Errant Notes on a Caribbean Rhizome

Max Hantel

I. Thesis

[1] This paper is the beginning of a larger project on the relationship between Édouard Glissant and Deleuze and Guattari. It works through exegesis to build up a useful Deleuzo-Guattarian vocabulary that can be brought to bear on Glissant's work and, perhaps, Caribbean philosophy at large. Looking at Glissant's most unabashedly Deleuzo-Guattarian text, Poetics of Relation, the following fleshes out one particular concept as it is transformed from A Thousand Plateaus: the rhizome. As the rhizome has in many ways become Deleuzean kitsch—suffering from the overexposure of unrigorous deployment and left to stand in for any glib allusion to Deleuze and Guattari's work or any nod to decentralization, fragmentation, and flux—I address the concept laterally by focusing on its appearance in Deleuze and Guattari's discussion of "holey space" in the "Treatise on Nomadology." This juxtaposition of Glissant and Deleuze and Guattari helpfully shifts the tenor of their respective works, emphasizing the materiality of Glissant's poetics and the incorporeality of Deleuze and Guattari's radical empiricism.

[2] Glissant foregrounds the Deleuzo-Guattarian "rhizome" as the conceptual scaffolding of his Poetics of Relation. He writes, "Rhizomatic thought is the principle behind what I call the Poetics of Relation, in which each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other" (Glissant: 11). And yet, at first glance, this image of the rhizome and rhizomatic thinking seems hopelessly distant from Deleuze and Guattari's introductory plateau. Glissant emphasizes the fact that a rhizome is still a root-system, using the vocabulary of "identity" and the "Other" that seems curiously un-Deleuzean.

[3] To illustrate how Glissant's rhizome is actually a careful rendering of Deleuzo-Guattarian philosophy, this paper ties together disparate strands of Deleuze's work (along with Foucault's) that do not always directly mention the rhizome. Beginning with holey space, the paper then moves through the process of subjectivization articulated in Deleuze's book on Foucault, and finally considers the Foucaultian idea of "heterotopia" to lay the groundwork for a brief discussion of key themes in Poetics of Relation: errantry and opacity.

[4] In brief, the central argument of the paper is two-fold: first, the rhizome is most productively thought as "holey space," or the landscape created by an itinerant artisan who follows the movement of matter-flow to create concrete assemblages suffused with incorporeal affects; and second, figured as holey space, the rhizome grows unpredictably in the "non-place" between content and expression, suggesting a mode of subjectivization and agency similar to the errant ship in Glissant's work.

[5] The larger project begun by this paper will map the relationship between contemporary Caribbean philosophy and some of its traditional French interlocutors. Errantry and the precondition of the embrace of opacity set the agenda for this conception of the future of Caribbean studies in the hopes of avoiding the disciplinary pitfalls that tend to naturalize ethnocentric and national forms of knowledge and domination. It is a diagonal but rooted movement that establishes an ethics of encounter and translation without a need for foundational crutches like self-contained subjectivity, sovereign agency, or control of nature's chaos. This paper begins that movement by working along the seams of disciplinarity with an eye towards the possibility of a different world, like a ship caught between a monumentalized past, a subjugated present, and an uncertain future.

II. Holey Space

[6] Holey space appears alongside "smooth" and "striated" space in the "Treatise on Nomadology" as Deleuze and Guattari's prescient warning about the tendency to read those two categories as self-evidently emancipatory or repressive. While the state apparatus perhaps worked initially primarily in the mode of striating space, the neoliberal war machine that reigns today has just as much interest in smooth space, in terms of swarming militarism, the global gaze of surveillance technology, and frictionless capital flows. Holey space, as a substance of content, compels theorists to consider the ways in which specific assemblages negotiate the mixture of smooth and striated space that characterizes any power formation. In light of that, the following discussion proliferates numerous, disparate examples of holey space at work to try to illustrate Deleuze and Guattari's abstract argument in terms amenable to post-colonial work.

