The Chlorophyll Manifesto

Plants of the world, unite!

This article is reprinted from the January 1993 edition of Heterodoxy.

Flowers are born free, yet every-where they are in gardens and flowerpots. How did this come to be? And how were wildflowers constructed by logocentric ideology into religious icons and botanical metaphors? Bravely seeking to break through the iron cage of phallic flower symbolism and at the same time subvert the sexist doctrine of the Trinity, Gertrude Stein attempts to liberate both religion and plants in her famous three-in-one flower proclamation, "A rose is a rose is a rose." But alas, this noble cry is undermined by its very emphasis, for roseness remains embedded in language, trapped in human speech. Her line is, in fact, a bourgeois recapitulation of a monkish belief in flower-power, according to which flowers gave off emanations that could be imprisoned in glass boxes and used to break through conventional constructions of the physical and linguistic world. The idea was a noble gesture on behalf of plants that nevertheless led to the oppressive custom of keeping flowers pressed in books or framed in glass, aesthetically inscribed by romantic ideology in the ballet, Le Spectre de la Rose.

And so, to paraphrase Marx's opening of his pedestrian manifesto on the economic roots of history, I say that, yes, a specter Is haunting the West, but it is a spirit not yet imagined in the most radical critiques of capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, lookism, and omnicide, in which the prime tool of scepsis has not even guessed at the true nature of ideological gaps — Plantism — which is at the heart of what has not been said.

Hitherto, every oppressed minority was assumed to have a voice, a voice that was muted, suppressed, enslaved, subverted, and ignored, but a voice nevertheless. Thanks to recent studies by Ague and Weltgeist, however, we are now aware of the fact that among the many paintings of Mont St. Victoire by Cezanne, not one oppressed proletarian appears in any of the works, despite the fact that three generations of impoverished shoemakers were known to have had their shop in the village just behind the hill to the south-east of the mountain. Cezanne deliberately privileged the hill in order to hide all traces of poverty, when he could have easily included the shop by going 6 miles to the northeast. His pictures of Mont. St. Victoire thus create the false impression that he viewed it from every imagery, on the one hand, and his false portrayal of himself as a radical artist breaking with tradition, on the other —seen in this light, of course, his inability is also affirmed.)

Untergang and Cogito have similarly investigated the history of the blacksmith family living under the Rialto bridge in Venice, which was never included by Guardi or Canaletto in their dozens of so-called "Scenes of Venice." And the scholar Principia Femina, in her ovular study Prolegomena to a History of What Has Not Been Said, similarly redefines 1) Shakespearean tragedy (King Lear's homosexual lover never appears outright in the play), 2) Courbet's painting of "The Rayed Rabbit" (the abuse of a deaf mute on June 14, 1855, one mile away, does not even have iconographic mention in the work), and 3) Poc' s "The Fall of the House of Usher," in which, was denied by the anti-historical prejudices of white male hegemonic thought but nevertheless could be heard expressing suppressed rage in the shared communal experience of bars, bedrooms, and brothels. This much is clear and by now has been incorporated in the most progressive schools and critiques.

And now I introduce the true revolution in the revolution, for radical critique is itself subverted by the principle it seeks to undermine. Radical critique is bourgeois prejudice disguised as radical critique. In every instance (I cannot stress this too strongly), the suppressed voices now emerging once were real (children of oppressed proletarians can thank revolutionaries, if they so desire); whereas there has not yet been a revaluation of that which has not been said on behalf of that which cannot speak.

And so I say that the most subtle and yet most powerful prejudice facing the world today is Plantism, the deliberate suppression and subversion of the Otherness of plants. Indeed, the very word plant betrays the hegemonic desire to bury, to put underground, to hide from consciousness. Plantistic chauvinism, operating in the deep structure of language, thus oppresses the other by projecting onto it the very act of suppression which it employs and falsely ascribes to plants. It is we humans who speak of "planting seeds," thus associating the word with necrophiliac burial through plantistic ideology, thus ignoring neutral, floral-free terms such as "seed embedment" and "reproductive earth-immersion." Worse yet, plantistic language controls our very notion of causality. We speak of ideas and events "having roots," "branching out "stemming from," "blossoming," etc.

Such language represents an expropriation of the legitimate and independent rights of plant processes. It lurks not only in logo Bud phallocentrism, Eurocentrism, racism, and sexism, but also in their opposites in radical theory. Quantitatively speaking, there is just as much plantistic chauvinism on the left as the right valorized among radicals as among conservatives. Plantistic language is so pernicious, so demonic that not even the most careful attention, the most heightened awareness can escape this insidious and all-pervasive prejudice.

And here I present the central thesis of all anti-plantistic thought, of which this writing it-self can only be, at best, a poor approximation of what finally must be said, for just as Africans can be the only true scholars of Africa, and only lesbians can honestly speak for lesbians, so too, every living thing is its own authority and the only organism capable of knowing who or what it is. Without any linguistic connection between humans and the floral world and standing in the existential void before the irrevocable Otherness of plants, we nevertheless proclaim the only valid theoretical principle on which scientific plant-consciousness can stand: ONLY PLANTS CAN SPEAK FOR PLANTS. Any other demand inevitably brings us back to the sources of plantistic hegemony, exemplified even in a construction as apparently plant-friendly and floraphiliac as the mystic study of plant auras, in which phallologocentrism was nevertheless at work in the attempt to penetrate the essentially unconscious and inaccessible world-spirit of plants.

