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Revisiting the past: “Tuffesse,” 20 x 50″, from a body of work I painted about the same time as this original post

This post first appeared here in April 2007. In looking back through that period of time I found these quotes from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari still relevant and useful. A Thousand Plateaus is one of those timeless books that continues to be a fecund source for ideas, stimulation, provocation, inspiration, insight.

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I spent last week at the Ad:Tech interactive advertising and technology conference in San Francisco talking to people about where they see the Web heading and what life online is going to look like in a few more years. The range of future views I heard was, as expected, diverse. While I do not have a clear idea of my own about how all the plethora of possible scenarios will play out, what did emerge was the distinct view of this space as a potentiality, an undefined, nonlinear, anything-is-possible vortex. I kept being reminded of A Thousand Plateaus, the mindblowing, rhapsodic “book” (hard to call it that) by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. A few salient quotes:

The principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike tress or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states.

A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.

Unlike the tree, the rhizome is not the object of reproduction: neither external reproduction as image-tree nor internal reproduction as tree-structure. The rhizome is an antigeneaology. It is short term memory, or antimemory. The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.

Once a rhizome has been obstructed, aborified, it’s all over, no desire stirs; for it is always by rhizome that desire moves and produces.

The wisdom of the plants; even when they have roots, there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else–with the wind, an animal, human beings.

Write, form a rhizome, increase your territory by deterritorialization, extend the line of flight to the point where it becomes an abstract machine covering the entire plane of consistency.

We have lost the rhizome, or the grass. Henry Miller:…”Grass is the only way out.”

Make rhizomes, not roots, never plant! Don’t sow, grow offshoots! Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into a line!

A rich trove of wisdom arrived in the form of comments to my posting on June 11 about the Nicholas Carr article in the Atlantic (See below.) The issues raised by that piece are an ongoing concern for anyone who lives a rich life both online and in the flesh version.

Rick Mobbs, a visual artist like me, articulated a response to that post that closely mirrors my own feelings. He speaks to some of the themes of the rhizome that I find so compelling in Gilles Deleuze’s writings (primarily A Thousand Plateaus.) It also addresses my ongoing personal struggle with finding a balance between how to navigate the information space where we oscillate constantly between the desire to drill down deep on the vertical axis and our attraction to the wide expanse of the horizontal surface. I thought Mobbs’ comment was worth highlighting here.

I have become a skimmer, a gleaner, picking through left-overs, a magpie, collecting shiny things. I think I would have to choose the life of a contemplative to go as deeply into things as I would like. It isn’t just in my reading but the whole of my life. Too many things to do, too little time, an awareness that the answer is to sit still but the pace is addictive and the life one of wonder anyhow so I’m not complaining. I catch what I can on the run I am on, and boy am I on a run.

The compensations are renewed and keen awareness of interconnectedness, of synchronicity, propinquity, serendipity, of the play of grace, intuition, kinship with our fellows, a certainty – for myself anyway – of the reality of callings, promptings, spiritual nudges, subtle touches and tenderings…

For me, I don’t think there is any going back. It is too late. Now I have to choose the life I have, co-operate with it, be an active partner with the things that are steering me so that I may steer with as little resistance as possible toward the goals and life I feel are right for me. I believe I have to take an active interest and try to co-operate with an evolutionary trend, and try cultivate a sense humor about it all and a sense of curiosity about how it is all going to turn out. That said, I don’t know anything except by feeling my way through it.

I fell into an exquisite indentation—no, a cavern—in the landscape of the blogosphere this morning. These anomolies are scattered everywhere in this limitless expanse we call cyberspace, but each time I slide unexpectedly into one of these subrealities (or hyper-realities?) I feel like a lottery winner—random-driven lucky. I’m feeling that way now.

My latest adventure down a particularly spectacular rabbit hole is Fractalontology. The work of “cognition engineers” Taylor Adkins and Joseph Weissman, this site is full of riffs on Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, one of my favorite books of all time. (I’ve posted about this previously.) Experts in this complexity, Adkins and Weissman have not made the site the exclusive domain of like-minded scholars. Instead their approach ranges from philosophical dialogue to poetic excursions to visual representation.

Here is a sampling of Adkins’ comments about the relationship between the rhizome and the tree:

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 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.” 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. 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. 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…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.

By contrast, this is an extract from a lyrical posting by Joseph Weissman entitled The Voice of Silence:

Stand.

Worship with reverence, pray in silence. Close your eyes. Begin to dream. Let the fever slip over you. A million words, a million feelings. Thoughts, ideas, dreams, fantasies, desires. Dreams. Dreams. Cancellations. Waking. Time. Lost. Again. Feel the frames, the darkness sliding over you. Your face: the world. The broken are broken, the lost. The lost.

Open your eyes. Awake to your dreams…

It is worth a visit if any of these ideas are compelling to you.