Plants give life to Earth, but we don’t really think about them very often. We don’t know their names. We don’t know their powers as medicine. Philosophers, thinkers and writers have long neglected them and rarely acknowledge their power over our lives. Plants are everywhere and give us the very air that we breathe, but we take them for granted. So Italian academic and writer, Emanuele Coccia, argues in his fascinating book, The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture, which skirts the line between philosophy, nature writing and science. In this conversation, Coccia talks to host Adria Vasil (journalist and author of the bestselling Ecoholic series) about why we should think more about the vital ways that plants shape our lives. Emanuele Coccia is an Associate Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris. He received his PhD in Florence and was formerly an Assistant Professor of History of Philosophy in Freiburg, Germany. He worked on the history of European normativity and on aesthetics. His current research topics focus on the ontological status of images and their normative power, especially in fashion and advertising. Among his publications: La trasparenza delle immagini. Averroè e l’averroismo (Milan 2005, Spanish translation 2008), La vie sensible (Paris 2010, translated in Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian; English translation in press) and Le bien dans les choses (Paris 2013 translated in Italian and Spanish; English and German translation in press). With Giorgio Agamben as a co-editor, he published an anthology on angels in Christian, Jewish, and Islamic contexts: Angeli. Ebraismo Cristianesimo Islam (Milan 2009). Adria Vasil is a Canadian environmental journalist. She started writing NOW Magazine's Ecoholic column in 2004 and has published three books based on her column: Ecoholic, Ecoholic Home, and Ecoholic Body. Vasil is a lecturer at the Ryerson School of Journalism, from which she herself graduated in 2003.
Book by Emanuele Coccia
The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture
Books by Adria Vasil
Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Products, Information and Service in Canada.
Ecoholic Body: Your Ultimate Earth Friendly Guide to Living Healthy and Looking Good.
Ecoholic Home: the Greenest, Cleanest and Most Energy-Efficient Information Under One (Canadian) Roof
Check out more about Adria and her work on her website.
Other Related Materials
What If Plants Were One of Us (link opens an article from The Nation)
Emanuele Coccia: philosophe de la métamorphose (link open a broadcast interview in French from France Culture)
Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations features curated discussions and interviews with some of today’s best-known and yet-to-be-known writers, thinkers and artists, recorded on stage at one of Toronto Public Library’s 100 branches.
Episodes are produced by Natalie Kertes, Jorge Amigo, and Gregory McCormick. Technical support by Michelle De Marco and George Panayotou. AV support by Jennifer Kasper and Mesfin Bayssassew. Marketing support by Tanya Oleksuik.
Music is by The Worst Pop Band Ever.
Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations
Emmanuele Coccia: Plants Make Us Human
Gregory McCormick: Welcome to Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations, our regular Toronto Public Library podcast series featuring curated discussions and interviews with some of today’s best-known and yet-to-be-known writers, thinkers and artists, recorded on stage at one of Toronto Public Library’s 100 branches.
Adria Vasil (AV): Very excited to be here tonight with you all on this rainy day with the author of The Life of Plants. Such an honour to be asked to speak with you today.
Emmanuele Coccia (EC): Thank you so much.
AV: I was real excited to get this book and begin reading it, because it really... I've always been someone who feels very in tune with nature, but this really changed things. I feel like I breathe differently now actually. But we'll get into that later. [chuckle] But before we get into all that, do you mind just giving us a little bit of background on how you grew up? I know you mentioned very briefly in your book that you studied agriculture in high school. Were your parents farmers in Italy or...
EC: Not at all. My parents are doing totally different stuff. Actually it was the sort of very unconscious feminist decision by my mother, who sent my eldest sister actually to the elite school of the village where we used to live. The school where you are supposed to study all Greek and Latin. It was a Catholic school, private, very expensive. And then she said to me and to my brother, I used to have a twin brother, she said to us, "You will never go to the university. You are not good enough to study. And to... " It was a good strategy because I became a university professor perhaps just in order to show to my mother that I was good enough to do that.
