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Robert B. Siegle

Related: rhizome - writing

Rhizomatic writing

You know, very well, from all your training in How to Write, that most models chart a line for you to follow, develop consistently, coherently, and clearly, and then finish at the end with a climactic Conclusion sound familiar? These are arborescent models: they are rooted in a specific practical purpose, rise in traditional patterns of development, and then leaf out and blossom with the kind of shape and flower predictable according to the form, the genre, of the essay you're writing

Rhizomatic models work differently. They explore, wander, play around, feed words into machines to see what will come out. They come out where you may least expect them to. They involve you in projects you may not have tried before, asking you to do something familiar in an unfamiliar way, or something unfamiliar as if business were usual. The list you have to work from was produced rhizomatically: the arbitrary device of A to Z determined the number and first letter of each model, and ideas were tracked down that fit. Is that arbitrary and therefore inauthentic, or does it just put to work the fact that all our conventions and models spur us to fill in their blanks, even if we're not aware that it's happening?

These two kinds of models: Arborescent and Rhizomatic encourage different kinds of thinking, even if each sometimes turns into the other during the actual practice of writing. An essay respecting the form and spirit of a conventional model suddenly stumbles into unexpected territory: unforeseen insights emerge, the essay takes a different turn, almost metamorphoses into something quite different from its beginnings, and delights its readers with something that feels new. Equally possible is the rhizomatic writing that sinks from boredom, carelessness, sheer lack of energy into the numbingly predictable. Accidents happen.

But let's think the spirit of the Rhizome, that kind of thought that seeks out relations, often unanticipated, between things not necessarily thought of together, or names the subterranean relations among things we don't typically make explicit. You ambush Habits of response; you break into the predictable flow with something productively incongruous; you cut out samples and remix them, you detour from the path to see what's offroad, you enter strange or even bizarre forms to see how they shape your words, you fiddle with underlying logics to see what changing them produces, you glory in word games hunting for usable accidents, you hack the code of the culture's thinking machines to see how they're put together, you interlineate two different strands to see how they affect each other, you jiggle a venerable form of writing as if it were a pinball machine to see where the ball of thought might roll next, you kludge two formal machines together to see how new writing ideas are produced, you lace the ordinary with a revealing irony, you manipulate the usual relationship between the visible and the individual or public Unconscious (this paragraph is half the alphabet in verbsˇyou try the other half).

Rhizomatic writing aims to think outside the box that arborescent models sometimes put in place, imperceptibly, around us. It also aims to be fun in a way that the customary writing forms sometimes are not. Rhizomatic models allow you to experience the pleasures, surprises, and richness that "hooks" novelists, poets, and good essayists, addicting them to the process of writing the way squeezes of oil color addict painters and a good instrument addicts musicians. If you never discover this side of writing, if you lose it altogether in the utilitarian drone of merely functional communication, you'll never learn the half about yourself that writing will otherwise teach you.

Ultimately, rhizomatic writing is about what stirs in you at your sharpest, wisest moments, and about what people have found in the usefulness of words to intensify those moments, to make them more frequent, and to get more out of them. Amidst all the offloading of verbal and visual garbage in our culture, with all its preoccupation with affairs that have little spiritual meaning, with all its devotion to possessions and hypertensive overwork to afford total accessorizing, with all its nervous tics over the something that's missingˇamidst all this that we complain about, the rhizomatic is a way of feeling your way out past the always already thought and said to what might become part of the cure.--Robert B. Siegle --http://www.english.vt.edu/~siegle/Comp/

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