Deleuzian Conceptual Vocabulary

from Adrian Parr - “The Deleuze Dictionary.”


An assemblage, for Deleuze, entails a consistency of elements that is irreducible to a traditional dualism – e.g. form– substance relation – and yet assemblages ‘swing between territorial closure that tends to restratify them and a deterritorializing movement that on the contrary connects them with the Cosmos’ (D&G 1987: 337). Assemblages therefore risk, yet avoid collapsing into actualised stratifi cation or actualised deterritorialisation. An assemblage is thus a dynamic assemblage, a multiplicity that is drawn into a plane of consistency that maintains itself without being reduced to either side of a dualistic relation.

Deleuzian assemblages.


Becoming is the pure movement evident in changes between particular events. This is not to say that becoming represents a phase between two states, or a range of terms or states through which something might pass on its journey to another state. Rather than a product, final or interim, becoming is the very dynamism of change, situated between heterogeneous terms and tending towards no particular goal or end- state.

Becoming is most often conceived by deducing the differences between a start-point and end-point. On Deleuze’s account, this approach means first subtracting movement from the field of action or thinking in which the states are conceived, and then somehow reintroducing it as the means by which another static state has ‘become’. For Deleuze, this approach is an abstract exercise that detracts from the richness of our experiences. For him, becoming is neither merely an attribute of, nor an intermediary between events, but a characteristic of the very production of events. It is not that the time of change exists between one event and another, but that every event is but a unique instant of production in a continual flow of changes evident in the cosmos. The only thing ‘shared’ by events is their having become different in the course of their production.

The continual production of unique events entails a special kind of continuity: they are unifi ed in their very becoming. It is not that becoming ‘envelops’ them (since their production is wholly immanent) but that becoming ‘moves through’ every event, such that each is simultaneously start-point, end-point and mid- point of an ongoing cycle of production. Deleuze theorises this productive cycle using Nietzsche’s concept of ‘eternal return’. If each moment represents a unique confl uence of forces, and if the nature of the cosmos is to move continually through states without heading towards any particular outcome, then becoming might be conceived as the eternal, productive return of difference.


The proximity of the rhizome to digital technology and the computer is evident. [..] Yet Deleuze and Guattari do not write much about computers. They derive some of their ideas on rhizomes from Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind. They connect with the anthropologist’s pronouncements in which biology and information theory are conjoined. Bateson argues that a person is not limited to her or his visible body. Of importance is the person’s brain that transmits information as discrete differences. The brain fi res electrons that move along circuits. Through the transmission of differences, the person connects and reconnects with other humans, animals and the world.

Deleuze and Guattari see the potential in Bateson’s work for rhizomatic thinking. The nervous system is said to be a rhizome, web or network. The terminology is the same as for computers though it does not pertain to them exclusively. Clearly, computers do offer possibilities. Not only the brain, but humans and the world consist of circuits in which differences are transmitted along pathways. Through computerassisted subjectivity, humans can increase their valences. Deleuze and Guattari write about a ‘becoming- radio’ or ‘becoming- television’ that can yield good or bad connections; productive or nefarious becomings. Computers and the internet have great potential as rhizomatic war machines. The way they are being captured by capitalism, that deploys order- words, consumer codes, and their multifarious redundancies makes them too often become ends in and for themselves, in a sphere of what Deleuze calls a generalised ‘techno- narcissism’.


‘Rhizome’ describes the connections that occur between the most disparate and the most similar of objects, places and people; the strange chains of events that link people: the feeling of ‘six degrees of separation’, the sense of ‘having been here before’ and assemblages of bodies. Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘rhizome’ draws from its etymological meaning, where ‘rhizo’ means combining form and the biological term ‘rhizome’ describes a form of plant that can extend itself through its underground horizontal tuber- like root system and develop new plants. In Deleuze and Guattari’s use of the term, the rhizome is a concept that ‘maps’ a process of networked, relational and transversal thought, and a way of being without ‘tracing’ the construction of that map as a fixed entity (D&G 1987: 12).

In addition, Deleuze and Guattari describe the rhizome as an action of many abstract entities in the world, including music, mathematics, economics, politics, science, art, the ecology and the cosmos. The rhizome conceives how every thing and every body – all aspects of concrete, abstract and virtual entities and activities – can be seen as multiple in their interrelational movements with other things and bodies. The nature of the rhizome is that of a moving matrix, composed of organic and non-organic parts forming symbiotic and aparallel connections, according to transitory and as yet undetermined routes (D & G 1987: 10).

