Plateaus, Networks, and the Mad Hatter Twins Take the Grand Stage

And, we’re back. But what to say about this week’s reading?

I guess, I should start by admitting that I probably should NOT have started with the excerpt from Guattari and Deleuze’s book,  A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. I loved Guattari’s Three Ecologies, but when I read the opening to their chapter “Introduction: Rhizome,” I was quite taken aback: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was seven, there was already quite a crowd.” Maybe I’m just not up-to-speed with their understanding of math, but my first and second reactions were certainly:

Waving goodbye as we tumble down the rabbit hole. Image hosted on the blog, Pitter Patter.

Waving goodbye as we tumble down the rabbit hole. Image hosted on the blog, Pitter Patter.

We're All Mad Here. Image hosted on

We’re All Mad Here. Image hosted on Stack Exchange.

Alas, I digress before I have even begun. After my initial, “Woah” moment, I settled into reading. I particularly like Deleuze and Guattari’s conversations about books as taproots, “with its pivotal spine and surrounding roots,” going on in all different directions rather than just a dichotomy, but then move on to show that this is just as limiting as the dichotomous view that had been in place before. They offer a different image instead: “The radicle-system, or fascicular root, is the second figure of the book, to which our modernity pays willing allegiance. This time, the principal root has aborted, or its tip has been destroyed; an immediate, indefinite multiplicity of secondary roots grafts onto it and undergoes a flourish development. This time, natural reality is what aborts the principal root, but the root’s unity subsists, as past or yet to come, as possible” (5). And then comes their image of the rhizome, but an image that is not only limited to plants but certain animals as well (rats are their example) and, later, their comparison of rhizomes to books: “The rhizome is an anti-genealogy. The same applies to the book and the world: contrary to a deeply rooted belief, the book is not an image of the world. It forms a rhizome with the world, there is an aparallel evolution of the book and the world; the book assures the deterritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it is capable, if it can). Mimicry is a very bad concept, since it relies on binary logic to describe phenomena of an entirely different nature” (11).

**Warning: The beginning of this video is a little weird as it has dramatic music playing through a textual/visual introduction. Once it ends, though, the video opens to an interview.

Side note: when Googling Deleuze and Guattari’s “radicle-system,” one of my image results was Christian Bale covered in blood from  his role in American Psycho. I did also find a blog entry on their Anti-Oedipus. One of the most interesting blog entries I have found employed Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “collective assemblage of enunciation” into object-oriented rhetoric.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Image hosted on  website for Mike Hoolboom.

,  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Image hosted on website for Mike Hoolboom.

A Break for Some Vocabulary

Rhizome – “a rootlike subterranean stem, commonly horizontal in position, that usually produces roots below and sends up shoots progressively from the upper surface” ( But, the organic definition is not the only one. For Deleuze and Guattari, “A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (7).

Urban Photo Rhizome. Image hosted on blog, Bhopal 2011: Requiem & Revitalisation.

Urban Photo Rhizome. Image hosted on blog, Bhopal 2011: Requiem & Revitalisation.

Collective Assemblage of Enunciation – “focus on the manner in which impersonal statements are tied to collectives, and are not attributable to subjects…the subject is no longer divided in Cartesian sense between an enunciation (‘I think’) and a statement (‘I am’) that could constitute its being”  (The Deleuze and Guattari Dictionary by Eugene B. Young 70). These remind me of neurons in the brain that I had to read about with Neurobiology a few weeks ago.

Machinic Assemblages – “One side of a machinic assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signing totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate, and attributing to itself subjects that it leaves with nothing more than a name as the trace of an intensity” (Deleuze and Guattari 4)

Abstract Machine – “connects a language to the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field” (Deleuze and Guattari 7)

Principle of Connection and Heterogeneity – “Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order” (Deleuze and Guattari 7)

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. Multiplicities are rhizomatic , and expose aborescent psuedomultiplicities for what they are… A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows” (Deleuze and Guattari 8)

Principle of Asignifying Rupture – “Against the oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines…Every rhizome contains lines of sementarity according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc., as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees” (Deleuze and Guattari 9)

