Rhizome is used by many and maybe not even 100% understood by anyone except perhaps by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, the philosophers who coined the term. Maybe we are not supposed to “master” nor totally grasp the concept of rhizome. But what I do understand concerning the concept is enough for me: It describe a way to be in the world. The term originates in the Ancient Greek word rhízōma, which means “mass of roots” and rhizóō meaning “cause to strike root” – a stem of a plant which is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes, like ginger. I love ginger too!
Rhizome, as a philosophical concept, was first developed by Deleuze and Guattari in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972–1980) project. It is what Deleuze calls an “image of thought”, based on the botanical rhizome described above. They use the term “rhizome” and “rhizomatic” to describe the kind of theory and research, which allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation.
But what is a rhizome? How do the logics of the rhizome differ from the logic of the root and stem? Mark C. Taylor asks in his text Rhizomic Folds of Interstanding we all wonder…
There are no direct, straightforward answers to these questions. The labyrinths they [Deleuze and Guattari] open can be approached only indirectly, from angles that are never right, along lines of inquiry that are as twisted as the folds they attempt to trace. We must begin where we are—in the midst of a midst that is no longer our own.
Rhizomic networks do not grow from a common stem, root, or branch. To the contrary, rhizomes are spliced and grafted in such a way that connection is established without synthesizing or integrating the differences joined. Since nothing is integral to the network, connections can be cut without disrupting the operating system (Taylor).
According to Deleuze and Guattari rhizomes are horizontal and non-hierarchical connections, where anything may be linked to anything else, with no respect for specific species, nor hierarchy. “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo” (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 25). Unlike trees and roots (and genealogy trees), the rhizome connects any point to any other point and has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle from which it grows and from where it overspills – it has neither subject nor object.
Rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the original source of ‘things’ and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those ‘things’. A rhizome, on the other hand, is characterized by ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. …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 .” (Wikipedia).
What a wonderful metaphor using water and its tendency to find available spaces when possible. Yes, it is fascinating to think about in how many different ways the rhizome concept can change the way we see culture, society, social struggel and our lives.
The rhizome is made only of lines and could also be described as a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible and has multiple entranceways and exits and its own lines of flights (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987: 21)
Rhizome.net is the site hosting two interesting web magazines Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge and Hyperrhiz, on online journal specializing in new media criticism and net art. Both are independent peer-reviewed online journals.
On the site you can also find The Rhizomes Manifesto, which, I think, in a couple of sentences describe a rhizomic world view and philosophy very well.
Rhizomes oppose the idea that knowledge must grow in a tree structure from previously accepted ideas. New thinking need not follow established patterns.
Rhizomes promotes experimental work located outside current disciplines, work that has no proper location. As our name suggests, works written in the spirit of Deleuzian approaches are welcomed but not required.
We are not interested in publishing texts that establish their authority merely by affirming what is already believed. Instead, we encourage migrations into new conceptual territories resulting from unpredictable juxtapositions.
In gardening and landscaping contexts rhizomes are often seen as something evil, something which should be eliminated and kept out – they are called invasive plants. An interesting connection could be drawn to how sub, underground and free culture often is rejected by mainstream society. Reading the discription of these “alien species that show a tendency to spread out of control” there are also negative connotations which come to mind concerning racist, right-wing extreme, anti-Semitic and totalitarian tendencies in society today.
At About.com a page with landscaping help describes rhizome:
Definition: Rhizomes are horizontal underground stems that strike new roots out of their nodes, down into the soil, and that shoot new stems out of their nodes, up to the surface. This rhizome activity represents a form of plant reproduction. The irrepressible nature of many of our most invasive plants is due to the vigor of their rhizomes.
Examples: Despite their pretty little bell-shaped flowers, which are quite aromatic, many gardeners consider lily-of-the-valley plants problematic due to their invasive rhizomes.
It works well as a philosophical metapfor:
Despite their pretty little bell-shaped felt hats, which are quite colorful, many citizens consider members of this underground movement problematic due to their invasive rhizomes.
I am happy that the landscaping description adds “Helping invasive plants spread in some cases are extensive underground networks of root-like plant parts called, rhizomes. The rhizomes are so widespread that attempting eradication by digging them up is usually fruitless” – YES!
Rhizome as a concept is also used in technology. The web platform Rhizome.org is “dedicated to the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology”. Through open platforms for exchange and collaboration, their aim is to encourage and expand the communities around these practices…The organizational voice draws attention to artists, their work, their perspectives and the complex interrelationships between technology, art and culture. They have this year launched IH+ which is a mobile media app that transforms everyday landscapes into sites of bio-cultural diversity and wild happenings….The app works by importing the rhetoric of wilderness into virtually any place accessible by Google Maps and encouraging its users to treat these locales as spaces worthy of the attention accorded to sublime landscapes, such as canyons and gorges
For me as a blogger the film “Blogosphere Visualization” from rhizomenavigation.net describes in an excellent way blogging as a rhizomic practice – we interconnect sites and subjects via horizontal and non-hierarchical connections, where anything may be linked to anything else, with no respect for specific species, nor hierarchy. The way I, in this blog enrty, have mixed philosophy, handcraft, technology and landscape architecture.
- How blogging is a rhizomic practice (yrancken.wordpress.com)
- Can the Internet be an example of a ‘rhizome?’ (waste.informatik.hu-berlin.de)
- The architecture of a network: nodes and swarms (socmediamash.wordpress.com)