AV: Clearly the strategy worked, yes. [chuckle]
EC: But then she invited us to take some technical paths, so technical schools. I found myself in this school for agriculture, studying all the time Botany, or Entomology, or Agronomy. So sciences which have to do with the health and the existence of plants. But I did not have actually, when I was young, a particular love for plants, so it came after. It came also because of the study, because of the fact that I spent five years of my life outside the city because at that time, the school lied outside the city. And it was also interesting. I decided to write the book because of the fact that my first imprinting with knowledge was in a way a relationship with knowledge that has to do with plants. And after I studied philosophy, I became a philosophy professor at the university, but I wanted to put together, these two cells, two different parts of my life, at least in the public space. But it was... I had the chance to publish the book exactly at the moment when people started to find plants extremely exciting and extremely interesting.
AV: Perfect timing, actually. Yes.
EC: Yeah. Yeah, but it was strange to see how fashion actually can change people. Because before... 10 years ago or when I was a student, the fact to know the name of plants or to love plants, it was not a positive sign actually.
AV: It wasn't cool, let's say.
EC: Not at all. Not just cool, it was a...
AV: But now there are apps for plant identifying. People are craving more knowledge of nature. But your background was much more clinical initially, it was not necessarily, it was more like you were studying the plants as they would be used in agriculture?
EC: Yeah, but once you start studying botany, you have to know every form of plants you're studying, making, buying. So you cannot study plants without loving them because they are so different from us, they are so special. In a way, I have to thank this kind of weird studies because they gave me, first of all, the love for a very weird type of creatures that normally we do not know at all and we do ignore all the time.
AV: You say that a few times in the book how we kind of have... They have a sovereign indifference to us, but we have treated them as decoration on the tree of life.
EC: Yeah, because in a way it... And actually, I think that the... It's not just a form of ignorance, it's really sort of active production within society of this kind of ignorance. I'm now a father, of a daughter four years old. And if you get a look to bookstore for children, it's extremely amazing. Not amazing, it's a scandal. But it's amazing the fact that animals do appear always with a very specific form. So a lion's a lion, a dolphin is a dolphin. There's a lot of exaltism. My daughter knows the name of a huge amount of animals that she will never see in her entire life.
AV: Good point.
EC: Also, in French, Italian, English and so on. But in this kind of literature, the plants appear just as a brown and a green spot.
AV: No description whatsoever.
EC: There is just the platonic form of plant. There is no diversity, there is no names. There is just a tree, like for all the trees that exist. That's extremely bizarre. Why? Why? Why it's so difficult...
AV: The lion was behind the tree, period. There's no other...
EC: Yeah, or a tree or a plant which is not a tree, but there is no names at all, actually.
AV: And very little education about the local options as well, yeah, local variety.
EC: But neither the exotic parts. Actually, there are stuff without names. Also, in another sense, because something that has always struck me, the fact that we used to give names to all the strangest creatures in the world; little turtles, dogs, cats. But we have a lot of trees also in the city, and we never give names to this ginkgo over there for instance.
AV: It's not John, Johnny Green or... [chuckle]
EC: Yeah. Why?
AV: No pet names.
EC: Why? Yeah.
AV: Yeah, we do have... You said have, how did you put it? The way that we... That human narcissism extends to animals but never to plants. And when did that start happening because, obviously, if you go back further enough and you look at indigenous cultures, there's a deep respected reverence and connection to the plant world or... Yeah, and so, I'm wondering when we began to break from that.
EC: It's difficult to give an exact year.
AV: We want exact dates and times.
