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Staying with the Trouble
Making Kin in the Chthulucene
By Donna J. Haraway
Duke University PressCopyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
Playing String Figures with Companion Species
In honor of G. Evelyn Hutchinson (1903–91) and Beatriz da Costa (1974–2012). Hutchinson, my PhD adviser, wrote a biographical memoir called The Kindly Fruits of the Earth, a title that enfolds all the "reliable voyageurs" of this chapter.
Multispecies Storytelling and the Practices of Companions
String figures are like stories; they propose and enact patterns for participants to inhabit, somehow, on a vulnerable and wounded earth. My multispecies storytelling is about recuperation in complex histories that are as full of dying as living, as full of endings, even genocides, as beginnings. In the face of unrelenting historically specific surplus suffering in companion species knottings, I am not interested in reconciliation or restoration, but I am deeply committed to the more modest possibilities of partial recuperation and getting on together. Call that staying with the trouble. And so I look for real stories that are also speculative fabulations and speculative realisms. These are stories in which multispecies players, who are enmeshed in partial and flawed translations across difference, redo ways of living and dying attuned to still possible finite flourishing, still possible recuperation.
SF is a sign for science fiction, speculative feminism, science fantasy, speculative fabulation, science fact, and also, string figures. Playing games of string figures is about giving and receiving patterns, dropping threads and failing but sometimes finding something that works, something consequential and maybe even beautiful, that wasn't there before, of relaying connections that matter, of telling stories in hand upon hand, digit upon digit, attachment site upon attachment site, to craft conditions for finite flourishing on terra, on earth. String figures require holding still in order to receive and pass on. String figures can be played by many, on all sorts of limbs, as long as the rhythm of accepting and giving is sustained. Scholarship and politics are like that too — passing on in twists and skeins that require passion and action, holding still and moving, anchoring and launching.
Racing pigeons in Southern California, along with their diverse people, geographies, other critters, technologies, and knowledges, shape practices of living and dying in rich worldings that I think of as string figure games. This chapter, enabled by diverse actual pigeons and their rich tracings, is the opening pattern of a cluster of knots. The critters of all my stories inhabit an n-dimensional niche space called Terrapolis. My fabulated multiple integral equation for Terrapolis is at once a story, a speculative fabulation, and a string figure for multispecies worlding.
[MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION OMITTED]
x1 = stuff/physis, x2 = capacity, x3 = sociality, x4 = materiality, xn = dimensions-yet-to-come
α (alpha) = Ecological Evolutionary Developmental Biology's multispecies epigenesis
Ω (omega) = recuperating terra's pluriverse
t = worlding time, not container time, entangled times of past/present/ yet to come
Terrapolis is a fictional integral equation, a speculative fabulation.
Terrapolis is n-dimensional niche space for multispecies becoming with.
Terrapolis is open, worldly, indeterminate, and polytemporal.
Terrapolis is a chimera of materials, languages, histories.
Terrapolis is for companion species, cum panis, with bread, at table together — not "posthuman" but "com-post."
Terrapolis is in place; Terrapolis makes space for unexpected companions.
Terrapolis is an equation for guman, for humus, for soil, for ongoing risky infection, for epidemics of promising trouble, for permaculture.
Terrapolis is the SF game of response-ability.
Companion species are engaged in the old art of terraforming; they are the players in the SFequation that describes Terrapolis. Finished once and for all with Kantian globalizing cosmopolitics and grumpy human-exceptionalist Heideggerian worlding, Terrapolis is a mongrel word composted with a mycorrhiza of Greek and Latin rootlets and their symbionts. Never poor in world, Terrapolis exists in the SF web of always-too-much connection, where response-ability must be cobbled together, not in the existentialist and bond-less, lonely, Man-making gap theorized by Heidegger and his followers. Terrapolis is rich in world, inoculated against posthumanism but rich in com-post, inoculated against human exceptionalism but rich in humus, ripe for multispecies storytelling. This Terrapolis is not the home world for the human as Homo, that ever parabolic, re- and de-tumescing, phallic self-image of the same; but for the human that is transmogrified in etymological Indo-European sleight of tongue into guman, that worker of and in the soil. My SF critters are beings of the mud more than the sky, but the stars too shine in Terrapolis. In Terrapolis, shed of masculinist universals and their politics of inclusion, guman are full of indeterminate genders and genres, full of kinds-in-the-making, full of significant otherness. My scholar-friends in linguistics and ancient civilizations tell me that this guman is adama/ adam, composted from all available genders and genres and competent to make a home world for staying with the trouble. This Terrapolis has kin-making, string figure, SF relations with Isabelle Stengers's kind of fleshy cosmopolitics and SF writers' practices of worlding.
