Friday, July 30, 2010


      It is official: my tour of landscaping duty with the “Enterprise” has ended. For ten of the last eleven summers, I cut grass into an endless variety of lengths, lines, and patterns for an even odder assortment of golfers, flatlanders, and rednecks. This season’s close comes with great relief. Of the ten summers I have spent exposed to poison ivy and sumac, swarming hornets and wasps, flying sticks and rocks, spewing gas and diesel fumes, blistering exhaust and sun burns, only three were spent working for MDP Enterprises, a landscaping company in humble Springfield, Vermont named after its illustrious and ever humble snake oil salesman proprietor (yes, what my boss lacks in imagination, he more than makes up for in ego). So, to observe this special occasion: a post on grass, my evergreen constant of the past eleven years.
     My last post discussed, perhaps too abstractly, a concept I find crucial to navigating our contemporary condition: the apparatus. Concurrent with this effort, Levi Bryant over at Larval Subjects posted some simply amazing comments on the mediality of . . . grass! Because his argument meshes so well with my clumsy attempt at defining the apparatus as the medium between objects that establishes and articulates a power relation, I offer it to you at length:

It is not simply that media extend man, but rather humans often extend media. Take the example of lawn grass. Does grass extend the human? Certainly we see children playing in the grass, laying in the grass, having picnics in the grass, etc. However, isn’t it equally true that grass uses humans to extend itself? From a Darwinian perspective– and especially from the perspective of sexual selection in the Origin of Species –isn’t it true that grass has seduced humans so as to get itself reproduced? Isn’t the softness of grass, its rich verdant color, its pleasant earthy smell, the satisfaction it provides when being mowed, etc., a sexual strategy to get itself reproduced? Is it at least not partially true that contemporary Western civilization is an effect of grass’s drive to get itself reproduced? Has not grass carefully cultivated local manifestations among humans (primarily male humans) that take pleasure in neat lines on their lawn, the sound of a lawn mower, the luster of a thick lawn, and so on? Have we not been engineered by grass? Moreover, we could even say that in its race to domesticate man, grass generates an antagonistic war against not only weeds, but rather different varieties of grass, all using humans as queer sexual organs to get itself reproduced and to get achieve the hegemony of its particular species or variant.

First off, with “media” Bryant is at once evoking Marshall McLuhan’s definition of media as anything that extends man and expanding it to including anything that extends any object. Hence grass’s use of humans as media (or queer sexual objects) to extend themselves (an argument that Michael Pollan makes in Botany of Desire). Now, I see grass’s use of humans as media objects as an apparatic relationship wherein the grass captures human living being, getting us to do all kinds of weird things (like getting me to wake up at five every morning for ten summers).
     But how exactly does grass capture us in order to extend itself? Bryant cites several aspects grass has developed that seemingly lead to its force of capture over humans: softness, color, smell, mowing satisfaction (how many lawns has Bryant mowed?!). Now, these aspects are, properly, accidents, not the substance of grass (to revert to Scholastic terminology). That is, the pleasing (to us) texture, smell, and color of particular varieties of grass are modifications of the general “substance” of grass (of grass-ness). And it is these accidents (or evolutionary affectations within the performative of queer reproduction) that induce humans to supplicate themselves before the lush thrones of Bermuda, Kentucky blue, and fescue grasses.
     Are these accidents, then, the manner of the grass-apparatus, which is (from a certain standpoint) external to grass as such? Take color. The pleasing aspect of grass’s color is visible primarily to the human eye, not to the eye of the grub burrowing at the grass’s roots or the deer grazing on its leaves. The pleasurable color of grass is so only externally – when caught within the apparatic relationship established between humans and grass. Likewise with smell and texture. These accidents serve as the manner with which grass comports itself towards human in order to lock both into a power relation that will extend grass’s own living being. Thus, the grass-apparatus does not consist of grass, but the peculiar accidents located within a specific power relationship between grass and humans.
     But what does grass capture thusly? Well, just about anything. Grass’s apparatic extension implicates the plant in nearly all aspects and power relations of hypercapitalist society. Take my snake oil salesman boss. He has become defined through his company’s name, MDP Enterprises, within the public sphere of Windsor County Vermont. M is known, literally, as the “M” of the “Enterprise.” Yet M has come to be known publically in this manner because of his simultaneous capture within the grass-apparatus. The Enterprise that has created M’s discursive existence comes from his response to being captured by grass’s color and texture: cutting it into pleasing lines.
     Now this power relation between M and the grass apparatus extends into large power relations. M can control other humans through his manipulation of his own capture in the grass-apparatus. As a successful snake oil salesman, M has convinced countless out-of-staters that their rarely-visited vacation homes need their lawns mowed weekly at seventy-five bucks a pop (some homes are ski homes, so why the owners think they need their grass cut weekly defies any logic). But, the really fascinating thing here is that grass has once more manipulated M (and M’s manipulation of all sorts of other relations within a hypercapitalist culture: petro, consumer, labor, and advertising cultures) into extending its living being into places it otherwise would not exist (those rarely visited lawns). And again, what centers all of these mutually penetrating power relationships is the apparatic manner of grass – its pleasing color, smell, and texture.

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