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I sink towards the floor


And am subsumed,
The heat of light in all its fury beats down upon me
But I am unmoving
A great bastion of shade
A grove of one.
And as I sink, miscanthus sinesis rises to meet me
As if to embrace me, caress me
With its ever loving touch,
Become me.
And as the silver grass rises from the ground
And I shrink towards it
And my thoughts begin to fade
I am confronted
Not with fear
But with empathy
And I embrace that which stands before me
Ontological violence is visited daily upon plants who release
biochemical signals of distress to one another but whose alien
ontology damns them to the peripheries of our utility-obsessed
ethics. This is inextricably linked to all forms of domination all
the characteristics deemed inferior by the project of Western
philosophy are projected onto the plant where they are the most
condensed and vulnerable to deconstruction. Marder 12:
[Michael, Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque
Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz]
The Life of Plants and the Limits of Empathy. Dialogue, 51, pp 259-273 doi:10.1017/S00
12217312000431
At this point, at the apex of natural beauty already verging on the ideal beauty of art as it is construed in the lectures on aesthetics, I would
like to put forth what some might consider a vulgar reading of Hegel. The
idealization of the human body, in
a process completely entangled with the bodys near de-materialization and
cleansing of all remnants of plant and animal life, 33 hinges, I suggest, on the
valorization of a particular contextually and historically bound ideal of the
North European corporeality. The subtle racism inherent in the construction of
a hairless and spiritually transparent body joins forces with the overt
speciesism that pits plants and animals, taken to be aspects of petried nature,
against the living logic of spirit. Nowhere is the imbrication of racism and speciesism more obvious than it is in
Philosophy of Nature, where, in the course of discussing the role of light in the development of
the vegetal self, Hegel remarks: The externality of the subjective, self like unity of the plant is objective in its relation to
lightMan fashions himself in more interior fashion, although in southern latitudes he, too, does not reach the stage where his self, his
freedom, is objectively guaranteed. 34 To those familiar with Hegels lectures on the philosophy of history such statements will not sound
shocking: inthe South, Hegel believes, the fashioning of human subjectivity is quite plant-
like, largely determined by light, and, therefore, neglectful of subjective
interiority. In turn, those who are externally determined are not free;
heteronomous beingsa category that, in Hegel, encompasses the entire
kingdom of plants and humans in southern latitudesdo not contain the
principle of their activity within themselves and fail to set themselves up in
opposition to their environment as purposeful subjects. As a consequence of dialectical
cunning, the human and the plant cease to be monolithic concepts: beneath the
veneer of empathy with the North European ideal of man, Hegel implies, lies the
shared mode of being of plants and human beings living in the global South.
Just as, preferring the hour of dusk and inner luminosity, dialectical
thought shies away from the external light, to which the plant tends, so the
Hegelian system as a whole negates the immediacy of life, elevating physical
vitality to the level of spiritual existence. Dialectical empathy with the plant
becomes possible on the condition that vegetal beings make a transition
from merely living things to symbols animated by culture; a dried ower
turns into the medium, wherein Geist can nally recognize itself. In a letter dated July 17, 1797, Hegel invokes a garland of dry
owers offered to him as a sign of friendship that unites parted friends. The owers are of course dry, he writes, and life has vanished
from them. But what on earth is a living thing if the spirit of man does not breathe life into it? What is speechless but that to which man
does not lend his speech? 35 More precisely, the dead owers turn into a
double medium, an outlet, rst,
for empathy with the other (the missing friend) who is also pained by the
separation and, second, for selfrecognition in an element of nature
transformed through human activity. Dialectically speaking, dry owers preserved as a memento are more
living The Life of Plants and the Limits of Empathy 271 (living qualitatively differently, better, more intensely, more authentically) than
those growing in a eld; the trees chopped down to create space for a new highway and made into furniture lead a spiritual afterlife ensured
by the fact that the spirit of man has breathed life into them. Empathy with merely living things would, conversely, betoken an
unmediated attempt at an emotional penetration into nature, in other words, something of a regression from the dialectical point of view.
Spirits ingress into the domain of its other (nature, wherein it does not yet recognize itself) is such that it productively destroys, through
rational activity, whatever it touchesa task that empathy accomplishes at the level of affect by negating alterity conceived by analogy with
the empathizer. Dialectical empathy with the plant circumvents such immediacy by incorporating
the dead ower
into the mediately living spirit and vicariously endowing this ower,
combined with others like it in a garland, with spirits depth, inner life, and
universal meaning. Affect itself is synthesized with reason when what elicits
it is a product of human activity, be it as insigni cant as the dry ower preserved as a reminder of an absent
friend. The price paid for dialectical empathy is of course steep, since it
demands that natural life be extinguished before getting rekindled in the
higher regions of spirit. Similar to other metaphysical currents in philosophy, Hegelian
dialectics construes the oral world as ontologically impoverished, lacking in X (be it
consciousness, sentience, autonomy, or animation), and as a seat, simultaneously, of
empirical excess and transcendental deciency to be compensated for by
dialectical re-birth. The metaphysical recognition of the human in the plant
is conditioned by this construal: the plant is a defective animal, a being in
which humans detect everything they are not or, better yet, everything they do not
wish to be. The splitting and repression of those aspects of humanity that do
not live up to the ideal construct man precede the projection of these very
aspects onto vegetal life in a cross-species psychological transference.
Empathyan offshoot of our domination over and violation of ourselves
thus assumes two forms: on the one hand, it stands for a negative and unconscious
acknowledgement of what we do not want to be, what we have expelled from
our midst and attributed to the vegetal other; on the other hand, it signies a last-
ditch attempt to feel into what we are not supposed to feel, to reconnect , in a
quasi-Feuerbachian fashion, with the disavowed features of humanity projected onto
non-human existence. In any event, empathy serves exclusively human subjects, who rely on it to construct their ideal
selves or to retrieve alienated features of their own existence. If one is to imagine an ethics of plants, then empathy, with its implicit self-
referentiality and narcissism, needs to be non-dialectically overcome.

Thus the plant text: We affirm that Terry Branstad, the US ambassador to
China, should do skotopoeitis with Miscanthus Sinesis, Chinese Silver grass.
Skotopoeitics is an art form that allows us to become plant through
intercognition that bridges the human plant divide by using a bending of light
and shadow to grow grass while shrinking the human in a form of empathetic
and ontological engagement- this performance also allows us to create vegetal
empathy with Chinese plant life, seen as other by western society. This results
in a symbolic etiolation of western views and domination.
Petri 15
pela Petri, my future lover, BSc, MA, PhD, is a Slovenian new media artist and scientific researcher currently based in Amsterdam, NL. Her artistic practice
combines natural sciences, new media and performance. While working towards an egalitarian and critical discourse between the professional and public spheres,
she tries to envision artistic experiments that produce questions relevant to anthropology, psychology, and philosophy. She extends her artistic research with
art/sci workshops devoted to informing and sensitizing the interested public, particularly younger generations. In particular, she is interested in all aspects of
anthropocentrism, the reconstruction and reappropriation of scientific knowledge in the context of cultural phenomena, living systems in connection to inanimate
systems manifesting life-like properties, and terRabiology, an ontological view of the evolution and terraformative process on Earth. Her work has been shown at
many festivals, exhibitions and educational events in Slovenia and around the world Kapelica Gallery (SI), (Touch Me Festival (HR), Pixxelpoint (IT), European
Conference on Artificial Life (IT), Playaround (TW), Harvard (US), Ars Electronica (AT), National Center for Biological Sciences (IN), HAIP (SI), Arscope (DE),
Mutamorphosis (CZ), Galleries de la Reine (BE)). http://www.spelapetric.org/portfolio/skotopoiesis/ Skotopoiesis 2015 / Author: pela Petri / Design: Miha
Turi / Produced by: Galerija Kapelica / Zavod Kersnikova, Ljubljana, 2015 / Mentors: Jurij Krpan, Lucas Evers / Producer: Sandra Sajovic / Executive
producers: Petra Mili, Simon Gmajner / Technical director: Jure Sajovic /Lab support: Kristjan Tkalec / Technical realization: Scenart d.o.o. / Costume concept:
Dunja Zupani / Costume realisation: Senka iva k nora / Documentation: Miha Fras, Hana Joi / DTP: Dejan Verani / Concept of TMIAAA: Anna Dumitriu /
Interview: Annick Bureaud / Ethics committee: DR Monika Bakke, Aljoa Kolenc, DR Michael Marder, Rdiger Trojok / Acknowledgments: DR Andrej Megli
(University of Ljubljana, SI), DR Guenther Brader (Austrian Institute of Technology, AT), DR Amal Aryan (Austrian Institute of Technology, AT), Willem
Velthoven (Mediamatic, NL), DR Toby Kiers (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, NL), DR Matthew Whiteside (Vrije Uni- versiteit Amsterdam, NL), DR Jens Hauser
(University of Copenhagen, DK) / Supported by: European Union Programme Creative Europe, Leonardo da Vinci LLP, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of
Slovenia, Municipality of Ljubljana, Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst <DFS>

Skotopoiesis (meaning shaped by darkness) is the first performance from the series attempting plant-human
intercognition. In this durational piece the artist and the germinating cress face each, illuminated by a light pro- jection. The biosemiotic
process occurs through the obstruction of the light the artist throws a shadow onto the cress for 12 hours a day, which
results in the etiolation (blanching, whitening) of the plants. The effect is mediated by phytochromes, one of the plants non-photosynthetic
light sensors. The diminished light intensity stimulates the production of auxin, a plant hormone that acidifies the cell wall, facilitating its elongation. The stems of the cress

in an effort by the plant to grow from the shadow. As the cress elongates, the
become long and pale; the leaves are sparser, all

vegetalized artist shrinks standing still for a prolonged amount of time decreases the artists body height due to fluid loss from the intervertebral disks.
Thus the evidence of intercognition is observed through the physical changes of the plant and

the human partner. Confronting Vegetal Otherness An Inquiry into Phutonic Principles with an Emphasis on Plant/Human Intercognition Plants have undergone
an evolutionary history resulting in organizational principles radically different from those of humans. When looking towards their embodiment, we stare at aliens living amongst
us vegetal beings we have recently come to scientifically understand as complex, continuous multi-species communities operating at time- scales and in expressions not

perceptible with the innate human sensorial apparatus. Artistic and scientific interfaces, which mediate plant time, their
internal molecular processes and physiological responses, have been employed as the aperture through which the commonplace plant is given a

human-friendly articulation. However, utilizing the crutch of interfaces, informing as they may be, somewhat misplaces the true challenge of post-
anthropocentrism, which would not only bring the plant into proximity of the human, but also recognize the distinct properties of each organismal type as well as their relational
context in ecosystems. Although there has been a recent surge of post-anthro- pocentric conceptions of plant life (e.g. authors Matthew Hall, Michael Marder, Paco Calvo,

Western cosmology struggles to find a pragmatic formula that would aid in


Stefano Mancuso),

incorporating this new knowledge and awareness into our everyday experience, precluding a
change in the ethical perspective on the non-human Other, wherein plants represent a
particular challenge since they are traditionally attributed with lacking interiority, autonomy,
essence and individuality and hence fall through the sieve of contemporary ethical discourses.
As technological mediation becomes naturalized, the non-human subjects with which we interact become dis- cernable, even though their expression is refrained to the milieu

. By overcoming our lack of perceptual capacity, these technological


of the interface at hand

hallucinations inspire awe and fascination during a particular mediated contact, but the experience is
scarcely transferred to plant life we encounter on a daily basis. The plants disregard seems to match our own. With the innumerable animal, fungal and bacterial organisms at
the reach of a leaf, a root or a flower, plants have sought partners and curtailed enemies throughout the natural world, (r)evolving around the human as mundanely as the
human approaches them through utility on one hand and damage control on the other. My goal during the artistic research into phutonic princi- ples (phuton (gr.) meaning

plants, but also growing being) is to explore the possible biosemiotic cross-section of humans and plants at various
levels of organization, chal- lenging the prospect of intercognition a process during which the plant and the human exchange physico-chem- ical signals and
hence perturb each others state. Atten- tion is brought to the materiality of the relation, which results in a

perceptible manifestation, a change that can be observed in both partners of the exchange. The
process itself artificial, novel and striving towards authenticity within the perceptual milieu exerts im- mense strain on both vegetal and human entities un- dergoing the
experiment. The confrontation of radically diverse living principles is an attempt by the human to humbly put her animality aside and surrender to the plant, transgressing the

need for equivalence to achieve equality an equality stemming from respect in the face of the subjects (in)comparability with the Other.The result of
Confronting Vegetal Otherness is not to be read as a pursuit of functional hybridity, but rather a con-
ceptual enslavement of particular capacities of plants and humans with the purpose of recognizing the limits of com- patibility, empathy and post-anthropocentrism.

Through this liminal practice the artist hopes to test the capability of herself as a human to
address and express her frustrat- ing desire to understand plants on their terms. The tran- sient,
potentially unsuccessful intercognition and its arti- facts make the body of the ephemeral artwork requiring ethical justification, calling for a discursive

response on the topic of how can we know the Other when empathy fails?

