Monday, March 31, 2014

Shamrocks & Despots

To reorient myself to “A Thousand Plateaus,” I went back to the Introduction and skimmed D&G’s discussion of the rhizome. 

A small digression: years ago a woman gave me a single shamrock rhizome.  I had a small tree in a large pot, and decided to put a shamrock rhizome into the pot with the tree. From time to time I dig out rhizomes to cull them. I didn’t worry about killing the shamrocks, and I didn’t want to, I knew that if I left any bit of a rhizome in there, a whole new system of rhizomes would emerge. The tree and the shamrocks thrive until I get a kitten who claims the pot as a litter box. Then everything starts dying and I give up on the whole mess. When I clean out the pot, I discover that the shamrock rhizomes were so embedded and clumped into the root system I couldn’t possibly have extricated them without damaging the tree. In fact, had the cat not peed on it, the rhizomes probably would have choked the root system and killed the tree.

Having a concrete example of the concept went a long way in appreciating D&G’s thinking. They write that “A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines” (A Thousand Plateaus, 10).

What I tried to do as I did this week’s reading was look for where the idea of the rhizome reappeared. One such area where I thought it might be in operation is in what he calls the “despotic state.” He correctly asserts that Marx didn’t know what to do with it, it doesn’t have an historical breaking point and “has no place in the famous five stages” (Anti-Oedipus, 218-19). The despotic state will “return under other guises and conditions” (220).

And, while the despot is “submerged” by decoded flows, he too behaves like a rhizome in that he returns in different forms. The flows “democratize him, segmentalize him, monarchize him, and always internalize and spiritualize him” (223). While identifying a despot in the form of a person is fairly straightforward, I’m interested in the despots and despotic states that don’t manifest in a specific individual. Although D&G identify ways in which the capitalist state and the despotic state diverge (the capitalist machine times is diachronic, the despot machine is synchronic), I am considering ways in which they might converge.

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