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The War Machine and Capitalism

The War Machine and Capitalism: Notes Towards a Nomadology of the Imperceptible
By Robert P. Marzec

[I]n Vietnam it was the culture of capitalism which played the nomadic role....the American soldier was the nomad, and not so much because he wanted to be, but because that is what the technology demanded of him....It is this nomadic movement, this production of the plateau disarticulated from all others that capitalist industry made possible in the skies of Vietnam...a boundless cushion experienced as if without limits and which produced the sense of a landscape at every point accessible, penetrable, and nonrestricted
—Herman Rapaport “Vietnam: the Thousand Plateaus”

On the one hand, war clearly follows the same movement as capitalism: In the same way as the proportion of constant capital keeps growing, war becomes increasingly a “war of matériel” in which the human being no longer even represents a variable capital of subjection, but is instead a pure element of machinic enslavement
—Deleuze and Guattari A Thousand Plateaus

Capitalism...decodes and deterritorializes with all its might
—Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus

[1] It is a decidedly dubious claim in an age when individuals and constituencies are enduring the hardships of political exile, cultural displacement, inner-city homelessness, and the unfulfillment that comes from diaspora, to promulgate nomadism as a viable alternative to structures of dominance and hegemony. The theoretical nomadic border transgression of “deterritorialization”—highly attractive to scholars in academia wishing, in part, to seek “disciplinary advancement”1 by cleverly anatomizing categories of essentialism—is of questionable merit to those forced for reasons of personal liberty, poor income, or other factors to migrate across national and geographical boundaries. It is even a more dubious claim, given the material conditions mentioned above, to champion theories of nomadism espoused by two French theorists who deploy a battery of abstruse metaphors and tropes such as “rhizome,” “Body without Organs,” “desiring-machine,” “plateau,” and “haecceity.” Still more dubious is the professing of theories that seek to advance various forms of nomadology at a moment in the development of various disciplinary fields of knowledge when “nomadism” has become not only a hot topic, but a type of vanguardism as well. Major figures such as Edward W. Said, Robert Young, Rosi Braidotti, and Frederic Jameson all have advocated, in the past decade especially, the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.2 On the other hand, not everyone has found their work to be valuable. Caren Kaplan, Christopher Norris, and Gayatri Spivak in turn have criticized their theories of nomadology, capitalism, desire, and deterritorialization as being "antihistorical," “nostalgic,” “mechanical,” a high-modernist game of “language experimentation,” and symptomatic of a “pathological disorder.”3 Depending on what discipline you prefer to call home, their nomadism may read as having very little to do with historical reality when it comes to conventional discussions of nomads in strictly anthropological and archaeological terms.4 There is no arguing that Deleuze and Guattari cultivate the concept of the nomad philosophically. Though in doing so, I do not believe that their approach mechanically condemns them to some ultimately meaningless, ahistorical play of signifiers that does not speak to the political exigencies of our current occasion. They strategically cull ideas and insights from an array of disciplines—the sciences in addition to the humanities. That this contributes to the crusade for interdisciplinarity speaks less to the fact that their terminology, though sometimes abstruse because of its disciplinary diversity, reflects a considered attempt to develop a philosophical vocabulary materially inhabiting the conditions of our present global world order—with words and phrases such as “territorialization,” "itinerancy," and “State apparatus” expressing the concrete geo-political conditions of early twenty-first-century transnationalism.

[2] Regardless of whether or not theorists advocate or oppose the nomadology of Deleuze and Guattari, most who invoke it hand over highly distilled versions of what are long and complicated texts. This structure of distillation—commodified précis incorporated for purposes of launching an analysis promptly and efficiently into its next phase—has resulted in an elision of the rich and indispensable textual unfolding of their nomadology. This is, I suggest, symptomatic of the movement of capital itself, and not just a necessary evil attributable to the onerous length of their texts. Now that Deleuze and Guattari’s nomadism has become a marketable commodity, these précis have come to contribute to a number of terminological inaccuracies currently in wide-spread use. The best example of this is their pivotal concept “deterritorialization,” which has received a great deal of attention and heavy criticism. The term is understood to signify exclusively a liberatory movement away from the demands of a centralizing polity. This reading of the term has come to be taken as self-evident, and offers “proof” for opponents of their work to conclude their entire thought to be too romantic (“Deterritorialization idealistically posits the ability to be unanchored from any specific historical obligation”). In fact, the word is used so much that it now stands as something of an equivalent for “deconstruction.” But as we can glimpse from the passages quoted at the opening of this essay, deterritorialization does not always refer to the liberatory breakdown of some sovereign territory; it can also be the most powerful tool available to an empire and the movement of its capital, as we shall see more clearly in what follows. Even proponents of their work that attend to the unfolding of the term in the texts themselves seek to pacify its complexity by asserting that we should give less attention to the many sections in their work that explore the potentials of deterritorialized “singularities” and “affects,” and focus instead on those moments when Deleuze and Guattari emphasize “unity.”5 These and other examples have made it profoundly difficult to genuinely come to terms with what their nomadology offers. This essay focuses precisely on the contradictions surrounding Deleuze and Guattari’s term deterritorialization, in the hopes of offering a sharper understanding of the differences between nomadic movement and the movement of capital.

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