A THOUSAND PLATEAUS
Deleuze and Guattari in Cyberspace Theory
Not all communication scholars recognize the validity and applicability of postmodern theories to the field of communications. However, an increasing number of these scholars who have actually examined the literature of postmodernism have seen that some of these theories are indeed useful, particularly to understandings of computer mediated communication (Bogard 1996; De Landa 1991; Kellner 1995; Poster 1990; Poster 1995; Turkle 1995; and Ulmer 1994). Most postmodern theories in question are represented by the ideas of - or have roots in the work of - largely French theorists who came of age immediately before, during, or after the tumultuous period of the late 1960s, including Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Guattari, Lacan, Lyotard, and Virilio.
This paper concentrates on two of the above mentioned French theorists, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and the ideas found in their seminal work A Thousand Plateaus (1987). A number of contemporary theorists who are focused on computer mediated communication, particularly hypertext theorists but a range of others, have specifically drawn on A Thousand Plateaus in their own work (Critical Art Ensemble 1994; Critical Art Ensemble 1996; Hamman 1996; Joyce 1995; Landow 1994; Landow 1997; Lemos 1996; Martin 1996; Moulthrop 1994; Murray 1997; Rosenberg 1994; and Snyder 1997). Two ideas found in A Thousand Plateaus that appear repeatedly in this literature deal with the rhizome and the nomad.
Following a brief examination of A Thousand Plateaus, this paper explores the literature of postmodern communication theory and cyberspace theory, where a curious lack of Deleuze and Guattari is found. The next sections concentrate on the literature that clearly addresses ideas about rhizomatics and nomadology. Following the literature review a section on rhizomatic-nomadic resistant Internet use develops further ideas about the practice of electronic resistance in cyberspace, makes some linkages to the rhizome and nomad models as presented by Deleuze and Guattari, and ends with thoughts on the dyadic interplay between rhizomatic resistance and panoptic control.
A Thousand Plateaus was written over the course of seven years (Massumi 1992). It was first published in France in 1980 and an English version did not appear until 1987. The first chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, “Rhizome,” did appear in the first section of a 1983 Semiotexte edition called On The Line. Interestingly, at least from the point of view of this paper, this emergence of “Rhizome” in the English language occurred around the same time that Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) was published. This approximate coincident emergence in English of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome model and Gibson’s cyberspace metaphor in 1983/1984 means that these years may well serve as an important marker in the history of ideas about the rhizomatic nature of cyberspace. Before this moment the concept of cyberspace did not exist and rhizomes were probably exclusively the purview of botanists. But the linkage between Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome model and other notions like nomadology with cyberspace and computer networks did not noticeably occur until at least the later 1980s, when the English version of A Thousand Plateaus was published in full, or perhaps not until the early 1990s when the term cyberspace gained more popular usage. “In an interview published shortly after his death, Deleuze commented that A Thousand Plateaus was the best book he had written, alone or with Guattari. It remains a book whose time has not yet come, its conceptual riches largely unexploited.” (Patton 1996, 2) It is difficult to identify what is central to A Thousand Plateaus. In fact, suggesting centrality is probably anathema to the entire project. As Massumi points out in the introduction to the work, A Thousand Plateaus is recursive; it is meant to be read as one would sample a record. Place the needle on any groove and listen. Turn the book to any chapter and read. The work is quite unlike most others and is a model for a different way of thinking and being. “A Thousand Plateaus provides an example of such an open system. It does not advocate an intellectual anarchism in which the only rule would be the avoidance of any rule. It deploys variable, local rules in order to construct a bewildering array of concepts such as assemblage, deterritorialization, order-word, faciality, ritornello, nomadism, and different kinds of becoming.” (Patton 1996, 1,2)
But even so, as has already been suggested, there are ideas and terms from A Thousand Plateaus that we see appear again and again in subsequent literature. If this literature is to be our guide, then we can safely conclude that of the multiplicity of terms, ideas, concepts, and constructs, that rhizome and nomad are clearly two that stand out. As noted, expression and description of the rhizome model is found explicitly in the first chapter. Although, being a recursive work, the book itself is a rhizomatic structure and elements of the rhizome model can be found interspersed throughout as well as disguised in other language. The twelfth chapter of this fifteen chapter volume, “Treatise on Nomadology,” expresses and describes the nomad, nomadics, and nomadology. It seems better to say “expresses and describes” because the word “define” is too static of a term for Deleuze and Guattari whose world is full of change, flux, and mobility.
A Thousand Plateaus contrasts rhizomatic thinking with arbolic thinking. (See Table A). “A Thousand Plateaus is organized around the distinction between 'arborescent' and 'rhizomatic'. The 'arborescent' model of thought designates the epistemology that informs all of Western thought, from botany to information sciences to theology. . . .” (Best and Douglas 1991, 98) Arbolic thought is said to be linear, hierarchic, sedentary, and full of segmentation and striation. Arbolic thought is State philosophy. It is the force behind the major sciences. Arbolic thought is represented by the tree-like structure of genealogy, branches that continue to subdivide into smaller and lesser categories. Arbolic thought is vertical and stiff. Rhizomatic thought is non-linear, anarchic, and nomadic. “Deleuze's thought is radically horizontal.” (Lechte 1994, 102) Rhizomes create smooth space, and cut across boundaries imposed by vertical lines of hierarchicies and order. Rhizomatic thought is multiplicitous, moving in many directions and connected to many other lines of thinking, acting, and being. Rhizomatic thinking deterrorializes arbolic striated spaces and ways of being. Rhizomes are networks. Rhizomes cut across borders. Rhizomes build links between pre-existing gaps between nodes that are separated by categories and order of segmented thinking. “A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 7)
Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizomatic Versus Arbolic
The first chapter, “Rhizome,” presents a series of rhizomatics principles. The first two are the principles of connection and heterogeneity which say that “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 7) The ideal or perfect network is such a system of maximal connection between points. In a later section, we will see how Hamman (1996) effectively used these principles in describing the Internet. (See subsection on Rhizomatics in “The Literature”). The third is the principle of multiplicity. A rhizomatic system is comprised of a multiplicity of lines and connections. “There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 8) Multiplicity celebrates the many and plurality in contradistinction to unitary, binary, and totalizing models of Western thought. Rhizomatics “extirpate roots and foundations, to thwart unities and break dichotomies, and to spread out roots and branches, thereby pluralizing and disseminating, producing differences and multiplicities, making new connections. Rhizomatics affirms the principles excluded from Western thought and reinterprets reality as dynamic, heterogenous, and non-dichotomous.” (Best and Douglas 1991, 99)
The fourth is the principle of asignifying rupture. This principle states 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.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 9) In a rhizomatic network movements and flows can be re-routed around disruptions. Further, the severed section will regenerate itself and continue to grow, forming new lines and pathways. The fifth and sixth principles are of cartography and decalcomania: “a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 12) Here, Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between maps and tracings. They state that a rhizome is “a map and not a tracing.” (p. 12) A tracing is genetic; it evolves and reproduces from earlier forms. It is arborescent. “All tree logic is a logic of tracing and reproduction.” (p. 12) While maps are open systems. “The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted, to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation.” (p. 12) The tracing replicates existing striated structures. All codification, all the dead religions are tracings. The map is oriented to experimentation and adaption. We see this phenomena in networked systems. Constant invention. Networks expand and contract, emerge and recede. Maps have multiple entryways as cyberspace has multiple ports of entry.
