# PHILOSOPHY /// Processes of smoothing and striation of space in urban warfare

Barricade - Paris 1848

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari titled A Thousand Plateaus in reference to the way it should be read: one plateau after another, no matter in which order. This section focuses on three of the fourteen chapters composing that book; they are entitled:

227: Treatise on Nomadology; The War Machine
7000 B.C.: Apparatus of Capture
1440: The Smooth and the Striated

These plateaus focus on two transformative processes that Deleuze and Guattari call smoothing and striating as two antagonistic operations and interpretations of territory.

Smooth spaces are the territory of the nomads, while striated spaces are created by the sedentary. Their conflict is a confrontation between the State and the War Machine, the logos and the nomos, chess and go, movement and speed, arborescence and rhizome, royal science and nomad science. The whole chapter about Nomadology is built on those manichean antagonists and their incompatibility with each other. However, as established by Manuel De Landa in his book War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (Zone Books, 1991), only State’s armies that adopt a nomadic way of operating are victorious in the long term. Strategies of capture are therefore constantly elaborated by the State in order to appropriate the War Machine. This conflict is fundamental for architecture in the relationship this discipline has always maintained with military strategies.

Deleuze and Guattari elaborate a definition of the smooth space and the striated space based on their absolute opposition at every level. The following paragraphs will attempt to make an inventory of these two types of spaces.

The State is a settled institution that establishes a set of rules and provides to its subject the assurance that the more they will conform to these rules, the more they will socially evolve within a pre-established hierarchy. The War Machine, on the contrary, is fundamentally non-civilizational in the way that it is not interested in the notion of progress. Its structure can be organized in a protohierarchical way, but the latter remains sufficiently fragile to be easily overthrown in case of strong disagreement.

The first symbols used to establish the confrontation between striated spaces and smooth spaces are made by attributing to each the principles of two games, chess and go. Chess attributes a function and therefore a skill to each entity composing both armies. Its production is a strategy based on hierarchal relationships between these entities. As far as the practice of the warfield is concerned, both armies try to conquer the biggest part of land in order to exercise control over it. Conversely, the game of go is based on fast movements of territorialization and deterritorialization, intensifying a conflict in one zone, then leave to it to attack the next one. The function and power of every pawn are the same, thus allowing interesting potential turnarounds. Another extremely interesting aspect of this comparison not mentioned by Deleuze and Guattari consists in the fact that chess pieces operate with the walled frame of the squares ,whereas go oves pawns along the lines, like funambulist soldiers.

Both chess and go dramatize the opposition between two armies that operate symmetrically, with the same organization and strategy. It would be interesting to elaborate a set of rules for a game that would confront a nomadic War Machine like go’s army and a State army like chess.

What Deleuze and Guattari call Royal Science is interesting for architects, since they use them as an example to express the essence of this sedentary discipline. In fact, architects tend to avoid the notion of spontaneity and improvisation in favor of planning and control. That is why the architect — maybe they ought to say the engineer — appears in this regard as the paradigm of the royal scientist. They oppose to this the example of the Gothic journeyman who applies a nomadic science by improvising design directly on the construction site, depending on the forces felt in situ. On the contrary, architects establish plans that are the direct expression of their transcendental control over the matter and architecture’s users. The examples of Orleans and Beauvais cathedrals are evoked as failures of the nomadic science to provide a perfect, safely built environment, allowing a dose of uncertainty in the design. This notion is interesting in that the State cannot accept this degree of un-control, based on its original promise of security, contained in the social contract. The fact that these two cathedrals have been built according to nomadic science’s principles and eventually collapsed is a manifesto for considering risk and danger as a fully integrated part of the lethality of life and the awareness of it.

The act of striating space is fundamentally inherent in the birth of agriculture and, therefore, private property. Indeed, agriculture first brings value to the land; this results in parcelization and ownership. Agriculture additionally brings a population to become sedentary and therefore increase the need for implementation of new tools. This process of innovation is called progress and is the base of a civilization’s growth. Architecture embodies the striation, and thus defines the limits of the land. Private property is claimed and wars can begin. This narrative is perfectly expressed by the myth of creation of Rome. Romulus established the limits of the city by digging a trench (or building a wall, depending on the version). When his brother Remus leaped across it, Romulus killed him as a sentence for the original violation of private property in Roman history.

Architecture creates an inside separated from the outside; its property is being claimed by people or institutions. Lines of property are being virtually traced and architecture materializes them into violent devices actively controlling bodies. The wall is quintessential and paradigmatic in this regard and operates at every scale, from the domestic wall of an apartment to the United States’ border with Mexico and other various scales of gated communities. The original city’s limit from Romulus, however, disappeared during the 19th century to let the city diffuse and spread into a quasi-total ambient milieu.