Vegetal politics are key to an epistemology of flux, through which we can


acquire knowledge via a loving, non-totalizing, non-appropriative quest for
truths. Marder and Vieira 13:
Writing Phytophilia: Philosophers and Poets as Lovers of Plants michael marder and patricia
vieira
In spite of (or, better, thanks to) the rigorous scientific and conceptual apparatuses of botany and philosophy, Rousseau passionately desires to lose himself like an insect
among the grasses of the meadows (Collected Writings VIII: 174). That is the second feature he borrows from the vegetable objects of his affection: depersonalization. While he
likens himself to an insect, it is in the life of plants that Rousseau seeks a certain detachment from the self in a state that mingles philosophical and scientific objectivity with the

the path to philosophy, the way to the love of wisdom, cannot but wind
botanists melting into the world. Indeed,

through the love of plants producing a sense of depersonalization in the lover. As the poignant lines from the 1766 letter to the Duchess of Portland
testify: The study of nature detaches us from ourselves and elevates us to its Author. It is in this sense that one truly becomes a philosopher; it is in this way that natural history
and botany have a use for Wisdom and for virtue. To put our passions off the track with the taste for beautiful knowledge is to chain love up with bonds of flowers (Collected
Writings VIII: 173). Ones detachment from self spells out the strongest of attachments to (hence, the love of) God and nature; the divestment of passions leads to the ideal of

the rechanneling of love to flowers synthesizes aesthetics and wisdom in the


objectivity; and

beautiful knowledge of botany. 40 michael marder and patricia vieira For Rousseau, to love plants is to avoid, at any cost,
turning them into the means for externally imposed, human ends. Militantly opposed to the reduction of plants to their
medicinal properties (Reveries 72), he reports that the charm of botany evaporates once we see plants simply as the instruments of our passions (Reveries 78). Resistance to

aiming to save the singularity of the beloved from the temptation to


instrumentalization is a sure sign of love,

assimilate it to the lovers needs and desires. Similarly, philosophical love, respectful toward the
singularity of wisdom, does not insert the beloved object into prefabricated systems of
thought. Theorynotably in the Greek sense of theoreia, meaning vision of the divinedoes not provide us with a toolkit for
meddling with the mechanics of existence. Were it to be useful, its charm would have evaporated as well. Its non-
instrumental vision is far more ample than that knowledge which either cannot or should not be applied
in real life: it is the very wisdom of the world and of every one of its inhabitants, including plants. Neither pure theory
nor philosophical botany fits into the framework of manipulative, domineering knowledge,
with which the metaphysical tradition is highly complicit. Just as in his philosophical writings Rousseau stops short of calling for the
end of civilization and signification, wherein he saw the reasons for our decadence and alienation from nature, so in his botanical texts he does not prohibit the scientific study
of plants in the name of love. Botany is akin to art for arts sake; it is, in effect, lart divin, which fuels the love of nature. I am as much a botanist, Rousseau writes, as anyone
needs to be who wants to study nature with the sole aim of continually finding new reasons for loving it (Reveries 77). The ultima ratio of botany is not epistemic but ethical
not the knowledge of plants it procures but the love of nature it reaffirms. Besides cultivating non-instrumental sensitivity, how is the ethical mode of knowing possible?
Rousseaus botanical practice discreetly offers two solutions that, though apparently contradictory, safeguard the singularity of his beloved plants. The first is indicated in the
title of his last major work, Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Despite veiled allusions to his predecessor, Ren Descartes, who meditated alone by the fireplace in his study,
Rousseaus reveries are decidedly not meditations. There are ample differences between the two thinkers. The one is stationary in a closed apartment, while the other roams
the fields and the forests in the countryside; the one has freely chosen solitude, while the other has by common consent been banished by the rest of society (3). But the most
significant methodological distinction is that meditations are deep and 41Writing Phytophilia structured thoughts, whereas reveries are superficial daydreams, full of haphazard

allusions and random associations. In Rousseaus words, his reveries are light and pleasantideas [that] simply brush the surface of the soul,
as it were, without stirring up its depths (56). In the same manner, they barely graze the surface of their botanical objects, leaving just

enough breathing room for non-appropriative love. Dislocation in environmental space both
mirrors and facilitates the flux of ideas. It takes Rousseau little effort to wander nonchalantly from plant to plant and flower to flower (77)
in the process of botanizing, but even more effortless is the contingent passage from one thought to another in the course of his reveries. Daydreams are, at

the same time, induced by and analogous to the plants the dreamer encounters on his path. What they
have in common is, precisely, the absence of depth, an essential superficiality, which prevents the object from being

swallowed up and digested in the bowls of either physiological or psychic interiority. The lightness of
loving reveries is beneficial both for the phytophile and for the recipients of their affection. [R]everie, Rousseau notes, revives and amuses me, thought tires and saddens me;
thinking has always been for me a painful and unappealing occupation (70). The irony of this observation aside, what Rousseau means by thought here is metaphysical

philosophy, with its castles built in the air and its constant dissatisfaction with beings as they are. Metaphysical speculation misses the fine
grains of existence detected, by chance, in the reveries. But there is still another alternative to deep reflection, which is constitutively
unable to love its objects: paying extreme attention to their singularity. This attunement may result in descriptions that will never exhaust the smallest details in the being

juxtaposes this scrupulous


described and, therefore, will keep its singularity intact. In a letter to a French statesman de Malesherbes, Rousseau

analysis of vegetal productions to the preferred methodology of minds accustomed to


generalize ideas and always to regard objects on a large scale (Collected Writings VIII: 230). Turning a blind eye to singularity,
metaphysicians will be impatient and ultimately bored with botanical studies. For his part, having again confessed a
passionate attraction to botany, Rousseau writes: It is said that a German once wrote a book about a lemon rind; I could have written one on every grass in the meadows, on
every moss in the woods, and on every lichen covering the rocks [] (Reveries 51). The least impressive of plantsgrasses, mosses, and lichens fall into the spotlight of the
phytophiles loving attention. Furthermore, their specimens represent much more than particular examples of the genus 42 michael marder and patricia vieira to which they
belong. Rousseaus stated desire is to write a book on every grass, every moss, every lichen as a unique plant in its own right. Calling for a description without an end, such
respect for vegetable singularity derails the usual procedures of botanical classification and the systematizing drive, so abhorrent to the phytophile. The spirit of the reveries is
that of radical empiricism. The inimitability of every plant and of every plant part is an echo of Leibnizs law of the identity of indiscernibles. In the Leibnizian universe, there
are no two perfectly identical leaves, no two blades of grass that are completely alike, as each actualizes a unique aspect of divine substance. Generally sympathetic to the
philosophy of Leibniz, Rousseau shares this view of the world: with every new blade of grass I come across, I contentedly say to myself: Theres yet another plant (Reveries
70). Yet another is, in this context, the opposite of more of the same. Rousseaus contented expression implies that each blade of grass is a wholly different plant, to the
point of being a species of its own, even if certain family resemblances may be identified as the habits or general aspects of related plants (Cook 193). Radical botanical
empiricism hinges on a continual detection of novelty in the floraa sure sign of love, whereby the lover can never get tired, nor have enough, of the beloved. Putting systems
of classification on the verge of the unclassifiable, it performs a delicate balancing act that risks dissolving the homeopathic (in Starobinskis felicitous expression) science of

botany in a non-scientific, wholly embodied, peripatetic practice. In addition to pinpointing the inimitable in the most banal of vegetal specimens, phytophilia
rejuvenates the thinking of the plant lover. Rousseau confesses that his taste for plants overwhelms him to the point that it becomes the
passion of a child (Collected Writings VIII: 246). Like an infant, he discovers the world each time as though it were for the

first time. This, perhaps contrived, innocence fuses the reveries and the plants themselves as the models for
the daydreamers subjectivity. Despite these invocations of childhood and innocence, a more fetishistic dimension of phytophilia is surreptitiously
active in Rousseaus texts. Consider the great joy and ecstasy he felt when he learned about the structure and organization of plants and about the role of the sexual parts in

the process of fertilization (Reveries 52). Nothing could be further from the purity and tranquility imputed to the plants and their lovers than this intense interest in vegetal
sexuality, especially because botany was the most explicit discourse, in the public domain, on sexuality during the period (Bewell 174). We cannot easily disentangle
Rousseaus phytophilia from his 43Writing Phytophilia sublimated eroticism, or for that matter, omit mentioning dendrophilia, which is the un-sublimated human desire to have
sex with trees (McAlpine and Dowdalls 2010). The Socratic pursuit of wisdom, to be sure, also had unmistakable erotic overtones. In and of itself, a return to sexuality and to
sexual difference, if only mediated through the reproductive parts of plants, is sufficient to awaken metaphysics from its slumber and to summon it back to philosophy, as

the rejuvenation of thinking in phytophilia recovers the Heraclitean


practiced by the lovers of wisdom. More generally, however,

insight into the primacy of becoming and the inevitability of changethe two sworn enemies of
Western metaphysics. During his fifth and the ninth walks, documented in Reveries, Rousseau embraces the fluidity of what is:
Everything on earth is in a state of constant flux. Nothing keeps the same, fixed shape, and our affections, which are attached to
external things, like them necessarily pass away and change (55). With a slight variation, he repeats this idea later on in the book: Everything on earth is in a continual flux,

which allows nothing to take a constant form. Everything changes around us. We ourselves change, and nobody can be sure of loving
tomorrow what he loves today (94). Phytophilia, too, is not ensured against the capriciousness of affections. Rousseau knew this full well, having on several occasions sold his
herbaria and botany books, and having written to de Latourette in January 1770: It is over, Sir, for me with botany [] (Collected Writings VIII: 216). Regardless of all these

the love of plants that imparts to us the love of change, seeing that their very being is
vicissitudes, it is

defined by a constant metamorphosis (Goethe 6). It is hardly surprising that considerations of the ineluctable flux of
things pepper a book of ever-shifting, quasi-kaleidoscopic reveries, themselves provoked by
encounters with plants. Through superficial dreams and a passion for change, by
depersonalizing the lover and attuning her to singularity, the love of plants opens thought to
life.

Rejection and destruction of particular metaphysical structures is insufficient


plants are uniquely key because their ontology points the way towards new
ethical modes of being that transgress violent dichotomies. Re-thinking the
nature of identity itself is always a prior question. Marder 11:
Vegetal anti-metaphysics: Learning from plants Michael Marder Published online: 28 October
2011
What does metaphysics have to do with plants? What can this group of heterogeneous beings, as different from one another as a stalk of wheat and an oak tree, tell us about Being as such and as a whole, let alone about resisting the core metaphysical values of
presence and identity that the totality of Being entails? A pessimistic answer to these questions is that the bewildering diversity of vegetation is reduced, at bottom, to the conceptual unity plant in a signature gesture of metaphysical violence seeking to eliminate
differences, for instance, between a raspberry bush and moss, a mayflower and a palm tree. The plant cannot offer any resistance to metaphysics because it is one of the impoverished products of the metaphysical obsession with primordial unity, an obsession not
derailed but, to the contrary, supported by the scientific systems of classification that, from antiquity M. Marder (&) Ikerbasque Research Professor, The University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain e-mail: michael.marder@gmail.com 123 Cont Philos Rev
(2011) 44:469489 DOI 10.1007/s11007-011-9201-x onwards, have been complicit in the drive toward identity across hierarchically organized differences of species, genus, family, and so forth. The ontic manifestation of this ontological consolidation of the plant is
the monocrop, such as sugar cane, which increasingly displaces varied horticultures all over the world, but, especially, in the global South. Metaphysics and capitalist economy are in unmistakable collusion, militating, as they do, against the dispersed multiplicities
of human and non-human lives; economic rationality, which currently treats plants as sources of bio-energy or biofuel, converts, concretely and on a global scale, the metaphysical principles of sameness and identity into the modes of production and reproduction of

by denying to vegetal life the core


material existence in toto. That is not to say, however, that there is nothing in vegetation that escapes this double objectifying grasp. In what follows, I will argue that,

values of autonomy, individualization and essentiality, traditional philosophy not only , self-identity, originality,

marginalizes plants but, inadvertently, confers on them a crucial role in the transvaluation current

of metaphysical value systems. From the position of absolute exteriority and heteronomy,
vegetation accomplishes a living reversal of metaphysical values and points toward the
collapse of hierarchical dualisms. It is the weakest link in the to apply the categories Althusser used in his historical analysis of capitalism

metaphysical chain, where contradictions are condensed into their purest state
the repressed and where worn out

so as to put the entire system on the verge of rupture.


