What you seek is seeking you or
You are what you are seeking
• = it, they, he, she, آن
In telling •’s story, in demonstrating •’s “world-making”[i] (Tsing 24), in thinking in •’s mind, I should ask: who is •? or How does • think? or What does • think about? This piece of text explores these questions by recording and rephrasing these questions in the context of • itself. Could I find •? Did I touch •? Did I take care of •? No. Thereby, the questions might not necessarily lead to answers, but to further questions or bafflements that aim at unpicking the information backed up by humans’ frame of evidence and ways with which • is studied, recorded, used and understood. Nevertheless, these questions seek new ways of associating, communicating, conversing, observing, noticing, thinking, listening and living. In this sense, listening is vital. Listening refers to a series of cognitive and psychological processes in humans through which a certain range of frequencies is perceived. The human mind’s inability to record all the information on human’s memory interprets those frequencies as rhythm and melodies, shifting the human’s focus on assemblages of frequencies rather than segmented pieces of information (Call). On top of that, ‘cultural history and experience’ of individuals impact the interpretation, understanding and attending (Oliveros xxiii). In the ‘polyphonic listening’ we seek to ‘make assemblages’ of •’s ‘ways of being’ (Tsing 157) and in seeking so we listen to the rhythm by which • inhabits, flourishes, kills and disappears. Last but not least, this text in no way tries to ignore the human. The human is the channel through which •’s story is narrated. The human is neither the conductor nor the observer but is in a dynamic relation with the act of seeking •. The human uses the English language as a tool to write with, and occasionally thinks in the Persian language. The human expands her mind to think in both a second language and in a second world of •. Moreover, the human is the audience who assesses this process. Now I embark.
• • •
Finding • in my habitat has been difficult. •’s absence expresses itself through my displaced mind seeking •. This is the world in which I world myself and • together. The absence present in displacement and migration worlds us together.[ii] Absence of my cats, absence of my home, absence of my rice, absence of my shapes of door, absence of my mind expressing • in a world of familiar physical and imaginative bodies. Presence of my imagination of a new home, presence of another creature as my mate whom I love, presence of a new sky, new blue, new shapes of doors, new ways of speaking. • and I become a new way of listening and narrating.
Where are you? I was told I could probably find • around the mosses I spent time in: lands of water or oceans of solid organic matter layered on top of one another throughout thousands of years (Mitsch and Gosselink).[iii] I was told I could find you in damp and sunny places, this is neither a good season nor a good temperature as sun is scarce here now. • is sleeping in time and yet I am seeking • in a library. • finds me in here, the similarity of shapes and colors in my breakfast:
Figure 1-2: Breakfast on 23rd March 2019, Main Library, George Square, Edinburgh
Figure 3: Drosera rotundifolia
I find • in the main library:
Figure 4: Cipher Manuscript (Voynich Manuscript)
The ‘bubble world’[iv] (Tsing 156) of •, called by humans, is Drosera or Sundew. I like Sundew more: ‘The Dewe of the Sonne’ (‘Sundews’). An expression used to connect dew[v] with the sun[vi]. They used me, they drew me, they loved me[vii] (Enquist) and I became present. The presence of the others made me reach my sensors of attention into the air, and the limitations of my attention glitter in your eyes beneath the sun (Darwin 1-14).
Breathing sunlight made finding • very unlikely at the human time-scale: • is present in spring, summer or all seasons in other places in the world (Butts et al. 271). She seems worried as she can’t find me, but I become present as she seeks me in the main library, drawn in the 15th century of their time-scale, written in a language they should decode. Their ears blind for meaning.[viii]
• creates music in the air, if you draw • you would know and you would have listened, as Darwin did (Fig. 5). • is an expression of affair and is present when someone makes love with •. • hugs nearly 300 species of sphagnum moss to drink water (Allaby). • makes sticky love with 10 million or 5 million or 1,170,000 species of insects (Ødegaard; Thanukos) to make up for the absence of soil. • takes •’s time to kill, eat and digest as these processes happen gradually and simultaneously (Darwin). Then • connects to the sun to flourish.[ix] • is present in about 7850 scholarly articles (‘Author De-Identified’). •‘s sticky and glittering tentacles are like frequencies laid out in time and space creating different musical patterns in association with sunlight, sphagnum moss, passing creatures as bodies of food and a bigger environment. • is the landscape.
