Deleuze & Guattari introduce the idea of the rhizome in their text A thousand Plateaus as a metaphor closer to the reality than aboroscent (tree-like) descriptions can.

The question is how does one theorise rhizomatically? Given that Deleuze concepts form a closely linked set of ideas with singularity, virtuality & multiplicity, must all of these ideas be brought to in to apply the concept of a Rhizome?

Is the evolution of language a good example to theorise with - after all it is traditionally described by a tree? Can one, for example, suggest the existence of a tap-root was actually forced onto linguists by their chosen mode of description - a tree - whereas a rhizomatic description does away with a point-like origin.

We also have a picture of say the Indo-European language family starting of at some distant tap-root and slowly diversifying and splitting into many languages, with each branch then developing in perpetual isolation. In this picture, one cannot visualise creolisation where two languages at one time far apart is put into sudden contact and either one perishes, or a new hybrid (creole) develops. Or two languages that were in close contact and actually mutually intelligible, by some force are closed off from each other, and so developing independently eventually become mutually unintelligible.

Can one say then that the Rhizome is arguably closer ontologically to the reality of language than the traditional linguists image of thought/language - the tree?

Has this formulation been used in the (non-Wittgenstein and/or non-analytical) philosophy of language/linguistics at all? If it has, by whom - and what has been the reception?

  • 2
    Is this philosophy of linguistics, or theory of linguistics? This question addresses how individual languages evolved (one might say speciated --- in which case the unsharpness of species becomes an informative observation); while this is an interesting topic, I'm not sure what makes it philosophical, unless to observe the scope and limitations of a theory is inherently philosophical. Is the observation "binary branchings are not always an adequate tool for modelling certain things" a deep observation any more? – Niel de Beaudrap Jul 4 '13 at 11:40
  • 1
    Neither - Rhizome is a term in the Philosophy of Deleuze. I'm asking have I understood this term correctly by using it on a simple but also complex example. Does that not make it philosophical - or more exactly how to use philosophical terminology coined by a continental philosopher. (Its a bit like attempting to understand the idea of continuity by testing it out on a simple example like the real line). If you don't think that the question has much depth or that I have phrased it well - then that is a separate issue - and probably on balance I can agree with. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 4 '13 at 12:13
  • 4
    This question as it is currently formulated is off-topic because it concerns linguistics. – DBK Jul 4 '13 at 12:47
  • 2
    Deleuze's philosophy is a fascinatingly 'preformed' world with no clear entry point. To understand the rhizome you have to know multiplicity, to get multiplicity you have to know what he means by singularity, to understand singularities as he conceives them you have to be acquainted with the virtual, and how it differs from Bergson's formulation, yet its impossible to see the virtual without getting its integrity to morphogenesis, which means you have to know differenTiation and differenCiation, which means you have to know difference in itself, as a function of repetition for itself .. etcetc – Dr Sister Jul 5 '13 at 10:36
  • 1
    " how does one theorise rhizomatically" - 1000 plateaus is an attempt to do precisely just this .. – Dr Sister Jul 6 '13 at 2:03

I might suggest looking at Postulates of Linguistics, the fourth plateau I think, which deals with this in a little more depth. I wanted to draw together a few lines and thoughts here to maybe help bootstrap some further analysis.

Quickly: D+G's strategy involves deployment of mutually-exclusive dualisms or binarisms; in order to shatter or crystallize the hierarchical model-copy general system (of knowledge, power, etc.)

Rhizome asks a question about the speeds and movements that compose a book: what is the body without organs of a book? For a long time, they explain, we had an image of the book as nature, arborescent, vegetal. --But might there be other kinds of books...? :)

It strikes me as perhaps also interesting here that they characterize language as spreading like a patch of oil: a smooth space, expansive or even "superfluid"; like society, like desire, flowing and escaping...

| improve this answer | |
  • There's clearly a lot more we could do around this, but I think it probably makes sense to do that work from the context of more specific/pointed questions. – Joseph Weissman Jul 8 '13 at 2:04

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.