Notes on: Miller, C. (1993) The Postidentarian Predicament in the Footnotes of A Thousand Plateaus: Nomadology, Anthropology, and Authority. Diacritics 23(3) pp 6--35

Dave Harris

Identity seems to be an important category in cultural studies [which includes French anthropology]. There is increasing consensus that identities are negotiated rather than natural, ‘contingent, constructed, and imagined’ (6). Some anthropologists are even working with notions of fluid space with identity as a relation or gap within them.

The very concept of identity has also been challenged as producing ‘identitarian’ thinking, with echoes of 'totalitarian'. Butler in Gender Trouble repudiates all discrete identities, for example. The same might be said for rigid notions of difference and any other binary. Even Said, who used to work with the notion of Orientalism now opposes binaries. Fixed identities can even be oppressive. However, this critique produces its own problems — no new paradigms seem to be immediately available.

The deleuzian notion of nomad thought might be such an alternative. The blurb to ATP refers to the possibilities of an individuality free of the notion of identity, based on difference in itself. AO attacked the Freudian underpinnings of psychiatry and challenged Western metaphysics itself. The immediate relevance to anti colonialism [the theme of this issue] can be seen in the frequent references to colonisation in that book. ATP could be seen as offering a positive alternative in nomad thought — even Massumi in his own user’s guide, argues against fixed identity as an important element of capitalism. Recently, ATP has become influential in the USA.

Massumi’s own work suggests that nomad thought offers a multiplicity of heterogeneous elements which are affirmed. Deleuze and Guattari accumulate and synthesise, and this can make their work look rather similar to some of the older models. There is the usual paradox as well that nomad thought cannot just simply negate non-nomad thought. It must be a part of nomad thought instead.

However, if it is that open and can embrace even approaches that are incompatible, without negation, how does it work? The question might be to try to define something that is definitely not nomadic thought. We can see that it’s somehow connected to smooth space or rhizomatic modes of thought which can be contrasted to their opposites, but what happens when the these opposites are included in nomadic thought itself? How can the rules and distinctions of arborescent  thought persist inside a nomadic system. The whole point of using nomadic thought is a critique is to imply that older models are now redundant or negated. No problems if the whole thing has revolutionary intent, but ‘it is the claim not to negate that is problematic’ (9). [Is it?Incorporating arborescent thought into an overall system at least denies the universal self-suffiiciency of arborescence?]

Perhaps nomadology  should be seen as a new orthodoxy after all, only judged by its own criteria. Massumi again insists otherwise, and in the process insists that the whole approach is ‘prescriptive not referential’ [later rendered as something virtual, not actually tied to anything concrete]. Despite this, Miller intends to restate some of the referentials, especially to argue that ‘the human has not disappeared at all’

ATP is ‘elusive and quirky’, not easily pinned down. Any contradiction, for example will be met by denying that the terms are sufficient, and a departure on another line of flight. Massumi actually says that we can understand this as a sidestep. However, despite that, critique can proceed by showing that there are still dynamism is foreign to nomadology itself, usually displayed in the footnotes, all 68 pages of them. Miller intends to focus particularly on the references to anthropology.

The notes represents an ‘archive of nomad thought’. It is ‘overwhelmingly academic’, with little reference to popular texts like graffiti or recipe books, television shows, although there are some snippets of popular culture. There is no direct quotation from African or Asian sources — but then nomads never represent themselves, but must be represented — that is why nomadic enquiry is really a form of anthropology after all, fully recognisable to anyone investigating oral culture [and with all the methodological problems]. Nevertheless, ATP is primarily understood as ‘a work of European “high” counterculture’ (10), reflecting open ‘no more and no less what can be learned in the libraries and bookstores of Paris’

What about the relation to real or actual nomads? There is none. D and G themselves talk of the nomads together with their intellectual fellow travellers, acknowledged in the opening remark about being members of the crowd. They say we are not to attribute the book to a subject, which renders D&G as ‘a force of nature associated with the Earth itself’. We do not need any actual nomads — D&G themselves display nomadic thought, something free-floating, non-referential, having no permanent home. ‘It is an intellectual nomadism and a nomadism for intellectuals’. It is to be set against traditional representational disciplines especially conventional anthropology.

