Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mapping the Rhizome

As with the first two characteristics of the rhizome, connectivity and heterogeneity, Deleuze and Guattari group the last two together: cartography and decalcomania. I think they do this because both characteristics have to do with our attempts to create a structure for, or a network of pathways through, the rhizome. Perhaps a better way of saying this is that these two characteristics speak to the practical problem of orienting ourselves within a rhizomatic structure and negotiating avenues for navigating through the rhizome from wherever we happen to find ourselves.

The capitalismandschizophrenia.org website defines Deleuze-Guattarian cartography as "the method of mapping for orientation from any point of entry within a 'whole', rather than by the method of tracing that re-presents an a priori path, base structure or genetic axis." Decalcomania is a method of "forming through continuous negotiation with its context, constantly adapting by experimentation, thus performing a non-symmetrical active resistance against rigid organization and restriction." Hierarchical thinking traces a pattern onto reality, overpowering points to fit the tracing and discarding or attacking those points that do not fit the pattern; whereas, rhizomatic thinking allows the structure and pattern of reality to emerge through our interaction with and testing of reality, accepting all points as part of the pattern. Hierarchical thinking is painting by the numbers, by the pattern imposed on the page; whereas rhizomatic thinking is painting by pressing paint between two pieces of paper to see what pattern emerges from the interaction of the textures, shape, and porosity of the papers, the viscosity and colors of the paint, the pressure, firmness, and steadiness of the artists' hands or the blocks pressing the paper.

Anyone who is part of an organization large enough to merit an organizational chart (a hierarchical tracing) is aware day-to-day of the functional differences between hierarchical tracings and rhizomatic mappings. To request IT support in the Purchasing Department, for instance, one could send a request up the Purchasing Department line to be approved by the department head and then over to the head of IT who would then push the request down to the IT Support group for response. Or one could pick up the phone and call ones friend in IT support and ask them to check your computer the next time they are in the building. The first course of action follows a hierarchical tracing, a pathway imposed on a collection of people by the logic of the organization's managers, while the second follows a rhizomatic mapping, a pathway that emerges from the asignifying rupture of friendship, a relational category that appears nowhere on anybody's organizational chart.

As Chuen-Ferng Koh says in Internet: Towards a Holistic Ontology: "Rhizomatic links … are formed through mapping—or active construction based on flexible and functional experimentation, requiring and capitalizing on feedback. The map is not an image from which reality is to be traced … or a blueprint whose workability has to be taken on faith; the map is never fixed, but a changing flux of adaptation and negotiation. It is intimately and mutually tied to all the other principles of the rhizome." The strategy of mapping as opposed to tracing makes explicit the connection of heterogenous points, the multiplicity of a point as a line or arc or intersection with various speeds and trajectories, and the asignifying rupture of any point from this line or arc to another line or arc in another rhizomatic structure.

How do we map a class rather than trace it? By following the flows and lines of the class participants beyond the boundaries of the classroom, or the flows and lines of the conversation beyond the boundaries of the course content. By inviting the class participants to create the syllabus, perhaps at the end of the class as a description of what each did in class rather than at the beginning as a prescription for what they will do.

How does the introduction of a social network into a classroom encourage mapping? As a rhizomatic structure, social networks connect students to people and information far beyond the small, hierarchical group called Keith Hamon's English 101, Section 32, Spring, 2010, with its little collection of readings, smattering of exercises and papers to write, its twenty-five registered students, and single instructor. When both the instructor and the students realize and accept that they are no longer corralled into a confined, hierarchical space, but that they are free to roam in the entire World Wide Web, then the tendrils and shoots of the class can extend to anyone, anywhat, anywhere. Points can proliferate. We can start from a multiplicity of points and pursue a multiplicity of points. We can wallow, or we can run. We can be here and jump there through asignifying ruptures that will challenge the identity, the signification, of the class.

We can follow our creativity and passions, or create them if they don't exist.