The British social anthropologist Marilyn Strathern, who wrote The Gender of the Gift based on her ethnographic work in highland Papua New Guinea (Mt. Hagen), taught me that "it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas (with)." Strathern is an ethnographer of thinking practices. She embodies for me the arts of feminist speculative fabulation in the scholarly mode. It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories. Strathern wrote about accepting the risk of relentless contingency; she thinks about anthropology as the knowledge practice that studies relations with relations, that puts relations at risk with other relations, from unexpected other worlds. In 1933, Alfred North Whitehead, the American mathematician and process philosopher who infuses my sense of worlding, wrote The Adventures of Ideas. SF is precisely full of such adventures. Isabelle Stengers, a chemist, scholar of Whitehead and Gilles Deleuze, radical thinker about materiality in sciences, and an unruly feminist philosopher, gives me "speculative thinking" in abundance. With Isabelle Stengers we cannot denounce the world in the name of an ideal world. In the spirit of feminist communitarian anarchism and the idiom of Whitehead's philosophy, she maintains that decisions must take place somehow in the presence of those who will bear their consequences. That is what she means by cosmopolitics.
In relay and return, SF morphs in my writing and research into speculative fabulation and string figures. Relays, string figures, passing patterns back and forth, giving and receiving, patterning, holding the unasked-for pattern in one's hands, response-ability; that is core to what I mean by staying with the trouble in serious multispecies worlds. Becoming-with, not becoming, is the name of the game; becoming-with is how partners are, in Vinciane Despret's terms, rendered capable. Ontologically heterogeneous partners become who and what they are in relational material-semiotic worlding. Natures, cultures, subjects, and objects do not preexist their intertwined worldings.
Companion species are relentlessly becoming-with. The category companion species helps me refuse human exceptionalism without invoking posthumanism. Companion species play string figure games where who is/are to be in/of the world is constituted in intra-and interaction. The partners do not precede the knotting; species of all kinds are consequent upon worldly subject- and object-shaping entanglements. In human-animal worlds, companion species are ordinary beings-in-encounter in the house, lab, field, zoo, park, truck, office, prison, ranch, arena, village, human hospital, forest, slaughterhouse, estuary, vet clinic, lake, stadium, barn, wildlife preserve, farm, ocean canyon, city streets, factory, and more.
Although they are among humanity's oldest games, string figures are not everywhere the same game. Like all offspring of colonizing and imperial histories, I — we — have to relearn how to conjugate worlds with partial connections and not universals and particulars. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, European and Euro-American ethnologists collected string figure games from all over the world; these discipline-making travelers were surprised that when they showed the string figure games they had learned as children at home, their hosts already knew such games and often in greater variety. String figure games came late to Europe, probably from Asian trade routes. All of the epistemological desires and fables of this period of the history of comparative anthropology were ignited by the similarities and differences, with their undecidably independent inventions or cultural diffusions, tied together by the threads of hand and brain, making and thinking, in the relays of patterning in "Native" and "Western" string figure games. In comparative tension, the figures were both the same and not the same at all; SF is still a risky game of worlding and storying; it is staying with the trouble.
Figure 1.2 shows the hands of the science writer and natural history radio producer Rusten Hogness learning a Navajo string figure called Ma'ii Ats'áá' Yílwoí (in English "Coyotes Running Opposite Ways"). Coyote is the trickster who constantly scatters the dust of disorder into the orderly star patterns made by the Fire God, setting up the noninnocent world-making performances of disorder and order that shape the lives of terran critters. In the Navajo language, string games are called na'atl'o'. Navajo string games will reappear in my multispecies storytelling about Navajo-Churro sheep and the women and men who wove and weave lives with and from them, but these games are needed in this chapter too, for thinking with pigeons in Los Angeles and beyond. Cat's cradle and jeux de ficelle are not enough; the knots must ramify and double back in many attachment sites in Terrapolis. Navajo string games are one form of "continuous weaving," practices for telling the stories of the constellations, of the emergence of the People, of the Diné.
These string figures are thinking as well as making practices, pedagogical practices and cosmological performances. Some Navajo thinkers describe string games as one kind of patterning for restoring hózhó, a term imperfectly translated into English as "harmony," "beauty," "order," and "right relations of the world," including right relations of humans and nonhumans. Not in the world, but of the world; that crucial difference in English prepositions is what leads me to weave Navajo string figures, na'atl'o', into the web of SF worlding. The worlds of SF are not containers; they are patternings, risky comakings, speculative fabulations. In SF on Terrapolis, recuperation is in partial connection to hózhó. It matters which ideas we think other ideas with; my thinking or making cat's cradle with na'atl'o' is not an innocent universal gesture, but a risky proposition in relentless historical relational contingency. And these contingencies include abundant histories of conquest, resistance, recuperation, and resurgence. Telling stories together with historically situated critters is fraught with the risks and joys of composing a more livable cosmopolitics.
Pigeons will be my first guides. Citizens of Terrapolis, pigeons are members of opportunistic social species who can and do live in a myriad of times and places. Highly diverse, they occupy many categories in many languages, sorted in English terms into wild and domestic worlds, but those particular oppositions are not general or universal, even in the so-called West. The varied and proliferating specificities of pigeons are astonishing. Codomesticated with their people, these other-than-human critters nurture the kind of trouble important to me. Pigeons have very old histories of becoming-with human beings. These birds tie their people into knots of class, gender, race, nation, colony, postcolony, and — just maybe — recuperating terra-yet-to-come.