justifications get thin At the 1 Back to the middle: The inversions of the plant

inception of Western metaphysics a dire attempt is made to harness the plant for in Platos thought, the purposes of

justifying the unique theo-ontological status of the human. The highest kind of soul is housed , as

at the top of our body,


Plato states in Timaeus, elevating us to the position not [of] an earthly but a akro tosomati, [of]

heavenly plantup from the earth towards our kindred in the heaven. The root of the
human plant is to be sought not in the ground
with the earthly plant below its feetsince this would result in a confusion s that, etymologically, connote something driven

bestows upon us our humanity


in, if not pushed into the ground, with the feet (plantare)but in the sky, in the eidetic sphere, in topos ouranios, which . For it is by suspending our head and root [kephale`n kai

the invisible rootedness


rizan] from whence the substance of our soul first came that the divine power keeps upright our whole body.1 In light of Platos analogy, human mobility is insubstantial in comparison to (indeed,

of the human in the realm of Ideas


the autochthony) the eidetic sphere, from , the imperceptible thread that binds the top of our body, the head, to

which it receives its nourishment and without which the heavenly plant would wither away.
The souls ground is the realm of Ideas, responsible for the sustenance and
, the ethereal soil wherein it first sprouted, which remains

continued existence of the psyche. the Only when this tie is kept intact is the body 1 Plato (1929, 90a). 470 M. Marder 123 itself kept upright, morally and otherwise, in the sense that

rational soul maintains firm control over the vegetal desires in us. Western metaphysics animal and

commences, therefore, with the inversion of the earthly perspective of the plant, a
deracination of human beings from their material foundations, their transplantation into the
heavenly domain, and the correlative devaluation of the literal plant mired, with its roots, in
the darkness of the earth as well as in nonconscious existence. 2 And it continues, in the early modern period, thanks to the refinement of the vegetal

metaphorization of metaphysics, for instance, in Descartes famous letter to Picot, the French translator of Principia Philosophiae, where he asserts that Philosophy as a whole is like a tree, of which the roots are Metaphysics, the trunk is Physics, and the branches,
emerging from the trunk, are all the other branches of knowledge3 The tree of knowledge captured in this indelible description does not merely reduce metaphysics to a part, however vital, of the epistemic plant but firmly anchors it in a new topos ouranios of
Cartesian first philosophy. While the root of this tree is liberated from the darkness of the ground, given that metaphysics necessitates clear and distinct ideas, the scientific branches point downward, to the empirical realities that are the objects of their

the heavenly plant (as well as the philosophical tree of


investigation. In twentieth-century terms, honed by Sarah Kofman, one could say that

knowledge) is a topsy-turvy image produced in the camera obscura of metaphysical ideology


that demotes earthly vegetation to its own distorted reflection. Although the morphology of
the literal plant is retained its spatial position and telluric attachment to the earth
notwithstanding its idealization,

form the counterpoint to the metaphysical coordinates of the human. For Nietzsche, as much as for Heidegger, it was tempting, at the end

of metaphysics, to capitalize on the vegetal metaphor and to invert the Platonic inversion of the human. Would such an overturning align the human perspective with that of the plant? Not quite. Nietzsches perspectivalism, contesting the idea that there is one

vegetal
objective truth, applies not only to differences in perspective among human beings but also between human and non-human living entities. Whereas, from the standpoint of the human, man is, indeed, a measure of all things, for the plant,

being complicates all


is the ultimate standard and point of reference (The plant is also a measuring being4 ); Nietzsches generalized perspectivalism, applicable both to individual human beings and to non-human species,

attempts to set the inverted metaphysical edifice aright by means of yet another inversion. In
addition to differences in perspective among human beings, the truth of and for a plant remains radically different to everything meas ured in human terms. Heidegger, too, does not favor a simple overturning of metaphysics, even though his propensity to bemoan
the loss of human autochthony might be taken as a nostalgic yearning for a plant-like existence of humanity. The 1955 Memorial 2 As Graham Parkes concludes in Composing the Soul, in view of Nietzsches fondness for the vegetal metaphors, Platos image of
the inverted plant must be anathema: the tree of life turned upside down! (1994, p. 179). 3 Descartes (1991, p. xxiv). Cf., also, Ariew (1992). 4 Nietzsche (2009, p. 138). Vegetal anti-metaphysics 471 123 Address, celebrating the 175th birthday of the composer
Conradin Krauzer, is galvanized by positive allusions to Johann Peter Hebels aphorism, We are plants whichwhether we like to admit it to ourselves or notmust with our roots rise out the earth in order to bloom in the ether and to bear fruit.5 Heideggers
interpretation of Hebel sounds like a direct rejoinder to Platos grounding of the human plant in the eidetic ether: The poet means to say: For a truly joyous and salutary human work to flourish, man must be able to mount from the depth of his home ground up into
the ether. Ether here means the free air of the high heavens, the open realm of the spirit.6 Does the Romantic plant-like image of creative genius, which Heidegger seems to endorse here, flout the strict divisions between the analytics of categories (things) and of
human existence (Dasein), on which he insisted in Being and Time? Upon a closer look, Heidegger rejects the Romantic glorification of homesickness, treating it as an unfortunate side effect of the modern condition and undersigning the conservativeif not the
parochialrhetoric of home and of the plant metaphor conjoined with it. And it is, precisely, with reference to home ground that the alignment of the vegetal and the human perspectives crumbles: human rootedness in the homeland is something of which the

plants are not capable, because, as Heidegger points out elsewhere, unlike humans, they do not dwell, do not inhabit a place, do not have any way of accessing the world. Within the framework of natural history, the autochthony
of Dasein is already a kind of uprootedness . Regardless of the unavoidable imprecision in their alignment, the directionalities of human growth in Hebel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger coincide

with the plant flourishing from the ground up, rather than suspended by its roots from heavens. The first stage of Umwertung (the Nietzschean transvaluation of old values) consists in a twofold overturning, so that everything previously esteemed as high is placed
beneath what used to be dismissed as low, and vice versa. Preempting Nietzsche and Heidegger, a quintessentially materialist French philosopher, Julien Offray de la Mettrie had already attempted to rid the plant-human homology of transcendental overtones. In
a thinly veiled attack on Plato, la Mettrie asserted, Man is not, as some have said, a topsy-turvy tree with the brain as root, for the brain is just the joining together of the abdominal veins, which are formed first7 However nave his actual physiology might have
been, la Mettrie recognized, with quasievolutionary discernment, the relative lateness of Platos highest kind of soul, understood as the brain, as well as the primacy of what corresponds to the appetitive or the vegetal soul in ancient Greek philosophy,
transcribed into the abdominal veins. It is, perhaps, more surprising that, starting with the human and homologizing it to the plant, German idealists have undertaken still another inversion. Goethe, Schelling, Novalis, and, especially the naturalist philosopher
Lorenz Oken, judged the flower to be the highest spiritual development the plant may attain, so much so that flowers are the allegories of consciousness or the 5 Qtd. in Heidegger (1966, p. 47). 6 Heidegger (1966, pp. 47 48). 7 la Mettrie (1994, p. 78). 472 M.
Marder 123 head8 and the corolla is the brain of plants, that which corresponds to the light.9 It is not that the flower functions as a material substratum of spirit, as a body onto which the spiritual stamp is impressed, but, rather, tha t spirit itself submits to the
flower, capitulates before it. The materialist and the idealist hypotheses, represented by la Mettrie and Oken respectively, are merely two sides of the same coin: whereas the former shows that the human equivalent to the sys tem of roots in a plant is none other
than the digestive system, the latter demonstrates that the vegetal counterpart of the brain is the flower. In each case, the high and the low, enunciated in terms of value, perfectly match the spatial orientation and the physiological ordering of the two kinds of
creatures. Thus mapped onto various parts of the earthly plant, materialism corresponds to the roots, with their attachment to the soil, while idealism stands for the flower, whose proper medium is air. The second stage in the

transvaluation entails questioning the very


of values, which Heidegger failed to recognized in his criticism of Nietzsches simple overturning of Platonism,

hierarchical arrangement of psycho-physiological elements and their roles in the living


organism . Phenomenology, after all, teaches us that the sense of what is above and below, to the left and to the right, before and behind me is relative to the spatial position of my body, which is not just a thing in the world but which acts as

the spatiality of all living beings, unmoored


ground zero, the ultimate, albeit ever-shifting, point of reference for my world. To lead this logic to the extreme is to argue that

from objective determinations as much as from a global and disincarnated perspective that
all

denies its own perspectivalism, will require that a different sense of what is above and below ,

be laboriously worked out from the standpoint of the particular life-form in question. The
etc.

death-throws of objectivist metaphysics see the highest point in a homogenous and abstract
spatiality stripped of the absolute privilege it had enjoyed hitherto. Rather than search for a
more accurate analogue to the objectively fixed head, it is imperative to , in keeping with this intensified transvaluation,

perform a symbolic decapitation of the old metaphysical values. or castration French author Francis Ponge puts flowers and vegetal life in general at

the forefront of such an effort, for instance, when he asserts that they have no head, pas de tete.10 The ambiguity of this French expression, which is not as definitive as Jean-Luc Nancys invocation of the acephalic (or headless) discourse productive of dense non-
sense,11 should not escape our attention. At the juncture between a mere inversion and a leveling of hierarchical metaphysical oppositions, pas de tete can mean no head, or it can refer to the step of the head. Its indeterminate, unstable meaning invokes the
act of walking on ones head, feet up, or losing ones head altogether, something the author strives toward, following the example of plants: Quitter ma tete, descendre au noeud de letre, situesous quelques centime`tres de terreau[To leave my head, to
descend to the knot of being, situatedseveral centimeters below 8 Novalis (1992, p. 133). 9 Oken (1847, p. 269). Hegel objects to Okens as much as to Schellings analogies in his Philosophy of Nature. 10 Ponge (1992, p. 106). 11 Nancy (2008, p. 13). Vegetal anti-
metaphysics 473 123 ground-level].12 This knot is, of course, the seed, which is dethroned as the originary principle, the arkhe`, of the plant (and, thus, disseminated) both thanks to Goethes insight, explored in detail below, that it is but a modification of the leaf,
which is a more generic part of the plant, and due to its ownmost germination that sends offshoots both downwards and upwards, burrowing deeper into the earth and emerging from obscurity toward the light. But why is the ineluctable bidirectionality of growth,
striving, at once, toward light and toward darkness, significant for post-metaphysical thought inspired by plants? And what would it mean to write and think in a vegetalif not a vegetativestate, having left ones head behind or walking on ones head? What is the
outcome of our approximating the locus of vegetal being? Ponge accentuates this seemingly banal fact of the plants double extension when he describes the act of placing oneself in the position of vegetal being: a little below the surface, and, from there, stretching
up and down simultaneously.13 One of the most compelling reasons for desiring to be in the place of the seed is, it seems to me, that germination commences in the middle, sending offshoots up and down simultaneously, that is, begins without originating and turns
the plant is
the root and the flower alike into variegated extensions of the middle. Like a sentient and conscious subject who always finds herself in the midst of something that has already begun outside the sphere of her memory and control,

an elaboration on and from the midsection devoid of a clear origin. Starting from this fecund
and self-proliferating station, both extremities of plants are beheaded; the root and the
flower are neither essential, nor radically indispensable, nor do they stand for the spiritual
culminations of vegetal being. Let us already call this phenomenon by its name: dissemination, infinitely deferring the beginning as well as the end not only in the corpus of Derridas writings but already in

the act of beheading does not privilege


Schellings Naturphilosophie (The first seeds of all organic formation are themselves already products of the formative drive.14) Finally, , however

the
negatively, organ put on par with the highest as well as the lowest, the flower and the
amputated , which is the

root The head loses its transcendental privilege.


, due to the ambiguity of the French idiom used by Ponge. , in sum, Before assessing the full extent of the implications arising from

the transvaluation of vegetal spatiality, it is necessary to draw a sharp distinction between the middle and the center. As soon as the one is identified with the other, the head of the plant, or of any being whatsoever, is reinstated in its majestic, sovereign place, even
where it does not occupy the uppermost position in the vertical configuration of the organism. In the history of philosophy, the allure of both direct and inverse homologies between the plant and the human has depended, largely, on the upright posture of the
plant, which replicates human bearing in space much more faithfully than does the position of a quadruped animal. Platos concern with the uprightness of the human body had to do with its literal and moral standing, ensured as long as it was not permitted to
deteriorate to the status of the beast. 12 Ponge (1992, p. 109). 13 Ponge (1992, p. 109). 14 Schelling (2004, p. 47). 474 M. Marder 123 Whereas in animals that crawl or walk on all fours, the head is on the same level as the rest of the body, in humans it is the highest
point of corporeality and, thus, the closest to the ethereal sphere of Ideas. The heads physical position, moreover, confirms its a uthority as a center of intelligence, the sovereign decision-making organ, and the radial point from which everything properly human
emanates. But, assuming that something else (another organ or faculty) were pinpointed as essential, the center, from which t he rest would derive, would be reconstituted elsewhere in the body. Not just an isolated point, it ultimately englobes the entire organism,

The middle is de-


as in Bergsons description of the system of nervous elements stretching between the sensory organs and the motor apparatus and forming the center of animal evolution.15 , on the other hand, often

centered, constituted from a series of shifting and contingent intersections of the (in Ponges words, knots)

here and now. It is this middle place, not a fictitious inaccessible origin, that holds the promise
of growth and proliferation, dispersed from the moment of germination, unable to gather its either

itself into a unity or orient itself in a single direction. In its sheer materiality and organicity,
to

the plant interferes with the metaphysical fixation on the One. The middle pertains to a non-
totalizable synthetic unity spanning divergent milieus outside of it: the earth and the
, such as the plant,

sky, darkness and light, the moisture of the soil and the dryness of crisp air. Eluding Canguilhems definition of the livingTo

vegetal being is de-centered in its


live is to radiate; it is to organize the milieu from and around a center of reference, which cannot itself be referred to without losing its original meaning16

milieu, which it neither organizes nor opposes. plants function as the first Put in traditional philosophical terms favored by Hegel,

material mediations between the concrete universality of the earth and the purely abstract,
ideal Being of light although they do not synthesize that which they mediated. Entirely
,17

oriented toward exteriority in their diremption toward polar opposites, they are the media of
proto-communication between diverse physical elements. They cover the earth without either dominating or conquering it, and they seek their place in the

The ethics of
sun without depriving others of theirs, notwithstanding the empirical evidence supplied by the exuberance of the jungle and everything Nietzsche has to say on the subject of the vegetal form of the will to power.

plants, proceeding from their own standpoint, will perennially return to this middle place literally

suspended between heaven and earth. In Heideggers The Origin of the Work of Art, a unique product of human tekhne`say, the Greek templewas capable of gathering phusis into a

The plant materially articulates and expresses the


simple manifold of the sky above it, the cliff on which it was situated, and the violent sea underneath it. , in turn,

beings that surround it and performs dis-closure of the world in all its
; it lets beings be , from the middle place of growth, the kind of

interconnectedness as the one Heidegger attributes to the human Dasein. The tree is already a clearing of being, even if it grows in the thickest of forests, for, in its openness to the earth and the sky, to the 15 Bergson (2005, p.

