An Expanded/Extended Book Report: Weaving Together 4 Texts to Make...
A Jackdaw's Nest/Sandpile/Anthill/Termite Colony/Dog Fight...?

The Ramifications of Being Easily Distracted, or:

An Account of a Journey From Metaphor and Metonymy to Trees and Rhizomes
(w/ thanks to Tim Burke and Ted Wong, who staked the poles...)

"What My Education Brought Me "

What I learned in my dozen
years of wasted

time wasn't documented
in the curriculum:

I'm still trying to
unlearn most of it.

I learned to doubt myself...

--Joanna Karner (recent high school graduate), quoted by Grace Lee Boggs (BMC Philosophy Ph.D.) in "The Harm done by 'School,'"Michigan Citizen, August 17-23, 2003: a piece about using "rap" in a lesson plan, to free students' minds from the "command and control" image of "school."

Once, long ago (last semester),
I understood all thinking as a loop between metaphoric and metonymic processes.
I've now found a new image, which gets me further than the old one did:

Our conscious thinking is tree-like (=branches, creates binaries)

Christopher Alexander, "A City Is Not a Tree" (Architectual Forum, 1965; rpt. The City Reader, ed. Richard LeGates and Frederick Stout, New York: Routledge, 1996: 119-131.

Our unconscious thinking is rhizomic
(more multiple, lateral and circular, rather than dichotomous)
Giles Deleuze, "Rhizome Versus Trees." 1980. Rpt. The Deleuze Reader. Ed. Constantin Boundas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993: 27-36.

This has ramifications

pay attention to the shape of this presentation:
am trying here to reproduce the way I think, which is associative, i.e.
reading texts which suggest other texts which lead friends to suggest other texts....
all contiguous, "neighborly," generative and emergent ...

I. Last spring, Liz McCormack, Paul Grobstein and I wrote
Theorizing Interdisciplinarity: Metaphor and Metonymy, Synecdoche and Surprise
claiming that there are two modes of talking/thinking
which interdisciplinary conversations keep in play w/ each other :
metaphoric (categorizing based on similarity)
& metonymic (more loosely associative)
if you say "cat," "dog" is a metaphoric operation (via similarity: small furry domestic animals)
"cushion" is metonymic (the relation is "neighborly," "next-to")
we further claimed that scientific thinking focuses on simple, unifying relations (metaphoric: putting together like things)
humanists' thinking works in terms of many variables (metonymic: valuing what is different/unique)

in a later paper, written this summer on
Story-Telling in (At Least) Three Dimensions:
An Exploration of Teaching Reading, Writing, and Beyond
we argue more extensively that these two kinds of thinking operate within all individual brains,
that different disciplinary training highlights one or the other,
but that education works best when it keeps the "loop" in play not just between students but within each of us,
encouraging the less structured unconscious to "talk to" the more structured, conscious aspect of the brain
(lots on this more recently in the forum on Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience: Enemies, Acquaintances, Bedfellows? )

II. I thought I was done w/ this idea,
when I read in "The Last Word" of the NYTimes Book Review (July 27, 2003),
a piece about "Pattern Recognition" that highlighted
the recent work of Christopher Alexander on The Nature of Order:
looking for the underlying principles that make patterns work,
Alexander comes up w/ a theory that "systems are alive based on the quality of order they manifest"
his frequent tool is to present two images and ask the viewer to choose the one w/ the most "life" [or]
"which one is a better picture of the self"?

(80% choose the salt shaker...)
(Helen Rehl on "blood" vs. "salt" as elemental elements of "life"...)

wanting to know more about how Alexander discovers "the nature of order"
led me to his now-classic 1965 essay, "A City is not a Tree," which

axiom for a tree is that for any two sets in a collection
one is either wholly contained in the other or else they are wholly disjoint

axiom for a semi-lattice is that the set of elements
common to two overlapping sets belongs to the collection
(area of overlap is also a unit:
much more complex and subtle structure)

In traditional society, naming best friends who name best friends...forms a closed group; a tree

In today's social structure, naming friends who name friends...leads to thick overlap: a semi-lattice

