Thesis Review Part One: Assemblages and Rhizomes

Hello you! There’s been no blog posts for a while. Comedy and academia have been eating up my time. In a few days time (Friday 15th to be exact) the world premier of Woodward and Jeffery: Laughter on the Outskirts will be on at the Leicester Comedy Festival. This looming comedy deadline has had the added benefit of forcing me to go full pelt at completing a draft of my thesis beforehand. (UPDATE: It’s been and gone and I wrote about it here).

It’s been a long three years, and its not over yet. But with a full initial draft of my snappily titled thesis Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Comics finally in the bag, now seems a good time to present some of the ideas from it on the blog. A ‘thesis review’ where the monster’s still dying corpse can be dissected and unimaginable, as-yet-unnamed organs extracted from its still-warm carcass and held up to the light: “Now look what we have here”, I will say, rubbing the ungodly creature’s black blood on my lab coat.  As ever, the reader is forewarned that this is the blog and not the thesis itself, so expect a potentially unpalatable mix of personal literary style and academic writing. Although to be fair if you are still with me after the whole monster autopsy thing then we’ll probably be okay. So lets begin.

In short I set out three and a bit years ago (or perhaps 34) to investigate two related questions. Firstly, how had the figure of the posthuman body developed in superhero comics? Or to put it more accurately, in what ways did the development of the superhero relate to a wider discourse of the posthuman body? A discussion of how the posthuman body of the superhero has developed can be found elsewhere on the blog (here and here) so will only be touched on occasionally in this piece

Secondly, I wanted to know what sense comic book readers made of the posthuman body. For example, did a familiarity with the superhero genre make one more or less amenable to the idea of human enhancement as espoused by Transhumanism? The question of reader-text relationships is addressed briefly below but the more elaborate discussion it requires will have to wait until Part Three of this series. Part Two takes the theoretical concepts presented below and demonstrates the advantages of applying them to the study of superhero comics.

In Part One of this ‘thesis review’ I instead want to present some of the philosophical concepts that informed the approach I took in my thesis to the posthuman body in terms of both theory and methodology. Or to put it another way, the following discussion is about what separates a ‘critical analysis’ or ‘cultural theory’ of superhero comics from, say, reviewing them. Long story short: the questions of how superheroes have developed and what readers get from them are not simple to answer. Or, rather, may lead to a multitude of, often potentially conflicting, answers to those questions depending on the assumptions the questioner starts out with. As such this article lays out my epistemological and ontological framework.

As Voltaire once said, “if you wish to converse with me, first define your terms”.

Ready to define some terms? Let’s go!

DELEUZE AND GUATTARI

I found the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari particularly compelling in thinking about the posthuman body. Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy of the body questions the binaries that modernist thought has inherited from Cartesian mind/body dualism, in particular questions of the biological/social and agency/structure. Deleuze and Guattari are concerned with embodiment and their philosophy is a materialist one, albeit a “radical new materialism”, as Rivkin and Ryan (1998:345) (emphasis added) elaborate:

Thought no longer stands outside matter [is no longer disembodied along Cartesian lines]…thought is a move within matter itself. Rather than having a mind and a body we are all bodies that are part of a general ‘body without organs’ that is what used previously to be called ‘the world’ or ‘nature’ or ‘matter’. We are all part of this primordial substance that is unarticulated into identities or objects or selves, but that can be cut up in various ways by signification, which must be understood as practical action in/on the world

Instead it conceptualizes selves as, “distributive, both confined to individual bodies and simultaneously connected, overlapping with other bodies, nature and machines” (Gibson, 2006: 189). As such,

A ‘subject’ for Deleuze and Guattari is re-imagined as a continual ‘becoming’ neither encased by skin and organs nor defined by static concepts and categorizations…Becoming is identity-in-motion rather than fixed being. It is active, occupying an identity zone without becoming fixated with or fixed to any of its elements. This open system of assemblages-as opposed to closed and static subjects-can be torn down and reconfigured. (Ibid: 190).

