Deleuze & Guattari: America, Nomadism and the Rhizomatic Middle

America is a special case. Of course it is not immune from domination by trees or the search for roots. This is evident even in the literature, in the quest for a national identity and even for a European ancestry or genealogy… Nevertheless, everything important that has happened or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome…

 from a thousand plateaus
by gilles Deleuze / felix Guattari

Why America? What is there special about America that these nameless ones – these schizoanalytical philonauts who write neither philosophy, nor anything that could be identified as part of the two-thousand year literature of wisdom, have discovered about the dreamworlds of the “Western Lands” (Burroughs). “There is a whole American “map” in the West, where even the trees form rhizomes. America reversed the directions: it put its Orient in the West, as if it were precisely in America that the earth came full circle; its West is the edge of the East”(19).1 What is this open secret, what story does America have to tell us? “Has not America acted as an intermediary…,” D&G inquire. Yes, we say, it has brought both death and life, flows, intensities, migrations, exterminations, liquidations, and immigrations:

The flow of capital produces an immense channel, a quantification of power with immediate “quanta,” where each person profits from the passage of the money flow in his or her own way…: in America everything comes together, tree and channel, root and rhizome. There is no universal capitalism, there is no capitalism in itself; capitalism is at the crossroads of all kinds of formations, it is neocapitalism by nature. It invents its eastern face and western face, and reshapes them both  – all for the worse. (20)

Place is not essential. It could have been somewhere else. What matters is not place but the model that is “perpetually in construction or collapsing, and of a process that is perpetually prolonging itself, breaking off and starting up again … We employ a dualism of models only in order to arrive at a process that challenges all models” (20). What are we seeking? The “magic formula we all seek: PLURALISM = MONISM – via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging” (21). What is this strange rhizome of which D&G pit against the labors of One or the multiple? Irreducible to a regime of signs or non-signs, neither encoded in binary genealogies, or catechisms of discursive allegorization; it is “not composed of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motions”: it has neither beginning nor end, but the middle way out of which grows and overspills its plenitude (21). Against genealogy it is an antigenealogy. Against long-term memory, it is antimemory. Like wave after wave of migratory peoples it operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots (21). Against representational art, photography, and drawings the rhizome is a map that is produced moment by moment, detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, with multiple entry points and no exits of its own, only “lines of flight” that embark toward no end or beginning (21).

In contrast to centered (even polycentric) systems with hierarchical modes of communication and preestablished paths, the rhizome is an acentered, nonhierarchical nonsignifying system without a General [Master Signifier] and without an organizing memory or central automaton, defined solely by a circulation of states. (21)

Against termination, extinction, war, finality we have the plateau, a term coined by Gregory Bateson to designate the sensual foreplay that has no endpoint: a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientalism toward a culmination point or external end (22). Even the book D&G write is based on this rhizomatic and plateau form: acentric, loopy, multivalent, without terminus:

Each morning we would wake up, and each of us would ask himself what plateau he was going to tackle, writing five lines here, ten there. We had hallucinatory experiences, we watched lines leave one plateau and proceed to another like columns of tiny ants. We made circles of convergence. Each plateau can be read starting anywhere and can be related to any other plateau. (23)

Against any reduction to unity, this is a multiplicity without center or circumference. Against history we have Nomadology: we’re past the point of “One or multiple” – there is a “collective assemblage of enunciation, a machinic assemblage of desire, one inside the other and both plugged into an immense outside that is a multiplicity in any case (24). Is such a thing possible? D&G ask, “How can the book find an adequate outside with which to assemble in heterogeneity, rather than a world to reproduce?” (24) Instead of the endless critique of cultural analysis interminable we have pop-analysis, a nomadism that does not rely on history or long-term memory, but the rhizomatic memory of the moment and event. Not science (“science would go mad”), and not math (“a monstrous slang”).

The nomads invented a war machine in opposition to the State apparatus. History has never comprehended nomadism, the book has never comprehended the outside. The State as a the model for the book and for thought has a long history: logos, the philosopher-king, the transcendence of the Idea, the interiority of the concept, the republic of minds, the court of reason, the functionaries of thought, man as legislator and subject. The State’s pretension to be a world order, and to root man. The war machine’s relation to an outside is not another ‘model’; it is an assemblage that makes thought itself nomadic, and the book a working part in every mobile machine, a stem for a rhizome … (24).

