Kelly Oliver | Reading Nietzsche with Irigaray: Not Your Garden-Variety Philosophy

By Kelly Oliver

To be sure, I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses….

― Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

In her search for philosophical companionship on the journey toward a new humanity that embraces sexuate being beyond mere sex or reproduction, and towards love and the exchange of energy, Luce Irigaray suggests that Nietzsche is the most receptive philosopher to accompanying her on her path, a path that necessarily takes her through gardens, forests, and a thicket of vegetal life. Particularly by dwelling with trees in forests, we learn ethical lessons needed to nourish a new humanity based on love rather than hate, and sharing rather than hording or dominating. Both Nietzsche and Irigaray envision a unique place for humanity, not merely as human animals, or human plants, in the continuum of life, but also as responsible gardeners tending the garden that is our destiny, along with the garden earth and its related fate. Following Nietzsche, Irigaray’s writings are not only full of plant metaphors, but also propose that human beings can learn how to be together on our shared planetary home from dwelling with plants.

As Irigaray’s engagement with Nietzsche’s mountains, forests, and gardens reminds us, an ethics of cohabitation is not a system of moral rules or universal principles that we can know through reason and exercise through an autonomous will. Rather, earth ethics is responsiveness to others and the environment by virtue of which we not only survive but also thrive. This responsiveness is based on our earthly existence as embodied creatures sharing a planet even when we do not share a world. Rooted in the earth’s unearthly strangeness, which can never been known or mastered, earth ethics necessarily takes us beyond reason and beyond recognition and towards responsive dwelling, and ultimately towards the responsibility of love.


  1. Hello-
    Is the full text of Kelly Oliver’s address to this seminar available somewhere online? If so, may I have a link to it?
    Thank you,
    Thomas Ball

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