Review: Jesús Sepúlveda – The Garden of Peculiarities (2011 Missing Books)

It is rare to discover a book as trenchant, poetic and philosophically profound as The Garden of Peculiarities. Originally published in Spanish in 2002, translated into English in 2005 and now re-released by local alternative publisher Missing Books, this short work by Chilean anarchist and radical environmentalist Jesús Sepúlveda is nothing less than a manifesto for a completely new practice of life or, as the author puts it, ‘a wager made for the conservation of the environment and the survival of the human race.’

 

With effortless and exhilarating transdisciplinarity, Sepúlveda applies insights from critical theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, situationism, anarcho-primitivism, ayahuasca shamanism, anti-colonialism, Marxism, feminism and poststructuralism in his shattering critique of instrumental reason and its manifestations in contemporary mass society, domestication and standardization. In opposition to this logic of hierarchy and domination the book proposes the cultivation of a garden of peculiarities: unique, heterogeneous, singular instances of existence brought together in constellations – complex, generative interplays of aesthetic exchange. Here, Sepúlveda’s vision is clearly deeply indebted to the work of Deleuze and Guattari, specifically their notions of singularity, haecceity and univocity. Far from the dry and abstract climes of many of their interlocutors, however, the register here is visceral and affective; critiquing the essentialism of identity politics, for instance, Sepúlveda writes, “when the garden dismantles hierarchy, every aroma, every color, every form, every taste and every ripple create a landscape whose unique and unrepeatable drive opens the doors to appreciation of beauty.”

 

True to its own peculiarity, the book eschews traditional structure for what is perhaps best described as a constellation of 47 mostly self-contained fragments, with any number of flows and connections discernable between each one and the others. Reading the book from beginning to end does not, therefore, provide a single linear, logically unfolded argument but instead slowly lures us into the aesthetic logic of the garden itself: what begins as a vague and blurry outline of a possible future brightens and draws into contrast the further we explore it, cohering finally into a fertile and capitivating vision.

 

As the seemingly inexorable machineries of late capitalism expand relentlessly across what remains of the natural world and move to further infiltrate our collective psyche with the facile values of accumulation, competition and instrumentalization, Sepúlveda’s pithy message of hope calls us to feel the dirt under our fingernails as we dig holes in which we can begin to plant the seeds for our future garden. We ignore this call to cultivation at our own peril.

 

“…the point is learning to live with nature and in the midst of nature, orienting the human effect more toward aesthetic practice than standardization. Such a lesson starts by recognizing the otherness of nature as our own otherness. Only in this way is it possible to dissipate the ego among the ever-growing foliage in search of shelter rather than conquest…The garden of peculiarities is a project of humanity: to build life in a planetary garden populated by nonhierarchical, autonomous and libertarian communities that operate on the basis of analogical and aesthetic thinking. Analogy permits the establishment of associations and connections in simultaneous, multiple, flexible, transparent and interdependent forms, dismantling linear logic and isolation.”