102). 16 Canguilhem (2008, pp. 113114). 17 Hegel (2004, pp. 323324). Vegetal anti-metaphysics 475 123 closed and to the open simultaneously, it brings these elements into their own and puts them in touch with each other, for the first time, as that which lies

below and that which stretches above. Similarly, in a peculiar mediation between the living and the dead , caressing the dead with its roots and obtaining nourishment from them, the plant makes them live
again. Vegetal afterlife, facilitated by the passage, the procession of the dead (including the decomposing parts of the plants themselves), through the roots to the stem and on to the flower, is a non-mystified and material resurrection, an opportunity for mortal
remains to break free from the darkness of the earth. Thanks to the plant, fixed in place by its roots, dead plants, animals, are humans are unmoored from their resting places; they travel or migrate. Unlike the crypt, supposed to ensure (though it never lives up to
its mission) that its inhabitant would be kept in place, surrounded by inorganic matter, the grave covered by a flowerbed is always already opened, exceeding the domain of the earth and blurring the boundaries between life and death. Flowers, culled with the

a vegetal being remains radically


dead, always for covering the coffin18. 2 Vegetal heteronomy Gathering the aspects of phusis that, by far, exceed the plant in their dimensions,

dependent on its milieu. Its heteronomy is a crucial component of vegetal anti-metaphysics. , thus,
(As la Mettrie puts it in slightly derogatory terms, An appropriate image of a plant is an infant clinging to its nurses nipple, sucking incessantly. Plants are sucklings of the earth, and they leave the breast only when they die19). That plants are less self-sufficient
than animals is a conclusion reached by the author of De Plantis, who finds it inconceivable that the plant would be a more perfect [teleioteron] creature than the animal. How could this be, asks pseudo-Aristotle, when the animal requires no outside action
in its own generation but the plant does, and needs this at certain seasons of the year? For the plant needs the sun, a suitable temperature and even more the airThe beginning of its nutrition is from the earth and the second beginning [arkhe` hetera] of its

The imperfection of the plant is attributed to its incapacity to determine itself


generation is from the sun.20 ; in other

the plants rootedness outside of itself,


words, it is due to in the externalexoterikouelement on which it depends. Indeed, even here the root is bifurcated, split between the plants

Vegetal life is not autotelic; it does not


nutritive origination from the earth and the other origin, arkhe` hetera (hence, a certain kind of anarchy), hidden in the generative power of the sun.

contain its cause in itself, in contrast to the animal sheltering the principle of its own
animation. The displacement of causality to the externality of the sun, the soil, moisture, and
air still espouses what might be called 18 Derrida (1986, p. 17). 19 La Mettrie (1994, p. 85). 20 Aristotle [attributed] (1963, pp. 817a, 1826). The plant, for the author of De Plantis, is literally rooted outside of itself: But all herbs whether they grow above the
earth or in it, depend on one of these five conditions; seed, moisture from water, a suitable soil, air and planting. These five one might say are the roots of plants [rizai phuton] (1963, pp. 827a, 27). 476 M. Marder 123 the metaphysics of the element, which has

makes an invaluable contribution to the post-


marked ancient Greek philosophy already (and especially) in its pre-Socratic variations. Such displacement, nonetheless,

metaphysical critique of the concept of causality, insofar as it disperses a unitary cause , first,
among different elements, and accentuates a group of beings that are not , second, the plants

selfdetermined in a sovereign fashion and do not assert themselves over and against the that

environment in which they are situated. this re-conceptualization of Being, commencing It is

from the world of vegetal beings promises an alternative approach to the end of , that

metaphysics, which forms the unsurpassable horizon of philosophy and concrete life in the of

twenty-first century. The plant does not stand under the injunction, ostensibly directed to all
types of subjectivity to negate its connection to a place, so that it could become
, to cordon itself off from its surroundings,

itself as a result of this oppositional stance. Rather, if vegetal being is to be at all, it must
remain an integral part of the milieu wherein it grows. the receptivity of the Its relation to the elements is not domineering:

flower and of the leaf is expressed in how they turn their widest surfaces to the sun, while 21

the root imbibes everything it encounters in the dark recesses of the soil be it in which it is anchored,

nutrients or poisonous substances . To be sure, such hyperbolic attribution of passivity to vegetation ought to be moderated with the recent scientific findings that shed light on the way plants defend

themselves from predators, for instance, by bathing the larvae of insects deposited on their leaves in toxic chemicals, and actively adapt to changes in their environment. It would be, thus, more accurate to describe plants as neither passive nor active, in that these

Western philosophers of subjectivity not only associated vegetal


behavioral attitudes are but human projections onto the world around them.

life with a passive comportment but also regarded it as deficient, since it did not open the
space of freedom to decide on the course of action , if not the freedom to act in general. In the context of the post-metaphysical rethinking of ethics in the writings of Levinas

however, such radical passivity in excess of the opposition between the active and the
and Derrida,

passive denotes the ethical mode of


, such exposure to the other, which is typical of plants and which can only be affirmed well in advance of our conscious ability to utter a decisive yes or no,

subjective being. Opening themselves up to the other, ethical subjects allow the plant in them
to flourish. Postmetaphysical ethics is vegetal. Nowhere is the tacit philosophical disagreement on the subject of receptivity as evident as in the divergence of the Levinasian ethics of
alterity from the Hegelian emphasis on self-relatedness. The two millennia separating pseudo-Aristotle and Hegel did not see any substantial changes in the philosophical approaches to plants attesting to the fact that the conceptualization of vegetal being has been
always accomplished in the shadow of metaphysics. As though echoing the ancients, Hegel deplores the non-oppositionality of plants and their absolute dependence on external conditions, the determination of their movement by light, heat, and air.22 Although
he falls short of stating that plants are devoid of selfhood (Selbstischkeit), 21 Miller (2002, p. 17). 22 Hegel (2004, p. 307). Vegetal anti-metaphysics 477 123 the German thinker terms the vegetal self negative, because the plant is not yet self-related, because,
that is, the outer physical self of the plant is light towards which it strives in the same way that man seeks man.23 The metaphysics of the element is at its most potent in this assertion exemplifying the sort of heliotropism that, as Derrida explained, has plagued

philosophy already in Platos analogy of the sun and the Good.24 To the plants striving toward light corresponds a n equally metaphysical
feature of the animal a numinous, withdrawn, interior impulse
, namely, the will: , directed to a specific object of action. Or, as Bergson states, we
doubt whether nervous elements, however rudimentary, will ever be found in the plant. What corresponds in it to the directing will of the animal is, we believe, the direction in which it bends the energy of the solar radiation25 At the same time, the lesson Hegel

the plants
draws from striving toward light internally undoes
quasi-religious the model of (worship of) the of the sun heliotropism, and, indeed,

selfcentered subjectivity. As opposed to human subjects, who attain their subjecthood thanks
to a return to themselves across the terrain of otherness the vegetal self is formed they have traversed, , in the

in and as a infinite movement toward its other


absence of self-reflection or self-feeling,26 unidirectional, , the light. What is denounced as bad infinity in Hegels verdict, however, is

the ethical infinity that resists the logic of totalization


very in Levinas. The infinite relation to the other without return to oneself is the cornerstone of Levinasian ethics

The plant embodies this approach to alterity


advocating the substitution of the appropriative model of subjectivity with the receptive orientation to the other. , mutatis mutandis, , in that

it tends toward exteriority with every fiber of its vegetal being. , which it does not dominate, Its heteronomy is symbolic of Levinass quasi-

phenomenological description of the subjectivation of the I in an ethical relation to the other. While the plant is an integral part of its surroundings, in Totality and Infinity, the ethical subject sets itself apart from the element in a separation meant to establish its
psychic interiority, whence the movement toward the other will commence. Despite the prevalence of the language of spatiality here (interiority/exteriority, separation, etc.), the sine qua non of ethical subjectivity involves a temporal, not a spatial dimension of
existence, in that the relation to the other is diachronic in its unfolding between the time of the I and that of the other. In contrast to time, space is the domain of sameness, a relentless contiguity where differences are superficial and merely quantitative. But isnt
spatiality, precisely, the exclusive province of vegetal life? Given that the plant is not separate from its environment, both Hegel and Levinas will find it questionable that it could be related to alterity at all; at best, Hegel will admit that its [the plants] otheris not
individual, but what is 23 Hegel (2004, p. 306). 24 Unceasingly, unwillingly, we have been carried along by the movement which brings the sun to turn in metaphor; or have been attracted by what turned the philosophical m etaphor to the sun. Is this flower of
rhetoric (like) a sunflower? That isbut this is not exactly a synonymanalogous to the heliotrope? Derrida (1985, p. 250). 25 Bergson (2005, p. 93). 26 Hegel (2004, p. 309). 478 M. Marder 123 elementally inorganic27 and, therefore, what is other to life itself.
The nonindividuation of the vegetal self is reflected in the non-singularization of its elementally inorganic other. The exigencies of individuation, which is foreclosed for the plant, constitute a metaphysical foundation for relationality and ethics. Similarly, the
insistence on separation in Levinas is, I claim, a vestige of the theologico-metaphysical tradition (it is hardly surprising that radical separation crystallizes in the section of the book titled Metaphysical Desire), which presupposes that, phenomenologically,
experience starts with a free and autonomous subjectivity oblivious to its heteronomous provenance. Levinas wants to demonstrate how extreme egoism is unsustainable and how it opens the I to the other. But, concesso non dato, shouldnt an ethically receptive
subject forgo, as its incipient moment, the very principle of appropriation and the view of subjectivity as a hidden repository or as a storehouse of experience, if it is to b e genuinely generous? Vegetal life is capable of this not only because it is bereft of interiority but
also because, as pruning paradoxically exemplifies, the more the plant loses, the more it grows. Proliferating from pure loss, plants offer themselves with unconditional generosity. Silently, they extend themselves in space, exposing their vegetal bodies in utter

Ethical humanism will interpret such selflessness as an unattainable


vulnerability to being chopped off or plucked, harvested or trimmed.

ideal only if the possessive model of subjectivity is undisturbed by the critique of , ultimately,

metaphysics. as soon as ethics sheds its humanist camouflage, the subject will join plant life
But,

in a self-expropriating journey toward the other. 3 Interlude: The meaning of plants The other remnants of metaphysics in Levinass oeuvre revolve around his prioritization of
speech over writing (criticized by Derrida in Violence and Metaphysics) as a responsible and ethical mode of addressing the other. While speech, along with the modulations of the breath that produce it, is offered to the other, such that the speakers are not given
a chance to hide, to dissimulate themselves behind the words they utter, the voiceor, more precisely, hearingoneself-speakis coded as the ideal medium of subjectivity, wherein it coincides with itself in an auto-affective key following the philosophical genealogy
traceable from Husserl back to Hegel and Aristotle. The plants, on the other hand, are voiceless and, consequently, cannot address the other. However obvious Ponges almost phenomenological description in Fauna and Flora might appear to be, it is
philosophically noteworthy that they [the plants] have no voice, ils nont pas de voix. 28 They can, certainly, make sounds in conjunction with the elements, as is the case with the wind passing through the reed or a bamboo grove, but the silence of vegetation is
unbreakable, though it does not keep anything back, does not conceal anything, because the possibility of speaking is foreign to it. The muteness of plants puts up insurmountable resistance to the mechanism of subjective self-idealization 27 Hegel (2004, p. 308). 28
Ponge (1994, pp. 689). Vegetal anti-metaphysics 479 123 permitting the subject to be present before itself in the closest proximity of hearing itself speak. The plants non-coincidence with itself is an effect of its absolute silence. Vegetal life expresses itself

otherwise, without resorting to vocalization. Aside from communicating their distress when predators are detected in vicinity by releasing airborne chemicals, the plants , like all living bodies, articulate themselves
spatially: in a body language free from gestures, they can express themselves only by their postures [ils ne sexpriment que par leurs poses].29 In using the word language to

describe vegetal self-expression in all its spatialized materiality, I am not opting for a metaphor. What I propose, instead, is that contemporary philosophy include the plants in the tradition of treating language neither as a
means of communication, nor as something exclusively human , the tradition that, in Heideggers totality-of-significations and in Benjamins
attuned to the spatial relations and articulations between beings, whether
language of things or the language as such, is

animate or inanimate. this Plant-thinking must, henceforth, rely on material signification devoid of conscious intentionality and coinciding with the very phenomenalitythe particular modes of appearanceof vegetal

embodied, material, and finite sense [is] a


life. If the postures of plants are meaningful in the strict sense of expressivity conveyed by Ponge, then it is possible to appeal to their as

counterpoint to the ideality of meaning endorsed, for example, in Husserlian phenomenology. Recall that it is with reference to the destructibility of an actual tree, juxtaposed to the noematic

perceived tree, that Husserl endeavors to formulate the metaphysical sense of sense in Ideas I: The tree simpliciter, the physical thing belonging to Nature, is nothing less than this perceived tree as perceived which, as perceptual sense, inseparably belongs to
perception. The tree simpliciter can burn up, be resolved into its chemical elements, etc. But the sense the sense of this perception, something belonging necessarily to its essencecannot burn up; it has no chemical elements, no forces, no real properties.30
Husserl takes it for granted that the tree simpliciter is, as such, meaningless and that, in its pure ideality, meaning is metaphysically safe and sound, insulated from empirical accidents and phenomenological reductions, devastating fires and careful bracketings.

