Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that engenders the territoryprecession of simulacra.1
One could, of course, argue that this is nothing new, since the real has always been hyperreal even if it has not been recognized as such. Accordingly, postmodernism would involve an epistemological shift instead of an ontological change. To determine whether claims about the simulated character of the real are a matter of knowledge or being, it would be necessary to assume something like an Archimedean point from which to judge the relation of thought and things. But, as Kierkegaard long ago insisted, no such meta-perspective is available to us. It is, nevertheless, clear that one of the distinguishing features of simcult is the transformation of the structures that mediate so-called reality by an electronic network that is becoming ever more pervasive. With the emergence of the mediatrix, the semiological dimension of mediation is supplemented by what might be described as an imaginological dimension. As print culture gives way to electronic culture, structures of mediation increasingly are formed by images that cannot be reduced to verbal equivalents. The symbolic order in and through which selves and societies are constituted becomes an imaginal register that is electronically mediated. This mediatrix forms something like a cultural a priori that is in constant flux. As technology becomes more sophisticated, the rate of change increases exponentially until speed becomes our unavoidable existential condition. In simcult, the quick inherit what is left of the earth.
Though inseparably bound to recent technological innovations, simcult bears important similarities to what the Situationist Guy Debord describes as "the society of spectacle." Debord argues:
The spectacle, understood in its totality, is simultaneously the result and the project of the existing model of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, its added decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, advertisement or direct consumption of entertainments, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The form and the content of the spectacle are identically the total justification of the conditions and the ends of the existing system.2
As a committed Marxist, Debord struggles to maintain the distinction between the imaginary and the real. But his own admission that the spectacle "is not a supplement to the real world" subverts the opposition he attempts to reassert. With the shift from industrial to post-industrial capitalism, the means of production become the means of reproduction. Images are no longer fashioned to promote and facilitate the exchange of "real" goods but are themselves commodified. In simcult, the currency of exchange is image and what makes this currency flow is a current that is electronic.
When simcult is approached from the viewpoint of Debords society of spectacle, the traces of its genealogy become even more convoluted. Though apparently worlds apart from the abstractions of 19th-century idealism, the society of spectacle is, in important ways, the historical realization of Hegels speculative philosophy. Simcult involves an idealism of the image that refigures the Hegelian concept or idea in representations that refer to nothing other than themselves. The mediatrix is, in effect, the immaterial incarnation of the idea that underlies Hegels philosophical system.
In this context it is, of course, impossible to enter into the intricacies of Hegelian philosophy. Nevertheless, an appreciation of some of the most important aspects of his system helps to illuminate the limitations and possibilities of our current cultural condition. Most important for our purposes is Hegels insistence that idealism is a matter of ontology as well as epistemology. The Hegelian idea is not merely a subjective pattern of cognition but is also the objective order of reality. When Hegel argues that the real is ideal, his point is that the determinate identity of every entity presupposes a structure that can be dis-covered through rational investigation. Things are not simply what they seem to be but are manifestations of deep structures or essences that lie beneath the surface of appearances. These structures form the substance (sub, under + stare, to stand) of reality. To understand anything properly, it is necessary to grasp the sub-stance that stands under superficial display. From this point of view, under-standing entails a metaphysics in which depth and interiority are more real than surface and exteriority. True understanding, therefore, is inevitably penetrating, deep, and profound.
While each entity is the expression of a particular idea, the idea sensu strictissimo is constituted by the interrelationship of all determinate ideas. The idea is neither an additional idea or a meta-idea nor the sum of all specific ideas. Rather, the idea consists of the structural relation among determinate ideas and forms. The rational structure of relation is, according to Hegel, dialectical. Within a dialectical relationship, apparent differences and opposites are bound together in such a way that each becomes itself in and through its own other. Since identity is constituted by relationship to difference, nothing is itself by itself. When fully un-folded, the dialectical idea discloses the profound unity of all reality. Nothing escapes the idea; it is all-encompassing, all-comprehensive, complete, total. This totalizing idea, which is the structural foundation of all reality, is the logos of Hegels system.
The Hegelian logos forms something like a net in which everything is caught. Individual entities are nodes in this global or, more precisely, cosmic network. Having been deeply influenced by romantic poetry and philosophy, Hegel tends to describe this network in organic terms. The cosmos is a gigantic living organism and we are its vital organs. To appreciate the far-reaching implications of Hegels position, it is necessary to realize that this organism is essentially one. Everything is, as it were, a branch of the same tree, a vessel in the same circulatory system, or a nerve in the same nervous system. If you are not plugged into this network, you simply cannot exist.
