Second Thoughts: For What It’s Worth

Humans primarily interact with the environment in two ways; collection and production. Collection is a noninvasive interaction that sees the natural world as connected to humanity and wishes to cohabit with the surroundings. Production is the thought that nature was created for humans, often based on religion, it is the thought that animals were meant for us to capture and breed for our own profit. The thought that weeds are invasive is often rooted in this production mindset, anything that inhibits the cultivation of the land is seen as invasive and a threat.

 The article discussed in class ”Weeds Are Us” by Michael Pollan, discusses his grandfather who tended to his garden with this militaristic method. He patrolled the rows of soil looking for weeds to extract, the author likened this method to a, “sense a social or political threat in the growth of weeds.” His grandfather despised three things, “Hippies, unions, and weeds,” all things that felt out of his control. He could not cultivate this change, and our need to control the environment around us is something that goes back centuries to the birth of agriculture. 

Literature is so entwined with nature because of how similar it is to botany. People dedicate their lives studying these different strains of literature, sorting out which ones are weeds and which ones are flowers. It is all about perception, most define weeds as useless, as literary experts might define anything out of the “canon”. There is perceivably nothing we as a society can cultivate from things outside of the canon, so it must not be taught in schools. Though as Pollan discussed, “Queen Anne’s lace, the sort of weed Emerson must have had in mind, with its ivory lace flowers (as beautiful as anything you might plant) and its edible, carrotlike root.” The weed has a use known to those who look outside of the main “canon” of typical flowers one might have in a garden. 

It is the perception one places onto the book that dictates its worth. Pollan described this through the metaphor of the weed once again, “the weed is a human construct; in the second, weeds possess certain inherent traits we do not impose…plants upon which we have imposed weediness simply because we can find no utility or beauty in them.” There is much to be gained from works outside of the literary canon, and it is difficult to say what truly belongs in it. A weed does not exist to spite you, it grows because that is what it was meant to do. Pollen surmised, “To do nothing, in other words, would be no favor to me, or my plants, or nature. So, I weed,” though I disagree. That is only his perception, as he himself discovered, weeds have a purpose that may not be clear to someone else. 

In literature, to interact with texts through collection means to not rule over them with a stern hand, dictating which works are useful to the whole of a population. It is to find worth in texts outside of our canon, to understand that what might be a weed to a farmer is a meal to someone else. 

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