The mystery of the human bean and bug-time

by on Nov.03, 2011

I figured out where the phrase “human bean” came from–Lorraine Neidecker! Thanks, LN. I hope to someday read your collected works.

In my research into the life of beans (or things with bean-ness) I have been trying to find connection between myself and plant-life. I have gotten as far as the worm. In previous entries on my blog, I have written about the practice of humility as a poetics. A teacher I once had brought compost to class and told us about her time spent with her face in the fresh black humus. We smelled the compost and let the earth particles into our lungs. I didn’t see any worms, but I thought about the wormhood that must have produced the mould.

Sidenote: In practices of some types of shamanism, exorcisms involve “poisoning” the possessed with herbs. This often killed intestinal worms, so in the scientific way of looking at it, the body was healed when the worms were destroyed. It’s interesting to consider how to empathize or understand certain shamanistic practices, because it is so difficult to think of toxic convulsions as anything other than sickness. I’m reminded of the scene in True Bloodwhen Terra gets exorcised but later tries to attack the witch because the exorcism was a hoax–she was fed poison and hallucinated her demon. When I was a kid in Singapore in primary school, we were given small pink tablets to eat and these would eliminate worms, if we had any. Two of my friends have had worms. One had benign worms, the other had worms that caused emaciation. One described seeing worms in the toilet as an intense experience of shame. Worms are a symbol of shame. If you call someone a worm, you are calling them a coward, unfit, disgusting, etc.

During conversation with some poet friends, the worm came up as my “spirit animal”. The worm has 7 hearts and is hermaphroditic.

green porno

Worms. I went to a theory reading group talk with Levi Bryant, author of Larval Subjects last week, part of a series on Rhetorical Bodies. Since I am not very refined, I can’t give a nuanced description of object oriented ontology, but I’m going to talk about what interested me. The talk concerned the thinglyness of texts, which are more akin to viruses than stones. Additional readings included a Jane Bennet essay about political ecologies, worms were used as an example of a non-human semi-animate object that played a huge role in history making. Earthworms and land use, land viability… I’m thinking of silk worms and trade and cloth industry, etc. She wrote “Vibrant Materialities” which to me seemed like a theoretical translation of a kind of spirituality (everything has something to tell us)… things have a vibrancy, we are all made of the same monad/vibrancy/materiality… Thing-power courses through animate things from inanimate things and vice versa, as opposed to what she thinks is a more gloomy approach of people like Adorno who feel that Being on a deep level is the suffering of knowing that things-in-themselves are always withdrawn. Because we can only always perceive things through sense filters… the anti-message of the occult.

On the other side of the positive agency of bugs, they are a force of plague and untimely death. I think I understand Joyelle’s necropastoral/bug-time more and more, as a literary/literal embodied dark of this idea of vibrant materiality, which includes not only insects and “natural” minerals and rocks, but technological and textual beings as well. And right now we live in a flood of waste-mass.

I hold metals in my palm that I know are toxic, I hold them in my ear, I talk into them, and so do my kids. And they talk back, my metals. They lace a riddle into my bones, my matter, my brain. They cross my dura mater, my tough mother. They feedback, like a bugged telephone. Like a bug.

I’ve always wanted to be a tree, or a shapeless density, like a potato. It’s why I love sleeping so much. I am sure many people have felt the same way, particularly during times of stress (when is waking time not stressful?). I also think of the expression “I wish I could crawl into a hole and die” (cried out in the midst of overwhelming daily stress) which is the desire to become worm, become earth, become mineral, become not nothing, but a folded obscurity in a different kind of being for whom the experience of time is infinitely slow/fast or incomprehensible. Sometimes I imagine the human bean as such a sinking towards un-time. In decay we become closer to this black ecology.

Maria Damon mentioned plant-whisperers, that is, people who speak to plants. This friend carries a small desert plant with him on road trips.