We can see this with the notion of becoming as a version of identity that involves a process of osmosis with other entities, designed deliberately to resist dominant forms of representation. Patton is another who assures us that nomadism is nonrepresentational, lying outside of that domain, and Muecke insists that we do not need anthropological definitions.

This nonrepresentational free nomadology works as a rhizome, connecting any point to any other point, a true multiplicity. However, there are hints that this notion is grasped better in the East, while arborescence has dominated Western reality. However, it is not sure what we should do about arborescence — destroy it, disbelieve it? But what should we do if arborescence still seems to dominate a lot of thought [Miller represents this as asking ‘but what if (a) they [trees] are there, or (b) a large segment of humanity thinks they are there?’ (11)]

The nonrepresentational notion of nomadology is important in its potential for cultural critique, allowing critics to stand outside the domains involved, it also means there is no need to represent actual nomads who might actually have something to say. It permits D and G to develop a whole global theory of nomadism covering a wide range of people, while ‘commenting authoritatively’. Actually, there are only 13 sources that refer to real nomads. All is well as long as the theory is completely nonrepresentational.

Deleuze and Guattari do indulge in anthropology, usually citing ‘the sources most aligned with their own discourse’. Those sources usually cite ethnographic works. One example is Virilio referring to life as a form of speed, and nomadism as something abstract, but other sources, in the same volume, do refer to specific peoples [so overall the collection claims an authority, I think the argument is]. In another example, there is a teasing notion of referential reality. The author, White, insists that nomadism exists still as a form of nostalgia, and asserts that nomads do not have personal identities. But this is based on anthropology, and this work ‘appears to lend authenticity and reliability’ to White’s project, even though the substance of the anthropology is left largely unexamined. This is a ‘semi-assimilation of anthropology’ (12) which characterises ATP generally

On the face of it, there should be tensions between anthropology and nomadology, since anthropology interprets all sorts of data and facts into cultural systems, makes oral cultures open to written accounts, and suppresses ‘noises and privilege’. It is thus striated. In its efforts to build ‘cross-cultural understanding through relativism’ anthropology claims to represent those who do not present themselves to the Western reader [another form of building a border, Miller insists], and in the process claims ethnographic authority, ‘a power that is invented and claimed through discourse’ (13). This was often supported by state power, with the intention of governing as well as understanding.

What about post-modern nonrepresentational anthropology? ATP anticipates its development and underpins it. ATP offers a critique of traditional ethnography, in some ways anticipating people like Clifford or Geertz. Ethnographers are accused of taking snapshots and for perpetuating things like evolutionism, or subscribing to the ‘”ethnological dream”’ of self-sufficient primitive communities. However, this does not lead to a thoroughgoing critique and wholesale discrediting [Miller’s example would be Derrida on grammatology]. Instead they claim to have just established some clean break with those assumptions.

As a result, ATP appears to offer fairly ‘old-fashioned’ ethnography [Miller offers alternatives in the work of Tyler, which apparently is fully non-referential]. D and G actually borrow from anthropological sources and also make anthropological statements themselves. This runs the risk of making nomadology rather arborescent after all — it risks being seen as rooted in ‘a violently representational, colonial ethnography’. We return to the claim that such approaches might still be capable of being enclosed somehow within nomadological thought [my own view is that they use such ethnography ‘without objective illusions’, so to speak,although only in principle really].

There are lots of references to anthropologist like Lévi-Strauss or Clastres. Most of these seem to have come from a particular journal (L’Homme) in the 1960s. It would be possible to offer a systematic reading of how these sources would be treated, although this could easily be dismissed as arborescent. Instead, there are more obscure and outdated sources also used, and these clearly lead away from nomadology.

