After the violent conquest of Mexico, the Spaniards may have been astonished: of all things, a misshapen and thorny desert plant enjoyed a high local veneration marked by cult and rite; indeed, an entire state system traced its foundation back to it, and in some places people even drank a special cactus brew to put themselves into intoxicating ecstasies. At home in Europe, however, no one knew these important plants until then. For cacti grow endemically only in America. In evolution, they only appeared long after the continents drifted apart. Whether it was their cult prominence, their adaptability, or their exotic appeal, over time these strange plants aroused desires in Europe as well, conquering not only the imagination but also many a sunny parlor. In his knowledgeable portrait, Martin Kölbel follows the cacti on their multifaceted path through the centuries and shows how strongly nature and culture have grown together: A cactus is never just a cactus. Rather, it always reflects the desires and realities of those who cultivate and observe it.
"The small dose of wildness or alienation it brought to European thought and feeling animated the widening of social confines or the shifting of aesthetic boundaries, and probably did so primarily because it touched on a deeply human desire: the desire for cultural taming of wild nature."
Martin Kölbel, born in 1969, studied philosophy and German language and literature in Berlin, Freiburg/Brsg. and Paris and received his doctorate with a thesis on Franz Kafka's Das Schloss. He is the editor of Bertolt Brecht's notebooks (Suhrkamp) and a passionate cacti enthusiast.