The title makes this sound boring, but bear with me. It's going to be ridiculous and really boring
instead. Also I am submitting this as homework but I am writing it primarily for this audience and my class can deal with it. (Also this is an attempted edited version from what I posted last night, particularly in the last two paragraphs.) So:
Deleuze and Guattari, in their introduction to A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
, discuss three different ways of organizing knowledge (and thus of organizing the world): the arborescent model, the radicle system, and the rhizome. The arborescent model is like a tree, growing from a trunk into a branching structure. The radicle system works like the part of a seed from which all of the roots grow --- there is one point of articulation from which everything else is developed. The rhizome is, well, a rhizome --- while it sends out occasional roots or stems, all of the parts of the rhizome are just rhizome, and do what they do. (Ginger root is not actually a root and is a good example of a rhizome. If you cut parts of it off, the edge will turn into edge. It all just... gingers.)
In trying to understand this and what I might be able to do with it, I started thinking about data structures. The arborescent model is a common way to construct a data structure; you start from some point, and then fork in two directions, and each of those points can fork in two directions, and so on. You can even have points fork in more than two directions if you want, but the way you move through the data structure is to traverse the tree and get to individual nodes of data (which I think are even called leaves if they terminate, but it's been a long time since my intro CS class). This makes certain types of searches incredibly fast/efficient because you can make certain assumptions about the way the data is organized --- at my job, our secret sauce database is based on this kind of structure --- but relies on having the entirety of the structure to work. If you disrupt the tree, the relationships between the leaves, and thus most of the leaves themselves, are inaccessible.
The radicle system strikes me as more like a lookup table or dictionary. The radicle itself contains paths to all of the pieces of knowledge within it, so you can say radicle[key] and you will get the value of that key. If you take a segment of the radicle system away, one of two things can happen. If your segment includes the radicle, you at least know what information you are missing, because you will have connections to some values and not to others. If you lose the radicle in your cross-section, you just have arbitrary data points floating without context, which may or may not help you at all. (There isn't much reason to take a random cross-section of a database that I know of, but we'll get to why this matters in the Heidegger part.) The radicle system is also called the "fascicular root" and D&G connect it to fascism because of the way power is bundled in one place (not just
because of the wordplay). I don't think a hash table is fascist; that's pretty ridiculous. But the concentration of power and knowledge may be.
The rhizome, on the other hand, contains all of what's needed to generate itself in all of its parts. So every piece of the ginger knows how to send up a stalk, or put down roots. It's... sort of like self-replicating code? You can chop up the ginger and each piece of ginger will still be able to do what the ginger does. Now, they may put down roots or send up stalks in different places, but the overall algorithm doesn't changed; nothing about the organizational structure except the individual manifestation of stalk/root is changed. I'm not sure how this would be useful in a digital data structure (anyone know?) but it's interesting to D&G because of its non-hierarchical structure and lack of necessary organization. (This ties into the Body without Organs.)
Heidegger, in "The Question Concerning Technology," says a lot of really busted and technophobic things (including the ludicrous claim that a windmill does not take energy out of the wind but a turbine does out of the water, because Heidegger is wiser than all gods and scientists
) but provides something useful in the idea of the standing-reserve. Essentially he criticizes modernity for treating the world around us as resources to be exploited rather than entities engaging in active being in relation to each other. He follows up on this in "The Thing," claiming that modernity/science looks at things as objects and to truly understand them we have to look at their fourfold (earth/sky, human/divine) nature and their enmeshment in all other things, particularly but not only systems of gift-giving and ritual.
When I put these things together, I don't see rhizomes versus arborescent structures; I see entities that interact in rhizomatic, radicle-ish, and arborescent ways in their complicated enmeshment, but that sometimes have a dominant form of interaction. Rhizomes put down roots; trees sometimes end up with radicles; some trees can be cut and grow from cuttings. (Tree radicles: The mesquite trees in Tucson, for example, sometimes hit a point at the end of a branch with a sort of weird nodule that has dozens of branches coming out of it. I wish I had a picture, it's kinda freaky.) The body without organs --- the rhizomatic space, smoothness --- cannot be achieved, it can only be approximated. Even as rhizomes we have to put roots down to get nutrients, extend up flowers to reproduce, and those connect us to the world in non-rhizomatic ways. Organization is required for haecceity, or roughly (I still don't quite get this concept either), the distinguishment of one thing from everything else.
How I read D&G suggests that we need to not grow too attached to those connections, continuing to produce new and different connections rather than letting the stalks that provide for the flowers turn into trees or the roots turn into fascism. At the same time they're not suggesting the disconnect that upsets Heidegger so much --- in particular, their chapter on the war machine argues against the standing-reserve when it emphasizes the nomad's connections to and relationships with both the literal stuff of earth and to the State. The nomad figure's pack
nature calls attention to the figure's multiplicity, but also to its internal replicability; if you separate part of a nomadic pack and put it somewhere else, it will keep doing what it does in a different context, just like lifting part of a river and putting it somewhere else will still produce a river, but one that looks different because of its relationship to different grooves and channels in the ground. In this way taking a cross-section of a nomadic pack is more rhizomatic than taking a cross-section of the State (or of a database).
I'm still trying to work out exactly how to make this useful