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I am not a Tree and Other Case Studies

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I return to I am Vertical once again. At this point in the story, there is no reason for me to send the poem to the person I love because I have my suspicions that he might be picking up his copy of Collected Poems and, from time to time, reading it.

I look at my plants. They are so beautiful. They are doing pretty well since I last repotted them and started having an actual, real schedule for watering them. It’s not that they were dying or were not being taken care of before I decided to have a plant schedule, but these days it feels like controlled plant interaction is way more satisfying, beneficial and nutritional for my soul than human interaction. Or maybe it feels like one of the only situations in my daily life that I have total control over.

I try to write something I think I want to write. I start typing something like:

“I spend more hours in bed than in a vertical position: nine to ten hours to sleep, plus two hours of reading after waking up, plus two hours of reading and/or watching TV before falling asleep.


I always tell people I was born to be a queen and they smile. They think I am joking, but this is the ultimate proof: the moment I don’t have an imposed schedule, I am horizontal.”

This doesn’t make any sense, I want to write but I can’t, but neither does what I wrote. I go back to my main source of ideas: my old diaries (as if that was a good source of ideas, I think to myself now). Nothing, nothing, nothing, boring, I don’t care, I am tired of being heartbroken or depressed, or both, should I do something about my life or not, I am so out of touch from my reality, should I care more, I am less depressed now, I travel, I write about places, nothing, nothing, nothing.

As a plant, you are not denying the idea of being alive, yet you refuse any human act.

March 2017, people read The Vegetarian and The Bell Jar out loud and talk about Bataille. I remember sitting at the “bar”, “accepting donations” for beer and wine. That day I wrote this sentence: pouring wine like waterfalls. I also took (a few) notes. One of them reads: As a plant, you are not denying the idea of being alive, yet you refuse any human act.

I stop and I think back about Chris Kraus and that whole thing about using your life as a case study, or at least that is how I remember it, it had been a long time since I read I love Dick, although at that moment, when I was first thinking about all of this, I was reading Torpor, the last book from a trilogy that starts with I love Dick. I didn’t like Aliens & Anorexia when I read it a year ago (the second part of the trilogy), but with perspective and the magic of time it has grown on me and I’ve learnt to appreciate it. But most importantly, it gave me Simone Weil. I remember something, and I go back to the first page of the file I wanted to continue writing on, where I wrote:

“[something, something, something, half a page of something]

I am concerned about anyone’s experience of their daily life, really. You see, I still don’t know whether I like life or not, not even if there’s any meaning to it, nor if I’m meant to try to find it. I really have no idea why am I alive and why do I feel the involuntary impulse to keep on being alive.

[something, something]

[something] My coffee is getting cold, and I wonder if I should talk to this women, start a case study on being alive, just her and I, or whether to just ask for another coffee and shut up.”

So, case studies. Sometime between the very moment I am writing this and the moment I was going through my notebooks I wrote:

“[something, something, something, half a page of something]

I keep bleeding and proofreading. My coffee is getting cold, and I wonder why all of the sudden I’ve remembered about my concern for anyone’s experience of their daily life, and whether I have become so involved in my own case study of being alive that I have forgotten I was involved in it or if everything was just a dream.”

I wish I could be bored of myself, ‘cause it would be easier to justify this despair, but I have lived long enough in my own mind to be way over that feeling (any substantial feeling, really) and thus just accept the discomfort of living. No reaction. Most of the time, my self-esteem is too low to really think that I could conduct a case study on myself without giving up after five minutes due to an extreme lack of interest.

Sometimes I try to assimilate into my plant environment (even if it’s not real)

But plants and Sylvia Plath. And also Han Kang. And in a way, Clarice Lispector and Inger Christensen. There is so much in their lives and their stories I could formulate, and in some way, I already am formulating, case studies on. Case studies that could be used instead of myself, to understand anyone’s experience of their daily life. To understand whether I like life or not if there’s any meaning to it. Because they are exceptional but still mundane. They are everything that I am and that I am not.

