Rhizomes, NewRadial, And The Problem of Cartographies

Posted by on Oct 10, 2013 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping, Projects

[Submitted by Adam Foster]

In my last blog post, I conceived of the act of scholarship as being like travelling down a road, with scholarly criticism being detours to help you get from point A to point B. I’ve been persuaded otherwise by Marc Mueshler. We should think of reading as being detached from temporality and an ever unfolding process of epistemology. This is to say the act of reading and knowing continues long after the reader finishes a poem or novel. This is true by all means – if one is a scholar of modernist poetry, never does he think “a ha! I have learned everything about modernist poetry, and now I’ll move on to something else.” Knowledge of a text is not finite; it is infinite. Scholars continue to research and learn about a given subject to learn more, never reaching the point of absolute understanding. In one way, epistemology is similar to justice in Jacques Derrida’s “Force of Law.” Justice is an unobtainable goal, and can be found only by pursuing and endlessly striving towards it (which Derrida argues is done through the act of deconstruction). Therefore, absolute knowledge of a text or subject is impossible. However, in trying to reach that point of absolute knowledge, we do learn more. In so far that we can never end our pursuit of knowledge, it follows logically that the corpus of scholarship would grow quite large. This is where Marc ends his blog; with the problem of the sheer volume of criticism and the difficulty in representing it spatially.

A potential solution is to consider scholarship as being rhizomatic. In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari define the rhizome as a way of thinking that acknowledges that any one point is inherently connected to all other points. If we consider a point to be a text, then that text is inherently connected to all other texts. How could one text be connected to all other points? In so far that we can make connections between texts either by comparing them, or using one text to elucidate another. This very much echoes the mechanism of NewRadial – making connections between points. If we were to visualize what a complete rhizome looks like, one might imagine a mass of roots where one cannot tell where each root stems from, is going, or is connected; it appears as if all roots are one big mass. This is how we should think of scholarship, but not NewRadial.

If we can’t tell where things are connecting, there is not much that this model can be used for. Indeed, Deleuze and Guattari do not end with the rhizome; they end with the map, and it is here that I see NewRadial fitting in. A map in Deleuze and Guattari is created by navigating the rhizome. They argue “it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” and argue it “is open and connectable in all its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification” (Deleuze and Guattari 12). This is to say a map is not something you follow, but is actually more like a travel log. In exploring the rhizome, it is created by charting your progress and movements across points. NewRadial could serve as a tool for creating this map.

One way of doing this is by  using NewRadial to represent the course that a particular scholar makes in navigating through the world of scholarship through the connections of nodes. In this regard, it might represent the argument a work of scholarship makes, but does so spatially instead of in a manner that echoes the narrative function. In this regard, not all of scholarship is included in NewRadial; only those that are included in the map. First and foremost, this is a very conservative reading of NewRadial; this is what NewRadial is now, and it shuts down the notion of maximizing NewRadial’s potential – and we should maximize NewRadial’s potential. Furthermore, on theoretical grounds, it is not truly a map in the Deleuzo-Guattarian sense, but rather a tracing or reproduction of the original map created in the act of the scholar navigating the rhizome. Deleuze and Guattari are critical of tracings.  They argue that the tracing does not reproduce the map but instead is “like a photograph or X ray that begins by selecting or isolating, by artificial means such as colorations or other restrictive procedures, what it intends to reproduce” (Deleuze and Guattari 13). In other words, the tracing creates an “arborescent schema,” which is to say that it creates a model that forces an all encompassing narrative that says “here is what is relevant” and “here is how it all fits together” without allowing for any improvisation; it prioritizes certain aspects and elements and neglects others. This is indeed a very legitimate criticism to the model I’ve alluded to.

The task then is to ask how we can avoid the act of creating a tracing. One is to return to the notion of including all scholarship into NewRadial. It is true that it is incredibly hard to conceive of representing the rhizomatic and infinite connections between texts spatially. One solution is to ask the question as to if we should represent the infinite connections between texts, even if all texts are present. No scholar includes all texts and all works of criticism in his final project, whether it be a journal, monograph, archive, or another type of scholarship. Therefore, perhaps if reference to all texts are available in NewRadial, we can return to the immediacy of Deleuze and Guattari’s map. NewRadial would be a text similar to WorldCat or Jstor where a scholar conducts his primary research, and then the tools currently used for connecting nodes allows him to create a map by linking points and works in the act of researching. One key characteristics of Deleuze and Guattari’s cartographic model is that it is ever-changing and not static. They argue that a map is “detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification” (Deleuze and Guattari 12). Therefore, if the model we are to create is to be truly cartographic in the Deleuzo-Guattarian sense, it has to be open to change as the scholar’s research progresses. The previous model essentially crystallizes the map and prevents it from changing; it is a photograph and Deleuze and Guattari do call a tracing that. However, its one redeeming quality is that when we produce a work of criticism, that too crystallizes research, as one is not able to go back and change the work of criticism once it is published. True, he can revisit the same theme, or perhaps produce a new edition of his work in some cases. But the original act of criticism continues to exist despite new editions or subsequent work. Therefore, if we are to think cartographically in the way I argue, then it may ask of us to also rethink the role of criticism itself and challenge the narrativity of current models of scholarship.




Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.

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