Apart from rhizomatics, nomadology and nomadic thought emerge from A Thousand Plateaus as an important idea. It should be already clear that the rhizome pathways and lines of flight are structures through which nomadic movement takes place. But the two terms, rhizome and nomad, are interlinked in other ways. “Rhizomatics is a form of 'nomadic thought' opposed to the 'State thought' that tries to discipline rhizomatic movement both in theory (e.g. totalizing forms of philosophy) and practice (e.g. police and bureaucratic organizations). Universalist state thought is exercized through 'state machines' and nomad thought combats them through its own 'war machines' such as rhizomatics.” (Best and Douglas 1991, 102) Deleuze and Guattari consider nomadic thought to be the minor science or minor language that constantly becomes colonized by major science, the arbolic State. These State side philosophers and scientists operate in closed systems, while nomadology functions in open ones. “Nomadic thought rejects above all the ideal of philosophy as a closed system. For this reason, throughout his work Deleuze remains resolutely opposed to one systematic thinker: 'What I most detested was Hegelianism and dialectics.'” (Patton 1996, 3) Closed systems are segmented spaces, compartmentalized, and separated into categories, classifications, types, and genres. “The space of nomad thought is qualitatively different from State space. Air against earth. State space is 'striated,' or gridded. Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points. Nomad space is 'smooth,' or open-ended.” (Massumi 1992, 6) Nomads, the early pre-modern wanderers and warriors, are treated extensively in the chapter “Treatise on Nomadology: - The War Machine” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 351-423) Primarily this entire chapter examines the nomad as perpetrator of the war machine that exists outside of the State apparatus. “The war machine is the invention of the nomads (insofar as it is exterior to the State apparatus and distinct from the military institution).” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 380) Here, again, we find articulation of the smooth spaces of nomadology versus the striated spaces of the State. It is within these smooth spaces, these rhizomatic zones, that the nomad operates, ascending and descending, emerging and receding. The nomad is up against the striated State with its rigid formations of battle. Today, resistant Internet warriors operate in similar terrain. The deterritorialized spaces of cyberspace are smooth nomadic-rhizomatic zones. Deleuze and Guattari spend pages dealing with the metallurgical adeptness of the early nomad. “Metallurgy in itself constitutes a flow necessarily confluent with nomadism.” (p. 403) This tinkering with metal continues for today’s postmodern nomads. “The nomad war machine is the form of expression, of which itinerant metallurgy is the correlative form of the content.” (p. 415) Today the content is the metal of the computer, the wires, the telephone lines. Today’s nomads tinker and invent ways of operating the war machine against the State apparatus on the Net.
Deleuze and Guattari in Postmodern Communication Theory
Poster's The Mode of Information: Poststructuralism and Social Context (1990) is among the first systematic treatments of postmodernism and its application to new communication and information technology. This work was published at the end of a decade in which postmodern theory gained more currency and at the beginning of a decade in which the use of new communication and information technology would grow rapidly. In The Mode of Information Poster devotes a chapter each to the ideas of Baudrillard, Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard. Curiously missing, though, is a chapter on Deleuze and Guattari. One possible explanation is that while Poster’s book was being written, in the late 1980s, few people were using Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas as explanatory models for new communication and information technology. But The Mode of Information does not entirely ignore Deleuze and Guattari.
The bulk of Poster's references to Deleuze and Guattari are in the chapter “Lyotard and Computer Science.” Yet when Poster mentions Deleuze and Guattari, he mainly does so in connection with other French postmodernists who he actually labels “poststructuralists,” (pp. 131) in relation to May 1968 and the influence that period had on a rethinking of earlier political ideas, (p. 131) and as influential on Laclau and Mouffe, in particular their Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. (pp. 133, 140) On several pages Poster specifically mentions A Thousand Plateaus but says little worth noting (pp. 133, 135, 136, 137). Only in one instance does Poster offer a short synthesis of A Thousand Plateaus: “They speak of strata, assemblages, territorializations, lines of flight, abstract machines, a congerie of terms that disrupts the function of concepts of control, a field through discursive articulation. Their categories cut through the normal lines of comprehension, the binary logic that governs modern social theory to present a picture of reality from the perspective of a sort of primitive life force.” (pp. 135-136) The only other work specifically noted is Anti-Oedipus, (p. 135) which, in passing, is compared to A Thousand Plateaus.
In The Mode of Information specific reference to rhizomatics and nomadology is scant. (pp. 15, 132) The term “rhizomatic” only appears once, reveals little about its meaning, and expresses little about the potential of the rhizome model for aspects of new information technologies. Poster’s reference to the rhizome appears to mock Deleuze and Guattari: “In the perspective of Deleuze and Guattari, we are being changed from ‘arborial’ beings, rooted in time and space, to ‘rhizomatic’ nomads who daily wander at will (whose will remains a question) across the globe, and even beyond it through communication satellites, without necessarily moving our bodies at all.” ( p. 15). The only mention of nomadism is Deleuze and Guattari's “celebration” of nomadism and how this has earned them the label of “irresponsible anarchism.” (p. 132) Nevertheless, despite Poster’s shortcomings in his treatment generally of Deleuze and Guattari and specifically of A Thousand Plateaus, rhizomatics, and nomadology, he does give Deleuze and Guattari credit, along with Foucault, Laclau, and Mouffe, as being among those French postmodernists who have not turned their backs on politics and who have been responsible for developing the tendency “toward a postmodern political theory” that “concerns the multiplication of the sites of power and resistance.” (p. 140-141)
Another book appearing early in this decade that takes a postmodern approach to new information technology is De Landa's War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991). This work presents a robotic history of computer-based technology and focuses particularly on the symbiotic relationships between computers and the military. In addition to noting the contributions of Baudrillard, Foucault, and Virilio, in a few instances De Landa refers to the contributions of Deleuze and Guattari to his overall project. (pp. 6, 19-20, 29-30, 236-237) Nearly all these references center on the “machinic phylum” a term borrowed from A Thousand Plateaus. According to De Landa, Deleuze and Guattari see that “the machinic phylum of the planet is divided into many phyla, the different 'phylogenetic linkages' corresponding to different technologies.” (p. 19) De Landa uses the term machinic phylum “to refer both to processes of self-organization in general and to the particular assemblages in which the power of these processes may be integrated. In one sense, the term refers to any population (of atoms, molecules, cells, insects) whose global dynamics are governed by singularities (bifurcations and attractors); in another sense, it refers to the integration of a collection of elements into an assemblage that is more than the sum of its parts, that is, one that displays global properties not possessed by its individual components.” (p. 20) Since De Landa's book deals with the computerized warfare technologies of the State, one might expect a treatment of “The Treatise on Nomadology,” a chapter from A Thousand Plateaus. But De Landa's work is not focused so much on resistance as it is on describing and explaining the convergence of computerized machines and warfare technology.
Although Kellner's Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern (1995) has three chapters devoted to theory (pp. 15-122) and specific sections with titles like “A postmodern cultural studies?,” (p. 43) “Identity in postmodern theory,” (p. 233) “Situating the postmodern,” (p. 255) and “Madonna between the modern and the postmodern,” (p. 285) there are only a few references to Deleuze and Guattari in this entire work (pp. 89, 234, 236, 319). One explanation might be that the media Kellner examines includes primarily television and film, and perhaps Deleuze and Guattari's ideas have more resonance with the Internet. Kellner recognizes the contribution of Deleuze and Guattari, along with Foucault, to a critique of the notion of ideology. (p. 89) He contrasts Deleuze and Guattari against Baudrillard with respect to their role in shaping a more political postmodernist perspective. (p. 319) Finally, Kellner briefly summarizes Deleuze and Guattari's central ideas as being a celebration of “schizoid, nomadic dispersions of desire and subjectivity, valorizing precisely the breaking up and dispersion of the subject of modernity.”
Poster's The Second Media Age (1995) is a continuation of his The Mode of Information (1990) in that it is a treatment of new information technologies from a postmodern perspective. But the Second Media Age has even less references to Deleuze and Guattari than The Mode of Information. This is odd given that by the time this newer book was published in 1995, Deleuze and Guattari's ideas had clearly been appropriated by theorists writing about the Internet and about hypertext. In one case in the Second Media Age, Poster merely groups Deleuze and Guattari with Haraway as among those “who are rethinking the relation of humans to machines.” (p. 19) In another case he groups Deleuze and Guattari with Lyotard, Baudrillard, and Foucault as having developed theoretical strategies that make “an effort to move outside the parameters and constraints of the Cartesian/Enlightenment position.” (p. 47) Only in one instance does Poster refer to Deleuze and Guattari's rhizomatic model. It is in a discussion of how capitalist production has shifted from the centralized factory to dispersed, mobile, and decentered forms. (p. 29) Given that Poster is a scholar explicitly interested in understanding new information technology through a postmodern frame, it is strange that Deleuze and Guattari's ideas are lacking. The lack of Deleuze and Guattari in The Mode of Information is perhaps understandable. But by 1995, when the Second Media Age was published, there were already a number of journal articles and books available that drew a connection between ideas in A Thousand Plateaus with areas that seem to concern Poster.
