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Archive for the 'Animal Studies' Category

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

What Mountain Gorillas Can Teach Us About Gendered Behaviors

Not So Different

“Beginning in the 1990s, something unexpected happened. Some younger males stopped leaving their groups and the basic harem social structure fundamentally shifted for about one-fourth of the park’s mountain gorilla population. Instead of groups with one, or occasionally two adult males, scientists began observing very large groups including several adult males and females living together in relative harmony.” — Nathan H. Lents

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we have crossposted an excerpt from an article that Lents and Stacy Rosenbaum originally posted on The Human Evolution Blog.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

What Mountain Gorillas Can Teach Us About Gendered Behaviors
By Nathan H. Lents and Stacy Rosenbaum

Huge swathes of central Africa’s rainforests remain unexplored by western science, but the forests of Virunga National Park have been the object of intense scientific scrutiny since George Schaller and Dian Fossey began their pioneering work there in the 1950s. Since 1967, the population of mountain gorillas in Virunga have been the subject of continuous scientific monitoring, numerous documentaries, and the Oscar-nominated biopic, Gorillas in the Mist.

Much of what we know about the ecology and social behavior of gorillas stems from the constant observation of the Virunga mountain gorillas. Many common primate behaviors were first discovered in this population, including male contest competition – when males fight for access to females over whom they maintain exclusive mating rights; sexually selected infanticide – when males kill other males’ infants in order to bring females into heat and redirect their maternal attention on future children; and scramble feeding competition – reliance on food sources that are not monopolizable, which minimizes the utility of female dominance hierarchies.

Gorillas display substantial sexual dimorphism. Specifically, the males are more than twice as large as the females and powerfully built. This underscores their evolutionary legacy of male contest competition and polygyny. Indeed, gorillas were long thought to exist almost exclusively in harems, small multi-female groups led by one powerful silverback. Eating mostly leafy greens and seasonal fruit, the herculean strength and sharp canine teeth of silverbacks are used only for fighting each other. Typically, young males leave their birth group upon reaching adulthood and go through a solitary period before attempting to take over a harem or start a group of their own. Most are not successful. (more…)

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals

Not So Different

“Once you strip away the cultural and psychological aspects of our emotions and behaviors and examine them through the cold hard lens of Darwinian fitness, you see that our “advanced cognitive powers” are really a smoke screen clouding very simple behavioral programs that we share with our fellow primates.” — Nathan H. Lents.

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we are happy to present the books introduction, in which Lents lays out his project and explains what he hopes to achieve.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals
By Nathan H. Lents

Both the title and the cover photo of this book are something of a head fake. You’re probably thinking that the book is all about animal behavior. But it’s not, except that it is. Let me explain.

The questions that drove me to write this book are: Why do we humans act the way that we act? Why do we build the societies the way that we do? Are we evolved to behave this way? (more…)

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Emotions, Drives, and the Brain

Not So Different

“In this book, I discuss experiments that have revealed features of animal behavior that are strikingly similar to human behavior. These similarities, as far as I can tell, can only be explained by acknowledging that human and animal brains run some of the same behavioral programs.” — Nathan H. Lents.

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we are happy to present the books introduction, in which Lents lays out his project and explains what he hopes to achieve.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals

Not So Different

Not So Different lucidly and entertainingly reminds us just how much of us there is in other mammals and vertebrates—and how much of them there is in us. You may never think of yourself in quite the same way again.” — Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Not So Different. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

A Sort of Dessert

Eat This Book

“Some ethical vegetarians (not all and perhaps not the majority) can certainly be considered religious fundamentalists who attach the greatest importance to their convictions and believe that they must spread their gospel throughout the world.” — Dominique Lestel

This week, our featured book is Eat This Book: A Carnivore’s Manifesto, by Dominique Lestel, translated by Gary Steiner. For today’s post, we have excerpted Lestel’s afterword: “A Sort of Dessert.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Eat This Book!

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

The Vegetarian’s Unacceptable Arrogance

The following is an excerpt from Eat This Book: A Carnivore’s Manifesto by Dominique Lestel and translated by Gary Steiner.

