[-empyre-] Lichen mentors and slime mold oracles

Cassie Thornton cassie.thornton at gmail.com
Sun Oct 22 00:31:39 AEDT 2017

I think our perspective on this matter is fairly straightforward: the
somatic, existential and affective experience of our plant-kin are not
accessible to us except through an always-already flawed process of
interspecies translation.  Such a translation would include the
mobilization of gifts such as biological sciences, traditional knowledge
systems, phenomenological experience and (as with all translation) a great
deal of creativity. We can't know what plants desire because presumably
their bio-ontological/epistemological frameworks don't have the same
categorical membranes as ours human ones, if, indeed, all humans can be
said to share a common bio-ontological/epistemological framework (a
presumption we should distrust). So we can never really know how plants

We can and do tell stories, though - humans seem pretty good at that. We
tell stories to be able to understand how we can work with others to change
our reality. The question of us at the University of the Phoenix is: what
story do we want to tell about our engagement with the Immortal Stranger?
And how do we want that story to act in the world?

So for us, framing the Immortal Stranger as the revenge tutor is something
of a challenge to a kind of silently enforced pleasantness that often
suffuses our engagements with the non/more-than-human world(s). Like, to
put it really bluntly: we humans have failed to prevent a tiny minority of
our worst organisms from creating the conditions that will murder or
imperil the existence of a huge number of other species, right? This is the
apocalypse. Why wouldn't they want revenge? Why shouldn't we? And how can
we team up with them to learn to aim that revenge well, in a transformative
(rather than nihistic) way?

Now for us, what we get from accepting the tutelage of the Immortal
Stranger means asking a deeper question about what revenge might mean
beyond that framework. The revenge a plant takes, say when its roots break
through pavement or when its secretions dissolve precious plastics, is slow
and patient (by our human standards/chronoitopes, at least - maybe urgent
and frantic by geological measures). Here revenge appears as a form of
autonomous/cooperative thriving. The Immortal Stranger is a "weed" that was
spread through colonialism but that is the bane of the plantation economy:
quick to spread, deceptively beautiful, impossible to uproot, allegedly
useless. It's revenge takes the form, in part, of creating the conditions
for other species to grow beyond the capitalist value paradigm. It produces
a new richness that capitalism cannot account for. So if we accept it as
our tutor, what can it teach us about how to avenge ourselves on capitalism
and other systems of domination?

We certainly appreciate all the work folks are doing to develop new, just
relationships with other forms of life - these are the seeds we will need
to save, care for and cultivate to grow what will emerge within, against
and beyond the present order. By contrast, we're really more about
transformative negation. We want to follow plants into the darkness, not
the light.

Max and Cassie

READ IT! Article @ GUTS Magazine: "Feminist Economics and the People's
Apocalypse" <http://gutsmagazine.ca/feminist-economics/>

On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 10:25 PM, Ellie Irons <ellieirons at gmail.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi Margaretha- I didn’t know about the Natasha Myers or the Plant Studies
> Collaboratory <https://plantstudies.wordpress.com/>- so good to have on
> my radar, thank you!
> At the EPA we talk about the weeds we live among as mentors and guides,
> which I agree, is slightly different than collaborators. Regardless of our
> co-evolutionary status with urban weeds, learning from them, allowing
> ourselves to be “tutored” (in revenge or otherwise!) is distinct from
> expecting them to reciprocate as collaborators in ways beyond sharing air,
> cycling nutrients etc.
> I’m also interested in what happens when we give up a bit of our
> subjectivity, our (seemingly) autonomous drive, in an attempt to connect
> with the non-human, especially those whose lived experiences seem so
> distinct. On Thursday Chris, Lissette and I participated in a “friends for
> the end of the world” gathering organized around the theme of decolonizing
> the Anthropocene. Among much else, we ended the day by walking out into the
> mild (too mild) October evening in search of mushrooms and lichen in the
> middle of Manhattan. Wow does it change how you process and interact with
> the street, when you start “scanning” the landscape, as Chris described it,
> looking for wet, dark and decaying things -looking for the conditions that
> fungi need to survive, which are fundamentally at odds with a real estate
> booming cityscape. Within yards of leaving the building we found a dying
> isolated street tree set off from away from everything in the middle of an
> immaculate cement plaza that had recently been redone in international High
> Line style. We looked closer, stopped and stared and stooped, and found
> pin-prick sized bits of lichen starting to spread in the parched & cracked
> bark of the tree. We never made it to Washington Square Park, where we
> expected to have a better chance of finding fruiting bodies, because our
> path was so waylaid by the bits of life we found once we started scanning
> the seemingly sterile asphalt, glass, and steel of the West Village.
> This question of allowing the attempt at a more-than-human lens to
> redirect our paths through life reminds me of an article
> <https://www.interaliamag.org/articles/oliver-kellhammer-becoming-non-humandesigning-non-human/> I
> read recently by fellow weedy species aficionado Oliver Kellhammer
> <http://www.oliverk.org/> (are you out there Oliver?). He writes about
> the playful and profound ways in which he’s been living with (and handing
> over some agency to) an unlikely companion species, *Physarum
> polycephalum *(the slime mold well known for solving the “shortest path
> problem” without using anything we humans might recognize as a brain).
> There are many gems here (including an exploration of our own multiplicity
> & boundlessness), but with regard to this conversation, I appreciate how he
> frames the “why try to become with other species” question:
> *"We humans are blessed with a cognitive ability that allows us each to
> imagine the world from another’s point of view, the so-called theory of
> mind. Though eminently useful in maintaining our social cohesion, we could
> emulate Von Uexküll and use theory of mind to check into the realms of
> non-human subjectivity more often.*
> *What is the point?*
> *Is this just some crazy mental exercise?**”*
> ….more here:
> Becoming Non-human/Designing Non-Human
> <https://www.interaliamag.org/articles/oliver-kellhammer-becoming-non-humandesigning-non-human/>
> Happy Friday!
> -Ellie
> On Oct 19, 2017, at 9:19 PM, margaretha haughwout <
> margaretha.anne.haughwout at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Glad that Adam and Johannes have brought up the question of shared
> knowing between plants and humans, and I love how Christopher and
> Ellie have suggested exercises in listening and observation, to
> experience for ourselves how communication, shared meanings, might
> occur.
> In part, this was what I was getting at last week in my (clunky)
> question of mediated natures and theories of information and
> communication. I would propose that we are limited in how we know that
> we know plants, and how we know that plants know us, because of
> current theories largely brought to us by early cybernetics, maybe
> even the Enlightenment more generally.... Natasha Myers
> (https://natashamyers.wordpress.com) has many things to say about
> plant communication -- the most compelling arguments of hers, in my
> opinion, address how much of the early studies on plant sensing
> reflect practices of colonization, and demonstrations of plant pain.
> I love what Elaine had to say in Week 2 about other species, and
> larger ecologies, as being media for one another. I agree!
> I think Ellie and Adam were getting at some of this with earlier posts
> about enrichment. Wellness (a result of enrichment?) is observable
> through the 5 senses. Humans can be well, and pissed off and ready to
> fight.... Can we assume this is true for nonhumans? Is this the
> condition of The Immortal Stranger? All kinds of questions about care,
> as well as Randall's term "enlivenment" from Week 1 can be brought to
> bear here. What do we need to know/ observe with plants to consider
> them collaborators, or is there another term, such as "revenge tutors"
> that is better than "collaborators"?
> Thank you to our participants so far this week. I have many scores to
> enact as the weekend descends!
> Warmly,
> -M
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