Online Talk#4: "Patterns as Narrative: The Structure of Botanical Stories"

27 July 2021, 6-7PM JST

Speakers: Elin McCready (Professor, AGU) and Elis Ottosson (U. Gothenburg / HDK Steneby)

How can one overcome the problem of projecting human perspectives onto the nonhuman? Doing so is a key element in addressing some problems of the Anthropocene, and for an understanding of other beings capable of respecting them on their own terms. We use narrative to consider this question, and take as starting point Le Guin’s (1988) Carrier Bag theory of fiction, which rejects action and conflict as the basis of story, instead centering it around daily life and repetitive activity (cf. also Ukeles 1971). Most species in the biosphere live in ways irrelevant to conflict and resolution, particularly plants, most of which need not take life at all for survival. We conclude that, for a non-anthropomorphic understanding of the lives of plants via narrative, it is necessary to include cyclical patterned structures.

Understanding the world through patterns consisting of lines and blobs (Ingold, 2015) allows us to read a story of constant entanglement and transformation. A line is a point/blob that has started to move.The circle as an image is commonly used to depict a cycle of events (such as the blooming and decay of a flower), but is dissatisfying in that it suggests that after a full cycle we start over at the same point. Adding a spatiotemporal dimension yields a spiral (or a knot, cf. Cromwell 2004). The spiral constantly responds and refers to itself, as well as steadily moving forward. This image of dynamic dialogue (or monologue) serves as a base for a storyline of continuous entanglement and transformation which can serve as basis for a model of plant-based narrative.

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