Modernist Plant AestheticsThe pages of modernist literary works abound with leaves, plants, and flowers. These plants are more than mere appearances; indeed, their presence often facilitates connections between characters and their ecosystems, prompt questions of human agency, and anticipate questions of ecological sustainability in an era of industrial development. This plant life is sensuous, for example, in Felixâs first glimpse of Robin Vote in Djuna Barnesâs Nightwood (1936), Robin is âsurrounded by a confusion of potted plants, exotic palms and cut flowers.â The âjungleâ that surrounds her creeps onto her body, as âher flesh was the texture of plant life.â Modernismâs plant life also invokes questions of ethics and shared earthliness: âthe force that through the green fuse drives the flowerâ in Dylan Thomasâs eponymous poem (1934) famously connects the (human) speaker to a shared mortality. Septimus Smith, in Virginia Woolfâs Mrs Dalloway (1925) imagines a web-like connection to the ecosystems of London: âleaves were alive, trees were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of fibers with his own body,â a connection which prompts him to realize that âmen must not cut down trees.â In a similar vein, Patrick Kavanagh considers the violence done to wild, weedy plant life through farming when he writes in The Great Hunger (1942) that âNobody will ever know how much tortured poetry the/ pulled weeds on the ridge wrote/ Before they withered in the July sun.â Taking this ecological imposition to its full conclusion, the central crisis in Samuel Beckettâs play Endgame (1957) is that plant seeds have failed to sprout.
The questions and possibilities raised by plant life and death in literary modernism compellingly anticipate the stakes of contemporary critical plant studies. Here, scholars including Michael Marder, Jeffrey Nealon, Catriona Sandilands, Timothy Morton, and Luce Irigaray (among others) have turned to plants in order to critique Enlightenment tenets of the âgreat chain of beingâ as well as the exploitation and instrumentalization of biota; to explore the difficulty of language in expressing or translating nonhuman communication, especially through symbolism and metaphor; and question passivity as a form of activity or agency. Most important in these discussions is the exhortation to move beyond the focus on individual plants (and their genetic makeup) in laboratory settings, and to consider plants in their ecosystems. Moreover, critical plant studies attempts to foreground âplantness:â what do plants say about themselves? This panel aims to bring together modernist literature (as well as visual, musical or performative works) and plant studies to highlight the ways in which this movement is in step with contemporary environmental humanities and science, but also its proleptic concern with anthropogenic climate change, and nonhuman modes of affiliation and expression.
This panel will explore (but is not limited to) these questions or concerns: different modes of nonhuman animacy/agency; vegetation as form; plant symbolism; botany, biochemistry and taxonomy; plant-based folk-knowledge, medicine, and spirituality; depictions of agricultural space and/or labor; biosemiotics and plant communication; the aesthetic and sensorial worlds of plants.
Conference Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States
Conference Starts: November 08, 2018
Conference Ends: November 11, 2018
CFP Submission Deadline: April 07, 2018
For more information, contact: Caitlin McIntyre