The notion of the logos and image of the organism come together in the idea of the book. Hegels book is not just any book but is the book of books or the hyperbook that has been the constant dream of western philosophy and religion. Deleuze and Guattari indirectly clarify the contours of the Hegelian system by distinguishing the root-book from the rhizome-book.
A first type of book is the root-book. The tree is already the image of the world or root the image of the world-tree. This is the classical book, as noble, signifying, and subjective organic interiority (the strata of the book). The book imitates the world, as art imitates nature: by procedures specific to it that accomplish what nature cannot or can no longer do. The law of the book is the law of reflection, the One that becomes two....One becomes two: whenever we encounter this formula, even stated strategically by Mao or understood in the most "dialectical" way possible, what we have before us is the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought.... But the book as spiritual reality, the Tree or Root as an image, endlessly develops the law of the One that becomes two, then of the two that become four....Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree.... Binary logic and biunivocal relationship still dominate psychoanalysis..., linguistics, structuralism, and even information science.3
This description of the root-book is particularly helpful because it underscores the isomorphism of dialectical, binary, and digital logic. The shared law of reflectionone-becomes-twois completely reversibletwo-become-one. It is precisely the circular principle of one-becomes-two-become-one that defines the structure and rhythm of the root-book. When fully deployed in Hegels speculative Encyclopedia, evolution and involution perfectly mirror each other. Though endlessly complex, dialectical, binary, and digital, networks remain essentially simple. Their principle is One even when it appears to be many.
While Hegels dialectical logic is intended to describe reality as such, it also prescribes an idea that is ideal. The organic unity of the logos represents the socio-political order for which Hegel longs. Confronted by the social, political, and psychological fragmentation of early industrial society, Hegel and his romantic counterparts sought ways to restore psycho-social unity and harmony. Disillusioned by the failure of the French Revolution, poets and philosophers turned from political action to the imagination and reason for renewal and restoration. While poli-tical revolutionaries invested their hopes for change in the overthrow of repressive social and political structures, poetic and philosophical visionaries insisted that social and political structures could not be reformed until human consciousness was transformed. From this point of view, poetry and philosophy appeared to be the elixir that would provide a necessary fix.
There is, however, a dark side to this vision. All too often, the search for unity leads to the repression of differences and exclusion of otherness. While claiming to reconcile identity and difference as well as unity and diversity, Hegel and his fellow idealists consistently privileged identity and unity at the expense of difference and diversity. Consequently, Hegels all-encompassing system unavoidably becomes repressive. In different terms, the Hegelian totality inevitably becomes totalitarian. The very unity of the network that is supposed to reconcile differences becomes oppressive by imposing total mastery through centralized control. To avoid this danger, the root of the tree must be cut and the nerve of the system s(p)liced.
The s(p)lice of the system can be read in folds Hegel cannot explicate. As we have seen, the foundation of the system is the law of reflection according to which one-becomes-two-become-one. The speculum of Hegels speculation is the mirror in which I am doubled by the play of reflection. This duplicity is overcome when I recognize the mirror image as my own reflection. Although the figure of the organism governs Hegels view of the logos, the most complete realization of the idea is human self-consciousness. Complete self-consciousness presupposes "pure self-recognition in absolute otherness." When the self discovers itself in every other, differences are overcome and identity is complete. In the act of self-consciousness, the self bends or folds back on itself. "Reflection," we have noted, derives from plek, which means bend, fold, braid, twist, or weave. There can be no reflection without this fold of consciousness. As the condition of the possibility of consciousness and self-consciousness, the fold as such cannot be grasped. Conscious-ness, therefore, "includes" within itself something it cannot really include or comprehend. The interior exteriority or exterior interiority of the fold interrupts the circuits of the root-book and opens the rhizome-text. Unlike the book whose lines are direct and clearly punctuated, the text (texere, to weave) is stitched by pleating and plaiting, splicing and grafting lines that connect in circuits that are never fully integrated. While the hyperbook that is one by not being many, the hypertext is neither precisely one nor many.
If we do not stray from the fold of reflection, it becomes possible to reread simcult as hypertextual rather than bookish. In tracing the roots of certain genealogical trees, we have already unearthed important lines of connection between the society of spectacle and speculative philosophy. When the Hegelian logos is embodied in the electronic mediatrix, conceptual idealism becomes an idealism of the image. In other words, logocentrism is transcribed as logo centrism. With this change, it becomes possible to transform the network in ways that transplant the root in rhizomes.
