Blesok no. 39, November-December, 2004
House/Threshold-Horizon: Nomadic Experience
The image of the title of this essay indicates to one of the many dichotomies that cut though the human experience. The image of the sedentary man who stands in front of his home, his cosmos and fears the big unknown, what can endanger him, from there. This image dominates the human collective subconscious, because, as Gilles Deleuze is right, the history has been written from a sedentary aspect. This image, as we will see below, lasts: from the ancient Greeks, who created the discourse citizen/nomad, that is civilization/barbarity, until recently, when, burdened, but also justified by the modernist myth, the states take measures that concern billions of citizens, for some for better, but for most for the worse. In the lines that follow we will review the dichotomy sedentariness/nomadism, from the aspect of the fascination with the nomadism that starts with Nietzsche onwards, and which, it seems, will dominate, at least with the theoretical discourse, we will locate the tension of the binarism, but we will also indicate the authors who proclaim “impure” positions. The technique that is used for writing of this essay is misanabim, and the method is browsability: 90 Google pages have been browsed with “nomadism” as a key word, and 1,000 typed pages of junk material have been reviewed. The best material has been robbed, de-re-con/structed and built in the essay as stolen authorship.
The image of the nomad in the western imagery is that he is uncivilized, irrational, destructive, a-cultural. For Hegel, and later for Horkheimer and Adorno, he is “the man in a natural state”. Friedrich Nietzsche considers the nomad an inhabitant of the desert where there is no centre, and everything is equidistance, because the nomad is in a continuous movement. There is history in the desert, no trails and development, the borders between the nature and culture and between the reality and fantasies are lost. Nietzsche says that the nomad and the state are two opposite things that can join only by nature.
This discourse origins from Ancient Greece. Nomadism, as Neal Asherson notes, was opposed to the Greek city-state patriotism that was built on home-love, continuity, inhabitance. The Athenians insisted that they were “autochthonous” – biologically rooted in their place of living. According to Francois Hartogue it is not difficult to foresee that the discourse of autochthonousness was invented to create the representation of the nomadism and that the Athenians, that imaginary autochthonous being, had the need of a nomad with the same level of imaginariness. The Schytians just perfectly fit in the landscape. Then, facing the danger of Persia, the Greek tragedians invented the Barbarians. As Asherson states, some even concluded that the Schytians and all “Asians” resembled each other physically, while the “Europeans” had big differences in their size and figure, from one city to another. The Barbarians were homogenous; the civilized people were various and different.
Nomad comes from the Greek word “nomos”, meaning attack and it concerns the people who move with their animals. Jeannine Davis-Kimball connects the pastoral nomadism with horse riding and locates it in the need of horses around the southern centers of the Aechmenidan Empire. The nomadic region is defined by the kurgans (grave tombs), because the nomads returned to the same places where they buried their dead. The Euro-Asian steppes are considered a typical nomad territory and they star with Moldova via Ukraine and southern Russia, the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan, south Siberia, west Mongolia and west China. The bigger nomadic gravesites are in the inter-fluvial land of the Dnieper and Dniester rivers, the deltas of Amu Darya, Syr Darya, Don, Volga, Samara and Ural.
Mathew Roller thinks that nomadism does not mean a complete detachment from land, and that there are cultural remains of the nomadic stay everywhere, especially in the places that were used as shelters, for example caves such as the ones found in the mountains of Carmel in Palestine and Shanidar in Iraq. It is more difficult to find locations in the open: such as Tell Kom and Tell Umm Tlel complex in Syria. Thus, nomads are not wonderers without a place, but they have several different locations at the same time. Nomadism, according to Roller is not culturally dynamic, because the contacts with others are small due to the dynamism of the group. Roller thinks that the prehistoric nomadism is different than the historical one because it does not stay around the urban centers.
Mathew Roller dates the first sedentariness in the Middle Stone Ages with the growth of cultural dynamism, social changes, constant building of the same cottages, and big collective graveyards. The big residential conglomerates and the monumental public architecture is dated by Roller around 3,200 years bc, that is, to the city of Uruk in northern Iraq. The cities have some organic growth with a certain functional socio-political structure that is clearly indicated with a perimeter in a shape of city walls. The city as an organism is bigger than the collection of individuals and has several features: functional, and not personal solidarity, culture, professional profiles, hierarchy, etc. The city later develops into a state.
But, Herodotus, as Asherson finds, thought of the nomadism more as of a military strategy, then a way of life, which is opposite to the Greek settlements. It is a technique with which the weak becomes stronger than the oppressor: by dispersing, de-centering, by fast movement though the space. Instead of stopping and fighting, they withdraw in their endless country leading the enemy inside until he starves or falls into despair. As Hartogue says, they turn over the normal situation, turn the pursuer into the pursued. Instead of defending the city walls from the conquerors, the Schytians simply disperse. The elite, slow moving infantry of king Darius of Persia in 512 bc was in this way outsmarted by the Skits. Frustrated, Darius was forced to withdraw and leave the Schytians undefeated.
