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Antoine Traisnel Lecture: "Plant Theory and Thoreau's Garden Politics" - UNC English & Comparative Literature

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Antoine Traisnel Lecture: “Plant Theory and Thoreau’s Garden Politics”

March 12, 2021 @ 3:30 pm - 5:15 pm

The American Literature and Science Series Presents:

Professor Antoine Traisnel (University of Michigan, English) will deliver a lecture: “Plant Theory and Thoreau’s Garden Politics”

This talk responds to the emergence of a new subject in theory: the plant. The recent turn to plants in the humanities has already produced a robust body of work that branches out across a number of disciplines, from indigenous ecology to anthropology, metaphysics to biopolitics. Beyond their significant differences, these works share the belief that the ecological calamities we face today are in no small measure the byproduct of Western modernity’s epistemological indifference to the life of plants. Re-focusing our attention on vegetal life, they propose, might remediate the harm inflicted, not just on plants themselves but on entire ecosystems and on the populations who have historically entertained a more commensal relationship to the land and its productions. Despite the incontestable urgency of its concerns, however, this new “plant theory” is at first sight surprisingly demobilizing.

To account for this paradox, I look to Henry David Thoreau’s botanical ruminations in Walden. Belying the claim that plants were being thoroughly ignored by Western thought in the nineteenth century, Thoreau troubles the assumption that one has the “right” to kill and use certain plants for one’s benefit. And not unlike our plant theorists, he invites his readers to adopt a “much slower” pace if they want to entertain a “more intimate” knowledge of plants. But beyond a speculative ethics of plant life, Walden devises a pragmatic politics of planting. If this politics is largely specific to Thoreau’s time and place, responding directly to Antebellum agricultural reforms and other governmental initiatives, I will argue that it also models what a biopolitics attuned to plant life might look like.


Zoom Lecture (registration required)
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