Contrasting the unifying taproot structure with the diversifying radicle-system or fascicular root, Deleuze and Guattari write:
This time, the principal root has aborted, or its tip has been destroyed; an immediate, indefinite multiplicity of secondary roots grafts onto it and undergoes a flourishing development. This time, natural reality is what aborts the principal root, but the roots unity subsists, as past or yet to come, as possible....The world has become chaos, but the book remains the image of the world: radicle-chaosmos rather than root-cosmos....In truth, it is not enough to say, "Long live the multiple," difficult as it is to raise that cry. No typographical, lexical, or even syntactical cleverness is enough to make it heard. The multiple must be made, not always adding a higher dimension, but rather in the simplest of ways, by dint of sobriety, with the number of dimensions one already has availablealways at n - 1 (the only way that one belongs to the multiple: always subtracted). Subtract the unique from the multiplicity to be constituted; write at n - 1 dimensions. A system of this kind could be called a rhizome. A rhizome as subterranean stem is absolutely different from roots and radicles....The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers.4
N-1...ramified surface extension in all directions...concretion into bulbs and tubers. In rhizomic structures, One is always missing, lacking, absent. In contrast to the root, which burrows deep and grounds firmly, rhizomes spread laterally without anchoring securely. When root gives way to rhizome, depth is displaced by surfaces that know no end. In simcult, everything is unbearably light and insubstantial; nothing is deep or profound. What once were believed to be deep structures and abiding substances turn out to be fleeting surfaces that inevitably fold into other surfaces. In the absence of any sub-stance, under-standing becomes impossible. And yet, the hypertext that is our milieu is not completely unintelligible. In the midst of simcult, the question becomes: How can we read without understanding?
The rhizomic network of superficial folds constitutes the mediatrix. Though not eternal, the mediatrix neither begins nor ends. As the medium that forms a midst that is not precisely our own, the mediatrix is nothing but middle. The place or nonplace of the middle is the fold; conversely, the fold occurs only in a middle that is never present as such. Folding involves an aporia that resists reflection. On the one hand, the fold creates the crease that articulates the elements it implies. But, on the other hand, there can be no fold if there is nothing to fold. Irreducibly ambiguous, the fold takes place without taking (a) place. The space of the fold eludes presence. Neither here nor there but always in-betweenentre deuxthe fold is neither one nor two but is the pleat that deploys unity and multiplicity. Since the fold is never present without being absent, the time of the fold is not the present. The fold is always withdrawing. "To fold," after all, can also mean to withdraw, as when one collapses, gives up, or throws in his cards. Forever withdrawn and, therefore, always already past, the f-old is old, terribly old, dreadfully ancient. For all our currency, the folds or wrinkles of this strange time remain our destiny.
Rhizomes grow by folding and refolding without ever unfolding. Endless complications create bulbs and tubers, which are something like invaginated pockets that cannot be p(r)icked. The rhizomic network does not grow from a common stem, root, or branch. To the contrary, rhizomes are spliced and grafted in such a way that connection is established without synthesizing or integrating the differences joined. Since nothing is integral to the network, connections can be cut without disrupting the operating system.
Deleuze and Guattari identify six principles that summarize the distinctive features of rhizomic structures.
1 and 2. Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order.
3. Principle of multiplicity: it is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, "multiplicity," that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world. Multiplicities are rhizomic, and expose arborescent pseudomultiplicities for what they are. There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide in the subject. There is not even the unity to abort in the object or "return" in the subject.
4. Principle of asignifying rupture: against the oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines.
5 and 6. Principle of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model. It is a stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure. A genetic axis is like an objective pivotal unity upon which successive stages are organized; a deep structure is more like a base sequence that can be broken down into immediate constituents, while the unity of the product passes into another, transformational and subjective dimension....The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation. It can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a mediation. Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways....A map has multiple entryways, as opposed to the tracing, which always comes back "to the same."5
Connection and heterogeneity
multiplicity without relation to the One
different entryways that never come back to the samefoldings of a net that cannot be explicated. Paradoxically, the principles of the rhizome im-ply a quasi-structure that lacks principles and yet is not unprincipled. Forever heteromorphic and therefore without stable identity, the rhizome cannot be understood. Its place is the dis-place of interstanding.
As we have seen, understanding presupposes a substantial metaphysics in which depth and interiority are valued more than surface and exteriority. If, however, depth is but another surface and interiority is really an alternative guise of exteriority, nothing stands either under or within the play of appearances. Representing nothing beyond itself, this play is an inter-play, which is the medium that constitutes every place between and renders every thing transitional. In contrast to the dialectical structure of the Hegelian idea, the rhizomic structure of the mediatrix establishes connections without integrating differences or sublating opposites. Within the mediatrix, things neither come together nor fall apart. Circuits are not closed but open, constantly changing, and repeatedly shifting. Governed by neither the inclusive logic of both/and nor the exclusive logic of either/or, interstanding apprehends that which stands between. To play its intermediate role, interstanding must remain as open-ended and shifty as the errant milieu of folding.
