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Powell’s Q&A: Michael Marder

Describe your latest work.
When I started working on Plant-Thinking in 2008, I had no idea that the project would turn out to be as broad as it did. In fact, a philosophy of plant life is a multivolume undertaking. Besides Plant-Thinking, it will include a book titled The Philosopher's Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, slated for publication by Columbia University Press next year; a text on the ethics and politics of vegetal life, under the title Plant-Doing; and an attempt at imagining a phenomenology of and for plants, titled Phyto-phenomenology.

For the next book, I have been collaborating with a fantastic French artist, Mathilde Roussel. Mathilde is beautifully illustrating the "intellectual herbarium," which consists of chapters ranging from "Plato's Plane Tree" and "Augustine's Pears" to "Kant's Tulip" and "Heidegger's Apple Tree." The idea is to introduce the thinking of some key figures in Western philosophy through the prism of a particular plant they either mentioned in passing or focused on in their writings. Leafing through the pages of the intellectual herbarium, readers will learn about the theories of these thinkers, as well as their take on plant life. This book has been a pleasure to work on, and it will be a fitting supplement to Plant-Thinking.

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Beside the Point: Read His Books Instead

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
You should definitely read Clarice Lispector. The best way to introduce her would be as a female Brazilian Kafka, and the best place to start is The Passion according to G.H.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why or why not?
I am a writer. Assume that I respond "true." I might be saying the truth, in which case, I disprove the very assertion I have affirmed. Or, I might be lying, in which case I seem to prove the point of this statement by my own behavior, but the actual state of things is that the assertion is false. You see what we philosophers deal with day-in, day-out!

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"To the plant, the whole world is plant; to us — man."
Friedrich Nietzsche

How do you relax?
By doing the very thing I do for a living.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Whatever it is, it would not be absolute so long as there is suffering in the world. Dostoyevsky has already put this more beautifully, though.

Why do you write?
Why do you breathe?

Must-read books on the plant's perspective of the world:
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz
The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird
The Metamorphosis of Plants by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Vegetative Soul: From Philosophy of Nature to Subjectivity in the Feminine by Elaine P. Miller

÷ ÷ ÷

Michael Marder is research professor of philosophy at the University of the Basque Country. He is the author of The Event of the Thing: Derrida's Post-Deconstructive Realism and Groundless Existence: The Political Ontology of Carl Schmitt, and, with Patricia Vieira, he is the coeditor of Existential Utopia: New Perspectives on Utopian Thought. Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life is his latest book.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Event of the Thing: Derrida's... New Trade Paper $29.95
  2. Groundless Existence: The Political... New Trade Paper $42.25
  3. Existential Utopia: New Perspectives... New Trade Paper $42.25
  4. Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of... New Trade Paper $27.60
  5. The Passion According to G.H. New Trade Paper $15.95
  6. The Vegetative Soul: From Philosophy... New Trade Paper $34.95
  7. The Metamorphosis of Plants Used Hardcover $13.00
  8. The Secret Life of Plants
    Used Trade Paper $12.50
  9. What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to...
    New Trade Paper $14.00
  10. The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye...
    Used Trade Paper $8.95

Michael Marder is the author of Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life

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