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Vegetative Soul, The

From Philosophy of Nature to Subjectivity in the Feminine

Elaine P. Miller

Publication Year: 2002

The Vegetative Soul demonstrates that one significant resource for the postmodern critique of subjectivity can be found in German Idealism and Romanticism, specifically in the philosophy of nature. Miller demonstrates that the perception of German Idealism and Romanticism as the culmination of the philosophy of the subject overlooks the nineteenth-century critique of subjectivity with reference to the natural world. This book’s contribution is its articulation of a plant-like subjectivity. The vision of the human being as plant combats the now familiar conception of the modern subject as atomistic, autonomous, and characterized primarily by its separability and freedom from nature. Reading Kant, Goethe, Hölderlin, Hegel, and Nietzsche, Miller juxtaposes two strands of nineteenth-century German thought, comparing the more familiar “animal” understanding of individuation and subjectivity to an alternative “plantlike” one that emphasizes interdependence, vulnerability, and metamorphosis. While providing the necessary historical context, the book also addresses a question that has been very important for recent feminist theory, especially French feminism, namely, the question of the possible configuration of a feminine subject. The idea of the “vegetative” subject takes the traditional alignment of the feminine with nature and the earth and subverts and transforms it into a positive possibility. Although the roots of this alternative conception of subjectivity can be found in Kant’s third Critique and its legacy in nineteenth-century Naturphilosophie, the work of Luce Irigaray brings it to fruition.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

In a preface, written, naturally, when the rest of the work has already been done, one is often at pains to bring together the way in which the work was initially projected with its present form, as if one had known from the outset in what particular ways it would...


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. 1-18

In “Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes,” Rainer Maria Rilke tells an allegory of nature rather than a narrative in his version of the story of Orpheus’s descent to Hades to find his dead wife, Eurydice.1 Rilke begins with the descent of Orpheus and Hermes “like veins of silver ore” into Tantalus, the realm of stone, also called “the deep uncanny mine of souls.” Blood...

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1 The English Garden

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pp. 19-44

We cannot help admitting that [Kant] entirely lacks grand, classical simplicity, na

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2 The Metamorphosis of Plants

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pp. 45-78

Up to this point we have concentrated on the importance of form in Kant’s technic of nature. Reflective judgment must proceed, when examining organisms, on the assumption that basic organizational frameworks inherited or constructed by natural scientists, such as system, purpose, and order, correspond to empirical reality, although this unity cannot be...

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3 Gleaning

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pp. 79-98

Nature,” Klingsohr replied, “is to our soul [Gemüt] what a body is to light. [The body] restrains [the light], refracts it into particular colors; it kindles on its surfaces or in its interior a light such that when the light equals its darkness, it makes the body clear or...

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4 FIGURES OF PLANT VULNERABILITY Empedocles and the Tragic Christ

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pp. 99-118

Initially, nothing seems more distant from the tragic insights of Hölderlin than the optimistic philosophy of Hegel’s dialectic. We will ultimately characterize Hegel’s method as a repudiation of the vegetative soul, a replacement of the unconscious vulnerability of the plant trope by the...

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5 HEGEL The Self-Sacrifice of the Innocent Plant

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pp. 119-148

The poem with which we open is one of Hegel’s lesser known literary efforts. It has none of the poignancy of “Eleusis,” dedicated to Hölderlin, nor the innocence of some of his more lyrical nature poems. One of Hegel’s biographers describes the poem as an interplay of “playful freedom, natural necessity, estrangement of self and return to self.”1 On this ...

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6 The Ivy and the Vine

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pp. 149-180

It might initially seem surprising to include Nietzsche in a discussion about the philosophy of nature and its effects on historical conceptions of subjectivity. Yet Nietzsche is as well known for his critique of the ego and of the primacy accorded to consciousness as for his indictment of modern science and of uncritical assumptions of teleology in nature, and...

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Conclusion Dissemination, Rhizomes, Efflorescence The Legacy of the Vegetative Soul in Twentieth-Century Thought

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pp. 181-200

Nineteenth-century German literary and philosophical thought sowed the seeds of the displacement of binary metaphysical oppositions and the questioning of the atomistic conception of the subject that became such important focal points for twentieth-century Continental philosophy...


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pp. 201-218


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pp. 219-232


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pp. 233-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780791488522
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791453919
Print-ISBN-10: 079145391X

Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 53481959
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Vegetative Soul, The

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Subject Headings

  • Botany -- Germany -- History -- 19th century.
  • Feminist theory.
  • Subjectivity.
  • Philosophy of nature -- Germany -- History -- 18th century.
  • Botany -- Germany -- History -- 18th century.
  • Philosophy of nature -- Germany -- History -- 19th century.
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