The ever-expanding net, I have stressed, is one of the most important aspects of the mediatrix. While its impact continues to grow in obvious and not-so-obvious ways, this feature of our socio-cultural milieu has provoked surprisingly little philosophical analysis. I would like to suggest that the folds we have been tracing can help us to appreciate what is occurring in "our" midst. More precisely, interstanding allows us to comprehend the internet. While operating according to digital logic, which characterizes the law of the book, the network nonetheless conforms to rhizomic logic. Its decentered, non-hierarchical, lateral design connects without integrating to create a web with different entryways that never lead back to the same. Convoluted and involuted fibers fold and refold in an infinitely complex labyrinth that leaves no place for Ariadne. In a certain sense, the net neither begins nor ends. Repeating the aporia of folding, the net constitutes the nodes that constitute the net. And yet, the net is not a closed circuit; its folds are ruptures that open rather than close. In this way, the net brings together what it holds apart and holds apart what it brings together. Through this endlessly oscillating rhythm, networking associates without integrating or synthesizing.
The rhizomic folds of the net create space for the aleatory. Systems are constructed to control chance and to protect against the arbitrary. But through a reversal that is not dialectical, structures tend to make possible precisely what they attempt to exclude. The aleatory is the parasite that haunts the structure of its host. In the post age, unexpected messages are delivered, unwanted calls arrive, and unanticipated posts appear. With new nodes always emerging and new connections constantly being made, circuits can never be fixed in advanced but are always subject to change without prior notification. When one is wired, his reach always exceeds his grasp.
If interpreted in this way, the net appears to be more like a hypertext than a hyperbook. The textuality of the network resists the totalization of the book. Even though the net is global, it is not all-inclusive. The point is not merely that most people in the world remain and always will remain unconnected, for even if everyone were wired, the net would not necessarily totalize. By preserving its rhizomic structure, the net maintains the gaps that keep it open and give it space to grow in duplicitous ways.
It is important to realize that inter-standings inter-pretation of the inter-net is not only descriptive but proscriptive and prescriptive. The net, as well as the broader mediatrix of which it is a part, is extraordinarily fragile. There are constant pressures to transform its complex rhizomic folds into roots that can be cultivated and stems that can be pruned. Wrinkles must be ironed out, im-plications ex-plained, and creases de-creased. Toward this end, elaborate efforts to organize and rationalize the net by establishing some kind of centralized control inevitably emerge. But every such initiative must be resisted. The decentered and relatively anarchic character of the net is its strength and not its weakness. With advanced compu-telecommunications technology, the threat of panopticism and totalization is greater than ever. To avoid these ominous dangers, we must constantly mind the blind spot of the fold.
But how can this be done? How can we keep the mediatrix from becoming repressive and oppressive? If the net in which we are caught is to nourish emancipation rather than incarceration, the proscription of undue unification must be supplemented by the prescription of endless multiplication. For those who fear centralization and control more than decentralization and chance, the net carries with it a labyrinthine imperative: Never stray from the fold. To remain within the fold, it is necessary to complicate rather than explicate. The unavoidability of superficiality does not make resistance impossible and action unnecessary. To the contrary, the vitality of the mediatrix depends upon active resistance and creative action. In the absence of an Archimedean point from which to leverage the net, we must invest in efforts to capitalize on pockets that can never become books. These pockets of resistance keep the net open to the differences that give us the chance without which life becomes unbearable.
Chance is, of course, always risky. In the absence of substantial foundations, there are no guarantees. When the all is impossible, all becomes possible. The net creates the possibility that is our chance. To realize this chance, we must recognize that in simcult, the scene of action has shifted. To effect change, we must intervene in the imaginary register. The mediatrix is not an ephemeral superstructure that rests upon a secure base formed by the means of production. When the real becomes the imaginary and the imaginary the real, the means of mechanical production are transformed into the means of electronic reproduction. The sphere of economic, social, and political conflict in the 21st century will increasingly become the electronic mediatrix. We are, of course, already in the midst of the struggle for control of this milieu. The net effect of turning our backs on this struggle is to leave our destiny in the hands of powers and principalities that ought to be resisted. The challenge we face at the end of the millennium is to keep (the) net-working.
1 Jean Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulations," Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 166.
2 Guy Debord, Society of Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red Press, 1970), entry 6.
3 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 5.
4 Ibid., 5-7.
5 Ibid., 7- 9, and 12.