Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lines of Relationship

It’s winter time in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia and the crows, starlings and gulls have gathered together into large flocks of their own kind. The gulls are feeding in the farm fields, searching for worms and other assorted edibles. The starlings and crows often join them. However the crows have adopted a whole new activity, unique to them. Many of the farms have nut trees, both hazelnuts and walnuts. The crows love these nuts, but it is a real challenge to open them up and access the fatty meat inside. In recent years however the crows have discovered a most clever way of opening them. One will often see the crows gathered around the country roads, especially around the busier roads. There, individual crows will either place or drop the nuts in front of oncoming cars. Now, this is not a simple and easy task, for if a crow puts it there for too long before the car arrives his neighbour crow will simply sweep down and steal the nut from him. So... the individual crow has to place the nut on the road just at the right time and place. Some crows land on the road and strategically place the nut on the pavement; other crows drop the nut in front of passing cars. Now clearly this is not a predictable and reliable activity, this is an activity built upon principles of probability, not certainty. There is no guarantee that the car will run over the nut, and there is no guarantee that one will be able to gather the resultant goods when a car does run over the nut, for there are always a host of other crows waiting to profit from somebody else’s luck. However, they wait on the sides of the road, sitting upon the power lines, circling tightly above, playing the odds like any good gambler.

I have read that the development of this type of behviour is quite recent. It was first noticed with crows on Vancouver Island. Now, the putting of nuts in the path of moving vehicles has become a prominent crow activity throughout the Fraser Valley, and, I am sure, other places also. What most fascinates me about this phenomenon is it seems to provide evidence that crows learn through something very much like culture. It appears that evolution has designed these birds to gather much of their requisite learnings through large social networks which also pass these learnings on through time to successive generations. At the very least -- something akin to culture has enabled these creatures to act responsively to a changing world.

Our uniqueness as human animals seems to be quickly dissolving. There was a time when we thought that what distinguished humans from animals was the utilization of tools. This had to be put aside for it was discovered that a number of animals also use tools. In fact, I saw this myself. As a child, for several years in a row, while growing up in Saskatchewan, I would steal a young magpie from its family every spring. I would look after the bird, befriend it and essentially become its parent. One of these magpies would participate with me in what I called “blueberry hockey”. I would hold a little stick in my fingers and the magpie would hold a stick in her beak and we would hit blueberries around on our driveway. The magpie would only do this for short periods of time then she would take the blueberry and go hide it away in the pulley of the neighbour’s clothesline. I often wondered what would happen to the neighbour’s clothes as blue juice was squeezed out and spread over the clothesline cable. My magpie friend had no problem utilizing a tool, even though it was just for play purposes.

It was not that long ago when we thought that human beings were unique, at least in part, because of their involvement in culture. However, it is now clear that other animals also live within cultures. One of the most obvious is the Orca, or Killer Whale. These animals live in three distinct groups in the waters around British Columbia – each group distinct by cultural habits. There are the resident whales which travel fairly predictable routes, following the salmon, which is their primary food source. They travel in large pods and are very noisy in their journeys. Then there are the transient whales which travel less predictable routes and feed almost exclusively on marine mammals. These whales rely on stealth and therefore travel in smaller pods and, when hunting, are virtually silent. One of these whales followed sea lions a good fifty kilometres up the Fraser River a few years ago. And also, there are those whales which live primarily far out at sea, only occasionally coming inshore. Their habits are still relatively unknown. One species, divided into three groups by ways of life which are embedded in what can perhaps best be described as cultural traditions.
Crows, orca, wolves, chimpanzees – all live within worlds embedded in what easily can be called cultural traditions. However, one of the things which distinguish the crow (and perhaps the wolf) from the others is that the crow's cultural realms appear to necessitate specific relations with us – with people. People and crow become part of the same cultural milieu. In aboriginal worlds these types of relations are clearly entrenched within their traditions, folklore, and ways of living. The animals are all in some relation with the people who share the land and water. However, in our modern world these relations are rarely acknowledged, at least not in a serious manner. Contemporary Western governmental and institutional traditions have a lineage of seeing animals as being undesirable, of getting in the way. This is particularly true of those creatures which have evolved to take advantage of our human worlds – such as the crow, the starling, the coyote, the rat, and recently even the Canada goose.

But in aboriginal worlds this was not the way these creatures were thought of. Turn for a moment to one of Bill Reid’s marvellous sculptures, the Jade Canoe , which resides within the international wing of the Vancouver International Airport; and also decorates the Canadian twenty-dollar bill. Reid is a Haida artist, following in the artistic traditions of the Haida people. The Jade Canoe is a large sculpture which invites the traveler within the airport to come up to it, to touch it, to walk around it, and experience its abundance and life. Within this large canoe is an assortment of creatures, including people, representative of the richness of life around Haida Gwai. It isn’t all sweetness in the boat, however, for all the creatures are crowded in upon each other, and some of the animals are actually biting each other. There is both conflict and cooperation in the Jade Canoe. What particularly interests me, however, is that all the creatures are there – yes, even the little mouse-woman is in the boat. They are all in relation with each other, and they are also all in some sort of relation with the people too.

In aboriginal traditions the relations with the animals can vary, for some animals can provide food, others clothing, but with all the animals, the relations are also of a spiritual nature. Animals, as well as plants, rivers, the sea, the land enter into spiritual relations with us. This should not surprise us, for it is not unique to North American aboriginal traditions, one finds similar types of relations, one could say spiritual relations, in some writers from the British Isles -- authors such as Melville, in Moby Dick; Coleridge, in the Ancient Mariner; and repeatedly in poems by Wordsworth, and others of his generation. Animals are not simply creatures which get in our way, they are not simply pets, or pests, or producers of food and clothing, they also are in relationship with us. We share their world. And this sharing of life and relationship is, among other things, a sort of spiritual connection.

I have heard it said that in the end, after human beings are all destroyed, the seagulls and the cockroaches will remain – survivors they are. But, I doubt this! For they both have evolved to live in responsive relationship with us. They need us. It is much more likely that if we go... so will they.

I want to imagine a world, I want to enter a world, walk within a world where I am in relationship with the crow and the seagull. Where, whether I like the cockroach or not, I can at least respect it, understand the relationship we share. I want to live in a world which is alive with thousands of lines of relations, connections with people, with animals, with things. I want to live in a world where the questions which plaque me, which plague us all can be understood and addressed not just by people, but where eagles and salmon and dragonflies also just might be able to shed some light. But this wisdom can only be experienced, can only be heard if we dare to acknowledge that there are lines of relations between them and us.

Let me end on a small, intimate story. There is a small lake near where I live where I sometimes like to walk and take photographs. This one September day I was alone there with the exception of one other car in the parking lot. At one point a small rabbit emerged from the blackberry bushes right in front of me and started to graze on the grass. He was just two metres from me. I sat on the grass, took pictures of him and chatted him up in a particulary friendly manner. He was most comfortable with me. We stayed together for about ten minutes. Then off to my right, two people appeared about thirty metres away – these were the people from the other car. My rabbit friend, as soon as he realized these people were nearby, immediately turned back to the blackberry bushes and disappeared. He hid himself in response to the presence of the other people. I realized at that moment, that this particular rabbit, for that particular moment, invited me into relationship with him. He allowed me into his world. And, he was not going to extend the same lines of relationship to the other people who were nearby.

It was Gregory Bateson who said we can’t truly know anything about any thing in particular, but we can know about the relations between things. I may not know much about the rabbit, or even about myself, but I can know that there were lines of relation between that animal and me in that moment of time. The rabbit offered relationship to me, and I responded to the gift he gave.

As our world seems to fall into a tragic place with phenomenon such as global warming, habitat destruction, and other influences which are devastating so much of our living planet, I suggest it is not first and foremost a political activism we need – and we certainly need that. No... I believe our top priority is to awaken to those lines of relation which tie me and the rabbit and the crow and the cockroach together. We need to see the crow placing the hazelnut in front of the car, we need to accept, for that moment, the rabbit’s generosity, we need to see the wolf biting the eagle in that Jade Canoe, we need to understand the relational power of Melville’s Moby Dick and Coleridge’s albatross, we need to awaken to lines of relationship which tie me, the animals, the land and the sea, and all of us together.

Just a simple move... just a simple awakening... to simple lines of relationship.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rhizome and the Gift

Two Images that Revolutionize the Human Service Industry

I was seeing there the roots of human symmetry, beauty and ugliness, aesthetics, the human being’s very aliveness and little bit of wisdom. His wisdom, his bodily grace, and even his habit of making beautiful objects are just as “animal” as his cruelty. After all, the very word “animal” means “endowed with mind or spirit (animus).”

Gregory Bateson (1979), p. 5

I begin by revisiting Gregory Bateson – that maverick anthropologist and environmentalist whose thoughts played a role in inspiring the beginnings of the field of family therapy. As family therapy evolved, Bateson distanced himself from the profession. However, this very act of distancing, and the discourse around it, delivers much rich and beneficial wisdom. Bateson’s thinking on what I call the therapeutic (which goes far beyond simply family therapy) holds application for all professions within the human services realm, and is perhaps never more relevant that at this point in history. We present just a fragment of Bateson, yet, a fragment that carries with it much of that which moved him.