Turkle's Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (1995) mentions even less about Deleuze and Guattari. Like Poster, Turkle's book is an exploration of new information technology - in this case the Internet - through postmodern perspectives. There are frequent references to Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Haraway, Jameson, Lacan, Landow, Levi-Strauss, and Lyotard. Postmodernism is discussed in the introduction and in nearly every chapter. But Deleuze and Guattari are only mentioned twice, once in the text and once in a footnote. The reference in the text simply groups Deleuze and Guattari with a host of other French intellectuals who influenced Turkle in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (p. 15) The footnote states that “Deleuzes and Guattari proposed more radical views that described the self as a multiplicity of desiring machines.” (p. 272n) While Life on the Screen is clearly an important theoretical book about the Internet, it sheds no light on Deleuze and Guattari and their understandings of rhizomatics and nomadology.
Bogard's The Simulation of Surveillance: Hypercontrol in Telematic Societies (1996) is another book written from a postmodern perspective that examines aspects of new information technology, in particular the phenomena of simulation, simulacra, and surveillance. Bogard draws on Baudrillard, De Certeau, Foucault, Haraway, and Virilio. But in relation to these other thinkers, Deleuze and Guattari are not well represented. However, Bogard does refer briefly to a range of Deleuze's work including The Logic of Sense (p. 10, p. 190n11), Cinema 2: The Time Image (p. 14, p. 113), Foucault (p. 29), and Anti-Oedipus. (p. 187n16) Yet he only mentions A Thousand Plateaus in a footnote. (p. 187n15) In the second chapter there is a passage concerned with “rhizomatic linkages” that is presented in relation to “biomachinic assemblages” and “machinic language.” This is extracted from Anti-Oedipus, not A Thousand Plateaus: “All biomachinic assemblages are series of breaks and flow (shifts in activity, motion, energy, speed), and the surveillance-simulation assemblage is no exception. The machinic language I use here (assemblage, apparatuses) doesn't, however, refer to mechanism in the classical sense of external causes and effects, but is more akin to the complex, rhizomatic linkages that Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus as 'desiring machines' (1977: 1ff.).” (pp. 42-43)
Markley's Virtual Reality and Their Discontents (1996a) is an anthology of critical perspectives on the subject of cyberspace. Several chapters contain explicit influence from Deleuze and Guattari. The third chapter, “Boundaries: Mathematics, Alienation, and the Metaphysics of Cyberspace” also by Markley (1996b) applies Deleuze and Guattari's “desiring machines,” from Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, to cyberspace and capitalism. Markley calls cyberspace “the ultimate capitalist fantasy because it promises to exploit our own desires as the inexhaustible material of consumption.” (p. 74) Markley claims that “the dream of cyberspace is the dream of infinite production.” (p. 74) It is within Brande’s (1996) chapter in the anthology, however, “The Business of Cyperpunk: Symbolic Economy and Ideology in William Gibson,” where there is greater reference to A Thousand Plateaus, particularly the idea of machinic enslavement and it relation to cybernetic capitalism. By machinic enslavement Brande means “the advent of cybernetic machines and increased automation.” Brande also claims that Gibson’s “matrix” in Neuromancer (1984) anticipated a “new and open-ended domain of production, circulation, and consumption.” (p. 101) And he borrows A Thousand Plateaus’ term, “reterritorialization,” to further discuss the way in which capitalism is being constituted in cyberspace. But despite these insights, there is no mention of rhizomatics and nomadology in Virtual Reality and Their Discontents.
Stone's The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age (1996) has only two references to Deleuze and Guattari, neither of which are very useful. The first reference merely groups Deleuze and Guattari with Virilio and De Landa. (p. 18) The second reference is a footnote that mentions specific works by these authors. (p. 186) Strate, Jacobson, and Gibson's Communication and Cyberspace. Social Interaction in an Electronic Environment (1996) contains no mention of Deleuze and Guattari’s joint efforts and only two insignificant references to Deleuze. This seems strange given that this book contains 23 chapters of current writing on cyberspace.
Jones' Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication in Cybersociety (1997) makes no reference to Deleuze, and reference to Guattari on only one page. In the chapter on “Civil Society, Political Economy, and the Internet,” Breslow (1997) discusses ideas from Guattari and Negri's (1991) Communists Like Us: New Spaces of Liberty, New Lines of Alliance and Guattari's (1995) Chaosmosis: An Enthico-Aesthetic Paradigm in relation to building political alliances on the Internet. Jones questions whether there can be true solidarity or political alliances in cyberspace, stating that “the Net's lack of spatiality, it's lack of density and its ability to maintain distance between people would appear to be counterproductive to solidarity.” (p. 254)
Johnson's Interface Culture. How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (1997) only mentions Deleuze in the context of describing Turkle's notion of the “windowed imagination” because for Turkle the window “is a way of thinking in multiplicities, as all good postmodernists are supposed to do.” (p. 83) Kroker and Kroker's Digital Delirium (1997) contains basically no reference to Deleuze and Guattari. One chapter, “Transmitting Architecture. The Transphysical City,” by Novak, cites in a footnote Deleuze's Cinema1: The Movement Image and Cinema2: The Time Image. (p. 271) In Porter's Internet Culture (1997), another anthology, Deleuze and Guattari appear in Stratton's chapter “Cyberspace and the Globalization of Culture” in which Deleuze and Guattari’s terms deterritorialize and reterritorialize are again discussed in relation to cyberspacial capitalism.
Landow's Hyper/Text/Theory (1994) contains several chapters that apply Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome model to hypertext theory. One is Rosenberg’s “Physics and Hypertext: Liberation and Complicity in Art and Pedagogy.” The other is Moulthrop’s “Rhizome and Resistance: Hypertext and the Dreams of a New Culture.” Rosenberg (1994) draws on A Thousand Plateaus to contrast arbolic/striated structures against rhizomatic/smooth structures: “Logic is hierarchical; nonlinear association is smooth. Here we may wish to resort to Deleuze and Guattari's distinction between striated, arboreal structures and smooth, rhizomatic structures, suggesting, as Johndan Johnson-Eilola, my colleague on the RHIZOME Project claims, that linear, hierarchical structures in hypertext are logocentric, smooth, nonlinear structures are nomadic.” (p. 277) But Rosenberg doesn't stop at this comparison; he also notices the political nature of Deleuze and Guattari's critique, first stating that “I would like to shift to a system of tropes, operant in the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in order to make the problematic tropics of liberation and complicity in hypertext more visible.” (p. 272) He then explains: “I am speaking specifically of the micropolitical field of struggle that Deleuze and Guattari locate between the 'zone of indiscernibility,' which represents the ways in which the mind and body of a subject may be 'dominated' (Haraway's term) or determined by systems of cultural signification that remain invisible to that subject, and the 'zone of impotence,' where the subject unconstrained by those systems, can thrive in a space where the three forms of creative resistance to determination, or 'becoming' (intense, animal, imperceptible), may emerge.” (p. 272) In several other instances Rosenberg discusses hypertext theory in terms of “resistance to domination,” (p. 272) representing “domination and resistance,” (p. 275) and “Deleuze and Guattari's notion of a war machine and of the nomad and rhizome as articulated tactics of resistance to domination. . .” (p. 288)
In the other chapter, Moulthrop (1994) calls A Thousand Plateaus “an incunabular hypertext” (p. 300) suggesting that the book itself is a hypertext document albeit in print form. This is presumably because Deleuze and Guattari themselves, as well as Massumi in the introduction, state that A Thousand Plateaus can be entered at any point and in any order. But besides putting forth A Thousand Plateaus as an incunabular hypertext or “proto-hypertext” document, Moulthrop also states that A Thousand Plateaus has “been a major influence on social theories and polemics that have a strong bearing on the cultural integration of new media.” (p. 301) Moulthrop goes even further by making a dramatic claim that Deleuze and Guattari's work is “perhaps the most radical reinterpretation of Western culture attempted in the second half of this century. Geopolitics, psychoanalysis, neurobiology, sexuality, mathematics, linguistics, semiotics, and philosophy all fall within the purview of their encyclopedic project.” (p. 301) Moulthrop's use of A Thousand Plateaus is not limited to the rhizome model. Moulthrop recognizes the intermingling terms that can be used to signify much the same phenomena. The terms nomadism or nomadology, deterritorialization, lines of flight, smooth and striated spaces, double articulations, war machines, refrains, and rhizomes for Moulthrop are “co-resonating tropes.” (p. 301) With this co-resonance in mind, Moulthrop takes note of Bey's interpretation and application of nomadology: “In a less oblique homage, the anarcho-theorist