The Perception and Representation of Plants in Early Modern England (1550-1700)

deadline for submissions: 
January 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
The 15th ESSE Conference - The European Society for the Study of English
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Please notice updated DEADLINE of 30 January 2020 to comply with organizational requirements at ESSE

The European Society for the Study of English (ESSE)
The 15th ESSE Conference. Lyon, August 31 – September 4 2020

Seminar 29: The Perception and Representation of Plants in Early Modern England (1550-1700)

Jean-Jacques Chardin (Université de Strasbourg, France)
Anna Maria Cimitile (Università degli studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”, Italy);
Laurent Curelly (Université de Haute Alsace, Mulhouse, France)

 The topic of this seminar reflects a growing interest in the lives of plants as a model for life on earth. Increasingly influential critical studies on the vegetal world are developed in the works of such authors as Emanuele Coccia, Luce Irigaray, Stefano Mancuso, Michael Marder and others. In his Life of Plants (2018), Coccia argues that plants are quintessentially, radically connected to their surrounding environment: “[The plant] is the most intense, radical, and paradigmatic form of being in the world. To interrogate plants means to understand what it means to be in the world”. In the Renaissance the seed of the plant was considered to be the paradigm of thinking and reason, because reason was defined not strictly as a human agent but as a force capable of fashioning matter (see Coccia 2018). How did early modern philosophers, writers and artists perceive the vegetal world? As germination and growth, blossoming, or even withering were used to illustrate abstract concepts, what visions of the world, life and society were advanced through the metaphorical use of plant’s life? Was the perception of plants conditioned by ideological and theological discourses? Was it shaped by individuals’ senses and emotions? In a period of geographical discoveries, what role did the perception of unknown, exotic plants play in the construction of cultural difference? Moreover: in literary texts, if, for example, Shakespeare is ‘the poet of Nature’, what can we make of his ‘invention’ of plants, his use of their real, but also symbolic or metaphorical power, and its imbrications with the human? Do plants anywhere in his texts define the human dimension?
We invite papers that may offer reappraisals of the representations and/or figural use of plants in early modern texts, be they philosophical, botanical, literary or artistic. Can the interpretation of plants and the use of vegetal figures in some early modern texts allow for a reconsideration of early modern episteme, ideologies, notions about the world and the place of the human in it?
Papers may discuss, among the others, the following themes:

-       The analogy between plants and humans;
-       Plants and literary genres from an eco-critical perspective: the pastoral, the romance, utopia, emblem-books, country-house poetry, travel narratives, etc.;
-       Eco-critical readings of the use of plants in literary works;
-       Sensory and aesthetic perceptions of the vegetal world in scientific treatises, literary texts and works of art (e.g. paintings, architecture and music);
-       Early modern “vegetable politics”? Plants in political treatises and in essays;
-       The interaction between literature, architecture and plants;
-       Plant’s ability to be shaped: gardening and early modern visions of chaos and order;
-       Geographical explorations and the discourse on exotic plants;
-       Plants and the representation of cultural difference;
-       The life of plants: figural uses of plants and vegetation in philosophical texts.

Please send abstracts (max 300 words) to the co-convenors by 30 January 2020.