EC: But there is a lot of codes... I mean there's a lot of reasons. First of all, there is a normal biological reason, that is the fact that we are animal and it's easier for us to identify with an animal than with a plant. That's totally normal. On the other hand, our culture is really extremely zoo-centric, it starts every time with animals. For instance, we started... We humans started making art depicting animals. We started moral sciences imaging fables with animals, and so we took animals in order to do clothes, in order to do weapons, in order to do works for us. So, we are animals and we use animals in order to live. And then there is... A couple of scientists gave, 20 years ago, also a biological reason, which is perhaps not so... It's not such a good explanation, but they said actually because the human being started as a human being within forests, and we actually learned not to pay attention to the green spot because danger came not from... Didn't come from the green parts. So, we focused or we used to focus on the not green parts of the visual field. So this is a sort of scientific explanation of what has been called plant blindness. So, we are biologically, in a way, obliged to ignore everything which is green. But it's a stupid explanation because, in a way, in the forest there were no phones and we are extremely attentive to phones so it's not...
EC: So it's not... And then there are much... At least for western societies, there are a couple of more... How can you say? Deeper reasons. First of all, the fact that modern biology is extremely focused on animal. We always... We used actually to ask fundamental questions about life in front of animals. So what does it mean to think? What does it mean to live? We asked this kind of questions always in front of animals, not in front of plants.
AV: We wonder this about our own cats and dogs, of course, yes. [chuckle]
EC: Yeah. Exactly. And also, there is also the fact that during a lot of time botany was actually sort of very strange science in a constant minority complex toward zoology, and it was a discipline which was actually focused, first of all, on mastering the huge biodiversity within the vegetal realm. So, but something changed in the last, actually in the last 60 years. First of all, there was a huge revolution within biology that obliged actually biologists and not biologists to evolute to plants. This kind of revolution consisted in the fact that since the '60s, thanks to one of the most important, perhaps the most important biologist of the last century, Lynn Margulis, an American biologist, who discovered the fact that actually perhaps the most important revolution of life on this planet, invention of the eukaryote cell has to be explained not on the base of competition... On the base of this kind of war... Of everybody... Yeah, exactly, but on the base of symbiosis.
EC: So, this was a huge revolution because in a way it means that we had to quit this kind of very war paradigm that have been left to us and we had to accept the fact that actually life progresses through cooperation, symbiosis, love, and so on. And from this point of view, plants in a way have a much more important, or plays an important epistemological role within science because plants do not have of course this kind of first form of hostility linked to predation because they do not need to eat other living beings in order to survive. So because of that, because once that you understand that actually symbiosis, collaboration, and cooperation is much more important in life than war, suddenly plants become much more important for biology than in the past. So this is the first revolution that in a way produced everything, produced also the fact that I'm standing here or produced the fact that there are a lot of bestsellers. I do not know if in Canada, for instance, this huge bestseller (unintelligible) outside the success of Peter Wohlleben, The Secret Life of Trees.
AV: Oh, I interviewed him here. Yes.
EC: Okay. Yeah, he's a good friend of mine.
AV: Oh, what a wonderful man. Yes.
EC: Yeah. The main thesis of Peter's book is exactly that, in a way, we have to look at forests in order to understand how to live together.
EC: And it's in a way the end of this very long history that began with Lynn Margulis.
AV: And at the same time, we've developed, many people in this room would have a deep respect for trees and nature. But you say plants... Even in the plant world, trees and flowers kind of get all the attention, and the leaves are really the... They develop life and they are the reason we are alive and human. And they make us who... Essentially enable us to be here today. Can you give us a little taste of your kind of... The philosophy behind plants, and air, and the all that unites us? And it's a very small question.
EC: So a lot of questions within the same question. First of all, the main idea behind the book is actually a very simple idea. It's actually to take seriously the first sentence in every kind of handbook in botany. So the fact that life on this planet or the life of superior animals on this planet is possible just because there are plants. So the idea is then, if you are taking seriously this sentence, then you have to admit that plants are not just a part of the world, they are the origin of the world. So each time that you are looking at a plant, you are seeing not just an element of this cosmos, you're looking at the big bang that in a way triggers the origin of this world.
AV: Because they created oxygen.
EC: Yeah. For two reasons, because of the fact that they make possible that the atmosphere contains enough oxygen so we can breathe, and secondly, they are also at the base of the trophic cycle, for us animals. That is, they're the ones who catch the most important source of energy on this planet, the sun, and they in a way they store it under the form of molecular bonds and they, in a way, they make it available for other living beings. Which is extremely interesting because if you're looking to the trophic cycle from this point of view, that means that actually every time that an animal is eating something, I mean, no matter if it's a plant or it's another animal, he's looking for this light actually and what we are calling...