The question is raised again: what is language? To “sense” the vibrancy/infectiousness of objects as a kind of un-message, another kind of language. What is my phone saying?

I love the idea of “digital empathy” (Kristin Stone, the insect eye of the camera sees. The millipedal form of the hyperlink. Some friends and I (Aaron Apps and Kristin Fitzsimmons) recently collaborated on some poems on Posthuman Systems written through the roach lens of google-docs):

Posthuman System #2:
The twinkie holds 30 to 40 long, thin eggs.

They throb quietly, cream folded inside, becoming harder.
When the time comes to leave this edible nest,
to feed on stamp glue, the envelope becomes empty.
No, nonexistent. Translucent
mouth pieces fill a bottomless yellow cake mouth
gag wrap;
the mouth pump is ready. All the thin long eggs stir.
They leave no sign murmur of their host.
Gangly mouthparts jerk adolescent.
Forever-mush. A flaked, wet pastry of cracked foundation.
Deep-frie[n]d, state fair cockroach


To see pieces of trash around us as our vibrant, perhaps poisonous insect egg sacs. To try to understand the black space of bug-time and our moving through an techno-environment of ambient shame, which has its own vibrant materiality.

5 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    I love this idea of black ecology discussed here. Have you read much of the Necronautical group in England? They’re a bunch of artists/writers/philosophers who examine some of these themes. Tom McCarthy is one of the members. He has written a few novels (Remainder, C) that, to me, seem be be written from the decaying heart of “black ecology.”

  2. Sarah Fox

    Dale Pendell calls the shamanic use of plant medicines the “Poison Path.” When I eat mescaline–by which I mean I eat a fairly large portion of actual cactus and it does not taste good (Native Peyote People–primarily the Huichol Indians–call the act of eating the buttons “the hard road,” and every ceremony includes a “Road Man” who tends to the vomiters)–I suffer. It’s quite a body load! Mescaline is one of many “toxic” alkaloids present in psychoactive cacti, and while one can isolate mescaline if one is a chemist, or by a laborious makeshift filtration method (which for me has only ever yielded a glob of distinctly inedible bile-green phlegm), in order to decrease the body load, the old ones–Peyote Whisperers maybe–say the hard road is a vital component to the medicine. I could not agree more. A mescaline ordeal–often 20+ hours in duration–is so much like giving birth, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog. Ecstatic labor.

    If you ask Amazonian shamans how, from the tens of thousands of species of vegetation surrounding them, they identified two totally separate plants (one a vine–Banisteriopsis Caapi–the other a shrub–Psychotria Viridis) that constitute the admixture for ayahuasca, they will say that the plants told them. Perhaps plants are human whisperers. I’m convinced they are, and that we’ve simply demoted our capacity to listen. The Mazatec healer Maria Sabina, who could neither read nor write, inherited the Book of Language by eating her little saint children (psilocybin mushrooms), and she cured with the chants this Book provided her. Salvia Divinorum, a neighbor to the saint children in Oaxaca, showed me how to take the pulse of plants and often gives me the sensation that I myself have become a plant. Also, there’s no question that Salvia taught me more about metaphor than any preceding text or teacher.

    Sometimes plants speak morphologically. This is known as the Doctrine of Signatures, whereby a plant resembles the part of the body that it can heal (e.g. a tomato is red, and when cut in half shows 4 chambers, like the human heart, which the tomato benefits).

    Probably plants have always been post-human…

    Thanks for the great post(s) Mary! Check these out re: worm as animal totem: & xo

  3. Maria Damon

    wonderful musings.

  4. Feng Sun Chen

    Thanks for the comments! James: I have not read much of the Necronautical stuff but it sounds very interesting and I’m going to look into it. Sarah: How awesome! All this information is exciting. I have been told that you were a plant-speaker. I hope to hear more about this and read about the things you mention. I love the idea of plants as human-whisperers… I hope you write more about this!!!! Maria: Hi Maria!

  5. Thick Are Thin | Whimsy Speaks

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