At times Bateson, when with a group of students, would put before them a crab and he would ask this question:

How could they know that this crab came from something that was alive? I want you to produce arguments which will convince me that this object is the remains of a living thing. You may imagine, if you will that you are Martians and that on Mars you are familiar with living things, being indeed yourselves alive. But, of course, you have never seen crabs or lobsters. A number of objects like this, many of them fragmentary, have arrived… You are to inspect them and arrive at the conclusion that they are remains of living things. How would you arrive at that conclusion?

Bateson (1979), p. 7.
I find this a truly beautiful question. It calls us to ponder, to wonder, and to wander with the mind, the eye and the hand through the diverse spaces of life, through that vast plateau which Bateson called the Creatura. When we see a crab shell, a blade of grass, a fossil trilobite, the jaw bone of a moose, a fish scale, an earthworm, a feather, a microscopic freshwater cyclops, a humback whale vertebrae, or the hand of a loved one – How do we know these things came from something that was alive? The question does much more than invite musings over the how-to(s), those details of life’s assemblages; it calls for a consideration of the movements of life itself, to a consideration of what I like to call the “Alive”.

The question continues... Look at the wheel on your car, look at the moving lines of the road, look at the contours and patterns of a book, look at the lines of movement which are invited through the process of reading a book, look at a toothbrush, at a key, at a guitar pick, at a spoon, look at a dance, a hockey game, look at the movements of two lovers, look at the posturing of two fighters. Look at all these things, and: How do you know these things came from something that was alive? Human creations cannot be removed from the Alive. The movements of life are not escapable. The Alive is always evident – but we must look.

What about in the communal realm? What movements of the Alive are we able to see, to touch, to hear? How can we recognize the Alive within our varied communal interactions?

When in the midst of human institutions, are we also able to sense the Alive at movement?
And, in a more particular way, are we able to sense the movements of the Alive within our work – particularly within the work of human services?

To explore these questions I particularly lean upon the world-shifting work of two French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida.

I explore two primary images, that of the rhizome and the gift-exchange. I suggest that these two images produce revolutionary effects upon the work of the human services industry.

Image #1 -- Rhizome

In order to explore the idea of the Alive within its communal movements I introduce the idea of rhizome. This idea was developed by Gilles Deleuze, along with his friend and co-writer Felix Guatari. These writers present the idea of rhizome, but it is always paired with another image, that of ‘the tree’.

We are tired of the tree. We must no longer put our faith in trees, roots, or radicels; we have suffered enough from them. The whole arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics. On the contrary, only underground stems and aerial roots, the adventitious and the rhizome are truly beautiful, loving or political.

Deleuze & Guattari (1983), p.33.


The tree, according to Deleuze and Guatarri, is an image which bears resemblance to modern institutions. The ‘tree of life’, they suggest, became a dominant metaphor layering structure and hierarchy over much of human and non-human experience.

Trees and institutions both:

  • are concerned with power and centrality -- Trees and institutions both operate from a central core, with arms that branch off yet are always securely fastened to the central structure.
  • are concerned with hierarchy and structure -- In both trees and institutions things ideally move up only one cell at a time, and things move down also one cell at a time. This form of cellular transmission bears resemblance to the lines of a well-structured flow-chart.
  • focus upon upward growth and progress -- According to English legal traditions, institutions are treated as if they are persons. However, a person will be born, will live her life, and, in the end will die. Death is inescapable in her world. However, this is not so in the realms of institutions: successful institutions hold the promise of possibly living for many generations, if not forever. Institutions are supposed to be resolute upon upward movement, upon progress.
  • Institutional structures hold a seeming overpowering influence in the current world. They certainly must be taken into consideration within our movements within communal lives.
    There are two sure ways for identifying institutional assemblages.
  • First of all, there are always higher institutions set aside for the purpose of recognizing lower-level institutions.
  • This is always the case. A chain of recognition must occur within institutional spheres. If one looks carefully at the American dollar bill, the highest and final level of institutional recognition is provided – In God We Trust. God is thereby reduced to institutional contours. God is then to be understood through institutional eyes, as an institution, as an original and originating institution. A hierarchical chain of institutional structures is established, each in relation to the other through specified ties of control and authority, or through lateral connections of competition or alliance. Divinity tops this chain, and at the bottom are an assortment of bodies and parts and relations, usually connected with women, children, animals and things. This very chain of institutions appears arborescent/tree-like in its form and function.
Much in our daily life has been connected to this tree-like language.

Even the body is understood as arborescent. This is reflected in medical discourse and practice – the body as institution -- with the brain and the heart alternatively taking a ‘head’ or central position. It is also reflected in Christian theology, where Christ is considered the ‘head’ and the church is considered the “body”. Bodies, both physical and metaphorical, become hierarchical institutional structures.

A second way of identifying institutional assemblages:

If you look carefully, you will always find lawyers lurking in the corners, accountants also. These are the bureaucratic priests of the institutional empires.

This also is always the case. The setting up of an institution, as well as the reporting requirements demanded of institutions always necessitates the involvement of lawyers and accountants. Lawyers are to protect and challenge the boundary lines of institutional movements and expectations. Accountants ensure that institutional movements are always tied to numerical values.

Institutions are inescapable in modern life.

  • Our work is defined by them.
  • Money only legitimately flows along institutional lines -- therefore, we cannot receive a paycheque but through an institution.
  • We buy our food, clothing, housing and other goods through them.
  • We send our kids to get educated in them.
  • We receive health-care through them.
  • We get religion through them.
  • We play sports within the contexts of institutions.
  • We get much of our entertainment through them.
The tree -- an idea that cements us to the world of institutions and structures.

You set about opposing the rhizome to trees. And trees are not a metaphor at all, but an image of thought, a functioning, a whole apparatus that is planted in thought in order to make it go in a straight line and produce the famous correct ideas. There are all kinds of characteristics in the tree: there is a point of origin, seed, or centre; it is a binary machine or principle of dichotomy, with its perpetually divided and reproduced branchings, its points of arborescence; it is an axis of rotation which organizes things in a circle, and the circles round the centre; it is a structure, a system of points and positions which fix all of the possible within a grid, a hierarchical system or transmission of orders… it has a future and a past, roots and a peak, a whole history, an evolution, a development… Now there is no doubt that trees are planted in our heads: the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, etc. The whole world demands roots. Power is arborescent.

Deleuze and Parnet (1987), P. 24.

However, Deleuze and Guattari also present another concept. They call it the Rhizome. This image connects us to realms that are more tied to the communal.

Grass only exists between the great non-cultivated spaces. It fills in the voids. It grows between – among the other things. The flower is beautiful, the cabbage is useful, the poppy makes you crazy. But the grass is overflowing, it is a lesson in morality.

Henry Miller p. 49.
  • The rhizome is also a botanical image. It describes a certain kind of assemblage that connects together through networks of nodes and lines.
  • Think potatoes, grass, poplar trees -- Many believe that the largest trees in the world are not sequoia or redwoods but rather poplar trees, for poplars are rhizomes. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains one will notice that, in the fall, a large section of a hill will turn yellow, while the other sections are still green. These patches of poplar trees are actually one genetic organism, one large rhizome assemblage.
  • Think weeds – almost every weed in your garden -- Rhizomes are productive spaces, enabling effective and flourishing movement through terrain and barriers often seen as impenetrable and impossible.
  • Think of human creations such as telephone systems, the internet, and, to some extent, the power grid -- Human creations, even institutional creations are not always institutional in structure, sometimes they appear in rhizome form. This is especially true of some human creations that involve many diverse and loosely connected players.
  • Rhizomes are typically found underground. They are not usually conspicuous -- If one opens the paper or turns on the evening news, one is primarily given stories and information pertinent to institutional life. Rhizome life is not usually considered news-worthy. Rhizome movements are powerful, but are not as easily visible.
  • Rhizomes are made of nodes and lines that connect the nodes -- Nodes connected with numerous lines which in turn connect to other nodes and line. No Think the American interstate system. Think prairie dog towns. Imagine the ‘communal’ not as relations with local institutions, not as a realm of service institutions, but rather as rhizome connections, as lines connecting with people, places, animals, things. Think of our communal worlds as rhizome abundances.
  • Rhizomes have no practical beginning, ending or centrality -- Imagine that one wanted to get rid of the crab grass in one’s lawn. The idea of going after the beginning grass, the one that started it all; or the latest frontiers of crab grass; or the crab grass, the boss– this type of thinking is insanity in the worlds of rhizomes. Rhizomes are not influenced by such linear and rank-oriented interests. Military-type might is notoriously ineffective at influencing rhizome community.
  • Rhizomes are extremely difficult to destroy -- Rhizome in nature, or the communal rhizome– it is all most difficult to destroy. We must stop thinking of rhizome-like things as if they were vulnerable.