EC: Yeah, exactly. What we call a nutrition or feeding is actually this extremely strange secret trade of sunlight which passes from body to body, from species to species. So this is already extremely interesting. We are looking for light and we do not have this capacity of taking light immediately like plants can.
AV: We don't do photosynthesis ourselves, no. Yeah.
EC: And on the other hand what is striking from a metaphysical point of view, or from a philosophical point of view, of this activity by plants is the fact that actually light is an extraterrestrial element. So it's totally... I mean, it doesn't belong to the Earth, but that means that, in a way, first of all, the basis of our life is extraterrestrial. And secondly, what actually flows in our body is this extraterrestrial substance. So we are all in a way partly ET, so we are all in a way. Which is extremely beautiful also. And that is thanks to the plants.
AV: And this kind of merges with your theory of... Well, I mean the subtitle of your book is, "The metaphysics of mixture", and mixture is a word that kind of plays prominently, an idea that plays prominently in the book. Can you explain that a bit for us?
AV: Water is a good idea. [chuckle]
EC: So, to make it easier, perhaps... The main idea is the fact that for instance... Let's take an example that can be easier also for me. I mean what is striking actually to me is the fact that in a way I do not need to have in front of me a plant in order to have a relationship to plants. I mean it is enough that I'm starting breathing and I'm already in a way... I am already invaded by the by-products or the... In a way by the shit of plants, if you're... [chuckle] By the... What plants...
AV: I didn't see that quote in the book. Yeah, I like it. I like it.
EC: And in a way, we are already participating or we are in a way merging with the body or with the rest of the body because of breath, because of our needing oxygen, and we could speak also, I mean... And what is interesting, it's not in the book, but what shows also the fact that our bodies is always merged with the body of other living beings is the fact that, for instance, there is a couple of papers that shows that actually, as I said, the human being is a boreal primate, that is we took our origin within... On the trees.
AV: In the trees, right, yeah.
EC: And the sign of that is the fact that, for instance, we have opposable thumb. It was in order to better catch the branches of the trees, and also, that we have, for instance, like the primates, our progenitors, we have closed eyes on the front, that is in order to see the depth in the visual field which is important when you're living on trees because otherwise you are falling. So in a way, also from this point of view, our body has been sculpted by trees. So, our bodies are work of art of trees, which are our artists or our... So even in this sense, we do not need to have a tree in front of us in order to have a relationship to them. Each time that we look at or each time that we relate to our body, we are relating in a way to trees.
EC: So, the idea of the book is... Or the other idea of the book is that every form of life has to mix itself with other forms of life on different levels. For instance, (unintelligible) calls it an anatomical level. But first of all, one of the main point of the book was also the idea that, for instance, plants are extremely interesting in order to understand what is the relationship between a living being and the environment. So, we are supposed or we are used to think that actually the environment is something that pre-exist to living beings and then a living being has to adapt to the environment. So, that is the classical idea.
AV: And we think of it as outside of ourselves.
EC: Yeah, exactly, but plants in a way shows or proves that it's the other way round in the sense that they do, as every living being actually, seizes or they do sculpt, they do change in a very deep way the world around them. So, for instance, they put oxygen in the world, in the atmosphere. They changed forever the face of the world. They put sand within the mineral flesh of Gaia and they changed forever the geological phase of the planet, so...
AV: Through the roots transferring sunlight.
EC: Yeah, everything. Well so, when they are dead, they produce carbon deposits and so on. So, in a way, we have to think... There's a huge tradition starting from the 18th Century, at least in Europe, of botanists or of biologists who started to think that actually everything we can look at in the world is the production of former living beings. So everything. There is no more original natural face of the Earth. Everything was in a way chiseled by some living beings. That means that each time that we are entering in a space, we are entering in the space or in the body of other living beings. So, there is no possibility in a way to stay at home because your home is already the home produced, designed by other living beings. So, for instance, we are breathing and this breath is in a way taking part...