[7] Whereas smooth and striated spaces are substances of expression, holey space is rather literally about the intermediate and ambivalent subsoil in and through which apparatuses of capture struggle with nomadic assemblages. "Transpierce the mountains instead of scaling them, excavate the land instead of striating it, bore holes in space instead of keeping it smooth, turn the earth into swiss cheese" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 413). That is not to say that holey space is an already existing place; it is created by "itinerant smiths" who tap into matter-flows to either frustrate the workings of oppressive power or, inversely, to recode deterritorialized elements. This last point is crucial, that holey space interacts with nomads, sedentary people, and the state without ever ossifying: "Holey space communicates with smooth space and striated space . . . It is always in connection with nomad space, whereas it conjugates with sedentary space" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 415). The ambivalent nature of holey space turns on the distinction between connection and conjugation: connections imply an intensification of different deterritorializing flows that reciprocally accelerate; conjugation, on the other hand, "indicates their relative stoppage" because the flows are brought under the control of a single code (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 220).

[8] To contextualize how the rhizome fits in this model, then, it is necessary to unpack three key concepts from the cursory explanation given above: first, what is meant by matter-flow; secondly, how matter-flow is a substance of content; and finally, the function of the itinerant smith.

[9] Matter-flow, for Deleuze and Guattari, is a corporeal category defined by the coupling of events-affects. Events refer to the transformations and deformations that come when flows reach thresholds of phase transition and change states; affects refer to the intensive qualities that inhere in each state, defining the capacities and differential relations of a discursive-bio-chemical assemblage at a particular moment in space-time (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 407). This definition appears in their chapter on the war machine, so the most helpful examples come from a discussion of the nomad and weapons.[1] Take the saber, for instance: it is built first through the actualization of material singularities such as "the melting of iron at high temperature...the successive decarbonations" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 406). For these singularities or "spatiotemporal haecceities" there correspond affective qualities of the saber such as "hardness, sharpness, and finish...[and] the undulations or designs traced by the crystallization" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 406). Any technology or material invention can be analyzed in this way, in terms of events-affects, that traces the literal movements of bio-chemical particles and molecules and with it the expressive qualities that are provisionally actualized.

[10] The preceding paragraph rests on a difference in kind, however, between content and expression that also defines the distinction between holey space and smooth or striated space. While both content and expression here are introduced as aspects of matter-flow's corporeality, the primary distinction between these two concepts is that expression is not reducible to corporeality even if it is an attribute of bodies. "If in a social field we distinguish the set of corporeal modifications and the set of incorporeal transformations, we are presented, despite the variety in each of the sets, with two formalizations, one of content, the other of expression" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 85).[2] What is unique about matter-flow, then, for Deleuze and Guattari, is that it implies not only the constant flux of bio-chemical particles, but also the conveyance of traits of expression – and taken together, one can understand why matter-flow is "natural or artificial, and both simultaneously" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 409).

[11] Given the concerns of the "Treatise on Nomadology," examples from the military realm are often easiest to grasp in considering this interpenetration between a social field and the natural world. A contemporary example is the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The virtual properties of the Afghani terrain differentially actualize alongside the various military technologies of the American war machine such that we can point to the ways in which the Afghani landscape is imbricated with the evolution of US militarism. The landscape is not merely a series of mountains and villages, but simultaneously a virtual set of military targets and a challenge for military planners. To analyze that relationship requires the theorist to follow a diagonal line through two inextricably linked series, the social history of militarism in Afghanistan and the current topography of its nature, instead of simply overlaying one field on the other.

[12] We are still not quite at holey space, however, because it is not simply matter-flow. It is always "matter in movement," conveying singularities and traits of expression, so "matter-flow can only be followed" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 409). Artisans, like the sword-maker who would craft the saber in the earlier example by working its material make-up through different phase transitions, are the archetypal followers of these flows. Deleuze and Guattari call them itinerants for this mode of movement: "it is intuition in action" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 409).

[13] The itinerant smith, the ambulant metallurgist. These figures introduce not only a mode of relation to the physical properties of the earth but also a complex mode of agency apparently distinct from the nomad or the sedentary. They form an assemblage with the machinic phylum of matter-flow to invent new affects – metallic-affects. They follow the contingent history of water, air, minerals and metals to bore holes through the earth and create dynamic possibilities of inhabitation and movement that existed virtually in the earth's capacity. The assemblage of the itinerant smith and the machinic phylum is the substance of content that, in connecting with smooth space or conjugating with sedentary space, exhibits different forms of expression: the nomad war machine or the state apparatus of capture. The battles between drug cartels and the US American and Mexican governments over the shifting sands and subterranean tunnels along the border are one example of how the machinic phylum may produce differential assemblages.