Before mentioning any sources, there is a massive project which requires ethnographic authority — their ‘whole endeavour creates a need to make assertions about cultures around the world’ (14). This is most apparent with chapter 5 on the regimes of signs. This requires talking about different semiotic systems in particular cultures, but the authors spend some time denying that they are representing cultures. They claim to be offering pragmatics instead, denying the universality of language. Nevertheless, universalisms appear — the implication of ‘the capitalist and logocentric West’, with pathologies of signifiance and interpretation. This is ‘powerfully generalizing if not Universalizing’. Statements refer to things ‘that must occur always and everywhere within this regime’. The almost total use of the ‘global present tense’ indicates this. They offer a list of four regimes of signs, which they later admit is arbitrary. The regimes are really structured as three alternatives to the dominant signifying regime. As they proceed, they come across the classic anthropological problem of characterising the other. There are hints of the 1960s fascination with Eastern religion and culture.

The alternatives are described as the primitive pre-signifying regime, operating with almost natural codings rather than signs. D and G strangely use ‘protective devices like quotation marks’ and phrases like ‘so-called’ (14). The primitive regime offers polyvocal forms and relative deterritorialization, but is somehow ‘”animated by a keen pre-sentiment of what is to come”’, which makes it able to combat the state without fully understanding it. ‘These characteristics are tremendously loaded’ (16) [note that pages 15 and 29 contain photographs, no text]. The unmistakable background is studies of colonized people interacting with colonizers. There are hints of a colonial tactic to suggest that native thought is something that Western interpreters must make explicit.

The second alternative offers counter signifying semiotic expressed by nomads, especially warrior nomads in the war machine, people like the Hyskos or the Mongols. The description actually begins with some apparently rigorous and specific distinction between nomads who raise animals and those who hunt, although there is no source for this. The third alternative is the post-signifying regime based on subjectification, ‘which is not explained’ [well, it is, but in a very abstract way like in the Plateau on faciality]. This regime is characterized by things like planes of consistency, or abstract machines with positive lines of flight and deterritorialization, but this ‘sounds a lot like an ethical utopia’. Apparently, any number of multiplicities with any number of dimensions can coexist. Overall, ‘it is clear that the four regimes are not ethically equal’, and our heroes obviously favour ‘polyvocal, multiplicity, pluralism, and coexistence’. Miller sees these as ‘an unexceptional and unexceptionable set of criteria’.

These regimes are supposed to be rather artificially isolated examples. They insist they do not want to privilege one regime over another. They reject evolutionism, and even history. Overall, there is much effort to ward off the kind of critical reading being pursued here. For example, they deny that they should be seen as anthropologists: they admit their list is arbitrarily limited, they are not saying that regimes are the same as actual peoples, they admit that there are mixtures with only relative forms of dominance, content might mix with different regimes of signs, pre-signifying elements are always active, semiotic systems depend on assemblages, they are offering only to map regimes of signs which can be used in different forms of analysis. This might be seen as a prefiguring of post-modern ethnography, the assertion of freedom over the limits of representation. However, the emphasis on assemblages seems to align them with more moderate forms as with Clifford, that are becoming commonplace [a continuing sneer at D and G originality]: that suggests that culture arises from shared questions rather than predetermined beliefs, and therefore features a necessary dynamic tension. D and G argue that one semiotic might be predominant, but that configurations change. However, this is far from abandoning representation and legibility in favour of ‘pure complexity and incoherence’. The point is to show how a cartography exhibits manipulation. [But Miller thinks the notion of the assemblage ‘is an eminently clear and reasonable one’].

Their caution has not helped them escape from the ‘mortal and dangerous world of representation’. They still offer all sorts of contents judgements and characterizations. The only complication arises from the authors' own ambivalence and from the claim of interpreters and commentators that they are opposing representation. The notion of a mixed assemblage helps them ‘constantly to hedge their bets, to posit identities while keeping identity and realism at bay’ [I have identified many weasels myself. Miller chooses the one about Jewish specificity which is somehow immediately affirmed in a semiotic system but at the same time is still mixed, as much as any other]. Overall there is a tension between their expressed intentions and what they actually do — they cannot avoid situating the ‘primitive’ regime prior to a full signifying regime. Thus they ‘reproduce an extremely familiar evolutionary scheme’ (18) to link the dominant regime in the first alternative. This alludes to their overall ‘primitivism’. The second scheme offers a much more complex account of war machines, which requires a great deal of exposition: here, it simply raises the issue of sources for their views about the differences between nomads, for example.

