Thursday, October 20, 2005

Deleuze, Guattari and the Rhizome

Deleuze and Guattari’s 'A Thousand Plateaus', is the second part of a work they began with 'The Anti-Oedipus', called 'Capitalism and Schizophrenia'.

Like Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari draw on psychoanalysis, Marxism, structuralism, and deconstruction though they cannot be classified within any one school of thought. However, while Foucault focuses on relations of power/knowledge, Deleuze and Guattari focus on the pursuit of desire and how societal institutions impede desire. They also relate well to Derrida as their main concern is to destabilize language and conventional Western thought in favor of multiplicity of meaning.

One of the most significant ideas presented by Deleuze and Gauttari, is the idea of the rhizome. To understand the model of the rhizome, it is important to first comprehend what the rhizome is a response to. Deleuze and Guattari argue that all of Western (traditionally humanist) thought is based on arborescense, which is the model of the tree. The tree sprouts from a single seed, producing a trunk and continuously branching out, growing and spreading vertically; yet, the tree can be traced back to a single origin. Basically, arborescence is representative of humanist thought and the belief that humans - through language, science, and art - can represent or reflect the world. All of Western thought is inherently arborescent, even linguistics, as it all grows (or has grown) from a supposed original source. Deleuze and Guattari even argue that most modern texts, while they seem to represent multiple origins and the elimination of the linearity of language, posit some type of cyclical unity, or form a “whole” within the reading subject, which also represents arborescence (they dub many modern texts arborescent pseudomultiplicities).

In order to break from traditional arborescent thought, and the resulting binaries, Deleuze and Guattari proclaim, “The multiple must be made” The ultimate symbol of the multiple, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is the rhizome. A rhizome is a rootlike (though not a root) organism that spreads and grows horizontally (generally underground). Some examples are potatoes, couchgrass, and weeds. Couchgrass or crabgrass continues to grow even if you pull up what you think is all of it, since it has no central, “governing” element. As a rhizome has no center, it spreads continuously without beginning or end and basically exists in a constant state of play.

The main principles of the rhizome are:
1. “Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be”.
Basically, the rhizome establishes connections between everything, combining rhizomes that are themselves made of combinations of rhizomes.
• Language is rhizomatic, as “A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles . . . there is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages” Even what we view as one specific language is composed of multiplicities of languages (somewhat like heteroglossia, though even more decentered).
• There is no true language; the dominant language is only a “power takeover” within what Deleuze and Guattari call a “political multiplicity.” While language may stabilize within this “power takeover”—which forms like a bulb or a tuber on the rhizome—language continues to spread outside of it “like a patch of oil”
• We “can analyze language only be decentering it onto other dimensions and other registers. A language is never closed upon itself, except as a function of impotence” In order to analyze language we must look at it rhizomatically, viewing it not simply as language, but as everything related to language. Language is a multiplicity and connects to and encompasses other multiplicities.

2. “Principle of multiplicity: Basically, everything is not composed of units operating within rules, as in structuralism, but of multiplicites spreading and connecting with other multiplicities within a non-centered structure: “A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows)”.
• The multiplicity, or the rhizome, has no real rules or laws, as it continuously adapts to incorporate other multiplicites. There is no real unity within a rhizome as “The notion of unity appears only when there is a power takeover in the multiplicity or a corresponding subjectification proceeding” . A “power takeover” is similar to the aforementioned idea of a unified language, as the power takeover only limits the rhizome in one specific area, and the multiplicities continue to spread outside of it.

3. “Principle of asignifying rupture . . . A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines” D&G use the example of ants: “You can never get rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome that can rebound time and again after most of it has been destroyed” .
• D&G further claim that the rhizome deterritorializes in one place and reterritorializes in another. D&G use the image of the wasp and the orchid to demonstrate deterritorialization and reterritorialization: “The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome . . . Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialization of one term and the reterritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization even further” . Through this symbiotic process, both the wasp and the orchid continuously spread and multiply. The wasp feeds off the orchid, while the orchid uses the wasp to reproduce. D&G further write: “There is neither imitation nor resemblance, (between the wasp and the orchid) only an exploding of two heterogeneous series on the line of flight composed by a common rhizome that can no longer be attributed to or subjugated by anything signifying” (519). It seems that the main point of this example is that while the wasp and the orchid are two completely heterogeneous, and seemingly unrelated, objects, they both spread and grow in relation to each-other.
• D&G also discuss how books and the world have a similar relationship. They write “[the book] forms a rhizome with the world, there is an aparallel evolution of the book and the world; the book assures the deterritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it is capable, if it can).
Another image D&G use is the plateau (here we finally have an explanation for the title). They state that a plateau is always in the middle. There is always something before and something after plateaus. D&G assert that the rhizome is composed of plateaus, as it continuously deterritorializes and reterritorializes into infinite new plateaus. The rhizome and the plateau are both always between things, which guarantees their continued growth and existence. Although the plateau cannot return to what precedes it, it always moves on, becoming something else, moving towards the next plateau.
• D&G further emphasize the rhizome’s state of being between in relation to the tree, or arborescent thought. Humanism, by attempting to represent the world, “imposes the verb ‘to be,’ while the rhizome continues infinitely with the “conjunction, ‘and . . . and . . . and”.
• For Deleuze and Guattari, the rhizome is positive because it evades totalization, and in a rhizomatic structure, desires are not limited and contained as they are in a treelike structure. D&G use the example of the nomad to represent desire revolting against and evading totalizing structures. The nomad is in a constant state of movement and cannot be confined within any political or ideological system of totality.

-The Internet is a very good example of a rhizomatic structure. There is no real center to the Internet and it is composed of infinite links. It is impossible to affect the World Wide Web by removing any specific site or sites. Even the removal of big servers like AOL, yahoo, Netscape, and even Microsoft would not affect the functioning of the majority of sites.

-Nolan’s 'Memento'—begins at what seems to be the end and ends at what seems to be the beginning, yet by doing so reveals that there is no real end or beginning. So it essentially begins and ends in the middle (though it doesn’t really begin or end).

-Lynch’s 'Lost Highway' and 'Mulholland Drive'—the end of both films appears at the beginning, while the beginning appears at the end. While both seem to represent two heterogeneous deterritorializations and reterritorializations. Also, both films feature characters shifting and becoming different characters, which seems to represent the nomadic, schizophrenic postmodern subject.

-Deleuze and Guattari claim: “We are writing this book as a rhizome. It is composed of plateaus. We have given it a circular form, but only for laughs” .

-Several successful 'creative business'' are based on a rhizomatic structure. 'Semco' and 'Ideo' for example, delve into such a variety of ventures that it is immpossible to describe in one point, what either companies actual focus is.


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Blogger Doug Kazé said...

Thanks for this article. Helps my understanding of Deleuze and Guattari.

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