March 11, 2020
»Turn now, beloved, your eyes to these blooming and colourful multitudes,
See how, perplexing no longer, they stir there in view of your soul!
Every plant announces, to you now, the laws eternal,
Every flower louder and louder is speaking with you.«
― Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
I would love to start this exchange about collective care by going back to your project Queer Nature, where you explore »the little known, disregarded, and rare intimate behavior of the botanical world.« What makes this project so interesting to me in this context – apart from being captivating per se – is that it can easily become a starting point for an extended understanding of how to live differently. To learn this seems to be more than a need in current times, when the economic, political, environmental, and social climate often make us feel that the world is falling apart; when the promises of any possible futures appear to be darkened by societal behavior based on individualism and selfishness, and thus, the urgency of focusing on other species, beings, and worlds.
That’s why, when Maria Puig de la Bellacasa expresses that »Interdependency is not a contract, nor a moral ideal – it is a condition. Care is therefore concomitant to the continuation of life for many living beings in more than human entanglements – not forced upon them by a moral order, and not necessarily a rewarding obligation,« makes me think about how you describe the fluidity of behavior of the botanical world, and it drives my mind to think about how this behavior is also a condition that responds to the concepts of interdependency and care between plants, especially in the diversity of their gender expression, which you describe as enabling them to change and adapt in order to respond to factors like age, time of day, or environmental conditions. I guess it is exactly this diversity that allows them to take care of themselves, of other species, of the environment in general—and thus allows them to survive. Isn’t survival the biggest challenge for any form of collective care?
At this point, I want to recall what Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing argues in her book The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, that »staying alive – for every species – requires livable collaborations. Collaboration means working across difference, which leads to contamination. Without collaborations, we all die.« When I put together these two references, it seems to me that interdependency couldn’t exist without contamination, or that these two concepts can have more overlaps than we can initially understand.
This may be read as a provocation in a moment when the whole word is fearful of the word »contamination« due to the fast and wide expansion of COVID-19, but it is also true that language is something lively, always evolving and changing, and that we are in a constant search for new meanings to understand the word and therefore, the world.
So I think it’s a good moment to ask you about your thoughts on these concepts of interdependency, contamination, and collective care in the framework of your research.
With warmest regards from windy Barcelona,
March 17, 2020
Talking about care is compelling today with the dire situation we are facing, as the COVID-19 pandemic is escalating, public life banned, and borders closing. In the confinement of my home I am looking at my botanical collection in hope to find some answers. Please let me send you a picture of my orchid, which is blooming at the moment.
The fierce aspect of its white flowers reminds me of the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. He knew how to picture the queerness of life, be it the crudeness of S&M games, the frailty of Patti Smith, or the eroticism of a tulip. His eyes were able to see the world as a web of relationships. It is actually what the Queer Nature project is investigating: how the diversity of the plant kingdom and its sexual expression highlights the entanglements within vegetal matter: hermaphroditic, male, female, sequential transsexual… . Botany straddles the line between categories we so painstakingly strive to define, in the quest of defining our own identity.