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Archive for July 17th, 2008

I’m intrigued by Deleuze and Guattari insisting so often that the rhizome is the anti-genealogy. If we do indeed read it as a methodology of critical inquiry (as I think is clearly one of their intentions) then we come head to head with a number of critical projects that profess the opposite as the their method. Most notably, of course, are Foucault’s genealogical studies, coming out of the Nietzschean vein (though Nietzsche is much more in line with Deleuze and his notion of constant “becoming” than Foucault is). But for some reason I’m thinking of Kevin DeLuca’s (fantastic) book, Image Politics. His methodology is drawing heavily upon a blend of Laclau & Mouffe with McGee’s ideograph. DeLuca traces (“trace” is a very much a no-no word to D & G) the term “progress” through a sequence of texts, mostly focusing on how radical environmental groups (once again, Earth First! is in the academic spotlight) are attempting to shift the meaning behind that ideograph, and how they approach it as a rhetorical challenge.

I’m intrigued if only because I seem to simultaneously agree with both methodologies. DeLuca’s approach, I think, is systematic without being dogmatic and yields excellent results for the rhetorical study of social movements. However, at the same time, I can see the impulse to force the movements into a Tree-like/Single-Root metaphorical model – precisely what D & G warn against. As the anti-genealogy, rhizomatic approach suggests, how Earth First! operates and came to be is much more messier than what’s presented in DeLuca’s text.

But a crucial point that’s easy to pass over: The dualism they set up between Rhizome/Tree & Tracing/Map is that it’s purposely false and in the end, quite compatible The rhizome can integrate the tree and maps can integrate tracings:

It is a question of method: the tracing should always be put back on the map … the tracing has already translated the map into an image; it has already transformed the rhizome into roots and radicles. It has organized, stabilized, neutralized the multiplicities according the axes of signifiance and subjectification belonging to it. It has generated, structuralized the rhizome, and when it thinks it is reproducing something else it is in fact only reproducing itself. That is why the tracing is so dangerous. It injects redundancies and propagates them (13).

And again, a bit further along:

The important point is that the root-tree and canal-rhizome are not two opposed models: the first operates as a transcendent model and tracing, even if it engenders its own escapes; the second operates as an immanent process that overturns the model and outlines a map, even if it constitutes its own hierarchies, even if it gives rise to a despotic channel (20).

So in the case of Image Politics, we must take DeLuca’s findings and put them back into the teeming mass of activist networks in order for the tracing to gain it true contextual import. Not exactly sure what this would look like as a piece of scholarship, but I’m going to mull on it and see what I come up with. Like D & G say, “Plug the tracings back into the map, connect the roots or trees back up with the rhizome” (14). Or a bit later when they’re even more explicit in their language about collectives: “[S]how at what point in the rhizome there form phenomena of massification, bureaucracy, leadership, fascization, etc., which lines nevertheless survive, if only underground, continuing to make rhizome in the shadows” (14).

Apart from being an exquisite literary sentence, I think D & G are offering something there that will ultimately be productive for explaining how activist networks function (globally perhaps?).

I’ve been stumbling around the first chapter of a book by an Australian Professor of Criminology—Deleuze and Environmental Damage. He outlines in meticulous fashion how forcing various conceptual and discursive sets into a “tree” model (which he calls a “monolith” model) and the dualistic (dialectical?) thinking it engenders can lead to disastrous results:

The problems with modernist conceptions of environmental damage are twofold. Firstly, there has been a tendency to write the ‘causes’ of environmental problems in monolithic fashion – the irresponsible consumer monolith under liberal ecology, the capitalist monolith under ecomarxism, the patriarchal monolith under ecofeminism, the hierarchical monolith under deep ecology, and the domination monolith under social ecology.