The Vegetarian’s Unacceptable Arrogance

Generally speaking, the vegetarian, like the humanist, adopts an attitude of unacceptable arrogance when she makes a moral judgment about how life ought to be and how other beings ought to behave, for in doing so she places herself above other beings

This vegetarian is an omnivorous animal who considers the dietary regimen of her species to be immoral. Such a “demonization” of the natural is not without precedent. We have seen movements campaign against sexuality (even though it is a normal form of behavior) and in favor of the subservience of women to men (even though, from a biopsychological point of view, women are perfectly autonomous and stand in need of no symbiosis with a human being). One may think that it is preferable not to eat meat, and that is perfectly acceptable; but it is only with difficulty that one can turn this position into a major ethical choice. The regime of meat eating is part of what it means to be human today, whether one likes it or not: we have an enzyme for digesting elastin, a fiber of animal origin, and we need vitamin B, a molecule produced exclusively by animals.

Donna Haraway makes the same point when she notes that in denying a specific feature of the living the vegetarian’s position is fundamentally a fatal ideology. As she argues, there is not nor has there ever been a living being that lives without exploiting at least one other living being. In this respect, the vegetarian purports to want to protect living beings at all costs but is in fact opposed to them.

As the American poet Gary Snyder says facetiously, “Everything that breathes is hungry”! Eating—that is, eating other living beings—is part of animal life, and the desire to change life reflects unacceptable vanity. Buddhism, whose adherents include Gary Snyder, is aware of the impossibility of eradicating all suffering, and it has never issued the demand that suffering be eliminated; it satisfies itself with the endeavor to reduce suffering within the limits of what is possible and reasonable for us to do, and it is especially concerned with eliminating needless suffering.

For the feminist Sharon Welch, we are not capable of changing in a unilateral way. The ethics of control, which seeks to reach its objective without taking others into account, needs to be replaced by an ethic of risk, which accepts the fact that our ability to change ourselves and the world is limited but also requires us to take full responsibility for our actions.

Vegetarians systematically overlook the fact that eating meat has a fundamental significance and that it teaches us a lesson about humility in that it reminds us of the interdependence of all living beings.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

A Sort of Apéritif

Eat This Book

“The ethical vegetarian’s position is tenable only if it is radical, but its very radicality is completely unacceptable for the majority of vegetarians. For this position is antianimal. Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it revives the great frontier traced between human and animal by putting it into up-to-date terms, even though everything today shows any such frontier to be insubstantial. Nonetheless, the majority of vegetarians I know sincerely love animals. Such a contradiction poses a problem.” — Dominique Lestel

This week, our featured book is Eat This Book: A Carnivore’s Manifesto, by Dominique Lestel, translated by Gary Steiner. To start the feature, we are happy to present Lestel’s introduction, “A Sort of Apéritif,” in which he lays out his project and situates it in the appropriate intellectual space.

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Book Giveaway! Eat This Book: A Carnivore’s Manifesto

Why America Misunderstands the World

“Witty and comical yet always serious in its defense of meat eating, Eat This Book is a pure joy to read.” — Brett Buchanan, Laurentian University

This week, our featured book is Eat This Book: A Carnivore’s Manifesto, by Dominique Lestel, translated by Gary Steiner. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Eat This Book. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, March 11th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, January 8th, 2016

Pariah Dogs

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“Something about death and dogs makes us think and teaches us about how we come to know and when we ought to care.” — Colin Dayan

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. For the final post of the week’s feature, we have an excerpt from the introduction to “Pariah Dogs,” part three of With Dogs at the Edge of Life. In this excerpt, Dayan examines how the suffering of dogs has been represented in literature from the Odyssey to Coetzee’s Disgrace.

Friday, January 8th, 2016

An Interview with Colin Dayan

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“It’s the relation between humans and dogs that matters to me, and what that tells us over time about what we have become as a society.” — Colin Dayan

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. In the first of two posts today, we are happy to present an interview with Colin Dayan recorded by Vanderbilt University, along with an excerpt from the article posted with the video.

Professor offers unsettling look at humanity with study of people and their dogs
By Ann Marie Deer Owens

A Vanderbilt University professor has researched true stories of people and their dogs—some tender and some disturbing—to make a compelling case for re-thinking our treatment of both of them.

Colin Dayan, the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities and professor of American studies in the College of Arts and Science, is the author of With Dogs at the Edge of Life (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Dayan, who is also a professor of law, emphasized that it’s the relationship between dogs and humans that is important to her research. The actions surrounding that relationship provide tremendous insight into what we have become as a society.

“The book is making a plea for us to think differently about our relationships because this is a time, as I see it, of extinctions,” Dayan said. “Certain groups of people and certain kinds of dogs are labeled and easily disposed of.”

