I just read Ted Friedman’s thought-provoking article “The Politics of Magic: Fantasy Media, Technology, and Nature in the 21st Century,” about the reasons for the rise of fantasy genres in popular culture. He’s currently developing this line of thought into a book (to be titled Centaur Manifesto, I believe), but there are lots of interesting ideas to take away from it already.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I was particularly interested in Friedman’s discussions of non-human things, such as this meditation on Ents, the tree-like creatures from Lord of the Rings.
Ent-consciousness is not exactly what Abram might describe as tree-consciousness. True tree-consciousness would mean to learn what it feels like to move at the pace of a branch or root, to communicate through seed and pollen. On the other hand, the Ent is more than simply a tree that acts like a person. We learn that the Ents were once a humanoid race of “treeherds.” Over time, they grew more and more like the trees they cared for. As we can see, their arms have transformed into branches, legs into trunks, hair into moss, facial features into knots in the wood. An Ent, then, is not a tree that acts like a human; rather, it’s a human who’s become treelike. Rather than anthropomorphism, we could describe this transformation as its reverse – perhaps, vegetamorphism.
In other words, the Ent exemplifies an attempt to characterize the tree, which nevertheless recedes. In that respect, Ents qualify as an example of what I call metaphorism in my forthcoming book Alien Phenomenology,, a rendition of an object that strives to capture that object’s notes, but never quite accomplishes its goal due to the recession of essence. It’s a technique that embraces and literalizes Graham Harman’s explanation of causation as caricature.