[14] The state apparatus is propelled by the overcoded coordinates of a particular ordering – either the creation and maintenance of closed boundary projects or, more recently, the reterritorialization of matter-flow in the name of market logic. The essence of the nomad, on the other hand, is to "occupy and hold a smooth space," the provisional and positive territorialization of an unstable multiplicity always on the threshold of following a line of flight to the outside. Smooth and striated space are both territorializations, then, but are distinguished by the nature of their boundaries: unstable lines of flight or overcoded sedimentations, respectively. The nomad works to smooth space, a war machine encountering striated forces at every turn and becoming-war when necessary.

[15] Glissant problematizes this nomadism as lacking rhizomatic roots:

[Circular nomadism's] function is to ensure the survival of the group by means of circularity...Contrast this with invading nomadism, that of the Huns, for example, or the Conquistadors, whose goal was to conquer lands by exterminating their arrow-like nomadism...Neither in arrowlike nomadism nor in circular nomadism are roots valid. (Glissant: 12) [3]

In other words, the agency of the nomad risks becoming as univocal as the state apparatus in its pursuit of smooth space, which is precisely a non-movement. "The nomad is one who does not depart, does not want to depart, who clings to the smooth space left by the receding forest" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 381).

[16] For the purposes of enriching the conversation between Deleuze and Glissant, then, the itinerant smith is much more interesting because Glissant's oeuvre is so defined by a concern with the relationship between movement, memory, and traumatic but generative roots. He sums up this relation with the term errantry. The complex agency of the itinerant smith illuminates this possible connection, an agency encapsulated by Deleuze and Guattari's claim that they work "not by nature but by artistry and need" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 413). The tense coupling of artistry and need introduces a mode of agency beyond, on the one hand, passivity in the face of contingent conditions or violence, and on the other hand, active (and often heroic) resistance or unimpeded self-styling. From the perspective of post-colonial critics, a central concern then is to foreground the normative scenes of violence experienced by people outside the global North (or those caught in the underside of the global North) while simultaneously bringing into relief creative survival tactics that precede systematization by theory.

[17] Take, for example, slum dwellers caught in what Lauren Berlant calls, writing in a different context, the temporality of "crisis ordinariness" (Berlant: 761): they become bricoleurs, finding, assembling, reusing, recontextualizing, rebuilding constantly, in geometries still without vocabularies, with the cast aside waste and detritus of neoliberal capitalism. The slums grow and breathe – through the rogue taking of spaces or the recycling of materials to build livable space – according to the often violently creative balancing act between a population's needs and the available resources in the area. From one day to the next, any number of additions might be added to a slum residence such that any centralized 'structure' becomes unrecognizable and the building or house at hand is different from day to day.[4] Beyond the academic forms of Deleuzean architecture that rarely result in actual built-space, perhaps the slum architect can be thought as a practitioner of holey space, propelled by artistry and need.

[18] To return to the grounding question of this paper, the rhizome, what does it mean to say holey space becomes rhizomatic? In a case like slum architecture, for instance, a multiplicity relates to and redirects (without necessarily controlling) matter-flows in order to frustrate the state apparatus. In this case, Deleuze and Guattari argue that holey space is "a kind of rhizome with its gaps, detours, subterranean passages, stems, opening, traits, holes etc" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 415).

[19] It is this particular subset of the rhizome, holey space as rhizome, which interests me. Glissant's interlocutors tend to focus exclusively on the linguistic aspect of the rhizome in his work (or in Deleuzean terms, the rhizome as a form of expression) with little attention to the specificity of content as materiality. Keith Alan Sprouse, for instance, argues that the rhizome for Glissant is the insistence of difference against totalitarian sameness, in the privileged terms of linguistic expression. "Diversity is the realm of cross-cultural connection; the heterogeneous and the rhizomatic; it is the acceptance of difference; and of orality" (Sprouse: 83). And later he adds, in an odd formulation that reduces the rhizome to a flattened regime of signs, "The poetics of relating is a rhizomatic poetics, to the extent that it emphasizes connectivity and decentered identity, ...For in a rhizome, all connections are signifying and equally valued" (Sprouse: 85). The holey space-rhizome expands this narrowing down of Glissant's poetics to include flows of matter and energy as a vital part of the insistence on difference. It also, in turn, answers objections from critics like Peter Hallward, who see Glissant's relationship to Deleuze as a back-door univocity that erases the specificity of the Caribbean – a specificity Hallward sees as necessary for effective post-colonial critique (see Hallward 2001: Chapter 2). Taking seriously the two series that make up matter-flow – the conveyance of physical properties and traits of expression – suggests a way of reading the rhizome as itinerant movement through holey space that incorporates the incorporeal aspects of Glissant's poetics into the materiality of place.