In the chapter on regimes of signs, D and G specifically quote two anthropologists and their authority [the example is the differences between Crow and Hopi men and thus between nomadic hunters and sedentaries]. They then go on to gloss the work by referring to Lévi-Strauss, who actually is the most frequently cited: he has also referred to an autobiography of a Hopi chief. They then go even further to make some general observations, speaking ‘with their own authority’ (19). They have no information of their own, but they have ‘borrowed ethnographic authority’ via ‘free indirect speech’, which Miller argues is ‘one of the most powerful modes of anthropological discourse’. Clifford argues that such speech was used in describing beliefs in which the writer could somehow detect ‘”the voice of culture”’, the culture of the other. In D and G, the work harmonises with Lévi-Strauss but also ‘winds up speaking as if they, Deleuze and Guattari, either were in total control of Hopi thought or were Hopi themselves’. They have borrowed from anthropology and achieved ‘a mind meld with an alien people’.

It is an essential procedure when describing assemblages, at least those with regimes of signs, to rely on ethnographic and anthropological information. This is just appropriated. It must be incorporated if a suitably wide-ranging work is to be achieved. But the appropriation involves taking liberties both in the choice of sources and how they are used. [Because they refute anthropology, they also refuse any discussion of sources and use?]. Actual examples of using information only heightens the basic incompatibility between the philosophical position and the status of anthropology.

D and G have great faith in anthropologists even if they sometimes correct the data [the example is the confident summary of Leach on sorcery. Actually, says Miller, Leach does not talk about sorcerers as such, and indeed criticizes apparently universal definitions. D and G on the other hand assert that there must be ‘a unified, transcultural, trans historical entity that can be called “the” sorcerer’ (20). They eschew the notion of authority, they deny it, and in effect prefer to think of it as something coercive, with which they wish to have no contact, being beyond their means.

They are dependent on the ethnographies of someone else and this has obvious problems of authority and reliability. After all, anthropology has a particular condition — ‘colonialism and its project of controlling by knowing’. The situation is compounded by the ‘kaleidoscopic logic of their writing’; ‘By virtue of being so wilfully peripatetic, the authors risk superficiality and imprecision’, when it comes to specific cases.

There is one particularly egregious example, still in chapter 5. This refers to the introduction of monetary signs in Africa. This is important but highly specific. In the footnotes, they referred to white people introducing money to the ‘Siane of New Guinea’, but this is apparently a mistake, [confusing Guinea with New Guinea]. Perhaps this does not matter, perhaps it is a result of deterritorialized logic. Perhaps it is because nomad thought does not particularly focus on any ordered case or territory. But this risks making Deleuze and Guattari look ‘literally indifferent to the interiorities within which many people live’ (21). We are left with no guidance on how to study these interiorities. There might even be an indication of ‘a certain cosmopolitan arrogance’. The general problem will be to account for the ‘inscribed or projected reality’ of cultural constructs. Their mistake in locating New Guinea either shows a lack of specific knowledge or an ignorance of geography.

D and G try to absolve themselves from questions like these. They say they consider models only to arrive at some underlying process that would challenge all models. In this process, inexact expressions are unavoidable. They are necessarily pursuing particular fictions but these are temporary. Nomadic thought ‘gains a certain immunity from critique, because it is not of the dualisms and petty factoids that it cites in passing’. Thus ‘New Guinea’s loss may be nomadology’s gain’ [fuck actual people, let’s do philosophy].

One problem is that the information about Africa and African nomadology nearly all stems from colonialism. We can see this in the discussion of becoming animal which is associated with primitive sign regimes. Becoming animal is both ‘totally idiosyncratic and firmly rooted in ethnographic literature’. They start their exposition with a simple statement of belief in becomings animal. Then they argue that people like Lévi-Strauss have indeed seen this phenomenon but have misunderstood it. We are told that becomings animal are perfectly real. They are always associated with multiplicities like packs. Moby Dick is said to be the becoming whale of Captain Ahab [I thought that was dodgy at the time], and there are connections with becoming woman and minoritarian politics. Jardine is right to say that the apparent sympathy with feminism actually incorporates quite stereotyped genders and images, and may even imply that women are actually becoming obsolete [I also like her argument that femininity has been hijacked by post-modernists and poststructuralists as the irrational outside of binaries and so on]. Even ordinary women have to become woman. The subject that is implied begins with ‘plural individualism’ but rapidly turns into ‘a singularised quasi-allegorical condition’ (22). [In the spirit of Jardine] ‘becoming is a masquerade for white male majoritarian humans to play; it is a form of exoticism’.

