"A Coffee-Plantation is a Thing that Gets Hold of You and Does Not Let You Go": Plant-Writing in Karen Blixen's Out of Africa

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One of the powerful but mostly overlooked productive forces in and behind Karen Blixen's Out of Africa (1937) is Coffea arabica, the coffee bush of Arabia. In this article, I first discuss the dominant anti-pastoral tendency in recent Blixen-criticism, which has classified Out of Africa as a neo-colonial text and reduced Blixen's interest in more-than-human nature to an expression of conservative ideology. I introduce two alternative concepts - "arabesque" and "phytographia" - that help me reposition Out of Africa and reconsider the significance of the text's many plant-references. Blixen's writing, in my understanding, holds a more timely interest and performs a more culturally productive function than is often assumed, especially insofar as it foregrounds the life of many different plants and asks us to consider their powerful impact upon humanity. Read at a time when we are beginning to understand the disastrous implications of Western culture's deep-rooted "plant blindness", Blixen's text helps question the insignificance of plants and problematise the powerful conviction that humans and plants lead separate and unrelated lives.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Literary Studies
Volume35
Issue4
Pages (from-to)28-45
Number of pages18
ISSN0256-4718
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2019

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