Overwhelming Rhizome Lines

The right way to begin to think about the pattern which connects is to think
of it as primarily (whatever that means) a dance of interacting parts and only
secondarily pegged down by various sorts of physical limits and by those limits
which organisms characteristically impose.

Bateson (1979), p. 13-14.

As with Bateson’s “pattern which connects”, so also with the rhizome, numerous lines extend not to points/nodes, but through them, beyond them, thereby inventing a plethora of dances, connecting up entire worlds.

We are suggesting a view of humanity, of relationships, of community, even of mind and body that is like rhizome. We are suggesting worlds outside of bodily encasement, beyond familial identity, outside of what is typically thought of with the language of ‘system’, toward lives that are tied by uncountable lines to uncountable bodies, where relationships of many different types become engulfing and repeatedly formative. These rhizome connections are certainly about relationships with people, but they are also about so much more -- they are about relationships with animals and plants, relationships with air and water, relationships with landscapes, relationships with buildings and rooms and spaces and lines of travel, relationships with relationships, relationships with countless other assemblages, whether created by people or by nature (as if that distinction can be maintained), relationships with cars and rivers and musical instruments, relationships with music, relationships with values and goods and affects such as love, humour, romance, sadness, loneliness, joy, annoyance. All these and numerous other assemblages not mentioned and not previously considered are connected to us and through us within rhizome space.

The rhizome is not simple metaphor, as we often understand metaphor. It is not an image that represents something else. The rhizome is rather a physical space, as well as a spiritual space, wherein synapse-like connections form and numerous movements occur. It is a physical and spiritual space of abundances and multiplicities. After all, the brain, the nervous ‘system’ is itself created with rhizome abundance, with movements of electricity following chemical lines, jumping from synapse to synapse, node to node, tracing numerous possible routes, thereby creating numerous possible worlds. It is this rhizome nervous system that enables human living and movement and thought. It also creates worlds and bodies that can never be understood in simple ways; that can never be mapped out by straight lines and right angles.

The French think in terms of trees too much: the tree of knowledge, points of arborescence, the alpha and omega, the roots and the pinnacle. Trees are the opposite of grass. Not only does grass grow in the middle of things, but it grows itself through the middle…Grass has its line of flight, and does not take root. We have grass in the head, not a tree: what thinking signifies is what the brain is, a particular nervous system’ of grass.

Deleuze and Parnet (1987), p. 39.

All reductionist and simple descriptions become repeatedly irrelevant. Rhizome abundance creates a necessary context for every description of things living, thereby overturning and challenging much that is considered scientific, and particularly social-scientific. This understanding revolutionizes scientific and professionalised descriptions of life, implying that rhizome complexity and rhizome connectivity must never be absent from our descriptions. For those of us involved in work often described as ‘therapeutic’, for those of us who are involved in work where we are desiring to see some form of change in a social realm there is particular relevance in the idea of rhizome. I propose that all meaningful change, everything powerful and productive and life-giving that occurs in the social realm transpires in a rhizome-like space along rhizome-like lines.

A Rhizome Dilemma

For those of us who work with people in community we find ourselves in a serious dilemma.
The work of human services, in its varied territories (from health to education, corrections to family therapy, child protection to the care of the elderly) is formed within the structures of institutions.

However, the success of this work, the capacity to connect to realms of change and productivity in life and community is dependent upon a work that moves within the lines of rhizome relations.

This dilemma is one which we should play significant attention to. It is here, in the midst of this dilemma, that we are faced with one of the most significant difficulties and opportunities facing the human services industry.

With my friend and business partner, Peter Finck, in our consulting work with Rock the Boat (a business that consults with businesses and organizations) we have heard all to may stories describing the pain of living with this dilemma. These stories have surfaced within realms of service as diverse as education, child-protection, community corrections, the prison system, nursing, medicine, family therapy, elder-care, etc. This pain is also felt, often intently, by those who receive such services, those people often called clients or patients.

It is interesting to note, however, that the pain felt in this dilemma is experienced by those who hold a value for a rhizome-honouring work. Those who hold little interest in acknowledging a rhizome work rarely experience this kind of discomfort from the context of the institutional expectations. Generally speaking, this pain is only felt on one side of the dilemma.

A Rhizome Work

The following statement may seem radical, may seem overstated, yet, it is a statement that I believe we should all consider.

Good work, effective work within the specific contexts of real people’s lives is not, and can never be an institutional requirement.

Following directives, maintaining the requisite flow of appropriate and designated paperwork, fitting into a specificity of work designated through a chosen model of therapeutic/professional action – these types of activities are certainly required and are often articulated as clear expectations within most (human service) institutional settings.

However, good work, effective work is always connected by rhizome lines to real bodies living in responsivity to the worlds around them. And, it is these relations of responsivity that lead us to the idea of gift-exchange (we will be discussing gift-exchange later in this chapter).

Everything flows down below, in a perpetual flux, with bits and pieces continually entering and exiting.

Deleuze (1987), p. 80.

Jacques Derrida and Rhizome Work

While the idea of rhizome as a philosophical concept is unique to Deleuze and Guatarri, there is much comparable to the thinking of Jacques Derrida.

Derrida explores certain questions which fit in a most uneasy way into institutional realms. He talked of things such as the gift, forgiveness, friendship, hospitality, and (though reluctantly) love (among many other topics). His line of thought on all these topics bears striking similarities. It often goes something like this (using forgiveness as an example):

  • Forgiveness is necessary.
  • Forgiveness is impossible.
  • The impossibility of forgiveness does not remove it from the realm of the possible.
  • The impossibility of forgiveness imbeds it in our desires, making it not only possible, but impossible to not be possible.
  • The impossibility possibility of forgiveness can never be realized through relations of sovereignty, or through relations that are institutional.
  • The impossible possibility of forgiveness can only be realized through encounters/events which are outside of the realm of sovereignty.
  • The impossible possibility of forgiveness can best be realized through encounters/events where faces meet faces.
  • The impossible possibility of forgiveness can never be truly realized. All these possible, impossible possibilities are prefaced by the idea of the “perhaps”. Perhaps, they are impossibly possible. No guarantees whatsoever – just perhaps.
These ideas are seen as Derrida discusses the idea of forgiveness within the context of apartheid in South Africa. He suggests that sovereign powers can never forgive. They can assist in making restitution. They can create contexts where understandings can occur. But, they cannot create forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that must come from near-the-bone, from flesh-and-blood. It must be connected to human hearts in relation – if it is possible at all, perhaps.

Derrida felt a strong connection with Deleuze’s thought. He stated, upon Deleuze’s death:

Deleuze undoubtedly still remains, despite so many dissimilarities, the one among all those of my “generation” to whom I have always considered myself closest. I have never felt the slightest “objection” arising in me, not even potentially, against any of is works…

Derrida (2001) p. 193.
Derrida left room for institutions. However, the relations between institutions and things such as the gift or forgiveness are primarily relations clearly in some future. As in his “democracy to come”, the institutions of this day are not able to carry rhizome, are not able to openly and joyfully face such goods as forgiveness and the gift while refraining from doing injustice and violence to them. All of this possibility in the future was prefaced by the idea of “perhaps”.

Derrida believed that the future can only be discoursed within the framework of the “perhaps”. These thoughts, as outlined above, bear significant connections with Deleuze. The world Derrida describes is one where the circulation, the bringing to light of certain goods occurs in places that he describes as beyond sovereignty. He describes locations for goods like forgiveness, the gift, friendship that are outside of institution and within places that look strikingly like rhizome.

This is what I call the ‘democracy to come’. In the radical evil of which we are speaking, and consequently in the enigma of the forgiveness of the unforgivable, there is a sort of ‘madness’ which the juridico-political cannot approach, much less appropriate. Derrida (2004), p. 55. In all the geopolitical scenes we have been talking about, the word most often abused is ‘forgive’. Because it always has to do with negotiations more or less acknowledged, with calculated transactions, with conditions…

Derrida (2001), p. 39.
Image #2 -- Gift Exchange

The human services realm has built its edifices upon the ground of deficit and problem. For monies to flow, for work to be created, deficits must be produced and people must be reduced to prescribed descriptors of lack. This system or edifice feels fixed and prevailing.

Those who enter human services institutions, in their entering must go through a filtering process of assessment and intake. They are to be sifted through words and phrases, previously designated and professionally-determined words and phrases. However, for the filtering process to be effective the object which is to be filtered, that is the person entering the human service institution, must first be pulverized. He/she must be disassembled into minute fragments/particles. Some of these tiny pieces are then caught in the filtering process. Most of the disassembled person simply washes through and evades the filtering process. These remaining pieces are reassembled. People are reassembled. This time the new assemblage is a mini-institution, but it is a defective mini-institution, an inadequate and weakened hierarchy, an organization clearly broken and lacking.

How tragic is this tale? How limited and lifeless are the recreated assemblages?