Deleuze and Guattari understand the making of bodies, “…to occur on a ‘plane of immanence’ in which things-objects, beings- are understood not in terms of eternal and immutable essences, but in terms of relations and effects” (Braun, 2004:8).  Furthermore, “…Deleuze’s bodies are multiple…not simply human bodies…the human body is not, never was, and never can be, simply ‘itself’” (ibid: 9). As Deleuze himself puts it:

The important thing is to understand life, each living individuality, not a form, or a development of form, but as a complex relation between differential velocities, between deceleration and acceleration of particles. A composition of speeds and slowness on a plane of immanence…it should be clear that the plane of immanence, the plane of Nature that distributes affects, does not make any distinction at all between things that might be called natural and things that might be called artificial. Artifice is fully a part of nature, since each thing, on the immanent plane of Nature, is defined by the arrangement of motions and affects into which it enters, whether these arrangements are artificial or a natural (cited in ibid: 8)

As such, Deleuze and Guattari position the body in a relational field quite different from the discursively passive body that is inscribed by environment and social context. Bodies are instead reformulated as contextual categories, offering a model of embodiment that focuses not on what a body ‘is’ but on what it can do.

Motivated by positive desire, human bodies have affected their environment through the creation of tools and technologies, organizations and institutions, and symbolic representations; all of which establish myriad new relations with other bodies. Deleuze and Guattari utilize the concept of the Body without Organs (rather than the organism known to medical science; the body-with-organs) to suggest the limits of what a body can do. The Body without Organs seeks to establish such new relations because the more relations a body has the more it becomes capable of doing. These relations can be both physical-with the biological realm -but also non-physical, deriving from a body’s psychology, cultural context, or the social world. These relations affect the body and how the body can affect other bodies.

ASSEMBLAGES

For Deleuze and Guattari bodies are ‘assemblages’ whose, “…function or potential or ‘meaning’ becomes entirely dependent on which other bodies or machines it forms an assemblage with” (Malins, 2004; 85).  It is not that a body’s relations and affects directly determine what it can do. Instead the body and its relations combine within assemblages. A drinking-assemblage might for instance comprise

Mouth-water-cup-thirst

Or a reading-assemblage (discussed in more detail below) might comprise of

Eyes-book-chair-coffee

The relations that make up an assemblage may be drawn from any domain, symbolic or actual, but the assemblage is always dynamic and vary from person to person, body to body, dependent on their own relations. For example some reading assemblages might comprise eyes-glasses-bed-book-and so on in a multiplicity of directions. An assemblage is a becoming rather than a being.

Assemblages link the body to the social and cultural environment, defining its capacities and limits. Never the less, the body always retains the possibility of forming new relations, new assemblages that offer the possibility of becoming otherwise. For as Malins describes it:

The body retains its own impetus…for forming assemblages which allow desire to flow in different directions, producing new possibilities and potentials…brief lines of movement away from organization and stratification and toward a Body without Organs (BwO); in other words, towards a disarticulated body whose organs (and their movements and potentials) are no longer structured in the same way, or structured at all (Malins, 2004:88)

READING-ASSEMBLAGES

While one stand of the thesis deals with how the posthuman body is represented in superhero comics the second strand addresses how readers make sense of these representations of the posthuman body. Here too Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts prove enlightening. Within this model comic books, too, are machinic-assemblages. A comic book is itself a body, a line of flight, and an act of territorialisation or deterritorialisation depending on its use or result. As Deleuze and Guattari themselves put it:

In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation, segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movement and deterritorialisation and destratification. Comparative rates of flow on these lines produce phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity, or, on contrary, of acceleration and rupture. All this, lines and measurable speeds, constitutes an assemblage…a little machine…the only question is which other machine the literary machine can be plugged into in order to work…literature is an assemblage. It has nothing to do with ideology. There is no ideology and never has been. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:3-4)

For Deleuze art is active; the work of art only has relations with forces. Rejecting the idea of the book as a representation of reality, Deleuze presents the book as a machine, as something which does things rather than signify things, an assemblage that, “…connect[s] bodies up with other bodies, affects, and social formations in many different directions” (Malins, 2004:95). Viewed as assemblages texts are a mix of discrete parts capable of producing any number of effects, as opposed to the organized, coherent whole that produces a single dominant reading.

