Rhizome (With no return)

From structure to rhizome: transdisciplinarity in French thought (2)

RP 167 () / Article, Dossier, From structure to rhizome: transdisciplinarity in French thought

In the invitation to speakers for the conference From Structure to Rhizome, we suggested that talks might set out by re-examining (and hence ‘re-founding’) texts that we qualified – in far too rapid and expeditious a fashion – as ‘founding’. But we did notmake this suggestion without being conscious of the difficulty involved in the very idea of a ‘foundation’ for transdisciplinarity. The difference induced by the (re-founding) repetition and its pluralization attenuates and relativizes this difficulty without, however, resolving it. This is because founding, as the young Deleuze explained at the start of the ‘Hypokhagne’ course he gave at the Lycée Louis le Grand in 1956–57, is literally to lay claim to (and to root oneself in) a foundation. Thus, it is ‘no longer to relate one’s activity to oneself as an agent’, by opening up the possibility of grasping the necessary passage to a philosophy that gives a right to the foundation – by founding its rights in a re-flexion that renders it possible and necessaryat the most fundamental level. We have to understand that, even if it means appealing to an unconditioned principle, to found is always to determine the indeterminate in an immanent fashion.

Since Deleuze’s course is available on Web Deleuze,1 I will leave it to readers to discover both the way in which he conducts his enquiry – driving out some nice little monsters – and a principle of repetition that already has very Nietzschean contours (redrawn by the anti-Hegelian Tarde of L’Opposition universelle) and that will take on its full extent only some ten years later in Difference and Repetition. The importance of this Nietzschean reference for our questioning with regard to transdisciplinarity – which also concerns Foucault (both of them passing via Canguilhem) – cannot be emphasized enough in so far as Nietzsche introduces philosophy into a ‘new element’, in a new and anti-classical image of thought through a critique of philosophy.

What I would like to emphasize at the outset, to profit immediately from the instantaneous acceleration it produces (even if it means keeping it in reserve,taking my foot off the pedal), is the fashion in which, taken as the letter of the ‘immanent determination of the indeterminate’, the foundation transpires from a language that establishes a philosophical primacy in immanence that contradicts the ‘strongest programme’ of transdisciplinarity in its most critical relation to philosophy. The codename for this programme is ‘rhizome’. But this does not forbid – rather it calls for – the development of the philosophical foundation in science and the (badly named) human sciences, to which the programme of transdisciplinary research arising from structuralism is attached. ‘No longer to relate one’s activity to oneself as an agent’, Deleuze thus stated in 1956, so as to submit oneself to a foundation that will present itself as a third – the ‘third foundation’, like the French ‘Third Estate’. Deleuze explains that ‘the foundation is the third because it is neither the pretender, nor what it pretends to, but the instance that makes what is pretended docile enough for the pretender.’2 We should hear in these phrases a double, structural and Nietzschean, echo. And, indeed, something of the order of a post-Nietzschean critiqueof structuralism will finally – under the heading of a ‘Nietzsche today’, hurled at the philosophical Order – be given the name ‘nomad thought’.

To close this obscurely archaeological and futuristic parenthesis here is less to cut the ‘founding’ knot thatI have just produced than to slip into it certain of the criteria by which – following Deleuze in 1967 – one must recognize structuralism. ‘The first criterion’, he explains, ‘is the discovery and recognition of a third order, a third regime: that of the symbolic. The refusal to confuse the symbolic with the imaginary, as much as with the real, constitutes the first dimension of structuralism.’3 Because everything will have commenced with linguistics and its discovery of a ‘structural object’, the distinguishing of the symbolic from pre-existing realities and imaginary contents is straight away related to the ‘scientific ambition of structuralism’ such as it transpires in the first definition of structure proposed: ‘structure is defined … by the nature of …