RootednessThe Ramifications of a Metaphor

RootednessThe Ramifications of a Metaphor

Christy Wampole

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226317656

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


To be rootless is to lack context, and because the conditions of modernity have tended to remove context by extracting the human from nature, erasing traditions and collective memory, and promoting placelessness, the sense of being rootless seems more prevalent than ever. Why and how have we taken the metaphor of humans as rooted creatures so literally? This book explores the ways the metaphor of rootedness has been literalized in twentieth-century France and Germany, as these two nations are the epicenters of the transformation of the root metaphor, from its biological, positivist stylings at the end of the nineteenth century, through nationalist, racializing discourses, to its recent rhizomatic, neo-paganistic treatment. In France and Germany more than anywhere else, modern cultural debates have organized themselves around the problem of roots and radicality. The appeal for a return to or a refusal of roots surfaces constantly and in unprecedented ways there due to the particular interplay of nationalism, regionalism, Catholicism, residual paganism, Philhellenism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, technophobia, and colonialism. The appeal to roots evinces a collective philosophy of cultural decline and a fear that the human has extricated itself permanently from the earth as a system. The central problems addressed in the book are the overlap of nationalism and ecology, the political uses of genealogy and etymology, the literalization of metaphors, and the overwhelming sense of alienation brought about by globalization and technological modernity.