Make maps, not photos or drawings. Stand in the middle between things, enter the gap of interbeing. Maybe travel with William Burroughs into Interzone. D&G tells us that American literature was right, it found the middle way between things: it manifests the directional crux of rhizomatic movement, it knows how to overcome ontology and foundations, nullify endings and beginnings. Nomads are at home in the labyrinth, moving now one way and now another, knowing there is no center and no outlet there is only the movement between things: the middle path that keeps accelerating with each step. Multiple entries offer you a path, a line of flight… enter if you dare!


     See Leslie Fiedler. The Return of the Vanishing America

D&G: “Every great American author creates a cartography, even in his or her style, in contrast to what is done in Europe, each makes a map that is directly connected to the real social movements crossing America.” (Notes: 520)

    See Joelle de la Casiniere: Exhibition (The Emergency Book):

In the year 1971 French artist Joëlle de La Casinière sold all of her paintings and her motorcycle, and, with light luggage, embarked on a journey to South America. It was the beginning of a journey around the world and through many worlds that has not yet come to an end. La Casinière’s extraordinary work is in keeping with her nomadic lifestyle and is intimately linked with the impressions and restrictions involved in travelling. Structured along an idiosyncratic system of references, her collages, manuscripts and video works talk about autobiographic and historical moments as well as the evils of the medium of television.

Sixty of these wonderfully eclectic collages – the “Tablotins” – are presented at croy nielsen. They combine calligraphy-style writing and ornament, stickers from advertising and children’s albums, found fragments from everyday objects, postcards, and photographs. They are private and intimate notebooks as much as they are critical commentary and observations of contemporary life.

La Casinières first book, “Absolument nécessaire – The Emergency Book”, was published in 1973 with Les Editions de Minuit in Paris. In “A Thousand Plateaus”, it is celebrated by Deleuze/Guattari as one of the rare successful examples of a truly nomadic book. It is a unique travel diary, marked by the distinctive handwriting of the artist. “La première partie du roi Henri IV de double V Shakespeare : une analogie” is the celluloid extension of the book and amalgamates – like most video works by the artist – image, writing, and sound. It documents the dream of a group of artists around La Casinière to stage Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” amid the picturesque setting in the streets of a small town in Columbia, with its inhabitants as actors.

1. a thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Gilles Deleuze and Feliz Guattari. (University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

15 thoughts on “Deleuze & Guattari: America, Nomadism and the Rhizomatic Middle

    • Not that I can see… since for D&G there are no beginnings or endings, only the middle way of this and that… invisible hand implies some onto-theological concept and creative destruction is Heideggerian intentionality which I’m sure D&G would have nothing to say except nothing… one reason I didn’t bring in territorialization/deterritorialization etc. is that they are overused, and for the most part it is those aspects that most people I’ve seen tend to use D&G’s insights by transmorgrifying their notions, concepts, metaphors, etc. into the opposite of D&G’s non-hierarchical, non-mimetic system. Too many people take their ideas and then reduce them back into well-known, well-trod bullshit…. it’s sad to see how their experimental works, part fiction, part philosophy: philo-fictions, full of schizoanalytical insights have been reduced to that long time enemy: the logoi of reason, the order of the master signifier… what they were doing was something different, of which we, so petty in our habitual minds, have yet to catch up too… even Badiou and Zizek, for all their touted Lacanianism are stuck in the Age of the Logoi… as was, I’m afraid, Lacan himself…


      • Nah, Norman O. Brown was closer to those great Melancholic writers Sir. Thomas Browne and Robert Burton. Brown was a Christian and in latter life an affirmer of Muslim thought and practice. He never created concepts, he inhabited or quoted others as they fitted his thought forms. His work was neither experimental nor unique, his work followed James Joyce’s aesthetics… what D&G were doing was quite unique and different from Joyce. Joyce was still bound to the logocentric logoi, even if he tried to etymize/atomize that ancient tradition of the Word.


      • I can see what your saying but in terms of impact I’m not so sure who will have had created more of a gestalt shift in their times, and not far from love’s body to the Orgone, mamma’s got a sqeezebox….


  1. I think I would be interested to hear what you make of Baudrillard (even if in brief). Is he too still too attached to master-signifiers. I have a sense of Baudrillard as trying to destroy reality- to destroy everything that lays claims to representation, to standing-in-for, for being- in order to affirm the impossibility of knowing the world. I can’t claim to know D&G intimately, but there seems something in your interpretation here that accords to a certain reading of Baudrillard as someone holding fidelity to, whilst taking leave of, nihilism: “Since the world is on a delusional course, we must adopt a delusional standpoint towards the world” (Transparency of Evil). I think there is a Gnostic Baudrillard, one for whom the Precession of the Simulacra is just a mythology, one for whom the world was always already a simulation…in the sense that our epistemic relation to that world, our cognitive grasp of that world, was already a delusion.