And especially for the writing classroom, this passion and creativity is most important. Over a career spanning thirty years, I have read more than my share of bland, vapid, mindless prose written merely to satisfy the requirements of an assignment—an assignment that I made, so I've no one to blame but myself. I really don't want to read anymore of that writing, so I am hopeful that the introduction of rhizomatic structure into the classroom may help connect me and my students to our passion and our creativity and to each other.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Motivation in the Rhizome

In a wonderful TED talk, Daniel Pink explains how we must rethink motivation in the 21st Century, if we are to move from motivating people to do routine, mechanical, factory-type work—or what I associate with work within hierarchical structures—to motivating people to do open-ended, creative work—work within rhizomatic structures. First the video:

Pink makes a case for changing the way we handle motivation in modern businesses by showing that the traditional ideas about rewarding positive behavior and punishing negative behavior do not work so well in the new forms of 21st Century businesses. He says that research into motivation has demonstrated that extrinsic incentives (money, grades, etc.) either have no effect or a negative effect on the performance of people engaged in complex, open-ended tasks that require strong problem-solving skills and creativity, while extrinsic incentives still have a positive effect on the performance of those engaged in rote, routine tasks with clear objectives and explicit performance routines. Extrinsic incentives narrow our focus, and thus, work very well with mechanistic, narrow tasks; however, they actually interfere with those tasks that require a broad point of view. A study of motivation by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston  reports that in their study as long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance, but once a task called for "even rudimentary cognitive skill," a larger reward "led to poorer performance." The London School of Economics reports: "We find that financial incentives … can result in a negative impact on overall performance."

However, Pink claims, most businesses still primarily use extrinsic incentives to motivate their people; thus, there is a mismatch between what science knows to be true and what business actually does. If we want to work our way out of the current economic mess, says Pink, then we must use intrinsic incentives for most of our workers, and he mentions three:

  1. autonomy - the urge to direct our own lives, 
  2. mastery - the desire to get better at something that matters, and
  3. purpose - the yearning to serve something larger than ourselves.

Traditional management is great for enforcing compliance, but self-direction, or autonomy, is better for promoting engagement. Tech companies such as Atlassian and Google give their employees free time (autonomy) to engage in personal projects at the company expense. These companies find that many of their most productive, innovative new ideas come from this free time. Pink then describes ROWE (Results Only Work Environments) where employees have no schedule or imposed routine—how they do their work is totally up to them. In the case of two online encyclopedia, Microsoft's Encarta and Wikipedia, Microsoft provided all the correct extrinsic, old-style, hierarchical incentives, while Wikipedia provided intrinsic, new-style, rhizomatic incentives. Wikipedia wins.

I think we can easily apply this thinking to education, where we are accustomed to motivating students with carrots and sticks, rewards and punishments, with grades and detention. Old style rewards and punishments work well in classes where the outcomes and the methods for reaching those outcomes are fixed and explicit. If, however, we want to encourage creativity and a sense of exploration and amazement in our students, then traditional rewards and punishments do not work. They actually hinder.

What works? According to Pink, autonomy is a fine place to start. If we want to encourage creativity and problem-solving in our students, then we must give them more ability to self-organize. Autonomy, however, frightens most schools, even colleges. Teachers are way too afraid of it. After all, they might lose the little bit of authority that they have. However, this is the situation of the rhizome. Connectivity—the principle that every point can and must connect to every other point—overturns the hierarchy and its command-and-control structures. Rhizomes are self-organizing, even under extreme duress of the most fascist states.

Then mastery is a fine way to continue. I truly believe that the desire to be really good at something that is important to you is a core desire in humans. I'm amazed that we've been able to create a system of education that destroys that desire in so many.

Finally, purpose is a fine way to wind it all up. Again, I believe that most of us want to be of use in something that is larger than ourselves, and if these are the things that we really want from our students—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—then we need to reconsider the structures through which we try to inculcate those values. Command-and-control, hierarchical structures just won't do the job.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Asignifying Ruptures in the Classroom

For Deleuze and Guattari, an assignifying rupture is a process by which the rhizome resists territorialization, or attempts to signify, or name it by an overcoding power. It is the process by which the rhizome breaks out of its boundaries (deterritorializes) and then reassembles or re-collects itself elsewhere and else-when (reterritorializes), often assuming a new or shifted identity. In the classroom, assignifying ruptures are those processes students employ to avoid being just students, that classrooms use to avoid being just classrooms, that content uses to avoid being just subject matters, and that teachers use to avoid being just teachers. Asignifying ruptures are those various processes by which rhizomes proliferate, wallow, accrete, spread, shatter and reform, disrupt into play, seeming chaos, or anarchy. As Frost muses: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."