The fact that botanical symbolism has been used among all the higher cultures to represent powerful life processes demonstrates the lengths to which human consciousness will go in linguistically colonizing nature for purposes of control. Expressing joy and independence beyond the most grasping, domineering ideology of human happiness, plants are the thing itself, the ding an sich of pure bliss, the oneness that humans, even the most wretched and oppressed, have attempted to expropriate in order to further their own selfish aims of projecting a lost natural innocence. Of all victimized life forms, plants have suffered the most, because they are their own paradise, their own Garden of Eden, not just once, but every day, and have the right to be left absolutely alone. EVERY GIFT OF FLOWERS, EVERY FLOWERPOT, EVERY VEGETARIAN MEAL IS AN ACT OF DEMONIC INSANITY.

Given the fact that the language of plants is alien to all forms of speech, given the Otherness of oppressed peoples, we call for the immediate abolition of all human connection with plants. This will alter the objective conditions. The liberation of women alone would receive new strength, for one of the most pernicious symbols of sexism is the 2,000 year old association of the subjugation, the tearing out of the ground, and the killing of flowers for the purpose of seducing women, as symbolized to this very day in the cult of the Valentine card and the sending of flowers by wire, not to mention the barbaric practise of giving them to sick people in hospitals, thus turning them into passive objects to be gazed upon, into slaves of plantistic fantasy.

We hear legitimate outcries today against pornography, against the exploitation of women's approval on the oppression that is projected in this construction of romantic ideology. The caption is too self-revealing to need further deconstruction: "1-800 FLOWERS. The Mating Call."

When bourgeois advertising inscribes on our consciousness "Say It With Flowers," radical scepsis can lead to only one conclusion: A bouquet of flowers is rape sublimated through consumerist plant symbolism. The medieval depiction of women as flowers, through which a feudal tyranny colonized the consciousness of its time, is one of the most degrading moments in western history, embodied in that so-called popular medieval work, The Romance of the Rose. Jean Genet's attempt to undermine this abuse by turning the equation woman - flower into an image of homosexuals in this pseudo-radical work Our Lady of the Flowers is but the latest in long line of what must be seen as double false consciousness. "Prisoners are flowers" he states at the beginning, thus setting the ideology of plantism in the context of homosexuality, a prejudice that subverts the radical content of this so-called avant-garde work of art.

It is a little known yet glaring truth (little known because of plantistic blindness) that anti-floralism is at the heart of modern literature. From Poe and Baudelaire through Kafka, Genet, and science fiction (seed-pods taking over the earth), anti-floralism has been the unspoken principle at work, just as in the past, an elitist pro-floralism was the ideology of botanical tyranny. Kafka's entire neurosis is summed up in a statement to Felice Bauerthat the sight of one rose was oppressive and that two together was almost unbearable. In Poe, the prejudice is blatantly expressed in his characterization of Roderick Usher (the words are telling), where he writes that "the odor of certain flowers oppressed him." I need not dwell on Baudelaire's shameless, decadent exploitation of plantism to perpetuate this so-called anti-traditional outlook, supposedly on behalf of destroy-ing the false idealism surrounding traditional plant imagery; and yet, his key work, The Flowers of Evil, is nothing but plantism in new form.

American literature is far from immune to this linguistic and ideological contagion. It has its most virulent plantistic poetry in Whitman's Leaves of Grass. And contrary to recent neo-Marxist and deconstructionist studies, it is not capitalist oppression or the subversion of authorial textuality that is the key to Melville, but Plantism, articulated in what amounts to the culminating tract of 19th-century plantistic viciousness, Billy Budd.

I will not belabor the point, already made by radical critiques, about the fraudulent master-pieces in the canon of western tradition. Nevertheless, the key point must be driven home: from Homer's simile of the generations of man as the autumn leaves blowing in the wind and the Gospel' s without scientific plant-consciousness. A guide to plantistic art and language by Weltgeist and Untergang is in progress, extracts of which appear below:

Prejudiced     Neutral

uprooted         removed
plant (n.)         chlorophyll producer
plant (v.)         seed embed
fruitful            productive
roots                nourishment network
bud                  potential floral form
flower             vegetational scent system
garden             floral installation

It follows that if Melville had been truly radical, he would have named his work Billy Potential Floral Form. Similarly, had Genet been the avant-guard writer he appears to be, he would have called his first novel Our Lady of the Vegetational Scent Systems.

Against a background of oppression, cloaked in the canon of western aestheticism, the watch-word is vigilance, eternal vigilance for the liberation of plants. The freedom of Flora is nourished by vegetable consciousness!

Art To Be Avoided

Whitman, Leaves of Grass; Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mai; Genet, Notre Dames des Fleurs; Goethe, "The Metamorphosis of Plants"; Shakespeare, most sonnets and all garden scenes {vide Richard II and Romeo and Juliet); Herman Melville, Billy Budd; Dante, Paradiso, Cantos 30-32; Joyce Kilmer, "Trees"; Andrew Marvell, "The Garden"; Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child's Gar-den of Verses; Hieronymous Bosch, "The Garden of Earthly Delights"; Allessandro Scarlatti, "The Garden of Love"; Wagner, "Forest Murmurs"; Van Gogh, "Cypresses"; Renoir, all still lifes, etc.

Critical Inquiry into Plantism

As yet a nascent field because of widespread, institutionalized plantism, but gaining attention.; See particularly recent studies by Stephen! Greenblatt, Shakespeare's Gardens: The Diff- sion of Social Energies in Elizabethan Imperialis- tic Fairy Tales; Gary Taylor, Reeinventing Flora: A Subversive Reading of Pastoral Poetry; Michael! Rogin: Herman Melville: Plantistic Literature in1 19th Century American Culture; Michel Foucault;; The Pollen of History: Plantistic Historiography, from Herder to Spengler; Stanley Fish, The So* Called Garden Poem from Marvell to Keats: Study in Plantistic Interpretive Communities), Mikhail Bakhtin, Subversive Shepherds: A Newi Look at Dresden Porcelain; The Death Valley; Collective, Our Plants, Our Selves?

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