A note for the advanced grad seminar on alchemy.
Thanks to Natasha Myers for pointing out Michael Marder's work, especially: Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming in 2012)
Here are extracts from essays. Shall we throw this on the possibles list for a Fall?
Vegetal anti-metaphysics: Learning from plants
I'm addressing this to PhD and Masters
Cont Philos Rev (2011) 44:469–489
Alluding to the heteronomy of plants, Hegel views the seed as ‘‘an indifferent
thing’’: ‘‘In the grain of seed [Samenkorn] the plant appears as a simple, immediate
unity of the self and the genus. Thus, the seed, on account of the immediacy of its
individuality, is an indifferent thing; it falls into the earth, which is for it the
universal power.’’59 We might add that the seed, entrusted to the randomness of
chance and the externality of its medium (the earth), maintains an ineliminable
possibility of being wasted, spread, or spent for nothing, the possibility that is
indicative of its freedom. But before the fall of the Hegelian seed into the earth, the
plant’s lack of individuality is cast in terms of the ‘‘simple, immediate unity of the
self and the genus.’’ Given that the seed’s self, relegated to the universality of the
element and of light, is always external to itself, this unity is, at the same time, a
disunity, a double indifference of the light and the earth to the seeds they nourish
and of the seeds to their self-preservation, their own fate, since they have no
intimate self to preserve. With this observation, we have stepped over the threshold
of Derridian dissemination, where the breakdown of the unity and identity of the
seed spells out the multiplicity it shelters even in the singular form: ‘‘…numerical
multiplicity does not sneak up like a death threat upon a germ cell previously one
with itself. On the contrary, it serves as a path-breaker for ‘the’ seed, which
therefore produces (itself) and advances only in the plural. It is a singular plural,
which no single origin will have preceded.’’60 In its singularity, the seed is already a
legion: whether spilled or spread, it is both one and many. Denoting animal and
vegetal modes of reproduction alike, it is, nevertheless, uniquely appropriate to each
animal and to each plant. The seed’s singular plurality, adopted by Jean-Luc Nancy
in his own thinking of community,61 thus, sketches out a model of justice
understood as the aporetic confluence of indifferent universality (‘‘seed’’ defying the
boundaries between species and even kingdoms) and attention to singularity (its
appropriateness to each).
The figure of the plant that, like a weed, incarnates everything the metaphysical
tradition deems to be improper, superficial, inessential, purely exterior, turns into
the prototype of a post-metaphysical being. Plants are the weeds of metaphysics:
devalued, unwanted in its carefully cultivated garden, yet growing in-between the
classical metaphysical categories of the thing, the animal, and the human—for, the
place of the weed is, precisely, in-between62—and quietly gaining the upper hand
over that which is cherished, tamed, and ‘‘useful.’’ Despite all the abuses to which
they are subjected, the weeds and, more generally, the plants will outlive
59 Hegel (2004, p. 323).
60 Derrida (1983, p. 304).
61 Cf. Nancy (2000).
62 Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p. 19).
(Marden 2011, p. 487-488)
Plant-Soul: The Elusive Meanings of Vegetative Life
Environmental Philosophy 8 (1): 83–99, 2011.
From nutrition, through assimilation and appropriation of the
other to the same, to the will to power: the chain of reductions to the
fundamental capacity of plant-soul winds on in an infinite regress to the
evanescent first principle, rendering every new term more metaphysical
than the preceding one. Nietzsche explains the latest and the most
vital link in the conceptual chain—the will to power—as a desire for
the accumulation of force, in the service of which the other has been
put: “The will to accumulate force is special to the phenomena of life,
to nourishment, procreation, inheritance—to society, state, custom,
authority” (1968, 367). The exuberance of vegetative life, its proliferation
is, thereby, metaphysically harnessed for a particular end, for the will to
power, desiring the accumulation of more power (more life). Nietzsche
does not entertain the hypothesis that the phenomena of life and,
among these, the vitality of plants often preclude the hoarding of power
because these living beings, like all the others, are the passages, outlets,
or media for the other, and because, more precisely, they are but the
intersections in the exchange of gases, or Fichtean “central points” in the
process of chemical attraction and repulsion. For, what if plant-soul and
plant-thinking let the other pass through them without detracting from
its alterity? What if they grow so as to play this role more effectively, to
welcome the other better? And what if all this is accomplished thanks to
the essential incompletion of linear growth that does not return to itself
but is, from the very outset, other to itself? What if, finally, this inherent
respect for alterity spelled out a key meaning of vegetative life?
Fichte, J. G. 1970. The Science of Rights, trans. A. E. Kroeger. London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul.
RESIST LIKE A PLANT! ON THE VEGETABLE LIFE OF POLITICAL MOVEMENTS
Peace Studies Journal, Vol. 5, Issue 1, January 2012
This brief article is an initial attempt at conceptualizing the idea of political movement not on the basis of the traditional animal model but, rather, following the lessons drawn from vegetal life. I argue that the spatial politics of the Occupy movement largely conforms to the unique ontology of plants and point toward the possibility of a plant-human republic emerging from it.