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.
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