An Exploration of Deleuze and Guattari’s Concept of the Rhizome

The rhizome is a philosophical concept advanced by Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. A rhizome is a form of plant-life which spreads, such as mushroom or crabgrass, without a central root, spot of origination or logical pattern. This symbol of rootlessness is used by Deleuze and Guattari because it opposes the traditional, rational and logical approach to knowledge. Often the traditional (logical) approach to knowledge is represented as growing from roots – like a tree does.[1]Deleuze and Guattari explain that the rhizome ‘has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills’.[2] The rhizome is a ‘self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end’.[3]The rhizome ‘brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states’.[4] As a concept the rhizome is a rejection of traditional genealogy. It is the interplay between rival sign systems in the production of new ‘variation[s], expansion[s], conquest[s], [and] offshoots’.[5]The rhizome is a rejection of the assumptions and history of the dominant class. Deleuze and Guattari argue that this minor-oriented – rather than dominant-oriented – philosophical approach is achieved by ‘surveying, mapping’ those lost or dominated cultures, classes, sexes and races.[6] However, the rhizome isn’t an anthropological study of culture, but rather a living organic continuous effort to free the forces that have been constrained – and in relation to literature, a challenge to the assumed literary canon.  Tony  Harrison’s poetry could be argued to survey and maps this effect  while simultaneously challenging the literary establishment, mixing the form of poetry with the voice of the working-class.


In the poem ‘Them & [uz]’ Harrison recalls the attitude his teachers had to his accent. The teacher tells Harrison ‘Can’t have our glorious heritage done to death/… We say [Λs] not [uz], T. W.!’.[7] Consigned to the Drunken Porter role in Macbeth the teacher explains ‘Poetry’s the speech of kings. You’re one of those/ Shakespeare gives the comic bits to: Prose!’.[8] Harrison’s accent relegates him to the comic role. In reaction to being told that his accent relegates him to prose and comic roles, Harrison writes ‘So right, yer buggers, then! We’ll occupy/ your lousy leasehold Poetry/… I’m Tony Harrison no longer you!’.[9]Leasehold is a form of property ownership which is temporary: the institution of school only has a tentative grip on poetry – it is as much Harrisons as it is the teachers. As Harrison notes ‘Wordsworth’s matter/water are full rhymes’.[10] The Oxford-English pronouncement of poetry is only one variation: Oxford-English is as much a socio-economic variation of speech as is Yorkshire-English. Harrison also highlights Wordsworth’s northern accent, something lost in the school’s canonization of poetry. Harrison’s poetry exposes the “white-washing” of dialect and literature’s history by the centralized institution of school. As Rosemary Burton notes:


Harrison fraternised with the enemy, schooled himself in the use of their armoury and, equipped with an education, several languages, and a hard-earned facility for the composition of verse, he plotted revenge on his teachers and the class system which had made his parents and people like them feel inadequate.[11]


Formal education, poetry, the arts have not often been tools accessible to the working-class but the scholarship boy offers a link between the two worlds. Harrison occupies poetry, utilizing his formal education to expose the destructive element of education, to survey, map the feelings, trials and life of the educated and not-so educated working-class.


The use of the sonnet is important in Harrison’s assault on the assumptions of the Oxford-English institutions. As Ken Worpole notes, the sonnet ‘is a literary form derived from the importance of the voice’ and the rhythm of speech.[12]In his sonnets Harrison has combined the traditional literary form with his accent to produce a radical critique of education and class. This ability to write and speak is important, as Harrison notes in ‘National Trust’ ‘The dumb go down in history and disappear/… the tongueless man gets his land took.’.[13]It is vital to the continued survival of minor communities that they retain their ability to speak, and speak in their own language and with their own accent. Harrison’s use of poetry to undermine Oxford-English is rhizomic thinking in its very essence. By combining the sonnet – a symbol of education – with his northern accent and turns of phrase Harrison undermines the centralized, dominant accent of Oxford-English. Harrison combines the canonical literary form of the sonnet with the speech and accent of his minority culture. This rhizomic, nomadic thinking undercuts and undermines the rooted validity and assumed superiority of Oxford-English. Harrison’s accent is a tool of poetry and poetry a tool of expression of his class-origins. At the end of the poem ‘V’ Harrison explains that if the reader wishes to understand his poetry they should read the epitaph planned:


Beneath your feet’s a poet, then a pit

 Poetry supporter, if you’re here to find how poems can grow from (beat you to it!) SHIT

 find the beef, the beer, the bread, then look behind…[14]


To understand the working-class poet, or working class, one has to locate the community and their occupations – and still look further. The working-class are defined by their work – even though at times employment has been scarce – but they are not solely defined by their employment. To understand Harrison’s poetry, and the effect of education of people similar to him, one must look at the communities he grew up in and the culture that fostered him. This can only be achieved by the existence of minor-literature – such as Harrison’s poetry. As the minor-poet Fred Hurst wrote, in full Yorkshire dialect:


Mills cloised, pits cloised, weer wo t’ jobs ta be fahnd?

Aht o’ t’ industrial muck an’ sweeaht, dialect is seen ta remain,

Nah t’ Minister states, “From usin’ dialect we must refrain.”

‘Victorian businesses built fortunes on ahr Faathers’ back,

Keep talkin’ dialect, we must nivver loise t’ knack.’.[15]


Education is a poisoned chalice for the working class but it offers the space, and the tools, with which to “nivver loise t’ knack” of conversing, mapping and expanding their dialect, their own minor-history. Harrison’s poetry is a perfect example of rhizomic art.


[1]    An indicator of this is Saussure’s utilization of the sign of tree in his explanation of his structural linguistic system.

[2]    Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, ‘Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, in Leitch, Cain, Finke et al (ed), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, London: W W Norton & Company Inc, (2001), pp. 1601-1609, p. 1605.

[3]    Deleuze and Guattari, pp. 1605-1606.

[4]    Deleuze and Guattari, p. 1605.

[5]    Deleuze and Guattari, p. 1605.

[6]    Deleuze and Guattari, p. 1603

[7]    Tony Harrison, ‘Them & [uz]’, in Tony Harrison Selected Poems (second edition), London: Penguin Books, (1987), pp. 1220123, p. 122.

[8]    Harrison, ‘Them & [uz]’, p. 122.

[9]    Harrison, ‘Them & [uz]’, p. 123.

[10]  Harrison, ‘Them & [uz]’, p. 123.

[11]  Rosemary Burton, ‘Tony Harrison: An Introduction’, in Neil Astley (ed), Tony Harrison, Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, (1991), pp. 14-31, p. 18.

[12]  Worpole, ‘Scholarship Boy’, p. 69.

[13]  Tony Harrison, ‘National Trust’, in Tony Harrison: Selected Poems (second edition), London: Penguin Books, (1987), p. 121, p. 121.

[14]  Tony Harrison, ‘V’, in Tony Harrison Selected Poems (second edition), London: Penguin Books, (1987), pp. 239-249, p. 249.

[15]  Fred Hirst, ‘Wahrk An’ Words’, Poetry of Fred Hirst, [Accessed  31st May 2009]


Published by

A.R. Duckworth

South Yorkshire England

3 thoughts on “An Exploration of Deleuze and Guattari’s Concept of the Rhizome”

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