Aphids and Immortality
by Dr. Jeanne Randolph

 

I like to smoke tobacco. The smoke of a freshly-lit cigarette is existential.
I am careful
not to pull in the smoke too fiercely; the intensity of the drawing-in
calibrates the temperature of the smoke. Not that I inhale the warm smoke into my
fragile rosy lungs. That would be suicidal, and in spite of my Death Wish, I am not
suicidal. Speaking of Death Wish, everybody has one. It's just a matter of one's
relationship with it. I have to reckon with my Death Wish when I get into a vehicle.
I know the statistics for dying in a car crash, and I have seen the overturned
passenger trains twisted beside the rails. Airplanes are safe -- until you are
strapped in one during a flaming nose dive. Whenever I enter one of these vehicles
I have to acknowledge that I am giving the edge to my Death Wish. Just because these
technological devices are intended to facilitate efficient travel, intentions count
for nothing to a Death Wish. The Death Wish is ready and waiting. When Pope John
Paul II foreclosed Hell, was Beelzebub made homeless? or has Beelzebub been residing
in the human psyche all along under the alias "Death Wish"? Beelzebub, Death Wish,
Thanatos, when I consider tobacco, the dominant "language-games" (to invoke
Wittgenstein) I play are usually Judeo-Christian and psychoanalytic.

If you have been finning under water, or recovering from an acute episode of asthma,
or striding across an expanse of land as far from urban trash as you can possibly get,
there is a pleasure of inhaling the sky. Inhaling a lit cigarette is an exaggeration
of this memory, a psychosomatic memory that invokes clouds and the zephyrs, The Holy
Spirit, the Breath of Life, the inspiration of the Muses.

A cigarette is also one of the technologies of pleasure. McLuhan would have said
that as a technology it extends the power of the human body. Cigarettes, in McLuhan's
terms,
enhance the power of the thorax, enhance the power of the ribcage, lungs and
diaphragm to -- to what? -- the cigarette, the "understood medium: the extension of Man,"
enhances the power of memory, the power to evoke religious and philosophical and
mythological imagery.

If, on the other hand, a cigarette is simply one of the materializations of the
twenty-first century's most prominent ideology (called The Technological Ethos)
then the function of the cigarette is to inject 14 - 33 mg tar, 1.4 - 3.2 mg Nicotine,
14 - 33 mg Carbon monoxide, 0.061 - 0.14 mg Formaldehyde, 0.12 - 0.23 mg Hydrogen
cyanide and 0.047 - 0.089 mg Benzene
(to take Canadian Classic as an exemplar) quickly
and efficiently, with minimal margin of error, into the the human bloodstream.

The effects of this inhalation are a combination of poisoning and existential con-
sciousness. It's up to smokers to discover the amount of poison that induces the
best consciousness.

We know nothing about the consciousness of the tobacco plant itself, knowing nothing
about the consciousness of vegetation period. We assume that consciousness requires
a nervous system like the ones that animals have. For us humans, consciousness belongs
to the idea of nervous system. Vegetation may have something else, only slightly
analogous to consciousness and nervous system. Unimpressed with the idea of vegetal
consciousness, but eager to account for the urge and power of vegetation to grow,
Nietzsche and Schopenhauer each concatenated his own version of animate Will. Will,
according to these philosophers, is not an Ethos; an Ethos is teleological, with a
valued endpoint. Will has no endpoint. You don't need consciousness to be imbued with
natural Will, not even if you are human.

Acres and acres of tobacco plants are thriving somewhere, fulfilling their natural
Will unconsciously and unself-consciously. Their lives are at the behest of Will,
entirely without morality; among themselves in their fields they live beyond morality,
with only the barest discernible philosophical pulsion, while unbeknownst to them their
colonies depend on the morality of humans. Purportedly immoral humans in the poison
business protect them.

That the tobacco plant has for millennia been understood as sacred by Aboriginal
societies is ironic to the Death-Wish-and-poison-adapted consciousness that is me.

But back to the tobacco plants. Forced into the sprawl of mega-farms, their life,
in spite of their natural Will, is no longer environmentally natural. Perhaps it is
because tobacco plants are jammed into surburban conditions, row upon row, each
equidistant from the next, each plant with its own square lawn, that their vulnerability
to some contagions is actually increased compared to their vulnerability in uncivilized
times as a bush plant, compared to their vulnerability as a small patch of tended sacred leaf.

The cucumber mosaic virus, for example, tears them up.                                                                      

>>next page>>