AV: We're sharing it, yes.
EC: Yeah, but also take part to the life of plants and so on. So there is this active relationship with the environment that also means the fact that every relationship to the space is a relationship to the life of other living beings and everything is intermingled, everything is not just connected. We are always in the body of other living beings, always.
AV: So it's beyond interconnected?
EC: Yeah. It's much more... It's much deeper in a way.
AV: So does the idea, like the Vedic idea, the ancient Hindu text talking about oneness, does that resonate with you in a different way now that you've been studying this idea of plants?
EC: Yeah, of course, but in a way we do not need... We don't even need to read the Veda. If you are taking seriously what Darwin said, we can come to the same conclusions. One of the most beautiful idea of Darwin is the fact that every species is actually the metamorphosis of a previous species. So, every species... There is no pure substantial species. Every species is a metamorphosis of a previous species. That means that every species is already sort of a mixture of different species. And that's extremely evident also from a genetical or morphological point of view. For instance, our DNA is a sort of patchwork made out of viruses, fungi, bacteria, fishes, apes, and so on. Our body... Almost nothing in our body is purely human. The fact that we have eyes, that has nothing to do with something exclusively human. The fact that we have, I don't know, hair or also hands and so on. So, we are living tools in a way. We are a patchwork of different forms of life because of the fact that everything must in a way have birth through the life of other species. So I can take whatever, I mean, whatever body I'm taking now, I can draw a line from here to the beginning of life.
AV: You mention in the book at one point that we are still fish, really?
EC: Yeah, and we are still also rocks, in a way in each of us Gaia is trying to find another form of its life and it's trying to fit differently to itself. So in a way each of us, each species, but each individual within a species is Gaia speaking from billions of years ago.
AV: I feel like there's some commonality with various spiritual teachings, not necessarily religious anymore, but spiritual that raise this idea. You do mention, just to back track, that you had the idea for this book at a temple in Japan. Can you tell us how this came to be?
EC: Yeah, it is difficult to speak about that because there's this kind of mystical... It was not a mystical vision, but I was in Japan for a month as an invited professor, and I had a chance to stay a week in Kyoto. And a person let me visit Fushimi Inari Temple, which is an extremely lethargic temple. Actually, it is a space within the start, where there is a huge forest, and within this forest there is this kind of path with this orange fluorescent torii, the... I don't know, the gates, yeah, exactly, yeah. You are passed through this 5 km of orange gates. And you are within wild nature and I could touch this evidence of oneness, of cultural and nature and human beings and cats which were walking around the forest.
EC: So at that time it was not so touristic like nowadays, there was nobody actually. And so I said to myself, I had to write it because, yeah, plants are the most important elements here. In a way, because you said there is a lot of spiritual insights or religious insights, in a way, the point or the idea was to come exactly to the same conclusions without quoting any spiritual traditions, but just showing that within science, within contemporary science, there is such a huge amount of, first of all, of very surrealistic, in a way, visions of the world. And secondly, also, there is such a huge amount of sources of spiritual... I do not know how to call it, spiritual insights or spirituality, actually. That perhaps we do not see them because we put science, in a way, in a separate space than spirituality. Whereby, of course, a scientist, someone who spent his or her entire life studying life that has a totally different form from our form, is an extremely spiritual person. You cannot spend 50 years of your life studying, I don't know, gene code or... Without being an extremely spiritual person. It's physically impossible.
AV: I like this idea, yeah. Because I'm glad that you mentioned that it was an intentional choice not to... You mentioned, you were talking about the roots of plants and philosophy, western philosophy, but you didn't necessarily mention religion, but you did, there were a few quotes, for instance, "Roots make the soil and the subterranean world a space of spiritual communication." That really evokes this mystic envisioning of whether the plants communicate with each other. And you mentioned as well the plant soul, at one point. Do you have a perception of what that is? And obviously, it'll be different from [chuckle] the idea of human soul. Or it may not be.
