Tag Archives: plants

In my ongoing search for the best information on ailanthus altissima, the Tree of Heaven (TOH), I came across Vadim Tiganas’ and Stefan Tiron’s This discovery is incredibly exciting beacuse Tiganas and Tiron write beautifully and powerfully about ailanthopolitics. It is also a little sad because I won’t have the joy of writing this story myself. But I will happily borrow and pervert this page with queer theory to see what it can tell us about resisting homonormativity, gentrification, and homogeneity.

[ALSO, technical aside, I am apparently too old for the internet. I don’t know how to contact someone directly through tumblr. I gather that it isn’t possible — I am not apparently a longtime fan of the site, so I can’t send ‘fanmail’. Can anyone help decode this mystery? Or is anyone better at finding Tiganas’ e-mail online so I can contact them? Comment or contact please!]

Here is a golden paragraph on TOH from the Ghetto Palm project. Savor.

TOH was a colonial exotic introduction from China at first, brought in by horticulturalist passions, botanist curiosity and dutifully planted as a decorative tree on the street sides at the end of the 19th century. They had to look more exotic, more cosmopolitan, sampling the resplendent jungles of the colonies and newly accessible territories for the best they had to offer in botanic terms. We slowly realized that the mercantile and cleptocratic mores of the Western society during the 18th and 19 century has a lot to do with the current situation of escaped ornamentals in modern cities. Cities have grown and prospered under the heavy imports of foreign crops, plants and biological specimens in the wake of a huge uncontrolled experiment, smuggling in and trading in live species from one corner of the world to the other. The age of discovery was also an age o acclimatisation. European familiars such as the rabbit or foxes were introduced with disastrous results to other bioregions of the world. The other side of the coin was the age of unbridled biological espionage practiced under the benediction of governments and company’s by Europeans and Americans in search of economic or aesthetic fortune. Plant hunters, famous naturalist, botanic aficionados or forgotten horticulture second hand collectors were in a race. It was a biological and natural history race to gather and get access to potentially rewarding specimens that had to be safely brought home, reproduced under care and transplanted into towns as part of the new biological common wealth of the west. This sort of makes our Ailanthus altissima story, a sort of “gremlin” narrative, were u get innocent-looking plants to nurseries back home, were they cannot obviously be properly contained. Ailanthus altissima has spread with the ebb and flow rythms of megacity sprawl or shrinking city. This is not the late neozoon or neobiota piggybacking we get when unwanted biological passengers hop on board and wreak havoc were they land. Ailanthus altissima is one of those introduced species looking like a good catch for the colonial capitalist entrepreneurship back home. It first looked to untrained but voracious eyes rather like another more valuable-looking or more economically-attractive species such as the varnish tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum), also originating in China. As other former Chinese prize crops or valuable ornamentals made their made to the West starting with the soy bean to the Chrysanthemum or tree peony, some like the Ailanthus altissima, slowly fell from favor but gained habitat. It is now perfectly adapted to our worldwide urban ecology, considered nothing more than noxious weed, busy destroying our pavement and crumbling our concrete monoliths, making our cities more like a sort of urban war zone were human-made biological wars are going on. But these are the green revolts that are happening around us continuously, when man-made ‘nature’ didn’t comply, didn’t do our bidding, didn’t follow the good behavioral lines or didn’t satisfy our aesthetic ideal anymore.

ailanthus altissima alongside Mauerpark, Berlin, November 2012Darren Patrick

ailanthus altissima alongside Mauerpark, Berlin, November 2012
Darren Patrick

Dianne Chisholm (2010:367) quoting Deleuze and Guattari in “Biophilia and the Ecological Future of Queer Desire,” her chapter of Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire

“A Thousand Plateaus conceptualizes desire as a force that is ontologically immanent to all life on earth, and that propels ‘earth moves’ across and between geological strata and biological orders.  By mapping the transversality of symbiogenesis across the vertical lines of genealogical descent, Deleuze and Guattari ask us to think rhizomatically like an earthbound desert nomad, and to not (or not only) think aborescently (transcendentally, linearly) like a European metaphysician.  Thinking, they say, should look to

the wisdom of the plants; even when they have roots, there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else – with wind, an animal, human beings (and there is also an aspect under which animals themselves form rhizomes, as do people, etc.). “Drunkenness as a triumphant irruption of the plant in us.”  Always follow the rhizome by rupture; lengthen, prolong, and relay the line of flight; make it vary, until you have produced the most abstract and tortuous lines of dimensions and broken directions.  Conjugate the deterritorialized flows.  Follow the plants…Write, form a rhizome. (D+G 1987, 11)

Joseph Paxton, Dryandria Longifolia (1834), Paxton’s Botanical Magazine (scan by author, courtesy U Toronto Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library)

When I’m writing plants, I’m writing aggregations; I’m writing milieus and interactions.  Same as any body, but vegetality makes the difference.  I want to ask phenomenological questions: How do they do what they do?  What is their desire?  What are they making?  I am not as concerned with how I will know what they do.  I’m following Jakob von Uexküll’s ambling methodology in “A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans” (2010 [1934]):

We begin such a stroll on a sunny day before a flowering meadow in which insects buzz and butterflies flutter, and we make a bubble around each of the animals living in the meadow.  The bubble represents each animal’s environment and contains all the features accessible to the subject.  As soon as we enter into one such bubble, the previous surroundings of the subject are completely reconfigured.  Many qualities of the colorful meadow vanish completely, others lose their coherence with one another, and new connections are created: A new world arises in each bubble. (43)

Joseph O’Neil notes in his “Translator’s Introduction” to Uexküll, “The complications of translating Jakob von Uexküll’s text begin with its title. The text describes itself as a series of Streifzüge, of forays, of rambles, a walk-through” (2010:35).  Rambling – as I so often do – is one way to find the thought bubble.  Intentional ambling or, more simply, cruising.  I am perhaps more immediately concerned not with the “animals living in the meadow” but with the livingness of the meadow, vibrating as it is with life in a series of layered ‘moments,’ as Uexküll goes on to explore them.  My imagining is not fully separable from the image of another person, the third (or second) element, bobbing in the bramble (if that’s the kind of space we’re in), hiding behind some foliage, part of a plumage.

As I enter October, I enter a month of rigorous writing, some of which I’ll share here in fragmentary, visualized, mediatized ways.  I’m following about four lines of desire in the next month:

1.  Finally writing past the High Line.

2.  Finding plants and figuring out how they live from the ground.

3.  Recalling my subjectivity as writer, queering it (again), getting into the dirt, doing.

4.  Realizing some connections and constellations in the handfuls of queer theory texts I’ve sifted through in the last 6 months.

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