[20] The rhizome as it is rendered here is precisely the movement in the space between these two series, then, and not reducible to either form of content or form of expression alone. Attentive readers of Deleuze will certainly note that these two series never converge, to be exact, but in fact actualize embodiment precisely in their intermediary disjuncture.

Between the visible and the articulable a gap or disjunction opens up, but this disjunction of forms is the place – or 'non-place,' as Foucault puts it – where the informal diagram is swallowed or becomes embodied instead in two different directions that are necessarily divergent and irredicuble. The concrete assemblages are therefore opened up by a crack that determines how the abstract machine performs. (Deleuze: 38)

The idea of non-place here is precisely the milieu of the rhizome, which is always intermezzo and so well represented by the idea of a contingent eruption in the crack between content and expression. The remainder of this paper will examine the rhizome as it emerges in this "non-place" – and so turning to Foucault along with Deleuze – considering the figure of the slave ship in Glissant's Poetics of Relation as the point of embodiment where the folding of content and expression produce a post-colonial subject.

III. Interlude—The Rhizome as "Ol' Man River"

Thesis: rhizome, as conceived in A Thousand Plateaus and appropriated by Glissant, describes a political ecology/economy of flows of matter and energy interpenetrated with socio-cultural formations and haunted by memories expressed corporeally but not reducible to a specific body.

[21] This paper first emerged not from a rigorous reading of the text but from an ekphrastic response to a surprising turn in the "Introduction: Rhizome." In the penultimate paragraph of the introduction – a notably moving fragment marked by a sudden crescendo of political energy, the culmination of the plateau's philosophical detailing of the rhizome – Deleuze and Guattari write, "As they say about old man river:

He don't plant 'tatos
Don't plant cotton
Them that plans them is soon forgotten
But old man river he just keeps rollin' along"
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 25).

The lyrics come from the famous 1927 musical "Showboat" and its most recognizable song, "Ol' Man River," made famous by Paul Robeson.

[22] To say the rhizome parallels "old man river" in this song is to situate their concept in a specific time and place: the complex racial and class politics of post-bellum America as they were submerged in and floated upon the Mississippi river. Paul Robeson, the son of an escaped slave who became an international star until he was blacklisted for his radical politics, made the song famous with his soulful baritone voice that elicited the ethos of a Negro spiritual. The musical provoked a torrent of racialized debate, both between and within different racial communities who saw in the musical either a positive representation of black laborers or the rehashing of minstrel stereotypes. The very song that Deleuze and Guattari quote underwent a rewriting by Robeson, who vacillated on whether to sing "niggers work the Mississippi" (Kantor and Maslon: 117). The song's history alone conveys the fraught field into which Deleuze and Guattari ventured, perhaps inadvertently.

[23] I want to simply ask: what is a river? And by extension, what happens to the image of the rhizome when it is displaced onto a river?[5]

[24] The study of rivers is more generally called the study of fluvial processes. Fluvial dynamics work primarily through negative feedback loops which balance the energy of the stream's movement with the sediment that fills it. "A stream is a sensitive dynamic system with the ability to adjust the form of its channel in a matter of hours in response to changes in inputs of energy and material. By scouring and filling, a stream adjusts the slope of its bed and the shape of its channel so that stream energy remains in balance with the work of sediment transport" (Muller and Oberlander: 380). Scouring refers to the putting into motion of material in the stream bed, while filling is the coming-to-rest of those particles. In a rather Deleuzo-Guattarian fashion, then, rivers are assemblages of water and sediment connected by intensities of speed and slowness that tend towards an impossible equilibrium that finds itself constantly interrupted by contingent factors outside the fluvial system itself – whether the chaos of geological formations coming undone or societal waste from agricultural production.

