“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

The Secret Life of Plants: Cohabitation (Jane Bennett)

"It Is to the Vegetable that We Always Come Back" (quotation from Bergson)
Sympathy. Pine needles, two Henris, climbing plants and two Darwins: these are my inspirations.
Apersonal or onto sympathy.
Thoreau and pine needles. "Solitude" chapter of Walden. "I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion..."
"Sympathy with the fluttering alder...almost takes away my breath"
"Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me..."
What is this cross-species-philia?
"Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?"

A shared and lively materiality: berries he ate, detection of counterpart in the plant's outside.
Song of Myself: "esculent roots"
Sympathy as natural force of earth: not an emotion but a vast impersonal network of affinities or attractions strung between or around bodies.
By no means sovereign.

The site of sympathy not the human mind or body. Thoreau: it is at large like gravity or a viral contagion.
Whitehead: there is no element in the universe capable of pure privacy.

Cross-body physics. Doubling. Resounding. Paracelsus provides a language for this? Similitudes

But today, sound: resonances. Chiming with. Jives with the quivering of the leaves.
Langauge of shape? A resemblance of form or outer contour?

Thoreau's phenotype and the pine needle's pointiness...

>> lobe shape as the prototype of all animal or vegetable or mineral forms (droplet shape) (Thoreau)

onto-pluralistic form of sympathy; a non-Platonic form of co-optation
each pine branch: each human being as a complex compound
materials partly shared
vegetal elements in the plants: plants are not purely vegetable
Bergson: "no definite characteristic that distinguishes the plant from the animal...The differences are in the proportions"
Tendency to torpor and liveliness, motility, affect, awareness. The latter are asleep but can be roused, in plants.
Torpor always lies in wait for the animal
Elan vital: impetus anterior to the separation of the two kingdoms. An effort. Rudimentary, vague and diffused. Protean. Deeper than individual effort
"a continuity of genetic energy...It is as if the organism itself were only an excrescence"
Darwin: common ancestors

Bergson adds creativity to Darwin

activity of the common ancestor: vector, propulsive elan

late C19 critical vitalism. What is unique about man >> what is life in which man participates?
not quite material supplement
vs materiality that needs no accessory

Thoreau: what common ancestor might look like--the lobe
"Spring" chapter. Railroad embankment. Globules of water-sand. Nature splaying itself out. Each form (clay, sand, flesh) share a common prototype in the droplet. Nose as stalactite. "The confluent dripping of the face." Ditto vegetables. Drop falling out of a Protean viscous substance.

Botanical drawing: different from nature writing, the vital presence of apersonal sympathy

Darwin and climbing plants. 1861 essay on it. >> Bergson
Bergson: latency. Darwin: ubiquity of this movement. Darwin a more intense vector of onto-sympathy.
Six distinct powers of vegetal motility. (1) Getting into position. Clematis: leaves curl downward to grapple. (2) Response. e.g. to gravity. Tendril inclined soon bends upward even when secluded from light. (3) Light as cue, phototropism. Not just mechanical. (4) Revolving, no outward stimulus << youth and vigor. (5) Movements from contact with a body. (6) Coiling or tightening grip.

Darwin measuring out a loop of thread and tickling different parts of clematis with it. Plant's quest for free air: purosiveness. Spiral, hook and root climbers (tendril bearers). 12 drawings by George Darwin, his son. What does the botanical drawing do? Role played by it in history of plant natural history.

>> unlike narrative or classification it exposes similarities of shape partitioned by taxonomy. Shared capacities. Make onto-sympathy more real. We are also enmeshed in webs of antipathy and domination, but sympathy is a good way to start thinking about all this.

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