However, this is not simply a story of oppression and tragedy; it is at the same time a story of impotence. These processes of negation emerging from the institutions of human services are unable to access the vitalities of life, those lines which open flows of change and hope. Change does not occur along these lines. Productive human living does not occur along these lines. These processes of lack and deficit simply open doors which enable money to flow, and usually the flows of money are most slim. These processes do nothing to encourage the production of the good life.

The world of deficit inevitably succumbs to its own language. It produces its own return of deficit, and it brings it upon itself. The administration of deficit within human institutions cannot but instigates its own demise.

The Gift

In turning from this realm of deficit, I am suggesting a certain re-turning emerges – a returning to the movements of life and community, a rhizome re-turn. We all know this turning; it is an exchange; it is a repetition and returning of exchange. It is a realm where gifts flow. It is a realm where things and goods, where affections and passions, where compassions and kindnesses, where moments of life and hope turn in exchanges, from hand to hand, voice to voice, heart to heart. Not simple turns, no easy circles, just turbulent turns, exchanges that move along complicated rhizome lines.

The gift-exchange has often been associated with aboriginal peoples. In the Pacific Northwest coast from Washington State, through British Columbia and Alaska, the gift-exchange was often associated with the cultural activity of the potlatch. This was an activity where communities which were often in the midst of conflict came together and gave gifts. However, this was not an exchange of gifts like anything the Western world was familiar with, for these gift-exchanges were processes of utter abundance. Each community gave in outrageous plenitude. There seemed to be a certain competition of giving. Who could give the most?

These potlatch ceremonies were outlawed by the colonizing powers in both Canada and the United States. Many believe these ceremonies were outlawed for religious reasons. These ceremonies were not Christian and thereby undermined the role of the church. I doubt that this was a significant reason for outlawing the potlatch ceremonies, however. The first contacts by the colonizing powers, at least those contacts that the governing authorities would have been concerned about, were not the religious institutions but the traders, those with economic motives. I suggest that the potlatch ceremonies were outlawed because they were seen as undermining of the economic purposes of the colonizing powers. This is clearly seen in these words by Charles Darwin as he contemplated his encounters with aboriginal peoples of the New World. Darwin stated:

They are the most unfortunate men in the world because of the perfect equality that reigns among individuals... Actually, if anybody gives one of them a piece of cloth, he tears it to pieces and everyone else has his part. No one can be richer than his neighbor...

It seems impossible that the political situation will improve until a chief invested with enough power appears. On the other hand, such a chief will not appear until these people acquire the idea of property, which would enable them to manifest superiority and increase power.
The gift, and its circulation in rhizome realms, is frequently seen as in conflict with the movements of institutions.

I must emphasize that the gift-exchange is not something that is limited to aboriginal worlds, it is connected to all people, it is necessary for human survival. It may be marginalized in certain realms, but it cannot be removed from our worlds in its entirety. Historically, the world of gift-exchange was something that was belittled and marginalized by institutional powers. It was something seen as belonging to a world of women and heathens. It was something which may have been required but it was not viewed as an important activity, it was not perceived as of the movements of men -- white, Western men, preoccupied with power, ambitious in institutions.
In spite of its subjugation, the gift is still turning in all our worlds. Imagine that you are walking on the street and you run into an old friend who you haven’t seen in years. What do you do? What do you do instinctively, without conscious thought? Most people immediately engage in gift-exchange. They exchange words of greeting, they exchange hugs, handshakes. They invite further connection, going for coffee, or meeting for lunch. Gifts immediately begin to circulate, and they circulate in abundance.

Imagine instead what would occur in the meeting if one of the parties behaved in a manner similar to that which is required within the human service industry. Imagine in the meeting that instead of exchanging gifts, one of the parties immediately examined the other person, looked her up and down, searching for fault, searching for deficit. This activity would not simply halt connection it would in all probability force disconnection and dissention.

The gift-exchange is all about relationship. Deficit identification, problem description do the opposite, they engender disconnection and isolation.

Two Economies

In order to bring to light the movements of gift-exchange within communal life I compare two forms of economy.

An expected, moderate, measured, or measurable gift, a gift proportionate to the benefit or to the effect one expects from it, a reasonable gift… would no longer be a gift; at most it would be a repayment of credit, the restricted economy of difference, a calculable temporization or deferral. If it remains pure and without possible appropriation, the surprise names that instant of madness that tears time apart and interrupts every calculation.

Derrida (1992), p. 147.
The idea of a gift economy seems to me important, the idea of an economy in which things move, continue to move, circulate in their excesses and heterogeneities, contrasted with economies in which wealth, money, and time are stored up, producing commodities for possession and exchange.

Ross (1996), p. 19.
One economy is named by Ross as the restricted economy. It is called restricted because value in these types of exchanges resides in restriction. Value is found in things which are restricted, things such as gold, or real estate in Vancouver or New York City. In the restricted economy value is even found in professions which are the most restricted, where entry into these professions requires the highest cost, the most valued sacrifice, and where entrance is permitted only to those with what is considered the highest educational accomplishments.

The other form of exchange is the gift-economy. In this economy value rises not in restriction but in abundance. Those things which are the most abundant are the most valuable.

I compare these two economies.

Economic Actions

Property ownership and protection
Keeping Property in movement

Not about giving – that is more akin to charity
Emphasis on responding to the gift of the other not on the giving of the gift

Economic Quantification

The world is a place of scarcity
hoard and protect

The world is a place of abundance
So give

Economic Processes

Define the numerical ‘value’ of things (value as a mathematical term)

Expand and enhance the capacity of things

Economic Purposes

Acquisition and accumulation


Human Economics


Emphasis on the worth or value (or more typically, the lack of worth or value) inside human bodies and communities

Emphasis on the gifts and potential gifts circulating within the lives and relationships of people.

What if we were to think of the work of human services as gift-exchange? How would the work look different? What would happen to the work of assessment? How would the flows of money move in response to gift rather than deficit and problem? How would the ‘therapeutic’ work change? How would those realms of human services with certain police-like roles (such as child-protection and corrections) look with an orientation around gift-exchange? How would medicine, education, psychiatry, psychology operate when taking seriously the gift-exchange? While gift-exchange and the purposes of institutions may seem quite at odds, somehow, through this mess, through all the challenges, the gift-exchange gets through, it leaks through, and repeatedly so.

Through those impossibilities that Derrida alludes to, through the arborescent restraints that Deleuze describes, through a virtual wall of tree-like hinderances, the gift, in its rhizome movements still influences the work of human services, and it does so repeatedly and in abundance. It is these points of leakage, these break-throughs, these breaches in the code whereby the gift is able to emerge wherein we discover the how-to(s) of gift-exchange in institutional contexts. Pay attention to the leaks, it is there where the Alive springs forth.


We propose that the gift-exchange is an essential process in communal life.

We also suggest that effective work in the human services realm, work that is productive, that acknowledges and leads toward the living of the good life, is work that honours the rhizome movements of gift-exchange within people’s lives and communities.

John McKnight has for many years been one who challenges the human service industry. He is also one who utilizes a language of gift in his talk of other people, in his talk of those he works with, interacts with. According to McKnight:

To the degree that all of society is committed to and interested in fixing people, it creates huge and increasingly burdensome and increasingly tyrannical institutions intervening in the lives of people, when what we needed was a community that saw their gifts and said, those gifts need to be given.

A return to Bateson -- to Bateson’s crab shell. How do we know that this came from something that is Alive? Are we able to see those lines of Alive as they move in communal, rhizome ways? I am proposing that the Alive, the communal Alive, lives and moves in rhizome places, amidst lines of connection, complex and diverse lines which connect to numerous other people, places, animals, things, relationships, etc. Within these lines of connection, these rhizome tangles, Alive emerges. And, the Alive emerges not just in the rhizome place, but within the complexities of gifts as they traverse along these rhizome lines. Gifts -- there to be received, there being given, there to pass through the giver and receiver, awaiting response, awaiting return and exchange.



Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and Nature: a Necessary Unity. New York: Bantam.

Deleuze, G. (1987). The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G & F. Guattari (1983). On the Line. New York: Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, G. & C. Parnet (1987). Dialogues. New York: Columbia University Press.

Derrida, J. (1992). Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (2001). The Work of Mourning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (2004). On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. New York: Routledge.

Derrida, J. (2005). Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. New York: Fordham University Press.

Miller H. Hamlet. Paris: Correa.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Politics of Becomings

On Snakes and Faces

Part I: The Snake

Today I spent time at a First Nation’s school where I work a couple of mornings most weeks of the school year. While there, I sat with one particular boy and we drew pictures. In order to be with him and to be able to draw together with him, I had to resist the solid, stratified, knowledgeable and confident; those places where institutions institute, where state-like structures and priest-like authorities situate things -- all things -- into fixed and proper locations. I had to put these locations aside, and the feelings, the thoughts, the instructions that so easily accompany these locations. Instead, I went with this boy to the most surprising places. Let me tell the tale.

