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.
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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.
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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.
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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.