(more…)

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Dead Dogs

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“Though they were friendly and vigorous, though there was in most cases no proof of actual fighting, the dogs were deemed “threats to the public” and could therefore be killed summarily. According to Louisiana law, “fighting dogs are declared to be contraband.” An arbitrary label put an end to their lives, without any recourse or appeal, without even notice to their owners. Not only were the dogs no longer personal property, but, once seized from their owners, they had become legally disposable too.” — Colin Dayan

Happy New Year! This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. Today’s post, excerpted from the fourth chapter of With Dogs at the Edge of Life, lays out a 2005 case where fifty-seven pit bulls were confiscated, deemed “too aggressive to live,” and killed by the authorities.

Dead Dogs
By Colin Dayan

Early on Friday morning, March 11, 2005, a caravan of vehicles drove from New Orleans down Louisiana Highway 89 to a home outside the city of Lafayette, where the highway meets La Neuville Road in the heart of Cajun country. State police, a SWAT team, U.S. customs officials, and other federal agents, with the aid of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LA/SPCA), the Louisiana Humane Society, and the Humane
Society of the United States (HSUS), raided the home of Floyd Boudreaux. They confiscated fifty-seven American pit bull terriers and charged Boudreaux and his son Guy with fifty-seven counts of dog fighting and fifty-seven counts of animal cruelty. Arrested and handcuffed, they were read their Miranda rights and locked up in Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. The dogs were loaded in a truck and driven back to New Orleans. That night the LA/SPCA began killing the dogs by injection. They did not stop until the next day. By the time the Boudreauxs were released on bail on Monday morning, their dogs had already been cremated.

The dogs were not crippled, maimed, or blind. Some had scars. Some had calluses. Most were healthy, described as “normal” on the LA/SPCA’s intake forms. Nineteen of the pit bulls were puppies, less than one year old. One of them would have whelped that weekend. Wendy Wolfson, at the time a veterinarian and medical director for the LA/SPCA, is now an assistant professor in shelter medicine at Louisiana State University, a program of study heavily funded by the HSUS. She testified that she conducted a hands-on exam of each animal: “We did a whole barrage of things to each dog,” she said. She later testified that she found evidence of dogfighting injuries in one or two cases so all the animals were labeled “fighting dogs.”

Once categorized as such, all the pit bulls were assumed to be inherently dangerous—too aggressive to live. Though they were friendly and vigorous, though there was in most cases no proof of actual fighting, the dogs were deemed “threats to the public” and could therefore be killed summarily. According to Louisiana law, “fighting dogs are declared to be contraband.” An arbitrary label put an end to their lives, without any recourse or appeal, without even notice to their owners. Not only were the dogs no longer personal property, but, once seized from their owners, they had become legally disposable too.

Three and a half years after the raid, in October 2008, the Boudreauxs were acquitted of all charges. If convicted, they might have faced ten years of imprisonment with or without hard labor for each count. Judge Kristian Earles found no evidence of any crime. The state’s case against them was so weak that he ruled without even asking the defense to call its witnesses. Floyd Boudreaux, a legendary dog man who had bred these dogs for most of his life, cried when the verdict was read. During the proceedings, the Boudreauxs’ lawyer, Jason Robideaux, condemned the LA/SPCA. “The State’s purpose in this case was to seize those dogs, the Boudreauxs’ dogs, and kill them, and thus, end the bloodline,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate as to the reasons.”

Boudreaux’s dogs were the product of two famous bloodlines: the generations-old Boudreaux line—his family hallmark since the 1930s—and the more recent “Eli Dogs,” named after Eli, a two-time pit winner, bred to Boudreaux’s Spook. Boudreaux had not pitted a dog in a fight since the late 1970s, when dog fighting was banned. Instead, his dogs appeared all over the United States in conformation shows and weight-pulling contests. The federal government enacted the federal dog-fighting law as part of the Animal Welfare Act in 1976, and Louisiana banned dog fighting in 1982. In an interview just before the raid, a year before his seventieth birthday, Boudreaux said he had “been working with the breed for over half a century. . . . My dad had ’em before I did, and then I had ’em before I went to grade school. My son too. It’s always been a family affair.”

Not until September 11, 2011, almost three years after the acquittal, did the LA/SPCA agree to a settlement, though it declined to comment on the terms. Father and son had sought damages for mental distress and loss of income they would have received from the sale of the dogs. They asked for about $300,000. “There’s no more Boudreaux/Eli breed,” Floyd said. “The mom and pop direct descendants that would not have been sold are dead. That’s 100
years of breeding that’s gone.”