    There is also something about the dangerousness, or the exhaustion of (“the exhausted don’t possibilitate”- Deleuze) desire. Of course, this springs from his own impotency but doesn’t something of the contemporary situation, in our suicidal confrontation with ecology and interpassivity in regard to capitalism, not speak of something about Baudrillard’s comments about his own relation to Deleuze’s philosophy of desire: ‘couldn’t care less about desire. I neither want to abolish it nor to take it into consideration. I wouldn’t know where to put it anymore’ (The Ecstasy of Communication). I’m not sure if I’m drifting too far from your post here, but I wonder if Baudrillard can’t be part of a nomadism. Cut adrift, lost, making maps only to throw them away, continually. His is a more therapeutic venture, maybe, but a therapy that refuses to acknowledge any illness?


    • Where would the relativism of Baudrillard have anything to do with Deleuze? Sorry, I might seek J.G. Ballard, who I write about – and, who acknowledged a debt to Baudrillard closer to what you are describing. But for D&G was no where close to Baudrillard’s cynical pessimism. They were against prognostications, and finality… as I iterated they did not seek beginnings or endings of import, but were interested in the between and the And’s … no apocalyptic bullshit in them… no hyper-nihilism of the postmodern variety… plus you should never try to reduce one philosopher’s terms to another’s… that can only lead to a full panoply of misunderstandings. Crossovers are a bitch, and transmorgrified enactments of such thought are spurious at best. Closer to misprisioning that close reading. Of course the pragmatists would agree with mispirsioning rather than close… I’ve grown through many of these traditions, lived them out in my own flesh, moved through them like water trough a sieve, yet in the end some things grasp you and do not let go.

      D&G’s writings were experimental, yet had an approach that fits into their whole approach to schizoanalytical theory and practice. Quite different from anything Baudrillard was doing, or even gave a shit about… in fact I think Baudrillard was critical of D&G… so how one could confuse their thought is strange except as they we’re in an age of experimental writing…


      • I didn’t mean to suggest that you could collapse the one into the other’s terms, and Baudrillard was very critical of D&G (Forget Foucault was really aimed at D&G, according to some commentators). I simply can’t help but think of B. every time someone writes about D&G’s project, in the same way that for some people Satan is always on the tip of the tongue in talk of Jesus/God. There is a slippage between them, one that is all my own…a quirk of wanting Baudrillard to be more than he is maybe…or a sense of how close he comes to something, before being consumed by it. I’m tempted by B., never quite convinced.


      • I’ll agree with that.. I was intrigued by Baudrillard at one time because of Ballard, but the illusion of his penchant toward mystification and cynical despair got old fast. He always tried to sound more intelligent than his was, tried to fuse a poetry of despair with a techne of postmodern wit: but, in doing so, his intractable amalgam fell flat, blown apart by its own failure of pushing nihilism beyond the passive limits of finitude. Too bad…


      • Exactly! On my own blog’s about page I begin with a quote from Baudrillard: “Melancholia is the inherent quality of the mode of the disappearance of meaning…. And we are all melancholic”. I begin from the observation that we’re not all melancholic at all…why is this? Baudrillard is inside nihilism, but we can’t be faithful to it by leaving it behind.


      • And, again, yes… Years ago I spent time in South Korea studying under Master Chul Woo Jung martial artists, poet, old school Kung Fu… he introduced me to the thought of Keiji Nishitani of the Kyoto school whose works on nihilism pushed through just some of those limits form and Eastern Zen Buddhist path… for me the great Comics form that nucleus of creatures who have taken the nihilist boat and ridden to the far sides of time and back again… from Aristophanes to Mark Twain, and onwards to Ballard, Will Self, and others… even certain crime fiction writers (the Irish Ken Bruen comes to mind) have the spark…


      • Nishitani’s “self-overcoming of nihilism” has long been on my reading list. At the moment, among other things, I’m working my way through Zhuangzi.
        I’d add to Ballard and Will Self a friend of both…John Gray. I can’t stand his politics (Black Mass is the kind of book that Zizek would have him purged for)…but Strawdogs has a power to it…and I believe he has just written something of a “sequel” to it.


    • Yea, another epigone of Ballard… and, a great satirist to boot! I love Will Self’s works… 🙂 Of course, at heart, I’m a comic, ironist, and satirist; even a macabre and grotesque ambler of the high/low…


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