According to Asherson, the nomadic pastoralism was not a “primitive” state. On the contrary, moving the big herds of domestic animals twice per year, towards the north in the summer periods and to the south again, in the winter, needs horses and big skills in horse riding. It needs wheels, when the population migrates with the cattle with carts or carriages. This way of life needs various types of craftsmen or specialists, much more than the sedentary agriculture. And all of this could not be moved without a central leadership prepared to make fast and effective decisions in urgent cases. This urgency could be economic – a valley where they usually stayed, destroyed by a draught or a flood – and it could be a military one. The skill of riding crated army elites, which were now prepared to take their followers to robbing agricultural communities or moving and conquering distant grasslands.
According to Asherson, “pure” nomadism is rare. The flexibility of the farmers and shepherds was always part of the economy of the mobile steppe people. The image of huge hordes that fed on meat and robbed food was correct only in times of war or agreed big move – as opposed to the regular circular travel in search of pastures. Herodotus saw that there were also natives who lived in the cities.
Based on the imagery of the nomad, these days more and more thinkers build their epistemological and theoretical discourses celebrating what the modernism and the antiquity despised with the nomads. The central place in these discourses belongs to Gilles Deleuze, whose derivates spread among the feminism and the followers of cyber culture.
Following Nietzsche’s “Nomadic Thought”, Deleuze looks for a nomadic unit that will not grow into despotic, multidisciplinary identities that will be in constant development and movement, but ones that will always stay at the same positions. Following his metaphorisation of the distinction nomad/sedentary Deleuze further differentiates state and nomadic science, locating the root, that is, the model with the former, and the risom model with the latter one. Unlike the root model that is hierarchical, centered, totalized, stratiforical, linear, the risom is non-centric, a-linear, unmarking. The subject for Deleuze is a multidisciplinary, risomic, polymorphous dynamic network of potentials and intensities. In “Thousand Plateaus” Deleuze says that “History is always written from a sedentary point of view on behalf of the unitary state apparatus. He proposes Nomadology as the opposite to history. The state thought always creates tri-partite division between reality (world), representation (book) and subjectivity (author) instead of establishing an assembly with the external world. The multiplicity is suppressed in the name of unity. In this sense, History is a state science, par excellence. Even geography as an immanent field of nomadism is abused by the state, to establish a territory with boundaries, roads and fortified places because of power and domination. Nomadology should mark the coexistence of simultaneousness, different mixing of historical lines and forces, various de-territorialisations re-territorialisations of space.
Today’s “queer” theory is following Deleuze thought, by offering the “queer” space instead of the separate and clear sexual identities (heterosexual, male and female homosexual, bisexual, celibate, etc), as a place where the habits are mixed and intertwined regardless of despite of historical, traditional, standardized, social references and habits and with respect to sexuality in terms of clothes, behavior, social roles, etc.
Geert Lovink thinks that the city as a fortified polis and a society has long fallen apart and today it is only a tourist façade. The metropolis is only a map of points and lines, description of infrastructure: historical spots with their meaning, cut through with streets. The city is not a planned whole, but a trajectory of discotheques, concert halls, cafes, inns, etc. Some other theorists think of a post-urban city where the real and virtual are mixed. The citizens of the city are attached nomads that use the modern means of communication, virtually traveling in various spaces, in the whole world, causing quite real consequences sometimes.
Many consider the Internet as a direct immanation of the nomadic spirit. For Alain de Benoist, the 20th century ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin wall, and the 21st started in 1993, with the first global transmission via the Internet. According to him, the Internet is a network with unlimited possibilities, without a centre, decentralized, interactive, horizontal medium. A new world comes from it, a new nomadic society, equalizing the classical pyramidal structures, a net world that can not be controlled, without distances; as we saw in the anti-globalistic protests, but also with the growth of the fundamentalist terrorism, it is organized quickly and has devastating consequences.
In the sociology, the proponents of nomadology are preoccupied with the so called mobile culture and the amazing figures: that every year there are 600 million international travelers, that half a million hotel rooms are built every year, that there are 23 million refugees, that tourism covers ten percent of the global revenue. Human race enters a new ear of movement and moves, a wondering of people that this time covers not only euro-Asia, but the whole world. These days, with the development of micro technology, the “global nomads” will be able to collect their whole “household” in a suitcase and be “geographically independent”, they will be bale to travel as much as they want and where they want. The entities of history, once sedentary farmers or citizens, now become migrants, refugees, gastarbeiters, asylum seekers, city homeless. Edward Said in 1992 claimed that the torch of liberation has been handed from the sedentary cultures to the homeless, de-centered, exilic energies. Even the protestant and the catholic church, which practice the missionary have already developed nomadic churches, ways of approach to the nomadic communities where the church is not a holy and sacral space, but it is everywhere where the community follows the word of God.
Vassilis Lambropoulos thinks that the word “immigration”, with its economic: low classes that look for a new home in search of a better life, or political connotations: refugees, exile seekers, asylum seekers, expatriates, is no longer appropriate. Today, there are students, bureaucrats, journalists, artists migrating. The old term of the Diaspora is erased and a new migration is created: Creole, hybrid, instable and ex-centric. The polish artist Kshishtoff Vodichko thinks that the hordes of displaced not take the public space in the cities – squares, parks, or railway stations, places that were once designed by the victorious middle class to celebrate the conquest of the new political rights and economic freedoms.