I asked this young man to draw something for me, anything whatsoever. I gave him the drawing pad I carry with me. He quickly drew a pattern, then he stopped, looked at it, and was about to turn the page. He seemed to want to flee the page, as if a mistake had been made, as if another educational inadequacy had just been created by his hand. Probably one mistake in a long line, even for that very day. I stopped him and said that this was a beautiful pattern. I told him that I really liked it. He looked again at the image. Then he put his face down near the paper, as if breathing into the pencil marks, and he drew a small squiggle just beneath the larger, “beautiful” pattern. He looked at me with light beaming from his eyes, saying, while pointing at the little squiggle, “This is a snake,” then pointing to the larger pattern, “and he is breathing fire.” The squiggle became a snake, and the larger pattern above became fire breathed from the snake’s mouth.

This drawing was no longer a pattern and a squiggle, it became what Gilles Deleuze calls a becoming-animal, more specifically, a becoming-snake -- one that breathes beautiful patterns of fire.

Again, I had to put aside the defined movements that attend the professional’s work. I had to move beyond, to somewhere else. For, I asked nothing of meaning, nothing of hidden meanings, nothing of theories applied. I did not want to join in the throwing of some opaque paint upon the child, covering him up and making invisible any unique ways of seeing, hearing and moving in his world. I also asked nothing of metaphor, and nothing of the typical this-means-that.

Instead I entered with the boy into the becoming-snake that burst from the page, the becoming-snake slithering and constricting and breathing fire from within the boy’s most alive eye. And, the snake also became in my eye, and is still becoming, becoming with a determinist-destroying vengeance. Together we entered a world where snakes breathe fire, where enemies are in danger of catching ablaze, and the unsuspecting, who happen to be in the vicinity, might just become frightened right out of their skin. For, this snake breathes fire. Who would have thought?

That moment, has not left me, and I venture to guess it also has not left this boy. And, my own life is that much richer, because, before this day, I did not know that a fire-breathing snake would emerge, would become, out of a pattern and a squiggle. And, today, I saw it, with my own eyes. With my own eyes, and with the eyes of this boy, this snake appeared. It needed no mediation from film or book, it just appeared, in that moment, in that continuing moment, from a pattern and a squiggle. Yes, I am a richer man -- a bit singed and surprised, perhaps, but most certainly, richer man.

Part II: The Face

After the emergence of a fire breaking snake I suggested to the boy that I too would like to draw a picture, but, I needed his help. I told him I wanted to draw a face, but, it’s not so much me drawing the face, in a way we will do it together, under his direction. As I took the pencil into my hand, the conversation sounded like this:

“Do I draw a big nose or a little nose?”

“Um… A little nose, OK!

“Big eyes or little eyes?”

“Big eyes.”

“A smile or a frown?”

“A smile… No, no, no – make it a frown!”

“A little bit of hair, no hair at all, or a whole lot of hair?”

“A little bit of hair.”

Then, I placed eyebrows and a few other assorted lines upon the drawing. I turned the pad around and showed him the face that we created. Suddenly, looking at this face, his own countenance lighted up, he grabbed a hold of the drawing pad for a closer look, and then with eyes alive once again, he laughed out loud. Why? Because, before us both, a face became, and, in our continued talk of this face, it is still becoming. It is becoming, just like the fire-breathing snake became and is becoming.

The face, the snake, become, not into meanings and interpretations, but right into this face, this snake upon that particular piece of paper, within those precise eyes, in that continuing and boundary-less moment.

Part III: Education & Becomings

Why can it be so difficult for us to notice that education for such children repeatedly steals away their becomings? Not necessarily the movements of a specific teacher within a specific class, but Education with an upper-case “E.” I am not asking this question as a form of hyperbole or metaphor. No, I mean it much more straightforwardly -- Education steals away the becomings of these children, perhaps most of their becomings. For the world of education is not a place where snakes tend to appear from squiggles at the bottom of the pages. And, most of the time, these children know this, and many a spirit withers in retort.

The world of Education is, however, a place that will measure and judge squiggles and patterns. It will undoubtedly suggest appropriate and inappropriate sites for squiggles and patterns to be placed. I believe it is safe to say that squiggles and simple patterns do not add-up well in the educational realm – certainly not squiggles that become fire-breathing snakes. Now, in all fairness, fire-breathing snakes may indeed become visible in Education, but when they do, they tend to surface in well-placed categories such as fiction or make-believe or art. And, these are really the only places they belong. Interestingly, squiggles and patterns do seem to turn up in mathematics, but they appear not as lines of becoming, they appear as lines of representation, lines that stand in for other lines and types of lines, they are never lines that stand on their own, and certainly are not lines that can actually transform into something else.

While I have been moved today by simple squiggles and patterns, it is improbable that these lines would receive any value in modern Education. Even in those categories most favourable to squiggles and patterns and fire breathing snakes, such as the study of fiction or the practice of art, these specific lines, those drawn by this specific boy, and those drawn by my hand, would inevitably come up inadequate.

Those worlds where fire breathing snakes may come forth from squiggles and patterns are vigorously denied in favour of, not other worlds, but another World, a singular and divine World. This World is sometimes called reality, sometimes called God, sometimes called science, and can go by a long list of other names. Within this singular World, whatever warring version of it we find ourselves connected to, there are always categories, with places and assigned names, there are boundaries between things, clear boundaries that cannot and should not be crossed, and these things, these bounded things, all have their place within well-known, clearly-distinguished hierarchies. Tall and structured things like – a tree of life.

One of my nagging questions -- Why is this type of singular world not also seen as fictitious? Why is it not also seen as unreal, as removed from a sense of lived life? For, when one walks through the grass by the swamp, where we might have some hope of seeing a snake, we don’t see hierarchies and categories, institutionally marked boundaries and assigned names. No, we might, however, feel the soggy ground beneath our feet. We might sense the wetness of our socks and the heaviness of our running shoes. We may also get our pant legs damp from the morning dew on the grass. And, when we see a snake, if, coincidentally, we do see a snake, the chances are pretty good we won’t see something that intrinsically and obviously comes to us as a genus or a species. The chances are much higher, if we do catch a glimpse of a snake, we might, out of the corner of our eyes, see her lines as she disappears into places we cannot know. We see lines? Simple lines. Yes, lines that might just bear a close connection to the other lines we saw of pencil on paper.

For today, this boy and I actually saw a fire-breathing snake. It appeared from pencil lines on paper. We both saw this becoming-snake. We responded to, not a drawing, not a representation, but an actual becoming-snake. And, this difference -- between representation and becoming -- is, I believe, most significant.

We also both laughed. We laughed at faces that appeared before us. It was a laughter of recognition, of appreciation. We did not laugh because we recognized a similitude, a model, a copy, a likeness. No, we laughed because we saw faces, real faces. We saw the kind of faces that move people; that move people outside of any space of conscious purpose or intervention. For, today, this boy and I recognized faces, and they moved us, both of us together, in a pure communal moment, to an instant place of laughter.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Nomad War Machine

How to respond when a sense of war surrounds a person or a people?

How to respond when an authority assemblage is repetitively non-responsive to lives and communities, creating effects that are oppressive and damaging?

How to respond in ways that are not simply requests or demands for higher authorities to intervene and correct?

How to respond in ways that do not call upon a repetition of child/parent types of relationship when faced with intransigent authorities?

How to respond in ways that undo the sense of helplessness that often emerges when repetitively faced with such non-responsive authority assemblages?
Introducing the Nomad War Machine

The Nomad War Machine is a shifty and often disturbing image that is able to stir up a mass of intensities and thoughts. It is a concept presented by two French philosophers, Deleuze and Guatarri. I am proposing that the Nomad War Machine can be a significant, life-affirming image, particularly for those whose lives have been marked and remarked, constructed and reconstructed by modern authority structures.

The Nomad War Machine, certainly as we are describing it, and, I believe, as it is also portrayed by Deleuze and Guatarri, is not about making war, but it is about finding ways of responding when encircled by a sense of war. With this in mind, it is important to emphasize at the start that the Nomad War Machine has specific and limited contexts wherein it emerges and functions effectively. It is not to be a creation for all times and for all situations. We suggest that the Nomad War Machine comes into action in response to the violences and impositions associated with rigid and stratified authority assemblages. It comes into force in response to the destructive actions of immovable institutions upon lives and relationships.

Nomad War Machine – How Might it Move?

Following, I provide some thoughts specific to the movements of the Nomad War Machine.

· The Nomad War Machine is a concept used by Deleuze and Guatarri to describe a type of response to unmovable, stratified structures. It is about a responsivity that is akin to the flows and powers of liquids. It moves more like a river than a mountain, more like a flood than an earthquake.

· Continuing with the liquid picture, Nomad War Machines have little interest in "solving.” Problem-solving appears to be, generally speaking, and pragmatically speaking, mostly nonsense anyway. Mathematical metaphors, such as “solving” seem to hold little powers in most of real life. For those who create Nomad War Machines have reached the end of the road when it comes to problem-solving. However, the war machine is connected to processes of "dissolving.” Flows of liquids can dissolve much of what they encounter. Eventually whole mountains can get washed away, or a Grand canyon emerges in response to the dispersing forces of water. Again, Nomad War Machines are more likely to deal with obstructions through dissolving rather than solving.

