Sunday 8 June 2014

Edward Casey on place and plants

A tree stands in its own place. Its life is sedentary. It is a life in one place, a life without anxiety. Not only is a tree in its place; it actively contributes to its place, filling it up with its own organic substance. It knows no menacing void, even though to move from its own place is to risk the death of the organism. (Getting Back Into Place, xii)
The movement-capability and hence the spatiality of plants is indeed different to that of locomotory animals. Plants are where they are; they move but only by themselves growing; they migrate but only reproductively, across generations.

This is significant. But if what Latour, Sloterdijk and Lovelock all say of the Earth—that it is the only planet we have and that space migration is, most likely, for fools (or those with a death-wish); that we are trapped within this planet's atmosphere—then aren't we as stuck in our planetary place as plants are in their soil (at least those of them that put down roots)? Even more so since it would take many generations to travel to the nearest habitable planet (wherever that is) even at lightspeed.

This ties into the question of 'soil'; humans are rooted to their 'soil' if not to their soil. Indeed, isn't human from humus (earth)? In this way the difference that is meant to found a fundamental difference in being between animals and plants is really just an illusion of scale—we are even more rooted to our 'soil' (let's say humus instead of 'soil') than plants are to their soil. Territory in the sense that Latour uses the term—to designate all those attachments without which a being could not be and that could fail it at any moment—is as applicable to plants as it is to animals, human or otherwise. Every existent has a territory, an umwelt, a humus. Some existents have the capacity to nurture their natures; plants as well as animals do this—all life does it, according to Lovelock's theory.

The serene emplacedness of plants impresses Casey, a partisan for place. Perhaps, then, we do have to recognise our plant-ness; our common vegetal-spatiality. Plants have accepted their place while we try to convince ourselves that we are placeless, infinitely mobile; that we have no air-conditioning requirements, that we can breathe without spacesuits. We are fools, no doubt.

However, I think with this settlement must also come a rejection of some of the exclusivity granted to plants. They cannot do violence, according to the Hegelian theory—but don't they sever, crush, choke, smother and destroy, like other beings? If we are even more trapped and emplaced (albeit against our apparent will) than they are then how can we attain the self-negation that they cannot? Isn't it the self-negation itself that is illusory? It is only on a short scale that these differences appear and cannot sustain differences in kind, at least not in the respects aforementioned.