gopher is not a rhizome (what the fuck?)

October 22, 2020 — Brynn

I pkill'd Firefox a couple hours ago, right before I started writing this. Gonna try going without it for a few hours more (or so) afterward, for the explicit purpose of reading xj9's Walkaway Handbook in its entirety (finally) and hopefully looking around Geminispace for a while afterward.

Roommate and I had a great conversation yesterday evening (before I started drinking). I was telling her about how Gemini doesn't support inline links, by design. That is, it doesn't inherit Gopher's incredibly rigid distinction between groups/tables of pointers and the body/contents of the page[1], but it deliberately disallows links within lines/paragraphs, both to make implementation easier and in pursuit of some ideal of "clean, precise" information delivery. She was absolutely horrified at the Gopher thing, and somewhat less horrified at the Gemini thing, because it means that neither of them is rhizomatic.

I should explain: a rhizome is a concept from Deleuzian-Guattarian philosophy that encodes multiplicity, which is another concept I don't understand well enough to explain to another layperson. (It's not that critical for getting a surface understanding.) The aspects cogent to this conversation are that rhizomes:

  • are composed of multiple parts operating in a shared context
  • are (or can be) totally self-referential: "any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be" (A Thousand Plateaus)
  • deny hierarchy; rhizomatic entities exist in contrast with 'arborescent' (tree-like) entities
  • deny modeling or mapping in any internally consistent way (something something incompleteness theorem or whatever); the rhizome is also its own map

By these definitions, pretty much any hypertext system (the Web, Gopherspace, and Geminispace being only a few examples) can be said to be rhizomatic, at least on a macro scale. Indeed, the Internet as a whole is intensely rhizomatic[2]. That said, the relative fine-grained versatility of HTML (shit like intra- and inter-document links being as small as a single character, and embedded inline with no privilege over the rest of the page) makes rhizomality far more idiomatic to it than to Gopher or Gemini (but especially Gopher) on a micro level. Gopher asserts a very definite hierarchy of the map over the body; there are end-runs around this, but they're ugly. Gemini--which, funnily enough, is constructed as something to sit squarely between Gopherspace and the Web--fits in a grey area: it has no construct analogous to Gopher's map, but still encodes a hierarchical distinction between text and link (albeit a much looser one: the hierarchy is one of functionality moreso than one of structure, as a link is simply more powerful than an element of plaintext, and an element of plaintext cannot be a link).

I don't have much more to say about this as yet, but I absolutely need to come back to this once I've more thoroughly internalized the rhizome. That's the fun thing: my analysis of societies/culture has been as a rhizome, in so many words, for a long time, but it wasn't until I read a bit of Deleuze that I realized I had basically reinvented 10% of the concept in my efforts to understand the hellscape we live in. What I really need to do, now, is sit down and give Capitalism and Schizophrenia a full and complete read (or at least its second volume, A Thousand Plateaus, which people talk about a lot more than Anti-Oedipus).

[1] In Gopher, I'm told this led to some really ugly hacks, like people encoding the body of the page as one massive map (table of pointers), where each line of human-readable text is sent as an entry in this map with no destination associated with it. Kinda like a table of contents, but the table is the contents. This made me laugh really, really, really hard when I first read about it. It's just really meta.

[2] The Internet also encodes the "principle of asignifying rupture" in a very living and breathing way, as well as more general notions of heterogeneity and 'heterarchy.' You'll have to look those up.

Tags: personal, philosophy-and-english