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Emanuele Coccia

The Life of Plants

Today is a conversation with philosopher Emanuele Coccia about plants and larger mixture’ we as humans find ourselves within. 

Emanuele Coccia  Frank Perrin sm

© Frank-Perrin

I don’t recall ever seeing the movie The Graduate’ but that somehow doesn’t prevent me from being familiar with the famous line One word: Plastics’. Unsolicited advice to Dustin Hoffman as a young recent college graduate about where the future is going and where his time
would best be spent.

No doubt we can think of many other examples today that are shouted at us in the press or by colleagues from A.I. to climate change to whatever pops into you mind right now. We manage to categorize each of these as if they’re not all going to be fully intertwined with one another. 

We’ve discussed before Donna Haraway’s ideas of making kin’ through techniques of String figures’ - which is to say, recognizing relationships between objects and experiences that would otherwise go overlooked in an attempt to make new relationships with people, creatures and objects. Science fiction in many ways is also looking to recognize implications of relationships within our actions today on our future selves. Building these string figures’ of relationships requires us to recognize and hold a multitude of subjectivities that exceed our own.

I’m not looking to replace the famous movie line from the Graduate with another singular word, but this idea of building string figures within our worlds of being able to recognize other subjectivities serves to connect us to our surroundings (environment, people, spans of time) i an amazing mind mending way. I’ve mentioned it here before, as a quest to be extra, extra-terrestrial. To be better designers and people, we probably need to make more kin’.

My guest today, Emanuele Coccia, wrote about plants to discuss some of those points and many more. As he says Plants make our breathe’…’and from this standpoint, we can no longer perceive the world as a simple collection of objects or a universal space containing all things, he says, but as a site of a veritable metaphysical mixture.’

Working to recognize such connections and what they offer takes work. But books like this one The Life of Plants, a Metaphysics of Mixture’ helps us along that path.

As a final thought here, I can’t help but think of that meme that you might have seen on social media or printed on a t-shirt, Keep Calm and Carry On’. There are thousands of variations of it, Keep Calm and …fill in the blank here’. Comparing this to someone that might have an actual meditative practice who puts in 30-40 minutes a day is something altogether different. There is no comparison to commitment or end results between these two approaches to a calm and steady mind.

I think architects like memes. And why not, they’re comfortable to wrap yourself within and the signal to others where you stand on issues of the environment, technology, inequality or stacking blocks. This book reminded me that I like not having answers but instead a whole lot of pointed questions. Rather than defend a territory it might be a good time to work to unfold even more territories in this metaphysical mixture we find ourselves in.

Thanks to Richard Devine for Sample permissions.

Emanuele Coccia

Emanuele Coccia is an Associate Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris. He received his PhD in Florence and was formerly an Assistant Professor of History of Philosophy in Freiburg, Germany. He worked on the history of European normativity and on aesthetics.

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