This article analyzes the recent upsurge in philosophical studies of the plant world, using the corpus of an unexpected author – Michel Houellebecq – to illustrate what it might mean to think botanically about civilization. Readers most readily associate Houellebecq’s writing with provocation, nihilism, and themes such as radical Islam, sexual frustration and excess, the failures of May ’68 and millennial multiculturalism, and the apathy concomitant with late capitalism. However, in revisiting his writings, interviews, and photography through a vegetal lens, certain important features become salient. Houellebecq, who, like Alain Robbe-Grillet, studied vegetal ecology at the Institut des sciences et industries du vivant et de l’environnement (AgroParisTech), uses plants in conspicuous ways, particularly in his novels and poetry. For example, his novel La Carte et le territoire. (2010) – which ends with the line, “The triumph of vegetation is total” – imagines a future in which plants have encroached definitively upon civilization.Several of Houellebecq’s novels, like La Possibilitéd’une Île (2005), address the issue of human finitude and seem to recognize in the plant’s ontology a possible solution to this impermanence.Furthermore, describing his photographic practice, he explained, “it is the vegetal realm that dominates.”His work acknowledges the conceptual possibilities that plants offer for contemplating the contingency of being. This essay shows the ways in which Houellbecq’s enlistment of plants as thought experiments on the human condition is in keeping with the wider burgeoning philosophical treatment of plants across disciplines today.


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pp. 207-223
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