[25] The history of the Mississippi River helps us re-conceive the preceding fluvial dynamics in "social and elemental" terms, as John Protevi puts it in his discussion of Hurricane Katrina (Protevi: 165). Protevi uses the language of complexity theory to explain the history of the Mississippi and the emergence of Katrina based on hundreds of years of interplay between the physical properties of the region and the socio-cultural transformation of the city. The point is, above all, that these relays are reciprocal and so never the story of nature overwhelming culture or culture conquering nature. In terms of fluvial dynamics, for instance, the constant building up of artificial levies was needed to make permanent settlement possible. In preventing even natural flooding, however, the height of the river increases and with it an increase in the river's potential energy that must be run-off intermittently. And, as Katrina made abundantly clear, sometimes these new dynamics create a cascade of effects that result in massive floods beyond the scope of available control efforts (Muller and Oberlander: 404-405). Needless to say, the displacement of the river's built up potential energy has a history of uneven distribution: whether the purposeful flooding of black and immigrant neighborhoods in 1927 to preemptively avoid damage to the affluent sections of New Orleans or the scenes of an immobilized urban poor, primarily black, left behind in the wake of Katrina receiving nothing but military occupation.

[26] The dynamics of the river help us better understand such processes of racialization or the normalization of social violence, because it articulates the ways in which rhizomatics can ossify. Or, as Deleuze and Guattari put it in the sixth principle of the rhizome, "Does not a multiplicity have strata upon which unifications and totalizations, massifications, mimetic mechanisms, signifying power takeovers, and subjective attributions take root?" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 13). The rhizome can be transformed into what Glissant calls totalitarian roots through this sedimentation of strata, which is precisely a fluvial process: "Strata are historical formations.... As sedimentary beds they are made from things and words, from seeing and speaking, from the visible and the sayable, from bands of visibility and fields of readability..." (Deleuze: 48). The distribution of things and words is a process determined by relative speeds and slowness that ingrain formative patterns over time. The musical "Showboat" is a helpful example of a profound rhizomatic connection slowing down and settling into a new stratum cemented over time. The negro spiritual becomes white entertainment, presaging the transformation of Afro-Caribbean performance rituals into sites of tourist consumption and de-politicized, de-racialized sites of sentimental attachment.

[27] This flowing river filled with differently weighted particles of words and things returns us to the question of the rhizome as the emergent fold between content and expression. And, more specifically, the figure of the ship in Glissant's work through which this non-place is negotiated.

IV. The Errant Slave Ship

[28] Deleuze ends his book on Foucault with a striking image of the ship as a fold of the sea, "the boat as interior of the exterior" (Deleuze: 122). The folded boat is Deleuze's solution to two problems created by the parallel but discontiguous series of content and expression: first, the very possibility of their communication; second, the possibility of subjectivization within and between the cemented strata made up by these two series. Deleuze turns to the boat because it is a provisional shielding from the churning chaos of impersonal events outside it: "The informal outside is a battle, a turbulent, stormy zone where particular points and the relations of forces between these points are tossed about" (Deleuze: 121). At the same time that it is a provisional closing off, however, the boat is also an open cartography of the fissure between different points or strata, allowing us to "immerse ourselves from stratum to stratum, from band to band; we follow the fissure in order to reach an interior of the world" (Deleuze: 121). This movement between strata is always haunted by the unknown forces of the outside, the stormy chaos of the absolute that can only be weathered, never predicted or controlled.

[29] The illusion is that an interiority fundamentally separate from the outside may protect us from such impersonal forces, if we could just find the sui generis kernel of subjectivity. A boat in a timeless and boundless vacuum. The idea that the boat is but a fold of the sea obviates this illusion because the point is that the inner-chamber of subjectivity is not an enclosed space after all – hence the fear it might turn out to be empty – but a temporary line drawn within the field of the outside that marks the virtual imprint of all substance in its unstable but bounded interior. "The most distant point becomes interior, by being converted into the nearest: life within the folds. This is the central chamber, which one need no longer fear is empty since one fills it with oneself" (Deleuze: 123). This is a moving but risky vision of subjectivization as a boat caught in an unexpected storm. The boat is a creative solution to the weather that details in its architecture the line between form and the chaos of the outside.

[30] Deleuze's idea of the boat as a folding that virtually embodies the most distant points in its open interiority indirectly invokes Foucault's notion of heterotopia. Explicitly opposing his concept to that of utopia – an unreal or illusory place – Foucault looks to heterotopia, a real and lived space within actually existing society that is paradoxically also a non-place.