· Not about goose-stepping armies and militaristic values and practices, but is about those “lines of flight” away from the rigidities and dehumanisations proceeding from institutional arrangements.

· Not an authorized structure, not a controlled and stratified thing, but a flow, a movement within rhizome lines.

· Is a communal rather than an individual response. Even when it appears like an individual event, the event can only function within a communal space.

· While the active movements of war have historically been limited to the realms of men, not so with the Nomad Wary Machine. An argument can be made that women, because of their historical exclusions from authority assemblages, just might be more familiar with the movements of the Nomad War Machine.

· More likely to be akin to a dance than a march.

· A machine, as in a virtual assemblage created and formed, not through bureaucracy and decision, but through response and passion. However, looking closely one can always find what looks like cogs and gears and other moving, mechanical-like things. Anyone who has ever loved a car, a motorbike, a boat, a sewing machine, knows that human passions can easily be connected to machinery. The instinctual move to consider anything associated with the language of machine as obviously cold and disconnected from humanity is a flawed and, I propose, even a dangerous one. Mchines come as flows from and along side the human creature. Also, most mahines, when they are running, are hot, not cold.

· While akin to the flows of liquids, the Nomad War Machine is also about nterrupting already existing flows. It is about the creation of restraining influences that interrupt currents proceeding from authority assemblages. The creation of flows that nterrupt flows.

· Emerges as a creative action – always a uniquely situated (or, more precisely, a uniquely flowing), non-replicatable, creative action of responsivity.

· Responsivity to life – that is, not to a pre-defined life, but to a life ‘felt’ through and within one’s communal movements.

· Also, a certain responsive awareness to the impositions of those things that operate in an anti-life manner.

· Understands and joins in the lightening movements and the competencies of chaos.

· Circulates around abundances rather than efficiencies.

· Not above manipulation – but not valuing manipulation.

· Not above or below honesty, but refrains from joining in the all-to-common, fetish-like pull that can accompany narratives of honesty.

The Nomad War Machine in Practice

We can easily think of some nomad war machines available within our mutual histories.

Think, for example, of Schindler’s List: not the state machinery of Nazi governance, nor the state machineries of the allied powers, but, the deceptive machinery, the nomad machinery of the list. This is a Nomad War Machine – distinct lines of flight, fleeing institutionalized violences, often in ways and means unpredicted, even unimagined. And, certainly, if one looks, the machinery, the cogs and the gears are evident.

Think also of the rapping movements of Mohammed Ali. Think of Ali floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Poetry in words. Poetry in motion. Looking nothing like any known institutional machine. Not anything like a militaristic structure, but an indomitable, Nomad War Machine none-the-less. This Nomad War Machine of Ali was not directed toward his boxing opponents. These were important participants in his game. His Nomad War Machine was in response to the racism and bigotry entrenched and supported within various American stratified assemblages. His movements twisted many common perceptions of race and prejudice, and pushed toward new forms of action and relationship. And, all this new-emergence often congealing within sight, open for viewing – but even so, not usually noticed, thereby escaping direct intrusion.

One can also think of the women in Chile, during the Pinochet regime, who danced alone and silently in the street. This in response to the men in their lives who were taken away by the Pinochet forces to never be seen again.

The Nomad War Machine -- we could go on forever giving historical examples. But, the most compelling Nomad War Machines assemble in everyday life, around us each day. However, they all too often go unnoticed. And, some of them must go unnoticed, for many nomad war machines, have created machinery, cogs and gears, that only work when beyond the gaze of prying eyes. It seems that many Nomad War Machines are hidden; they are secrets, perhaps never to be told, or perhaps to be told only at later times. Concealment is often a necessity for Nomad War Machines.

The Nomad War Machine? Think of Cass.

Cass’ Nomad War Machine

Cass knows how to open doors for people. In this chapter, she opens us up to a world that has been repetitively dehumanizing, for her as well as countless others. Cass embraces the language of the Nomad War Machine, and she does so with a compelling force. Her words, her stories, her tragedies, her humour, her language must stir people to action.

Cass will teach us about the Nomad War Machine.


Chris: Cass can you tell me about your experience under the auspices of the Ministry that is responsible for housing and supporting children in their care? Can you tell me a bit about your story?

Cass: Sure, when I was in care, I was in fifty-two foster homes, countless respite homes, three group homes, five bridging homes, two jails and two psych wards.

Ever since I left the Ministry I have wanted to see my file. I have wanted to know what people were saying about me through all those childhood and youth years. I had to request that file through the Freedom of Information Act. A whole bunch of red tape. Then, after a long period of time, I finally received, not a file at all, but a bunch of boxes. When I opened up the boxes I felt so let down. They were filled with paperwork, but almost everything in there had been blacked out. Somebody had gone through and blacked out almost everything in all the boxes of files.

I remember being at my mom's house in her living room holding a paper up to the light to try and read the blacked out stuff. On any given page there were, perhaps, a total of THREE lines that were not blacked out. What kind of info is that? This is my life and I should know what went on? Certainly they were hiding something, EVERYTHING, in fact. I am still really, really mad about this. When I questioned them about why my file was almost completely blacked out they said that it was to protect other parties involved. That's fine, but couldn't they change their fucking names? Why did I get NOTHING back about my fourteen years in care? Still to this day, I would like to challenge the Freedom of Information Act, and tell them that I was not awarded what I have a right to see. I am a living, breathing person, and I deserve to know all the details that happened to me. I only remember the huge things, but I know there are certainly many things from back then that I may have forgotten.

Chris: Almost everything was blacked out?

Cass: Yea, like everything but a few lines on a page. Sometimes there were a few words here and there that added up to being about three lines.

Chris: Tell me more about being in all these different homes.

Cass: Well, there were some that I felt really connected to. I liked the people, but when I was told that this was my home, I would become angry and want to ruin it, and so I did. Often I would never again see the people I had lived with and cared for, but one of them fought so much and got me back. I was so thankful, yet I became angry again and messed stuff up again.

Well, after this happens to you a few times, you figure some things out. First of all -- lesson number one! Don’t get to like the people you are living with. After a while it just becomes another home, no matter how nice or not the person may be. I just felt trapped at such an early age. It felt as if the life was being sucked out of me and I was helpless. That day when I would turn nineteen I would be able to have my life the way I wanted it to be. I remember so many of my friends could do things I couldn't do -- like have a simple sleepover. I remember when I wanted to have a sleepover I had to run away. Then I got reported as being AWOL and the police found me. What a fucking joke. I was a kid who wanted to spend the night at her friend’s house!! I wasn't some kid who thought running away was cool and fun and -- hey I want to ride in the back of a cop car and get arrested. Actually, I did become that kid eventually, even though I wasn't that kid at first. I found myself hanging out with those kids. Why, cause they were the war machine just as I was, but in a different way. I didn't fit in with them at all. I was a little smarter. Like, for example, I remember I was the only female in this one group home who wasn't pregnant.

So yeah, I got kicked out of homes in the beginning, then I found good ones and just thought I was going to get kicked out, so I had a strategy of getting kicked out ASAP!!! If I was to be kicked out, I wanted to say that it was because of me. This is one thing that I did -- I became the Nomad War Machine. I took the Ministry's power away and said: Oh yea… I can do it too! It isn't hard.

What IS hard, however, is for the workers, and even more for the system itself, to work with a kid, work with their allies and their community. It seems so dam obvious yet they were so blind to that. I had tried to teach them that for my entire stay in care and they still didn't see.

Chris: What do you mean?

Cass: Well, you do know some of the things I did, because you knew me back then. You were one of my bright-lights through my teen years.

Once I wanted to get kicked out BAD. This couple were harsh Christians and they told me they loved me every night. I didn't understand or believe it. But I was a kid and it didn't wash well with me. That is not real love they had. It was not deep seeded love. They used the word love to mean “care for”. And to validate this, when they had a baby they kicked me out because they thought that I was going to hurt it. BUT when they had that baby I felt like I could be a big sister again and that maybe they would be my family. So just as my defences dropped, I was let down.

I am giving the impression that everything was their doing. However, I was so offended by all of the bullshit, like their rules about how I should behave, and the expectation that I become Christian, like them – for example, they forced me to pray every day and go to Sunday school. Every time they pissed me off like that, I would do my own thing to secretly get back at them. For example, there was this nice looking lasagne in the fridge one night, and I put pieces of shit – that is real human shit – between the layers of lasagne, and then I actually watched them eat it. I remember laughing as they ate it.

Well, when they found out about this, I was out. No doubt! Now, I know this is gross, and people quickly thought I was mentally deranged, but, those people weren’t seeing what I was doing. My goal was to be moved from that residence, to destroy the placement, before I had to experience the indignity of them doing it to me. Well – it worked. Like a charm! I learned that there were many things I could do to cause trouble for them.

