IN APRIL OF 2000, Michael Moore launched a campaign to help elect a ficus plant to the Congressional seat in New Jersey’s 11th District. The joke was that a ficus is more intelligent and dynamic than any of the highly partisan and corrupt official candidates. After reading Michael Marder’s new book Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life you may be convinced that plants are smarter than all of us. Theoretical work in the humanities has been branching out for several years now (if you’ll pardon the arborial pun), striving to go beyond the traditional human subject in order to account for other types of existence and experience, including animals and autonomous machines. A new field has emerged, loosely labeled “the posthumanities,” which attempts to fill in the millennia-long blind spots caused by our own narcissism. Such scholars are united in their efforts to expose or deconstruct ongoing “anthropocentrism.” The latest off-shoot of such thinking — known as Speculative Realism — goes so far as to consider objects like cameras, stones, pillows, cartoon characters, or electricity grids as “agents” in their own right.
It is interesting then that plants have, on the whole, been ignored in this intellectual rush to lobby on behalf of non-human existence. And while Marder’s book is not the first to broach the subject (Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s recent edited collection Animal, Vegetable, Mineral  is of special note, as is Francis Hallé’s In Praise of Plants ), it is possibly the most sustained study yet to emerge from the rather esoteric world of Continental philosophy. Marder wants to forge an encounter with vegetal life, all the while respecting the alien ontology of floral ways of being. For while a shrub may not consciously “experience” the world in which it grows, this does not, for Marder, mean that it is not thinking and doing in profound philosophical, and even ethical, ways.