Hakim Bey invokes nomadology to justify his 'temporary autonomous zone,' a site of resistance designed for an era in which the State is omnipresent and all-powerful and yet simultaneously riddled with cracks and vacancies.” (p. 302) Borrowing ideas from A Thousand Plateaus' chapter on “The Smooth and the Striated” Moulthrop's piece includes a section called “Smooth and Striated Writing Spaces” in which striated space is defined as “the domain of routine, specification, sequence, and causality. Phenomenologically, it consists of the world of perception as processed by the coordinate grid or some other geometric structure into a set of specified identities. Socially, striated space manifests itself in hierarchical and rule-intensive cultures, like the military, the corporation, and the university.” (p. 302) While smooth space, on the other hand, is “defined dyanamically, in terms of transformation instead of essence. Thus, one's momentary location is less important than one's continuing movement or line of flight; this space is by definition a structure for what does not yet exist. Smooth social structures include ad hoc or populist political movements, cooperatives, communes, and some small businesses, subcultures, fandoms, and undergrounds.” (p. 303) The top-down bureaucratic organization of the university is striated space, while the bottom-up lateral organization of graduate student union organizers is smooth space. Moulthrop wonders whether we can take the case of hypertext existing as a smooth, rhizomatic, space a few steps further by envisioning the nomadic structure of hypertext as a model for a larger social text, one deserving of modification. “Does hypertext represent a smooth space for discourse and, beyond that, for textually mediated social relations? After all, interactive media exhibit the same phenomenological structure as cinema and video. Hypertexts are composed of nodes and links, local coherences and linearities broken across the gap or synapse of transition, a space which the receiver must somehow fill with meaning. In describing the rhizome as a model for discourse, Deleuze and Guattari invoke the ‘principle of asignifying rupture,’ a fundamental tendency toward unpredictability and discontinuity.” (p. 303) Finally, Moulthrop admonishes us not to view “the dyad of smooth/striated” as if it were a dialectic, but rather as if it were a continuum in which “smooth and striated space 'exist only in mixture: smooth space is constantly being translated, transversed into a striated space; striated space is constantly being reversed, returned to a smooth space'.” (p. 316)
Aronowitz, Martinsons, and Menser’s anthology Technoscience and Cyberculture (1996) contains several chapters with references to Deleuze and Guattari and specifically to the rhizome. Menser and Aronowitz's (1996) first chapter “On Cultural Studies, Science, and Technology” discusses, as others have, Deleuze and Guattari's ideas in connection with Haraway and De Landa. (p. 13) For scholarly works that employ a rhizomatic method Menser and Aronowitz suggest looking at Deleuze and Guattari's “Cartography,” along with Haraway's “Situated Knowledge,” and Wood's “Anarchitecture.” (p. 17) In a footnote we see a thread of thought traced from The Electronic Disturbance: “In The Electronic Disturbance (New York: Autonomedia, 1994) it is argued that the once subversive and anti-hierarchical models of the rhizomatic-nomadic have been most effectively appropriated by the highest reaches of international corporate power.” (p. 26n14) Finally, in something less related, Menser and Aronowitz refer to A Thousand Plateaus for a discussion of the Chinese and Mongols as examples of a “cultural and historical account of how non-Western cultures have utilized technologies for empire building and hegemony. . .” (p. 27)
In the fifth chapter of this anthology, “Citadels, Rhizomes, and String Figures,” Martin (1996) introduces Hayle's work on “complex systems, or chaos thinking” (p. 102) and relates it to Deleuze and Guattari, in particular their treatment of the rhizome. Martin quotes several descriptions of the rhizome from the introductory chapter of A Thousand Plateaus. (p. 103) She follows with reference to Haraway's understanding of “discontinuous, fractured, and non-linear relationships between science and the rest of culture. . .” (p. 103). Then she asks an unexpected methods question as to whether it were possible to conduct an enthographic study of “discontinuous, non-linear, and fractured ways. . .” (p. 104) Finally, in a footnote, Martin provides us with yet another interpretation of the rhizome model, in this instance as it is applied to linguistics and quotes directly from A Thousand Plateaus rhizomes establishing “connections between semiotic chains.” (p. 108)
In Menser's chapter “Becoming - Heterarch: On Technocultural Theory, Minor Science, and the Production of Space,” there are extensive references to Deleuze and Guattari (pp. 294-299, 301, 304-306, 308, 310), primarily to A Thousand Plateaus and a lesser degree to The Logic of Sense. This chapter applies Deleuze and Guattari's striated/smooth dyad to architecture and the production of space: “Through an appropriation of the work of Deleuze and his collaborations with Guattari, we construct a political-critical ontology designed to make possible a theoretical and material production of space. This is our politics.” (p. 294) Menser makes the argument that architecture is dependent “upon 'major' science's organization of labor and materials, which in turn requires the state's production of 'striated spaces'.” (p. 294) Menser adds: “The state is a massive, dense, and stratified structure: ‘in other words, it forms vertical, hierarchized aggregate that spans the horizontal lines in a dimension of depth’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 433), which bind and regulates bodies by pulling them into and/or pushing them through or out of educational institutions, regulatory agencies, infrastructural systems, and networks.” (p. 298) Menser invokes the rhizome model, or more precisely mentions “a rhizomatic body without organs,” (p. 301) when describing Lebbeus Woods' “anarchitecture”or anarchist architecture. He suggests employing Deleuze and Guattari's cartography, pragmatics, rhizomatics, and schizoanalysis in analyzing and developing theories about such anarchitectures or “freespaces” (p. 306). Bey's temporary autonomous zone (TAZ) is an example of such an anarchitecture.
Hamman (1996) in “Rhizome@Internet. Using the Internet as an example of Deleuze and Guattari's 'Rhizome'” applies Deleuze and Guattari's rhizomatic principles to the Internet and concludes that “the Internet is a rhizome.” Hamman examines the rhizomatics principles as outlined in the first introductory chapter of A Thousand Plateaus - connnection, heterogeneity, multiplicity, asignifying rupture, cartography, and decalcomania - and operationalizes these concepts by providing concrete examples from the Internet. Hamman states that “the Internet is very close to what Deleuze and Guattari describe above as a rhizomatic system. Rhizomatic systems, according to Deleuze and Guattari, are 'finite networks of automata in which communication runs from any neighbor to any other, the stems or channels do not pre-exist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment - such that the local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without central agency' (D & G, 17).”
Regarding Deleuze and Guattari's first two rhizomatic principles of connnection and heterogeneity, Hamman says that: “It has been demonstrated here that any point on the Internet, that is any computer, may connect with any other point.” Of the third rhizomatic principle of multiplicity, Hamman writes: “The computer user's 'multiplicity of nerve fibers' controls the computer's connections - it is not the keyboard or the hands on it that does this. There is even a further multiplicity present when using the Internet and that is the multiplicity of light pixels on the computer screen. Another part of this third principle of rhizomes is that there are no points or positions, just lines in a rhizome.” The fourth rhizomatic principle of asignifying rupture, or “that it can be shattered at any spot which would cause it to start again on either an old or new line” is demonstrated by stating that: “The Internet, or more correctly the computers on it, can route information around trouble spots.” On the fifth principle, that the rhizome is “not amenable to any structural or generative model,” Hamman says: “It is the nonhierarchical structure and dispersed nature of the Internet, as well as the seemingly uncontrollable frontier spirit of Internet users, that help the Internet to live up to this principle of the rhizome.” Finally the last principle is that the rhizome is a map and not a tracing, and that the map has multiple entryways. Hamman again sees a clear correlation with the Internet and states: “It has been mentioned earlier that there are many routes, or links, amongst computers on the Internet. These links are sometimes well established while at other times new routes and linkages take place. There are multiple entryways in the sense that, once on the Internet, I can choose whichever Internet site or home page I wish as my entryway. . . . Thus a user on the Internet creates maps by linking pages and moving as a nomad, that is browsing purposefully, instead of tracing over old lines. There are also, like in the rhizome, multiple entryways onto and within the Internet.” Hamman concludes by stating “all of the principles of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome are present in the Internet. This has been demonstrated by comparing characteristics of the Internet to the principles of the rhizome. This paper is itself more of a map than a tracing as Deleuze and Guattari distinguish them from each other.”
