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Page history last edited by Gabriela Mendez Cota 3 years, 1 month ago


Ecological Re-writing as Disappropriation

Situated Engagements with the Chernobyl Herbarium


The selection of the Chernobyl Herbarium among other texts from the OHP collection had to do with two things. The first was Gabriela’s prior familiarity with this book from her research on the use of plants and agriculture as symbolic building blocks in Mexican narratives of national identity, and due to her interest in developing an anti-humanist critique of such narratives that prepares thinking for more responsible ways of being in the world. The Chernobyl Herbarium is quoted in Gabriela’s chapter in the Handbook of Ecocultural Identity (Routledge, 2020) where she analyzes and reflects upon activist narratives that foreground agroecological systems such as milpa farming. Among the diverse creatures that make up the milpa system, corn has been most visibly deployed in Mexico as a unifying metaphor of national identity. Meanwhile quelites (from Náhuatl: ‘tender edible weeds’), which grow on their own accord at the feet of corn plants, have historically commanded much less attention in mainstream images and celebrations of Mexican identity. Recently, however, quelites have emerged, alongside rural women, as important ecocultural agents calling for more just and sustainable futures for the Mexican nation. Méndez Cota focuses on the growing presence of both quelites and rural women in activist narratives seeking to redefine the nation through a metaphorical use of the milpa system. While such a shift in ecocultural identity can be explained by pointing at various empirical factors such as changing attitudes regarding biocultural diversity, civil resistance to neoliberal globalization, public health concerns, and the growing popularity of green and ethical consumerism in evermore crowded and polluted cities, the author’s analysis seeks to go beyond an empirical description of such factors by drawing on philosophical discussions in cultural studies and queer ecology. In particular, Méndez Cota advocates a de-essentializing or queer reading of contemporary milpa narratives that subverts anthropocentric and androcentric tendencies in Mexican nationalism so as to open up spaces for ethical thinking beyond gendered structures of an ecocultural identity that otherwise could remain unchanged. Since she thinks the argument of this chapter was suggested rather than elaborated, Gabriela was interested in trying to go further with her thinking in in another context, which has now become the OHP Pilot Case.


Gabriela recruited a team of Philosophy students and collaborators of her research project on Philosophy and editing practices at Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México, and asked them to make connections between her prior work on quelites (which besides the aforementioned chapter includes a co-authored artistic cookbook with a ‘liquid’ version on the internet: enbuscadelqueliteperdido.net/) and the Chernobyl Herbarium, so as to collectively decide what kind of ‘re-reading’ and ‘re-writing’ we would like to undertake that made sense to us where we are at philosophically, politically and ethically. This was the starting point of the Pilot Case, which so far has involved virtual discussions on the kind of thinking elaborated through the Herbarium –as well as reading sessions of Svetlana Alexievich and other relevant works –and several rounds of annotation of the Chernobyl Herbarium using hypothes.is. In this process, besides asking ourselves collectively what it would mean to actively ‘situate’ our engagement with the Herbarium, we have asked ourselves what conception of re-reading and re-writing would be consistent with the ontological questions and the ethical demands addressed by the Chernobyl Herbarium.


Rather than directly appropriating the text of the Chernobyl Herbarium for scholarly purposes, in a way that is merely analogous to how contemporary artists and experimental scholars have done in order to intervene, contest, and disrupt notions of property, authorship, originality, and so forth, we have started by trying to articulate an understanding of ‘re-writing’ to which we can relate at this point in space and time: an understanding that is at the same time situated, or carefully contextualized, and conceptually attuned to the Herbarium’s philosophical reflections. Since as a re-writing team we are not a preconstituted community of equally experienced or skilled researchers, with homogeneous interest in academic publishing, but rather we are a potential and heterogeneous community of concerned scholars in the process of learning new ways of writing through practice, we have started by asking ourselves where, when and why we would want to ‘re-write’ the Chernobyl Herbarium, a work that in itself, seems perfect to us.


Drawing on previous and ongoing experiments with writing and technology in the Mexican context, wherein such experiments have a history that is less tied to disruptive scholarship or academic publishing than to community-building and grassroots organizing around the various manifestations of structural violence (economic inequalities, internal colonialism, ecocidal extractivism, authoritarianism, organized crime, etcetera), we propose a new book that ‘re-writes’ the Chernobyl Herbarium first of all by leaving it as it is, and secondly, by opening it to time and space. We draw initial inspiration from Cristina Rivera Garza’s understanding understanding of re-writing as disappropriation, which she elaborated by bringing together readings of Jean-Luc Nancy and Mexican indigenous practices of comunalidad. Re-writing, she says, is not about appropriation, but rather it is about exposing the incomplete, processual nature of any text; it is about making time and taking the time, and it is about relating to others in accountable ways. Beyond Rivera Garza’s formulations, we would like to explore ways of becoming accountable for invisible connections between human and non-human aspects of contemporary devastation, and for the scalar conflicts which any ethical or political narrative inevitably inhabits. Our book, which will be written collectively and will be published in different formats which highlight its processual nature, will start out with a narrative on Mexico’s relation with Chernobyl and the scalar conflict that such a relation brings into view (Chatper 1), will continue with a theoretical reflection on plant-thinking versus the notion of a catastrophe of time (Chapter 2), and will end with a new herbarium that documents socioenvironmental devastation from the standpoint of particular quelites (Chapter 3).


Table of Contents


Introduction: Re-writing as Desapropiación


 Can You Actually “Situate” the Chernobyl Herbarium? How to situate thinking in the midst of a scalar conflict (Clark)?

What was going on in Mexico at the time? Fragments of a crisis

A cultural political history of Laguna Verde, Mexico’s nuclear power plant

History of organized mothers against the plant

History of cícadas (endangered plants) within the conflict against mining operation near Laguna Verde’s nuclear plant

At present: scalar conflicts in current political critiques of neoliberal extractivism

Can the Herbarium’s vegetal approach better capture the ongoing catastrophe?


 A Catastrophe of Time: Hispanic Inflections

Scalar conflicts in environmental testimony (Etelvina Bernal)

Quelites as “resistance”—to what? (Sandra Hernández)

Time and history in poetic sense (María Zambrano) (Fernanda)

Images Without Progress (Deni Garciamoreno)


 Pandemic Mexican Herbarium

Water and plants in Baja California (María Iliana)

Food and biotechnology in Campeche (Yareni)

Water and language in Oaxaca (an interview with Yásnaya Aguilar/Nidia Rosales)

On the Autobiography of Cotton (an interview ith Cristina Rivera Garza/Mayra Roffe or GMC)


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