Figure 5: Darwin’s sketch of sundew
Who is •? • does not contemplate but attends. • is indefinable for the same reasons • is distinctive (Mitsch and Gosselink 26-21). • is complex yet predictable (Mitsch and Gosselink 258). • is individual yet integrated.[x] • lives in a biodiverse solitude (Mitsch and Gosselink 258). • is poetic and dances with air, nutrients and words (Cambridge; Grigson; Pavlovič). • knows the land and time • has not been to.[xi] • has a memory of a millennium (Mitsch and Gosselink 3). • is an emergence of a specificity that fits into no logic but love perhaps (Cambridge 22). • creates hybrids of horror and justice.[xii] • creates hybrids of murder and love. • is modification of processes of symbiosis or whatever form of life you like to call it. • lives in a continuum of communities (Mitsch and Gosselink 232) that are both mature and young (Mitsch and Gosselink 231). • is self-sustained and cannot be forced to emerge into presence.[xiii]
Do humans call • a plant? But • is unlike many other plants. • is rare (Feldman 511). • is a rare expression of a land that lacks the living forms of phosphorus and nitrogen and does not need soil to grow (Pavlovic et al.). • is confusing and crosses categories[xiv] (Enquist; Feldman; Potts et al.). • is an expression of exception and transition. • is a transition of transitions and can’t be explained. • lives neither in water nor land but in both.[xv] • is a process of cohabitations. • is an expression of diversity of the environment it inhabits. • is an expression of the land that does not mix its elements: Water and soil separate yet together. Soils, branches, sphagnum moss, roots, music, patterns, they never dissolve with each other, but they come together, share their differences of minerals and they become one complex of body-time. • is them. • is the expression of others. • gives back the care it receives. • is an expression of the land’s impermanence and becomes absent in absence of presence.[xvi] • disappears to create silence for the land. • is death and life at the same time. • is contradictory as love is.[xvii] Affair is killing and killing is pollination.[xviii] Reason diminishes or shines visible through connectivity.
• is worried because • can’t see us, yet we are here, in the darkness, in the absence of all that • misses: cats, rice, ambiguity of •‘s language. I am waiting for • to love back. our world is the story of love in •‘s life. •‘s love is a mystery: they fight, they eat, they sleep, and they laugh. •‘s is there all the time, helping, smiling, hiding and yet • never knows what • really thinks. •‘s capacity for an affair with • creates a space for territory and murder. The tentacles of our liveability glitter through our differences. A free ticket to the impossible journey to ‘be’ something else, • chooses to perceive the world in •‘s eyes. Now, • is reminded of how I think. I don’t think. I do.[xix]
• is trying to dedicate all the neurons in •‘s brain to think with the ‘••••••• ••••’ or ‘vegetal mind’ (Gagliano e1288333-2), what skills do we have? We smell spring or life. We sense silent movements in the air. We decide to appear, to move and die with grace of life. We drink waste and water.[xx] We connect to many but cannot imagine •. • does not imagine •self reaches into the air for life. • reaches me as I imagine •. • reaches its associations with living organisms: sphagnum moss brings healthy water and records the life of carbon. Insects bring sun, generation and food. The cohabited entanglements help photosynthesis take place: • breathes and has affairs with the environment as not only is • a part of •‘s environment, but • gathers the environment together.
• becomes present in the process of thinking about • and • become present in •‘s physical absence. • becomes present in my response to reaching •. • is ‘آن’ and thinks as ‘آن’ . ‘آن’ stands for the Persian article for ‘he/she/it/them/you’. As Mevlana puts it ‘هر آنچه در جستن آنی آنی’ : ‘what you seek is seeking you’ or ‘you are what you are seeking’ or ‘whatever “آن” you are seeking to be, you are “آن”’. • reaches • and lives off of my anecdotal memories and languages. •‘s livability is dependent not on •‘s knowledge of •, but on the diversity of ways in which • can think of • or possibly live •. In this sense, • unlearns, • unseeks, • undoes, • stops knowing.
Time is vast for • yet so limited. Time is the process of growth and aging, water and land; the process of regeneration and decaying;[xxi] the process of happenings and silence.[xxii] Time is the process of interaction through which • is urged to be.[xxiii] Time is in between life and death because • is an expression of transition. • lives inside a record of accumulated time, land transiting to ocean or ice transiting to land. • is absent without the expression of others and flourishes to grow with the expressions of others. • is impermanence and is thinking impermanently.
• •s • as ‘worlds world worlds’ (Haraway).
[i] See ‘Art of Noticing’ (Tsing 17-25). Tsing suggests thinking through precarity as opposed to the concept of progress which is the dominant way of thinking and living. She suggests in this precarity there are ‘workable living arrangements’ and refers to this livelihood as ‘world-making’. World-making projects might be or not be part of progress, but they overlap, associate, encounter, and create ‘patterns of unintentional coordination’ or ‘assemblages’ (Tsing 22-23). Her main philosophy is focused on noticing such patterns, from which the political economy as well as environmental studies could be revitalised. There are some connections here with Deep Listening conceptualised by Pauline Oliveros as a practice for composition and meditation which expand one’s consciousness to include the ‘whole space/time continuum of sound’ and focus on perceiving details and complexities including different assemblages simultaneously (Oliveros xxiii, 13).
[ii] In work of Head et al. human-plant relations are investigated in terms of ‘distinctive materialities, moving independent of humans, sensing and communicating and taking shape as flexible bodies’ (399).