The (unintended) consequence of these monoliths has been the proliferation of precisely the kinds of configurations and dichotomies that have long underpinned the processes of environmental damage and its discursive production. Configurations such as: ecologically benign policies versus irresponsible citizens; economically powerful owners of the means and forces of production versus environmentally conscious but powerless labourers; ecologically destructive men versus environmentally mindful women; ecologically damaging humans versus ecologically benign nonhumans; humans as creatures of domination versus Nature as symbiotic entity: (35). {Hasley, Mark. Deleuze and Environmental Damage: Violence of the Text. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006

More on this later. Perhaps after a revisiting of DeLuca’s Image Politics (since it is indeed based of a binary methodology, but a post-structuralist, post-modern Derridean account).

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So I’m impressed with our wonderfully diverse crew of Deleuzians: undergraduate to PhD, with disciplines ranging from Geography to Film, Rhetoric to Comparative Studies. We began with the introductions to What is Philosophy? and A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Next up: “What is a Concept?” and Chapter 11 of Plateaus, “Of the Refrain.”  (I think.  I’m happy to read something else/other.)

Having just written elsewhere about the rhetoric surrounding “activist unity,” I found reading the rhizome chapter through that lens fascinating. Why so? Simple: Deleuze and Guattari detest the drive to make everything a unity. To plot a center-point, they suggest, is the first step towards misunderstanding something that functions rhizomatically. And if we read the current range of activist networks and groups as a web that functions and expands rhizomatically, we may not only learn more about how activism functions rhetorically, but we may be taking steps towards redefining success in activism.

So what does it mean when one says, “It’s like a rhizome”?

A few crucial quotes from A Thousand Plateaus, broken up into some categories:

Rhizome VS. Tree:

  • “Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order” (7).
  • “A rhizome may be broken, shattered at any given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines” (9).
  • “Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways” (12).
  • “Thought is not arborescent … Many people have a tree growing in their heads, but the brain itself is much more a grass than a tree” (15).
  • “Arborescent systems are hierarchical systems with centers of signifiance and subjectification, central automata like organized memories. In corresponding models, an element only receives information from a higher unit, and only receives a subjective affection along preestablished paths” (16).
  • “Such is the principle of roots-trees, or their outcome: the radicle solution, the structure of Power” (17)
  • “The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and … and … and …’ This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be’” (25).

• Unlike a tree …

  • A rhizome’s “traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states.”
  • “It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle.”
  • “Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, with binary relations between the points and biunivocal relationships between the positions, the rhizome is made only of lines.”
  • “The rhizome is not the object of reproduction: neither external reproduction as image-tree nor internal reproduction as tree-structure.”
  • “The rhizome is acentered, non-hierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton, defined solely by a circulation of states.”

Methodologically Speaking:

  • “A method of the rhizome type, on the contrary, can analyze language only by decentering it onto other registers” (8).
  • “Transversal communications between different lines scramble the genealogical trees. Always look for the molecular, or even submolecular, particle with which we are allied … The rhizome is the anti-genealogy” (11).
  • “[E]stablish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings” (24).

Unity:

  • “Multiplicities are rhizomatic … There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide the subject … Puppet strings, as a rhizome or multiplicity, are tied not to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer but to a multiplicity of nerve fibers” (8).
  • “Unity always operates in an empty dimension supplementary to that of the system considered (overcoding). The point is that a rhizome or multiplicity never allows itself to be overcoded” (9).

Collectives / Assemblages:

  • “An assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections. There are not points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines” (8).
  • “To these centered systems [are contrasted] finite networks of automata in which communication runs from any neighbor to any other, the stems or channels do not preexist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment—such that the local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without a central agency” (17).

Problems with forcing a tree/root metaphor on things that don’t function that way:

  • “[They] do not reach the abstract machine that connects a language to the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field” (7). {Note to self: explore what “collective assemblages of enunciation” means from a rhetoric of social movements standpoint}
  • “The State’s pretension to be a world order, and to root man” (24). {Insert Bush Sr.’s quote on New World Order here}

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