Shields’ (1996) anthology Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies contains several chapters with specific reference to the rhizome. In the introduction Shields makes a similar argument of the Internet as rhizome, but without going into the specifics of examining the six rhizomatic principles. “After Deleuze and Guattari (1976), the Internet appears as a rhizomatic desiring-machine which frees up and allows desire to be set in motion. Its rhizomatic quality stems from the acentred web of interconnections in which any point of control can be so easily bypassed that such concepts are displaced and outmoded.” (p. 9) In the second chapter, “The Labyrinth of Minitel,” Lemos (1996) discusses France's Minitel system as a type of hypertextual labyrinth. He describes the “Minitel cyberspace” with reference to Bey's TAZ and Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus. “The Minitel cyberspace has become almost a 'temporary autonomous zone' (Bey 199) - a virtual space which is 'self-organizing' (Morin 1986), a sort of plateau, a 'rhizome' where the interconnections and multiplicities even change the nature of the media such that it metamorphoses into a medium of contact (Deleuze and Guattari 1980: chs. 1 and 2). On this plateau, users are virtual nomads, phantoms who circulate in the structures of the labyrinth.” (p. 46) In the fifth chapter, “A Geography of the Eye: The Technologies of Virtual Reality,” Hillis (1996), in a footnote, refers to Deleuze and Guattari's “desiring machines,” and “machinic assemblages” in connection to the rhizome. Hillis warns not to take the rhizome-as-metaphor too far, and suggests that the use of metaphor and analogy is a form of representation that Deleuze and Guattari would be against. “Though rhizomes are an ideal metaphor for the content/form of modern IT and telematics, rhizomes-as-metaphor reproduces the power representation Deleuze and Guattari seek to undermine. I argue that although representative forms are essential to communication, their excessive use is worth resisting and that VR's current developmental trajectory manifests many aspects of such excess.” (p. 96)
Landow's Hypertext 2.0 (1997) in a section called “Hypertext as Rhizome” (pp. 38-42) makes numerous references to Deleuze and Guattari and to the rhizome model. This section begins with a reiteration that A Thousand Plateaus in its discussion of “rhizomes, plateaus, and nomadic thought” may be viewed as a “proto-type” hypertext document (p. 38) and that, moreover, hypertext may be the “first approximation if not their complete answer or fulfillment” (p. 39) of the rhizome model. “Deleuze and Guattari's explanation of a plateau accurately describes the way both individual lexias and clusters of them participate in a web.” (p. 39) In quoting directly from a description of rhizome in the introductory chapter to A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 22), Landow comments that such a description “perfectly matches the way clusters of subwebs organize themselves in large networked hypertext environments, such as the World Wide Web.” (Landow 1997, 39) Echoing Hamman's analysis of the Internet using Deleuze and Guattari's rhizomatic principles, Landow also suggests that hypertext mirrors the rhizomatic principle of having multiple entryways. “Like the rhizome, hypertext, which has 'multiple entryways and exits,' embodies something closer to anarchy than to hierarchy, and it 'connects any point to any other point,' often joining fundamentally different kinds of information and often violating what we understand to be both discrete print texts and discrete genres and modes.” (p. 41) Again supporting similar ideas to those of Hamman, Landow sees other principles of the rhizome, as outlined in the introductory chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, at play in hypertext. “Therefore, like hypertext considered in its most general sense, 'a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model. It is a stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure (12)'. As Deleuze and Guattari explain, a rhizome is 'a map and not a tracing. Make a map not a tracing. The orchid does not reproduce the tracing of the wasp; it forms a map with the wasp, in a rhizome. What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real' (12). Maps and hypertexts both, in other words, relate directly to performance, to interaction.” (p. 41) In moving from the rhizome concept to that of the nomad, and the notion of nomadic thinking, Landow also ties in Deleuze and Guattari's ideas of the smooth and the striated. That Landow discusses rhizomes, nomads, and the smooth/striated dyad in the same breath - well, at least the same page - is an indication that he sees these terms and ideas as being closely interwoven. Finally, as others seem to have done, Landow warns us to not take the rhizome, plateau, or nomadic thought metaphor too far. Landow reminds us that Deleuze and Guattari were against reification and putting any one particular idea, concept, term, or lexica on a pedestal.
Snyder's Hypertext: The Electronic Labyrinth (1997) mentions the relationship between Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome model and hypertextuality several times. In a section called “Hypertext and Literary Theory” Snyder discusses the rhizome in connection with linguistic structure in a passage that draws on ideas from Moulthrop. “The coming changes in textuality allow us to create a different kind of linguistic structure, one that corresponds more closely to Deleuze and Guattari's 'rhizome,' an organic growth that is all adventitious middle, not a deterministic chain of beginnings and ends (Moulthrop, 1991c:254).” (p. 42) Snyder also discusses “the linguistic realisation of Deleuze and Guattari's 'rhizomatic' form” in relation to the idea of “deterritorialised” writing and in connection to Balestri's “softcopy” and Joyce's “constructive” hypertext. (p. 52) Snyder quotes Landow stating that the decentred self is “an obvious corollary to the network paradigm.” (p. 67)
Although the rhizome and the nomad are inseparable in the sense that the rhizome is the path that the nomad follows, it is nevertheless useful to isolate, for a moment, ideas about nomadology that have been applied the Internet and cyberspace. This section will look at the works of Hakim Bey and the Critical Art Ensemble. If there were there more apparent works concentrating on these applications of nomadology they would be included. Perhaps they exist, but it seems there are less interpretations of Deleuze and Guattari written from more radical perspectives. The use of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome model to discuss hypertext theory is a safer application than the use of their nomad model to discuss how capital's increased dispersion, mobility, and electronic form requires new electronic tactics for disruption of that flow.