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

In Touch and Feeling with Dogs

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“Can we engage our feelings without appropriation? Can we think through human and non-human mutuality without abstracting animals into what can be packaged and consumed—either as objects of moral concern or as literary device? Can we really think with dogs?” — Colin Dayan

Happy New Year! This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. In today’s post, Dayan discusses the difficulty and the value of thinking and feeling with dogs.

In Touch and Feeling with Dogs
By Colin Dayan

     It is myself,
            Not the poor beast lying there

                    yelping with pain

     that brings me to myself with a start—

–William Carlos Williams, “To a Dog Injured in the Street”

Our greatest poets struggle with their response to and feeling with dogs. Elizabeth Bishop calls a stray, crippled, “depilated dog” to carnival as she laments a world that disallows and disposes of “anyone who begs, drugged, drunk, or sober, with or without legs,” in “Pink Dog.” John Berryman in the great ennui of “Dream Song 14” finds his tedium interrupted by a dog:

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Out of the wear and tear of life comes the surprise. Something as ordinary as the wagging tail of a dog generates a miracle of transubstantiation. The dog and its tail take flight into “mountains or sea or sky,” while the poet remains. He inhabits and takes on what is left behind. The self turns into what a tail does. A nonhuman subjectivity is born in the conflation of the poetic I with the lilting, uplifting swish, sway, and shake of the canine hindquarters.

The vicissitudes, gaps, and blurring that these poets find in the sentience of dogs promise a renewal of self, as well as of language. To be “sensible” is to make meaning in its materiality: to think with the body. Yet it is a fine line between feeling for or with dogs and turning the non-human into source of inspiration or grist for academic argumentation—nothing less than yet another prompt to our poetic or moral thought or inquiry.

Can we engage our feelings without appropriation? Can we think through human and non-human mutuality without abstracting animals into what can be packaged and consumed—either as objects of moral concern or as literary device? Can we really think with dogs? This terrain of mutual adaptability puts us in the thick of what we are not. It asks that we step back and ask how we can know feeling that is not tied to our assumptions. Such a transforming regard also changes how we treat our fellow humans.

As our world becomes obscene in its greed and violence, I wonder if through the route of the dog we might find a practical and embodied way of being with others that doesn’t entail dominance and subordination. I do not advise that we lose sight of how brutality in the non-human world is part and parcel of the disregard and harm so pronounced in the human. But rather through a minded and felt—as well as “attentive” — empathy in all relations, I want to consider how we might dismantle individual preferment.

The route is not easy. Again, animality is what I want us to think about, not claims for humanity. The knowledge that matters has everything to do with perception, an attentiveness that might unleash another kind of intelligibility. Facing what is not our own or what we cannot know, in this bafflement we might relate most fully to what lies within, beside, and beyond ourselves.

Can we live in a world of contestation and entanglement? Such intimacy promises to lead us out of thought and into a feeling that renews another sense of the political. When William Carlos Williams died in 1963, Kenneth Burke wrote a moving reminiscence in The New York Review of Books.

Burke recalled that a few years after Williams, crippled with ailments, had stopped treating patients, they both walked “slowly on a beach in Florida.” Burke’s recollection affirms the meaning of empathy: a sentience that draws together two beings in a manner of experience that heals. It is tactile. It is a demanding reciprocity, a being together in a pain that can be healed if shared. In becoming acquainted with what lies outside the self, we enter into another kind of knowing.

For Burke, who felt sympathy for the dog—a feeling that did not help—this exchange captures what Williams called “contact.” The impetus for both his medical and poetic technique, this practice of discernment is not the precondition for uniqueness but rather an imperative to seek a more voracious if always provisional communion.

A neighbor’s dog decided to accompany us, but was limping. I leaned down, aimlessly hoping to help the dog (which became suddenly frightened, and nearly bit me). Then Williams took the paw in his left hand (the right was now less agile) and started probing for the source of the trouble. It was a gesture at once expert and imaginative, something in which to have perfect confidence, as both the cur and I saw in a flash. Feeling between the toes lightly, quickly, and above all surely, he spotted a burr, removed it without the slightest cringe on the dog’s part—and the three of us were again on our way along the beach.

Such contact demands a radical change in perspective. Not only does it complicate our understanding of the political, but it also escapes humanistic or morality-based assumptions.

