The Becoming-Nomad of the #Occupy Movement

This post is the second in a series of three using some concepts from the work of Deleuze and Guattari to chart some lines of flight through the #Occupy movement.

I want to deal directly here with the tension between sedentary ways of living and the figure of thought of nomadic resistance. Deleuze and Guattari argue that nomadic resistance exists outside, beyond, and in excess of the State and as a result poses a threat to the stability of the State and has the ability to make social relations otherwise. In this post, I argue that there is a dangerous tension at work between the desire in the occupy movement for sedentary territories (encampments across the country) and their mobilized potential as a nomadic war machine that can escape the reach of the state by avoiding remaining sedentary.

Let’s begin by addressing the central problematic of all of culture summed up in one remarkable word: difference. Despite our claims to the contrary, culture is not homogenous and we cannot get over or ignore difference, there is no post-race, post-class, post-sexist (this list could be so much longer) society to get to. Culture is a
heterogenous play of forces that struggles to negotiate flows of power
through and over difference. The occupy movement is one of many social movements to struggle over the way power has been distributed across
nodes of difference.

The force of their visibility comes from the State’s inability to process or create strategies to deal with the #Occupy movement in any successful way. It is a movement that emerges and reproduces like a rhizome and seems to make about as many demands as a rhizome. From the perspective of the State the movement must appear altogether perplexing. Take for example Deleuze and Guattari’s stringing of
Nietzsche and Kafka together to describe the sudden appearance of
nomads in the city:

“‘They come like fate, without reason, consideration, or pretext…’ ‘In some way that is incomprehensible they have pushed right into the capital. At any rate, here they are; it seems that every morning there are more of them.'” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 390

We can see that the bewilderment Deleuze and Guattari pick up from
Nietzsche and Kafka is likely remarkably similar to that found in the
stammering rush to justify State aggression and evictions of
protestors from their camps. The encampments in Zuccotti Park and in
Oakland, and so on, were simply not going away. At the start of the occupy movement folks smugly gave it a few days, then a week or two, then the eviction of Zuccotti would put a stop to this mess, and yet here we are and “every morning there are more of them.” However, the movement’s identity in its twitter hash tag #ows and its sense of belonging to community formed in places like Zuccotti represents its greatest liability. #OWS cannot risk becoming a sedentary movement and let the State dictate the boundaries of its cultural expression. it
cannot afford to have its identity dictated for it by geographic boundaries, instead it must reticulate the mate retrial force of those
boundaries.

Let’s parse out two terms. States are striated sedentary ways of living that plant roots and hierarchies, chains of command deliver official pronouncements that use centrifugal force to compel bodies to the center of structures of power. The nomad is cast out from the State, wandering beyond recognized culture, beyond recognition at times. Yet, they can traverse vast amounts of space and arrive in the
city “like fate, [seemingly] without reason.” The nomad is at war with
the State because they refuse to have their bodies subjected to inherently unequal systems of human relations.

Now to be clear, the majority of the folks who enter the #OWS movement
are not nomads, either in the traditional or in the Deleuzian sense. However, they are experiencing what Deleuze might call a becoming-nomad. That is to say that these geographically dispersed movements are sharing an intellectual, affective, and aesthetic
experience that need not be tied to any one place to make war with economic inequality and injustice despite geographic distances and to, at times, gain power and force because of those distances. The danger is that the movement cannot become a sedentary one. The last week has revealed some troubling questions about the exercise of free speech and protest in the United States. The clashes between police and protestors are doubly heartbreaking because they are avoidable and they have the potential to shift the conversation from income
inequality to protest rights. To be clear, we need both conversations, there is no doubt about that. However, if this movement, that is a kind of becoming-nomad, gets consumed with its right to this territory or that territory it ceases to make war with the economic injustice it
seeks to battle in the first place.

None of this is to say give up on Zuccotti or any of the other encampments, Deleuze reminds us to always have a small plot of land,
for without it we may lose our sanity. However, the occupation of these places is a tactic of confrontation that enables a making of war against economic injustice and cannot exhaust the creativity, energy, resources, and bodies of the movement. That is the strategy of the State and is the status quo. “Invest in defending your space. Pay your legal fees, pay for goods to protect you from our riot gear. Pay your taxes to buy our riot gear.” When these movements march in the lines the State provides it has become a sedentary movements and it’s creativity has been folded back into the desires of the State. At
that point little large scale social action seems plausible. All of this assumes, of course, that the becoming-nomad of #OWS can achieve some plausible social change if it presses on through the cold winter months.

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