Pigeons are also "creatures of empire" — that is, animals who went with European colonists and conquerors all over the world, including places where other varieties of their kind were already well established, transforming ecologies and politics for everybody in ways that still ramify through multispecies flesh and contested landscapes. Hardly always colonists, pigeons belong to kinds and breeds indigenous to many places, in uncounted configurations of living and dying. Building natural cultural economies and lives for thousands of years, these critters are also infamous for ecological damage and biosocial upheaval. They are treasured kin and despised pests, subjects of rescue and of invective, bearers of rights and components of the animal-machine, food and neighbor, targets of extermination and of biotechnological breeding and multiplication, companions in work and play and carriers of disease, contested subjects and objects of "modern progress" and "backward tradition." Besides all that, kinds of pigeons vary, and vary, and then vary some more, with kinds for nearly every spot on terra.
Becoming-with people for several thousand years, domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica) emerged from birds native to western and southern Europe, North Africa, and western and southern Asia. Rock doves came with Europeans to the Americas, entering North America through Port Royal in Nova Scotia in 1606. Everywhere they have gone, these cosmopolitical pigeons occupy cities with gusto, where they incite human love and hatred in extravagant measure. Called "rats with wings," feral pigeons are subjects of vituperation and extermination, but they also become cherished opportunistic companions who are fed and watched avidly all over the world. Domestic rock doves have worked as spies carrying messages, racing birds, fancy pigeons at fairs and bird markets, food for working families, psychological test subjects, Darwin's interlocutors on the power of artificial selection, and more. Feral pigeons are a favorite food for urban raptors, like peregrine falcons, who, after recovering from near extermination from DDT-thinned eggshells, have taken up life on bridges and ledges of city skyscrapers.
Pigeons are competent agents — in the double sense of both delegates and actors — who render each other and human beings capable of situated social, ecological, behavioral, and cognitive practices. Their worlding is expansive, and the SF games in this chapter do not touch very many, much less all, of the threads tied with and by these birds. My SF game tracks modest, daring, contemporary, risk-filled projects for recuperation, in which people and animals tangle together in innovative ways that might, just barely possibly, render each other capable of a finite flourishing — now and yet to come. The collaborations among differently situated people — and peoples — are as crucial as, and enabled by, those between the humans and animals. Pigeons fly us not into collaborations in general, but into specific crossings from familiar worlds into uncomfortable and unfamiliar ones to weave something that might come unraveled, but might also nurture living and dying in beauty in the n-dimensional niche space of Terrapolis. My hope is that these knots propose promising patterns for multispecies response-ability inside ongoing trouble.
California Racing Pigeons and Their People: Collaborating Arts for Worldly Flourishing
The capabilities of pigeons surprise and impress human beings, who often forget how they themselves are rendered capable by and with both things and living beings. Shaping response-abilities, things and living beings can be inside and outside human and nonhuman bodies, at different scales of time and space. All together the players evoke, trigger, and call forth what — and who — exists. Together, becoming-with and rendering-capable invent n-dimensional niche space and its inhabitants. What results is often called nature. Pigeon natures in these coproduced senses matter to my SF story.
Pigeons released in unfamiliar places find their way back to their home lofts from thousands of kilometers away even on cloudy days. Pigeons have the map sense and compass sense that have endeared them to pigeon fanciers who race them for sport, scientists who study them for the behavioral neurobiology of orientation and navigation, spies who wish to send messages across enemy territory, and writers of mystery novels who call on a good pigeon to carry secrets. Almost always men and boys, racing enthusiasts around the world — with perhaps the hottest spots of the sport on the rooftops of cities like Cairo and Istanbul and of immigrant Muslim neighborhoods in European cities like Berlin — selectively breed and elaborately nurture their talented birds to specialize in fast and accurate homing from release points. Ordinary feral pigeons are no slouches at getting home either.
Excerpted from Staying with the Trouble by Donna J. Haraway. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsList of Illustrations ix
1. Playing String Figures with Companion Species 9
2. Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene 30
3. Sympoiesis: Symbiogenesis and the Lively Arts of Staying with the Trouble 58
4. Making Kin: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene 99
5. Awash in Urine: DES and Premarin in Multispecies Response-ability 104
6. Sowing Worlds: A Seed Bag for Terraforming with Earth Others 117
7. A Curious Practice 126
8. The Camille Stories: Children of Compost 134
What People are Saying About This
"Staying with the Trouble is written with love and rage, making it felt what it takes not to turn one’s back against the demands of this terrible time which some dare to call the Anthropocene. Donna J. Haraway mobilizes the power of words, images, and tales to shake off the dual temptation of faith in providential technofixes and of bitter 'game over' pseudo-wisdom. Her book forcefully demands that we consent to participate in the ongoingness of the world."
"Donna J. Haraway asks how to think-with, live-with, and be-with other planetary organisms in a world that does not forget how much ecological trouble it is in. This is not to lament at the world's destruction, but to see afresh what the possibilities of life have always been. Staying with the Trouble is at once a compelling sequel to a series of major works, a manifesto full of intellectual energy to put beside her famous Cyborg Manifesto, and at the same time only a momentary resting place in a life still committed to making us think."