Nomadology of Institutions revisited

Toward the end of Part Two of this essay, I suggested that institutions embody what Lyotard calls “language-games” – institutions, in other words, include what Deleuze & Guattari refer to as collective assemblages of enunciation.  One of the critical advantages of Deleuze & Guattari’s formulation is the distinction they draw between two forms of collective enunciation or language-games: the oedipal or state-form and the anti-oedipal or nomadic form of the war-machine. One instantiation of this distinction is the ethological differentiation of herds from packs.

Herd animals form an undifferentiated mass, and they all follow a single leader; this for Deleuze & Guattari is the epitome of the State form of social relations. Pack animals such as wolves interact very differently: for wolves on the hunt, there is a significant degree of role specialization, and the pack operates via the collective coordination of members’ activities rather than via obedience to a single leader. The kinds of change produced by mutation machines, meanwhile, vary widely. Deleuze & Guattari even go so far as to say that the war machine ‘exists only in its own metamorphoses; it exists in an industrial innovation as well as in a technological invention, in a commercial circuit as well as in a religious creation’ or ‘in specific assemblages such as building bridges or cathedrals or rendering judgments or making music or instituting a science, a technology’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 366). Finally, and perhaps most important, mutation machines operate via contagion, enthusiasm, esprit de corps, and solidarity (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 241–9, 267–9, 278, 366–7, 384, 390–93) rather than strict obligation or duty.

Another important aspect of the distinction between nomadic and state-form language-games involves the kinds of authority pertaining to each; this aspect was covered in Part Three. Yet another aspect involves the relation of institutions to (their) death, which was also addressed in Part III – but only incompletely. I would want to add this: Just as the destitution or precarity visited on most people by primitive accumulation perverts the psychological “instinct” of self-preservation by giving it exaggerated important in psychic dynamics, so the “instinct” of institutional self-preservation has a similarly inflationary effect, such that instead of dying constant “little deaths” by continually transforming itself in light of new circumstances and indeed new objectives, institutions operate above all to preserve their existing form and chartered aims.  This is part of what Deleuze & Guattari mean by the perversion of death (its transformation into an instinct) attendant on its repression under capitalism.

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