--in a tree structure: no piece of any unit is ever connected to other units except through medium of unit as a whole
--in more traditional social units: couldn't make friends except when whole family does
--in planned cities, these areas of overlap have no physical receptacle

lack of this complexity cripples our conceptions of the city

this is the mania of the simple-minded: put same things in same basket
worker-workplace systems need recognition/physical expression (taxes, etc.)
shared this w/ Lucy Kerman, other friends involved in city planning/regeneration...
but most exciting for me, not as activist, but intellectual/teacher, was Alexander's NEXT query:

why do designers conceive cities as trees?
process of thought itself works in a treelike way,
so when cities
are "thought"out" instead of "grown," bound to get treelike structure

designers are trapped by a mental habit of intuitively accessible structures
ex: can't remember these four images

(orange, watermelon, football, tennis ball)
in single mental act/more than one mental category
(fruits & balls/ or: small spheres & large egg-shapes)
basic intolerance of ambiguity
first function of mind in confusing situations is to reduce ambiguity and overlap/read complexity by establishing barriers

need images as vehicles for (alternative form of) thought

(numbering triangles, picking out strong visual units--rectangles, parallelograms, symmetries, etc.--gives you semi-lattice)
trees trade rich life for conceptual simplicity/ compartmentalization/disassociation/schizophrenia
separation of retired people from the rest/rift of internal life:
receptacle of life becomes bowl full of razor blades: cut our life to pieces...!!!

III. shared this w/ Ted Wong, who asked me if I knew Deleuze's "Rhizome vs. Trees"
which explores a biological version of the semi-lattice, by thinking about roots:

"A first type of book is the root-book....
The law of the book is the law of reflection, the One that becomes two...
the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought...
Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree.

Nature doesn't work that way;
taproots . . . are more multiple, lateral and circular systems of ramification,
rather than a dichotomous one...
a system of this kind could be called a rhizome. . .

any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other...
This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order...

principle of a signifying rupture: broken rhizome will start up again,
not going from least to most differentiated, but jumping from one differentiated line to another

rhizome a map and not a tracing: the map fosters connections between fields,
is open and connectable in all of its dimensions: detachable, reversible, susceptible to modification
has multiple entryways, connects any point to any other point:
traits not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature
composed not of units but of dimensions, directions in motion
no beginning nor end, but middle from which it grows, overspills
short-term memory, or anti-memory
operates by variation, expansions, conquest, capture, offshoots
an a-centered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General
without an organizing memory or central automaton

SO: What did this new set of metaphors get me?
just a translation from literary language to language of biology
(and per Ted: not even accurate re: rhizome..)?
trees (like metaphors) represent the way the conscious mind works
rhizomes (like metonymies) figure the unconscious
When think as trees, branching, making binaries--that's a conscious process;
unconscious minds work like semi-lattices/rhizomes.

George Lakoff: each metaphor highlights/hides different set of associations,
focuses on one connection, makes others irrelevant
each new metaphor makes possible new set of metonyms
(each tree, new set of roots?)

What I didn't realize yet (but in narrative, am about to!)
is that we need each other to think rhizomically,
and to access/re-generate the rhizomes w/in (unconscious processes)

What helped me to see this were two student applications of the rhizome.
Juana Rodriguez taught Deleuze's essay in English 250: Literary Methods
and one morning Paul found this entry on his bio 103 forum:

Name: Laura Wolfe
Date: 2003-09-12 13:24:28
Message Id: 6457

I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of "life" as we've been discussing in links a lot to what I've been thinking for my English class, which is the meaning of literature . . . . I think we need to leave things more abstract than we do, with more room for creativity. In English we read an article called "Rhizome vs. Trees"; it basically says that instead of trying to force literature into a tree-like category, with roots, branches and leaves (a begining and end for every part) we need to think of it more as a rhizome formation, a horizontal root with sprouts and growths spurting in all directions, with no one beginning point and no ending (hypothetically) everything is connected, and part of the whole, but you can't ever say Yes, this deffinitely came from this point. So I think Biology could be more open to advancement if we included more stories as possibilities of explanation, instead of using one at a time, understanding exclusively one explanation until it is falsified.

a week later i noticed a similar entry on the forum on diversity:
Name: Chelsea
Date:2003-09-17 13:59:33
Message Id:6510

. . . Some of this thinking/talking reminded me of something i read for my English 250 class. We were discussing the question "What is Literature?" and to this end read and article . . . by Giles Deleuze entitled "Rhizome versus Trees" . . . . a rather obvious point was being made- that literature, and I would venture to say life (and everything in it), is not a neatly ordered tree as we tend to think about it, but a spastic, interconnected rhizome . . . . Life as we experiece it MUST be unpredictable because we are all connected to each other, so it is impossible to do something wholly without influencce from the people around you.

