February 1, 2015 0 Comments Book Review 2182 Views

Plants and Literature: Essays in Critical Plant Studies.Rodopi. by Randy Laist (Editor). 2013. 272 pp. $92.00 Paperback.

Cover image

Cover image from publisher website.

Reviewed by Jane Alford.

Randy Laist’s recent edited essay collection, Plants and Literature: Essays in Critical Plants Studies, showcases twelve authors’ insights into the ways that plants impact, inform, and complexify human existence. In these essays, the authors break down often assumed hierarchies within the natural world and explore the agency of vegetal life in literature from the early nineteenth century to the present. Plants often blend into the scenery of a story, and their influence is often overlooked, but these authors bring plants into the critical conversation and challenge readers to empathize with and recognize the presence of these green lifeforms in literature and in our interaction with them in the world. This group of essays spans two-hundred years of literature, art, drama, film, and other mediums to explore how we understand and interact with the natural world. Randy Laist begins the collection with an introduction, where he states that “plants play a vital role in the experience of being human,” and the authors in this collection explore that interaction in new and exciting ways.

Betsy Winakur Tontiplaphol begins the collection with an essay exploring expressions of Jane Austen’s vegetarian sensibility in her novel, Mansfield Park, followed by Lynne Feeley’s fascinating reading of antebellum journals written by farmers. Feeley reveals how resistance from crops threatened the authority of these Southern planters. Graham Culbertson explores how patterns of wheat growth in the Midwest not only impact the stock market in Chicago but also control the desires of the protagonist in Franks Norris’s The Pit. Ria Banerjee examines how vegetal life resists ordering functions, such as art and education, in works from Virginia Wolfe and Djuna Barnes. Rhona Trauvitch compares Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake with the book of Genesis, drawing parallels on how humans are at odds with their surrounding natural world in both of these creation stories. Stephanie Lim brings a new medium into consideration in her essay, where she discusses killer plant narratives in films from the latter half of the twentieth century. Lim’s examination of these entertainment texts illustrates human fascination with the trope man versus nature. Aubrey Streit Krug ends the collection with an essay considering how agricultural rhetoric treats plant life and its eradication. Krug’s essay draws from a variety of popular culture sources to support her interesting argument. Essays by Akemi Yoshida, Stacey Artman, Ubaraj Katawal, Charolette Pylyser, and Hindi Krinsky are also included in the collection.

Laist’s collection of essays explores the interactions between humans and plant life and blurs some of the lines between those two forms of existence. Readers are left questioning their conceptions of vegetal agency and the impact which plants have in our lives and circumstances. Although the essays cover a wide range of texts, the focus on plant life and its influence in literary narratives and in inhabited spaces is poignant for any readers whose interests verge biology, environmentalism, literature, new media, rhetoric, philosophy, or the natural world. Laist’s collection invites readers to think more critically about plant life and its impact, both in literature and in our daily interaction with the natural world.

About the Author

Randy Laist is Associate Professor of English at Goodwin College. He is the author ofTechnology and Postmodern Subjectivity in Don DeLillo’s Novels and the editor of Looking forLost: Critical Essays on the Enigmatic Series. He has also published dozens of articles on literature, film, and pedagogy.

About the Reviewer

Jane is our resident ecofeminist and strict grammatician (someone around here has to be). She’s always on call, reminding us of the right place for a direct object and when we’re describing women as such. She received her BA in English and history from the University of Montevallo and is currently pursuing her M.Ed. in English Language Arts at Auburn University. She enjoys adventures of the outdoor variety, growing food and cooking it, and spending time with her loyal feline, Romeo.

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