Conference Presentation: "Are People Like Plants?" in the "Cultures of Cultivation" seminar (organized by Sarah Lincoln and Martin Premoli) at the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) Annual Meeting.
“Invasive.” “Indigenous.” “Diversity.” These are keywords both in plant biology and in social politics. But what are the dangers of comparing humans to plants? The Cape Town fire of 2000, for example, provoked tirades blaming “invasive” plants, whose xenophobic overtones Jean and John Comaroff have explored. In Ruth Ozeki’s 2003 novel All Over Creation, bio/diversity metaphors negotiate racial difference and imperialism through heirloom gardening and monocultural farming. Bio/diversity is not just a key metaphor, but a material concern: Ozeki explores the coalitional potential between a vanload of crunchy environmental activists and a traditionalist farmer, all of whom oppose GMOs as spelling corporate monopoly and an end to life. Their stances on the family differ: the farmer condemns his daughter’s abortion, while the activists cultivate anti-capitalist alternatives to the nuclear family. This paper explores Ozeki’s novel in relation to several ideologies plied in anti-GM mobilization, ranging from agrarianism to the Commons. All Over Creation reneges on radical promises by ultimately idealizing the white, heterosexual family. Yet Ozeki also makes an aesthetic argument against universalist environmentalisms. From here, I contemplate broader implications of analogical discourses on the invasive, the alien, and the mixed in the transnational politics of farming and gardening.