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Talking like a plant

Flanagan, T. (2022) Talking like a plant. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 27 (2). pp. 85-99.

Link to Published Version: https://doi.org/10.1080/0969725X.2022.2046375
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Abstract

Following the work of Barbara Cassin, this paper proposes to examine certain ways of speaking that Aristotle described as not so much human as plant-like [homoioi phutôi] and to consider whether these non-human ways of speaking might yet adduce forms of discourse that serve to model how central principles of justice can be thought. The paper does this by drawing upon Cassin’s extensive engagement with Sophistry in the classical world together with her concerted interest in the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. When Aristotle, in book Gamma of the Metaphysics, dismissed the speech of those spoke “otherwise” (for example, those who failed to obey the law of non-contradiction) he formalised a chauvinism that philosophy had, at least since Plato, derided as sophistry. For Cassin, however, this presumed superiority of one way of speaking over another is something that holds true only when the grounds and elemental terms of a discourse have been and remain uncontested. In this way, language in Aristotle is regulated in advance, and determines what is admissible in the court of discourse according to prescribed and recognisable forms. Accordingly, illuminated by Heidegger and yet (like Arendt) departing from his conclusions, Cassin explores the sense in which language is something ontologically constitutive but in a manner that contests rather than secures its speakers’ relations to one another. In place of a metaphysics and ethics of belonging and authenticity, Cassin’s work is oriented by figures of precarity and exile such that truth is not so much something to be discovered, once and for all, but to be contested, negotiated, and re-worked each and every time. Key to this form of discourse, the paper will claim, is the uniquely non-juridical approach to justice undertaken by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here, as Cassin explains, rather than a logic of individual rights and wrongs, there is a performative role for those involved. This “politics via discourse” dislocates the identity of received (rational) subjects and allows for narrative testimony itself not only to bear witness to a past but to signal a future – one based not on the apportionment or allocation of justice but on its ongoing struggle (an eristics or agonistics) for a humanity to come.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Social Sciences and Arts
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/64569
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