In his T. A. Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (1991) Bey draws largely from A Thousand Plateaus’ chapter “The Treatise on Nomadology and the War Machine.” In the sense that a TAZ is temporary, it is also mobile and nomadic. Bey's definition of the TAZ shows a disappearing and reappearing force that moves in a rhizomatic nomadic manner. “The TAZ is like an uprising, which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it.” (p. 101) Bey expands on the guerilla analogy and offers another description of the TAZ that has a clear reference to Deleuze and Guattari’s nomadic war machine. “The TAZ is an encampment of guerilla ontologists: strike and run away. Keep moving the entire tribe, even if it's only data in the Web. . . The 'nomadic war machine' conquers without being noticed and moves on before the map can be adjusted.” (p. 102) Bey places converging thoughts about nomadism under the rubric psychic nomadism. (p. 106) He draws on Deleuze and Guattari, but also from Lyotard's book Driftworks, and “various authors in the 'Oasis' issue of Semiotext(e)” and brings “these concepts into a single loose complex, to be studied in light of the coming-into-being of the TAZ.” (p. 106) Bey describes psychic nomadism's tactical qualities along with Deleuze and Guattari's sensibilities about the war machine. “These nomads practice the razzia, they are corsairs, they are viruses; they have both need and desire for TAZs, camps of black tents under the desert stars, interzones, hidden fortified oases along secret caravan routes, 'liberated' bits of jungle and bad-land, no-go areas, black markets, and underground bazaars.” (p. 107) Finally, Bey discusses these nomads in terms of the Internet and cyberspace. His poetry foreshadows ideas that appear in CAE’s The Electronic Disturbance and later in Electronic Civil Disobedience. With the words “cyberspace” and “hallucination” used interchangeably, we can see Gibson (1984) being combined with Deleuze and Guattari. “These nomads chart their course by strange stars, which might be luminous clusters of data in cyberspace, or perhaps hallucinations. Lay down a map of the land; over that, set a map of political change; over that, a map of the Net, especially the counter-Net with its emphasis on clandestine information-flow and logisitics - and finally, over all, the 1:1 map of the creative imagination, aesthetics, values. The resultant grid comes to life, animated by unexpected eddies and surges of energy, coagulations of light, secret tunnels, and surprises.” (p. 107-108)
The Critical Art Ensemble's The Electronic Disturbance (1994) has incorporated ideas about nomadic dynamics (p. 11), horticultural-nomadic society (p. 14), nomadic power (p. 15), nomadic elite (p. 17, 23), and nomadic flow. (p. 23) While there is no explicit reference to Deleuze and Guattari or A Thousand Plateaus’ “Treatise on Nomadology and the War Machine,” there is an implicit connection. The Electronic Disturbance clearly picks up where TAZ left off in its treatment of nomads in cyberspace. The second chapter on “Nomadic Power and Cultural Resistance” is where the most explication of nomadic power takes place. The main thrust of the argument concerns itself with where power is located. Power is described as being fluid, mobile, dispersed, and nomadic: “The location of power - and the site of resistance - rest in an ambiguous zone without borders. How could it be otherwise, when the traces of power flow in transition between nomadic dynamics and sedentary structures - between hyperspeed and hyperinteria?” (p. 11) A corollary of this is that any resistance to power must take this fluidity, mobility, dispersion, and nomadism into consideration; effective resistance must mirror these attributes. CAE says that contemporary resistance, in opposition to nomadic power, must resort to similar nomadic tactics of what was once called the wandering horde. “With no fixed cities or territories, this ‘wandering horde’ could never really be located. Consequently, they could never be put on the defensive and conquered. They maintained their autonomy through movement.” (p. 14) CAE argues that earlier sedentary forms of capital are being replaced by capital constituted in the electronic form. To be more precise, they see cyberspace as the new space where capital will reinvent itself. Again we see this notion of nomadism, mobility, and diffusion. CAE points out that for quite some time capital, or the “nomadic elite,” has been difficult to find, noting that even in the 1950s C. W. Mills was wondering where elites were located. CAE says that with the flight of capital into cyberspacial realms that it is even now more difficult to see. “As the contemporary elite moves from centralized urban areas to decentralized and deterritorialized cyberspace, Mill's dilemma becomes increasingly aggravated. How can a subject be critically assessed that cannot be located, examined, or even seen?” (p. 17) CAE argues that capital having constituting itself in a new electronic form in cyberspace means that opposition movements have to invent new strategies and tactics that counter this new nomadic power of capital, that certain old ways - such as street demonstrations - need to be modified to meet the new conditions. “Elite power, having rid itself of its national and urban bases to wander in absence on the electronic pathways, can no longer be disrupted by strategies predicated upon the contestation of sedentary forces. The architectural monuments of power are hollow and empty, and function now only as bunkers for the complicit and those who acquiesce.” (p. 23) Finally, CAE makes a radical statement of how to develop a nomadic resistance in cyberspace. In this closing quote from The Electronic Disturbance we can see a move from the poetic and artist rendition of Bey's nomad in cyberspace to a more concrete methodology about which tactics might prove useful. “Nomadic power must be resisted in cyberspace rather than in physical space. A small but coordinated group of hackers could introduce electronic viruses, worms, and bombs into the data banks, programs, and networks of authority, possibly bringing the destructive force of inertia into the nomadic realm. Prolonged inertia equals the collapse of nomadic authority on a global level. Such a strategy does not require action in numerous geographic areas. . .” (p. 25)
CAE's Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas (1996) continues to develop the ideas it introduced in The Electronic Disturbance by offering “a preliminary outline concerning rational strategy (antilogos) and tactical possibilities for nomadic resistance.” (p. 3) Most of their theory about nomadic power and resistance is discussed in their first chapter “Electronic Civil Disobedience.” This second work by CAE focuses less on an explanation of nomadic power and more on the tactics of nomadic resistance. They initiate their discussion by reiterating a claim made in The Electronic Disturbance about a shift in the form of power from the sedentary to the fluid and the resultant difficulty in locating power today. “One essential characteristic that sets late capitalism apart from other political and economic forces is its mode of representing power: What was once a sedentary concrete mass has now become a nomadic electronic flow. Before computerized information management, the heart of institutional command and control was easy to locate.” (p. 7) Again, they reiterate the corollary that if power and capital have been re-constituted into a more liquid form, then resistance must change its techniques. Previously traditional civil disobedience tactics such as sit-ins or blockades made sense. But since these tactics were devised to combat sedentary power they are having less and less efficacy. “Even though the monuments of power still stand, visibly present in stable location, the agency that maintains power is neither visible nor stable. . . . Blocking the entrances to a building, or some other resistant action in physical space, can prevent reoccupation (the flow of personnel), but this is of little consequence so long as information-capital continues to flow.” (p. 9) CAE reinforces an argument made in The Electronic Disturbance that the site of this new non-sedentary liquid form of capital and power exists now in cyberspace. “Capital rarely takes a hard form; like power, it exists as an abstraction. An abstract form will probably be found in an abstract place, or to be more specific, in cyberspace.” (p. 12) Finally, CAE suggests that the source for knowledge on how to engage in electronic civil disobedience will come from resistant or dissident members of the technocratic class. (p. 29)
RHIZOMATIC-NOMADIC RESISTANT INTERNET USE
In this paper resistance refers to organized opposition to the forces of the State and capital. Such resistance takes on many forms in many contexts. This particular focus is on resistant uses of the Internet. The paragraphs that follow discuss Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic-nomadic nature of anti-State and anti-capitalist resistance on the Internet and in cyberspace. Such rhizomatic-nomadic resistance is first discussed in the abstract. Then, the specific case of global pro-Zapatista resistant Internet use will be explained. Finally, resistance can not be discussed without mentioning control. The very forces against which resistance is directed – the State and capital – exhibit control over would be resistant actors. Resistant Internet use emerges from a dialectic – or better yet, dyadic – interplay between the forces of rhizomatic-nomadic anti-State and anti-capitalist resistance against panoptic State and capitalist control. Panoptic is Foucault’s term for the unseen overseer, the surveillance State that monitors and controls from above. (Foucault 1977)
Resistant Internet use follows a lineage of earlier forms of resistant media application. All types of mediated communication technology – print, telegraph, telephone, radio, film, television - have at times been instruments for collective acts of resistance. Resistant media use in moments of revolutionary social upheaval ranges from the application of the printing press in the 1525 German Peasant War to the use of the fax machine in the 1989 Chinese student movement. Today, scholars are beginning to examine the relationships between computer-mediated communication and political change and in particular the role of CMC within extraparliamentarian movements struggling for self-determination and autonomy. Before continuing with a delineation of primary types of resistant Internet use it is worth noting its international dimensions. Unlike most early types of mediated resistance, the Internet enables the spatial parameters of resistance to be international, intercontinental, and global. While resistant Internet use functions at all spatial levels, it is the global dimension that offers the greatest amount of intrigue and possibilty. For this reason the case of global pro-Zapatista resistant Internet use is captivating and worthy of further examination.
It appears there are two major kinds of resistant Internet use, rhetorical and technical. Rhetorical resistant use centers on the content of Internet communication. Technical resistant use centers on the form of Internet communication. Content based resistant Internet use focuses more on the Internet as a communication media, as a tool to exchange text, images, and sound. The two primary means of resistant Internet communication are through the use of email, using mail software like Eudora, and through the World Wide Web, using browser software like Netscape Communicator 4.0. In both instances it is the email or web site message content that is of a resistant nature. Being of a resistant nature means that the message content texts contribute to the creation, circulation, and continuation of resistance to the State and capital. The messages can be sent among resistant actors or they can be sent from resistant actors to opponents. Resistant messages sent among resistant actors can consist of a variety of types including: personal notes, ongoing dialogue, reports, news, proposals for action, announcements of demonstrations, distribution of analyses. Such messages can be sent from one person to another (one-to-one), from one person to a Cc: list (one-to-few), from one person to one listserv or a multiple of listservs (one-to-many). Resistant messages sent from resistant actors to opponents (many-to-one; many-to-few) normally take the shape of protest messages as in denunciatory letters. The sending of numerous individual messages from resistant actors to opponents falls under the category of content based resistant Internet use until such time as there is an overload of incoming messages to an opponents server. At this point, the resistant use becomes form based, meaning that it acts upon the Internet infrastructure.