A rhizome contributes to the formation of a plateau through its lines of becoming, which form aggregate connections. There are no singular positions on the networked lines of a rhizome, only connected points which form connections between things. A rhizomatic plateau of thought, Deleuze and Guattari suggest, may be reached through the consideration of the potential of multiple and relational ideas and bodies. The rhizome is any network of things brought into contact with one another, functioning as an assemblage machine for new affects, new concepts, new bodies, new thoughts; the rhizomatic network is a mapping of the forces that move and/or immobilise bodies.

In opposition to descendent evolutionary models of classifi cation, rhizomes have no hierarchical order to their compounding networks. Instead, Deleuzian rhizomatic thinking functions as an open- ended productive confi guration, where random associations and connections propel, sidetrack and abstract relations between components. Any part within a rhizome may be connected to another part, forming a milieu that is decentred, with no distinctive end or entry point.

Deleuze’s apparatus for describing affective change is the ‘rhizome’. Deleuze viewed every operation in the world as the affective exchange of rhizomatically- produced intensities that create bodies: systems, economies, machines and thoughts. Each and every body is propelled and perpetuated by innumerable levels of the affective forces of desire and its resonating materialisations. Variations to any given system can occur because of interventions within cyclical, systematic repetition. As the rhizome may be constituted with an existing body – including existing thoughts one might bring to bear upon another body – the rhizome is necessarily subject to the principles of diversity and difference through repetition, which Deleuze discussed in his books Nietzsche and Philosophy and Difference and Repetition.

The rhizome is a powerful way of thinking without recourse to analogy or binary constructions. To think in terms of the rhizome is to reveal the multiple ways that you might approach any thought, activity, or a concept – what you always bring with you are the many and various ways of entering any body, of assembling thought and action through the world.


Ultimately, though perhaps least obviously, both structuralist psychoanalysis and historical materialism are transformed by Friedrich Nietzsche’s critique of nihilism and asceticism and his transvaluation of difference, which inform both the libidinal and the social economies mapped by schizoanalysis. Ultimately, universal history for schizoanalysis offers the hope and the chance that the development of productive forces beyond capitalism and the expansion of Will to Power beyond nihilism will lead to greater freedom rather than enduring servitude.

Internally, schizoanalysis models the psyche on schizophrenia rather than neurosis, thereby revealing the immanent operations of the unconscious at work beneath the level of representation. The Oedipus complex is shown to be a systematic betrayal of unconscious processes, an illegitimate metaphysics of the psyche. But it is a metaphysics that derives directly from the reality of capitalist society. For in the external critique of the Oedipus, through a comparison of the capitalist mode of production with two other libidinal modes of production, schizoanalysis shows capitalism to be the only social formation organised by quantitative rather than qualitative relations. Capitalism organises the social by the cash nexus of the market rather than by codes and representation.

Furthermore, this is the only social formation where social reproduction is isolated from social production at large, through the privatisation of reproduction in the nuclear family: the nuclear family, but also Oedipal psychoanalysis itself, are thus revealed to be strictly capitalist institutions. Yet at the same time that the nuclear family is capturing and programming desire in the Oedipus complex, the market is subverting codes and freeing desire from capture in representation throughout society at large, thereby producing schizophrenia as the radically free form of semiosis and the potential hope of universal history.


The theory of creative inheritance and the emphasis placed on non-organic life is then given a makeover and turned into the concept of the ‘rhizome’ in his collaboration with Guattari. Early on in A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari characterise a rhizome as indeterminate and experimental. Steering the emphasis away from representational interpretative frameworks, they clearly state that a rhizome is a map not a trace. Explaining this distinction they write that what ‘distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real’ (D&G 1987: 12).

Description of the rhizome (from “A Thousand Plateaus”)

1. and 2 Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order. The linguistic tree on the Chomsky model still begins at a point S and proceeds by dichotomy. On the contrary, not every trait in a rhizome is necessarily linked to a linguistic feature: semiotic chains of every nature are connected to very diverse modes of coding (biological, political, economic, etc.) that bring into play not only different regimes of signs but also states of things of differing status. Collective assemblages of enunciation function directly within machinic assemblages; it is not impossible to make a radical break between signs and their objects. Even when linguistics claims to confine itself to what is explicit and to make no presuppositions about language, it is still in the sphere of a discourse implying particular modes of assemblage and types of social power. Chomsky’s grammaticality, the categorical S symbol that dominates every sentence, is more fundamentally a marker of power than a syntactic marker: you will construct grammatically correct sentences, you will divide each statement into a noun phrase and a verb phrase (first dichotomy…). Our criticism of these linguistic models is not that they are too abstract but, on the contrary, that they are not abstract enough, that they do not reach the abstract machine that connects a language to the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field. A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. A semiotic chain is like a tuber agglomerating very diverse acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic, gestural, and cognitive: there is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages. There is no ideal speaker-listener, any more than there is a homogeneous linguistic community. Language is, in Weinrich’s words, “an essentially heterogeneous reality.” There is no mother tongue, only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity. Language stabilizes around a parish, a bishopric, a capital. It forms a bulb. It evolves by subterranean stems and flows, along river valleys or train tracks; it spreads like a patch of oil. It is always possible to break a language down into internal structural elements, an undertaking not fundamentally different from a search for roots. There is always something genealogical about a tree. It is not a method for the people. A method of the rhizome type, on the contrary, can analyze language only be decentering it onto other dimensions and other registers. A language is never closed upon itself, except as a function of impotence.