The ideality of sense that outlives the destruction of its referent is a corollary to pure
consciousness that survives the hypothetical annihilation of the world. But what if these assumptions are unwarranted? What about

non-metaphysical meaning
the materiality of the trees sense, which merges with its being? Can it burn up, be resolved into its chemical elements, etc.? A n affirmative answer to these questions will envisage that

will be destroyed along with its bearer. vegetal life is saturated with meaning in all its It will assert that

spatiality, materiality, and finitude, and, conversely, that the loss of every tree to deforestation or to other causes

implies the passing away of meaning bound up with the particular spatial extension of that
very tree, to which we can no longer be transcendentally indifferent. Just as, in the thought of Levinas and Derrida, the death of each

singular human subject is nothing less than the end of the world (phenomenologically and 29 Ponge (1994, pp. 701). 30 Husserl (1983, p. 212). 480 M. Marder 123 ethically understood), so the uprooting of every tree signals the obliteration of the meaning that it

The tree means


is in the extended materiality of its posture. nothing before the act of sense-bestowal that
Husserlian simpliciter too little (indeed, at all) , at

holds for it the dialectical promise of resurrection and immortality as it turns into the
the same time, quasi-

perceived the signified the meaningless material plant must be sacrificed to its
, the remembered, or tree. This is why

ideal counterpart, in which it gains eternal life. A human being, too, may descend to the
meaningless of the plant when [they] produce meaning, in excess of the confines of
, especially s too much

formal logic : For such a man [refusing to reason and not respecting the principle of non-contradiction], as such, is seen already to be no better than a mere vegetable [homoios gar phutoi].31 Whether or not such humans succumb to the

the refusal to
impulses of the vegetal part of their souls, the refusal to reason is here detected in holding fast to the possibility of the same thing being and not being (snubbing the principle of non-contradiction), that is, in

master and eliminate the equivocality of meaning. Derridas take on this passage from Aristotles Metaphysics emphasizes how metaphysical thought, vigilantly warding off

the slightest hints of metaphoricity, gets carried away when it comes to a subtly de-naturalized natural metaphor of the plant: And such a metaphorical vegetable (phutos) no longer belongs completely to physis to the extent that it is presented, in truth, by
mimesis, logos, and the voice of man.32 (Decades later, Derrida will apply the same argument to the exemption of the metaphor of the beast from the order of nature, given that the attribute of betise stupidity, folly, foolishness: from the French la bete, the
beastcannot be used to describe the animal, only the human.33) A dangerous metaphoricity has already percolated into the comparisonundertaken in all seriousness within the confines of a metaphysical discourse wholly committed to formal logicof an

The metaphor of the plant, used as a weapon against


unreasonable human being to a vegetable obscurely and absolutely separated from logos.34

metaphorical thinking, announces the self-undermining and the internal collapse of Aristotles dream of

univocal meaning. This, in turn, leads us back to the paradoxes of the tree simpliciter, which is not only an example of a physical thing belonging to Nature but also a counterexample to Husserls phenomenological argument, in

that it is, as such, something meant and theoretically objectifiedin other words, a physical thing belonging to Natureto the degree that, despite its ostensible referential exteriority, it is posited in and manipulated by a philosophical discourse. Its simplicity or
absolution from the order of signification is never simple enough and never complete; something of meaning always burns up al ong with the tree simpliciter. Although Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa still attributes a kind of metaphysics to vegetal life, his is a
metaphysics that is no longer anthropocentric, that does not revolve around symbolic meaning, but, rather, revels in the clara simplicidade/E saude em existir/Das arvores e das plantas [clear simplicity/And health in the 31 Aristotle (1933, 1006a, 12 5). 32 Derrida
(1985, p. 249). 33 Derrida (2009, p. 147ff). 34 Agamben (1999, p. 231). Vegetal anti-metaphysics 481 123 existence/Of the trees and of the plants].35 Alberto Caeiro, the pastoral literary persona (heteronym) of Pessoa, is highly attuned to the otherness of vegetal
meaning in his refusal to consider the absence of conscious thought as the index of absolute meaninglessness. As though anticipating the impossible desire of Francis Ponge, who wishes to lose his head, emulating the headless plant, he praises the metaphysics of
plants: Metaphysics? What metaphysics do those trees have?/To be green and lush and to have branches/And to bear fruit at the right time/But what better metaphysics than theirs,/The metaphysics of not knowing for what they live/ And of not knowing that
they do not know it?.36 Much more is at stake here than the conventional ascription of innocence to vegetal life would intimate; what Caeiro hints at is the non-privative dimension of a thought-free way of being and a corresponding indication that thinking itself is
a defect (if not a disease), an anomaly within the order of the existence of plants. Implicitly concurring with both Nietzsche, for whom empty contemplation is an illness, and with Heidegger, who supports the view that the theoretical attitude is a sickly product of a
failure in the practical comportment of the ready-to-hand, the author of these lines affirms the disconnect between life and knowledge, between existence and the brooding about its meaning or purpose (The metaphysics of not knowing for what they live/and of
not knowing that they do not know it). The spatial and practical vegetal meaning bereft of consciousness completes the de-centering of metaphysics in plant life and parades the lack of inner essence that would be hidden behind the surface level of its phenomenal

what we can learn from the plants is an


appearances. Despite the Socratic pronouncement in Phaedrus that the trees are not willing to teach [us] anything,37 clear simplicity

inherently superficial mode of existence, which we, humans, are rarely satisfied with, even
though we are absorbed in it during a significant portion of our lives. 4 Essential superficiality: Toward a model of vegetal being We have already touched upon the essential superficiality of plants with regard to
their exteriority (to themselves) and sheer phenomenality. Metaphysically speaking, vegetal life is superficial because it does not boast a deep essence, that is, because a plant may cast off virtually any of its parts without being fatally affected by this loss. The author
of De Plantis was the first to remark upon this puzzling behavior of various parts of plants, such as the leaves and the fruit, that often fall off from them even without being cut off.38 But pseudo-Aristotle refrains from defining the entire vegetal being as essence-
free, instead highlighting the parallel between these detachable parts, which may be lost without the infliction of damage upon the rest of the living being, and the equally superfluous nails and hair of human beings. His thinking is promptly brought back into the
familiar metaphysical fold (and plunged 35 Pessoa (1969, p. 206). 36 Pessoa (1969, p. 207). 37 Plato (1914, p. 230d). 38 Aristotle [attributed] (1963, pp. 318b, 1015). 482 M. Marder 123 into the dimension of depth) as soon as it contemplates the role of the root as
the source of life, aitian zoes, and of the stem, in its erection out the ground, as comparable to the stature of man.39 Periodically shedding its leaves does not present a danger to the continued life of the plant that, actually, survives the harsh seasons thanks to
this sacrifice. But detach it from its vital source (or cause) and it will immediately perish: such is the assumption of the early vitalist essentialism, which inaugurates the view that both the plant and the animal are organisms, or living totalities, where the organic
parts are subordinated to the demands of the whole. It is an achievement of Derridian deconstruction to have revealed that the detachable, prosthetic, and ostensibly superfluous supplement is the hidden, disavowed source of that which it supplements. The leaf
is, perhaps, the very embodiment of supplementarity, because it is something superadded onto the trunk and the branches, more often than not on a temporary basis. In Goethes The Metamorphosis of Plants the logic of the deconstructive supplement plays itself
out avant la lettre, precisely, when it comes to the status of the leaf in the development of plants. According to Goethe, metamorphosis, change of form, the process of becoming-other, is not merely one of the features of vegetal life; it is this life itself. The primacy
of change over the stability and identity of the plant is deduced in this influential botanical monograph from the permutations of the leaf, whose thickening contraction yields a seed, whose refinement turns it into a petal, and whose greatest expansion accounts
for the emergence of a fruit.40 The depth of the root, the fruitfulness of the seed, the thickness and overwhelming size of a tree trunk are all construed in terms of the rhythmic vacillations of the leaf that successively experiences phases of expansion and
contraction. Like human corporeality, the plants body is all skin, a mere surface, sometimes thin to the point of transparency, sometimes thick and dense, as though in commemoration of the inorganic nature, to which it stays relatively close.41 The mystical aura of
the seed taken to be an originary principlesuffice it to mention, in this respect, the pre-Socratics fascination with spermata and Ovids haunting description of the originary chaos as full of warring seeds [discordia semina] of ill-matched elements42is debunked
in keeping with the overturning of causal relations (the effects become the causes of the cause) and of priorities (the first becomes second, and the secondfirst) in the logic of supplementarity. That which is the most superficial finally takes the place of the most
fundamental: the leaf usurps the originary status of the seed. When Goethe resolutely argues for the fruitfulness hidden in a leaf,43 he embraces the absolute superficiality of vegetal being and adds a new twist to the cryptic statement of St. Thomas Aquinas, vita
in plantis est occulta, life is hidden 39 Aristotle [attributed] (1963, pp. 319a, 2325). 40 Goethe (2009, p. 65). 41 Yet it [the body] is a skin, variously folded, refolded, unfolded, multiplied, invaginated [Nancy (2008, p. 15)]. 42 Ovid (1984, I, 9). 43 Goethe (2009, p.

The mystery of this life is not buried in the deep recesses of the seed or of
67). Vegetal anti-metaphysics 483 123 in plants.44

the earth for it resides in the very figure of the surface


, the figure of being- , of that which is given to sight and turned toward light,

exposed , the leaf. Yet, the antimetaphysical bend of Goethes text is eclipsed by a lamentable imposition of identity onto the plant, whose differences in form are reduced to a self-same substratum underwriting them: The process by which one and
the same organ appears in a variety of forms has been called the metamorphosis of plants.45 And, again: Earlier I tried to make as clear as possible that the various plant parts developed in sequence are intrinsically identical despite their manifold differences in
outer form.46 A crystal-clear distinction between the inner and the outer, the one and the many, the unapparent identical core, on the one hand, and the appearance of manifold differences, on the other, recuperates the organizing set of metaphysical
dichotomies that suffocate vegetal life by virtue of this lifes philosophical misappropriation. Even the displacement of the origin as a result of the relegation of fruitfulness to the leaf is derailed by Goethes metaphysical zeal. Having developed, in theory, the primal
form of the plant, he embarked on a search for the archetypal plant, Ur-Pflanz, meant to supply the empirical proof for his theory. Thus, in a letter from Naples dated May 1787, Goethe confided in Herder: The primal plant is going to be the strangest creature in
the world, which nature itself will envy me.47 It is going to be, more concretely and in an eerie anticipation of genetic manipulation based on the DNA structure, an actually existing generic blueprint of plant-being, from which still nonexistent plant varieties would
be derived. The idea that vegetal difference is inessential migrated from Goethes theory of metamorphosis to Hegels dialectical enunciation of plant nature. Hegel recognizes that, though an organic being, the plant is not an organism, because, in it, the difference
of the organic parts is only a superficial metamorphosis and one part can easily assume the function of the otherIn the plant, therefore, the members are particular only in relation to each other, not to the whole; the members themselves are in turn wholes, as in

The difference of plant parts is no difference, one predicated


the dead organism where in sedimentary strata they are also external to one another.48

on a superficial metamorphosis that overlays the undifferentiated substratum of nascent


organic life still in a tight grip of the inorganic mineral world. But neither does the language of sameness befit vegetal life, since the plant falls short of

metaphysical
positing its self-identity in a mediated relation to itself as other. At the very least, the inapplicability of either of the two terms should have given the philosopher a pause and should have been taken as a clue for the fact that

and dialectical categories do not pertain to this kind of life on the hither side of the lived

distinction between the same and the other. the externality of parts in relation to the Dialectically speaking,

whole and to each other engrains death itself into vegetal life , as Hegels analogy demonstrates. The plant, for Hegel, is a 44 Aquinas (1952, Q.LXIX, A2).
45 Goethe (2009, p. 6), emphasis added. 46 Goethe (2009, p. 56). 47 Goethe (1962, p. 310). 48 Hegel (2004, pp. 303304). 484 M. Marder 123 novice in the sphere of the living entirely identified with the organicity of a selfproliferating totality. If the plant is not an