Principle of Cartography and Decalcomania – “a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model. It is a stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure. A genetic axis is like an objective pivotal unity upon which successive stages are organized; a deep structure is more like a base sequence that can be broken down into immediate constituents, while the unity of the product passes into another, transformational and subjective, dimension” (Delueze and Guattari 12)

After moving through their introduction, picking up vocabulary concepts along the way, I did find an image that helped me to visualize kind of where they were going with decoupling the tree root metaphor and moving towards rhizome. It was an adjustment to think of theories not as trees, branching outwards from the ground up, but as rhizomes branching out from wherever they can. This makes more sense, especially after doing the Theory Tree group work with some of my peers. We had encountered a problem, initially, with deciding how to shape the pathways of the authors, as they were drawing upon one another, crossing topics and subjects, looping back and adding outwards. Theory does not move in a linear fashion along a timeline, but links to other theories, even some that may be startling with their connections. In this way, Delueze and Guattari remind me of Foucault, in that they are tearing away at the image of the tree that had been so heavily embedded in how theorists saw their work moving into the network of theories playing out, but also looking at how those theorists (like Ninetieth) were undercutting what was seen as established: “Joyce’s words, accurately described as having ‘multiple roots,’ shatter the linear unity of the word, even of language, only to posit a cyclic unity of the sentence, text, or knowledge. Nietzsche’s aphorisms shatter the linear unity of knowledge, only to invoke the cyclic unity of the eternal return, present as the nonknown in thought” (Deleuze and Guattari 6). The shattering of unity of language and knowledge, sounds a lot like what Foucault was proposing with history and the history of ideas. There is no one unifying tree trunk because there is no linearity beyond that which we impose, but even that comes with selective inclusion and exclusion.

But, as soon as I start to follow Delueze and Guattari’s threads of thought, they produce sentences like, “Drunkenness as a triumphant irruption of the plant in us” (11). Seriously people, I think they are just messing with readers at that point. Or, maybe, in the haze of their LSD experiments, a statement like that (as well as the one where two people are seven) actually means something deep and awe-inspiring? Either way, such commentary leaves me brain-addled in the desert of rhizomatic confusion. Though, I must say, their declaration for readers to “Follow the plants” makes sense (I feel totally batty for having just written that) because plants find interesting ways of adapting to their surroundings and the climate and they branch off in anyway that will give them access to greater amounts of sunlight.

Someone's conceptualization of Delueze and Guattari's ideas. Image hosted on the website Lab404.

Someone’s conceptualization of Delueze and Guattari’s ideas. Image hosted on the website Lab404.

Rainie and Wellman Come Falling Down

Lee Rainie, Director of  Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Image hosted on the University of Maryland's website for the Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

Lee Rainie, Director of Pew Research Center‘s Internet & American Life Project. Image hosted on the University of Maryland’s website for the Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

Barry Wellman, professor at the University of Toronto. Image hosted on the website for the Workshop on Information in Networks.

Barry Wellman, professor at the University of Toronto. Image hosted on the website for the Workshop on Information in Networks.

Changing the metaphorical (and theoretical) gears, we turn to Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman’s book Networked: The New Social Operating System. This book was very different than our rhizome-obsessed dynamic duo, though the introduction tripped me up considerably as it was about a woman tripping and then having brain surgery. Rainie and Wellman’s focus turns towards individuals networking through technology: “When people walk down the street texting on their phones, they are obviously communicating. Yet things are different now. In incorporating gadgets into their lives, people have changed the ways they interact with each other. They have become networked as individuals, rather than embedded in groups. In the world of networked individuals, it is the person who is the focus: not the family, not the work unit, not the neighborhood, and not the social group” (6). It was interesting to read their ideas about how our interactions with communication technologies are reshaping the “social operating system” that they call “networked individualism” (6).

Distracted walking. Image hosted on Australian news site, SFGate, in the article "Tourist Walks Off Australia Pier While Checking Facebook."

Distracted walking. Image hosted on Australian news site, SFGate, in the article “Tourist Walks Off Australia Pier While Checking Facebook.”