The following paragraph will show how the urban warfield became a territory submitted to processes of striation and smoothing since the 19th century. The first citation concerns Paris between the First Empire and the end of the Second Empire. This fifty-six year period in French history saw three revolutions emerging from Parisian urban fabric. As both a theoretician and practitioner of urban insurrection, Auguste Blanqui makes the link between the two revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the Paris’ Commune in 1871 and urban modification in a conflict situation. He actively took part in two revolutions and was imprisoned during the Commune, making him an icon of the resistance against the Versailles government. In 1866, he wrote a small manual entitled: Esquisse de la marche à suivre dans une prise d’armes à Paris (Draft of a Strategy for an Armed Uprising in Paris), which establishes an extremely precise protocol of modification of the warfield in order to optimize it for the weaker, yet hopefully victorious, side of an asymmetrical urban conflict (my translation):

This labor done, we put the two lateral barricades together by piercing the thick walls that separate the houses situated at the front of the defense. The same operation is executed simultaneously in the houses on the two sides of the barricaded street up to its end, then backwards, on the right and left, along the parallel street, on the defense’s front and back. Openings have to be created on the ground floor and top floor in order to obtain two ways; this work is done in the same way in four directions. All the blocks of houses of the barricaded streets should be pierced in their perimeter, in such way that fighters be able to enter or exit by the back street, out of sight and out of reach of the enemy.

The interior of the blocks generally consists of courtyards and gardens. One could open access between these spaces, as they are usually separated by weak walls. It should be compulsory on the bridges, whose importance and specific situations expose them to the most serious attacks.

It would be useful to organize companies of non-fighters such as workers, masons, carpenters, etc., in order to jointly complete work with the infantry. When, on the frontline of defense, a house is more particularly being threatened, we demolish the ground floor staircase and we make an opening in the various rooms’ floor of the second floor in order to shoot potential soldiers who would invade the ground floor to place bombs. Boiling water can also play an important role. If the attack encompassed a large area of the front line, we cut the staircases and pierces the floors in all the exposed houses.” (Translated from Auguste Blanqui, “Esquisse de la marche a suivre dans une prise d’armes a Paris,” in Maintenant il faut des Armes, Paris: La Fabrique, 2006, 280).

The urban modifications for which Blanqui advocates apply processes of striating and smoothing the space. In fact, the construction of barricades with the paving stones — he established very precise calculations of the amount of paving stones needed  — adds another layer of striation to the city, and thus subverts its normal functionality. On the other hand, piercing holes through the walls associated with the destruction of staircases denies the physicality of architecture and thus smooth the urban space. Through these processes, the city is assimilated as a single malleable matter that can be acted upon and reconfigured according to the needs of the insurgent army.

The ability of the insurgents to act on this matter, and manipulate the warfield in favor of their strategies has a lot to do with their victories in 1830 and 1848. On the other hand, the Paris Commune’s ultimate defeat against the Versaillais was very likely influenced by the State’s modification of the urban warfield during the last two decades by Napoleon III and his baron engineer Haussmann.

The second example of French State strategies of counter-insurrection occured in 1954-1960 in Algier’s Casbah, where the first operations of the FLN were organized. Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 pseudo-documentary film entitled The Battle of Algiers depicts remarkably well the conflict between French paratroopers and Algerian anti-colonialists within the labyrinthine Casbah. The chronology is important. At first, the warfield is used by Algerians who apply what will later be Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of speed: the absolute character of a body whose irreducible parts (atoms) occupy or fill a smooth space like a vortex, with the possibility of swarming out at any moment. Whoever is carrying out a mission for the FLN strikes intensely, then immediately disappears in the urban maze of the Casbah.

However, soon after this first series of operations, the French paratroopers manage little by little to capture the War Machine’s principle by following the strategies of Colonel Marcel Bigeard, officer in charge of the counter insurrection.  Acting directly on the Casbah’s materiality and infiltrating the organization of the FLN, they succeeded in absolutely suppressing any resistant force in Algiers in 1960. Nevertheless, the resistance had lasted long enough to successively provoke a national mobilization leading to Algerian independence in 1962.

A final example of urban striation and smoothing in a conflict situation was studied by Eyal Weizman in a 2006 article entitled “Lethal Theory,” analyzing the strategy of the Israeli general Aviv Kochavi in the 2002 siege of Nablus Palestnian refugee camp in the West Bank. Kochavi developed a theory he called “inverted geometry” that avoids the camp’s streets in order to move through the walls of the dense urban fabric and surprise potential Palestinian fighters. This technique reduced the spectacular damages in the camp to deep scars within homes, invisible from outside and insignificant to the international community.

Rather than submit to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries and logic, movement became constitutive of space. The three-dimensional progression through walls, ceilings, and floors across the urban balk reinterpreted, short-circuited, and recomposed both architectural and urban syntax. (Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land, New York: Verso, 2007).

he State that succeeded the capture of the War Machine is a state who established war as its main contingency, its population being entirely composed of potential soldiers — military service being compulsory for almost every Israeli citizen. The elaboration of the oppression of Palestinians led the Israeli army to associate a striation of the space by its walls, colonial settlements and roads and to adopt a nomadic behavior, swarming out from its border, infesting Palestinian land and folding itself back in its own territory. This coexistence of State and War Machine may be related to the status of the Jewish People involved in what Deleuze calls a common becoming due to their persecution through the ages. When Israel became a State however, it established a normalizing benchmark that internalizes some of its subjects and oppresses the others.

11 Comments on “# PHILOSOPHY /// Processes of smoothing and striation of space in urban warfare

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