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Response to ‘a visit to the landscape of form’

Halle, F. 2002.  A visit to the landscape of form. pg. 41-124; p 173-184 in In praise of plants.  Timber Press, Portland, New London.


In this reading, the author explains the theoretical reasons behind why plants and animals have dramatically different forms.  After discussing quantitative measurement as being simple and limited, he crudely describes plants qualitatively as surfaces and animals as volumes, going on to explain incomprehensibly about the effects of surrounding space on the existence of the forms. The author discusses the relationship between why plants and animals have the form’s that they do in terms of surrounding space, energy consumption, and movement capabilities. He begins to explain the difference between plants and animals by highlighting how they each capture energy, but somewhere along the way, somehow manages to have me nodding my head in agreeance with his following statement that they are actually essentially the same as one another, just with different exterior forms. The way in which the author induces me into following along with his ideas is both interesting and somewhat disconcerting.

One of the things I appreciate about the author is that he seems to write from all points of view, though at the same time maintaining the reader’s awareness of the point of view that he supports. “Is this appearance pushing the plant analogy too far?…but this can be no more than a coincidence.” (pg 48) Following this insight, he goes on to remain true to his original idea that plants are indeed like animals.  I am quite captured by the thoughtful insight that this embracement of contradicting points of view writing provides. He discusses the perception of time as it relates to the movement of animals and plants. We think of time only as it applies to us, and therefore compared to us plants don’t move. He uses the example of an aphid’s perception of time, the aphid saying that gardeners are immortal. I do appreciate the way he provides complementary arguments to almost all of his points, as if he is engaging the reader in a conversation rather than telling the reader what to think. To illustrate this he follows the aphid example with a discussion about the difference between growth and movement in relation to perception of time, “Reversing direction is possible in animals…plants are not capable of un growing.”(pg107). “To say that plants are immobile results from an anthropomorphism that impedes our seeing beyond our own time scale….growth is what plants do…movement is not possible for plants”  (pg 106-107), creating seemingly a bundle of differing opinions about whether or not what plants do can be called movement.

The author at the same time entices me to eat my words when he quotes D’Arcy Thompson on page 56, stating that the way in which D’Arcy makes a statement leads him to be filled with confidence, seeming to insinuate that I should at any moment be flooded with the same feeling upon reading the author’s own at times incomprehensible babble. I find at times the author’s word use and choice of language leads me to become almost mistrustful. He writes in a smooth flow of interesting words and concepts, many of which I am pleasantly unfamiliar with. At time’s I found myself lulled into a naïve agreeable stupor and was almost tricked into believing concepts illustrated with examples such as roads being comparable to a plant, “other, quite different objects, grow horizontally, such as a road or the leaf..” (pg 59) I find myself sounds lovely, but roads cannot grow in the sense that a plant can, and therefore now I don’t trust the point that you just made! On pg 97 when discussing the differences in growth and maturity stages between plants and animals, he makes a comparison between putting a band around a tree trunk and a girl’s neck, developmental disruption and death only ensuing in the plants case. However I disagree, if a band were placed on an infant girl’s neck and the size not changed, she may indeed be strangled to death too as she grows. At these points I become almost defensive and continue reading with a stern lip and a raised eyebrow.

At times the way in which the author speaks to the reader leads me to believe he is attempting to make the reader feel involved in a discussion with a friend or collegue, with slight pauses in the overwhelming academic ideas for some introspective reminiscing, “Capsella…the tender plant I observed on the window ledge in Paris” (pg 80). I appreciate that the author attempts to reiterate and remind the reader of difficult concepts, “remember that in the isotropic horizontal plane, the position of the object indicates two directions.” (Pg 59). No I do not remember you saying such things, but I will sink back into my agreeable stupor and continue if you say so.

I don’t like the authors attitude of superiority as an academic, “for those who passionately follow progress in molecular embryology, the difference in approach to research…is regrettable” (Pg84).  “Note the droll vocabulary adopted by the zoologists.” (Pg. 80). It almost makes me picture a self riteous nerd that nobody ever listens to who now has the opportunity to speak. “Thus when you encounter a loud-mouth, tell him that anyone who produces an anus before a mouth, and thus farts before being able to speak, should be more modest. (pg 88) “This affair of hormones in the history of plant psychology will eventually be recognized as an error in thinking.. it will take some time for this consensus to be reached”(pg 94)

In all, my relationship with the author during the course of my reading was volatile.  After initially entering into the writing and being impressed by the way he addressed basic concepts that I had not considered with such vitality, I began to invest a certain attention to his words that is not elicited by all authors. But as the relationship progressed, I found myself constantly insulted by his snide comments directed towards other academics and insulted both by some of the complicated material he plowed though and his expectation of my acceptance of unrealistic concepts made palatable by a smoothe flow of words. After each flash of dislike though, I continued to be open to and easily impressed by insightful thoughts that followed, perhaps spurred on by my initial respect and less for any current feeling towards the writing. The author had a way of making me agree with what he was saying, without necessarily requiring my seeing sense in the dialogue, and I am both disappointed and relieved to end the relationship by closing the book.

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