"There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality." (Foucault: Online)

Heteropias somehow touch every other space that constitutes a given society while "contesting" their coherence and their claim to originary status. They are representational and non-representational all at once, questioning the very possibility of representational practice as a mode of meaning-making yet engaging such practices in an alienated manner. Foucault famously adds: "The ship is the heterotopia par excellence" (Foucault: Online). The ship is its own microcosmic space that exists temporarily in isolation, a society unto itself outside the direct moors of terrestrial life; at the same time, however, it indexes its point of origin and its destination in its unconfined movement. The potential for ever more destinations, part of the "infinity of the sea," makes the ship a crucial repository for imagining a life not our own, a world beyond ourselves. It is this tension that is most important for Foucault, where the ship reflects needs and wishes of the society that launched it while undermining in some way the continuity of that society's narrative.

[31] Foucault's heterotopic ship romanticizes the sea narrative, even if he does briefly mention colonialism. Considering the ship as heterotopia in relation to Deleuze's idea of the ship as fold of the sea, one is pushed to think about the actual ship itself. That is, the ship as its own site of subjectivization is abstracted for Foucault. Instead, the ship serves as a "reserve of the imagination," geographically dispersing the discursive formations of different civilizations (Foucault: Online); the boat perhaps destabilizes the distant points it connects but itself remains uncritically examined. Deleuze confronts this heterotopia with the question of the singularly specific ship – that is, Foucault makes a mistake when he says "the ship" because there can only be ships that trace the infinite foldings of the outside and negotiate the fissures between strata. This point is essential in turning finally to Glissant. He asks not simply how the boat indexes its origin and destination or how it virtually maps the storm it weathers. He certainly asks these questions, but above all wonders about the politics of subjectivization in the wake of the slave ship.

[32] Glissant opens Poetics of Relation with a moving call to his readers to imagine the horrors of the middle passage, a series of lines best imagined as verbal entreaties delivered by Glissant himself. The middle passage in this telling is a series of three interconnected abysses: the slave ship, the ocean depths, and the alien land of the new world.

[33] My concern is with the first instantiation of the abyss:

"[I]n your poetic vision, a boat has no belly a boat does not swallow up, does not devour; a boat is steered by open skies. Yet, the belly of this boat dissolves you, precipitates you into a nonworld from which you cry out. This boat is a womb, a womb abyss. It generates the clamor of your protests; it also produces all the coming unanimity. Although you are alone in this suffering, you share in the unknown with others whom you have yet to know. This boat is your womb, a matrix, and yet it expels you. This boat: pregnant with as many dead as living under sentence of death" (Glissant 1997: 6).

Glissant's apt and paradoxical description of the slave ship as a womb abyss, pregnant with death, brings into relief many of the characteristics of the ship as heterotopia described by Foucault. Glissant calls them nonworlds, similar to Foucault's use of nonplaces, because these slave ships exist in the seams of Western civilization, outside of the carefully crafted narrative of Enlightenment rationality or humanist religion that supposedly girds the various trans-Atlantic empires, and yet constitutive of that narrative's condition of possibility.

[34] Glissant also seems to invoke, then problematize, the open and veritably romantic vision of the ship which Foucault attaches in his take on heterotopias. Foucault says, "the boat...has been...the greatest reserve of the imagination.... In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up" (Foucault: Online). Glissant concedes the figuring of the boat in the imagination as part of the larger adventure of the boundless sea and the infinite possibility of transformative travel, but insists that the slave ship inverts this potentiality in the darkness and claustrophobia of its hold. The imaginary figure of the ship makes all the more stark the terrifying reality of the middle passage.

[35] With this death and suffering, however, there is the language of pregnancy and generation. Victims of the slave trade are not only "dissolved" into the hold of the ship, but precipitated in a yet-unknown form; the ship "generates the clamor of [their] protests," producing, in other words, new modes of resistance and political grammars; initially solitary, new relationships and communities form in the crucible of shared suffering. Glissant walks a fine line here in his rendering of those subjected to slavery: he does not want to romanticize their suffering, on the one hand, but he also refuses a view of them as passive or inert victims waiting to die. His concept of the slave ship is in tension, then, with Foucault's notion of heterotopia, which sentimentalizes the ship's infinite possibility and so erases the complex forms of agency that arise for those subjected to the coercion of slavery and its haunted legacy.

[36] Glissant proposes the term "errantry," briefly mentioned earlier, to think through these conditions of forced diaspora. From the French errance, errantry literally means roving movement. Glissant does not intend the term, however, to simply mean a free-floating movement through undefined space or a solipsistic peripateticism. And here we return to the rhizome. Glissant reminds his readers that the rhizome is still a root-system and so, while characterized by horizontal movement and decentered growth, it is still a generative network that anchors, perhaps only temporarily, a specific localization of matter and energy.