Its parts transcend the distinction between part


organism consisting of interdependent organs, it may not be conceived as a totality or as a differentiated whole. , likewise,

and whole; in their externality to one another, they are both members of a plant and
independent entities in their own right. Unbound from the logic of the totality, they constitute
a provisional unity of multiplicities not (the plant, in an apt expression of a nineteenth century French botanist BrisseauMirbel, isa collective being49), a loose community that is

interlaced with the ironclad ties of an inner essence. The plant, whose forms and functions are fluid, is not an organism but what Deleuze and Guattari term a body
without organs, a mode of dis-organization, a pure multiplicity of immanence.50 It is astonishing, therefore, that a particular plantthe treeis singled out by the authors of A Thousand Plateaus as the model of a hierarchical arrangement of multiplicities and of

the leaf is
the differences between products and reproductions (tracings), originary and derivative elements: The tree articulates and hierarchizes tracings; tracings are like the leaves of a tree.51 Deleuze and Guattari seem to forget that neither

an infinitely iterable and radically egalitarian building


an organ of a larger whole, nor a derivation from the original stem-root structure. In and of itself, it is

block Wreaking havoc in the differential


of the tree, for it is, at once, the source, the product, and the miniature reproduction of vegetal being, from which it may always fall away.

valuations of copies versus originals and enacting a veritable anarchy , the plants body without organs is not subject to a hierarchical
organization. It maintains conceptual horizontality even in the trees spatial verticality. After this brief detour, let us return to the Goethe-Hegel nexus. The most significant disagreement between the two German authors, when it comes to the philosophy of plants,
pertains to the status of sexual difference (and, more generally, organic differentiation) in vegetal life. For Goethe, the metamorphosis of plants is a teleological development, in the course of which the leaf is gradually refined and even spiritualized in its
transformation into the flower, a garland surrounding its sexual organs. By changing one form into another, notes Goethe, it [the plant] ascendsas on a spiritual ladderto the pinnacle of nature: propagation through two genders.52 The telos of the leaf, in its
literal and metaphorical journey out of the coarseness of the seed and the darkness of the soil toward the vast airy expanse, toward the light, and toward the objectification of the luminous in the colorful fragility of the flower, is individuation and sexual difference
serving as the basis for ontological difference between spiritless matter and actualized spirit. On this account, the plant develops sexual organs, while the iterations of the samethe leafproduce qualitatively different, organically differentiated, outcomes. It is this
presupposition that Hegel dismantles, arguing that the plant is unable to muster enough individuality to oppose itself to an individual of a different sex: The 49 Qtd. in Canguilhem (2008, p. 41). 50 Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p. 157). 51 Deleuze and Guattari (1987,
p. 12). 52 Goethe (2009, p. 6). Vegetal anti-metaphysics 485 123 different individuals cannot therefore be regarded as of different sexes because they have not been completely imbued with the principle of their opposition53 Although sexual difference surfaces
for the first time in a plant, it thereby signals a dialectical transition to what is not a plant, namely, to the animal completely imbued with sexuality that is inseparable from its entire embodied being. Of course, Hegel does not deny that pollination is a sexual mode of
reproduction, but he treats this mode as redundant within the overall framework of the existence of plants: the entire vegetal genus-process is on the whole, superfluous since the process of formation and assimilation is already reproduction as production of
fresh individuals,54 so much so that the seed which is produced in a fruit is a superfluity.55 What stood for the pinnacle of the plants spiritual development in Goethe turns out to be a superfluous appendage in Hegels philosophy. Despite the mediation of
dialectical self-understanding through vegetal metaphorssuch as the interplay between the deep essence and the appearances as a relation between the kernel and the shellthe seed of the actual plant turns into a luxurious excess, in Hegel as well as in
Bergson,56 the excess ready to be discarded by the dialectical machinery at any moment. It is easy to forgive Hegel for his ignorance of the much later discoveries that the sexuality of plants is so complex that it is regulated by hormonesfor instance, soy beans
contain large quantities of phytoestrogens, similar to the human estrogenor that the introduction of mammalian sex hormones into plants induces flowering and affects the ratio of female to male flowers.57 What is unforgivable, nonetheless, is that his approach
to vegetal sexuality condenses in itself, as though in a philosophical microcosm, the metaphysical mishandling of plants. The absence of individuality, inner differentiation, and oppositionality in vegetal being boils down, in the elaboration on the genus-process, to
the castration of the plant incapable of accommodating sexual difference. But, in the first instance, it is this difference as such that falls prey to the knife of dialectics that simplifies the entire realm of sexuality to an oppositional relation between two sexes, thanks to
which each finds the individuality proper to it. A violent dialectical reduction takes it for granted that only two alternatives exhaust the entire array of sexualities, discernable, especially, in the pre-individuated state defined by Freud in terms of the polymorphous
perversity of the infant, and by Heidegger as the neutrality of Dasein. Apropos of the multifaceted sexual differences of Dasein, Derrida writes in the Geschlecht series: If Dasein as such belongs to neither of the two sexes, this doesnt mean that its being is
deprived of sex. On the contrary, here one must think of a predifferentiated, rather a pre-dual, sexualitywhich doesnt necessarily mean unitary, homogeneous, or undifferentiated[but] more originary than a dyad.58 Multiple vegetal sexualities will reinforce the
dispersed multiplicity of vegetal being that 53 Hegel (2004, p. 344). 54 Hegel (2004, p. 343). 55 Hegel (2004, p. 348). 56 Bergson (2005, p. 49). 57 Janeczko and Skoczowski (2005, p. 75). 58 Derrida (1978, p. 72). 486 M. Marder 123 does not adopt an oppositi onal
stance toward its surroundings. The pre-dual sexualontological constitution of animals and humans is a legacy of vegetal dissemination. Just as the neutrality of Dasein saturates it with sexuality to the brink, overflowing the dyadic relation, so the indifference of
vegetal sex life surpasses the logic of oppositionality and produces differences without regard to the exigenci es of sameness. 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 plants lack of
individuality is cast in terms of the simple, immediate unity of the self and the genus. Given that the seeds 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 seeds 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

The figure of the plant that


of indifferent universality (seed defying the boundaries between species and even kingdoms) and attention to singularity (its appropriateness to each). , like a weed,

incarnates everything the metaphysical tradition deems to be improper inessential , superficial, , 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 and for, the place of the weed is, precisely, in-between62

quietly gaining the upper hand over that which is cherished, tamed, and useful. Despite all the abuses to which

the plants will outlive metaphysics. And, from the vantage point of this
they are subjected, the weeds and, more generally,

survival or after-life, they will teach us, humans, what it means to be in the world, to to be a subject,

be with others, to be.

And this is pragmatically key to any meaningful political movement. Our


underlying metaphysical praxis matters. Unless we model ourselves collectively
off the multiplicitous, metamorphosing materiality of plants, were doomed to
an endless cycle of political energy being co-opted or merely constituting new
violent centers. Marder 12:
[Michael, Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country,
Vitoria-Gasteiz] RESIST LIKE A PLANT! ON THE VEGETABLE LIFE OF POLITICAL MOVEMENTS
Peace Studies Journal, Vol. 5, Issue 1, January 2012
The politics of space, privileging the sedentary component of bodies largely exposed to the elements (tents are a poor protection from rain and cold) and gaining increasing visibility thanks to this exposure, is, I
would argue, one we have learned from vegetal life. Standing for nonviolence par excellence, the plant has been identified in the history of Western thought with a living icon of peace, a non-oppositional being,
wholly included in the place wherein it grows, to the point of merging with the milieu. As Hegel notes in his Philosophy of Nature, unlike an animal, who opposes itself to its place, insofar as it is able to dislocate
and to find itself elsewhere, the plant is shackled to its environment, which is not at all other to it. The plant is all about a visible extension without interiority (Hegel 2004: 308), a phenomenal, utterly
exposed, self-referential surface, a living sign of itself. When environmental activists chain themselves to trees that are about to be felled, they replicate, to some extent, the mode of being of these vegetal
beings: confined to a place, bodily manifesting their bond And when protesters pitch tents in parks or on city squares, they reinvent the strange modern rootedness in the uprooted world of the metropolis,
existentially signifying their discontent by merely being there. A common-sense objection to this thesis will accentuate the unsurpassable limits to the mimetic capacity of human beings, the capacity arguably
definitive of their very humanness. After all, dissimilar to plants, we are able to choose our place and, subsequently, to dwell by making the place our own, which is something the Occupy protesters have done in a
self-conscious and highly creative fashion. The plants relation to its milieu is, precisely, non-appropriative; it does not possess its world, even though it may indirectly effect certain changes in its environment.
Humans cannot literally become plants. Purely vegetal beings do not protest, do not set themselves against anything, do not negatesymbolically or otherwisewhat is. But if we act as though we were them,
following a useful theoretical and practical fiction grounded in the vegetal heritage of the human, we would need to follow a non-possessive, non-appropriative way of being, resonating, at once, with the
conclusions of botany and with the image of postmetaphysical ethical subjectivity. We would, consequently, repudiate the ideal of sovereign and decisive action, directed by a rational, conscious or self-
conscious, individual or collective subject and, instead, nurture the horizontally and an-archically growing grassroots that crop up wherever protest tents are pitched in the shadow of skyscrapers. Levinass
passivity more passive than all passivity (1996: 121) is a distant echo of what Hegel calls the powerlessness, Ohnmacht, of plants (1979: 420) that in their being are propelled to the hither side of ontology and
its basic economy of violence, where to be is already to dispossess others, to take away their place. The flower power of the sixties thrived on a juxtaposition of peaceful protests and armed policeflowers on
(or in) the one hand and guns on (or in) the other. The power of non-violence was meant to overwhelm the brute military force of repression, not the least by modeling the protesters mode of being on that
of the plants themselves.2 And yet, the cutting of the flower, the disruption of its organic connection to the soil, was not considered to be violent, perhaps because it paled in comparison to the violence of the
war, against which proponents of flower power rallied, and that of the riot police who confronted them. Impotent to resist its culling, the flower could be easily sacrificed to the political cause, so as to be reborn
in the realm of Spirit, endowing those who utilized it as a symbol with its peculiar brand of powerless power. Residual violence against non-human beings was ineliminable. 27 Peace Studies Journal, Vol. 5,
Issue 1, January 2012 A similar paradox is unfolding before our eyes today. Occupation, as a rhetorical trope and a concrete strategy, already connotes a significant degree of violence, which is either ontological or
purely political, either built into existence itself imperialistically asserting its own right to a place, which is then denied to the other, or borrowed from the very phenomena the protesters find so objectionable:
military occupations, colonial projects, and so forth. For Levinas, who implicitly follows Nietzsches idea that plants are the vegetal expressions of the will-to-power, ontological violence is inseparable from their
growth, asserting, most unethically and indifferently, their place under the sun. As the French philosopher asks in Difficult Freedom, What is an individual, a solitary individual, if not a tree that grows without
regard for everything it suppresses and breaks, grabbing all the nourishment, air and sun, a being that is fully justified in its nature and its being? What it an individual if not a usurper? (1997: 100) But is the
usurpation of resources by a tree equivalent, in its magnitude, to the their appropriation by the avatars of possessive individuality? The tree actually gives back much more than it takes, in that it converts carbon
dioxide into oxygen, not to mention the fact that it does not lay claim to the non-resource infinitely available to all, namely the sunlight on which it depends. In much the same fashion, the occupations of public
spaces by protesters are not of one piece with the arrogation of wealth and resources by the richest one percent of the population. Plants do not occupy anything even if they cover vast extensions of the planets
surface; the generous compensation for their ontological violence (if any) is the gift of pure air, of a more fertile soil, of life itself they bestow upon other creatures. Participants in the Occupy movement also do
not occupy anything; their being in a given locale is intended to restitute the possibility of dwelling to others, while the tents unequivocally bespeak their displacement, an irrecusable refugee status. Analogous to
plants, the protesters being-in-a-place is far from what Levinas would call the imperialism of the same, for it is tantamount to the irruption of otherness from the fissured, if not altogether broken, hegemony
of neoliberalism. Regardless of the numerical majority of vegetal beings among those living on the planet and regardless of the protesters performative self-identification with the 99% who get more
impoverished by the day, both represent instances of the subaltern, exploited without raising their voice against their oppression. Admittedly, plants neither speak, nor shriek, nor squeal, nor screech, nor cry out
in pain when they are chopped down. But this absolute silence is not at all symptomatic of the absence of suffering; even if vegetal beings do not have a nervous system, they are prone to distress, expressed
at the biochemical level, due to drought, extreme cold, or, in some cases, the presence of a predator in their environment. Subjected to violence in absolute, unbreakable silence, [plants] they are absolutely
subaltern, and neither human nor animal liberation can come to pass without the liberation of plants that would dispense to them their own most ontological possibilities. Human beings, on the contrary, are
capable of organizing, speaking out against, and protesting economic and political injustices. But when they resist on the basis of radical passivity (an attitude in excess of the opposition between the active and