At this point it would be useful to recall that body is an assemblage whose, “…function or potential or ‘meaning’ becomes entirely dependent on which other bodies or machines it forms an assemblage with” (Malins, 2004; 85). Bodies connect up with the machinic assemblage of the book, forming a new assemblage which in turn connects up with other bodies and machines, “…people, substances, knowledge, institutions-any of which may redirect or block its flows of desire” (ibid). When an assemblage allows desire to flow in different directions it produces, “…new possibilities and potentials…brief lines of movement away from organization and stratification” (Maslin, 2004:88). A longer discussion of the assemblage formed between text-reader-creator-corporation-and so on will be presented in a separate article.

BECOMING

The linking of one machinic assemblage with another results in what Deleuze and Guattari term ‘becomings’. To take and example from Carstens (2005:56), “in terms of the environmental crisis, the assemblage people might make while becoming-tree, or becoming-animal may expand our sense of interconnectivity with other beings ad the land”.  A becoming is, “…born of a machinic assemblage in which each term deterritorialises the other to become something else entirely” (Hainge, 2006:100). Becoming is “to affect and be affected” (Mercieca and Mercieca, 2010: 86), a process of change or movement within an assemblage. Discussing the terms ‘becoming-animal’ and ‘becoming-minoritarian’ Bruns clarifies how

Becoming-animal is a movement from major (the constant) to minor (the variable); it is a deterritorialisation in which a subject no longer occupies a realm of stability and identity but is instead folded imperceptibly into a movement or into an amorphous legion whose mode of existence is nomadic, or alternatively, whose ‘structure’ is rhizomatic (Bruns, 2007: 703)

For Malins, understanding how machinic assemblages prevent or facilitate (territorialising or deterritorialising) these becomings is an ethical one:

Such an ethics interrogate each event, assemblage or body for what it can be made to do rather than what it essentially is. Decisions must be made, but made in relation to each event and its affects rather than an underlying essence or overriding morality. An assemblage becomes ethical or unethical depending on the affects it enables and the potentials it opens up or blocks. It becomes ethical when it enables the body to differentiate from itself and go on becoming-other (Malins, 2004:102)

In discursive terms assemblages can be formed from a multiplicity of ideas, thoughts, pieces of data and discursive moments. Taken together these assemblages from ‘plateaus’. Deleuze and Guattari, “…call a ‘plateau’ any multiplicity connected to other multiplicities buy superficial underground stems in such a way as to form or extend a rhizome” (1987:24).

TERRITORIES

At this point Rivkin and Ryan’s description of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas is worth quoting in full to remind ourselves of what it means to view bodies as ‘desiring machines’ or ‘machinic assemblages’:

We are all machines…and the institutions we make for ourselves such as the family and the state are also machines that take the desiring production of humanity and process it in useful ways for a particular social regime…in order to work functionally we have to desire efficiently. But the desire is innately reckless and inefficient; an energistics without bounds, and it should be understood as just one segment in larger flows of energy and matter that constitute the world as a mobile, varying, multiple flux with different strata that make up planes of consistency. We exist within such planes as lines of flight that can either escape or be captured and pinned down by signifying regimes, semantic orders that assign us meanings and identities…All such stabilizations or codings constitute territorialisations in that they establish boundaries of identity that restrain temporarily the movement of the flows and the lines of flight…but deterritorialisation is a more powerful force, and everything eventually breaks apart and flows anew, only once again to be recaptured and reterritorialised by another social regime of signification (1998:345)

As such, Deleuze and Guattari invite us to view history as a succession of “signifying regimes, ways of ordering the flows of matter and desiring productions”, not dissimilar to Foucault’s notion of ‘discourse’ as regimes of power/knowledge.  The concept of territorialisation helps to elucidate how the social impinges upon the individual or how subjectivities such as ‘woman’, ‘deviant’ or ‘Fascist’ are created when one term territorializes another within an assemblage.

For human bodies this can mean the masochist’s body’s breasts become for whipping or that the anorexic’s mouth becomes for emptying the stomach, or the skin becomes a canvass for the tattooed body. If a particular assemblage is repeated too often through habit however the components of that assemblage can become stratified and coded. A reterritorialisation occurs. Even so, a body’s becoming remains always transitional:

A body-in becoming soon re-stratifies: either captured by or lured by the socius…and although re-stratification usually occurs according to pre-existing categories (masochist, deviant; drug user, junkie), it can also…allow bodies to create their own entirely new (but most often abjected) categories…and these territorialisations are also never fully complete: a living desiring body will always form new assemblages that have the potential to transform it and its territories (ibid)

As concepts, desiring-machines and assemblages are analogous. The question is how they can block or allow desire to flow:

A desire which, following Deleuze and Guattari, is no longer tied to a psychoanalytic notions of lack and pleasure, but is the productive energy flow that moves between bodies in assemblages and enables them to momentarily alter their modes of composition… desiring assemblages can both revolutionise and sediment a body’s stratification…desire temporarily de-stratifies the body…brief lines of movement toward a disarticulated body, toward deterritorialisation (ibid)

Deleuze and Guattari suggest we can avoid territorilaisation through following ‘lines of flight’ from these territorialisations toward new embodiments. As Deleuze himself puts it, “…lines of flight are the same thing as movements of deterritorialization” (quoted in Tuck, 2010:644).  Of course, following this deterritorialising line of flight there follows a reterritorialisation, although perhaps one where a body can do different things than in its previous territorialisation.

THE POSTHUMAN BODY AS ASSEMBLAGE

The posthuman body is presented in my thesis as, “…an assemblage of socially coded affects” (Colebrook, 2002:93). The desire to become other, to become posthuman, is not singular, hence the different forms that the posthuman body took at specific historical junctures. For Deleuze it is not that some underlying power behind texts/images uses representations to mislead us. Rather.

Desire itself is power; a power to become and produce images. Desire also has the power to produce images that enslave it: images of a moral ‘man’ obeying his social duty. But the task is not to get away from images so much as to reveal and intensify their production: why limit ourselves to the image of man and woman as social citizens, why not become other? Deleuze’s political critique does not begin from a power that opposes desire but from one single univocal flow of desire that produces the very terms that enslave it…power does not oppress us; it produces us. Cultural forms, like literature, do not deceive us; they are ways in which desire organises and extends its investments (Colebrook, 2002:94)

In Deleuze’s thought

Desire-not knowledge, not power, but desire-is the centerpiece of their collaboration…For Deleuze and Guattari, desire is not an absence…not a lacking, but an exponentially growing assemblage…the components of desire are fragments, bits and pieces accumulated over a lifetime…imprinted by the social formation of democratic capitalism. (Tuck, 2010:639-640)

Deleuze and Guattari speak of bodies as ‘desiring-machines’. These desiring machines are productive. Because of this desire or ‘positive desire’ is much like Nietzsche’s will-to-power, and shares certain commonalities with the concept of ‘agency’. But if desire has the capacity to radically alter or disrupt existing social formations it is also capable of tripping us up. Desire is not an ideology against any particular social formation. For Deleuze, relegating desire to ideology is, “…a perfect way to ignore how desire works on the infrastructure, invests it, belongs to it, and how desire thereby organizes power: it organizes the system of oppression” (Deleuze, 2006:264, cited in Tuck, 2010:641). Thus, it is possible for people to desire their own oppression. Deleuze and Guattari cite the work of Wilhelm Reich in relation to fascism, writing that,

Reich is at his profoundest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation for fascism…no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism (quoted in Tuck 2010: 642)

These points can now be illustrated with reference to the types of posthuman body I discuss in the thesis; the Perfect body of the Golden Age, the Cosmic Body of the Silver Age and the Military-Industrial Body of the ‘Modern Age’. It is not that the Perfect, Cosmic, or Military-Industrial body is the genuine article but each are manifestations of desiring production that have become coded and thus stratified into what Deleuze calls an ‘interest’. Interests are not an effect of our desire but a law that governs our desire and is always formed from specific and singular affects.

So it was that during the Golden Age both the Nazi visions of the Master Race and the comic book superhero were expressions of the same unruly desire for becoming posthuman but coded as an interest by the specific and singular affects of the time. Because of this, scholars have often linked the superhero to fascism based on these shared codes. But the desire to become posthuman is impersonal, no more fascistic than revolutionary. The posthuman body is always coded by the interests that have territorialised it; never a representation of the actual but an extension of the virtual tendencies of the given world. By highlighting these historically specific codings this thesis hoped to go some way to releasing the impersonality of desire from these interests. There are obviously political implications to this. The history of the posthuman body demonstrates the material effects that are brought about when the posthuman is coded as an interest. The eugenics movement, the Nazi Holocaust and the dispiriting contemporary emphasis on the search for cyborg super soldiers are testament to this.

For the purposes of my thesis I wanted to draw upon the concept of the posthuman, and combine it with Deluze and Guattari’s ideas in an effort to move away from structuralist and ideological readings of the superhero. The limitations of such approaches are discussed in greater detail in part two. To end this discussion however, I want to introduce one final concept from Deleuze and Guattari: the rhizome. The rhizome presented as a conceptual tool that brings the previous concepts of the assemblage, territories, lines of flight, and becomings together.

RHIZOME

A rhizome is made up of plateaus, and a plateau is made up of assemblages.  As such a rhizome becomes a figure for thinking. Deleuze and Guattari propose that the figure for thinking that has dominated Western rationalism is the image of the tree:

These arborescent structures, with their interlocking arrangements of symmetrical and polarized branches-either-or, thesis and antithesis, and division and analogy all serving equally this formalization-have dictated the limits and reductions built into an inherited mode of thinking. (Perry, 1993:174)

Look at this rhizome. Just look at it.

Look at this rhizome. Just look at it

arboreal

Look at the arboreal structure of this tree. How very ordered.

Unlike trees with their roots and central trunk, rhizomes do not possess fixed origins; “they are tuberous-multiplicitous, adventitious-and connect nonlinear assemblages to other things” (Jackson, 2003:693). Rather than following in unproblematic linearity as in the branches of a tree any point within a rhizome can be connected to any other. A rhizome is non-hierarchical in structure, it has, “no roots, no starting place, no sequence, no ending place; only multiple sources, interruptions, interceptions, foldings, mergings, partings, multiple entry ways” (Tuck, 2010:638). Another key principle of the rhizome is ‘asignifying rupture’, the continual refiguration of aspects of the rhizome. If a line in the rhizome is shattered at any given spot it may start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines, or re-erupt on the same path as multiple lines.

The question, of course, is “what can a rhizome do”? How can this model of thought and culture be applied methodologically? Perhaps a simpler question is how can the rhizome be used to transform existing methodologies?  To answer this question I propose connecting the rhizome with a methodology that already has epistemological similarities to Deleuzian thought, namely Foucauldian discourse analysis.

RHIZOMATIC METHODS/METHODOLOGY

It is important to remember that representation is itself a body, a line of flight, an act of territorialisation or deterritorialisation depending on its use or result.  Academic research, of course, generally aims to represent a social reality. However, when a particular analytical model guides research then that model territorialises its object of enquiry. The object becomes’

Pinned down by signifying regimes, semantic orders that assign us meanings and identities…All such stabilizations or codings constitute territorialisations in that they establish boundaries of identity that restrain temporarily the movement of the flows and the lines of flight

Alternatively, thinking and research that is in a state of becoming would not be guided by in interpretation by a model or series that provides explanation. Mercieca and Mercieca describe ‘the series’ as the “IS as it produces particular understandings” (ibid: 86). On the other hand,

To engage with intensities and forces within the series is to see them as connected by AND…rather than following in unproblematic linearity. The shift is from research that only interprets, to an experience in which the researcher and the researched engage with each other ‘to affect and be affected’…the acknowledgement of and engagement with the multiplicity of forces and of movements, with becoming, is being closed down by…particular sense-making (bid)

Deleuze and Guattari call this ‘particular sense-making’ a tracing. Such tracings result from researchers emulating practices and analyses that are known and predictable (Mazzei and McCoy, 2010) which rely on “the basis of an overcoding structure or supporting axis, something that comes ready-made” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:12). These overcoding structures are the arboreal, tree-like structures of thought addressed earlier. Tracing is a form of what Scheuric calls ‘imperial validity’, “where the researcher attempts to control the researched, to spread his imperial tentacles across and over the research subject” (Honan, 2007:544). Tracing is distinct from, but not in opposition to, what Deleuze and Guattari term mapping, which, rather than rely on an overcoding structure, “is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” (ibid). Never the less traces always remain and a such, “the tracing should always be put back on the map…What the tracing reproduces of the map or rhizome are only the impasses, blockages, incipient taproots, or points of structuration(ibid 13-14). The model of thought that facilitates mappings and their nomadic ranging across fields is the rhizome, which is not a tracing mechanism but a map with multiple entry points. The use of this model for research can be termed ‘schizo-analysis’ or ‘rhizo-analysis’.

Honan and Sellers tried to develop rhizomatic methodologies for use in educational research. As a starting point for beginning rhizo-analysis their suggestions are most helpful. They describe several features that a rhizomatic methodology might exhibit:

  • An approach to writing that is partial and tentative, that transgresses generic boundaries, and allows the inclusion of the researchers’ voice.
  • Understanding that discourses operate within a text in rhizomatic ways-that is they are not linear, or separate. Any text includes a myriad of discursive systems and the discursive systems are connected to and across each other. A rhizomatic discourse analysis follows the lines of flight that connect these different systems in order to provide accounts of plausible (mis) readings
  • Data…can be analysed rhizomatically to find connections between writing, artwork, video, interview transcripts, and textual artefacts. This kind of analysis allows (im) plausible readings of connections between and across and within various data.

In this methodology discursive systems become seen as plateaus, “particular assemblages of meaning that inform others and each other, that do not stand alone (do not stand in the immovable sense at all), and only make sense when read within and against each other” (Honan, 2007:536). A rhizo-textual analysis involves mapping these pathways, intersections and connections between discursive plateaus, identifying the moments where assemblages of discourses merge.

The posthuman body then can be understood as a rhizome, made up of discursive plateaus, or assemblages formed between art, science and society. A rhizo-analysis of the posthuman body is a marriage of form and content.  A Post/Humanist approach to the posthuman. An experiment in becoming informed by an epistemology that, “…does not fetishize completion, closed circuits, or discrete processes” (Tuck, 2010:641). As O’ Sullivan puts it, thinking about the study of culture as rhizome implies, “…not a different kind of reading but a transformation…a ‘voyage of discovery’, a journey which produces the terrain it maps” (2002: 84). Deleuze and Guattari urge the researcher to, “…Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous point on it, find potential movements of deterritorialisation, possible lines of flight, experience them” (quoted in ibid:90). For Honan and Sellers, following lines of flight in rhizomatic research means making connections between quite different thoughts, concepts, and data.

This involves a move away from the ‘interpretation of culture’ and towards what O’Sullivan calls, “…a pragmatics which allows for a mapping of connections between different objects and practices, events and assemblages” (2002:81). Because rhizomes lack easily identifiable beginnings and ends it is not possible to provide linear descriptions of journeys taken through and across a rhizome (Honan, 2007:533). If the presentation of my thesis follows the scholarly mandate of introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis and conclusion it never the less can be said that each chapter focuses on a different tuber, “a different middle, while still providing connections to other tubers, other parts of the rhizome” (ibid). As Deleuze and Guattari themselves put it, “…a rhizome ceaselessly establish connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relevant to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988:7). With this in mind the thesis presents a cultural history of the posthuman in superhero comics, as it has been suggested that cultural historical approaches combine “the disciplinary strengths of writing history with the ferment of ideas associated with what might be loosely termed Critical Theory…[and situating] texts in a broad network of contexts and disciplinary knowledges” (Luckhurst, 2005:1-2). Such an interdisciplinary undertaking fits neatly with the idea of rhizo-analysis being proposed here. Interviews were then subject to a discourse analysis to examine how this data itself overlapped with, or ran contrary to, the discourses under examination in the cultural history. A discussion of how the concepts of the rhizome and assemblages related to the gathering of readers, interviewing and analysis of interview transcripts will be elaborated on in Part Three.

CONCLUSION

So that, very briefly, presents the philosophical underpinnings of my thesis. Writing it up for this ‘thesis review’™ I experience my usual, but not I suspect unusual, sensation of profound intellectual insecurity: “three years of this rubbish? Why did no-one step in and say, clearly, Scott, you have no grasp of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas whatsoever. Reading your ideas about them is akin to watching a Dog try to work an ipod”. Time, and a viva, will tell on that one. In the meantime any comments are welcome.

In Part Two I want to demonstrate how thinking rhizomatically moves the analysis of superhero comics away from questions of representation, identity politics and ideology. It will begin by outlining several of the limitations of such approaches, both theoretically and methodologically, before illustrating the ways in which the comic book superhero displays rhizomatic properties instead.

It’s all jolly exciting isn’t it? See you then, human.

BIBILOGRAPHY

Braun, B. (2004) “Querying Posthumanisms” Geoforum 35:3 pp. 269-273

Bruns, G. L. (2007) “Becoming-Animal (Some Simple Ways)” New Literary History 38:4 pp. 703-720

Carstens, J. P. (2005) Techno genetrix: shamanizing the new flesh – cyborgs, virtual interfaces and the vegetable matrix in SF Unpublished dissertation submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the subject of English at the University of South Africa available online at http://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/2126

Deleuze, G. and Felix Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateus (trans. Brian Massumi) Minneapolois: University of Minnesota Press

Gibson, B. E.  (2006) “Disability, Connectivity and Transgressing the Autonomous Body” in Journal of Medical Humanities, 27 pp. 187-196

Honan, E. (2007) “Writing a rhizome: an (im)plausible methodology” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education  20:5 pp. 531-546

Jackson, A.Y. (2003) “Rhizovocality” Qualitative Studies in Education, 16:5 pp.693-710

Luckhurst, R. (2005) Science Fiction Cambridge: Polity Press

Malins, P. (2004) “Machinic assemblages: Deleuze, Guattari and ethico-aesthetics of drug use” in Janus Head 7:1 pp. 84-104

Mazzei, L.A. and Kate McCoy (2010) “Thinking with Deleuze in qualitative research” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 23:5 pp.503-509

O’Sullivan, S. (2002) “Cultural studies as rhizome-rhizomes in cultural studies” in Stefan Herbrechter (Ed.) Cultural Studies, Interdisciplinarity and Translation. Amsterdam/New York pp. 81-95

Perry, P. (1993) “Deleuze’s Nietzsche” Boundary 2:20 pp. 174-191

Rivkin, J and Micheal Ryan (eds) (1998) Literary Theory: An Anthology Oxford: Blackwell

Tuck, E. (2010) “Breaking up with Deleuze: desire and valuing the irreconcilable” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 23:5, 635-650

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About Scott Jeffery

Hello humans. I am Dr. Scott Jeffery. I do the following things (in no particular order): Research into Post/Humanism and Transhumanism and superheroes (seriously, I’ve got a PhD and everything) Stand-up comedy Compulsive rumination I blog about these things (plus occultism and all kinds of other lovely, strange topics) at NthMind. I also write regular short film reviews at Filmdribble. I can be contacted via twitter (@sjzenarchy) or at sjzenarchy@gmail.com. View all posts by Scott Jeffery

3 responses to “Thesis Review Part One: Assemblages and Rhizomes

  • Thesis Review Part Two: Superheroes, rhizomes, representation and ideology | Nth Mind

    […] tell us about posthumanism, and how did readers of superhero comics relate to the posthuman? In Part One of this thesis review I pointed out that answering those questions first required clarifying the epistemological and […]

  • Thesis Review Part Three: Reader-text assemblages | Nth Mind

    […] Part One of this ‘thesis review’ introduced the philosophical and theoretical concepts that guided the research undertaken in my thesis. Part Two elaborated upon these ideas- paying particular attention to the concept of the rhizome-and suggested that the field of Comics Studies could be considered as rhizomatic. It then went on to demonstrate how approaches to studying superheroes that utilised structuralist theories and/or analysed the superhero comic in terms of representation and ideology could be understood as broadly humanist and based on an arboreal model of knowledge whereby the ‘meaning’ of the superhero could be reduced to a single explanatory trunk. It then went on to argue for a Post/Humanist approach to superhero comics that, rather than an arboreal model, adopted a rhizomatic approach. To aid this understanding a cultural history of the posthuman body in superhero comic was adopted. It was then demonstrated how this moves the analysis of the superhero away from ideology by understanding the development of the superhero through the Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Ages of comic books in terms of historically situated assemblages. […]

  • Daniel Rocha

    I think the best example of rhizome is lichens.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichen

    2 unrelated types of beings, bacteria and fungus, living together in a decentralized structure, rhizome. Also, they altogether form a society, a body without organs (they, indeed do not have organs!). Depending on how they relate to the environment, they form stratified structures, which are build on layers of constant desire (for feed).

    I think this is even a most straight forward better the cortex of the brain, since a brain ends up having binary relations, through very primitive structures, like trees. Like cortex, spinal cord (trunk), extremes of the bodies, like skin and muscles, the tree.

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