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Diagram: Rhizomes

Rhizomes

The rhizome is a concept coined by french philosophers Deleuze and Guattari to describe a network of relations that resemble the structure of roots

All points are interconnected and interdependent, unfolding in a nonlinear manner with no central source of authority.


In plant biology a Rhizome is a type of plant that grows branches laterally underground, establishing new nodes or bulbs beneath the surface, which then sprout up on the surface. At the surface level, each sprout looks like an individual plant, but in fact they are all part of one interconnecting structure that lurks beneath the surface. The term has been taken up by assemblage philosophers to describe the interwoven, non-linear, and Network-like features of entities, that rely on relations that may be invisible, but nonetheless provide structure. 

A social media network is a perfect example of a rhizome. Each user represents a node of relations which can both influence and be influenced by other users. Whatever is trending that week demonstrates where the most activity is concentrated but the collective ethos is always shifting. The patterns of energy which pulsate through the digital system may congregate in some central areas but these flows will change with the passage of time.

Wikipedia shows you the rhizomatic structure of information better than a traditional encyclopedia by utilizing links between the articles. This demonstrates that the content is not to be understood linearly but as an entangled whole, providing a richer understanding by allowing you to traverse the relationships between the ideas. In doing so, the website operates in three dimensions rather than two and creates a more accurate depiction of reality. Part of the reason it is difficult to represent an idea in linear form is because all of its contents are interconnected, yet some of these bonds must be broken apart so that it can be flattened to a page. This causes distortions to occur as it allows for some relationships to be highlighted while sacrificing the accuracy of others.

Alternatively, a rhizome has multiple points of entry and is composed of dimensions in motion. It has no clear hierarchy, no beginning or end, everything is suspended in an endless milieu. This isn’t to say that no hierarchies can manifest, but they are always contingent and relational. Someone who dominates in one field may be a smaller player in another. A frog is predator to the fly and prey to the cat. What was once modern art becomes classic as dynamic quality calcifies into static. There are no true contradictions, but many frame dependent ones will arise when you look at the same phenomena through different lenses.

When you start to think of reality in this way you quickly realize that there is no solid ground at all. Things come into existence through their relations with others and what is figure for one is turned to ground for the rest. A plant forms a rhizome with its environment, taking information from the wind, sun, water, animals, and soil to determine where to grow. But the animals also form a rhizome with the plant and will react to its behavior accordingly. Each informs the other in an iterative fashion, generating epiphenomena which have a causal power of their own. Flowers and hummingbirds have coevolved in a manner that now makes them mutually dependent, with the birds relying upon the flowers for their nutritious nectar and the flowers upon the birds for their pollination.

These nexuses of casual power are referred to by Deleuze as plateaus, which he describes as continuous, self-vibrating regions of intensities. Any set of ideas with enough weight to merit a wikipedia page or social identity worthy of a twitter account could be considered a plateau. They are packages of information which operate as a collective unit upon the world. You are a plateau, Mount Everest is a plateau, the hummingbird is a plateau, the coevolution between the pollinator and the flower is also a plateau. The concept has a fractal quality wherein it can contain sets of itself. The earth, solar system, and milky way galaxy are all plateaus too, each with its own distinct features. This stratification of layers imprisons varying intensities into systems of resonance and redundancy, producing pockets of predictable behavior within the ever-changing network of relations.

The structure of the rhizome is self-similar so that the nodes on one level of analysis constitute the rods of another. Energy flows from people as well as through them, in some instances you act with agency and in others you are acted upon. The same goes for every bee, tree, and blade of grass. All are systems subordinate to systems and constituted out of other systems, be those cells or molecules of DNA. The totality of all these systems represents one entangled whole which is constantly acting upon itself. Individual entities are therefore correlations made by us as they are all members of the same complex web of relations. Reality is nothing more than repeated iterations of distinction throughout a continuous process. As Deleuze writes, “the magic formula, that pluralism equals monism must be arrived at through the necessary enemy of dualism” with which we are constantly contending. That which sits outside of this totality is referred to as the plane of consistency, the inert grid upon which this entire unfolding is taking place.

Contribution by Jane Gatsby, 2022

 


Cite this page:

Wohl, S. (2022, 9 June). Rhizomes. Retrieved from https://kapalicarsi.wittmeyer.io/definition/rhizomes

Rhizomes was updated June 9th, 2022.

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New Materialism | Deleuze

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Might the world we live in be made up of contingent, emergent 'assemblages'? If so, how might complexity theory help us understand such assemblages?

Assemblage geographers consider space in ways similar to relational geographers. However, they focus more on the temporary and contingent ways in which forces and flows come together to form stable entities. Thus, they are less attuned to the mechanics of how specific relations coalesce, and more to the contingent and agentic aspects of the assemblages that manifest.

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There would be some thought experiments here.

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Related (this page): Assemblage Geography (20), Networks (75), 
Section: terms
Non-Linearity
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