It was a curious thing to think of people as part of an operating system, casting us in roles similar to the computers we make, buy, operate, upgrade, and love and hate. However, such an idea makes sense. Unless we are completely isolated, we function as nodes within groups at home, at work, at school, in places where we shop, eat, drink, relax. After looking at the picture above, those who are part of societies fluent in these communication technologies visually look like they are moving nodes in a network, always connected, exchanging information. We move through crowds of people on their phones, checking Facebook, Twitter, their emails, websites, Google Maps, and so on through the interwebs.

To push forth their idea of networked individualism, Rainie and Wellman list four aspects of the social network operating system: “personal–the individual is at the autonomous center just as she reaching out from her computer; multiuser–people are interacting with numerous diverse others; multitasking–people are doing several things; and multithreaded–they are doing them more or less simultaneously” (7). We’re all looking a little cyborg now. This reminds me of the articles I read on Cloud Computing at the beginning of the semester as we are part of the external framework of the global network, along with the computer hardware constantly at our fingertips. But Rainie and Wellman make a good point, one that resonates with Castells, that this social network operating system is founded on social networks that were already in place; it is not a new system (social groups already existed), but a newer system (one where proximity is not as important a detail anymore) that is enhanced by advancements in technology, giving us a broader reach and an ability to juggle more with (usually) efficiency. The authors are pushing back against people who warn against technology making us more isolated, finding that what people do with the technology is a constant reaching out rather than a drawing inward. However, they also found that people still want the physical connection and find that networking through communication technology is taxing in that they must constantly work at staying connected (sound like Latour with his observation that individuals in a group must constantly define and redefine the boundaries of their group. It takes work to be and stay connected.)

The more I think about it, the more I can see it both ways. Through my phone and computer, I can be in constant contact with someone, anyone, and yet, by being on my phone while I am physically near someone, I am (in a sense) constructing a mental wall against that person. This reminds me of family dinners where I would be sitting next to my mother, stepfather, and younger sister, only to have no one speaking. My mother and stepfather would be playing word games with each other, but messaging through the text feature, and my little sister would be texting her friends or following her favorite celebrity (Justin Bieber, at that time). The same thing happens all the time in restaurants, on buses or light rails, or even just walking down the street. The people around us can become physical shadows we don’t pay much attention to because there are people with whom we can connect virtually who more clearly share our interests, are friends from back home, or are family members who can now be reached without using the seemingly obsolete snail mail.


How to escape a social function like a ninja? Phone call. Image hosted on a website for House of Cards.

How to escape a social function like a ninja? Phone call. Image hosted on a blog for House of Cards.

Rainie and Wellman discuss three revolutions that have taken place as communication technologies shape how we interact with others: 1) “The Social Network Revolution has provided opportunities–and stresses– for people to reach beyond the world of tight groups” (it’s no longer enough to be an isolated tribe. Need to link outwards); 2) “the Internet Revolution has given people communication powers and information-gathering capacities that dwarf those of the past” (which can sometimes result in this); 3) “the Mobile Revolution has allowed ICTs [information and communication technology] to become bodily appendages allowing people to access friends and information at will, wherever they go” (11-12).

Analytical Scott Joins in the Chorus

[add more here]

John Scott's figures of compiling a Sociogram, on page 45.

John Scott’s figures of compiling a Sociogram, on page 45.

And so ends our story of Rhizomes, Networked Individuals, and Sociograms. Just for a while, loves. These things always crop back up.

Enough internet for Dean Winchester, from Supernatural.

Enough internet for Dean Winchester, from Supernatural.


Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. [PDF].

Raine, Lee and Barry Wellman. Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. [PDF].

Scott, John. Social Network Analysis: A Handbook. 2nd Ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2010. [PDF].

Long Live the Multiple

This entry was posted in ENGL894, Reading Notes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Plateaus, Networks, and the Mad Hatter Twins Take the Grand Stage

  1. I’m bummed to see you didn’t get any notes in from Scott (but glad you added the pic we worked from). I was really happy to see you tease out some of the implications for Networked Individualism. I also liked that your definitions quotes from the readings as well as other sources.

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