Flattening Multiplicity: Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizome

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Taylor Adkins

Deleuze and Guattari—Plateau 1

7 April 2008

In their first plateau, Deleuze and Guattari focus on the concept of the rhizome. In establishing a difference between the arborescent image of thought and the rhizomatic, Deleuze and Guattari claim that the rhizome is an anti-genealogy (11) while at the same time arguing that it is the tree which imposes its genealogy: “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance” (25). Filiation proceeds through binary logic around a centralized point (the despot, the philosopher-king, the father), while the alliance extends lines which are not stratified or gridded on root pivot/focal-points. In particular, the fascination with trees and filiation stems from a symptom of our specifically European disease of transcendence (18). What is difficult to remember is that the tree and the rhizome are not necessarily opposed to one another; the first acts like a transcendent tracing and model while the second draws a map through an immanent process that overturns the model (20). But the smooth space of the rhizome is always under constant threat of hierarchization and stratification while the tree can proliferate into a-centered systems given changes in local conditions, thresholds of intensity, coefficients of transversality, etc. Hence both the tree and the rhizome face the strata and the body without organs (4). Yet it is precisely their relation to these two sides which simultaneously indicates the mode of their processes of crossing between the actual and the virtual. Although the two authors do not speak of these two registers, this “dualism” seems completely necessary in order to confront all the principles which they stipulate for understanding the rhizome—in effect, its connectivity, heterogeneity, multiplicity, cartography and decalcomania.

In L’Inconscient machinique, Guattari uses the concept of the rhizome especially in chapters 4 and 5 on faciality and the refrain. Here’s one of the more important uses of the term in my opinion: “What characterizes machinic rhizomes compared to territorialized assemblages is this unmediated relation between systems of coding and material flows, which is the fact that points of deterritorialization—the machinic indices—are no longer neutralized there but are directly articulated in the abstract machinisms which open up new possibilities and which create a “machinic future” for them (by destratifying them, by articulating them with one another, while launching semiotic bridges between materials heterogeneous until now[1]).” Within the schema of the tree, multiplicity is rigorously differentiated to the point where all connections must proceed through bi-univocal paths; in other words, whenever a multiplicity is taken up in the root-tree structure, “its growth is offset by a reduction in its laws of combination” (ATP, 6). On the other hand, according to the principles of connection and heterogeneity, any points of a rhizome can and must be connected to anything else (7). Rhizomes are only neutralized to the degree that semiotic, social and material flows are segregated and subordinated to actualized registers of coding which effectively render any potential deterritorialization deadlocked upon a congealed and immobile field of actualization—that is, because of the rhizome’s principle of connectivity (first principle) it must operate according to a heterogeneity with all kinds of components and only becomes focalized around subjective redundancies due to a function of impotence (8).

Arborescent differentiation goes from the least to the most differentiated (similar to good sense in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense). Rhizomes don’t work this way because instead they allow immediate crossing among heterogeneous lines despite their level of differentiation. In the conclusion, D+G write: “It is not so much that some multiplicities are arborescent and others not, but that there is an arborification of multiplicities” (506). In fact, what we want to argue is that the tree cuts off the cutting edge of diagonal lines of deterritorialization insofar as they are invested in reproducing a stratification of the actual and the virtual which renders all experimentation with the real, all mapping of territories subservient to particular models of growth and development. This is why the segmentarity of a rhizome is always open to the destratifying body without organs which revamp the circulation of intensities throughout the entire rhizome without allowing it to congeal into binary processes. In other words, the difference between abrorescent multiplicities and rhizomatic multiplicities resides in their probabilities of harnessing local situations that can spawn singularities which push the lines of flight further and cause the multiplicities to interact with the “outside,” e.g. other means of moving between the registers of the virtual and the actual. It is as though the multiplicity is less hampered by coefficients of transversality in the rhizome because the circulation of its intensities is not structured according to teleological hierarchies—in other words, the rhizome promotes a smooth space for its lines to interconnect in ways that were not possible under arborescent structures.

Just as there are no units to a multiplicity, there is no unity to a rhizome unless there is “a power takeover in the multiplicity by the signifier or a corresponding subjectification proceeding…Unity always operates in an empty dimension supplementary to that of the system considered (overcoding)” (8). After this unifying movement, the rhizome changes nature. Why? Deleuze and Guattari stress that the multiplicity cannot increase without changing in nature along with its laws of combination increasing as well. Assemblages do not effectuate the increase in dimensions of a multiplicity; they are this increase. Thus, in order to specify the point at which multiplicities would lack unity (an empty dimension), the rhizome takes on the specific role of a type of multiplicity that evades overcoding because it precisely lacks this supplementary dimension—i.e. it is a “flat” multiplicity filling out all of its dimensions. This is also why the rhizome is n – 1, the One always being subtracted as an empty dimension added onto the plane of consistency in order to binarize it into signifying chains (hence the One-Phallus as the binary machine distributing lack). To be more specific, there are only supplementary dimensions in the multiplicity due to a line of flight. If this supplementary dimension is “filled out” and “flattened,” it remains a rhizome and transforms according to the connections established. However, along with molar lineaments of stratification, there are also molecular lines leading to black holes. This is why the line of flight can also lead into death. Is it possible that this is why Deluze and Guattari analyze the resonance of micro-black holes in order to begin a discussion of the formation of (micro-)fascism(s)—in other words, how is the supplementary dimension emptied, how are black holes inserted into this dimension, what are the abstract machines necessary to construct lines of flight (dis)evacuating the void?

[1] Felix Guattari, L’Inconscient machinique, p. 103.

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