Deleuze uses the example of a wasp landing on an orchid for illustration of his rhizome. When the wasp lands and touches the orchid, it is forever changed becuase some part of the orchid, no matter how small it might be, will be impressed upon the wasp. It is, as he says, no longer a wasp but a "becoming-orchid." In its own turn, the orchid is now a "becoming-wasp" because it was also changed. Everything that happens to us, everyone we meet, everything we do, will stay with us and effect us for the rest of our lives, whether we know it or not. The more people who get involved in something, the more people it reaches and the bigger the influence is . . . .

and i realized that trees/rhizomes could give me something metaphors/metonymies had not:
a pedagogical theory explaining why we need to teach rhizomically/emergently:

IV. explicit application to science education (Martin, Fausto-Sterling)
Emily Martin, "Anthropology and the Cultural Study of Science":

citadel walled city in which scientists live
rhizome ruly underground root burrowing under walls of citadel

Anne Fausto-Sterling (who led a discussion here Feb. 02 on
Building Two-Way Bridges: A Conversation Between Gender and Science "Science Matters, Culture Matters":

neural tube formation--> defects--> detection--> counseling--> abortion-->
norm--> monstrosity--> responsibility--> health care system--> class--> race--> pollution

explicit application to humanities education (Michael Tratner's e-mail):
"the outlier, in literary history, that matters is the one that somehow generates a whole series of object similar to itself....a test that stands as simply 'different' from all the others around it (in a period, in a genre...) is not very important unless it somehow provides a pattern for repeated variants....for a surprising text to be readable to many different minds, it must have some regularity, and for it to generate the desire to be read by many persons, it has to provide something 'unusual' that is at the same time repeatable...for a text to be both surprising and regular/original and influential it has to interact not only with the norms for texts, but with the questions being debated about texts at that moment: the surprise that is also regular or predictive...."

also? gets me a philosophy for emergent pedagogy:
rhizome offers both a richer description of the unconscious,
its ability, when one line of thinking fails, to back up, start over in a different place:
its regenerative qualities

and also (in Deleuze's terms), it gets me a richer description of the networked sociality
that is most generative of new ideas (orchid/wasp): interactions of rhizomic people w/ other rhizomic people
multiplies number of possible paths for exploration, reminds us that novelty will be continuously generated...

if (per new segregation game), if people select people unlike themselves...
will get not just integration, but generation of new structures...

metonymic landscape is "just" an attic full of objects,
lying higgelty-piggelty in free association, highlighted by flashlight of consciousness
rhizome: better metaphoric description of where ideas come from,
why never run out, never get to end of process

also, most importantly? a good description of why mind can't be kept in harness,
why emergent pedagogy works better in classroom
where everyone has an unconsciousness that is rhizomically unruly...

Jan Trembley on role that errors play in emergence-->
there are no errors, just unfruitful paths
if nervous system changes way it perceives things when it encounters a disproof,
then the most useful/relevant classroom experiences
will be those that unsettle/upset/"cut off" current frameworks/assumptions...
and so generate new constructions/new conclusions

found marvelous 19th c. ground for this approach
in work of American pragmatist philosopher, George Herbert Mead (friend of John Dewey)
astonishingly prescient in describing emergence (actually used the word)
social psychologist who never published a book:
(4 vols. of his thoughts transcribed fr. student notes in social psychology lectures @ U Chicago)
who described the self as an emergent process arising in social interaction,
both by use of interactive, symbolic communication (=language)
and in what he called the "conversation of gestures" (interactions conducted without an awareness we are eliciting responses,
and which have no meaning independent of interactive participation)
(key image is of dogfight: each act of two hostile dogs stimulus for other's response)

