The Life of Plants - A Metaphysics of Mixture by Emanuele Coccia (Paperback 121 pp French edition 2016 English edition 2019 Polity Press $27.95).

“We barely speak of them and their names escape us,” philosopher / biologist Emanuele Coccia writes. “Philosophy has always overlooked them, more out of contempt than neglect. They are the cosmic ornament, the inessential and multicoloured accident that reigns in the margins of the cognitive field.

“The contemporary metropolis views them as superfluous trinkets of urban decoration. Outside the city walls, they are hosts - weeds - or objects of mass production.”

Prevailing wisdom and on-the-land practice place plants at the bottom of a hierarchy, humans at the top, drawing on biological classifications that purport to be rooted in science but are actually, Coccia points out, drawn from theological beliefs.

Plants can’t run, can’t fly, have no selective relation to what is around them. This means “plant life is life as complete exposure, in absolute continuity and total communion with the environment.” Plants are not just of our world - they are the world. All encompassing, they transform sunlight into chemical energy that we and other animals use and produce the oxygen which is essential to most living organisms. Without them we are nothing.

Recent discoveries about plant intelligence have prompted some to set aside the “animal chauvinism” to which we, as animals, are inclined. “When you ask, ‘what does it mean to be intelligent?’ in front of a plant, and not in front of an animal, the idea of intelligence changes,” Coccia explains in a Harvard University YouTube interview that is a helpful introduction to this work (which I found to be a challenging read).

“Our world is a garden,” he says. “But plants are not the content of the gardens, plants are the gardeners.” A wonderful thought, one that gives plants the agency they deserve.

But do we listen to the wisdom of plants? Indigenous cultures did and do, as did folk cultures in the lands of the colonizers. These cultures were trampled by imperialism and capitalism but now may be poised to return. Coccia calls on us to re-examine our cultural norms, by turning a critical eye on Western philosophy, particularly since the late nineteenth century when the industrialization of agriculture took hold.

Coccia, who teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, has another book out. Metamorphoses explores the mystery of a creature that completely changes form, from caterpillar to butterfly, and moves from the terrestrial world to a world that’s quite different - the air - and yet is the same being.