“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, May 3, 2013

Secret Life of Plants Liveblog: Animation Q&A

Brooke: at the place of boundaries there must be some preservation of difference at one time
This is a very way of thinking sympathy
What is the common ground on which these encounters take place
Laura's talk pushes back to the atomistic or molecular
Ancient notions of sympathy: nature as overarching transcendental whole
Without that how does the common ground get established? Through temporality, evolution
This came up in both talks

Can we be sure when we evolution that we are creating sympathies when in fact we might be perversely misaligning, and that misalignment is labeled sympathy?

Marks: it's a great suggestion but I don't think I have anything to say.

Szabari: the seed banks are not corporate but owned in part by the state. Legally it is protected.

Meeker: evolution in the context of incompletion. Coming to grips with the infinity of the empirical world. Contemplating and facing the problem of evolution.

Marks: There is something shared. Tension between creative evolution and evoltuionary instrumentality. Husbanding plants for human benefit.

Jane: If Laura and Whitehead are right, about creativity in processes, then it is a waste of time to save those seeds. Because the environment may not obtain later.

Marks: Try to sustain as many potentialities as possible.

Jane: But how do you know seeds are the thing you should save? It depends on the timescale.

Marks: We may as well, and also DNA. And also soil samples. Proliferate.

Jane: Bits of plastic?

Szabari: The fact that seeds can travel, generate automatically...we try to suspend botany at the moment of the aesthetic on the level of affect. How humans have let themselves feel when in contact or thinking about plants.

Jane: Just for the record, I'm not against saving seeds! But it just makes you think, it's not clear what we should be saving.

Meeker: But if time is open, it cannot be wasted. The seed helps us deal with that.

Q: relationship between language and materiality. Evoking Pierce. Molecules communicating. Sometimes resemblances seem material, sometimes they seem produced by figurative form of language. Versus the sense of difference.

Marks: I would say that in Pierce and Whitehead, there are no "wrong" signs. The mental associations that arise from smell are also signs. Ah, the smell of balsam fir... There is not really a hierarchy between material and mental signs.

Q: Intentionality, projection, metaphor. When you are citing behavioral botany talking about the firs. Not only did she or he want to claim communication but also to suggest that this act was the result of a decision. Analogy to meaning encoded in sweat. But of course we don't sweat as the result of decision but rather of physiological automatism. Pathetic fallacy as flawed: "ah now the plant is making a decision."

Marks: Rather than dismiss all these reactions as merely automatic...

Q: I wouldn't say "merely"--I don't want to reduce to the "mere"

Marks: Question of how you can say "decision." One way to do it: analogy between plant smell and human smell of fear. Cabbage has to measure likelihood of producing calls for help. Different possible outcomes. We could likewise say that our hormones make decisions.

Q: What I'm trying to get at is the dimension of projection involved there. It seems in a sense that there is an anthropomorphism. It suggests plants are more like us. But the more radical argument might be that in fact we are more like plants: a great deal of our operations are not decision based either. It is an interesting move on the part of that author.

Marks: Botanists surely know plants better than most of us.

Szabari: there is some slippage and provocation in scientific language. Scientists sometimes catch each other. The term "plant sentience" for instance. Plants exhibit neurological-like activity.

Brooke: botanists have something to tell us, but they are influenced by human concepts. The dimension of going back is important. There are different ways of imagining different relations. We can definitely learn things from scientists. But there must be multidirectional modes of displacement. Going to other cultures and times. Even different species of anthropomorphism can be destabilizing and create an ecstatic relation to our assumptions.

Meeker: The difference between text and visual becomes important. Solaris: the horror of going elsewhere and just confronting yourself. It could be the worst! Plant as strange. A source of horror but a compelling and fascinating oddness. Vision as a system of signs that allow us to approach the plant a bit differently.

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