[37] Errantry is rooted movement but still a "desire to go against the root," where "the root" refers to the imposition of a univocal (or monolingual) meaning on the self and the world. The history of the West is a history of fixing movement in terms of the static model of the nation-state, a model adopted by decolonizing countries: "Most of the nations that gained freedom from colonization have tended to form around an idea of power – the totalitarian drive of the single, unique root" (Glissant 1997: 14). Against this totalitarian root, Glissant proposes the root as multiplicity embodied in the relationship with the Other – not the drive to know the Other in a fully rational sense, but instead, in Deleuzo-Guattarian terms, an openness to affect and be affected by others. Like his tiptoeing act in the description of the slave ship, Glissant's idea of errantry lies between a notion of fixed identity, rooted in an ancestral past (the movement back to Africa) and a purely fluid subjectivity that precludes communities of affinity and shared horizons of meaning.

[38] So when Glissant refers to rhizomatic thinking as a relation in which "each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other," it becomes clear that both the meaning of identity and the meaning of Other have shifted for him. First, identity is a particular demarcation in matter-flow, a provisional embodiment of extensive and intensive qualities. Glissant is concerned particularly with the latter category of incorporeal traits of expression that come from a legacy of forced diaspora; in other words, how subjects negotiate the haunting force of slavery and colonization as a memory formation that is not always materially present. It is understandable why even his most astute readers focus in on the politics of language, then, because Glissant's most important locus of expression is the creolization of thought through a polyvocal poetics.

[39] As for the Other, Glissant aligns himself with Deleuze in the rejection of some central chamber of subjectivity that can be rationally known if only discovered. He uses the word "opacity" to describe the status of the Other in our confrontation with them. One has the choice to embrace the conditions of opacity as the basis for an ethical relationship, or to work tirelessly to overcome opacity through knowing the other, whether through violence or the accumulation of knowledge (or both) (Glissant 1997: 62). In setting out a research agenda for Caribbean philosophy that takes its cues from Glissant, the notion of opacity is instructive. Reworking Deleuzo-Guattarian concepts, Glissant provides a mode of engagement with past trauma that neither disavows totally the meaning of the historical fact of suffering nor identifies completely with the facticity of memory and an inability to move beyond the reality of that suffering. The rhizomatic embrace of errantry and opacity articulates new modes of subjectivization and collectivity both grounded and open, escaping the false choice between the totalitarian root and rootlessness.

Works Cited

Chauhan, Ahktar. "Learning from Slums." Minimal Space, Minimal Housing. Ed. Peter Schreibmayer. Austria: Technische Universitaet Graz, 1996.

Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums. New York: Verso, 2006.

Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault. Trans. Sean Hand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Foucault, Michel. "Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias." Lecture given March 1967. Trans. Jay Miskowiec. Web. 30 December 2010.

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Glissant, Edouard. Poetics of Relation. Trans. by Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1997.

Hallward, Peter. Absolutely Postcolonial: Writing Between the Singular and the Specific. London: Angelaki, 2001.

Kantor, Michael and Laurence Maslon. Broadway: The American Musical. New York: Bulfinch, 2004.

Miller, Christopher. "We Shouldn't Judge Deleuze and Guattari: A Response to Eugene Holland." Research in African Literatures 34.3 (2003): 129-141.

Muller, Robert A and Theodore Oberlander. Physical Geography Today: A Portrait of a Planet. New York: McGraw Hill, 1984.

Protevi, John. "Katrina." Deleuze/Guattari and Ecology. Ed. Bernd Herzogendrath. London: Palgrave, 2009.

Sprouse, Keith Allen. "Chaos and Rhizome." A History of Literature in the Caribbean: Cross Cultural Studies. Volume 2. Ed. A. James Arnold. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, 2001.


[1] There is an intriguing lacuna in the work on the political stakes of Deleuze's thought. The oft-quoted line from the famous interview, "Intellectuals and Power," has Deleuze arguing that theory is like a toolbox. It would be interesting to analyze this claim in relation to the plateau on nomadology in which there is an extensive discussion of the distinction between tools and weapons. Future research might try to answer the question, how does Deleuzean thought change if the toolbox becomes the war chest?

