18th-19th Century Literature
Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Plant Writing
Taking writing in the widest sense possible to include inscription, drawing, and the making and unmaking of traces, this class will focus on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writings about and with plants, while also considering the metaphor of “plant writing” as something performed by plants themselves. We will consider the analogy between “close reading” and the slow work of observation and description necessary to such writing.
In what ways does botanical literature both contribute to and resist the geologically unprecedented homogenization of planetary biota that follows from European colonialism? How does the traffic in plants relate to the historical traumas of the forced migration of people, chattel slavery and colonial dispossession? How do ideas of language, gender, sexuality, temporality, medicine and healing change in relation to plants during this period? Cognizant that the division of plants and animals into separate kingdoms, like the separation of humans from other living beings, is specific to the Western philosophical tradition, we will explore alternatives to these separations.
Sample reading list: the professor’s areas of specialization mean a bias toward French, German and English-language texts)
Erasmus Darwin, The Loves of the Plants
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Selections
J.W. Goethe, The Metamorphosis of Plants
John Clare, Selections
Charles Darwin, Selections
Selections from: M. Jacqui Alexander, Emily Dickinson, Mary Siisip Geniusz, Elizabeth Kent, Saidiya Hartman, Carl Linnaeus, Maria Sibylla Merian, Marcel Proust, Sonya Posmentier, John Ruskin, Henry David Thoreau, Paul Valéry.