Rhizome (philosophy)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
We're tired of trees, Porphyrian tree

Rhizome is a philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972–1980) project. It is what Deleuze calls an "image of thought", based on the botanical rhizome, that apprehends multiplicities.


Origin of the concept

The concept of rhizome was first put forward by Deleuze and Guattari in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1975). In that book they asked "Comment entrer dans l'œuvre de Kafka?" (English: "How to enter into Kafka's work?") Their answer was "c'est un rhizome, un terrier" (English "It's a rhizome, a burrow.") The next year, in extension of the Kafka book, they published the small text Rhizome. Introduction (Editions de Minuit, 1976) [1], the contents of which were later revised into the introductory chapter of the main work A Thousand Plateaus.

Rhizome as a mode of knowledge and model for society

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari use the term "rhizome" and "rhizomatic" to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. In A Thousand Plateaus, they oppose it to an arborescent conception of knowledge, which works with dualist categories and binary choices. A rhizome works with planar and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear connections. Their use of the "orchid and the wasp" is taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity (i.e. a unity that is multiple in itself). Horizontal gene transfer would also be a good illustration.

As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the originary source of "things" and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those "things." A rhizome, on the other hand, "ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles." Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a "rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo." The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation. In this model, culture spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or trickling downwards towards new spaces through fissures and gaps, eroding what is in its way. The surface can be interrupted and moved, but these disturbances leave no trace, as the water is charged with pressure and potential to always seek its equilibrium, and thereby establish smooth space.

Principles of the rhizome

Deleuze and Guattari introduce A Thousand Plateaus by outlining the concept of the rhizome (quoted from A Thousand Plateaus):

  • 1 and 2: Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be
  • 3. Principle of multiplicity: only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, "multiplicity" that it ceases to have any relation to the One
  • 4. Principle of asignifying rupture: a rhizome may be broken, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines
  • 5 and 6: Principle of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model; it is a "map and not a tracing"

In Carl Jung

Carl Jung used the word "rhizome", also calling it a "myzel", to emphasize the invisible and underground nature of life:

Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above the ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost the sense of something that lives and endures beneath the eternal flux. What we see is blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains. (Prologue from "Memories, Dreams, Reflections")

See also


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