McBain, Deleuze, and Hyper-Objects

“The smell inside a tenement is the smell of life. It is the smell of every function of life, the sweating, the cooking, the elimination, the breeding. It is all these smells, and they are wedded into one gigantic smell which hits the nostrils the moment you enter the downstairs doorway. For the smell has been inside the building for decades. It has seeped through the floorboards and permeated the walls. It clings to the banister and the linoleum‐covered steps. It crouches in corners and it hovers about the naked lightbulbs on each landing. The smell is always there, day and night. It is the stench of living, and it never sees the light of day, and it never sees the crisp brittleness of starlight.”

—Ed McBain, Cop Hater (87th Precinct Mysteries Book 1)

One could push ‘smell’ into the Lovecraftian cosmos and have a strange beastly thing coming alive in the lurking corners of tenement darkness with such thoughts. McBain’s animation of smell into a vital living thing is almost Deleuzian. For Deleuze and Guattari, the rhizome is not a bad organic form, but instead is the model for an entirely different model of thought. Two models become apparent. if we look at the ‘arborescent’ model of thought, then we find that its self-sufficiency closes itself off from the outside, then its relation to the world is going to be one of representing, or imitating. Thinking on this model involves a kind of comparison, therefore, between two entities, thought and the world, that each are complete in themselves. While we can try to overcome this split, for Deleuze and Guattari, at the heart of the rhizome is a form that connects elements in diverse ways. There is no central ideal as to how the parts, or even which parts, are to be connected together. For Deleuze and Guattari, this implies a model of thinking whereby thinking is another element to be intertwined with the world, rather than an element that stands outside of it and reflects it.

Second, the kind of hierarchical model of thought we find with arborescence works fine for determining what something is, but it is limited to qualifying systems that already exist, rather than explaining where they come from. The arborescent model presupposes a central moment, the trunk, and show how this is differentiated, and so cannot explain its constitution. For Deleuze and Guattari, there is no center to the rhizome, and so we can explain how new systems become constituted through the assemblage of elements that differ from each other. As an example of the logic of the rhizome, we can introduce an archetypally rhizomatic system for Deleuze and Guattari: the wasp and the orchid. Deleuze and Guattari refer to the Ophyrs genus of orchids which attract wasps with a modified petal resembling a female wasp. As the male wasp attempts to copulate with the petal, pollinia become attached to its body:

The line or block of becoming that unites the wasp and the orchid produces a shared deterritorialization: of the wasp, in that it becomes a liberated piece of the orchid’s reproductive system, but also of the orchid, in that it becomes the object of an orgasm in the wasp, also liberated from its own reproduction.

The rhizome forms what Deleuze would describe as an ‘assemblage’. An assemblage is a constellation of singularities, stratified into the symbolic law, polis, or era. A constellation, like any assemblage, is made up of imaginative contingent articulations among myriad heterogeneous elements. This process of ordering matter around a body is called coding. According to Deleuze and Guattari, assemblages are coded by taking a particular form; they select, compose, and complete a territory. In composing a territory, there exists the creation of hierarchical bodies in the process of stratification. Drawing from the constellation metaphor, Deleuze and Guattari argue that the constellation includes some heavenly bodies but leaves out others; the included bodies being those in close proximity given the particular gathering and angle of view. The example constellation thus defines the relationships with the bodies in and around it, and therefore demonstrates the social complexity of assemblage.1

I think of Harman’s ‘real object’ that makes contact through its sensual appendages, this hidden thing, almost vitalistic, that lives in the dark corners of everything, waiting, waiting like a panther ready to pounce and strike its victim. I still think of Harman’s objects as incarnations of Schopenhauer’s Will as the will in every thing, object, person – singular in manifestation, but like a quantum vat connected below the threshold (i.e., like mushrooms connected by the large community of roots it’s attached to spread out under the forest loam, hidden to the inquiring eye but present in the darkness like a blob roaming the earth underground untouched.). Are like Morton’s hyperobject that exists in several dimensions at once. Here’s Morton describing a hyperobject:

Hyperobjects have numerous properties in common. They are viscous, which means that they “stick” to beings that are involved with them. They are nonlocal; in other words, any “local manifestation” of a hyperobject is not directly the hyperobject. They involve profoundly different temporalities than the human-scale ones we are used to. In particular, some very large hyperobjects, such as planets, have genuinely Gaussian temporality: they generate spacetime vortices, due to general relativity. Hyperobjects occupy a high-dimensional phase space that results in their being invisible to humans for stretches of time. And they exhibit their effects interobjectively; that is, they can be detected in a space that consists of interrelationships between aesthetic properties of objects. The hyperobject is not a function of our knowledge: it’s hyper relative to worms, lemons, and ultraviolet rays, as well as humans.2

This sense that below the surface of life, below the threshold of sense-data, the texture of what we know and can know there is this thing living in the interdimensional zones of habitation, lurking in the interzones of being like some dark living presence unfolding its mysteries in and through the appearances of time in the mattering fold of vibrant life we see, feel, touch, and smell. This vital thing of the energetic cosmos permeating existence, acting from its blind world in the visible realm like an idiot god. Schopenhauer’s Will-to-life or just the blind “purposeless purpose” of modern quantum science.

“Instead of exiling objects to the natural sciences (with the usual mixed emotions of condescension and fear), philosophy must reawaken its lost talent for unleashing the enfolded forces trapped in the things themselves. It is my belief that this will have to be the central concern of twenty-first-century philosophy.”

—Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects

Harman returns us to trope – to those “colors of the mind” (Angus Fletcher) that tell us that reality cannot be locked down with some staid unified descriptive science or logic, that reality is open and undefinable yet can paradoxically enter into our linguistic traces as metaphor, metonym, hyperbole, or many of the other figures of speech and intellect that make up the rhetorical and conceptual heritage of philosophy, art, literature, etc.; it is those turns of phrase and troping that are at the heart of Harman’s enterprise – a world wherein we are “one chemical in the lab, one species of leopard in the zoo, one atom in the haystack”. Allure is the gum, sincerity the active force working through intention in the world that is not bound by consciousness, yet is part of the mental fabric of things as existents. What Harman in effect is saying: let us have the poetry of existence rather than its literal death. Reality cannot be reduced to Mind, Language, or Scientific description. Reality is an open and indefinable ever-changing realm of the dark Will-below-the-threshold of metamorphosis, change, and becoming within which, we are but one and unified, singular yet connected among many entities through this all-pervading force or ‘Will-to-live’, each impinging upon the other in a carnival of existence.


  1. Somers-Hall, Henry. Deleuze and Guattari on the Rhizome: One or Many Plants? <https://www.plantphilosophy.org.uk/histories-of-plant-thinking/deleuze-and-guattari-on-the-rhizome-one-or-many-plants/&gt;
  2. Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Posthumanities). University of Minnesota Press. 2013