ATP reading notes 2 – the first 4 principles of the rhizome

There are 6 principles of the rhizome that are outlined in the first chapter of ATP. They are introduced as ways of characterising the rhizome, although these are only “approximate characteristics” (ATP 7). There is something a little incongruous about the way they are introduced. The function of these characteristics, approximate as they may be, is to give a definition for the key methodological framework of the book, the rhizome, but the way that D&G introduce this set of defining principles is by saying that “we get the distinct feeling that we will convince no one unless we enumerate certain approximate characteristics of the rhizome” (ibid). The element of this that strikes me as incongruous is this way of phrasing things – “we get the distinct feeling that we will convince no one…” – which sounds almost patronising or dismissive. On the one hand, presumably, they are acknowledging an intention to ‘convince’ but on the other hand the ‘distinct feeling’ reads as though it were a kind of realisation that the people they are trying to convince would fail to follow along if D&G were to simply do their own thing. It’s as though these principles are offered as a kind of sop to stupidity, as though the need for a clear definition cannot be avoided, even though such a definitional mode is itself almost inherently non-rhizomatic because it presents itself as a foundational moment, a root or radicle.

This performative paradox of a text that advocates rhizomatic readings having to begin by defining what a rhizome is as its foundation is most likely what underlies this odd way of introducing the principles of the rhizome. Despite what they say later in this introduction, that “a rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo” (ATP 25), the book has a physical front and back, it presents in a linear fashion, it builds upon itself as it progresses, it’s a tree, not a rhizome. Advocating for a rhizomatic book inside a book that is classically formed is most odd. In a time of non-linear text functions, with hyperlinks and e-books offering all range of possible horizons of reading, ATP feels a little old-fashioned and incongruous in many ways, advocating for a future in a form from the past that seems almost childishly limited in its possibilities. At the same time, the worry is that something deeper than mere form is the source of the problem here, something closer to the very function of philosophy, reason, argument and ‘convincing’ intellectual positions. Is it, in fact, possible to conceive a rhizomatic thought, one that can begin from the middle? Doesn’t all thought get structured by the fact that it always must begin somewhere and that this beginning is never, can never be, a middle? The problem of the ‘beginning’ of thought would take us right back to Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger and their obsessions with beginnings, and perhaps it’s as an attempt to break away from this that best accounts for the move towards the rhizome.

The six principles are as follows:

  • 1 and 2 – principles of connection and heterogeneity
  • 3 – principle of multiplicity
  • 4 – principle of asignifying rupture
  • 5 and 6 – principles of cartography and decalcomania

Some simple observations to begin with. There are supposedly 6 principles but as can be seen the first and last pairs are linked together. It’s also worth noting that in the discussions of both P1&2 and P5&6 the work of Chomsky is in the background as a contrasting perspective. The longest single discussion of any of these principles is of P4, where 3 paragraphs are devoted to it. In comparison P1, 2, and 3 get only a single paragraph each and P5&6 gets 5 paragraphs. It’s also worth noting that the famous example of the wasp and orchid is part of the discussion of P4, asignifying ruptures, not as one might assume from a lot of pub conversation, part of the map/territory discussion of P5&6. Finally, it’s worth noting that P5&6 is not the principle of the map and territory, even though there is a discussion of such, rather it’s the principle of maps and tracings. This notion of the trace, a concept we might more commonly associate with Derrida, is what underlies that strange word ‘decalcomania’. Having made these simple observations, I will briefly work through each principle. Before I do, however, one impressionistic response, which is the following: the presence and centrality of Chomsky, asignification, abstract machines and the rhizome itself seem likely to be derived far more from Guattari than from Deleuze, whereas in Anti-Oedipus the role of the three syntheses, the 5 paralogisms and the general structure of the argument as diagnosing a post hoc ergo procter hoc fallacy within psychoanalysis seems far closer to Deleuze’s classical style of doing philosophy. Roughly and impressionistically speaking this would suggest that of the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuzian influence is strongest conceptually in AO and Guattarian influence stronger conceptually in ATP.

