The Philosophical Concept of Rhizome

Rhizome comes from the Greek rhizoma . Rhizome is often taken as being synonymous with “root”; in botany, a rhizome is a plant structure that grows underground and has both roots (commonly, the part that grows down into the ground) and shoots (commonly, the part that grows up through the ground). The word is associated with postmodern theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who use the rhizome to describe a process of existence and growth that does not come from a single central point of origin. In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari name arborescence or the model of the tree as the paradigm for knowledge and practice in the modern Western world; in this model, a small idea—a seed or acorn—takes root and grows into a tree with a sturdy trunk supporting numerous branches, all linked to and traceable back to the original seed. The seed or acorn thus is the beginning point of a coherent organic system that grows vertically and progressively, continually sending out branches that are part of, and identical to, the point of origin. This arborescence, they argue, is the way Western logic and philosophy has worked: in this case, Plato might be the seed and all subsequent philosophies are outgrowths of Platonic thought.

In the postmodern world, however, Deleuze and Guattari argue, the grand narrative of arborescence falls apart. They offer instead the rhizome or fungus, which is an organism of interconnected living fibers that has no central point, no origin, and no particular form or unity or structure. A rhizome does not start from anywhere or end anywhere; it grows from everywhere, and is the same at any point. As such, a rhizome has no center, which makes it difficult to uproot or destroy; you might think of a mold or fungus, which can reproduce from any cell. Postmodern culture resembles this rhizome more than the tree, according to Deleuze and Guattari. An example of this might be the internet, the World Wide Web, which has a rhizomatic structure. It has no point of origin, no central locus, nothing that controls or shapes or organizes it: the web simply grows. You can take out any link or any website (even any web browser) without damaging or changing the internet—it continues to exist without path or pattern.

The rhizome is a-linear, multiple, spread out, all proliferating and without boundaries centres/margins or limits. This is what Deleuze terms a “horizontality” of thought. Rejecting the “Father Principle” or the principle of the otigin.-as-identity, Deleuze and Guattari argue that there is no distinction between the individual and the collective. Traditionally the individual has always been associated with desire and the collective with the law. Deleuze and Guattari instead propose a “social desire.” This suggests that desire is always in movement, always constituted by different elements depending upon the situation. This, they suggest, is machine-like rather than a drama (of Oedipal representation). Desire is not lack, which suggests negativity. It is affirmative in its state of movement and change. Thus the “body without organs” (BWO) is constantly in the process of formation, deformation and reformation. The BWO is itself rhizomatic, which loses a point/channel of desire (deterritorialisation) only to start off along a new path like a rhizome’s, spread (reterritorialisalion).


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