Becoming animal depends on anthropological texts, at least after a lot of freewheeling prose referring to things like the film Willard, or the work of Jung. Again it will end in them claiming some ethnographic authority. They cite as an authority Dumezil, arguing in a footnote that his work explains notions like leopard- man societies as a form of becoming animal. Lévi-Strauss is added to the mix as well. Then they make statements of their own based on these readings. It’s necessary to note that the work originally focused on real and actual people and places, real examples of becomings animal. They also cite some odd sources, including one published in 1955 [Joset on leopard men ] written at the height of colonialism: Joset was not a professional ethnographer but an administrator. The book is ‘full of sensational and lurid tales’, even though it is endorsed by an eminent French ethnographer (Griaule). His preface makes it clear that Joset was centrally involved in pacification of a particular African movement, the Kitawala, a ‘”decentralized and Africanized version of the Watch Tower”’. Joset was involved in one particular effort at suppression, so there is a contradiction between citing him and drawing upon a more general anticolonial anti-authoritarian movement. Joset went on to become an authority on secret societies in Africa: his book specifically proposes that colonial governments should use anthropological research to eliminate them, and this is characteristic of a lot of anthropology of the period. A further implication is that becoming animal in this case led to killing people. Overall, ‘This is characteristic of Deleuze and Guattari’s happy–talk revolution: the benefits are advertised in the text; the bodies are hidden, not even in the footnotes, but in the original source material’ (23).

Joset also relied heavily on indirect speech, but his work was evidently designed to present ‘a cornucopia of horrors’. He not only stayed with the locals, but went out with soldiers to hunt leopard men, extracting confessions. The main thrust of his thought was to argue that their acts were real. This supports Deleuze & Guattari on the point that becoming animal is real, not something imaginary, and that magical or religious practices can become political in the face of colonialism, but Deleuze and Guattari reporting some sort of continual political character is less well supported. It is still odd to find Deleuze and Guattari relying on Joset — for Miller it is ‘a piece of anthropological kitsch’ (24). Their boldness and willingness to make assertions based on a few examples is what they are pragmatics of nomadology actually amounts to.

Other anthropologists are cited, with better credentials, including De Heusch, linked to Lévi-Strauss, who worked on systems of myth, conceptual structures, using classic structuralist approaches. The scientistic and universalistic promises structuralism produced ‘a kind of ethnographic authority that is now considered dangerous’. D and G use de Heusch’s categories without any question, although they do twist his conclusions to make them fit nomadology: in one case, ‘particular and localized myths’ about men of war turn into ‘a hyper- generalized, perhaps universal “man of war”’, another example of the process ‘of inflation and generalization’. There is also another account collected into a ‘dossier’ which openly celebrates nomadism, including romantic memories of herding sheep, or celebrating transhumance. The articles contain substantial generalizations, supporting general philosophical statements by referring to particular practices of weaving. Nomadic weaving, apparently, featured no ‘figurative representation’, although there is some ambiguity about whether movement itself was represented. It is ‘the affinity between this article and ATP [that] makes it a logical source for Deleuze and Guattari’ (25): it combines the results of field research with philosophical analysis, and connects nomadism to some apparent impasse of Western perceptions of art. Here we see a ‘utopia of undividedness that has so often characterized Western thought about Africa’: nomads somehow connect with smooth space, but ‘the making–empty of that space is a classic gesture of primitivism’. In the dossier, nomads are ‘pure’, never appropriating the spaces they cross. In Deleuze and Guattari concepts have to be pure in order to be useful, ‘But in order to remain pure [they have] to be “non-actual”’. There are other sources on African nomadism that seem to question this pure notion of the nomad — one shows that ‘nomads are great appropriators, slave owners, and territorializers in their own way’. They can even own land, which might be ancestral territory, and this helps them define their identity.

