Reading 2.3 - Nomadology: The War Machine (Deleuze and Gautarri)

Source: Author

Is there a benefit to not locking ourselves down to a primary academic or professional discipline? What if a well-meaning focus on one particular school of thought deceptively limits our minds and abilities?

The game of chess, while admittedly complex and highly challenging to master, involves game pieces that are firmly categorized. A rook can move only horizontally or vertically. A bishop gets some diagonal abilities. Kings are necessarily more constrained then their female counterparts. All pieces exist within a framework of rigid rules. This structure creates a game where each space on a game board is coded — only certain pieces can hold each space at risk at any one time. Each piece is used according to its function and a good player exploits the strengths of each piece to maximize their ability to project power anywhere on the board.

Wei Chi (“go” in western parlance) thinks of space on a game board in a different way. With far simpler rules, Wei Chi uses only one piece (a stone) to sequentially territorialize a board. Rather than spaces having a clear coding based on the abilities of pieces, the board itself grows or diminishes in influence over time based on the placement of stones. In this way, a Wei Chi board could be thought of as a smooth space that is open to nearly limitless possibilities while a chessboard is a striated space that can only be used according to the categories of the pieces. Deleuze and Gautarri (D&G) use this chess/Wei Chi analogy to describe their idea of Nomadology. Rather than being constrained to categories of thought as in chess, the nomad operates like a Wei Chi board, moving without boundaries, creating and abandoning territory at whim.

It turns out that such a loose lifestyle is disconcerting to more sedentary individuals. Most of us like to operate in our comfort zones (academically, professionally, socially…) and find it difficult to constantly operate outside accepted norms. D&G show how this penchant for constrained/categorized thought and behavior tends to create political systems that resist change or outside intervention through a process which they term a machine. Contrasted with a machine is their (confusingly named) concept of the war machine. It’s through this vehicle that the political nomads of the world resist the status quo and facilitate change. What was once a war machine though, can eventually become a standard machine that works to protect and insulate a system from further change (in which case a nomad has become sedentary). Such a war machine might be seen in revolutionary thought that creates a new academic discipline but that, over time, begins to morph into a standard machine that seeks to protect the new discipline from change.

D&G’s aim (though they would probably take issues with anyone saying that they have a specific aim) is to encourage nomadic thought that is highly interdisciplinary, constantly willing to change, and never beholden to a certain foundational perspective. The practical implications of these ideas find greatest use in the areas of critical and creative thought as well as synthesis of perspectives. While a counterargument can be made that such a nomadic perspectives avoids the necessary (and important!) work of becoming an expert in a specific field, there is certainly a lot of merit to encouraging more nomads in the world.