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A Thousand Plateaus

Page history last edited by Zahraa 13 years, 1 month ago

A summary: A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari

      A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, by Deleuze and Guattari, is an important work. At the beginning of the essay, the authors seem to reject the idea of a stable, fixed self, or “I,” as well as a fixed subject position.

     The most important idea in the essay is the idea of the rhizome. To understand Deleuze and Guattari’s model of the rhizome, it is important to first comprehend what the rhizome is a response to. They argue that all of Western thought is based on the model of the tree. The tree sprouts from a single seed, producing a trunk and continuously branching out; it grows and spreads vertically, yet the tree can be traced back to a single origin. Basically, arborescence is representative of humanist thought and the belief that humans—through language, science, and art—can represent or reflect the world. All of Western thought is inherently arborescent, even linguistics, as it all grows (or has grown) from a supposed original source. Deleuze and Guattari even argue that most modern texts, while seemingly representing multiple origins and the elimination of the linearity of language, posit some type of unity, or form a “whole,” within the reading subject, which also represents arborescence. Similarly, most modes of thought attempt to posit an origin or totalizing structure, which as we know leads to thinking in terms of binary oppositions and the privileging of one binary over the other.

In order to break from traditional arborescent thought and the resulting binaries, Deleuze and Guattari proclaim, “The multiple must be made” (380). The ultimate symbol of the multiple, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is the rhizome. A rhizome is a root-like organism (though not a root) that spreads and grows horizontally (generally underground). Some examples are potatoes, couchgrass, and weeds. Couchgrass, or crabgrass, continues to grow even if you pull up what you think is all of it, since it has no central element. As a rhizome has no center, it spreads continuously without beginning or end. The main principles of the rhizome are “principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (380). Basically, the rhizome establishes connections between everything, combining rhizomes that are themselves made of combinations of rhizomes. Language is rhizomatic, as  “a rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles . . . there is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages” (381). Even what we view as one specific language is composed of multiplicities of languages. There is no true language; the dominant language is only a “power takeover” within what Deleuze and Guattari call a “political multiplicity.” We “can analyze language only by decentering it onto other dimensions and other registers. A language is never closed upon itself, except as a function of impotence” (381). In order to analyze language, we must look at it rhizomatically, viewing it not simply as language, but as everything related to language. Language is a multiplicity and connects to other multiplicities.

      According to the “principle of multiplicity: basically, everything is not composed of units operating within rules, as in structuralism, but of multiplicities spreading and connecting with other multiplicities within a non-centered structure. A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows)” (381). The multiplicity, or the rhizome, has no real rules or laws, as it continuously adapts to incorporate other multiplicities. There is no real unity within a rhizome, as “the notion of unity appears only when there is a power takeover in the multiplicity or a corresponding subjectification proceeding” (382). A “power takeover” is similar to the idea of a unified language in that the power takeover only limits the rhizome in one specific area, and the multiplicities continue to spread outside of it.

According to the “principle of a signifying rupture…a rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines” (382). Deleuze and Guattari use the example of ants: “You can never get rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome that can rebound time and again after most of it has been destroyed” (382).They further claim that the rhizome deterritorializes in one place and reterritorializes in another. They use the image of the wasp and the orchid to demonstrate deterritorialization and reterritorialization. Both the wasp and the orchid continuously spread and multiply. The wasp feeds off the orchid, while the orchid uses the wasp to reproduce. Deleuze and Guattari further write: “There is neither imitation nor resemblance, [between the wasp and the orchid]only an exploding of two heterogeneous series on the line of flight composed by a common rhizome that can no longer be attributed to or subjugated by anything signifying” (383). It seems that the main point of this example is that while the wasp and the orchid are completely heterogeneous, and seemingly unrelated, objects, they both spread and grow in relation to each other.

     Deleuze and Guattari also discuss how books and the world have a similar relationship. They write “[the book] forms a rhizome with the world, there is a parallel evolution of the book and the world; the book assures the deterritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it is capable, if it can)” (383). Another image Deleuze and Guattari use is the plateau . They state that a plateau is always in the middle. There is always something before and something after plateaus. The authors assert that the rhizome is composed of plateaus, as it continuously deterritorializes and reterritorializes into infinite new plateaus. The rhizome and plateau are always between things, guaranteeing their continued growth and existence. Although the plateau cannot return to what precedes it, it always moves on, becoming something else, moving toward the next plateau.

The Internet is a very good example of a rhizomatic structure. There is no real center to the Internet and it is composed of infinite links. It is impossible to affect the World Wide Web by removing any specific site or sites.  Even the removal of large servers like AOL, Yahoo, Netscape, and even Microsoft would not affect the functioning of most sites.


     The authors indicate that the plateaus may be read in any order, emphasizing the rhizomatic nature of the knowledge presented and the infinite number of possibilities for such assemblages.

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