3. Principle of multiplicity: it is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, “multiplicity,” that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world. Multiplicities are rhizomatic, and expose arborescent pseudomultiplicities for what they are. There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide in the subject. There is not even the unity to abort in the object or “return” in the subject. A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows). Puppet strings, as a rhizome or multiplicity, are tied not to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer but to a multiplicity of nerve fibers, which form another puppet in other dimensions connected to the first: “Call the strings or rods that move the puppet the weave. It might be objected that its multiplicity resides in the person of the actor, who projects it into the text. Granted; but the actor’s nerve fibers in turn form a weave. And they fall through the gray matter, the grid, into the undifferentiated… The interplay approximates the pure activity of weavers attributed in myth to the Fates or Norns.” An assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections. There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines. When Glenn Gould speeds up the performance of a piece, he is not just displaying virtuosity, he is transforming the musical points into lines, he is making the whole piece proliferate. The number is no longer a universal concept measuring elements according to their emplacement in a given dimension, but has itself become a multiplicity that varies according to the dimensions considered (the primacy of the domain over a complex of numbers attached to that domain). We do not have units (unités) of measure, only multiplicities or varieties of measurement. The notion of unity (unité) appears only when there is a power takeover in the multiplicity by the signifier or a corresponding subjectification proceeding: This is the case for a pivot-unity forming the basis for a set of biunivocal relationships between objective elements or points, or for the One that divides following the law of a binary logic of differentiation in the subject. Unity always operates in an empty dimension supplementary to that of the system considered (overcoding). The point is that a rhizome or multiplicity never allows itself to be overcoded, never has available a supplementary dimension over and above its number of lines, that is, over and above the multiplicity of numbers attached to those lines. All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions: we will therefore speak of a plane of consistency of multiplicities, even though the dimensions of this “plane” increase with the number of connections that are made on it. Multiplicities are defined by the outside: by the abstract line, the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities. The plane of consistency (grid) is the outside of all multiplicities. The line of flight marks: the reality of a finite number of dimensions that the multiplicity effectively fills; the impossibility of a supplementary dimension, unless the multiplicity is transformed by the line of flight; the possibility and necessity of flattening all of the multiplicities on a single plane of consistency or exteriority, regardless of their number of dimensions. The ideal for a book would be to lay everything out on a plane of exteriority of this kind, on a single page, the same sheet: lived events, historical determinations, concepts, individuals, groups, social formations. Kleist invented a writing of this type, a broken chain of affects and variable speeds, with accelerations and transformations, always in a relation with the outside. Open rings. His texts, therefore, are opposed in every way to the classical or romantic book constituted by the interiority of a substance or subject. The war machine-book against the State apparatus-book. flat multiplicities of n dimensions are asignifying and asubjective. They are designated by indefinite articles, or rather by partitives (some couchgrass, some of a rhizome…).

4. Principle of asignfying rupture: against the oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. 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. You can never get rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome that can rebound time and again after most of it has been destroyed. Every rhizome contains lines of segmentarity according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc., as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees. There is a rupture in the rhizome whenever segmentary lines explode into a line of flight, but the line of flight is part of a rhizome. These lines always tie back to one another. That is why one can never posit a dualism or a dichotomy, even in the rudimentary form of the good and the bad. You may make a rupture, draw a line of flight, yet there is still a danger that you will reencounter organizations that restratify everything, formations that restore power to a signifier, attributions that reconstitute a subject – anything you like, from Oedipal resurgences to fascist concretions. Groups and individuals contain microfascisms just waiting to crystallize. Yes, couchgrass is also a rhizome. Good and bad are only the products of an active and temporary selection, which must be renewed.

Written on December 29, 2018