Deleuze and Guattari could remain at the pure level and just do philosophy, but they also want to mix their pure ideas with actual information. Any attempt to spell out a descriptive account inevitably leads back to the realm of the actual. Readers will have to decide whether the pure concept is more valuable than this [flawed] account of actuality.

Another source is the work of a certain P. Hubac also displaying ‘dated and dubious anthropology’, that tells us more about the author’s vision of exotics than about the Other. Hubac’s view is similar to D and G, but it is only mentioned once, and that with some criticism. Nevertheless its discourse is similar to that of D and G.

Nomadology involves the problem of war, and the nomad is a warrior both for Hubac and D and G. Both see the origin of nomadism in a sedentary state, and their relation with the sedentary as a parasitical one. Algerian Arab nomads also carried out raids on sedentary communities, so war became a monopoly and a major art form. Hubac romanticizes his view with ‘nostalgia for fresh air’, the pure and healthy area of the desert. The recently sedentary still have a kind of hereditary memory of nomadism, and so they retain nomadic aspects themselves. Hubac uses the term 'war machine' to describe nomadic organization. Of course, successful warriors may then become domesticated, dominated by bureaucratic writing. The ‘ethics of flow’ are celebrated by Hubac in contrast to settled constructions such as the nation state. The paradox remains that peaceful coexistence is an effect of a war machine, and Hubac concludes that peace is only really propaganda, that nomad tolerance and a promise to liberate the oppressed is a classic tactic ‘designed to soften the resistance of sedentary communities’ (27). [I saw something of this in Game of Thrones!]

For D and G, the war machine is identified with nomads. Their discussion has ‘strong resonances with Hubac’, and some of their thoughts are very similar. They do not agree that nomads got their weapons from renegade sedentaries, however [Hubac apparently thought sedentary societies were the only places where humans learned to ride horses]  since the war machine just arises necessarily from nomadic organization for them. They agree that the state borrows war from the nomads, and that states striates space. However their discourse is more general than Hubac’s and they want to talk about thought itself, and how the state domesticates nomadic  thought or interiorises it: there is no nostalgia, but rather a more positive desiring machine. Nomadology is an assemblage. Scribes and bureaucrats are also a major threat, however. The ethic of flow for D and G is different: flow is both abstract and real. Flows cannot be represented directly but only by ‘indexes on a segmented line’(29), although, characteristically, lines and indexes exist only by virtue of flow. Only nomads are people of the flow, only they established deterritorialization as a fundamental relation to the Earth.

Both texts show total sympathy for nomadism, to restore them to history. However, the nomads of ATP end up as mere ‘historical metaphors’ — they say themselves that they only bang on about nomads because they wanted to talk about war machines, and nomads are less important than the earth itself which deterritorializes and offers smooth spaces. It’s not clear that there are any examples of nomadism or war machines that have not been subordinated to states. The idea that the nomad promotes war to reassure the sedentary finds an echo in the war machine associated with state capitalism, that seems to offer peace. For the authors, war may not be such a good thing either, especially with the growing strength of war machines. Of course, this is only appropriated war machines — the unappropriated versions are associated with lines of flight, smooth spaces and the rest, ‘innocent war, war without war as its object, a war in the name of flow’. There is no suspicion that this might itself be a form of misleading tactics as above. Indeed, the whole of ATP might be suspected like this. The nomad war machine doesn’t actually kill people, it seems, but this again is not a central philosophical problem for D and G. It is easier for Hubac, with actual examples. He is more honest. Absorbing his work into the general treatise on nomadology alters this grasp of reality. It is another example of D&G omitting violence and death, it is ‘sanitized’ material, it benefits happy nomadology.

This problem of representing war is part of a more general problem. Representation is questioned, but the footnotes offer lots of representational material. Perhaps this is so common that it undermines the whole claim that ATP is about pure multiplicities [advanced early in Plateau 1] . We might expect instead some rhizomatic variation on the arborescent footnotes, but there is in fact very little critical engagement with the conventional representational material. Instead, there is more a programme of absorbing and surpassing this material. The practice of footnoting itself indicates that the referential research is to be taken seriously, and it underpins their authoritative statements. They deny that they seek a grounding, but they let these materials give their own work ‘the appearance of rigour and grounding’ (30).

