What if the Tree was Laid Flat?

I like the idea of the rhizome being more akin to roots than branches, but in further reading the material, the grass or weeds metaphor of the rhizome helped me to understand this concept as, in the way I assume Delueze wishes it to be, connoting something that spreads indefinitely in all directions. After going home and thinking about Deleuze’s ideas on genealogy taken from the interviews he had regarding Foucault’s work (expressly with concerns to his critique of a Darwinian point of view more so than Nietzsche’s with regards to the evolution of concepts as opposed to a genealogy or inheritance essentially not based in truth but power) I tried to work out some budding questions.  My hope was to attempt to fully understand what Deleuze was proposing.

The questions I had were whether or not, in our creating concepts in an additive function, even if on an immanent plane (i.e. concepts as a result of experimentation and the use of conjunctions such as “and”), would eventually create a hierarchal structure that was oriented in another way? What is the difference between evolutions of concepts, whether it is vertical or lateral, linear or spatial, as opposed to creating concepts from others and so on by experimenting on an artifice where nothing is relegated to cause and effect or any transcendental Laws of nature? (Visualize the tree metaphor used to describe knowledge production by Deleuze in describing the rhizome. Instead of its verticality being called into question, what if we laid the tree flat?). By creating concepts from others (even in an immanent world) wouldn’t we be able to trace backwards towards the origins of such concepts laid out on this plane? Therefore, exposing a sort of evolution of the concepts created? In other words, a hierarchy laid sideways?

In my nascent understanding of the imagery laid out by Deleuze, this metaphor of the tree (knowledge branching out of an episteme) would imply a hierarchical system within the creation of concepts. This made the additive capacity of the use of the conjunction “and . . . and  . . . and” or “+ . . . + . . . +” with concerns to creating concepts at the edges of the artifice of knowledge, literature, etc. hard to grasp in accordance with my imaginings of how in his view we must move away from any “territorializing”, codifying, or hierarchically systemic identification of the world about. With a more rigorous reading over of Deleuze’s ideas, I was able to resolve my questions from a passage in the introduction of A Thousand Plateaus and their discussion of the rhizome.

Deleuze brings in the concept of memory (which I believe is influenced by Henri Bergson) and states that there is a division between the long term and the short term. He proposes that the short term allows us to forget previously invented concepts and move on to create the next. In this system, the genealogical aspect of concepts – an evolution of sorts as a result of the additive use of the conjunction “and” (which in my view leads one to think that there has to be something to originally add to therefore the metaphor of the tree)  – lives in the long term memory which is not the active and/or creative aspect of our cognition. Removed from our conscious perception of concepts, this would allow for the creation of concepts to not be placed in a hierarchical ontic system.

“Many people have a tree growing in their heads, but the brain itself is much more a grass than a tree. ‘The axon and the dendrite twist around each other like bindweed around brambles, with synapses at each of the thorns.’ The same goes for memory. Neurologists and psychophysiologists distinguish between long-term memory and short-term memory (on the order of a minute). The difference between them is not simply quantitative: short-term memory is of the rhizome or diagram type, and long-term memory is arborescent and centralized (imprint, engram, tracing, or photograph). Short-term memory is in no way subject to a law of contiguity or immediacy to its object; it can act at a distance, come or return a long time after, but always under conditions of discontinuity, rupture, and multiplicity. Furthermore, the difference between the two kinds of memory is not that of two temporal modes of apprehending the same thing; they do not grasp the same thing, memory, or idea. The splendor of the short-term Idea: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts. Short-term memory includes forgetting as a process; it merges not with the instant but instead with the nervous, temporal, and collective rhizome. Long-term memory (family, race, society, or civilization) traces and translates, but what it translates continues to act in it, from a distance, off beat, in an “untimely” way, not instantaneously.” (Deleuze and Guittari, 15-16)

Our class discussion of Hume brought this home even further. The questioning of causality I think marked a break from actually knowing and believing. Before belief constituted knowing. Reason. Specifically, the belief that we could know things “in and of themselves” (which Kant rapidly tried to debunk) that served as the precedent to the creation of the whole world – God as Supreme Cause. But with Hume, we only have belief and imagination, which shows that we connect phenomena/events via inference and habit (which of course in empiricism means that we have to always check these happenings against observation). I feel that this image of thought makes human beings at heart, in the state of nature, inventive. Socially, scientifically, etc.

Foucault’s aims in his analysis of the discursive relations of power that exist within society to expose a genealogy through an archaeological technology to discover the episteme from which social institutions and their “power relations” act within the problem of subjectivity. To in essence unearth certain epistemic discontinuities in the history of concepts that we take for granted. In short, to discuss identity, with regards to institutions, knowledge, concepts, personhood, etc.  Deleuze, in contrast, wants to create a map as opposed to an archaeological site. To show the relationships between agents and not a family tree. Along with Bergson (In his Matter and Memory), the inventive capacity of our cognition, our action in thinking, lies within our ability to forget – our short term memory – which in turn forces us to invent. Deleuze seeks to be a cartographer, seeking the relationality between agents in his rhizome, his terrain of immanence. In this topography, we turn the social systems we believe we are subject to on their head (instead of working top down, in our plane of immanence, through the subsequent mapping of it, forces us to work from the bottom.  From within the purview of science, philosophy, literature, and art and to their edges). This is a move to push the image of thought, the subject, and art to its farthest limits and to concern ourselves with what is outside their demarcated boundaries. To dig around in the darkness and create new concepts along the margins.

– Victor Peterson

Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. , 2004. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987.


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