1 and 2 – principles of connection and heterogeneity – “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (ATP 7). This begins the attempt to ‘exit language’ that underpins the rhizome as a method, the attempt to break open the linguistic, language and speaking priorities that dominate philosophy and academic analysis more widely, opening our analyses of assemblages to “organisations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.” (ibid). It is not meaning that matter but function, although this does not imply that there is no meaning, only that meanings and connections between meanings are little more than moments of wider, more diverse (heterogeneous) types of connections. In Anti-Oedipusthis is the first synthesis, the synthesis of connection, where desire is involved in ‘putting to work’ the body – its’ formula or mode would be = ‘and’, ‘and then…’ (production).  [Paranoiac machine] (cf. Anti-Oedipus, Ch1, S.1; Ch.2, S3). One of the most notable aspects of the discussion of these first two principle is the claim that their criticism of linguistic models “is not that they are too abstract but, on the contrary, that they are not abstract enough, that 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. (ibid)”. This is the first mention of ‘micropolitics’ to occur in ATP. It is, however, the second mention of these curious things called ‘abstract machines’ which are not to be mistaken for ‘abstractions’. I’m still curious about these ‘abstract machines’. They seem to be deployed against abstractions and universals, aiming to perhaps take over the functional role of those concepts whilst removing the recuperative and neutralising effect that Guattari thinks they have (cf. The Machinic Unconscious p52).

3 – principle of multiplicity – “it is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, ‘multiplicity’, that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world.” The heart of this principle appears to be an attempt to avoid a series of philosophical problematics that produce paradox or capture arguments, traps that traditional philosophical argument lays for the unwary. In particular, the strategic core of this principle, registered in the phrase ‘only when … effectively treated’, is aimed at attempts to find the essence or unity behind an assemblage under analysis. The key claim here is that “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…” and the reason it can never be overcoded is that in the act of overcoding (as when providing a ‘unity’ through an explanatory essence or principle perhaps) the multiplicity changes its nature (ATP 8). It might be interesting to compare Derrida’s thinking about supplementarity and the quasi-transcendental at this point, but that will have to wait for another time.

4 – principle of asignifying rupture – “against the oversignifying breaks separating structures of cutting across a single structure” (ATP 9). If there is one moment that indicates clearly why we might accurately describe the project of D&G as ‘post-structuralist’ it might be this. If there was one principle I think is most productive for the practice of rhizomatic thinking that is being advocated for in this first chapter of ATP then I think it is this one. Philosophy and academic thinking, in particular, is so heavily imbued with the need to find ‘dualisms’, dichotomies, structural significations (the ‘break’, ‘turn’ or ‘transformation’) that it runs almost counter to rhizomatic thinking. Instead, the ‘wisdom of the plants’ that we might find by apprenticing ourselves to gardening, growing, cultivation, particular on a small non-industrial scale, teaches us far more easily than intellectual chatter. I’m going to declare an entirely biased position at this point, because I’ve been spending the last few years developing an increasing interest in growing and cultivating but despite this rather comical self-bias I can’t help but shake the sense that there is something critical here, something in the messy, connected, dirty business of gardening that has an insight which might be crucial, methodologically, for grasping the rhizome. It is in some sense trivial, but if you want to know what a rhizome is, start growing potatoes and then try removing them – or simply try and deal with an active rhizomatic organism such as bindweed. It is perhaps no surprise that it is in the discussion of this asignifying rupture that we encounter the charlatan shaman Castenada, there is always a fine line between wisdom and foolishness in the words that come out of the mouths of the shamans, although usually, such distinctions disappear rather abruptly in practice. (The other major example of a rhizomatic practice that appears is that of music – this in part explains the image at the head of the chapter and will no doubt connect to the role of the ‘refrain’).

Despite this strong connection to a non-intellectual ‘wisdom’ the core point of the rhizome and of the principles that D&G are outlining is still to provide a methodology for analysing assemblages (for analysing systems in the world) that is effective and useful, that is, we might even want to say ‘better’ (although that always depends on what it is better at). In particular the concept of aparallel evolution that is deployed at this point in the discussion connects strongly with debates, practices and possibilities for evolutionary science, in effect suggesting that one method for thinking about nature within an evolutionary framework is better than another, where better here would mean something like ‘having greater explanatory power’ (ie: it would be better abductive reasoning to deploy rhizomatic methodology). In terms of understanding schizoanalytic ‘jargon’, in particular, the concept of deterritorialization, the discussion of aparallel evolution is illuminating. As opposed to the model of ‘lines of development’ and the evolutionary tree, where the most complicated form might be something like co-evolution or forms of symbiosis, aparallel evolution posits a far higher degree of ‘flow’ and ‘conjunction’ – “evolutionary schemas would no longer follow models of arborescent descent going from the least to the most differentiated, but instead a rhizome operating immediately in the heterogeneous and jumping from one already differentiated line to another” (ATP 10).

At this point I’ll take a break and return to this chapter, beginning from the last two principles, in the next post in this series. This week (13 October) the reading group was covering Chapter 2 (1914: one or several wolves) and next week will be starting on Chapter 3, so my plan is to catch up to where we are at in the group so I can write up my notes after each session.

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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  1. patricio
    patricio at |

    thanks for posting this series!!

    muchas gracias!!

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