The 1970s Plant Craze and the Cybernetic Paradigm

Teresa Castro
(Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3)

In the early 1970s, a general plant craze, echoing other previous fads, such as the fern fever of Victorian times, caught on in visual and popular culture alike. Against the background of New Age spirituality and the flourishing of ecological thinking, the 1970s plant mania came as an eccentric blow to the belief that sentience and intelligence are a human prerogative. It also relied massively on the cybernetic paradigm: envisaged as self-regulating biological systems, plants were recognized as communication systems in themselves. Their intelligence resided in the capacity to learn and self-correct in response to feedback, mirroring the intelligence of other larger and more complex natural systems, among which Gaia itself. Perhaps more than ever, the intermediation of different types of machines proved essential to the plant intelligence argument, demonstrating that the communicative, sentient plant is a mediated plant.

Teresa Castro is Associate Professor in Film Studies at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3. A significant part of her most recent research focuses on the links between film and animism, as well as on vegetal life forms. She has recently published “The Mediated Plant” (E-flux journal, September 2019) and co-edited, with Perig Pitrou and Marie Rebecchi, Puissances du végétal et cinéma animiste. La vitalité révélée par la technique (Dijon, Presses du Réel, 2020).