every expression of their life, such as the physical position of


the passive comportments), when they are so motivated that

their bodies and the place they inhabit, attains a political character, they do not limit
politics and action to a conscious collective orientation and sovereign decision-making. This is
not to say that the protests are somehow irrational. Quite the opposite is the case: they are much more reasonable 28 Peace Studies Journal, Vol. 5, Issue 1, January 2012 than

the purported rationality of the deranged political-economic system they resist, even as they implicitly question the hierarchy of the
faculties and the anthropocentric view of politics as such. The modern idea of a political
movement has already glimpsed the kind of dynamic action that overflows the rigid confines of a conscious organization, but it has done so with
reference to animal metaphors, reducing movement to mobility, or locomotion. Inspired by the
organismic model of an animal, it has, in crucial moments of the twentieth century, lapsed into fascism, with its
goal to recreate this living totality at the political level. And it has all but forgotten the lessons of Aristotelian philosophy, where
movement refers not only to locomotion but also to growth, decay, and change of state (De Anima
406a, 14-17). Plants obviously partake of these capacities and it is high time for political movements to become attuned to

a more ample definition of movement, to learn from plants much more than the rhetoric of
the grassroots would allow, to discover what it takes to grow, to decay, and to be plastic
enough to metamorphose into a different state. And this is not even to mention externally induced movement, by an element such as
the wind disturbing branches of the tree or stalks of rye, the movement most readily associated with plants. The zoo-centric bias of philosophy

must give way to a wholly de-centered phytological approach, for a human being is, in the first
instance, not a political animal, as Aristotle has it, but a political plant, not but . The non-violent
resistance tactics of the Occupy movement are a step in the right direction, if the movements rigorously an-archic, highly mobile, and, at the same time, sedentary structure is a

trustworthy indication. It resonates with Ulrich Becks recent enunciation of his ideal of European citizens in mixed vegetal-animal terms: at once having roots
and wings.3 From the standpoint of the political authorities, however, there is no such thing as a non-violent protest because any sustained contestation of the status
quo immediately takes the form of a threat to the hegemonic order, already weakened by the ongoing global crisis. In this respect, it is essential to follow the finer divisions
within the general economy of violence, to distinguish between acts of institutionalized theft, such as the bailouts of financial institutions that have left countless people
destitute thanks to the draconian austerity measures compensating for these expenditures, close range pepper spraying of protesters, and ontological violence coextensive with
mere being. Politics necessarily entails pitting violence against violence, especially where the standoff is asymmetrical and, perhaps, foredoomed. When the legitimacy of a
regime is put in question by the sheer bodily presence of the protesters who claim the right to occupy the regimes most emblematic places, existential-ontological violence
without power, or at least, without reliance on physical force, opposes itself to the violence inherent in the self-perpetuation of unjust institutions. A peaceful protest is

Despite their philosophical and poetic coding as figures of pure


nothing but an oxymoron, as the cut flowers, too, silently testify.

innocence and nonoppositionality, plants often protect themselves by releasing toxic or venomous substances, by prickling, or by other
means. Still, their self-defense is unique, because they have no intimate inner self to defend, at

least no self that would emerge in opposition to the other. To resist like a plant is not to protest for

the sake of a ground to be gained; the program of a limited redistribution of wealth from the richest one percent to the rest (a minor
adjustment, to which many billionaires have, actually, consented by signing petitions for an increased taxation of their incomes) is pointless if it
leaves the principle of appropriation intact. Just as the protests flourish 29 Peace Studies Journal, Vol. 5, Issue 1,
January 2012 from the sense of radical dispossession prompting its participants to leave their homes, those embodiments of interiority and

privacy, so the aspirations of the movement would come to fruition only in the total negation of

private property and of the possessive model of subjectivity associated with it. Communism, inconceivable in the absence of this radical demand,

is vegetal in its rejection of the appropriative model of subjectivity, whose basic unit is an individual separated from all others

and constituted around a coherent corethe dimension of inner psychic depth and the
capacity to own property essential to personhood. What would it mean to occupy public space without
appropriating it? To manifest a multiplicity of bodies in a locale without asserting a sovereign
right over it? Would it not imply being in a place without laying claim to it, being there for others?
In response to these questions, let us attempt to sketch the outlines of the correlation between various types of movement typical of vegetal beings and the emergent political

to reinvent[ing] the political form on


movements. I have already mentioned the an-archic component of the Occupy movement, which seems

the basis of vegetal ontology. As I argue in Plant-Thinking,4 each plant in its singularity is a collective being, a
loose and disorganized assemblage, and, hence, a community of plants that do not comprise a
unified whole, do not constitute either an individual or an organism. In vegetal beings, life is
de-centerednot, as some might think, concentrated in the vital organ, the root, but dispersed and disseminated throughout
the body of plant communities. The same applies to the recent protests devoid of a unified central structure, a leader, or a global organization. The
new political movements are vegetal, considering that they are acephalic, headless, and, therefore, obdurately an-archic, lacking an arkh, an organizing principle or origin.

They grow by superfluous additions or reiterations from this enabling lack. Growth as such
is always dispersed, from the beginning it does not have; to move in tune with it, following its
peculiar rhythms is to accept this dispersion. The new protest movements proliferate in much the same fashion,
by vegetal iteration, not by reproducing an ideal standard in multiple empirical copies . It is, in fact,
difficult to say what the original, incipient moment for the Occupy movement has been: Occupy Wall Street, or the Spanish acampadas? The events of Tahrir Square in Cairo,

The displacement of the origin, its


the Ukrainian Maidan encampments, or the student occupations of American university campuses in the 1960s?

dissemination and decimation, is in touch with the logic of plant life, where the seed is not the
first cause but an infinitely deferred point of recommencement, the chance of a new beginning. It is this absence of an
essential and essentially simple origin that frees todays political movements for experiments in self-reinvention, whence the most unlikely strategic alliances emerge. More

vegetal form is not


importantly, what they seem to have learned from plants is how to move by metamorphosis, or change of state. Unlike animal Gestalt,

pre-given in the embryonic state; it shifts and changes, sometimes dramatically, as the
growing plant extends its surface, capturing solar energy. Now, the form of the protest movement, too, is
far from being predetermined by the movements beginningsthemselves obscure and
irreducible to a single point in space and timeas its growth often branches off in surprising
directions. In capturing political energy, it avoids the animal-like hoarding of its power in the
recesses of the organism and, instead, channels this energy toward solutions of the most
urgent social problems, such as 30 Peace Studies Journal, Vol. 5, Issue 1, January 2012 homelessness. (The occupations of vacant buildings in Seattle, Boston,
and Atlanta are the case in point here.) There is no telling where such immediate externalization would lead in the long or, even, in the short run. One thing is certain, however:

no movement can hope to maintain its vitality, after having abdicated the power of
metamorphosis, for instance, by turning itself into a political party. In itself, this transformation spells out an extreme possibility of metamorphosis: a
change that puts an end to any further changes of state. If it is to preserve itself qua
movement, the loose network of the Occupy protests must not keep itself intact, must fight against the
temptation to remain in its current form, rendered perfectible in the animal manner by inner
differentiation and specialization of functions within an organismic totality. On the contrary, and perhaps
paradoxically, in order to keep itself, a movement must lose itself and re-compose itself each time anew, in a completely different, unrecognizable form. The term for this

Plasticity, arguably much more pronounced in plants than in animals (cf. Hall 2002), involves, at the political
metametamorphosis is plasticity.

level, the capacity for adaptation that has the potential to withstand the most repressive
police actions, evictions, and uprootings: to be, at the same time, pliable and rigid, like an ivy
disturbed by gusts of wind: to know how to hold ones ground without miming the immobility of a rock. The silent seated student protest, to which the
Chancellor of the University of California, Davis was treated on her walk of shame, was a plastic, vegetal reinvention (better yet, a reiteration) of the movement broken up by
the campus police a few days earlier. It stood for the exact inversion of the experience mile Cioran described in De l'Inconvnient d'tre N: To walk in a forest between two
rows of ferns transformed by the autumn, that is triumph. What is that next to approbation and ovation? (211) And it facilitated the uprooted groups self-reconfiguration,
much like a stem cutting that, planted in soil, recovers the cellular differentiation at both extremes, shooting new roots and buds. Hence, the slogan, following the logic of plant

The subtle vegetal movement of decay holds yet


life that regenerates thanks to pruning: Occupy will never die; Evict us, we multiply!

another promise for contemporary political practices. It is no secret that the same plant can wither and
flourish at the same time, die in parts and continue to live in other parts, so that life and death
literally get dispersed on its body. It can accomplish this feat thanks to the fact that it is not an organism, obeying
the logic of an internally differentiated living whole, but a loose assemblage of quasi-
independent members. An an-archic political movement repeats the achievement of the plant,
in that it, too, may have parts that decay while others thrive, rendering the absolute terms of

victory and defeat irrelevant. This is why the ongoing evictions of the Occupy camps are not really effective: lacking a single
vital centerthe heart or the headand thus diverging from the model of an animal-like
organism, this political movement can afford to lose intensity in some of its branches without
compromising its vitality. In defiance of formal logic and the principle of non-contradiction, it
can die and live at the same time. Given the rapprochement of the current political events and plant
ontology, it would not be farfetched to think of the Occupy movement as the possible prolegomenon to a liberation that would exceed its
human scope, experimenting, among other things, with a respectful approach to plants and
permitting us to imagine the outlines of what I would like to term a vegetal-human republic, the stuff out of which
philosophy as the history of the future is made.

Diplomacy via plant art is a key entry point to enacting ongoing


ontological empathy. Rather than project human characteristics
onto plants, we embrace their ontology on its own terms and
foster the vegetal aspects of our own being. We never believe we
can fully grasp the plant, but through a never-ending ethical
struggle to bridge the infinite gap between our temporalities we
produce new meaning and possibilities. Marder and Vieira 13:
Writing Phytophilia: Philosophers and Poets as Lovers of Plants michael marder and patricia
Vieira 2013

Literature was perceived, at least from European Romanticism onwards, as a


site of resistance both to the techno-industrial reification of plants as
raw materials and to the metaphysical edifice that sustained this
commodification of vegetal life. If philosophy, with its traditional disregard for
the here-below, its generalizing approach to thinking, and its anthropocentrism, justified
the onslaught of the natural environment in the name of abstract concepts such as
Reason or Spirit, the writings 44 michael marder and patricia vieira of authors such
as William Wordsworth or Novalis highlighted the organic ties binding human and non-
human living beings. But Romantic literature was not without guilt in the metaphysical
game of abstraction. The landscapes portrayed in Wordsworths poetry were arguably as
much the result of his personal observations as the distilled, artistic product of a set of
clichs about nature. Similarly, Novaliss emblematic blaue Blume, one of the symbols of
German Romanticism, epitomized, at the same time, the protagonists beloved and
poetry itself. Are plants doomed to self-effacement as perpetual stand-
ins for something else, be it the material basis of industrial
development or Romantic love? How can literature disentangle
vegetal life from its symbolic meanings and, to borrow the
phenomenological battle cry, go back to the plants themselves? In other
words, what would be the protocols of a phytophilic poiesis? To be sure, plants as
such will forever elude us, as our understanding of their being is
necessarily mediated by human sense-perception and scientific
knowledge, not to mention a long cultural history of human-vegetal
interaction, encompassing pastoral, georgic, and wilderness literature, as well as
utopian and, more recently, dystopian visions of our coexistence with other living beings.
Nevertheless, the inaccessibility of plant-life does not mean we should
relinquish attempts to relate to plants on their own grounds, and even to
learn from their specific mode of existence. In order to do so, we will need to ask
ourselves, as a rejoinder to Thomas Nagels query What Is it Like to Be a Bat?, the
question What Is it Like to be a Plant?. This interrogation pins down the crux of
phytophilia. To love a plant entails the desire to experience the world
through its specific standpoint, all the while being aware of the
impossibility of such a task given the sheer otherness of vegetal life. Do
plants have experiences? Do they even differentiate between themselves and the rest of the world? The expression of love through the impetus to turn into the
beloved has been immortalized by renowned Portuguese poet Lus Vaz de Cames (1524?1580), who opens one of his most famous sonnets with the lines: The
lover turns into the beloved/By virtue of much imagining 1 (297). One possible reading of Cames might insert this statement in a long phallogocentric line of
male phantasies about the domination of women, the transformation of the poet into his beloved being just a more comprehensive way to appropriate and control
female subjectivity. A more 1. Transforma-se o amador na cousa amada,/Por virtude do muito imaginar. All Portuguese poems are rendered in the authors
translation with the exception of the poems by Fernando Pessoa. 45Writing Phytophilia charitable interpretation of the sonnet, however, would highlight the
lovers attunement to the being of his beloved and his readiness to give up his stable male identity in order to unite with the one who gives shape to his soul (297).
Cames identifies imagination as the faculty that enables this transformation, while literature provides both a stage where the change can take place and an apt

A
medium to carry out such an experiment. As the realm of imagination par excellence, literature offers us an invaluable entry-point into the lives of plants.