[2] It is perhaps worth noting that this is the most charitable reading of the tension between the discussion of expression in the "Treatise on Nomadology" and the deployment of that concept throughout the rest of ATP, in which expression is rigorously disarticulated from the corporeal. It is beyond the scope of this paper and outside its stakes to consider that tension in more productive ways, but additional work should certainly be done on the nomadology plateau to think through content and expression in the Deleuzo-Guattarian view of space and matter.

[3] I am well aware that many of Deleuze's interlocutors would object to Glissant's rendering of nomadism as too reactive. I do not necessarily disagree, although I choose this quotation to emphasize one point and to bring up another possible question. First, the importance of roots in considering Glissant's version of the rhizome: regardless of his reading of the particularities of nomadism, Glissant wants to point out how the Deleuzo-Guattarian nomad is always conceived as forward looking to the point of rootlessness. Or, in other words, the privileging of lines over points is too extreme. Even if one objects to the lack of fidelity to Deleuzo-Guattarian nomadology, I think taking this intervention at face-value is productive for the later discussion of trauma and memory in Glissant's work.

Secondly, it might be worth mentioning here one of the more general post-colonial criticisms of Deleuze and Guattari's work, encapsulated neatly in a debate between Christopher Miller and Eugene Holland. Miller argues that Deleuze and Guattari try to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to labeling their theory "non-representational": they derive a set of philosophical concepts from the real even as they efface that connection between the virtual and the real. One of Miller's examples is Deleuze and Guattari's deployment of the "leopard-men" of the Congo to exemplify nomadic becoming. They borrow a Belgian colonial construction here and transform it into a virtual concept with no account of the representational practices that make these historically real beings interesting as figures of becoming (Miller: 134). While this criticism is well-taken, it shares the shortcomings of much post-colonial work that attacks a certain theoretical edifice for some omission, without proving why the theory in question necessarily excludes the object of criticism. In other words, Deleuze's critique of the state and colonialism could well be brought to bear on the very colonial constructions Miller excavates. The worry is that academic criticism becomes beholden to a sort of checklist mentality where one goes through a series of minority positions and checks off their mention in a given work (women, blacks, gays, third-world people and so forth).

I bring this up only because I believe that Deleuze and Guattari's notion of smooth space as it is utilized by other thinkers actually and necessarily ends up reifying imperial tropes of noble primitivism. Helen Frichot writes, for instance, "The sea and the desert are thus the unruly smooth spaces which have fallen under surveillance and control" (Frichot: 172). Deleuze and Guattari could be read as arguing that the natural "smoothness" of the sea or desert is only tamed by civilization, with its various forces of striation (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 382). The implication is that we could escape the control and violence of the state apparatus if we could just return to the pre-cultural smooth space of the sea or desert. The nature/culture binary remains undisturbed in this formula and the mutually constitutive relationship between bodies and their landscapes is effaced. The hope of this paper, obviously, is that more careful attention to "holey space" addresses these criticisms.

[4] Mike Davis, for instance, describes Cairo's City of the Dead, where,

One million poor people use Mameluke tombs as prefabricated housing components. The huge graveyard, the burial site of generations of sultans and emirs, is a walled urban island surrounded by congested motorways.... 'The invaders,' observes Jeffrey Nedoroscik...'have adapted the tombs in creative ways to meet the needs of the living. Cenotaphs and grave markers are used as desks, headboards, tables, and shelves. String is hung between gravestones to set laundry to dry (Davis 2006a 33).

Ahktar Chauhan outlines similar processes in a general survey of urban slums:

Often [slum-dwellers] use old and used...recycled materials.... The minimum shelters of slum dwellers are not static houses. They grow as the needs of the resident increase with growth of the family, limited only by the ability and resources.... This is consistently reflected in the incremental growth of dwelling units, house-groups / rows and the slum community as a whole (Chauhan: Online).

I do not propose this concept as an axiom for understanding all slums, regardless of time and place, but instead as a possible mode of engaging the built-space of certain slums. It is not an abstracted model, but a claim borne out by particular practices.

[5] There is a danger in using scientific metaphors to make philosophical claims, a danger already inherent in Deleuze and Guattari's deployment of the rhizome. At least for the purposes of this paper, the scientific metaphors invoked are valuable as provocations for tweaking conventional readings or as basic points of entry into the text. To say "the rhizome is a river" should, of course, make this caveat obvious.