Questioning the prescriptive force of morality—and its familiar companions, civility and reason, is crucial, it seems to me, in these times of exclusion and disposal. The radical inclusivity of such an appeal matters now more than ever. At the edge of a cherished humanism, what if we summoned instead a remote and uncertain reservoir on which all creatures might draw but from which most humans have learned to cut themselves off completely?

Early one morning last week I walked my dog Stella down the main street of the neighborhood. A white pick-up truck was waiting in a drive to enter the street. The dog ran up, as she sometimes does when white men in trucks, those I grew up knowing as “crackers” or “red necks,” look out at her. This is an inclination that I’m still trying to understand. She jumped, one paw on the seat of the man’s car, and another on his leg, and began to greet him powerfully with licks and nudges. He welcomed her and said in answer to my wonder: “She knows I’m sick, and that’s why she’s trying to help me. I’m dying.” Then he gently beat his chest, adding, “She can smell it. She wants to give me some relief.”

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

By Way of Beginning

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“How can I seize on dog life in words? Dogs live on the track between the mental and the physical and sometimes seem to tease out a near-mystical disintegration of the bounds between them. What would it mean to become more like a dog? How might we come up against life as a sensory but not sensible experience?” — Colin Dayan

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. To begin the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Dayan’s first chapter, “By Way of Beginning,” in which she tells the moving story of Leon Rosby’s Rottweiler, Max, and explains what she hopes to accomplish in her book.

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Book Giveaway! With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“In three lively and beautifully written movements, Colin Dayan offers a memorable tour de force that threads together memoir and an analysis of the deprivations of life, human and nonhuman and human with nonhuman, that so pervasively characterize our neoliberal world-historical moment. Intelligent and moving, With Dogs at the Edge of Life is an extraordinary book, a courageous and compelling intermingling of arresting cultural critique and autobiographical reflections of a life lived in the company of canines.” — David L. Clark, McMaster University

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of With Dogs at the Edge of Life. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, January 8th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

To Each Philosopher, Her or His Plant

The Philosopher's Plant

In his wonderful book The Philosopher’s Plant, Michael Marder creates a “herbarium of ideas, collecting theories of the most important Western thinkers, from Greek Antiquity to our days, as though they were botanical specimens preserved on the pages of [a] book. Here is an article he recently featured on his Los Angeles Review of Books Channel about the relationship between philosophy and plants:

To Each Philosopher, Her or His Plant
By Michael Marder

Although I am a philosopher, I have always been averse to abstract speculation. Throughout my work, I have relied on rather mundane figures that stimulate thinking: fire, dust, plants… Everything and everyone in the world can be thought-provoking, worthy of contemplation and wonder — not a boringly unremarkable and ultimately replaceable representative of a genus or an Idea, but a source of inexhaustible singularity.

My intention behind The Philosopher’s Plant was to create a herbarium of ideas, collecting theories of the most important Western thinkers, from Greek Antiquity to our days, as though they were botanical specimens preserved on the pages of my book. I also wished to weave a web of associations that would link certain common plants to particular ideas in the reader’s mind. Of course, it would have been absurd to put together a herbarium without the specimens themselves. To solve this problem, I did two things. First, I paired each philosopher whose life and thought I wanted discuss with a tree, flower, cereal, or grass that was mentioned in her or his work and that, in most cases, had something to do with her or his biography. And, second, I invited a fantastic French artist, Mathilde Roussel, to visualize these “philosoplants” and give an aesthetic dimension to the hybridized herbarium I had theorized about. (more…)

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Mathilde Roussel’s drawings for The Philosopher’s Plant, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, for the feature’s final post, we would like to share a Pinterest board displaying Mathilde Roussel’s elegant drawings that accompany each chapter in The Philosopher’s Plant, along with a brief quote from the book explaining how each respective drawing refers to a philosopher that Marder discusses.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Follow Columbia University Press’s board Mathilde Roussel's drawings for The Philosopher's Plant, by Michael Marder on Pinterest.

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds”

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, the final day of the feature, we are happy to share video of a lecture in which Marder “approaches the spatial and temporal meaning of seeds as the vehicles for preserving and augmenting life.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds” from History of Emotions on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Michael Marder talks to BOMB Magazine

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an interview BOMB Magazine conducted with Michael Marder and artist Heidi Norton. We were only able to excerpt sections from Marder’s responses here, but be sure to head over to the BOMB Magazine website to read the interview in its entirety!

