ficus elastica

ficuselastica2 2

I take a picture of the above rubber tree every day in hopes of capturing the arrested movement as it makes a run for the sun from under the shade of the olive trees. How mischievous this little “elastic fig” looks as it twists its scrawny trunk and tilts its slender neck. The image doesn’t show anything. This is the only vantage point where the line of (f)light is clearly perceptible. Yet there is too much foliage, making details difficult to distinguish from the background. And it’s back-lit in the worst imaginable way possible. Also in the best way possible because that area of overexposure is exactly where our elastic friend is trying to bend towards.

When I first noticed this slow-motion detour I thought to myself this is a Deleuzoguattarian “line of flight” in action. I know D&G would prefer a rhizome than an arboreal body but the latter can behave like the former sometimes, capable of exciting deterritorializations and circulations of intensities.  The little rubber tree deterritorializes by creating a map towards the sun around the neighboring tree that blocks its sunlight. This brings about a change in nature in the rubber tree, destratifying its familiar arborescent verticality into a serpentine trajectory. A becoming-snake of the tree. Not an imitation or a resemblance by any means, just a mapping.

Another way D&G would define this kind of movement would be a “line of flight (ligne de fuite).” Here’s how Brian Massumi defines fuite in his translator’s notes to A Thousand Plateaus:

FLIGHT/ESCAPE. Both words translate fuite, which has a different range of meanings than either of the English terms. Fuite covers not only the act of fleeing or eluding but also flowing, leaking, and disappearing into the distance (the vanishing point in a painting is a point de fuite). It has no relation to flying.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi. London; New York: Continuum.

The little tree is eluding certain death with this motion. A line of flight is almost always connected to the continuation of the body (“taken in its broadest possible sense to include ‘mental’ or ideal bodies”) almost always towards life, towards making new connections and deterritorializations. The idea is that it is (almost) always possible to make these escapes even when (seemingly) immobile, disconnected or unresponsive.

But what also strikes me about the word “fuite” is its nearly onomatopoeic quality (/fɥit/). Here is how it is pronounced. It’s a bit like someone just learning to whistle, a zipper being undone, a cartoon character vanishing into the horizon, a rubber band stretching to its limit and breaking. I keep imagining the rubber tree making this sound ever so slowly and imperceptibly over the course of however long it takes it to map its escape.

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