Chris: I am curious as to what you think of the words, Nomad War Machine? And, does it connect in any way with some of the actions you took back then? Was the lassangia story possible a story of a Nomad War Machine??

Cass: I was just a kid who was trapped in care. I don't like labels, or terminology or structure. However, this term, being more than just words, I do respect it. As far as the term connecting with actions that I made, I was always in enemy fire and had to find ways to survive. And, if you are going to survive, you need to make yourself some kind of a Nomad War Machine. I recently heard that kids in care these days are not aloud to use MSN to chat with friends because it's believed they will be easy targets for sexual-predators. The funny thing is... social services should be far more feared than a sexual predator.

Even the best of the best people in social services tend to often be useless because they would lose their jobs if they acted like real people. Some of these people did manage to keep in contact with me, however, and since I am no longer in care they have no fear of being themselves. It really sucks that I had to wait till I got out of care to enjoy these people.

You were one of these people, who even back then saw the system for what it was and joined my side to be war machines.

Chris: I guess… it seems like I should say “Thanks!”

Cass: No, you do not. Damn you.

Chris: Ha-ha...”THANKS!”

Cass: Oh, did you just Nomad War Machine me?

Chris: Yea, right!

I am interested also in what you think about the idea of the Nomad War Machine now, as you look on your current experience? Actually, before we move on to that, let’s fill the readers in to what your life is like now, and how you got to this point!

Cass: Well, after I left care I was basically homeless. I slept on people’s couches. Sometimes I slept outside, under an overpass or something to help keep me hidden from the public. Sometimes I would sleep in a stair-well.

Home is where the heart is, and for me, that was online. I administered my own particular site for many years, even back then, and when I had a home within myself, I took it down.

Through the years I have managed to become 1337 – ha-ha! Only a few people will understand what I mean by this.

And of course, now I have my own place, and all that is good.

These days my Monad War Machine is still active, but focussed on other things. I would like to take on social services again, as an adult... but I have so much work that I have little time to do that. I even have such little time for this meeting with you now. I need to do it, though. I would like to start up a website for stories like mine. Before I became so busy, as you know, I would help you with training groups and workshops. We, together, also with the others who helped… we are now a moveable and much larger Nomad War Machine. And, I have noticed the large systems like the Ministry can never keep up with us. They tend to be slow, and, in my opinion, stupid. Sometimes, for instance, when they moved me, I’m not sure they really had a reason. Almost like they are in the business of moving children around from home to home – don’t really need a reason. They might come up with one, but it seems that often there is no true reason.

Chris: Tell me about the breast story. I think that this might also connect with the idea of the Nomad War Machine.

Cass: When I was at this youth treatment centre for substance abuse, I was bored from time to time and would have “filler activities” I would make up and do. One of my familiar filler activities was to draw boobs in the centre of the viewing area, so that everyone (mainly the counsellors) would see. It was pretty failsafe until you came along – Ha-ha. Instead of freaking out, like everyone else did, saying nasty things behind my back, you asked me about them. You also asked me what else I drew and you realized that the boob drawing was my way of opening up... However, I was not going to open up to someone who would freak out over boobs.

Chris: Well, I remember these pictures all over the place. Boobs, boobs, everywhere! And, clearly, many people didn’t like this. I just noticed that many of these drawings were very well done. Also, I thought, it really isn’t a new thing for an artist to draw boobs. Breasts have been drawn since human beings learned to draw. Why are we bothered now? I also remember that very soon after that you showed me your other pictures. I still have some of them.

Cass: I had binders full of other drawings I had done, too. Some of them were sexual pictures also, but certainly not most of them. And even if they ALL were sexual, SO WHAT. I am still sick of uptight people. I find them to be very fake and gutless. It was so good to be able to show the pictures to you because not only did you appreciate them, you showed me ones you had done also, which were also very good.

Now looking back on it, this certainly was also part of my war machine. Draw pictures that will lead them to think I am screwed up somehow. And also, I really didn't care what those people thought, because the boob pictures and other things that I did were only ways to find the good people, who I could actually put my trust in. Drawing boobs – it was a call put out to anyone who works with people, to recognize that they need to become people too -- if they’re even going to dream of being helpful for anyone else.

By the way, I still draw boobs.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On These Rocks

For a moment, I want to remember a fragment of last summer. We were down upon the shores of Galiano Island, British Columbia...

Feet... on these rocks.

Upon incising barnacles and slippery seaweed one tends to walk with thought. And there -- everything happens. The world, perhaps at its most Alive, appears about, within, above and most of all, below. For it is below that the tiny shore crabs scuttle, the seaweed awaits the returning tide, a million tiny creatures scatter and hide and hop, or immerse and descend. A jellyfish bundle lies on the pebbles, its days over, its nutrients gleefully devoured. So one treads carefully, for the world is beneath the feet, everywhere, but always down, always beneath the feet.

There, on these rocks, are also bigger creatures, creatures more like me. There is the heron off to the side, seemingly motionless, hunting, fishing, yet also watching to make sure I do not come too close. Seagulls to the other side, squabbling over something dead, something the recent tide just presented. One seagull sits still with most of a starfish hanging out of its beak. I wonder, is the seagull eating the starfish, or is the starfish choking the seagull. I frequently see seagulls and starfish in this predicament. And, out beyond, on the rocky reef, there are seven seals resting. If I move their way, they rise up, fourteen huge eyes all staring my direction. When my dogs accompany me, the seals are particularly curious. It’s as if they see the dogs as themselves; somehow, beyond all that is reasonable and logical, they see seals running on the land, keeping the company of people, and swimming quite badly (for a seal, that is). How odd, how utterly non-canonical this must appear.

And people are never absent. There is always an assortment of marine traffic. Small boats coming and going in and out of the pass, for pleasure, for fish, to reach some destination. Also larger, working vessels: ferries, tug boats and barges, commercial fishing boats, and further out in sea – container ships coming from China, cruise ships heading to Alaska. Closer at hand, not ships, but bodies, children and dogs, playing together, on these rocks, moving at the same speed. Sticks thrown, sticks retrieved, sticks not released until another stick is thrown. They all together check out the dead jellyfish, dogs’ noses right in the decay. Rocks are turned-over, shore crabs are gathered up, brought over in plastic buckets to a newly created tide-pool city. The crabs are apparently ‘citizens’ of this metropolis. I presume the children are rulers, or city managers of some sort. But, the crabs don’t cooperate; they find the first available crevice, the first dark place, where they attempt to disappear. These crabs have no interest in being citizens. But that’s alright to the children, for they just turn over some more rocks and collect more citizens. Soon the tide will return and this ‘metropolis’ will become an Atlantis, will return to the sea, and the crabs will find their peace.

A raven flies over, two of them. It is as if they were checking us out. Island security guards. Better not be caught in one’s sins – not by the raven. Better not find oneself on the raven’s bad list! Would he punish with a curse or a joke. ? With eyes turned up, I trip. I produce my own curse. I am cursed, cursed by a raven. I check my barnacle-scarred knee. For now, not only is my heart within this place, not only are my desires down by the water’s edge, but there is blood, there is my blood, down by this sea. For a moment, within a simple moment, all of life scurries in response, and my blood leaves a stain, just a small stain, down upon these rocks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A People Who Do Not Yet Exist

Honouring the Work of Lynn Hoffman

There is no work of art that does not call on a people who do not yet exist.

Gilles Deleuze

I imagine a work, I imagine myself into a work that is distant from the therapeutic milieu; that is, it is not about fixing-the-broken, but it is about, and, I might add, perhaps primarily about, calling "on a people who do not yet exist."

A few thoughts on this work.

This work is not about instituting an intervention, plying our trade and our tricks toward 'community-building' for predetermined ends. For that work is still squarely within the therapeutic assess-and-fix mode; that work is about structuring a team toward assessing-and-fixing. The work I am imagining is about the calling of a people around a moment, an event, an exchange of gifts; a calling on a people who are able to move in response to the moment, the event, the gifts given. And, we don't do the calling. We don't do the gathering. The calling and gathering transpire in response, always in response. We may bear witness to it, we may be part of it -- in fact we will be, we must be – but we do not generate it, we do not manipulate it.

"A people who do not yet exist" is in no way referring to a lack, an oedipal grief to be lamented and exorcised away. The "not yet" suggests no lack at all, but rather a constant becoming; with every moment, every event a new people is becoming. And, this "people" is in no way static, can never be stopped in its becoming to be measured or delineated, for it is in continuous flow and mutation, and it is continuously coalescing around specific moments and events. As Deleuze says of art, so also, this work I am imagining invites and witnesses ongoing becomings of peoples. And these are not simply virtual becomings, though ghosts and dreams and hazy presences will doubtless be in attendance, these will also be flesh and blood becomings -- becomings with breath and response, with faces and hands.

