In this class we will take the Platonic topos of man as an inverted tree (homo arbor inversa) as a point of departure and argue that we should rethink how we construe plant life vis-à-vis animal and human life. There are many ways of knowing plants, from "Gardeners' Questioning Time" to bioengineering. However, all these ways of knowing reduce plants to entities providing resources (food, oxygen, medicine) or giving pleasure. We empathise with animals but we have lost the culture of seeing the world from the plant's perspective. Knowledge of plant-animal communication is mostly generated in the field of pest control, and few scientific studies look at the interaction between humans and plants as both agents.
While pharmacology and dietetics have scrutinized the dependency of humans on plants, ecocriticism and environmentalism have largely subscribed to the narrative that we must protect plants, thus further incapacitating plants. We will trace an emergent idea in ecocriticism that challenges that narrative: the notion that seeing the world from the plant's perspective, and, consequently, imagining phytocentric perspectives on humans, can radically question what we know about the natural world. Our examples for that emerging field come from poetry and literature more generally, and we will critically assess the contention that innovative metaphors and similes are best suited for imagining plant life as a life with agency. We will discuss attempts to construe knowledge from a phytocentric perspective in the poetry of Erasmus Darwin, John Clare, and Alice Oswald. Ultimately, though, these thought experiments in poetic form are discussed as forays into a (largely) forgotten plant-human relationship that could be at the heart of imagining new ways of knowing the natural world and rethinking about what it means to be human as we enter the anthropocene.
- Dozent/in: Felix Sprang