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The Creaturely Plant? Sumatra’s Titan Arum and the Ethics of Botanical Time-Lapse

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Environment, Media, and Popular Culture in Southeast Asia

Part of the book series: Asia in Transition ((AT,volume 17))

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Abstract

In the last decade, time-lapse videos of Sumatra’s titan arum have attracted considerable interest on YouTube and other media-sharing platforms. Blooming unpredictably, the endangered plant has the tallest inflorescence and one of the largest tubers of any species in the world. Also known as corpse flower, titan arum emits a noxious odor when blossoming. The aim of this chapter is to interrogate the ethics of botanical time-lapse through the case of titan arum. The analysis begins by situating the mediation of titan arum within the history of time-lapse. From the late-nineteenth century to the present, time-lapse has been regarded as a medium for decoding the enigmatic worlds of plants and engendering empathy for their lives. As a techno-utopianist intervention, time-lapse animates plants’ otherwise invisible movements, affirming their lively behaviors. Time-lapse, however, constructs creaturely plants by manipulating their temporalities and privileging their flowering parts over their biocultural embeddedness. Proposing an intermedial vegetal ethics of time-lapse, the chapter then draws upon critical plant studies, including Marder’s notion of vegetal hetero-temporality, in conjunction with Hayles’ concept of intermediation and Alaimo’s trans-corporeal subjectivity. An intermedial ethics of time-lapse attends to whole plants, resists the aestheticization of the vegetal body, narrativizes the heterogeneous temporalities of vegetal life, foregrounds in-situ conservation issues, and emphasizes the biocultural wholeness of plants, particularly the traditional relations between flora, Indigenous people, and local communities.

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Ryan, J.C. (2022). The Creaturely Plant? Sumatra’s Titan Arum and the Ethics of Botanical Time-Lapse. In: Telles, J.P., Ryan, J.C., Dreisbach, J.L. (eds) Environment, Media, and Popular Culture in Southeast Asia. Asia in Transition, vol 17. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-1130-9_5

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