Past event

English Research Seminar -- Dr Anke Bernau (University of Manchester) Vital Knots: The Hidden Life of Plants

While we may think of knots primarily as the material outcome of human skill and craftsmanship, in both Modern and Middle English the word also refers to particular features of plant bodies. Here, knots structure roots, punctuate stems and bring forth new buds. In timber, we find knots in the intricately-figured densities of burrwood, caused by the stresses of disease and injury. While they are valued for their beauty, such knots also complicate how the wood can be used by humans. This paper will consider vegetal knots as intensified locations of the workings of an ambivalent vitality. Drawing on examples from medieval natural philosophy, theology and biblical apocrypha, as well as on anthropologist Tim Ingold's work on the ‘life of lines', it argues that vegetal knots foreground the peculiar and obdurate nature of plantlife in medieval thought, its odd and resistant place in relation to time, creation and creativity.