Anti-Genealogy as Methodology ~

15 07 2008

I’m intrigued by Deleuze and Guattari insisting so often that the rhizome is the anti-genealogy. If we do indeed read it as a methodology of critical inquiry (as I think is clearly one of their intentions) then we come head to head with a number of critical projects that profess the opposite as the their method. Most notably, of course, are Foucault’s genealogical studies, coming out of the Nietzschean vein (though Nietzsche is much more in line with Deleuze and his notion of constant “becoming” than Foucault is). But for some reason I’m thinking of Kevin DeLuca’s (fantastic) book, Image Politics. His methodology is drawing heavily upon a blend of Laclau & Mouffe with McGee’s ideograph. DeLuca traces (“trace” is a very much a no-no word to D & G) the term “progress” through a sequence of texts, mostly focusing on how radical environmental groups (once again, Earth First! is in the academic spotlight) are attempting to shift the meaning behind that ideograph, and how they approach it as a rhetorical challenge.

I’m intrigued if only because I seem to simultaneously agree with both methodologies. DeLuca’s approach, I think, is systematic without being dogmatic and yields excellent results for the rhetorical study of social movements. However, at the same time, I can see the impulse to force the movements into a Tree-like/Single-Root metaphorical model – precisely what D & G warn against. As the anti-genealogy, rhizomatic approach suggests, how Earth First! operates and came to be is much more messier than what’s presented in DeLuca’s text.

But a crucial point that’s easy to pass over: The dualism they set up between Rhizome/Tree & Tracing/Map is that it’s purposely false and in the end, quite compatible The rhizome can integrate the tree and maps can integrate tracings:

It is a question of method: the tracing should always be put back on the map … the tracing has already translated the map into an image; it has already transformed the rhizome into roots and radicles. It has organized, stabilized, neutralized the multiplicities according the axes of signifiance and subjectification belonging to it. It has generated, structuralized the rhizome, and when it thinks it is reproducing something else it is in fact only reproducing itself. That is why the tracing is so dangerous. It injects redundancies and propagates them (13).

And again, a bit further along:

The important point is that the root-tree and canal-rhizome are not two opposed models: the first operates as a transcendent model and tracing, even if it engenders its own escapes; the second operates as an immanent process that overturns the model and outlines a map, even if it constitutes its own hierarchies, even if it gives rise to a despotic channel (20).

So in the case of Image Politics, we must take DeLuca’s findings and put them back into the teeming mass of activist networks in order for the tracing to gain it true contextual import.  Not exactly sure what this would look like as a piece of scholarship, but I’m going to mull on it and see what I come up with.  Like D & G say, “Plug the tracings back into the map, connect the roots or trees back up with the rhizome” (14).  Or a bit later when they’re even more explicit in their language about collectives: “[S]how at what point in the rhizome there form phenomena of massification, bureaucracy, leadership, fascization, etc., which lines nevertheless survive, if only underground, continuing to make rhizome in the shadows” (14).

Apart from being an exquisite literary sentence, I think D & G are offering something there that will ultimately be productive for explaining how activist networks function (globally perhaps?).

I’ve been stumbling around the first chapter of a book by an Australian Professor of Criminology—Deleuze and Environmental Damage.  He outlines in meticulous fashion how forcing various conceptual and discursive sets into a “tree” model (which he calls a “monolith” model) and the dualistic (dialectical?) thinking it engenders can lead to disastrous results:

The problems with modernist conceptions of environmental damage are twofold.  Firstly, there has been a tendency to write the ‘causes’ of environmental problems in monolithic fashion – the irresponsible consumer monolith under liberal ecology, the capitalist monolith under ecomarxism, the patriarchal monolith under ecofeminism, the hierarchical monolith under deep ecology, and the domination monolith under social ecology.

The (unintended) consequence of these monoliths has been the proliferation of precisely the kinds of configurations and dichotomies that have long underpinned the processes of environmental damage and its discursive production.  Configurations such as: ecologically benign policies versus irresponsible citizens; economically powerful owners of the means and forces of production versus environmentally conscious but powerless labourers; ecologically destructive men versus environmentally mindful women; ecologically damaging humans versus ecologically benign nonhumans; humans as creatures of domination versus Nature as symbiotic entity: (35). {Hasley, Mark. Deleuze and Environmental Damage: Violence of the Text. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006

More on this later.  Perhaps after a revisiting of DeLuca’s Image Politics (since it is indeed based of a binary methodology, but a post-structuralist, post-modern Derridean account).




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