Vegetal Scale in the Anthropocene: The Dark Green


  • Heather Isabella Sullivan Trinity University



Plant studies, Goethe, science fiction, Anthropocene, scale


      When exploring the problem of delineating possible “scales” useful to describe the Anthropocene’s ecological changes, I suggest plant-human relations as the basis of our models rather than solely Human impact with a capital “H” as if a stand-alone species. Instead, human beings are a species within the photosynthesis-shaped, oxygen-infused atmosphere, and countering the ongoing industrial ecocide means seeking multispecies justice. One may claim that the “vegetal” stands as the ontological antithesis of being “animal,” but that view expresses a one-dimensional disregard for the essential work and bodies of plants and their fellow photosynthesizers that produce oxygen, drive the carbon cycle, feed terrestrial life, and influence water cycles. Indeed, “animal” is an emergence from the vegetal context. But our plant stories are shifting with the anthropocenic inflection. This dark green project explores narratives, both scientific and creative, of plant-human interactions in time of planetary change; and these interactions are not always peaceful or on an easily comprehended scale. As an example, I consider the 2015 short science-fiction story from Alan Dean Foster, “That Creeping Sensation,” that portrays how plant-human relations take on frightening new forms in a climate-changed world altered by heat, carbon dioxide, and the not-always-supportive activities of plants. With all the heat and carbon dioxide, plant life explodes and produces a massive increase in oxygen. In response, insects grow enormous and specialized first-responders must battle the bugs. Foster’s texts portray scales of non-human agency larger than the human whose power encompasses, enables, and sometimes threatens human life. His “cli fi” tale of giant bugs presents human beings as inextricably enmeshed in a plant-dominated existence. To paraphrase Derrida, there is no outside the vegetal.


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Author Biography

Heather Isabella Sullivan, Trinity University

Heather I. Sullivan i s a Professor of German and Chair of Interdisciplinary Minor in Comparative Literature at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Trinity University. Her main areas of interest are: Goethe, science, German and comparative literature, ecocriticism, science fiction.Her publications include: co-Author with Dana Phillips of Introduction to the special edition on: “Material Ecocriticism: Dirt, Waste, Bodies, Food, and Other Matter,” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 19.3 (2012): 445-447; “Dirt Theory and Material Ecocriticism” for the special edition in Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 19.3 (2012): 515-531; “Faust’s Mountains: An Ecocritical Reading of Goethe’s Tragedy and Science.” In: Heights of Reflection: Mountains in the German Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Twenty-First Century; “Nature in a Box: Ecocriticism, Goethe’s Ironic Werther, and Unbalanced Nature.” Ecozon@ 2.2 (2011): 228-239;  “Affinity Studies and Open Systems: A Nonequilibrium, Ecocritical Reading of Goethe’s Faust.” In: Ecocritical Theory: New European Approaches,






Articles: Food, Plants, and Interspecies Relations