All 6 entries tagged Nomadic
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April 03, 2006
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
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
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
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
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.
November 06, 2004
Habit! Of course the important concept in understanding Deleuze and Guattari's ethics (derived from Spinoza). Habit and habitat. The quote continues…
The English nomadize over the old Greek earth, broken up, fractalized, and extended to the universe…
…a concept is acquired by pitching one's tent, by inhabiting it, by contracting a habit. In the trinity Founding-Building-Inhabiting, the French build and the Germans lay foundations, but the English inhabit. For them a tent is all that is needed. They develop an extraordinary conception of habit: habits are taken on by contemplating and by contracting that which is contemplated. Habit is creative....We are all contemplations, and therefore habits. I is a habit. Wherever there are habits there are concepts, and habits are developed and given up on the plane of immanence of radical experience: they are "conventions". That is why English philosophy is a free and wild creation of concepts.
Habit, a creative nomadic dwelling with the concept.
Contemplation is the positing of a virtual field of incompossibles. Actuality is a path through that virtuality. A habit is the repetition of an actuality, a path through the virtual.