Rob Carter, Faith in a Seed

Justin E.H. Smith, over at his blog:

This is an excerpt from my essay for the New Commission project at New York's Art in General, an exhibition by Rob Carter entitled 'Faith in a Seed'. For more information about the show, go here.

I was slow in noticing the wonder of plants, and in this I do not believe I was unusual. When one is young, it is the furry things with faces, the creatures that dart about looking for food, driven on by their appetitive souls, that attract attention. At this stage, the plants are only the stage-setting, the animals the protagonists.

But in my case the innatention to the vegetal order continued well past my first youth. I long took Aristotle's greatness as a philosopher, for example, relative to that of his disciple Theophrastus, to consist principally in this, that whereas the former wrote books on the generation, parts, motion, and history of animals, the latter only came up with a couple of books about plants. It strikes me now, however, that this lack of interest would better be described as a severe case of phytophobia: I insisted plants were uninteresting, but what I really meant is that they are positively threatening.

“Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret,” said Horace: you can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she always comes back. This does not mean what I long thought it meant, but let us proceed as though it did. The Roman poet intended to say that innate character (the 'nature' of an individual being) cannot be supressed, but what the dictum long said to me was rather more literal: that nature, or rather Nature, cannot be beaten back for long. In appealng to 'Nature' here, what naturally comes to mind is of course the world of plants. Animals can be contained, more or less (other than insects and other microanimals, which, modern taxonomy be damned, no one really thinks are animals anyway), but the order of plants, as Lord Shaftesbury already understood in contemplating an early modern English garden, is sublime.