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Countercultural Innovation: The Creative Nomadism of Deleuze and Guattari


Based on the “line of flight” [ligne de fuite], these French philosophers developed a theory of countercultural innovation that remains relevant today.

Even if we are currently half a century away from the 1960s and 1970s, their spirit is a strong and powerful part of our current cultural atmosphere. Although with significant changes, notions such as demanding justice and social equality, fighting for freedom and hoping that we can build a better society by abandoning the destructive practices of the past are still in force. Modern movements like environmentalism, freegans, permaculture, “live simple” and other successors have inherited this same pulse.

However, it seems that most communities have overcome the hippie experiment due to social imperatives. How are we to create and walk through alternative paths when our reality is filled with old and new challenges?

For psychotherapist Felix Guattari and philosopher Gilles Deleuze, counterculture burgeoned at the end of the 1960s as more than an attempt to destroy the status quo, but to completely free itself from it. What was the point of the liberation that social movements in the US and Europe demanded if not an institutionalization of the difference? A step that even today leads to great excess such as the political mending of discourse (i. e. “African-American” instead of the contemptuous negroe, even if the racial problem is far from being overcome, or, in formal terms, even if racial difference is still a political difference that prevents equality). Or, why did thousands of youths fled from their middle-class reality between 1965 and 1973 to join alternative societies such as Drop City in Colorado if they did not want to seek other possible worlds, or, if they didn’t find them, create them?

For Deleuze and Guattari, creative nomadism as a countercultural statement is not a direct rejection of mainstream culture —and it does not even imply a “physical” nomadism, a movement of the body: instead, it implies a way of actively being a nomad by refusing categories or definitions; a desire to experiment, explore, learn and grow through what they called the “line of flight” [ligne de fuite]. A bold antidote against dogmas and blinding doctrines.

In the sphere of visual arts, the ligne de fuite implies a perspective that creates the illusion of a removed perspective: the unfolding of spatial dimensions that create a visual richness and field depth. If in modern times counterculture has been absorbed by capitalism (for example Starbucks, where you supposedly buy more than a coffee and help small farming communities; you buy a coffee and decaffeinated “social change” for the same price), the lines of flight suggested by Deleuze and Guattari seek to break the control system’s vertical order through the evasion of certain diagonals which, in turn, will create a new identity for the ever changing present.

This movement of consciousness from its place in the world, however, is not infallible: as a key of innovation, the lines of flight are related to creativity in the sense that they seek the cracks of the system and how to take advantage of them. This is where advertising agencies, corporations and art step in: they each need to find a niche, an unexploited crevice, or an innovative strategy to exploit an already existing hole.

In simpler terms, lines of flight are nothing other than critical attitudes towards the present: a nomadism of identity that leads us to question our own preferences and the role of culture in our time. While others seek to be included in a system that manages acceptance as if it were an obedience award, innovators, creators and rebels seek an initial impulse, a seductive flight that will prevent them from taking their existence and their place in the world for granted. They are the immobile nomads that create new worlds for themselves not in opposition to our own, but from our own, which at the end of the day is the only one we have.

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