A Rhizome City

Saturday 3rd September, 2016

We bought museum cards and visited the Maritime museum. I want the children to access the heritage of this city. They enjoyed the Maritime museum a lot as there’s a large ship from the Golden Age docked beside the museum proper, on which to explore. There was an amazing virtual tour of the Amsterdam settlement on board. We saw the landscape of the canals as they were still being built. We saw how they drained the water away with windmills and sandbagged to create more landmasses. We saw the docks with the ships arriving from the New World. It was quite vivid and fascinating. Amsterdam really is an engineering feat. A ‘rhizome city’ as French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guittari suggest in their fascinating book A Thousand Plateaus ‘…a city entirely without roots, a rhizome-city with its stem-canals…’ They posit the canal system as a replacement tree apparatus whereby the canals replace roots, facilitate the flow of water as an agent of material force and transformation. Their whole philosophical apparatus is dependent on this conceptual rupturing of a root-system, like patriarchy. Water surfaces as a metaphor for human human becoming in their work, as a kind of antidote to indoctrination through fascistic networks of power. 

Deleuze and Guittari are particularly interested in the micro-political actions against fascism that can be embraced by the people against established networks of power. Dutch fascism stems from the imperial past, which is not entirely erased from the culture by any means, though which has increasingly come under review in Holland. I must admit that at the Maritime museum I found it rather bizarre that in the main exhibition there’s a sense of Dutch imperial self-righteousness that proliferates. I mean there wasn’t a self-reflexive critique of colonialism at all in the commentaries, which one would expect. This is rather problematic. Apparently, the Tropenmuseum is a good deal more critical of the Dutch imperial past. We will check it out as a family soon on our planned regular weekend museum visits.

The proposition of a rhizome city can perhaps be interpreted as a place where metamorphoses is more possible. The notion that multiple becomings can be brought about here in Amsterdam above other places is a revolutionary idea for me. The notion that a proclivity of water ways might bring about a more ebullient way of being is meaningful. I wrote a poem ‘O Amsterdam’ about riding on my fiets along the canals belts in the Jordaan with the rising sun. It felt so liberating. I rode to the Amstel river, which runs right through Amsterdam. It is quite magical to stand on the bridge looking over the waters glistening when the city is quiet.  

It is very apparent when flying over the city that Amsterdam is really a swamp, all be it, an extremely highly cultivated and well mapped out one. The weather is so humid in summer too, which is surprising. Of course, it makes sense because of all the water. The canals are regularly flushed so as to avoid the water stagnating. Apparently, the canals are clean enough to swim in and there is an annual swim through the canals called Amsterdam City Swim. Volunteers swim 2000 meters through the canals of Amsterdam to raise money for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It’s an admirable thing to do. But, who knows what’s lurks at the bottom of those thoroughfares of seamless brown. (Likely a lot of fietsen as the Dutch say!)