EC: Of course, yeah, yeah. Of course, no, but it's not just my opinion. It's in a way... There is still a huge fight within science because of, for instance, because of the fact that the zoologists have a lot of power within biology. And also because of the fact of the power of neuro-scientists within biology. But there is enough research that has proved that plants do have consciousness, that is, that plants know exactly what is happening outside them, know exactly what is happening inside them, and know exactly what is the difference between the inside and the outside, and that's a good definition of consciousness. And they are intelligent, they can communicate with each other. So, the problem is that, first of all, we normally, we are used to speak or to ask what does it mean to be intelligent in front of animals. And exactly for that reason, only for that reason, we usually answer with a stupid answer: To be intelligent means to have a brain, to have a nervous system.
EC: Actually, since at least 40 years, a lot of biologists proved the rest, and also proved for instance that it is extremely arrogant to think that only animals think, because animals do represent a tiny part of the biomass in the universe, like really tiny. So, in a way to think that only life forms with brain or with a nervous system are intelligent, is a sort of extension of the human or anthropocentric arrogance within the animal realm.
AV: The human narcissism strikes again.
EC: Yeah, exactly. So, we do know that plants are intelligent. The question is, why do plants not need a nervous system or a brain in order to be intelligent? Or why did they not choose to develop a brain in order to be intelligent? And the answer is also relatively easy. It's because they are fixed life forms. So imagine that you are... You spent your entire life exactly where you are now, so 300 years fixed...
AV: Get comfortable.
EC: There where you are. So when you was a child, you were there, and you can live 500 hundred years and you will be there. So, it's a tough life actually.
EC: Yeah, it depends, because you are exposed to the attack of a lot of predators. And so if you are doing like animals, if you're concentrating on a specific function or an activity within a tiny part of your body, so you risk to lose the possibility to exercise this function for 300... Imagine that... If for instance we choose as animals to focus or to concentrate our relationship to the sun or to the light in these two very, very small parts that we call eyes, and they are tiny. And if we're living on this part for 500 hundred years, a lion come or can come or a bird, I don't know, someone, and take our eyes and we do not have the chance anymore to have a relationship to the sun.
EC: So, the plants are doing two... Or they have two different strategies. First of all, they choose very often not to concentrate the exercise of a function on a very specific spot of the body. So, they do not have this kind of... They do not have, in a way, organs. They distribute their function on their body. So that's the reason why, for instance, they communicate through molecules and not through mouths, for instance. Or the other strategy is actually to multiplicate the same function a lot of times, they are building a lot of alternatives. So for instance, the most evident case is sex. So we are doing sex and we each of us have just one sex. Plants or a tree for instance has like 400 sexes exactly. Flowers has sexes. Another point... I forget it, but another evidence of the fact that we do not see plants, is the fact that actually we are offering a lot of flowers every time to people we love and we forget... We do not want to see the fact that the offering flowers means actually offering sexual organs. It's like to offer...
EC: To offer dicks and vaginas of animals to people.
AV: It's like a new dick pic.
EC: Yeah, exactly. It's very pornographic... So, we have five minutes because...
AV: Five minutes. Oh my goodness, we could be here all night. Well...
EC: Just I wanted to finish this point. So, we have one sex. A plant develops 400 or 500 sex, and from this point of view, we can... Because your question was, "Do plants have a soul? Do plants... " So plants not only have a soul, they are much more self. They are much more of me than me in the sense that the subjectivity or the selfhood is in their body multiplicated. So, they have exactly like they have 400 sexes or sex organ. They have 400 selves in a way.
AV: I see.
EC: So, they are much more intensively selves or of me than me.
AV: There's so many... You guys all have to pick up a book because we've only just scratched the surface. There's so much to talk about, and it's very interesting because your past book was on advertising, fashion worlds, and image, and morality. And did you need to rinse that out and go to nature after paying too much attention to human culture? [chuckle]
EC: Perhaps. Perhaps, I will need to do both of them actually, yeah.
AV: Yes, and is there a thread that connects the two books at all?
