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Book Review – The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium

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The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel by Michael Marder

Plant

Despite their conceptual allergy to vegetal life, philosophers have used germination, growth, blossoming, fruition, reproduction, and decay as illustrations of abstract concepts; mentioned plants in passing as the natural backdrops for dialogues, letters, and other compositions; spun elaborate allegories out of flowers, trees, and even grass; and recommended appropriate medicinal, dietary, and aesthetic approaches to select species of plants.

In this book, Michael Marder illuminates the vegetal centerpieces and hidden kernels that have powered theoretical discourse for centuries. Choosing twelve botanical specimens that correspond to twelve significant philosophers, he recasts the development of philosophy through the evolution of human and plant relations. A philosophical history for the postmetaphysical age, The Philosopher’s Plant reclaims the organic heritage of human thought. With the help of vegetal images, examples, and metaphors, the book clears a path through philosophy’s tangled roots and dense undergrowth, opening up the discipline to all readers.

I may not be a philosopher, but I might be a plant.

The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium is a difficult provocative book that takes a creative approach to the history of philosophy and the philosophy of plant life.

Marder has written a text that can be read in multiple ways, which is always ambitious and seldom successful.  Following the course of Western philosophy from Plato through Augustine, Leibniz, and Derrida to Irigaray, each of the twelve chapters is subdivided into four sections.  Page by page, the reader gains a thorough understanding of Marder’s thoughts on the philoosphers in question, building on one another <<<>>>.  However, the book may also be read by section.  The first explores the intersections of the lives and work of each thinker via their deployment of metaphorical flora.  The second brings notions of “vegetal existence” into concert with each philosopher’s central concepts.  The third investigates human plant relationships.  And the fourth attempts to recontextualize plants vis-à-vis critical reevaluations of the history of philosophy.

The Philosopher’s Plant does not present a philosophy in and of itself, but recasts the role of vegetable life within recognizable and pliant case studies, presenting previously poorly explored notions alongside their more durable counterparts.  The greater leaps are left to the reader to make in his or her own mind.  The transformative power of this intellectual herbarium lies in the juxtaposition of plant-thinking with Western metaphysics.

The deliberate selection of particular thinkers and their attendant vegetal metaphors can lead to some intriguing inspirations.  The final section deals with postmodern philosophy and the radical reinsertion of plant subjects into intellectual discourse.  Mathilde Roussel’s ink illustrations condense the four sections into a single image with shocking facility.

Recommended for unreconstructed vegans, constant gardeners, and swamp things.

Michael Marder is IKERBASQUE Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country, UPV-EHU, Vitoria-Gasteiz. He is the author of The Event of the Thing: Derrida’s Post-Deconstructive Realism; Groundless Existence: The Political Ontology of Carl Schmitt; Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life; Phenomena — Critique — Logos: The Project of Critical Phenomenology; and the forthcoming Pyropolitics: When the World Is Ablaze.

Mathilde Roussel is a French artist and sculptor who has taught and exhibited widely in the United States.

 

 

 

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