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Monica Westin: I’d like to ask more about plants as a formal problem in each of your work. Michael, is there a way in which using an alternative hybrid form of writing about plants and philosophy is a deliberate choice to rethink plants as subjects, as living beings? Could there exist, whether or not you’re doing it here, a sort of “new writing” that can speak about plants better than those that we have? (I’m thinking about Irigaray’s famous work on women’s writing.) And Heidi, in describing that moment when you knew that plants were going to be central materials for you, you listed their formal properties: their adaptability, their strength, their simplicity. Can you say more about how they have posed formal issues to in your practice?

Michael Marder: Indeed, plant-thinking had to free itself from a purely theoretical approach to plants in order to explore the intersecting trajectories of living, growing beings, both human and vegetal. Some of these changes happened as I was working on The Philosopher’s Plant, where I re-narrate the history of Western philosophy through plants. In that book, each of the twelve thinkers I discuss, from Greek antiquity to the twenty-first century, is represented by a tree, flower, cereal, and so on, which was in one way or another featured in her or his thought. Each chapter begins with a biographical anecdote that puts plants on the center-stage and continues in a more theoretical key, explaining the key concepts and notions of that philosopher through vegetal processes, images, and metaphors. The idea is that plants play a much more important role in the formation of our thinking, “personality,” and life story than we realize. (more…)

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Nietzsche’s Jungle

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In The Philosopher’s Plant, Marder takes a close look at how different forms of plant life played important roles in the work of philosophers throughout history. Today, we are happy to present a blog post crossposted from Marder’s LARB Channel adapted from Marder’s chapter on Nietzsche in The Philosopher’s Plant.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Nietzsche’s Jungle
Michael Marder

Rumor has it that Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown, from which he never recovered, began on January 3, 1889, when in broad daylight he embraced a horse that was being whipped on a street in Turin, Italy. It is, of course, tempting to see in this “mad” gesture a kind of cross-species identification of a beleaguered philosopher with an abused animal. We will never know with any degree of certainty what Nietzsche felt or thought at that precise moment. But we might surmise from his writings the common foundation of life, shared by humans, animals, and even plants. The name of this foundation is the will to power.

For Nietzsche, an attempt to understand life in all its manifestations could not afford to exclude either animals or plants from the general formula that only philosophy, rather than biology, could get at. Human, animal, and vegetal vitalities had to be viewed as variations on the same theme, namely a striving for existence. That is why roughly one year prior to his collapse in Turin, Nietzsche jotted down a question in his notebook: “For what do the trees in a jungle fight each other? For ‘happiness’?” And immediately responded: “—For power!—”[1]. Plato and his followers deduced the fact of vegetal desire from the wilting of plants that were deprived of water and therefore experienced something like thirst. Nietzsche goes further than that. His implicit conclusion is that, beneath a physical craving in all kinds of living creatures, we find a metaphysical longing for power. Or, to put it differently, for being. (more…)

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Plant Lessons, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an article by Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray, in which they discuss the need for an “environmental pedagogy” and explain some of the lessons that plant life can teach us. The post can also be found on Michael Marder’s Los Angeles Review of Books Channel

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Plant Lessons
Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

One crucial measure of human maturity is the way we treat our environment. A careless and destructive approach toward the world, which is usually conceived as a kind of playground for the enactment of our phantasies, is irresponsible and childish. It shows no respect for other forms of life, a lack of concern with the future, and the inability to think and to grow beyond the demands of sheer physical survival.

Historically, there has been little change in the direction of a more adult behavior toward the environment. Among other living beings, plants have been particularly mistreated as a result of this attitude because they have been thought of as infinitely malleable matter, on which human form could be stamped or imposed, generally to the detriment of their own biological life. Indeed, Aristotle, who was the first to come up with the notion matter in the West, derived it from the common Greek word for “wood.” Like plants, matter was supposed to be a passive receptacle for the form that was, in many cases, alien to vegetal life. Although Aristotle was still attentive to living forms, after him, a tree converted into a table or a bed became the preferred example of formed matter, while the self-formation of the tree itself, amenable to patient cultivation and care, was dismissed.

When it comes to respect for the environment we are still children, or even infants. More than that, we are terrible, unruly children because, for the most part, we are not open to being educated on the subject. Only punishments, in the shape of natural disasters attributable to global warming, have had some effect on human behavior, awakening in us a consciousness of the negative consequences that accompany immature environmental conduct. Still, a genuine change of attitudes is unlikely as a result of threats and punishments alone. What is sorely needed is an environmental pedagogy—not one formulated by our fellow humans, but one imparted by parts of the world we inhabit. (more…)