A resistant email message travelling through the Internet follows non-linear rhizomatic-nomadic pathways. The rhizomatic-nomadic resistant email message moves from one person to another individually, as part of a larger Cc: list, or via a listserv. This message is then copied and redistributed. This process continues to reproduce itself. An original sender can not know where or when the resistant message stops travelling, stops being copied and redistributed, stops being translated. Rhizomatic-nomadic messages with higher degrees of resonance will be dispersed in greater densities. News of paramilitary forces gunning down indigenous women and children in church and proposals to take action against this will travel far.
Resistant texts, images, and sounds on web sites are often linked hypertextually with similar sites. A reader, a user, an audience member of a resistant web site can connect easily to another such site and in this way can rhizomatically and nomadically travel through a territory of cyberspace that has been occupied by a series of interconnected resistant web sites. Given the multitude of possible pathways leading a resistant user from one web site to another, the resistant actor in this case can be said to wander or in the more common sense, to browse, nomadically through the particular resistant territory.
Form based resistant Internet use focuses more on the Internet infrastructure as a site for resistant acts. Sites for such resistant Internet acts include (1) the pathways leading toward, (2) the entranceways to, and (3) the interior of an opponent’s computer system. The pathways leading toward and the entranceways to an opponent’s email or web site can be overloaded, clogged, and finally blocked to create an electronic disturbance for an opponent. Resistant actors trespass upon the interior of an opponent’s system in order to destroy, remove, or corrupt data. Of these three forms, the third is the most difficult and requires the advanced skills of computer programmers.
Email based resistant acts, as noted, move beyond email use for the transmission of resistant political messages. An overabundance of email filling an opponent’s inbox with thousands of unwanted messages can cause the ISP server to crash. When such spamming of email reaches these proportions an email bomb is said to have been deployed.
Web site based resistant acts can occur at the entranceways to the site. In the same way that massive email sent to an email address blocks those paths and entrances, a massive assault on the entranceways to a web site can cause blockage. An electronic pulse system can be established that sends repeated requests for entry to a single web site asking that particular site to respond and load itself upon the resistant actors’ net browser. Software designers have developed code that automates this repeated pressing the net browser’s “reload” button. Acting in concert with other resistant actors in a distributed system such actions can cause an overflow of reload requests that prevents others from accessing the targeted site.
Moving beyond merely acting at the entranceways, web sites can be disrupted in their interior. One possibility is to actually change the content of an opponent’s web site, removing, adding or changing images and text. This is analogous to billboard alteration or other print-based types of cultural jamming. Yet another possibility is to launch a corrupted intelligent into a web site and to slowly disrupt the site. These acts, when resistance moves from the pathways and entrances to the interior generally become more and more sophisticated – and require more computer expertise.
Such form based resistant Internet use acting upon the infrastructure is nomadic in that the resistant actors themselves are a force dispersed in cyberspace without any definite center. Without commanding officers, central authority and a chain of command, the organizational structure of resistant Internet actors resembles that of a nomadic army. Any resistant actor can issue a call for action. Any resistant actor can make suggestions and put out requests that particular web sites or email addresses be targeted on a given date and time. This resistant call, this suggestion, this message is distributed rhizomatically over the Internet and follows a nomadic course. It continues to be copied and redistributed through Cc: lists, listservs, and newsgroups until it no longer resonates. The resistant message itself is a nomad travelling through a rhizomatic networked structure. The resistant actors themselves are nomads acting against targeted sites.
Of the two primary types of resistant Internet use, rhetorical content based resistance and technical form based resistance, the latter infrastructural form based type resembles more what the Critical Art Ensemble have termed electronic civil disobedience. Their description of electronic civil disobedience borrows the notion of trespass and blockade from the more traditional non-electronic civil disobedience historically practiced by an array of social movements. CAE’s Electronic Civil Disobedience shows current computer-based civil disobedience as part of a continuum connected to these earlier social movements.
Besides examining hypothetical ideas in these theoretical works like Electronic Civil Disobedience, we can actually see that incipient electronic civil disobedience has begun. One site for discovering such practice is within the global pro-Zapatista movement that has come into being since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico.
The Zapatistas, immediately entered the global stage just after January 1, 1994, when their communiques signed by Subcommandante Marcos were distributed globally through the Net. Quickly, through pre-existing and newly formed listservs, newsgroups, and Cc: lists, news, reports, analyses, announcements about demonstrations, and calls for intercontinental gatherings spread throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. We began to hear the Zapatistas use the terms intercontinental "networks of struggle" and "networks of resistance." This new media, the Internet, became a vital means for the transmission of information from inside the conflict zone in Chiapas to other points of resistance in Mexico and to points beyond Mexico's physical borders. With each passing year, since 1994, the level of computer sophistication has increased. What began as mere transmission of EZLN communiques and other information via email became also a network of hypertext linked web sites. This rapid widespread dispersal of these communiques and other information, and the subsequent establishment of intercontinental networks of solidarity and resistance, accounts for part of the reason why the Zapatistas survive.
This movement of information through these various cyber-nets of resistance can be said to have occurred rhizomatically, moving horizontally, non-linearly, and underground. Rather than operating through a central command structure in which information filters down from the top in a vertical and linear manner - the model of radio and television broadcasting - information about the Zapatistas on the Net has moved laterally from node to node.
Until recently the primary use of the Internet by the global pro-Zapatista movement has been as a communication tool. However, in recent times, particularly since the Acteal Massacre in Chiapas at the end of 1997 in which 45 indigenous people were killed, the Internet has increasingly been seen as not only a site or a channel for communication, but also as a site for direct action and electronic civil disobedience.
Beta actions of electronic civil disobedience occurred early in 1998. Information about the Acteal Massacre, and announcements of Mexican consulate and embassy protests, was transmitted rapidly over the Net. The largest response was in the form of physical street protest, drawing crowds of between 5,000 and 10,000 in places like Spain and Italy. But there were also calls for actions in cyberspace. On the low end of cyber-activism people sent large amounts of email protest to selected email targets of the Mexican government. But in January, the Anonymous Digital Coalition issued a plan, promulgated far and wide via this rhizomatic system of distribution, for virtual sit-ins on five web sites of Mexico City financial corporations. They issued information about the time zones so people could act together when it was 10:00 a.m. in Mexico City. They instructed people to use their Internet browsers to repeatedly reload the web sites of these financial institutions. The idea was that repeated reloading of the web sites would block those web sites from so called legitimate use.
Based on this theory of simultaneous and collective, yet decentered, electronic action against a targeted web site, the group that became the Electronic Disturbance Theater automated the process of manually and repeatedly striking the reload key. On April 10, FloodNet Tactical Version 1.0 was showcased during a dress rehearsal action of Electronic Civil Disobedience against Mexican President Zedillo's web site. As a Java applet reload function, the first test of FloodNet sent an automated reload request every seven seconds to Zedillo's page. Reports from participants and observations confirmed that the more than 8,000 participants in this first FloodNet action intermittently blocked access to the Zedillo site on that day. The next site for electronic action was the Clinton White House web site on May 10. A similar FloodNet device was deployed. Instead of reload requests being sent every 7 seconds that figure was cut to about every 3.
To protest the increased deportation of international human rights observers and to again demonstrate the ability of people physically outside Mexico's geographic borders to act against an agency of the Mexican government, the Electronic Disturbance Theater chose Mexico's Secretaria de Gobernacion for its June 10 ECD action. This governmental department oversees Mexico's immigration service and is directly responsible for the deportation of international observers. Gobernacion also oversees Mexico's federal public security forces that have been working in conjunction with the military against Zapatista communities in Chiapas. As on April 10 and May 10, ECD on June 10 against the Gobernacion web site used a version of FloodNet. But this time, something curious happened. The Mexican government struck back. The Mexican Government or programmers hired by the government developed a countermeasure against Flood Net. The Electronic Disturbance Theater believes a Java Script was placed in the Secretaria de Gobernacion's web site that was designed to activate whenever FloodNet was directed toward it. Upon activation, the Gobernacion site would open window after window on the FloodNet users’ browser. If the FloodNet user remained connected long enough, their browser, whether it be Netscape or Explorer, could crash. FloodNet software designers have addressed this problem by urging users to turn Java Script off on their browsers before engaging in FloodNet.