[iii] Wetlands are remains of the ‘swampy environments of the Carboniferous period’ (Mitsch and Gosselink 3) from millions of years ago that have given rise to fossil fuels. See Wetlands (Mitsch and Gosselink 4-15) for a discussion of the history of human-wetland relations over thousands of years.
[iv] Bubble world refers to Tsing’s interpretation of Umwelt, an idea demonstrated by Jakob von Uexküll for the first time. Uexküll states that every species perceives the environment in its unique way defined as one’s Umwelt. Tsing takes this further with the idea of ‘world-making’ and mentions the entanglements within which every species comes to be, thus concluding that Umwelt as ‘bubble-world’ is not enough to ‘immerse in webs of coordination’. She suggests a new approach to the ‘gathering of ways of beings’ to illustrate cross-species relationships (Tsing 155-156). She states that ‘assemblages are open-ended gatherings’ and that ‘ways of being are emergent effects of encounters’ (Tsing 23).
[v] ‘dew is a poetical or emotional property’ (Grigson 22).
[vi] There is a strong opposition here that interprets love as the emergence of two polarities. In classical mythology, dew was the moon’s daughter and symbolised the virginity and femininity that were destroyed by the sun’s masculinity. Sundew is the most exceptional kind of dew as it never dries out. Sundew grows and feeds by the use of its dews which represent both killing and flourishing (Grigson 22).
[vii] Darwin writes ‘I care more about Drosera than the origin of all the species in the world’ (Enquist).
[viii] Gagliano and Grimonprez (145-50) question language as the key feature of human being and give a history of language that tries to re-imagine language in terms of ‘interactions among organisms’ suggesting a ‘cross-cultural’ dialogue: ‘language is not a fixed property of that organism (e.g., a specific chemical compound) but rather a truly ecological, dynamic process of relationships by which meaning emerges to shape the production of behaviors that, in turn, shape new interactions for new meaning to emerge’ (Gagliano and Grimonprez 150). The Voynich manuscript mentioned is an ironic example of this as the meaning and the language used for it have remained a mystery for years (Newitz).
[ix] Increased photosynthesis of sundews after digesting prey has been discussed by Pavlovič et al.
[x] See Gagliano and Trewavas for the idea of a quantitative definition of consciousness.
[xi] Sundews grow in landscapes that have been sites of migration for many birds. As mentioned, wetlands also carry a rich history of carbon from millions of years ago (Mitsch and Gosselink 3-4).
[xii] ‘The man-turned-plant swamp thing is a monster living in sinister wetlands, though he is a hero as he fights injustice and even toxic pollution’ (Mitsch and Gosselink 17).
[xiii] Wetlands are self-sustaining habitats. Mitsch and Gosselink discuss the properties of a self-sustaining ecosystem including its inhabitants; however some restoration approaches are following the ‘designer wetland’ model, which is less sustainable (235).
[xiv] There is a myriad of controversies around definitions of both sundew and its habitat, resulting in confusion in classification, management and ways of studying. See Mitsch and Gosselink (19-41, esp. 31); also Feldman; Potts et al.; Enquist.
[xv] ‘Wetlands have been described as a halfway world between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, […] continuous gradient between uplands and open water’, without sharp boundaries, ‘transition zones, ecological interfaces and ecotones’ (Mitsch and Gosselink 18, 32).
[xvi] ‘In one’s absence you find a past/future/possible presence in which there is imagination, hope, and wisdom of a lived or to-be-lived life. Absence creates desire. Desire is involved with the not yet and, at times, the not anymore‘ (Tuck 417).
[xvii] See footnote (vi) – the opposition of sun and moon is described as a love story.
[xviii] There are some controversies about how sundews kill some insects whilst attracting others for pollination (Potts and Krupa).
[xix] See Gagliano and Trewavas for the idea of plants’ consciousness. Gagliano uses theories of cognitive science that understand perception as a form of action to illustrate plants’ agency and their power to move, inhabit, decide and invade. See also Head et al.
[xx] Wetlands are considered ‘the kidneys of the landscapes because they function as the downstream receivers of water and waste from both natural and human sources’ (Mitsch and Gosselink 4).
[xxi] Refer to Mitsch and Gosselink (231, 232, 27, 93) for transitional features of wetland environments in terms of both time and materiality.
[xxii] ‘If, however, plants are considered within their own lifetimes and scales, their responses become active (in sometimes quite sophisticated ways) rather than passive’ (Head et al. 404).
[xxiii] See Foster and Kreitzman and Gardner et al. on how plants perceive time and exhibit circadian rhythms.
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‘Drosera Rotundifolia’ is reproduced under a creative commons licence. Image by Pam Fray from wikimedia commons.
Cipher manuscript (Voynich manuscript). General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Used with permission.
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This creative non-fiction was initially written for a course on Environmental Humanities run by Michelle Bastian at the University of Edinburgh. The material explored there helped and inspired this essay to be developed.
Pantea Armanfar is an artist working with experimental documentary, analogue photography and field recording to explore new ways of telling stories. She studies themes of the environment, immigration and wetlands.