The rhizome is NOT a metaphor

Red stamp saying "Can do better. Not a metaphor

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 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 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]

Pink t shirt with motto "The rhizome is NOT a metaphor" on itSo: 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).

Wasp in purple orchidThe 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 

Discussion of metamorphosis by D&G“Could do Better” Image by @Sensor

Tshirt image by me shared with a CC-BY-SA-NC licence

Orchid and Wasp flickr photo by BinaryApe  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This entry was posted in #rhizo14, #rhizo15, #Rhizo16, D&G, Rhizomes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The rhizome is NOT a metaphor

  1. Wendy says:

    If anyone MISSES. THE. ACCENTS. on the words they need their eyes checked! Thanks for clarifying. I like the ‘real’ extracts that you and Simon are including in posts. I like the point about reversible intensities. The ability to pull back or move in a different direction may depend on other factors around the two entities but it’s doable.

  2. A rhizo hat (kind of a metaphor) will be whinging it’s way to you so you can wear it with your shirt! Spoiler alert:

  3. Wendy says:

    A rhizo hat (kind of a metaphor) will be whinging it’s way to you so you can wear it with your shirt! Spoiler alert:

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