Submitted by Robin B. Hamman
MA Sociology Scheme, University of Essex, May 28, 1996
This paper is in response to the essay question: Can the Internet be used as an example of the "Rhizome" from Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia ? Cybersoc Cybersociology Magazine
After rereading A Thousand Plateaus, I decided that it might be a worthwhile task to concentrate on one theory in the book, the rhizome, and try to apply it to something just so that I could see if it worked. The rhizome, according to Moulthrop, is the "concept of social order defined by active transversal or encounter rather than objectification... Figures for this order include the ocean of the navigator or the desert of the nomad." Another figure, or example of the rhizome, is the Internet. In A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari describe the characteristics of their concept of the rhizome. These principles are presented briefly here.
- The first two principles of the rhizome are the "principles of connection and heterogenity." These two principles require that any point of a rhizome system can be connected to any other point. In other words, the rhizome is not hierarchical in structure. It is the anti-hierarchical: no point must come before another, no specific point must be connected to another point, but all points are and must be connected.
- The third principle of the rhizome is that of "multiplicity". The best way to understand this principle of the rhizome is by looking at the actions of a puppet and it's master. After deconstruction we can see that it is not the will of the puppeteer that controls the actions of the puppet, it is a "multiplicity of nerve fibers." The puppeteer is him or herself a puppet of this multiplicity. It is not the points of contact between the strings and the puppet or the point of contact between the hands of the puppeteer and the wooden frame to which the strings are attached that are important when thinking rhizomatically, it is the lines between the points that are important.
- The fourth principle of the rhizome is called the "principle of asignifying rupture." According to this principle, the rhizome may be "shattered at a given spot, but will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines."
- The fifth and sixth principles of the rhizome are those of "cartography" and "decalcomania". These principles state that the rhizome is not a tracing mechanism, but is a map with multiple entry points. Psychoanalysis, for example, is a representative tracing of the subconscious that exists prior to it's tracing. Tracing is not creating new, it is representing old - following lines that are already there. Mapping, on the other hand, "constructs the unconscious" by orientation "toward an experimentation of contact with the real." That is, maps can exist as themselves without need for anything outside of the map to exist while tracings can only exists as representations.
To summarise the key aspects of the rhizome as described above, Deleuze and Guattari state that, "The rhizome is an accentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automation, defined solely by a circulation of states." The Internet is very close to what Deleuze and Guattari describe above as a rhizomatic system. Rhizomatic systems, according to Deleuze and Guattari, are "finite networks of automata in which communication runs from any neighbor to any other, the stems or channels do not pre-exist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment - such that the local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without central agency."
Let us look now to the social usage of the Internet in comparison to the principles of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome. True, Internet access points create a hierarchy, but once on the Internet, there is no hierarchy.The third principle of the rhizome, which follows the above principles that any point may be connected to any other point in the rhizome and that there be no hierarchy within for a system for it to be rhizomatic, is the principle of multiplicity. In the example used earlier it was stated that it is the "multiplicity of nerve fiber" and not the hands of the puppeteer that control the puppet. There is even a further multiplicity present when using the Internet and that is the multiplicity of light pixels on the computer screen. Another part of this third principle of rhizomes is that there are no points or positions, just lines in a rhizome. At first glance, this seems to call into question the suitability of the Internet as an example of a rhizome. So far, none of the principles of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome has seriously called into question the suitability of the Internet as an example of a rhizome. Let us look now at the remaining principles of the rhizome and compare those with the Internet.The fourth principle of the rhizome is that it can be shattered at any spot which would cause it to start again on either an old or new line. It was mentioned earlier that the Internet, as it was first envisioned by the people at ARPA, was designed to withstand a nuclear holocaust. Surely today's Internet could withstand all but a total, world-wide, and sustained war. CompuServe users whose access to news groups had been "shattered" regained access by creating new links between their computers and the ones that contained the databases where the banned groups were stored. This example of attempts to regulate the Internet can be useful to our discussions of the next principle of rhizomes as well.
The fifth principle of a rhizome is that it is "not amenable to any structural or generative model." The example of CompuServe's attempt to regulate user access to specific news groups is an example of how the Internet is a model of this principle. The structure of the Internet is forever changing and changeable.The last principle of the rhizome is that the rhizome is "a map and not a tracing", and that this map has "multiple entryways." It has been mentioned earlier that there are many routes, or links, amongst computers on the Internet. These links are sometimes well established while at other times new routes and linkages take place. There are multiple entryways in the sense that, once on the Internet, I can choose whichever Internet site or home page I wish as my entryway. There are also, like in the rhizome, multiple entryways onto and within the Internet.
There are several problems with using the Internet as a model of the rhizome. There is the problem of the hierarchical nature of computer data and computer functioning. Computers do not know things, they follow steps of instructions to calculate things. This is true of each individual computer and server on the Internet. The way that I route around this problem is by looking at the Internet not as many individual computers, but as system that functions as one large unit. In this case, there is no hierarchy of computers, no order with which one must form links between databases. Since the rhizome is a system concept, I see no problem with the way that I have dealt with this difficulty by looking at the Internet as a system. The other problem with using the Internet as a model of the rhizome arises when discussing the principle of the rhizome which requires that rhizomes have multiple entryways. So the Internet is not truly a rhizome for all it's users, but for a select few it remains a rhizome with multiple entryways.
101: One Zero One is a magazine which uses the rhizome, a non-hierarchical organic system, as its central organizing element. The magazine provides a venue for my writing and is my Master of Arts in English, Creative Writing Thesis at CSU Hayward in Hayward, CA. In addition to fulfilling the requirements for the M.A. Degree, the magazine also provides space for participating projects with other writers, artists, and filmmakers. From beginning to end, the magazine will take 8.5 years to produce. In every way, this is, of course, an arbitrary period of time. This is how I determined the time frame. When considering versioning rather than issues, I had to decide when new versions occur. Since nothing is deleted, merely expanded, corrected, or changed, I decided to save a copy once a month starting October 1, 1996 and call that a version. 101 versions later takes us to February 1, 2004 and the last of 101: One Zero One. One other question you might ask: how do I read 101: One Zero One? The more appropriate question might be: where do I begin to read the magazine? The following notes are the closest thing you will ever get to a comprehensive index. So, start anywhere. Sometimes, you will dead end or sometimes you will try toleap a gap too wide, but sometimes you will connect and 101: One Zero One will breakaway, separate, and be yours.