Early modern constructions of gender reach beyond the human in ways that complicate the male/female binary and efface the border between beings and environment. This essay examines three categories of gendered temporality in representations of nonhuman realms, revealing botanical, nautical, and disease-based perspectives on time that disrupt hierarchies of gender and redefine ontological boundaries. Drawing on a wide range of texts from early modern Spain and England, including works of natural history, poetry, and drama, we analyze manifestations of gendered temporality that frequently disrupt the authors’ attempts to stabilize binary constructs, thus revealing the interdependence between human and nonhuman worlds.
Keywords: nonhuman; temporality; ocean; plant; ecocriticism; new materialism
Some historians have located a shift in perceptions of chronology around the fourteenth century, when Europeans moved from a circular model of time that emphasized repetition and return toward a modern and more linear conception in which time moves from past to future, marked from the death of Christ. While the depiction of this shift may be useful in general, early modern temporality often defies attempts to conceive of time within a single framework. Instead, definitions of time overlap and compete, particularly when one looks outside the human world, as early moderns themselves did often. Recent work in animal studies, for instance, has moved beyond definitions of temporality that separate historical, or human, time from ahistorical, or natural, temporality, addressing, as Erica Fudge advocates, ‘the absence of the nonhuman from history’. Fudge's work foregrounds ‘significant shifts in human thinking and thus human history’ brought about by nonhuman agents. Likewise, the emerging field of critical plant studies has extended the definition of nonhuman actor to the plant world. Several scholars within plant studies have posited a phenomenological account of plant existence, including with regard to time. Michael Marder, in particular, proposes a vegetable temporality that involves ‘hetero-temporality’, a plant time that is dependent on outside factors like sunlight and mechanical interventions by humans; ‘the infinite temporality of growth’, that nevertheless includes interruptions in that growth; and ‘the cyclical temporality of iteration, repetition, and reproduction’. Further, Randy Laist asserts that ‘plants seem to inhabit a time-sense, a life cycle, a desire-structure, and a morphology that is so utterly alien [to humans] that it is easy and even tempting to deny their status as animate organisms’.