“Are We Not Plants?!” – Upcoming Talk at MLA, Chicago

Are We Not Plants? Noöspheric Intelligence From the Text of Glas
Richard Doyle, Pennsylvania State University

“The innocence of the flower religion, which is merely the selfless representation of self…” Glas

This paper will model Jacques Derrida’s epochal and unheralded treatment of plant ontology in Glas. Here textual animals become heuristic vectors for metabolic and informational exchange fostered by plant “subjects” – e.g. seed dispersion. Instead of the usual categorical distinction between plant and animal, Derrida here resonates with and differs from a “holonomic” model of plant/animal interaction drawn from ecology that recognizes even the alterity that divides animal from plant – a seemingly straight forward taxonomical divide – as an aspect of much larger and deeply interconnected dissipative structures ( e.g. ecosystems, biomes, demographics) and their interactions. This notion of a plant ontology as immanent to animal ontology – animals are a capacity to move plant alleles around – will then provide an occasion for the exploration of attention (human and otherwise) as an evolutionary feedback loop for exploring the recombinant space of plant evolution through what Darwin called “artificial selection”, transforming human consciousness into a supplement for plant evolution. Drawing from contemporary thermodynamics ( e.g. Salthe, Sagan, Margulis, Schneider, Swenson, Kay) as well as Darwin’s work on artificial and sexual selection, the talk will suggest that this capacity of consciousness and its adjuncts ( e.g. writing) to observe and mark different traits by guessing at different thermodynamic outcomes (e.g. increasing yield, nutrition, flavinoids etc of plants) is the very ecological telos of attention, pulling us into a future that we both find and create in our ongoing search for energy gradients -Vernadksy’s concept of the “Noösphere” wherein the “selfless representation of self” evolves through continuous thermodynamic sacrifice ( Bataille).

Thursday, 9 January, 2014
129. Flowers: For the Fortieth Anniversary of Derrida’s Glas
5:15–6:30 p.m.



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3 responses to ““Are We Not Plants?!” – Upcoming Talk at MLA, Chicago

  1. A diamond is a diamond and a pearl a pearl, each thing of its own class, existing by its distinction from all others, each distinguished by its own form and properties. But each has also properties and elements which are common to both and others which are common to material things in general. And in reality each does not exist only by its distinctions, but much more essentially by that which is common to both; and we get back to the very basis and enduring truth of all material things only when we find that all are the same thing, one energy, one substance or, if you like, one universal motion which throws up, brings out, combines, realises these different forms, these various properties, these fixed and harmonised potentialities of its own being. If we stop short at the knowledge of distinctions, we can deal only with diamond and pearl as they are, fix their values, uses, varieties, make the best ordinary use and profit of them; but if we can get to the knowledge and control of their elements and the common properties of the class to which they belong, we may arrive at the power of making either a diamond or pearl at our pleasure: go farther still and master that which all material things are in their essence and we may arrive even at the power of transmutation which would give the greatest possible control of material Nature. Thus the knowledge of distinctions arrives at its greatest truth and effective use when we arrive at the deeper knowledge of that which reconciles distinctions in the unity behind all variations. That deeper knowledge does not deprive the other and more superficial of effectivity nor convict it of vanity. We cannot conclude from our ultimate material discovery that there is no original substance or Matter, only energy manifesting substance or manifesting as substance,—that diamond and pearl are non-existent, unreal, only true to the illusion of our senses of perception and action, that the one substance, energy or motion is the sole eternal truth and that therefore the best or only rational use of our science would be to dissolve diamond and pearl and everything else that we can dissolve into this one eternal and original reality and get done with their forms and properties for ever. There is an essentiality of things, [the transcendent, infinite Spirit] a commonalty of things [the universal Spirit], an individuality of things [the individual Spirit]; the commonalty and individuality are true and eternal powers of the essentiality: that transcends them both, but the three together and not one by itself are the eternal terms of existence.

    This truth which we can see, though with difficulty and under considerable restrictions, even in the material world where the subtler and higher powers of being have to be excluded from our intellectual operations, becomes clearer and more powerful when we ascend in the scale. We see the truth of our classifications and distinctions, but also their limits. All things, even while different, are yet one. For practical purposes plant, animal, man are different existences; yet when we look deeper we see that the plant is only an animal with an insufficient evolution of self-consciousness and dynamic force; the animal is man in the making; man himself is that animal and yet the something more of self-consciousness and dynamic power of consciousness that make him man; and yet again he is the something more which is contained and repressed in his being as the potentiality of the divine,—he is a god in the making. In each of these, plant, animal, man, god, the Eternal is there containing and repressing himself as it were in order to make a certain statement of his being. Each is the whole Eternal concealed.

    Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine

  2. Thanks, Don. Aurobindo, as always, is the Monist with the Mostest!

    Funny thing is, IMHO plant is not necessarily animal with “an insufficient evolution of self-consciousness”, but rather a symbiont with and amplifier of such self consciousness. Angiosperms grab the attention of insects, spinning the co-evolutionary cycle of that dyad. Flower/Insect has distinction – otherwise the pollen would not be moved! – yet must be understood as a delicious Rube Goldberg machine of Oneness. And after all, animals evolved first, so here’s the Remix: “Animal is only a plant with an insufficient evolution of dynamic attention gradients, and yet mobile for the future dispersal of plant wisdom.”

    It can help us to see the whole when we notice our implicit valorization of the different parts. Besides, it is good fun to resonate with Devo:

  3. Derek Robinson (for Nnvsnu the Tsrungh)

    okay that was brilliant, post & riposte, thx!

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