[self is dialectical relationship between me (structure of social roles) and
I (response to it, process that breaks through the structure),
between conventional, habitual individual, and novel reply to generalized other
me internalizes social roles; I is creative response to it
me represents the past, I present action, who is conditioned, not determined
(indeterminancy=conditioned freedom)
"I an emergent response to generalized other" (me)
expression of I, over social control of me]

Mead's key concepts of temporality and sociality
1. experience of the emergent is experience of temporality:

can't predict the emergent: by definition and experientially unpredicable
once it appears, we (retrospectively) place it w/in a continuity,
formulate the past in light of the emerging present

emergent event presents itself as discontinuous, disruption without conditions
work of history reconstructs the past, makes discontinuous event continuous
connects what seems unconnected: makes usable/meaningful past

experience presupposes change
discontinuity (emergence): generates experience (continuity cannot be experienced unless it is broken)

awareness of change, and of time as its measure (separating past/present)
and emergence of reason, as search for causal continuity... are the consequences of emergence

2. even more important, for us, is concept of sociality
Mead's vision of the world was fundamentally ecological:
a multiplicity of related systems of relationships (bee, flower; cf. orchid, wasp),
w/ the character of an object determined and continually readjusted by its simultaneous/membership in different systems

sociality basis on which emergent events are incorporated into structure of ongoing experience
world is populated and interactive
organisms define themselves over against surfaces of other things,
thier "outsides" arise in experience,
as social relations between body-object and other physical-objects

[where this gets "rhizomically relevant to education" is in....] the act of attention:
organism goes out, determines what it is going to respond to, and organizes the world by acting in it
when that process breaks-down, we have a break-through:
freedom denied on one level of experience is re-discovered at another:
one must lose oneself to find oneself--and novel experience

scientific inquiry is a response to such exceptions to laws,
to the conflict between what was expected to happen and what actually does
intelligence is reconstructing experience in response to novel situations

What are the ramifications?

compelling argument for emergent pedagogy: this presentation itself a model of emergent thinking:
how important the interactions are in the associative generation of new ideas
and how much larger is the world (=exploratory space), if you talk/listen to others different from yourself

as a final example..
I sent this page to Ann Dixon and Sharon Burgmayer,
both gardeners who both IMMEDIATELY pointed out the limits of my metaphor:
Ann sent me Instructions on Bearded Iris Care from Waterloo Gardens,
observing that "iris will stop blooming unless their rhizomes are dug up, cleaned up, and given more space."

Sharon observed likewise:
"i don't think rhizomes ever grow back into themselves truly generate a net....
trees always and only grow outward, directionally away from the the trunk.
if you cut off a branch you can certainly induce a new shoot...
but its vector will continue to point or grow away from the trunk.
the rhizome is different... because if you cut a section out, it can develop (propagate) in either direction,
in a way that is more (but not completely) net-like.

irises...cease to flower when they become too crowded (branched) within a limited space.
and they also fail to thrive (multiply, grow, develop branching) if they are subdivided into pieces that are too small ...

while i balked at considering a rhizome capable of creating a true network,
what the net formation DID call to my mind (where growth back "onto" itself can happen)
is in crystallization of molecules or ions where a connection at one point can aid another connection elsewhere...

reminded me of the diagram that evolved for my inorganic course:
a radical description ...of inorganic chemistry in all its glorious webbed form
(The red lines show the "path" I told them we would follow to connect the concepts this semester):"

Obviously, what this metaphor hadn't given me, and my gardening friends DID, is the gardener:
the role of the teacher not only (as we are saying in the current draft of a paper on "Emergent Pedagogy"),
as sharer of information, facilitator of the awareness of interdependence, but also
as pruner/ cleaner-outer-of-over-crowded rhizomes...

To Conclude: A Further Range of Models/Images...
for the Interaction/Integration/Generation of Emergence

individuals (from Liz McCormack)

classroom (from Paul Grobstein)

Hoberman's sphere (idea from Kim Cassidy; image from Hoberman Designs )

NOT just thinking about segregation and integration....but also generation....!