An Unbiased History of Nomadology

–Ari Berenbaum

Nomads perform an important function in society: they are effectively the coding or re-encoding agents of a landscape.  Let me give an example:  Jean-Luc Godard, commonly-attributed founder of the French New Wave and postmodern film, rediscovered film through a dissection of its previously-existing tropes. In Breathless (1960), Jean-Paul Belmondo rubs his lips numerous times in a manner enacting the film character of Humphrey Bogart.  In addition, Godard was said to have cut the film of any extraneous footage, anything that failed to move him, leaving a jumpy, non-linear feel to the film, as if we are intruding on precious vignettes of another movie.  The originality of Godard is not in his plot, theme, or tone, but in the way he literally decodes and then re-encodes the structures of film form in order to produce something altogether new.  Urban explorers, nomads, perform this same function.  Earlier, I have written about the re-encoding acts of the skateboarder:

“For John Cardiel, and other skaters, a rail is not for holding, a staircase is not meant to be descended on foot.  These surfaces breathe new life when viewed through the eyes of the skater.  The ability to map new territory in what had been a desert of creativity is for Deleuze the definition of the nomad.  The nomad, like the skater, does not travel; he or she only reinterprets, recodes, reterritorializes what otherwise always has been and what always will be.”

This brings up a linkage to the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and his image of the nomad.  Deleuze’s nomad is like a little bubble on the surface of liquid foam, taking soapy water molecules into its laminar bubble, twirling them around, then watching them as they find their exit.  The nomad does not necessarily move, but watches as space is “quilted” or “zippered” all around him or her.  The popular example from Deleuze’s writings is that of a Bedouin nomad in the desert, who upon waking in the morning, finds the desert landscape around him/her entirely changed by the night’s winds, though his/her geographic position has not changed.

This brings up the question, what is the motivation of the nomad?  What does he or she seek?  Is the nomad’s exploration a struggle for hegemony over opposing societies?  The nomad is not acquisitive by nature.  Rather, the nomad is birthed out of conflict, and represents something entirely new, a creation ex nihilo.  In this view, the nomad appears revolutionary, but is nothing but the result of a confluence of forces.  In fact, the nomad aims to transcend questions of power by binding itself to its opposite or Other.  Thus, the skateboarder is actually a mediator between urban architecture and the subconscious, primal drive to destroy it.  By mapping, or re-encoding territory, the nomad manages to transcend a territory without destroying it.  In the setting of psychoanalysis (a topic written on frequently by Deleuze), the analyst directs a patient towards a reading, or re-encoding of his or her personal history that causes the patient’s pathological drives to subside.  The motivation for nomadology is a motivation to channel our desires in a productive, affirmative way (i.e. seeing a psychiatrist rather than smashing a TV), a transvaluation of the pathological.  The act of nomadology transfers feelings of alienation or lack of fulfillment into a constant state of wonder at existing in a so strange a land.  I refer to the disposition of nomadology as performing one’s “charmed life”, wherein everyday things take on the mystical properties.  It is in this charmed life that skateboarders discover a twenty-foot handrail, or a graffiti artist spots a perfect access point to an unmarked rooftop.  It is the nomadic life wherein the DJ chops a record not meant to be chopped, screwed, or scratched, as in this behind-the-scenes example from the turntablist crew, the X-ecutioners:  It is the nomadic life wherein one learns to survive the winds of the desert storm and emerge unscathed, to travel without moving.

Write a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Official Taxonomy