Sunday, September 13, 2009

We Nomads

"The nomad has a territory; he follows customary paths; he goes from one point to another; he is not ignorant of points (water points, dwelling points, assembly points, etc.). But the question is what in nomad life is a principle and what is only a consequence. To begin with, although the points determine paths, they are strictly subordinated to the paths they determine, the reverse of which happens with the sedentary. The water point is reached only to be left behind; every point is a relay and exists only as a relay. ... The life of the nomad is the intermezzo. Even the elements of his dwelling are conceived in terms of the trajectory that is forever mobilizing them." --Gilles Deleuze

I had a good run today, 30k on a hilly course with the last five miles under 6:00 pace.

There are two aspects of a good run. One of them is articulated in a language that grounds the run in a type of analytic fact. I ran this distance and it occurred at this pace on this course which happens to be my marathon pace or lactic threshold or faster than I ran it last year. Most of what we talk about when we talk about running occurs in this register. The purpose of this sort of analysis is to literally capture the run in concepts that do not move. It is to translate a nomadic act into a set of sedentary concepts.

But the other aspect of a run is its nomadic aspect. Here, the run itself, as a singularity, is the primary object. It does not occur as a means of traversing a certain distance in a certain amount of time marked out between two points. In this aspect, the duration of the run itself is taken as primary and the ways of measuring it, marking it, classifying it under a variety of types of workout, for example, are secondary to the primary experience of the run. This aspect of running is "nomadic" because it does not seek to stabilize its meaning. It looks to capture running as an act of becoming, as a line of flight prior to the resting points that mark its beginning or end.

The nomadic aspect of running is an experience of absolute movement, a movement in which the self loses all interiority. Here the running is prior to the subject who runs. The running is prior to the pace at which he runs. The running is lifted out and separated from a measure of the distance covered. The runner does not move in this case from point to point, but instead occupies a sort of space without time, a kind of pure flow that can be cut apart and analyzed into known objects, but which can never be captured through this analysis.

When we speak of a good run we usually are pointing to this nomadic aspect of running. What makes it "good" is the relative dearth of this sort of experience in contemporary life. And when we cut our running down into the categories of pace, heart rate, workout type, even terms like "hard" "moderate" or "easy," we reduce this element of experience to the mundane and the communicable. It is common to think of running as a temporary respite from a sedentary world. But to think of running this way makes it into a means that serves the ends of sedentary life. It puts the nomadic dimension of life in service of the sedentary dimension.

But it seems to me--and Deleuze makes this point as well--that the nomadic and the sedentary, while complementary, can never be put into a relation of support or service. The two are absolutely different, and life consists of a blend of these two elements, one usually more dominant than the other. When we run, we enter into a nomadic realm, one that is not defined by stationary points, but by the movement between those points. We conceive life, however briefly, not in terms of its known markers (our names, our homes, our places, our jobs, our dinner-times), but "in terms of the trajectory that is forever mobilizing" those markers. The good run, in its nomadic aspect, is a small act of rebellion against the known. We ought to be careful not to carelessly reduce its meaning to the role it plays in training.

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