Deleuze & Guattari’s concept of the rhizome in A Thousand Plateaus is not a metaphor. Let me repeat that. IT IS NOT A METAPHOR. NOT. A. METAPHOR.
Despite acknowledging this in their recent paper The rhizome: A problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC, the authors nevertheless use the word a staggering 72 times in 14 pages – including in the title. If you’d like to see comments by me and others on that article, you can do so as follows:
- First download the pdf from this link
- Add the Hypothes.is extension to Chrome
- Go to extension settings and accept annotate on local files.
- Drag downloaded pdf to your Chrome address bar
- Then make a first annotation on pdf
- Refresh the page and you should see all our previous annotations
- What is very cool is to be able to annotate with video/images/
- More info on annotating pdfs here
(Instructions adapted from Simon’s post to Facebook.) This might sound footly to do, but Hypothes.is is a really cool tool for annotating web pages and once set up it is really easy to use.
Anyway, I digress. So what is the rhizome – well, it’s a CONCEPT. To call it a metaphor, as this site puts it: “is to reduce to a mental operation with no real consequences in the world”. Quite. And, again from the same site:
Guattari is Not Making Metaphors. He and his friend Deleuze state and restate this. It is a machine, a connecter a way of organizing and disorganizing and reorder the assemblages. [sic]
So: a rhizome is not a metaphor. It’s a real thing. Nothing figurative about it. Of course, you can use it metaphorically, and talk about knowledge branching out, but D&G are not doing that. D&G’s concept of the rhizome is not a metaphor. Look – it says so on the T-shirt.
It’s also really misleading to think of the rhizome as a botanical concept. Sure, irises and ginger are rhizomes, but understanding D&G’s concept (not metaphor!) like this misses out the heterogenerity that is one of the six principles of the rhizome (see p82 here for a visual of all six).
The image that captures the rhizome best for me is the orchid and the wasp. The wasp territorialises with the orchid and forms a rhizome with it, then deterritorialises and flies away. Two (real) things connect together then disconnect. Nothing metaphorical about that.
Edit: it’s been pointed out to me that this example might be misleading as it is a symbiotic relationship. I’ll need to find an even more heterogenous one.
Those of you who enjoy reading D&G might also be interested in considering the rhizome as metamorphosis. This from D&G (1986) Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature
“Could do Better” Image by @Sensor