In its short lived history, the Electronic Disturbance Theater has demonstrated the capability to take action against portions of a political opponent's Internet infrastructure. While at the same it has shown that its actions are of such a scale that they warrant state reaction and intervention, at least on the part of the Mexican government. It seems likely that the Electronic Disturbance Theater will continue to grow and move beyond tactics such as FloodNet. Possibly, tactical devices like FloodNet will just be one potential tool out of an array of electronic machines and software devices that cyber activists and artists will have access to and know how to use. It seems that the Electronic Disturbance Theater is likely to become only one small group among a multiplicity of small groups, nodes, or cells, that push forward the ways and means for global electronic resistance. The group is already active at the international level. This September's Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria, an annual festival celebrating the juncture of arts and technology, will focus on Infowar and has already accepted the group’s SWARM proposal. A swarm would be an array of FloodNet-like devices, arising, acting, and dispersing simultaneously against an array of cyberspacial political targets. This is much like the way a nomadic army, or a guerrilla force, arises, acts, and then disperses. This group, the Electronic Disturbance Theater, through its promotion of ECD tactics vis a vis the global pro-Zapatista movement, has been pushing the envelope and is challenging the notion that the Internet should be safeguarded solely as a site for communication; it has been demonstrating that the Net should be a site for direct action as well.
The Rhizomatic/Panoptic Dyad
Within the work of Deleuze and Guattari and within some of the literature that attempts to describe and explain it, we sometimes see mention of the terms smooth space and striated space. In referring back to the section on “A Thousand Plateaus” at the beginning of this paper and to Table A, we notice that smooth spaces are rhizomatic, nomadic, anarchic, etc., while striated spaces are arbolic, sedentary, hierarchical, etc. These spaces, both smooth and striated, coexist. Together, they form a smooth/striated dyad. Sometimes smooth space is reterritorialized and converted into striated space. Other times striated space is deterritorialized and converted into smooth space.
The Internet began as mostly smooth space. But over time, the State and capital have begun to reterritorialize the smooth space of the Internet. The panoptic forces of State and capitalist control are slowly, but surely, converting the Internet into striated space. The State’s primary mechanisms of striation are the imposition of law and increased surveillance. Capital’s primary mechanisms of striation are commodification of information, advertising, and colonization of Internet infrastructures.
Resistant forces on the Internet, those engaged in resistant Internet use like the electronic civil disobedience acts described above, are operating within the remaining uncolonized, deterritorialized, smooth spaces that still exist in cyberspace. So far, it is unclear as to precisely which laws the Electronic Disturbance Theater are violating, or if they are violating any laws at all. In this sense, the group is still operating out in front of the State, in smooth, yet to be controlled, spaces. And so far, the forces of capital have yet to devise means of eliminating anti-capitalist actors through expanded ownership and ultimate control of Internet backbones and architectures.
Despite the forces of the State and capital being clearly present, in general the global pro-Zapatista movement has been able to move information about the Zapatistas freely all over the world. But as the forces of control realize the power that the forces of resistance have gained by taking advantage of these smooth spaces on the Net, there will be a move on their part to impede the flow. This, in reality, has already started to occur, at least at the level of rhetoric and policy. State-side theorists of information warfare have already framed acts like electronic civil disobedience as forms of cyber-terrorism. Undoubtedly, these types of rhetorical and ideological device will be used to impose more restrictions on the use of the Net for the above mentioned purposes.
But for now, the rhizomatic-nomadic resistant Internet actors have enough smooth space available to them to continue plotting and planning new acts. Eventually some of the spaces within which current resistance operates will become striated, segmented, restricted, and controlled. Resitant Internet use will need to evolve and reinvent itself. As Deleuze and Guattari point out or admonish: make a map and not a tracing. Resistant actors will need to map out new territory and terrain, staying a few steps ahead of the forces of the State and capital. The Panopticon sees all, but only in territory it knows. Resistant actors will need to create new territory and act while the panoptic forces of State and capital play catch up.
For a variety of reasons, ranging from sheer ignorance to an almost religious adherence to modernism and Enlightenment thinking, most communications scholars do not pay very much attention to the ideas of postmodernist thinkers. Even among some of these scholars who do indeed incorporate postmodern thinking into their work, who write about new communication and information technology from postmodern perspectives, there is a lack of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas. Perhaps most curiously missing are references to Deleuze and Guattari in the writings of Mark Poster, someone who clearly has been influenced by other French postmodernists like Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard. Even so, we do see at least some of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas appear in certain work that falls under the rubric of communications studies.
Cncerning the applicability of Deleuze and Guattari to the Internet or cyberspace in a general way, there have been some contributions. As Hamman has indicated, the Internet is a rhizome. As Moulthrop has pointed out, A Thousand Plateaus is an incunabular hypertext. As others have mentioned there are nomadic and rhizomatic qualities to cyberspace. But specifically concerning the application of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas to resistant Internet use, there apparently are few theorists outside the work of the Critical Art Ensemble, who have begun to address this subject matter. Part of this can be accounted for by the fact that resistant Internet use is a relatively new phenomena, but another explanation is that frankly the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari are not transparent enough for most communications scholars, at least in the United States, who seem to have a bias against recursive and non-linear thinkers. Also, many U.S. communication scholars have little concern for resistant uses of communication media. Those who do may mostly be in the realm of political economy, an area that is often antagonistic toward postmodernism. Some communication scholars who do write about resistance, think that an alternate reading of a television program is considered resistant. So perhaps the word resistance has been watered down and diluted.
This paper does not stand on solid ground within the core of communications studies. It hinges on the edge, both in terms of the theory it chooses to look at and in terms of the subject matter. As with any attempt to bring ideas together in a new way, this paper can potentially be shot full of holes by an opponent or critic. But, as a starting point, there seems to be a good case for using Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas as part of a lens needed for taking a closer look at the way the Internet operates. As noted at the beginning of this paper, ideas about rhizomatics and nomadology are just two of many ideas presented in A Thousand Plateaus, which is indeed an encyclopedic work. It seems there is enough evidence to indicate that A Thousand Plateaus deserves the attention of any communication scholar who is serious about the Internet and particularly those who are approaching the Internet from a radical point-of-view.
In many ways, this paper is more about what other writers and thinkers have said about A Thousand Plateaus or works that are derived from ideas in A Thousand Plateaus, than it is a direct reading and interpretation of the work itself. Perhaps this is a mistake. It has value in that now we can position various scholars in relation to the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Now we can conclude rather definitively that Deleuze and Guattari are quite marginalized within communication studies and that references to their work appear among writers who may not even be considered within the field. But maybe it would have been more useful to ignore the work that either said nothing or only made passing references to Deleuze and Guattari, and instead concentrate more on the original work or other works that Deleuze and Guattari have written together or separately.
This seems like a call for another project: a more in-depth analysis of A Thousand Plateaus and a wider reading of the collective work of Deleuze and Guattari. Someone needs to write “The relevance of Deleuze and Guattari to communication studies.” This paper does not accomplish that task, but it does point the way to that destination.
Finally, while linkages between the section on the literature review and the section on resistant Internet use are more implicit than explicit, surely the reader can see there is solid groundwork for further application of the rhizomatic-nomadic model to resistance in cyberspace.
Hamman, Robin B. (1996) “Rhizome@Internet. Using the Internet as an example of Deleuze and Guattari's 'Rhizome',” (Internet (http://www.socio.demon.co.uk/rhizome.html)
Markley, Robert, ed. (1996b) “Boundaries: Mathematics, Alienation, and the Metaphysics of Cyberspace” in Markley, Robert, Virtual Reality and Their Discontents. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Menser, Michael and Stanley Aronowitz (1996a) “On Cultural Studies, Science, and Technology” in Stanley Aronowitz, Barbara Martinsons, and Michael Menser, eds., Technoscience and Cyberculture. New York: Routledge.
Menser, Michael (1996b) “Becoming - Heterarch: On Technocultural Theory, Minor Science, and the Production of Space” in Stanley Aronowitz, Barbara Martinsons, and Michael Menser, eds., Technoscience and Cyberculture. New York: Routledge.