The cockroach in The Passion according to G.H. It is placed there to push G.H. to herself. To revisit her thoughts, to experience life as it is. Because life can be to be pushed into a corner of a room by a cockroach. Disgust. Thinking that one could win the battle if the enemy is eaten. And then…

In Det, Inger Christensen writes:

“Så frit som kun en konflikt formulerer sin stabile model. Så ligefrem ømt, så følsomt, som kun et liv formulerer sin varihed, sine eneste bevægelser. […]

[…] Fungerer fordi det fungerer, eller for at noget andet kan fungere, eller fordi noget andet fungerer, forsætter sine umulige, efterhånden bevidst illusoriske forsøg på at fjerne sig, distancere sig stort fra sin egen livsfare, overleve og forblive i det uendelige mellem her og der. Som om der var noget at komme væk fra. Som om der eksisterede et ikke-liv der ikke var død. Som om et menneske ikke var et menneske. F. eks.”

As if it existed a non-life that it wasn’t dead. As if a person was not a person. For example. To be transported to a middle point where one is finally free to observe life without being involved in it, but without being dead. To observe a person without being the person, nor having a relation to them. Not being a person while still being a person.

And then, Sylvia. It is always Sylvia. In I am Vertical, she writes:

“But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and the flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them —
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.”

We don’t constantly feed ourselves through our roots. We don’t blossom. We don’t get greener and then naked. Some will call for metaphors to compare a tree with human life, but I can’t help but think that is only a consolation prize. I will never be as graceful and efficient as a plant is. I will never be alive without being a human, without being me. 

Yeong-hye is the main character in The Vegetarian. She wants to become a tree, but no one understands her. They say she is depressed, they say she is out of touch from her reality. In Part 3 of The Vegetarian, Han Kang writes:

“Yeong-hye’s lips twitched almost imperceptibly. “I’m thirsty,” she whispered. “Give me some water.” In-hye went and fetched some from the lobby. After she’d had a drink, Yeong-hye let out ashallow sigh and asked, “Did you talk to the doctor, sister?”
“Yes, I did. Why—”

Yeong-hye cut her off. “They say my insides have all atrophied, you know.” In-hye was lost for words. Yeong-hye moved her emaciated face closer to her sister. “I’m not an animal anymore, sister,” she said, first scanning the empty ward as if about to disclose a momentous secret. “I don’t need to eat, not now. I can live without it. All I need is sunlight.”

“What are you talking about? Do you really think you’ve turned into a tree? How could a plant talk? How can you think these things?”

Yeong-hye’s eyes shone. A mysterious smile played on her face.

“You’re right. Soon now, words and thoughts will all disappear. Soon.” Yeong-hye burst into laughter, then sighed. “Very soon. Just a bit longer to wait, sister.”

Being a human and wanting to become a plant. I can’t help but think it is a way to escape the human self, the being, while still wanting to remain alive.

I am interested in life, and for me, that seems to be an undeniable fact. At the same time, I do not seem to find a genuine interest for my own human condition, and I wonder; how can those two coexist? Is this the reason why I keep looking for lives I can study and become interested in? Lives I can comprehend?

I can keep posing questions and adding characters to this text, but I don’t think I will find more comfort than the already found. However, I can also stop and write something I have been thinking of after re-reading all of this for x time. I still don’t know whether I like life or not, not even if there’s any meaning to it, nor if I’m meant to try to find it. I really have no idea why am I alive and why I feel the involuntary impulse to keep on being alive. But at least, reading I am Vertical, or Inger Christensen trying to find a position to understand everything and nothing at the same time, even reading about Yeong-hye’s desire to become a tree, makes me feel I am not the only one with too many questions and non-satisfactory answers. After all, I might not find answers, but at least I am posing questions.  

Works cited:

Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Passion according to G.H. by Clarice Lispector
Det (It) by Inger Christensen

Neus spends a considerable amount of her time thinking about Clarice Lispector in general and Sylvia Plath’s poems in particular. She’s a firm supporter of the Weil team in the which-Simone-is-better battle. She once read Infinite Jest and still talks about it today. She’s one half of the translation column Translation Tuesday, tends to overuse the word “nice” and apparently the pronoun “she” when she writes her bio.

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