The Rhizome


Image courtesy of Elwood W. McKay III

Given the wide variety of theories and methods which critical regionalism employs, approaching it rhizomatically suits the purposes of this project – drawing on various sources from architectural theory to postcolonialism, literary theory to cultural geography – for, as Deleuze and Guattari (1988) demonstrate in their initial conception of the rhizome: “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (7). Building upon this point, Simon O’Sullivan (2002) states that such an approach offers “a different geometry of cultural studies … in which movement takes precedence over stasis and definition” (81). Therefore, the rhizome guides the research process itself as well as epitomising the goals of Critical Regionalism in allowing a more nomadic and territorially unbounded version of “region” to emerge. As David Crouch (2010) points out, however, rhizomes ‘tend also to have roots situated many different points in their lateral multidimensional growth’ (13). The point being that in thinking about the local/regional – its rootedness and attachment to ‘ground’ and ‘belonging’ – one does not have to abandon the sense of fluidity, possibility and disruption implied by the routedness of the rhizome. Both work together, intersect, bind.

This website aims to open-up, rhizomatically, the concept of Critical Regionalism, exploring its meanings and possible applications. The rhizomatic nature of the site is to allow for a productive and fluid movement of ideas and connections – following the spirit of Deleuze and Guattari’s work. As the majority of studies in this field do, it will begin with an examination of the architectural discourses from which the term derives : Anthony Alofsin, Liane Lefaivre and Alexander Tzonis (1981), and most obviously, with Kenneth Frampton’s influential essay ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance’ (1983). Whilst Frampton’s work here revolves around a critique of architecture, the aim here is to facilitate the development of an ‘expanded critical regionalism’ (Campbell, 2008). One which, building upon the work of more contemporary work in the field (cf. Herr (1996), Reichert-Powell (2007), Comer, Campbell (2008), Hunt (2009)) can account for and interrogate a wider array of cultural forms. This will be achieved by working rhizomatically pointing in many directions at once; by looking not only at these contemporary accounts of the methodology but also at those which inform Frampton’s original essay (cf. Ricoeur (1965), Tzonis & Lefaivre (1981)) alongside those which can also be seen to bring much light to bear upon the framework (cf. Tschumi (1996), Derrida (1997), Deleuze & Guattari (1988), Schwarzer (2004)). In seeking these conjunctions in critical thinking around notions of space and place, the disjunctions of regionalist thinking will become much more open to critical examination as will become apparent in subsequent elements of the study.

Just as Campbell (2008) points out, when defining critical regionalism, “the marked emphasis on the critical is vital” (50), of equal importance to the methodology is its suffix. Dwelling on the meanings and uses of ‘region’ and ‘regionalism’, its connotations and associations will be central to the trajectory of this project.

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Deleuze and Guattari Go West: the rhizome and the fold [Extract from The Rhizomatic West, Neil Campbell University of Nebraska Press, 2008]

America, and the West in particular, figures frequently in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, in part because of its counter-cultural associations, but also because of the tensions between the apparent openness of its space and the constant efforts to control and order it. Deleuze commented that his co-author Guattari had a ‘sort of wild rodeo’ and ‘desert’ within him and said of himself that, ‘I am a poor lonesome cowboy’.[i]  They are fascinated by the West as a ‘line of flight’, ‘combining travel, hallucination, madness, the Indians, perceptive and mental experimentation, the shifting of frontiers, the rhizome (Ken Kesey and his “fog machine”, the beat generation etc.)’.[ii] One quotation helps link this fascination with the ideas already developed in this introduction: 

States of things are neither unities nor totalities, but multiplicities…a set of lines or dimensions which are irreducible to one another .[and yet] includes focuses of unification, centres of totalization, points of subjectivation, but as factors that can prevent its growth and stop its lines … In a multiplicity what counts are not the terms or the elements, but what there is ‘between’, the between, a set of relations which are not separable from each other.  Every multiplicity grows from the middle, like the blade of grass or the rhizome…  a line does not go from one point to another, but passes between the points ceaselessly bifurcating and diverging, like one of Pollock’s lines.[iii]

Deleuze’s American example is a ‘Westerner’, Jackson Pollock, born in Cody, Wyoming, living in Arizona and California, influenced by Native American sand paintings and obsessed by notions of space derived (in part) from experience of the West, and one of whose earliest paintings is called ‘Going West’ (1934-8), depicting a swirling western landscape with wagon train and cowboy. For Deleuze, Pollock’s extraordinary ‘multidirectional’, deframing line which ‘the eye has difficulty following’ and pinning down because it refuses to ‘form a contour’, was inherently ‘western’, since it ‘delimits nothing, neither inside nor outside’ and ‘does not go from one point to another, but passes between points, continually changing direction, and attains a power greater than 1, becoming adequate to the entire surface’.[iv]

