Emperor's New Clothes
. . . rhizome

Hypertext provides a non-linear environment in which to read and write, and it is this that will provide the models, the necessary ways of thinking in and about, what the non-linear text might be. It is hypertext that 'emphasizes that the marginal has as much to offer as does the central, in part because hypertext . . . redefine[s] the central by refusing to grant centrality to anything', and that hypertext's 'dissolution of centrality, which makes the medium such a potentially democratic one, also makes it a model of a society of conversations in which no one conversation, no one discipline or ideology, dominates or founds the others.' (Landow 1992, pp. 69-70.)

Furthermore, hypertext provides 'The basic experience of text, information, and control, which moves the boundary of power away from the author in the direction of the reader, models such a postmodern, antihierarchical medium of information, text, philosophy, and society.' (Landow 1992, p. 70.) It is within hypertext that this 'antihierarchy' is available, for both writer and reader, whereas the multimedia model can only provide this liberty from the completed object to the reader. However, as poststructural narrative theory argues, such 'granting' of readerly freedom is not the prerogative of the author -- it never was, and is inherently a reflection of a print based notion of the authority and privilege of the book. In multimedia the reader is apparently free because the text has made it so -- and all animals are created equal, some are just more equal than others.

This is one of Deleuze and Guattari's (1991, p. 7) points, in what is perhaps the crucial document for hypertext theorists, as they conclude their introductory genealogy of texts and utterances with the idea of the rhizome. The rhizome provides

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. . . . 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.
It is not sufficient for the completed text, or the end of a publication process, to invite or provide the rhizome -- the rhizome is, as they say, 'a subterranean stem' and 'is absolutely different from roots and radicles' (Deleuze and Guattari, p. 6). This is in contrast to 'the root-book' where 'The tree is already the image of the world' (p. 5), and 'The radicle-system' as 'the second figure of the book' (p. 5) where 'The world has become chaos, but the book remains the image of the world: radicle-chaosmos rather than root-chaosmos. A strange mystification: a book all the more total for being fragmented.' (Deleuze & Guattari, 1991, pp 5-6.) It is hypertext, not multimedia, that is a rhizome.

Once again, the World Wide Web -- and the Internet in general -- can be considered an exemplar of this. These services will rapidly make multimedia, and certainly multimedia based on the studio/CD-ROM model of production, redundant. However, this is not because the Internet is first and foremost a multimedia vehicle (the Web constitutes only one part of Internet traffic), it is because the Internet makes visible the very issues that Deleuze and Guattari are describing. Email, mail lists, newsgroups and File Transfer Protocol (FTP) are already rhizomatic, and these were in place well before the cornucopia of the Web. The Web is a significant development of these existing technologies, and unlike multimedia it is being written and read by all comers, for as Deleuze and Guattari rather presciently suggested "There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines." (Deleuze & Guattari, 1991, p. 8.) Burnett (1993), in endorsing Deleuze and Guattari's 'rhizomatics,' argues that

Hypermedia design is rhizomorphic in its sustenance of heterogeneous connection, because there is no systemic hierarchy of connection. The perception of connectivity is entirely left to the user, though the pre-existence of particular connections may foster varying user perceptions of overall structure. At its most political, connectivity is a democratizing principle. It functions as a structure of individuation since at any given moment the "center" of any rhizomorphic structure is the individual's position in relation to that structure. Distinctions between author and reader, constituent and politician, even intermediary and end-user disintegrate as the reader participates in authorship, constituent in polis, and end-user in the search itself.
By definition the rhizomatic text cannot be produced from the top down, as Moulthrop (1994, p. 301), partly relying on Massumi (1991), argues
Deleuze and Guattari's dreamed-of new culture proceeds not from logos, the law of substances, but rather from nomos, the designation of places or occasions . . . Hence their various co-resonating tropes of nomadism or nomadology, deteritorialization, lines of flight, smooth and striated spaces, double articulation, war machines, refrains, and rhizomes. The generating body for all these tropes (the arch-rhizome) is the concept of a social order defined by active traversal or encounter rather than objectification.
Yet, through the institutionalised model that multimedia so readily lends itself to, and its associated cultural agendas, what is being articulated is logos with a new veneer. The multimedia industry as it is currently being developed and supported relies upon a hieratic model of production.

However, as Deleuze and Guattari point out, it is the rhizome that fundamentally problematises reader and writer, producer and consumer. Multimedia, at least in its current corporatised model, is not able to offer this possibility:

What hypertext is able to realise, on an everyday basis, is the possibility for people to be writers and readers of non-linear, interactive, digital texts. This is where the new media revolution will occur, in the same way that the history of the book only became fundamentally revolutionary when it was combined not just with universal reading, but with universal literacy. To be able to read and write, that is the trick.

introduction | convergences | divergences | rhizomes | bibliography