found, acting as a powerful generator of distances, reducing all within it to simple principles of survival, whilst necessitating a determinism and determination the repetition of which suggests a transcendent mastery. And this suggestion of transcendence is the germ of its own death identified by Lawrence. When the tide of asceticism reaches the rocks of the urban, it becomes dissipated into a virtuality entirely different to that which made its life possible.

Earlier in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence indicates that the great wave of Arab nationalism that he helped to release would be followed by further, possibly greater, waves. Perhaps he could see that in becoming the massed nomadic war machine of Feisal's army, the force would be effected by the desert, washing back into the urban with more impact than any of the smaller recurrent tides? Perhaps even a tide that might succeed in converting the urban into a kind of desert?

A link to consider:

  • The page in Logic of Sensation in which Deleuze talks of the diagram, a great zero from which intensity "descends".
  • Francis Bacon's painting of a face with, as Deleuze says, "the distances of the Sahara" within it.

Later in Seven Pillars, Auda explains how the desert forces a kind of group interdependence:

…Auda was glad to rub into a townsman the paradox of tribe and city; the collective responsibility and group-brotherhood of the desert. contrasted with the isolation and competetive living of the crowded districts. p.256 XLIV - After retrieving Gasim from the desolate plain of El Houl

February 16, 2006

Research Notes: T.E. Lawrence and Abu Ghraib – the necessary consequences of war

I have just read the first few chapters of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, quite a stunning and vital work. The consequences of a political delusion are becoming clear in Iraq (Abu Ghraib and elsewhere). The war machine is incompatible with civil society, even if it is a necessary condition for its possibility. The logic behind these mistakes was explicitly the subject of Lawrence's book. The revolting images aired today could have come from the torture chambers of the Ottoman Empire, as easily as from the orgiastic simulation of liberated desire that is now America (as Baudrillard described just after Gulf War I). Lawrence must be studied.

A note on the myth

A failure to understand T.E. Lawrence is commonly symptomatic of a failure to understand the nature of the war machine and its incompatibility with the beaurocratic machine of civil society. He was not a leader, but rather an advisor who recognised that, given favourable conditions and a few appropriately selected techniques, a powerful idea could sweep across fronts far out of proportion to its physical force.

It was in fact the idea that was the hero of the story. And the idea was no ordinary one, but rather a special type of idea capable of taking on a life of its own. What we might today call an "abstract machine" following the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari. To see Lawrence's work as successful leadership, as the imposition of a chain of command and control, is to misunderstand both Lawrence and the war machine. Both were sucessful when they attained a velocity and immediacy requiring no such beaurocracy. Indeed they were successful only when they broke free from beaurocracy. As soon as they become sedimented, they become bored and subject to delusions and perversions. Any reading of Seven Pillars of Wisdom would render this misinterpretation impossible. Perhaps the author of this should actually read Lawrence.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

T.E. Lawrence placed himself within a nomadic war machine of the kind exclusively possessing the power to destroy regimes and constitue a new earth (nations, religions, whatever). He demonstrated just how far these forces must separate themselves from civil society in order to attain the required freedom of movement (physical, cultural and moral), and how that separation may result in extraordinary horrors and pleasures.

The relationship between the Arabs and the Turks is of critical importance. Lawrence analyses it early on in the book. The Turks represent a decaying empire. But more importantly, they stand for a machine that has no self-motivating (self-positing) idea. No one within the empire knew of a reason for the empire, other than it just seemed to always have been there. Occassionaly someone would discover a new way of making a short term gain (the New Turks for example), but that would quickly be lost in the corrupting mass. In comparison, the Arabs were capable of attaining ideas that could whip them into a frenzy. They were, Lawrence claimed, people of the idea, always making a fresh start, always looking to move into a new desert.

This is how Lawrence defines the difference between a nomadic war machine and an empire decaying into its own beaurocracy and inertia.

Is there a moral distinction? That's the big question to pose to Lawrence, who would normally be taken to favour the nomad. As a literary writer he has ambiguities. As a historian, the conclusion is simple: the empire is doomed. But the villain (whether desired subliminally or despised) is most usually the urban. In the second chapter he talks of its diseases and overcrowding. In the desert he remains inviolate. In the town he is raped. The urban sedimentation is the place in which filthy dark forces accumulate, and convoluted perversions grow: Abu Ghraib. In the desert there is no time or space for such development. Everything is essential and laid bare.

Blood was always on our hands: we were licensed to it. Wounding and killing seemed ephemeral pains, so very brief and sore was life with us. With the sorrow of living so great, the sorrow of punishment had to be pitiless. We lived for the day and died for it. p.31

The nomadic force thus became a register upon which intensities of sorrow and pleasure could rise and fall, while all the time being absorbed and dissipated internally by the unit, with no lasting effect or principle. There was simply no time for the intensities to be assigned a greater principle or meaning, other than their subservience to the idea. And the idea was itself to attain a speed of movement capable of escaping principles. As in Kant's Anticipations of Perception, judgement is at the mercy of and a product of speed.

The nomads were thus capable of becoming an abstract machine, self-motivated, self-positing, independent but at the same time forming a genuinely connected response to every and any possible experience. The nomad, for example, finds the continuation of the journey as a way of life itself. The journey is the purpose of the journey. The narrower objective being to merely keep circulating within a space that encourages the continuation of the journey, making sedimentation impossible.

Each individual nomad had his revealed religion, not oral or traditional or expressed, but instinctive in himself…The desert dweller could not take credit for his belief. He had never been either evangelist or proselyte. He arrived at this intense condensation of himself in God by shutting his eyes to the world, and all the complex possibilities latent in him which only contact with wealth and temptations could bring forth. p.41

In the interior deserts of Arabia, according to Lawrence, the Arab nomads had found a space that would keep them necessarily circulating – self-perpetuating circulation. Few customs and conditions were accumulated. There was a simple rule of hospitality, which itself shifted as required.


A war machine cannot be a police force: it is far too fast and indiscriminate. When a war machine becomes sedimented, boredom and indifference sets in, opening up room for all kinds of dark horrors to be manifested. The power of the war machine, the sophisticated and brutal weapons necessary for its speed, take those perversions to frightening degrees.

But at the same time, only a liberating force is capable of constituting the break, the new earth, from which a nation can be built. And so a war machine of some kind is necessary. This is the politicians dilemma, as it was also that of Lawrence.

We should consider, as perhaps Lawrence later did, whether the nomadic war machine (or revolutionary force) is equipped with such brutal weapons out of necessity, or as a means to develop and test tools for the decaying empire? – the revolutionary force as a threat to be held perpetually against civil society.