Pollock epitomised the restless, rhizomatic principle growing from the ‘middle’ and always breaking across established gridded spaces echoing the approach to revising the cultures of the American West explored in this introduction.  Discontented with the ‘compartmentalization of knowledge’ of over-arching, single dominant narrative approaches, Deleuze and Guattari preferred juxtaposing or superimposing different layers in montage forming a complex of over-lapping ‘routes’ in which ‘established strata start to shift, opening up new fault lines and possibilities, [and] through which older conceptual personae mutate and reappear in new guises as in what Foucault called Deleuze’s “philosophical theatre”’.[v] These ideas, as we have already seen, find a focus in the concept of the rhizome, articulating principles of multiplicity, signifying ‘diverse form’, ‘the best and the worst’, ‘a throng of dialects’, ‘connection and heterogeneity … [with] any point … connected to anything other’.[vi] The rhizome is the ‘weed’ or the grass that ‘overflows …grows between.  It is the path itself’, located most often for them in American art – in Pollock, Melville, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Leslie Fiedler, and Carlos Castaneda, for ‘In them everything is departure, becoming, passage, leap, daemon, relationship with the outside.  They create a new Earth’.[vii]

Most of these writers understood the West’s geography and symbolism within American culture, that ‘the true East is in the West’, and their experimental styles demonstrated that ‘frontiers [were] something to cross, to push back, to go beyond … [that] becoming is geographical’.  For geography, Deleuze and Guattari argue, is ‘no less mental and corporeal than physical in movement’, for space, as Henri Lefebvre would say, is both conceived and perceived, real and imagined – and always ideological. This ‘geography of becoming’ is rhizomatic, like the grass in Walt Whitman’s poem, ‘the uncut hair of graves’ in our heads, for ‘what thinking signifies is what the brain is, a “particular nervous system” of grass’ – as unruly and incomplete as any  ‘voyages of exploration’.[viii] These American writers ‘know how to leave, to scramble the codes, to cause flows to circulate, to traverse the desert of the body without organs.  They overcome a limit, they shatter a wall, the capitalist barrier.  And of course they fail to complete the process, they never cease failing to do so’.[ix]  These writers cry ‘Go across, get out, break through, make a beeline, don’t get stuck on a point.  Find the line of separation, follow it or create it, to the point of treachery’– and in so doing, offer an alternative to essentialized, inward-looking and rooted containment.[x]

For set against the rhizome, as we discussed earlier, is the rooted metaphor of the ‘tree’, ‘an image of thought, a functioning, a whole apparatus that is planted in thought in order to make it go in a straight line and produce the famous correct ideas’. The ‘arborial’ has a

point of origin, seed, or centre; it is a binary machine or principle of dichotomy … an axis of rotation which organizes things in a circle, and the circles around the centre … a system of points and positions that fix all of the possible within a grid, a hierarchical system or transmission of orders … a future and a past, roots and a peak, a whole history, an evolution, a development … trees are planted in our heads: the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, etc.  The whole world demands roots.  Power is always arborescent.[xi] (my emphasis).

It is, however, the rhizomatic ‘multiplicities’ whose ‘lines’ resist the ‘binary machine’ by over-flowing its system, centre and order, breaking the ‘grid’ and up-setting the notion of identifiable ‘roots’, that interest Deleuze and Guattari, and that also form the basis for this study of the West.  It is the rhizome and fold and not the root or tree, that produces the line and not the point (of origin).  The madness (schizophrenia) inherent in this approach links back to our discussion of architecture earlier in which Koolhaas and Tschumi invoke the schizoid as an innovative approach that refutes, like the rhizome, ‘reassurance in any solidity: not in ground or tree, horizontality or verticality, nature or culture, form or foundation or finality’.[xii]

For me, this is a way of comprehending the circum-West too, less solely about ‘roots’ than about rhizomes (or ‘routes’), since the search back to find origins and essences is only one approach in a complex space of migratory, hybrid cultures that extends both within and without the region. For Deleuze and Guattari there is ‘a model … perpetually in construction or collapsing … a process … perpetually prolonging itself, breaking off and starting up again’, specifically the ‘rhizomatic West, with its Indians without ancestry, its ever-receding limit, its shifting and displaced frontiers’, and contrary to the Turner thesis’ view that ‘The United States lies like a huge page in the history of society’ to be read ‘line by line from east to west’ in an orderly and coherent manner, they reject ‘the book as an image of the world’ as ‘vapid’, since ‘the multiple must be made’ in a ‘book all the more total for being fragmented’. In the West, they see not the sedentary, but the rhizomatic in all its forms, as ‘reducible neither to the One nor the multiple … composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither a beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills… [It] operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots … a map that is detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight …’. In parallel with the idea of the hybrid, dialogical and diaporic, as a means of understanding the West’s diverse communities and voices, and its global overspill, the rhizome has no beginning or end, ‘it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo … alliance … conjunction’.[xiii] 