EC: Yes, because in a way my first obsession were images. And I started to study advertising because in way it's the sphere where images are produced or where we actually produce the most consumed, and the most popular, and the most in a way powerful images in our society, advertising has this task actually. And plants are in a way to me or were to me the embodiment of life forms where, first of all, they produce this huge amount of forms. They are... Because one of the main point of the... One of the main differences of the vegetal existence in comparison to the animals is the fact that... Take a tree, for instance. A tree can never stop growing. So, a tree is a form of life that is obliged to in a way to add parts to its body. So, which means that every tree is a multi-aged individual. So to be a tree is like to have a leg which is 40 years old, another leg which is 20 years old and then a head that has two months and so on. So you have not the same age, but most importantly, a tree is a sort of body artist, which is obliged to shape itself all the time. So the question of the image is actually extremely urgent to him, to it.
AV: And you talk about morality is a big part of your previous book, in relation to the image. And you mention in this book, that life exists only in so far as it consumes other life, removing any moral or ethical considerations to the equation. And I'm wondering, whether for you, watching nature, there may not be an internal morality to it, that we can impose upon it, but watching the way humans are interacting with nature, do you have a sense of moral outrage or are you just saying... Or do you see it more as, "Well, this is... The creatures of the planet, of plants, humans consuming themselves and over-consuming as plants gone wild, we can say, humans are." [chuckle]
EC: So I think that the look at nature can... First of all, has to teach us the fact that we are the same body of... I mean, can I answer a little bit more because she will be crazy.
AV: She's going to pull the hook.
EC: I'm just taking five minutes in order to answer the question. There is an extremely beautiful text by Aldo Leopold, so the founder of the Land Ethic in the States, one of the most important figure of the ecological movement in the world actually, not just in the States. He wrote, he published this book called "A Sand County Almanac" and within this book there is an extremely interesting text that is called Odyssey, and it's a rewriting of the Homer text. And it's actually, it's a sort of re-writing of the text of the old story from the point of view of an atom. So the history of the Earth, and it's a diptych, so it's an atom within an enterprise or a landscape which has been modified by humans and an atom, which is living in a totally wild space, but that's not important for our story.
EC: For me, it's important the fact that actually the history of the world is told as a history of successive reincarnations of the atom, which was a rock and then part of the grass and then a cow and then an Indian and so forth and so on. So why... And the end of the story is you have to live faster and to die often, which is extremely beautiful as a principle of morality. So you have to live faster to die often. Not to have... To scare. But what is interesting is the fact that this is really the only basis of an ecological morality, the fact that actually, the fact, to our knowledge, that we share the same body with everything which is living. So the forms of life outside us are the archives of our past or future lives. So in a way, everything we are is the reincarnation of past different natures or forms of life, and we will be also or our body will reincarnate in this tree. For instance, if I'm dying now and I don't know, someone decides not to bury, but to... How do you say in English when you let your body burn?
AV: Oh, cremation.
EC: Yeah, the cremation. I will transform myself into CO2 and I will be the body of some tree. So this is the basic principle, I think, for the ecological ethic. We are the same body, we share the same flesh, actually, with everything.
Gregory McCormick: On the Live Mic episode page, livemic.ca, you will find biographies of featured writers, guests and hosts, as well as links to TPL’s collections or other episode-related materials. For all of TPL’s podcast series go to tpl.ca/podcasts.
Toronto Public Library is one of the world's busiest urban public library systems. Every year, more than 20 million people visit our 100 branches in neighbourhoods across the city and borrow more than 32 million items.
Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations is produced by the Toronto Public Library. Episodes are produced by Natalie Kertes, Jorge Amigo, and me, Gregory McCormick. Technical support by Michelle De Marco and George Panayotou. AV support by Jennifer Kasper and Mesfin Bayssassew. And marketing support by Tanya Oleksuik.
Music is by Worst Pop Band Ever also known as WPBE.
I’m Gregory McCormick, Manager of Cultural and Special Event Programming at Toronto Public Library. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for another episode of Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations.