“Why should things be easy to understand?”
– Thomas Pynchon
I’m a fan of postmodernist fiction. I like the game of it, the acknowledgement of itself as a structure, the rejection of the logos, of the author, of meaning. The internet is postmodern: plurivocal and intertextual, ‘cyberspace’ is, as Cousin acknowledges, ‘postmodern because it allows playful and deceitful identity performances…and is labyrinthine rather than linear’ (Cousin, 2005, p.124*).
Cousin proposes the rhizome as a metaphor which encapsulates the characteristics of the internet. Extending and developing the definition of rhizomatic learning proposed by French postmodern theorists Deleuze and Guattari (1987**), ‘rhizomatic learning requires the creation of a context within which the curriculum and knowledge are constructed by contributions made by members of the learning community, and which can be reshaped and reconstructed in a dynamic manner…As Cormier (2010) puts it, ‘the community is the curriculum’ (OpenLearn***).
The tree is the first metaphor which must be rejected as a representation of learning and of the internet. It symbolises a logical branching structure, a singular rootedness, a linear development and a beginning and an end.
Conversely ‘any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be’ (Cousin, 2005, p. 125). This ‘heterogeneity and connectivity’ (ibid, p.125) facilitates ‘the development of multiple ‘additions’ to a text, as learners post their comments from their own position…’ (ibid, p.125). The rhizome, therefore, establishes a ‘logic of the AND’ (Tapscott, 1998, p.25****).
As Deleuze and Guattari conclude, ‘we are tired of trees’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p.25).
Cousin’s article concludes with an evocative statement about the power and potential of a reimagining of learning within less traditional metaphorical boundaries:
‘…the limit (is) beyond the skies, all is possible, the map is the territory, the medium is definitely the message, the message being that all contact, fleeting or sustained, is possible. All identities are fictional to any degree, and all points of departure are available. It is also more playful, more daring and perhaps more dangerous’ (Cousin, 2005, p.127).
**Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F, (1987) A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press
****Tapscott, D (1998) Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, New York: McGraw Hill