This is further conceptualised through Deleuze’s notion of the ‘fold’, of a world full of curves and textures, folding and unfolding so that the inside and the outside become inseparable and inter-connected into an infinity of possibilities as the folds interact and multiply in a similar manner to that traced in Jackson Pollock’s art. In describing this metaphor Deleuze provides another conceptualisation of how the West-as-discourse functions, for ‘[t]he multiple is not only what has many parts but also what is folded in many ways … a continuous labyrinth is not a line dissolving into independent points, as flowing sand might dissolve into grains, but resembles a sheet of paper divided into infinite folds or separated into bending movements, each one determined by the consistent or conspiring surroundings’. The fold, with its ‘inflections’ and curves, can be contrasted both to the straight line and patterned grids, since there can never be ‘a straight line without curves intermingled’ or a ‘curve of a certain finite nature unmixed with some other’ for there is always ‘turbulence’ contributing to the ‘erasure of contour’ producing a ‘detour’ that breaks apart any semblance of closed pattern, shape and order and displaces any ‘essential form’ producing ‘a line emanating from lines’.  Thus the fold ‘moves between’ established oppositions (matter and soul, the façade and closed room, outside and inside) – ‘a virtuality that never stops dividing itself’.

The fold, like the rhizome, becomes a way of re-thinking ‘west-ness’ as a series of discourses ‘tucked inside’ of the USA as local colour, regional interest and mythic wonderland but which ‘spills onto the outside’, over-flowing beyond these limits in multiple ways.  From within the Americas ‘west-ness’ is folded into the lives and cultural politics of ‘people in motion’: races, migrants, minorities who traverse its establish ‘surface’ and inscribe alternative stories upon it, enfolding them within the existing folds: ‘It radiates everywhere, at all times, in the thousand folds of garments that tend to become one with their respective wearers, to exceed their attitudes, to overcome their bodily contradictions’, ‘flow out of the frame… it does not suffice to contain the mass that spills over and passes up above’ (my emphasis).[xiv]

The rhizomatic, folded West I explore here is just such a ‘multiple fabric’ whose many voices and ‘lines’ cannot be framed or contained in a single uniformity or ‘point’ for the rhizomatic, folded critical process actively dismantles such processes in favour of dispersion and differential relations. Thus the West is less a distinct and definable location, a region or geographic space, than ‘an itinerary … a series of encounters and translations’ and in trying to explore its many rhizomatic traces I will be drawn towards metaphors of mobility; travel, diaspora, migration, flow, borderlands, hybridity and transnationalism, all of which are problematic for the reasons I have started to indicate above.[xv]  This book, therefore, is transmotional ‘route-work’ following connections, trails, traces, pathways, and echoes, peeling back the layers of a complex, unending palimpsest, following glints and glances, joining and departing from dialogues, but above all, attempting to reflect upon and examine the presence of westness in its various, complex forms of mobility as it has travelled globally resting in certain forms, mutating into others, and disrupting still more.[xvi]

[i] G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, (London: Continuum, 2000),11, 75.

[ii] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 520, note 18. 

[iii] Deleuze and Parnet, vii-viii.

[iv] G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (London: Continuum, 2004), 104-5.

[v] J. Rajchman, The Deleuze Connections, 40.

[vi] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 7.

[vii] Deleuze and Parnet, 30, 36. 

[viii] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus,37, 38, 39, 48.

[ix] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 132-33.

[x] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 186-7.

[xi] Deleuze and Parnet, 24, 25.

[xii] Derrida ‘Point de Floie’ in Leach, 331.

[xiii] F.J. Turner, Frontier and Section, 43. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus,20, 16, 6, 21, 25.

[xiv] G. Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (Minneaopolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 20, 19, 6, 35, 120, 123, 16.

[xv] Clifford, Routes, 11.

[xvi] G. Vizenor, Fugitive Poses (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 22. As we shall see later, Vizenor describes Native American identity as ‘transmotional’, created ‘in “dialogical relations” with many others, with nature, and with those who must bear the indian simulations of dominance’ and perhaps any consideration of the West must likewise find a similar ‘dialogic circle’ that allows for the many intersecting and diverging elements to construct its own unfixed and unstable presence.