“Who are our nomads today, our real Nietzscheans’?”


In a difficult to find essay published in a 1977 collection on Nietzsche, Deleuze ends his piece “Nomadic Thought” (an argument against Kant, neo-Kantianism, and the dialectic) with this wonderful point on nomads:

One final point remains to be made. Let us go back to that grand passage in The Genealogy of Morals about the founders of empires. There we encounter men of Asiatic production, so to speak. On a base of primitive rural communities, these despots construct their imperial machines that codify everything to excess. With an administrative bureaucracy that organizes huge projects, they feed off an overabundance of labor (“Wherever they appear something new soon arises, a ruling structure that fives, in which parts and functions are delimited and coordinated, in which nothing whatever finds a place that has not first been assigned and coordinated, in which nothing whatever finds a place that has not first been assigned a ‘meaning’ in relation to the whole”‘). It is questionable, however, whether this text does not tie together two forces that in other respects would be held apart – two forces that Kafka distinguished, even opposed, in The Great Wall of China. For, when one tries to discover how primitive segmented communities give rise to other forms of sovereignty – a question Nietzsche raises in the second part of The Genealogy – one sees that two entirely different yet strictly related phenomena occur. It is true that, at the center, the rural communities are absorbed by the despot’s bureaucratic machine, which includes its scribes, its priests, its functionaries. But on the periphery, these communities commence a sort of adventure, They enter into another kind of unit, this time a nomadic association, a nomadic war machine, and they begin to decodify instead of allowing themselves to become overcodified. Whole groups depart; they become nomads. Archaeologists have led us to conceive of this nomadism not as a primary state, but as an adventure suddenly embarked upon by sedentary groups impelled by the attraction of movement, of what lies outside. The nomad and his war machine oppose the despot with his administrative machine: an extrinsic nomadic unit as opposed to an intrinsic despotic unit. And yet the societies are correlative, interrelated; the despot’s purpose will be to integrate, to internalize the nomadic war machine, while that of the nomad will be to invent an administration for the newly conquered empire. They ceaselessly oppose one another – to the point where they become confused with one another.

Philosophic discourse is born out of the imperial state, and it passes through innumerable metamorphoses, the same metamorphoses that lead us from the foundations of empire to the Greek city. Even within the Greek city-state, philosophic discourse remained in a strict relation with the despot (or at least within the shadow of despotism), with imperialism, with the administration of things and people (Leo Strauss and Kojève give a variety of proofs of this in their work On Tyranny). Philosophic discourse has always been essentially related to law, institutions, and contracts – which taken together, constitute the subject matter of sovereignty and have been part of the history of sedentary peoples from the earliest despotic states to [149] modem democracies. The “signifier” is really the last philosophical metamorphosis of the despot. But if Nietzsche does not belong to philosophy, it is perhaps because he was the first to conceive of another kind of discourse as counter-philosophy. This discourse is above all nomadic; its statements can be conceived as the products of a mobile war machine and not the utterances of a rational, administrative machinery, whose philosophers would be bureaucrats of pure reason. It is perhaps in this sense that Nietzsche announces the advent of a new politics that begins with him (which Klossowski calls a plot against his own class).

It is common knowledge that nomads fare miserably under our kinds of regime: we will go to any lengths in order to settle them, and they barely have enough to subsist on. Nietzsche lived like such a nomad, reduced to a shadow, moving from furnished room to furnished room. But the nomad is not necessarily one who moves: some voyages take place in situ, are trips in intensity. Even historically, nomads are not necessarily those who move about like migrants. On the contrary, they do not move; nomads, they nevertheless stay in the same place end continually evade the codes of settled people. We also know that the problem for revolutionaries today is to unite within the purpose of the particular struggle without falling into the despotic and bureaucratic organization of the party or state apparatus. We seek a kind of war machine that will not re-create a state apparatus, a nomadic unit related to the outside that will not revive an internal despotic unity. Perhaps this is what is most profound in Nietzsche’s thought and marks the extent of his break with philosophy, at least so far as it is manifested in the aphorism: he made thought into a machine of war – a battering ram – into a nomadic force. And even if the journey is a motionless one, even if it occurs on the spot, imperceptible, unexpected, and subterranean, we must ask ourselves, “Who are our nomads today, our real Nietzscheans’?” pg 148-149

11 thoughts on ““Who are our nomads today, our real Nietzscheans’?”

      1. Two sincere apologies: the first for the wait; and a second in regards to the text. It is far less obscure that I thought! In fact, it is quite easy to find – it was republished in the Desert Islands collection of Deleuze’s writings. In the off chance that is inaccessible, here is a pdf.

  1. A Stirnerite level of engagement would do just fine, Nietzschean proselytizers are lacking the social analysis left alone capable of dismantling the spectacle and outmost enrapture by their own miserablist frustration.. they are far removed from understanding Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle’ | My take.. Nomadic Resistance Against the Culture of Oppression. Nomads are not war machines, (writing from a perspective of an actual nomadic anarchist) for me its about reclaiming Humanity for the Dehumanizing effects of Civilization & treason to Empire (whatever form it might take).

    “Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except in activity & change-in the whirring of the machine” (from ‘Reclaiming Chuang Tzu for Anarchy’ GA #17)

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