Perhaps it is just a game, played for laughs, but the conventional work is partially reproduced with all its assumptions. Primitivism should have been thoroughly rebuked as ‘hierarchical, evolutionary, arborescent’, but D and G use the term in an ambivalent or perhaps confused way. They do sometimes employ distancing quotation marks, they can appear to deny conventional uses, but ‘in the vast majority of cases, the authors use the term in an unreconstructed and authoritative fashion’ (30 – 31). It is used frequently. Miller thinks that it often implies a direct description of people. It is supposed to be transformed or cancelled out by nomadology, but culturalist content remains attached to the category.

Later commentators have tried to use Deleuze and Guattari on nomadology. Pietz sees Africa as an allegory of the BwO, something immense and unorganized. This analysis claims to refer to the European image of Africa, but it still fails to break with primitivism. ‘These authors need Africa to be primitive’, if it is to be a place rather than just an idea. Thus Pietz refers to preliterate savages which can nevertheless pursue a group line of flight to break with representation altogether, and this ‘instinctively and unconsciously’ sets a precedent for European thinkers. But  ‘only the Europeans will know what has happened and why’ (31), and overall, primitivism has been reinvented.

D and G are aware of lots of ironies and impasses in their work and celebrate them. Thus they argue that even rhizomes can have their own forms of despotism and hierarchy, but this doesn’t matter because they are not making ontological or axiological distinctions and dualisms. They claim to be building a model that is always provisional, a process that perpetually prolongs itself rather than another dualism [Parnet’s critique of Deleuze’s binaries in Dialogues is good here]. The dualism leads to a process that challenges all models, as in the famous formula that pluralism equals monism. Yet this work is not done with the issues of primitivism and ethnographic authority. This general disclaimer is not made specific. Acknowledging irony in their writing does not deal with the consequences.

The final problem in the discussion of nomadology concerns whether it’s possible to extricate thought from a state model. Much of the analysis suggest not, but ATP wants to say there is a way, through nomad thought itself. Their work on nomadology is good as critique, but the discussion incorporates many arguments that they seem abhor. Perhaps the means justifies the end, but this, of course, is utilitarian logic.

The persistence of these problems does not invalidate the entire project, but it is a caution for those who want to see nomadology as an entirely free and new perspective that will move beyond identity. Some who embrace nomadology imagine that they are free of ‘coercion, primitivism, and “interpretosis”’ (32), and that they will usher in some future where oppression will be unthinkable — but ‘rhizomes can colonize as well as trees’[Miller cites a botanical text on how bamboo rhizomes colonise territory]

Nomadology can support almost anything. Perhaps we should try to do better than D and G did when representing foreign cultures. Nomadology might have a use in describing the realism of cyberpunk novels [apparently something Stivale does], or referring to intercontinental movements of computer impulses. It might help grasp video art experiments, or electronic media. It might help cultural studies move beyond identity and politics. But in ATP itself, the dream is limited by its apparent need to cite actual examples. Its promise might lie in its virtuality, but that virtuality is heavily compromised.

Perhaps we need something less arrogant and less utopian, something like ‘a positive cosmopolitanism’ (33) that remains aware of localities and differences. It would have to face up to the consequences of representational authority, rather than ‘pretending to have no authority at all’. Perhaps turning such cosmopolitanism into knowledge would face fewer contradictions and unintended consequences. As it is, if we let our dream of smooth space and flow remain rooted in the fantasies of the non-Western world, some ‘”Orient of rhizomes and immanence”’ [D and G quote?], we will ‘inevitably replicate primitivism’. We might embrace nomadology, but this does not absolve us from reflecting upon the actual world. We need to deepen our capacity to understand actual divisions even as they shift and reform. We need to think beyond the borders rather than ‘simply pretending that they don’t exist: when faced with the forest, we should not simply declare that we don’t “believe in trees”’

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