This definition already sounds too willful, too under the control of a signifying, overcoding entity (the rhizome itself), and that is the wrong impression. Rhizomes are assemblages of energy, lines of flight, accretions, deep pools and rapidly running spreading streams. Asignifying ruptures are what rhizomes do, they are the exercise and expression of force, regardless of some intending entity. Though sometimes rhizomes may intend to rupture, they will rupture with or without intention. An eighth-grader may act out to reject the label of student applied to her by family, school, and society, but eventually she will age (a line of flight, a spreading of energy) and will rupture from her student label, whether or not she intends to do so.

A rhizomatic rupture is asignifying; that is, it stands against or ignores any label applied to it, rendering the label sterile, inappropriate, incoherent, an obvious power-play by the signifying, overcoding fascist who applies it (even if that fascist is the rhizome itself). It's the rhizomes way of saying, "I am more and other than just this," whatever this is.

D & G describe how a book is an assemblage that proliferates through asignifying ruptures, thus highlighting the fiction of a book's connection to a signifying author or to signifying readers. "To attribute the book to a subject is to … fabricate a beneficent God to explain geological movements" (3). Macbeth, then, is not attributable solely to the genius of William Shakespeare, anymore than this blog post is attributable solely to Keith Hamon. D & G make sure that we know that A Thousand Plateaus is not attributable to them alone: "The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range … We have assigned clever pseudonyms to … render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think … We are no longer ourselves … We have been aided, inspired, multiplied" (3). What kind of author is this? Who is responsible for the meaning of this book, A Thousand Plateaus? Is authorship a fiction? Is it a useful fiction? How does this fiction of sole authorship obscure the nature of A Thousand Plateaus? of Macbeth? of this post? of anything?

But I wander, sheer, proliferate, spread, rupture. I'm not sticking to the topic.

Back to asignifying ruptures, which after all is the label for this post, an attempt to territorialize the discussion, the topic. It's my attempt to say this post is about this topic and nothing else. It is a convenient fiction, this idea of topic, that most of my readers will understand and follow. I use the label asignifying ruptures, "because it's nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it's only a manner of speaking" (3). Like any rhizome, this post is an assemblage of "lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories" (3) which permit me to say the post begins here and ends there and has this part and that part. These strata allow me to point to the organs that make up the body of the post, or the book, or the class, or the anything else. But also like any rhizome, this post has "lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification" (3). It is at one and the same time just this AND all that. Every rhizome does contain "lines of segmentarity according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc., as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees. There is a rupture in the rhizome whenever segmentary lines explode into a line of flight, but the line of flight is part of the rhizome" (9).

My post, then, has strata: a thesis sentence, supporting paragraphs with topic sentences, sentences with subjects and verbs, transitional signposts to guide the reader—perhaps, maybe eventually—a conclusion. But it also has digressions, diversions, lines of flight and movements of deterritorialization. The little fascist in my head constantly wants to stanch those ruptures, heal the wounds, and tidy up the bleeding. The little fascist wants to keep me on topic, operating according to the strict lines of logic. The little fascist deletes those asignifying ruptures as I think of them or after I write them in this very space.

My wife is calling me to breakfast on a beautiful Sunday morning. (THERE! Take that, you fascist!) There are armies goose-stepping through my veins, building bridges across my synapses.

But that was silly, juvenile. The fiction of a coherent essay is indeed convenient and functional. It is a handshake that allows us to connect and communicate, after a fashion, but we must never forget that it is also and always a fiction. We could have created another. Eventually, we will.

Robert Frost catches the playful spirit of asignifying ruptures in his poem Mending Wall when he notes that it's something like elves that rupture the wall between his neighbor and himself, a seriously playful something like elves. The walls, too, are a game, a play.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself.

He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

I like Frost's connection to play and game, for play is one of the great, perhaps the seminal, asignifying ruptures. Play, humor, laughter, fun all have a tendency to rupture the strata of the rhizome and to open it to a line of flight, a deterritorialization. Any teacher who has made the mistake of using any term with even the slightest scatological or sexual connotation in front of a group of seventh-graders knows how quickly humor, laughter, and fun can rupture the lesson and create a line of flight outside the classroom and into the bathroom or bedroom or both.

no conclusion