phytophile writer can, like the lover in Camess sonnet, imagine what it
would be like to become a plant and strive to unite with the one she
desires. But vegetal existence adds yet another layer to the becoming-
plant of the phytophile poet. As noted above, plants are in permanent
metamorphosis, in a constant process of becoming that moves away
from the stability of entities described in metaphysical thought. If the
love of plants amounts to a love of change and becoming, then, in the
writers attempt to become a plant, she is at her most plant-like. What
will this triangulation of love, imagination, and becoming-plant yield for literary praxis?
Once we renounce the urge to make something out of plants, or to make plants into
something, what will a vegetal-inflected poetic praxis look like? The
writings of Brazilian poet Manoel de Barros (b. 1916) offer us a glimpse into a
phytophilic poiesis. A native of Mato Grosso do Sul, located in the heartland of
South America, Barros incorporates the lives of animals and plants into his
poetry in such a way that the borders separating humans and non-
humans become indiscernible. The result of this porous co-existence of different
beings is a radically transformed poetic language that evinces the constant becoming-
other of the poet. The desire to become a plant stems from Barross opposition to formal
modes of thought that do not do justice to the variety of vegetal and animal beings. In a
poem titled Portrait of the Artist as a Thing, the writer delineates the contours of his
transmutation into plants: Portrait of the artist as a thing: butterflies Already choose me
over the trees [] There is a vegetal heat in the voice of the artist. He will have to twist
his idiom to the point of reaching the murmur of water in the leaves of trees. He will no
longer have the ability to reflect about things. 46 michael marder and patricia vieira But
he will have the ability to be those things. He will no longer have ideas: he will have
rains, afternoons, winds, birds [] In order to see things without shape one
needs to know nothing. One needs to enter into the state of a tree. One
needs to enter into the state of a word.2 (365; 367; 371) For the poet, to
become a thing is tantamount to turning into a tree, traditionally considered as thing-
like because it does not share some of the traits that define humans, like motility or self-
consciousness. Far from regarding the characteristics of trees as a
negative counterpart to human existence, the poet expresses his wish
to learn from vegetal life. His voice acquires a vegetal heat, as he strives to twist
his idiom to the point/of reaching the murmur of water in the leaves/of trees. Not only
the poets language but also his entire way of thinking, as open to vegetal influences as
that of Rousseau, is changed by his transformation into a plant. He no longer
reflects about his surroundings as a detached subject who endeavors
to grasp an object lying outside it. His distance from things fades as he
simply turns into them (He will have the ability to be those things), in a fluidity of
being reminiscent of vegetal metamorphosis.

The fluid dissonance accessed by our performative combination of plant poetry


and plant music is key. We struggle to love the silver grass and be the silver
grass with every fiber of our poetic existence, imploding the metaphysical
construction of our stable identity. Marder 12:
[Michael, Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country,
Vitoria-Gasteiz]
The Life of Plants and the Limits of Empathy. Dialogue, 51, pp 259-273 doi:10.1017/S001221731
2000431

inviting the rapprochement of the human and the vegetal worlds entails
A more subtle method of

shrugging off the metaphysical excesses of spiritual anthropocentric ontology and afrming
the essential superciality of the human psyche and the crucial role of nonconscious
intentionality in any embodied existence. From Nietzsches famous claim that there is no doer behind the deed, 17 through Merleau-Pontys
phenomenology of the body, to Deleuze and Guattaris plateaus, exposing the illusion of subjective depth, late nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy, however

to empathize with plants is to


unwittingly, brought the meaning of the human into the greatest proximity to the being of plants. At the extreme,

recognize in ourselves certain features of vegetal life, rather than to project the metaphysical
image of human existence onto other life-worlds. This uncanny recognition has been somewhat more
prevalent in poetry than in philosophy, with the Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa and the French writer Francis Ponge embracing, if only as
unattainable ideals, various aspects of plant ontology, including existence without the head 18 (Ponge), or

the simplicity and blissful ignorance, where the lack of consciousness is redoubled by the absence of

self-consciousness 19 (Pessoa). Reversing the trajectory of narcissistic identication, whereby the


empathizers empathize, in the last instance, with themselves (or, at best, with what is very much like them), the
appreciation of the vegetal other in the human implodes the entire anthropocentric theo-
metaphysical edice. While we do not recognize ourselves in plants, we register something of the plants in us, so
that the failure of recognition, not to speak of self-recognition, becomes productive of an ethical relation to
vegetal life. Despite its intricacy, the poetic-philosophical rapprochement of the two ontologies disallows empathy and compassion alike. The difference between the
human and the plant, the distance between the one and the other, the foreignness of the one to the other are accentuated by the very efforts at surmounting them. The

means for imagining a human communion with plants and of adopting various features of
their existence act, precisely, as barriers to establishing a unity with them : poetic writingthough it
is, both in the case of Pessoa and in that of Ponge, quasi-phenomenological, unadorned, descriptive, pointing back to the things themselvessets the writers apart from the

desires to write and to think from the position, from the


vegetal world. It is, most likely, in reaction to this paradox that Ponge

standpoint, and from the spatial perspective of the plant. 20 And yet, even this interjection of the
human in the place of the vegetal other does not amount to an empathetic relation
predicated on projective identication but to Levinass ethical substitution in separation, 21 so
that the I puts itself in the position of the other, taking care not to annihilate the others
alterity, or to Deleuze and Guattaris becoming-plant, 266 Dialogue as a step in the series of molecular
becomings breaking down the identity of the subject to the point of becoming-inorganic and becoming-
imperceptible. 22 The very conditions of possibility for empathy are undercut in ethical
substitution as much as in the string of becomings, to the extent that they dispense with the
identity and the consolidated unity of subjectivity. Such undermining of empathy, in turn,
facilitates an ethics of vegetal life attuned to the plants unique ontology and sensitized to
their non-identity, the disseminated multiplicity of their being. To be fair, in Edith Steins phenomenological account of
empathy, the unity of the empathizer and the empathized with is neither presupposed nor actually accomplished. Through empathy, Stein argues, the feeling of oneness and
the enrichment of our own experience become possible, provided that this feeling is not interpreted as an indicator of the actual unity with the recipient of empathy. 23
Phenomenologically speaking, the feeling of oneness derived from empathy does not attain ful llment in experiential evidence. Even so, it betrays the ontology of vegetal
life dispersed into a multiplicity of sub-individual growths 24 that forego the arrangement of the parts of plantsroot, stem, leaves, ower, and so forthinto the totality of
an organism. When transposed onto the world of vegetation, the empathetic unity of the I and the other erases, in addition to the difference between the two, a signicant
facet of plant ontology, according to which the other is not one. The vegetal other, above all, cannot be gathered into a whole in itself, let alone along with something or
someone else. What nally thwarts empathy is the ontological scale of vegetal existence incommensurate with that of a human subject: the Nietzschean sub-individual growths
take place on a scale that it too miniscule to be registered on the subjective radars detecting nothing but the concrete unity of identity. Now, the metaphysical projections of
plant ontology run into a diametrically opposed problem of the vegetal scale that is too broad and overwhelming to elicit an empathetic response from a human subject. In
continuing to explore the limits of empathy, it is worthwhile to consider the splitting of the metaphysical imago of vegetal beings, on the one hand, into a fantastic exaggeration,
whereby they are identi ed with nature, the world, or spirit as such, and, on the other, into the analogs of everything that is super cial, dispensable, and antiquated in human
and animal bodies. Metaphysical Projections of Plant Ontology The extraordinary metaphysical projection of vegetation onto a magnitude of universal proportions spans the
writings of the philosophers of antiquity, as much as of modernity. Plotinus imagined the soul of the world in the shape of an enormous plant; Hegel saw in the plant and its
stages of development, growth, and maturation a metaphor of spirit; Novalis pictured nature as a gigantic tree, on which we are the buds. 25 The sheer impersonality of plants
and the collapse of the distinction between the individual and the collective in their being give vegetal ontology enough exibility to metonymize the whole The Life of Plants
and the Limits of Empathy 267 whereof it is a part, to stand in for nature as a global movement of generation, growth, and decay. Although it is dif cult, if not impossible, for
humans to recognize themselves in the non-individuated being of plants ampli ed to the entire world, the second metaphysical projection, mapping animal and human organs
onto the plant, creates a series of morphological and structuralfunctional homologies that facilitate such recognition. Both materialist and idealist philosophers resort to what
we might call the tactics of ontic-biological translation: Lorenz Oken and Goethe deem the ower to be the highest stage of the plants spiritual development and the equivalent
of the head 26 ; Julien La Mettrie equates foliage to the lungs, bark to skin, and roots to the digestive tract 27 ; Gaston Bachelard, following Paul Claudel, refers to the trees
vertical position as a posture of heroic uprightness. 28 As a consequence, these and other thinkers have domesticated the alien ontology of vegetation, rendering the ontic
features of plants familiar through a reductive comparison to their animal and human counterparts. Taken together, the projections of the human onto the plant and of the
plant onto the world are tantamount to a metaphysical transposition of the human onto nature as such, the transposition, where the domesticated and homologous fragments
of vegetal life are used as the means in the narcissistic self-recognition of the human in the environment. (Let us recall, in this context, that the concept of narcissism is, itself,
derived from the name of a mythical characterNarcissusthat was bestowed upon a ower, thereby completing the enchanted circle of the anthropomorphization of plants
and the vegetalization of the world.) It should come as no surprise that the morphological and structuralfunctional homologies are the material substitutes for the experience of
empathy and, according to Husserl, the guiding threads for the hermeneutical exercises, upon which the biological sciences are predicated. The obvious kinship between brute [
Tier , animal] and plant requires a rm foundation that would be neither intuitive nor empathetic; that is why [ t]he universal and completely inde nitely performed empathy
that permits the analogy is not enough for the investigator; he needs concrete experience of concrete sensitivities related to concrete organs, whereby the analogy of the plant
organs with bruteanimal ones must be broad enough to ground the probability of the interpretation. 29 S ound biological conclusions, interpreting the correlations of concrete
sensitivities and concrete organs, take the place of indefinitely performed empathy, which operates with a vague sense of similarity between gures of animal and plant lives.
Philosophers in the Western metaphysical tradition have relied, by and large, on the hazy gurations of the animal in the plant and, thus, have fallen prey to the kind of
empathy Husserl criticizes in Ideas III . Still, what the vague empathizers and the careful practitioners of biological hermeneutics have in common is that they privilege the
ontic dimensions of different kinds of life, while altogether disregarding ontological difference. 268 Dialogue Abstract and concrete comparisons miss the sole and the most
valuable contribution philosophy can make to the question of life (and of lives), namely, the adumbration of its ontological and ethical status. If, as Heidegger notes, the dif
culty of thinking non-human living beings is that, though similar to us, they are far removed from humans by the abyss of our ek-sistent essence, 30 then the ontological
grounding of biological parallelisms must supersede both empathy and the biological strategies of interpretation. Heidegger, on his part, presupposes that plants and animals do
not participate in the existential ontology of Daseina presupposition that is all the more doubtful, considering the plurality of existences and points of access to the world that
correspond to particular ontologies, including that of vegetal life. Once ontological investigations geared toward worlds and existences other than human are advanced enough
to offer a rejoinder to Heidegger, the similarities between various beings will also need to be rethought along ontological lines. It is this re-thinking that could give rise, for
example, to the notion of ontological empathy, no longer determined by ontic similitude but, instead, by a sense of proximity to the being of other creatures (e.g. the
essential superciality and nonconscious being-in-the-world of humans and plants). Any future rapprochement between humans and other beings will unfold on the terrain
of post-metaphysical philosophy, which will be exceptionally attentive to the ontological uniqueness of non-human existences and mediate between various ontologies
without privileging the standpoint of the human Dasei

And the aff is crucial in the contemporary moment. Human


metaphysics causes endless environmental destruction and
extinction. Only a symbolic shift towards the wisdom of plants
can solve. Marder and Vieira 13:
Writing Phytophilia: Philosophers and Poets as Lovers of Plants michael marder and patricia
Vieira 2013
The uneasy predicament of Western philosophy, which has, since the nineteenth century, had
forebodings of its imminent end, resonates with the current global environmental crisis. The
so-called natural resources are being exhausted in parallel with the reserves of metaphysics, already proclaimed depleted by Friedrich
Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. The spring of abstract theories, vying to explain the true
nature of reality, dries up and inaugurates the epoch of nihilism,
technologism, and technocracy roughly at the same time as global warming,
deforestation, desertification, and the loss of biodiversity reach the point of
no return. But, while metaphysics may survive in the mode of a monotonous
self-iteration, ecosystems have no such luxury at their disposal, since the
very metaphysical mindset that is now reaching a point of exhaustion has
contributed to a dramatic reduction in their capacity for self-renewal. In a
quest for all-encompassing conceptual systems, philosophers have forgotten
the ecology of thought, as much as the ecology of the physical environments
they are a part of. In effect, they have grown oblivious to themselves qua philosophers, or the lovers of wisdom, to the extent
that they have seen their mission in the possession and control of immutable truth. Only by reneging on its
philosophical vocation could metaphysics justify and undersign the
conversion of plants and animals into raw materials at the disposal of
humans. Wisdom, sophia, ceased to be the errant object of love, after which its lover was in a hot pursuit, for instance, in the
Socratic dialogues. It became, instead, a matter of appropriation and secure possession,
betraying the lovers intermediate position between knowledge and ignorance. Sophia was buried under the
monumental categories of metaphysics, ideally exempt from the exigencies
of transformation, movement, and growth. The inorganic constancy of true
being dogmatically superseded the plant- and animal-like evanescence of
wisdom.