Introductory text for the Working Group on “Street Cultures” by Jordi Claramonte
Jordi Claramonte is the initiator and moderator of this Working Group. He lectures in contemporary aesthetics at the Department of Philosophy at UNED (Spanish Open University)
No-one knows exactly where he was born and nobody really cares. What is certain is that when he left the ash and yew woods of Wales, he had grown to almost 5’11”, a few inches taller than most men of the time. Made of the same incredibly strong and flexible wood of the forests whence he came, at times he could let fly up to ten arrows a minute to a distance of almost a thousand feet. Obviously he could only do so in the hands of a man who had grown and developed his muscles and tendons to fit what was then known as a longbow. It wasn’t that the men who picked up this bow were stronger in an overall sense: they had to be stronger in the specific sense required by the bow. From childhood, these men grew up intimately linked to their longbows, whose lines and tensions would define and build their bodies, just as their bodies would define and build the bow itself. The skeletons of longbowmen were clearly recognisable because of their deformities, with bigger left arms and often with calcium deficiency in the bones in their left wrist, left shoulder and the fingers of their right hand.
But children, men and bows obviously didn’t spring up spontaneously in the fields like mushrooms: they formed cohesive communities that were strengthened, amongst other things, by their ability to wage war – their modal constitution that brought together countryside, bodies and bows to create a war machine able to take on and defeat the mighty French cavalry equipped with armour and battle horses, whose running costs could maintain an entire countryside community for several years.
If the longbow represented a kind of community and order of body growth and build, in modal terms we could say that it involved a far more horizontal and evenly distributed way of understanding war and political relations. Far more horizontal at least than their opponents in the Hundred Years’ War – French noblemen entrenched in vertical feudal relationships that tended to dispossess their vassals of their political and war-making power and concentrated all the wealth and power in their expensive, sophisticated, armoured bodies. These noblemen were strong in that they distilled all their pillaged wealth, but were surprisingly fragile when facing an arrow shot by a countryman brought amongst other kinds of relationships. The Hundred Years’ War was one of the occasions when the bazaar model took on the cathedral model with devastating consequences.
The communities of Welsh bowmen shared a specific common purpose, a war-making purpose, which was also a specific countryside, technology, physiology and political economy.
An initial hypothesis that doesn’t seem too daring to venture – and certainly not after all the Deleuzian ink spilt on the notion of agencement – is represented then by this modal co-implication between technologies, bodies and political constitutions. The case of English archers is in no way an exception: from Greek hoplites and Balearic honderos to Swiss pikemen, it is clear that a war-making common purpose has been a way of strengthening the specific nature and, above all, the independence of communities built around the basic and defining fact of sharing and being constituted by this common purpose.
When thinking about street culture, we shall be thinking about the formation of social and political bodies. If they are to be worth anything, all our thoughts will prioritise the idea of community and independence.