In imagining this work, I am not imagining a future work; I am imagining a work already here, and repeatedly already here. I think of a vast collection of memories within my own work, and I also think of the movements of others. But, particularly, I think of the work of my good friend, Lynn Hoffman.

Lynn… I see her as if she works in no other way, always connected to events and moments which call for a people. And I see the people, the peoples. I can seem them gathering in my own imagining, the faces and voices of a host of bodies, bustling together in response to gifts turning and returning. Lynn is there, in this midst, in the middle of it all. Lynn is there, not so much talking and listening, though she does that, but with a touching; a touching upon hands and shoulders, also between eyes and words. And, she finds that she is also touched -- touched on all sides, in ways that are beyond her own imaginings. These touches are rhizome touches, multiplying touches. This is my imagining of her work.

And the gathering continues. A gathering that Lynn calls on…

Tom Anderson

I think of the late Tom Anderson of Norway. I think of the language of 'reflection' that he gave, and he still gives so generously.

I imagine Tom talking of response. He sees response in the rhythms of bodies, into the movements of breaths. And, I hear him turning the common-place on its head. He talks of the newborn child teaching the mother and father how to care for her. I see him talk of his own dog. I hear him say: "Get a dog! And, let the dog teach you how to gently stroke it." These movements he describes, they are a complete reversal to all language of control that has dominated the therapeutic professions – the baby teaches parents; the dog teaches his master. Yet, in these movements of response and reflection a people gather, a people who previously did not exist. A continual gathering is called forth. The gatherings that form around Tom have been clearly evident in the history of family therapy, and can be seen in utter abundance. For example, even to try and map out the rhizome lines that have formed, and are constantly forming, around the idea of a "reflecting team" would be a complete futility.

When I think of Tom, I also think of Lynn. For, I met Tom, and I met Tom's ideas, in a most personal way, through my friendship with Lynn.

In January, 2006, Lynn and Tom were both at a gathering I helped to arrange in Bellingham, Washington. During this event there was a particular moment that occurred. I believe that anybody who experienced this moment could never forget it. Tom, in a movement toward honouring Lynn, entered into conversation with her, to talk with her of her work and her influence in the field of family therapy. We folded in a reflecting conversation as part of the experience. This event was a long time in the planning; we had hoped to do it the year before in England, but the opportunity never materialized at that time. In my remembering of this moment, it was not the content that returns, it was the tenderness, a quiet love shown between two leaders in the family therapy field, two people who respected and cared deeply for each other. I can still see kindness in the lines on Tom's face. And the very same lines upon Lynn's face -- lines of a significant symmetry. No originator, no leader, just reflected lines with history and love.

The story continues.

The Irish Fifth Province Group

I go back to the years eighty-nine and ninety, and my introduction to the work of the Irish Fifth-Province group from Dublin -- Imelda McCarthy, Nolaig Byrne, and Phillip Kearney. At that time I met them through Karl Tomm, in Calgary, Alberta. Through the years they have continued their journeys, moving at times to places unimagined, and to places that also can only be imagined. My personal connection with them, however, cannot be separated from Lynn Hoffman.

The rhizome lines around Lynn tend to tie people in beautiful ways. I met both Nolaig and Imelda again in the last few years in England and in Vancouver. I discovered that their stories, like mine, are significantly entwined with Lynn's. In my various encounters with them, they repeatedly voiced an admiration, and an appreciation and a love for Lynn Hoffman.

The Irish Fifth Province team told tales of comings-together, in places that were often poor and troubled. I remember the nun who became a radical feminist and lived with the people she worked with, right within their own housing centres. I remember the young woman who protested the system of tracking in the Irish education system, who called for a renewal of education within her own homeland. Even the television had to tell her tale. And, I remember the respect and love that they brought with them for the land, the sea, the music, the people, and the sense of beauty that seems to repeatedly emerge. They left me wondering if perhaps it is difficult to be Irish and not to create movements that in turn bring-together, create gatherings. I must talk with them about it, and I most certainly will – over a pint, of course.

I must share just a few words from Imelda talking about Lynn. These words come from an email she sent to me as I prepared this document_ I could share more, but it is not necessary, it says everything:

Lynn - she is part of the fabric of who we are - like she kind of formed us to move in the direction she did. We always referred to her as our Fairy God-Mother.

Harry Goolishian and Harlene Anderson

And in any case if one were to reply to the other without flinching; if one replied exactly, fully, and adequately; if one perfectly adjusted the reply to the question, demand, or expectation – would one still be replying? Would anything be occurring? Would an event happen? Or just the completion of a program, an operation that can be calculated? To be worthy of the name,shouldn't any reply have the surprise of some newness bursting in?

Derrida (2005)
p. 77.

Harlene Anderson

There are, of course, other rhizome lines that are treasured by Lynn. I think of Harry Goolishian and Harlene Anderson. I never had opportunity to meet Harry, but I have met Harlene, and the nature of our meeting seems telling – that is our first meeting. In the fall of 2006 I attended an event in Austin, Texas (what a terrific town Austin is). It was a recurring event that Lynn has been involved with from the very beginning. She talks of initiating this gathering along with Harry. Lynn insisted that I must meet Harlene. She saw rhizome lines that she insisted must be connected. Well, while in Texas, Harlene and I had numerous small interactions, many brushes of connection, and numerous joint attempts to try and connect up in a more prolonged conversation. However, the intensity of conversation that we both desired was not to be. And why? It was obvious to me! For, wherever Harlene went, a people formed, rhizome lines just pulled together. Harlene and I could not meet alone. That was not to be, at least, not at that time. And, my appreciation for Harlene is stronger because of it. For, I saw a work put forth by Harlene that bore a resemblance to the work of Lynn's. I saw that both Lynn and Harlene, in their interactions, form a "people who do not yet exist". That's what they both do. That's why I was not able to meet privately with Harlene in Austin. However, in subsequent times, Harlene and I were able to connect, and the connection felt meaningful.

Also, Harlene and Harry talked repeatedly of taking a stance of "not-knowing". And, this was not a ruse, not a manipulation; this was a position of understanding, a position where one truly did not know. After all, how could we possibly know? In a world where abundance constantly tiptoes through our every move, it seems just plain sensible to appreciate the impossibility of knowing.

Keeping in mind Harry and Harlene's emphasis on not-knowing, I think of the image of Lynn at work, in conversation? Lynn clearly doesn't know, and she knows she doesn't know, so she walks through the event as an experimenter, not a knower. She will often have a sense that comes to her, amidst the conversation, as if flowing to her through underground channels, rhizome channels of course. These senses often appear as images, and sometimes as cryptic sayings. When one of these senses comes to Lynn, she often most tentatively puts it out to those she is in conversation with. She puts it out in such a kind-hearted, not-knowing way. And yet, there seems to be something that at times is so delightfully brazen about this. This, of course, necessitates a story, a story very closely connected to me. Lynn loves to tell this tale, so I'll let her.

I sat in on a weekly conference attended by a group of men who were in charge of homes for troubled youth. They were all bikers and had vivid tattoos winding up their forearms. Not having been introduced, I felt like a foreign object, but I sat and listened with interest. A large dog under the circular table kept going from one set of feet to another, finally settling on mine. At this point, the leader of the group, still without introducing me, asked me for my opinions. I said that what had most impressed me was their tenderness.

Then I ventured something outrageous: I said "To me, you are just a bunch of fairy Godfathers."A moment of appalled silence, and then the group burst into a huge roar, looking especially at the leader, the one who had the most impressive tattoos. Luckily he was laughing too. This man and a colleague came to our community meeting the next day and commented powerfully on their past experience of class prejudice from persons in social service agencies. But what most caught my eye was a small tag pasted on the shirt of the leader, saying "Fairy Godfather."

Hoffman, in Kinman (2006), p. 6.
This is what might happen when Lynn doesn't know. She may receive some sense through an underground channel, then, she may audaciously put it out there for the rest of us to see, here and touch. And, so often, in response, beauty and pure delight emerge. Lynn cherishes each of these unfoldings, each emergence. She treasures all these things as gifts, as precious gifts,transported upon unseen rhizome lines.

And Lynn gives... not a gift of an extraordinary therapist (which she is), but the gift of a becoming, of becomings, of people becoming, coming together, gathering in response. When Lynn talks we smile, we laugh, we say "yes, yes, and of course, of course", and we become, something other, not a new person but a people, a new people, a people who do not quite yet exist. It is this becoming people which constantly gathers and re-gathers in connection with Lynn.

I now can imagine a work which is not aimed at changing the person, or parts of the person, it is, rather, a work which stirs together, creating a people. I now can imagine a work which transforms not souls, but rooms and worlds, which clears spaces where souls can gather, and do gather. And a people become.

Thanks Lynn...

Derrida, J. (2005). Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. New York: Versa.

Kinman, C. (2007). Confluences: Politics of the Gift in an Institutional World. Abbotsford, British Columbia: C. Kinman & Associates Ltd.

Lynn Hoffman together with Tom Andersen in Bellingham, WA, USA, 2005
Photo by Janice DeFehr