“A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance.”
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari wrote a two volume work called Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus in 1972 and A Thousand Plateaus in 1980. Their masterpiece was the creation of the Rhizome which, it was hoped, would free western-minded people from the follies of arborescent thinking. Arborescent thinking is tree thinking, a search for rootedness and an evolutionary hierarchy developed from those roots and expressed in a genealogy.
“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’”
Deleuze and Guattari consider arborescent modes of thought, which they find dominate Western academic thinking, derived from the European fascination with the forest and deforestation. They note that where forests have been removed to create fields, trees are replaced by root crops and domesticated animals whose genealogies are specially preserved to conform to breeds. Although explicitly attempting to avoid a duality they contrast this mode of thought with that found in the ‘East’.
In the East, according to Deleuze and Guattari, there exists a system of thought more akin to a plant having a rhizome rather than a root. The rhizome is similar to a root in that it is linear, however, it differs in that it does not form a lineage, it can bud off in any direction, and it can reconnect at any point. A rhizome forms a complex web (sometimes described as an open network) whose form can not be predetermined. For Deleuze and Guattari the rhizome system is the nature of all things. Even a tree, when thought of from this perspective, always has an outside where they form a rhizome with something else — with the wind, an animal, human beings.
The web of the rhizome grows from the centre (milieu) and as it expands, it continually transforms the whole of the multiplicities of which it is constructed. Adopted as a social theory, it requires a commitment to contextualization and multiple meanings, and the rejection of social evolution and unilineal genealogies in interpretation.
"As long as the plant is connected, all the roots, the roots that dig down everywhere, can share nutrients. They share their life, their energy, their fuel. The rhizome “grows between and among things.”
D & G: “How can the book find an adequate outside with which to assemble in heterogeneity, rather than a world to reproduce?”
The rhizome is an anti-genealogy.
Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways…
Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come. …
The rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing. Make a map, not a tracing.
A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. A semiotic chain is like a tuber agglomerating very diverse acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic, gestural, and cognitive: there is no language in itself, nor are…
This shift in perspective is not an easy task, as it significantly challenges the epistemological basis of humanities disciplines and, as such, is inherent in much of what Rosenau labels ‘affirmative post-modernism’. Deleuze and Guattari have explained why this difficulty in comprehending a new perspective exists in a way which would probably delight the ‘New Agers’, people who for example, “believe that there are psychic forces at Stonehenge — energy fields, ley lines” (Bender, 1993).
Ley lines refer to hypothetical alignments of a number of places of geographical interest, such as ancient monuments and megaliths. Their existence was suggested in 1921 by the amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins, whose book ‘The Old Straight Track’ brought the alignments to the attention of the wider public.
Some writers have claimed that the ley lines and their intersection points resonate a special psychic or magical energy. These theories often include elements such as geomancy, dowsing or UFOs. Some similar believe these points on lines have electrical or magnetic forces associated with them.
Deleuze and Guattari find that in the West “we have lost the rhizome”. That is according to Deleuze and Guattari, the sedentarized people in the West have had the tree metaphor so completely inculcated that they are (almost?) mentally unable to achieve other modes of thinking. It is perhaps then the case that in the midst of high capitalism we have lost a sense of how ‘things’ really are. This loss of sense or senses in Western society has been claimed by many people for many different facets of life.
The rhizome has 6 main traits:
Connection: This refers to the linking of different thoughts in the rhizome. Ideas are connected at multiple points. Any point of any one thought can be linked to any other point in a system of thought.
Heterogeneity: No link among different thoughts must be linked to parts of the same nature. A piece of art could be linked to a particular social theory, which could then be linked to a political scandal. The ideas can be linked to each other in any way, not requiring homogeneity in their fundamental traits.
Multiplicity: The rhizome is not reducible to one or to multiple. Instead, it is a system of lines. There are not 'units' of the rhizome. It can be conceived of as a linear system of dimensions, of 'directions in motion'.
Signifying Rupture: Parts of rhizome can be ruptured, or broken. This does have a normative meaning. A broken element or connection in the rhizome does not mean that element was 'bad' or that a link between ideas should not have existed. The rhizome continues to exist.
Cartography: A person enters into the rhizome from a distinct point. It is not possible to re-enter from the same position many times, or for different people to approach the rhizome from the same position. Cartography has an intuitive meaning, drawing the understanding the links and parts of the rhizome - creating a map of it. This allows for a unique conception of the ideas being evaluated, linked, etc, and a formative process that contrasts to tracing.
Decalcomania: Tracing is like tracing a drawing, there is no creation involved. Tracing the rhizome assumes it’s static and fails to take account of the constantly changing nature of the structure. Tracing transposes a pre-existing conception of the rhizome and of thought onto elements that do not fit into that framework. Thus, tracing is opposed the project of conceiving of thought as a rhizomatic scheme.
Rhizomatics is a philosophy trying to understand the organized complexity of knowledge in the current reality of infinite information and interconnections. Rhizomes are inherently organic in nature, where knowledge may change as connections change and as the network touches other networks. At the end of the day there is no absolute right or wrong, there are only likelihoods based on interconnections and flow between nodes.
As abstract as it looks, rhizomes appear to explain ecosystems, brain neural networks, the internet and social media quite accurately. Rhizomatics is rapidly becoming a contender for the paradigm of knowledge in an all-connected era. If rhizomes can explain knowledge and behavior in networks, some scholars believe that it can also explain, support and become a learning theory.