The Human Garden

posted: 26 March, 2009
The Human Garden
The technophilic drive towards man-machine synthesis has a counterpoint - the merging of human and plant.  It is the hippie alternative to the Terminator-dream, neither accident nor crime against nature.

The Human Garden is portrayed above by Ripley, as usual without citations. and the name Ramdas Bodhano is absent from the reach of Google.  We can only speculate as to what motivated this Gujurati to plant a seed in his hand - pure scientific experiment?  A spiritual communion of corporeality and the plant kingdom, perhaps a mystical Jain rite?  Did he regularly water his hand?  Did he use any sort of fertiliser?  Could the resulting sweet basil plant pass USDA Organic Certification?

Believe It Or Not, I have never tried this, nor have I known any nature-inclined people who have attempted such insanity.  The only precedents I’ve encountered come from the literature of the 4th grade.  First, in The Best Christmas Pageant ever, a book and film heartily endorsed by my Catholic school for it’s Bestpagpro-Jesus sentimentality.  Young Imogene Herdman, if I remember correctly, planted a seed in another child’s ear and eventually something sprouted out.  The second would come from Top Secret, a ’boy’ book about a kid who experiments with photosynthesis and slowly turns into a plant.

Top_secretI wasn’t able to dig up full texts of either (not that I looked particularly hard) but I do remember one particular passage from Top Secret.  As the protagonist is beginning to change, he walks outside, I think barefoot, on a hot sunny day.  He begins to slow down and feels his feet start to sink into the ground, struggling like roots for something to hold on to.  The warmth of the sun feels great as he is beginning to trigger photosynthetic reactions in his own cells (eventually turning him green) and he feels this immense satisfaction of making this connection with light.  That’s actually all I remember from this book but in my youth (which was about as far from a hippie upbringing as you could get while still having Democratic-voting parents) I really responded to this idea - that we could have this encompassing, satisfying communion with the sun.

Of course this alternative post-humanity surely has its scientific limitations.  I don’t remember a whole lot from high school biology but plants have cell walls and we don’t, and that is certainly significant.   I’ll choose to Believe in Bodhano’s plant-in-hand but I doubt that the roots of that sweet basil plant truly merged with his epidermis.  We can ’become’ plants but only through through the experiential realm; a dream, perhaps manufactured or at least inflated by the ol’ Idea of Natural, of lying in benevolent green pastures under blue skies away from the steady B-flat electrical hum that pervades our every existence.

But a genuine merging of the animal and plant kingdoms must be self-contradictory.  It is a more Ballardian proposition than it initially seems. As the basic structures of biology oppose such a merging, any success can only come through technology, even if it is the most eco-friendly biotechnology possible.  Treebeards can not just happen, at least in our world - they must be manufactured, and what commercial potential is there for this?Plantman

So we’re left with the Ramdas Bodhanos, the Imogene Herdmans - satisfied to bind flesh to root at a small-scale, local level.  It’s too bad that Bodhano is ALMOST an anagram for ”hand n00b”, for his plant hand was surely completely unused during the growth period.  This is a concession that can’t fit into our busy lives (have you tried updating your Twitter status with only one hand? ) and this means the closest we can come to plant-body integration is probably just dressing up as Gary Young’s ’Plantman’ for Halloween.

This is the first in a series of posts inspired by panels from a giant Ripley's - Believe it Or Not! book that my aunt gave to me for Christmas in 1988.
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