But these issues are still reviewed via the modernist vision of alienation – where the thinkers are either fascinated by the country or lament over their homelessness, and in any case that think that capitalism and technology will leave the westerners without roots, tradition, continuity and faith. The Earth can no longer be population in this vision, it is usurped, taken away, occupied, bought for a bargain. As Asherson says, this nightmare: the terror of the people who move, inherited from the big moves of the Roman Empire and its fall and renovated by the Hun and Mongolian robberies to the west, has survived in the new Europe after the 1989 revolutions. It grows as a fear of the west of all people who travel, the millions who press at the gates of Europe as ‘asylum seekers” or “economic migrants” of the social collapse in Eastern Europe that would move half of the population to the West. The state is trying to establish control at its territory, the inflow of foreigners, establish a system of rights and obligations on the migrants who marginalize the centre and “endanger” the dominant culture. That is why the newspapers are full with different examples of state and social injustice, racial and any other kind of discrimination over the homeless, vagrants in the countries of the first, but also second and third world. Today, many traditionally nomadic people are oppressed because of the forceful and inappropriate government policies towards them (for example, the Fulans in Nigeria).
The nomadism has become a preoccupation in the literary writing. In this occasion we will not talk of Kenneth White and geopolitics, which is quite present in the Macedonian artistic context. Bruce Chatwin differentiates between nomadic and urban art. The first is mobile, asymmetrical, dy-socratic, and restless, and the second is static, firm and symmetric. Unlike the old authors, like Washington and Jefferson, for whom the American west was innocent, empty, un-colonized space that in a phallus-like way waits for its civilization, the new thinkers of the big American land cherish a different sensibility. Jean Baudrillard describes America as a landscape covered with hyper real simulacrums, as a dump full with empty markers, an unchangeable ontological desert.
Speaking of the artist as a nomad, Stefano Pasquini asks himself how important the place of living is for the creation. He gives several examples of artists who play with the concept of sedentariness. Six artists start a project where that live some fictional character in different states. Their experience is documents on a video tape. Robin Brouwer is the curator of the project. He thinks that the current nomadism leans on the postmodern heritage, with the terms such as heterogeneity and multiplication. According to him, postmodernism has a dose of naiveté, because the nomadism in the current conditions asks for experimental vistalism and pragmatic ethics so that man can move between territories, identities and dominant meanings that cover every space if the society. Nomadism asks for a practical sensibility that can mutate and avoid these borders. Some authors treat mail-art as the highest expression of artistic nomadism. According to them, everybody can enter this art and use any old or new techniques to create his/her own artistic network in all disciplines. Kazuhiro Takabatake, an artist who deals with video and installations in London thinks that every society has strictly defined roles, but it is the artist who can constantly reinvestigate these roles and move nomadically from one field to another and from one space to another.
The issues of the house and threshold are related to the categories of continuity and discontinuity. Bataille, for example, treats these concepts as part of his metaphysical construction. According to him, the continuity is achieved via the experience of the divine. The divine is achieved via the escape from the world of discontinuity. Separateness, from the world of continuity of the sameness. The discontinuity is what enables human existence, his individuality. The continuity can on the other hand, be reached again only by death.
With respect to the holy and the profane, Melissa Miles reviews the border space. She quotes Deleuze and Guattari again, as they mark the border space as a space of wizards. Unlike the nomad who can not split, the wizard lives on the edge of the field of the border crossing between the two worlds. Neal Asherson speaks that many of the Scythian nomads lived a double life: both as nomads and city subjects, and they used the change of clothes as a transition from one to another identity. The nomadic druids, on the other hand, use the ritual to use the selfness and go to the inter-space. The labyrinth on the other side is used as a place of the threshold, where, instead of the concept of inside and outside, there is a trail that is constantly developed and transformed and has neither beginning nor an end. The travels are a border space because they provide encounters of the two cultures, where the contact zone is established and the space between the borders.
In the Macedonian context, the writing on the topic of house/threshold has a negative projection. The Macedonian population has been mainly “de-housed” in the last hundred years, they migrate, emigrate, move away, they are forcefully displaced, dispersed to be assimilated, and most of the time live in rented places. From the sedentary aspect, where the vertical of the national myth is mostly built from, the metaphors of roots, house, foundation, forefathers’ homes, the essay of the Macedonian house has a glazing of melancholy, lament, but also rage, and the Macedonian threshold is a border, door, and the other side from where there is no return.
If you have any fears or hopes about the nomadic times, whose shapes we have formed in this small essay, you can find a recipe how to survive in it on the Internet. There is advice how to build your own yurt there. Yurt is a nomadic tent, a movable circular form that can be assembled and disassembled, used by some people from the central Asian steppes. A good yurt can last from fifty to sixty years. The yurt materials – canvas, stakes, skins, rugs, can still be found at some markets of various countries in the world.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska