Nomadology: The War Machine – Smooth Space vs Striated Space

One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space. It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations and, more generally, to establish a zone of rights over an entire “exterior,” over all of the flows traversing the ecumenon.

This seems especially relevant today, with the technocratic desire to quantify, label, and then be able to monetise everything. Technocrats continue to sell us the vision of smooth space – that their products, their data, their dark designs, will make our lives easier and better, but that hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen, because in practice they are actually more heavily striating our lives than ever before. They believe that they can fully understand nature, the world, humanity, and individuals if only they were able to gather enough data, but our world doesn’t work like that.

Some people nowadays are too eager to criticize this numerical organization, denouncing it as a military or even concentration-camp society where people are no longer anything more than deterritorialized “numbers.” But that is false. Horror for horror, the numerical organization of people is certainly no cruder than the lineal or State organizations. Treating people like numbers is not necessarily worse than treating them like trees to prune, or geometrical figures to shape and model.

But then if that’s the way Deleuze and Guattari’s State is manifested in the current moment, then it’s worth considering what they have to say about the nomad, and see what lessons we might be able to learn from nomadology. Bear with me with this next quote, but I think it captures dichotomy of the sedentary and the nomad really well.

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. […] The nomad distributes himself in a smooth space; he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle. […] Toynbee is profoundly right to suggest that the nomad is […] he who does not move. Whereas the migrant leaves behind a milieu that has become amorphous or hostile, the nomad is one who does not depart, does not want to depart, who clings to the smooth space left by the receding forest, where the steppe or the desert advances, and who invents nomadism as a response to this challenge.

To me, this distinction between the migrant and the nomad really speaks of adaptability. Our ability to embrace true nomadism is being stifled by the State and Capital’s efforts to enclose everything, but the nomad’s strength is in clinging to the smooth spaces – perhaps the spaces the state has abandoned.

I’m a sci-fi writer, so I can’t help but think of this thread in terms of climate change, and the huge numbers of climate refugees we’re likely to see in our lifetimes. But as the State retreats to its fortresses, what opportunities might remain outside those walls for the nomad? I don’t have answers, but I think the climate nomad is a compelling figure – someone who shuns the striated spaces of the State and instead seeks to reterritorialize the spaces left behind.

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