Summary

  • A sort of baffling book. An update of the “Manifesto for Cyborgs”; again, Haraway rejects technology or its rejection, instead choosing to inhabit an uneasy middle ground. This is a book that implicitly and then explicitly argues for bio-engineering to survive extinction. It is still in the mode of manifesto; less an argument and more weaving and knitting together others’ knowledges.

Keywords

  • chthulucene: cthonic + cene; “Chthonic ones are beings of the earth, both ancient and up-to-the minute. I imagine chthonic ones as replete with tentacles, feelers, digits, cords, whiptails, spider legs, and very unruly hair. Chthonic ones romp in multicritter humus but have no truck with sky-gazing Homo” (2).
  • “SF: science fiction, speculative fabulation, string figures, speculative feminism, science fact, so far” (2); a multi sense of figuring, “a method of tracing” (3).

Notes

0. Introduction

  • Haraway “stays with the trouble” to plot another way out of the Anthropocene and into the Chthlucene: away from technical fixes and nihilism (3).
  • “This book argues and tries to perform that, eschewing futurism, staying with the trouble is both more serious and more lively. Staying with the trouble requires making oddkin; that is, we require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations, in hot compost piles. We become-with each other or not at all. That kind of material semiotics is always situated, someplace and not noplace, entangled and worldly. Alone, in our separate kinds of expertise and experience, we know both too much and too little, and so we succumb to despair or to hope, and neither is a sensible attitude. Neither despair nor hope is tuned to the senses, to mindful matter, to material semiotics, to mortal earthlings in thick copresence” (4).

1. Playing String Figures with Companion Species

  • “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” (10).
  • String figures, like cat’s cradle, are games of pattern recognition, modification, and reproduction. Play is central to this chapter.
  • This book shares a lot of terrain with Johanna Drucker’s recent output: a feminist materialist scholar near the end of her career reflecting back on ecological collapse and proposing creative fabulation (with a little bit of equations) to recuperate the planet.
  • Both anti-Kanitan but also anti-Heideggerian, the figure of Terrapolis is the abode of companion species forming and reforming in process philosophy: this is a line from Whitehead through Strathern (“it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas with”) to Stengers’s cosmopolitics (12).
  • “The category companion species helps me refuse human exceptionalism without invoking posthumanism” (13).
  • This chapter is about living with pigeons. One point of contact to other writers: “Properly equipped racing pigeons can gather continuous real-time air pollution data while moving through the air at key heights not accessible to the official instruments, as well as from the ground where they are released for their homing flight” (21), resonant w/ Gabrys.

2: “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene”

Notes below are from Kellie’s class, I think. This chapter is the core theory of the book. It begins with the question: what do we do when individualism expires as a viable option for thinking? Tentacular thinking is familiar to feminist new materialism’s prizing of the relation; this is the biological version of Barad’s intra-action.

Movement from autopoiesis to sympoiesis, from cybernetics and information sciences to spiders. We do not think, we think-with. This is a violent rejection of the speculative realist idea that we can somehow access “the real” through thought. And it occurs to me: the “real” is a major problem for both digital studies and the Anthropocene, inasmuch as both seem to actively create an unreality or a real that continually eludes access.

Storytelling is also vital; science is not enough, even as it forms much of Haraway’s archive. Story-telling must become a more-than-human activity. Haraway relies on LeGuin here: containers as the first cultural invention, the root of humanity not as the drive to kill but to collect and save and share,

  • “What happens when the best biologies of the twenty-first century cannot do their job with bounded individuals plus contexts, when organisms plus environments, or genes plus whatever they need, no longer sustain the over owing richness of biological knowledges, if they ever did?” (30)
  • “staying with the trouble” entails “generative joy, terror, and collective thinking” (31).
  • “chthulucene”: ostensibly collapsing Lovecraft and chthonic.
  • “tentacularity”: bodily figures, “nets and networks,” “life lived along lines” (of flight?)
  • “The earth of the ongoing Chthulucene is sympoietic, not autopoietic. Mortal Worlds (Terra, Earth, Gaia, Chthulu, the myriad names and powers that are not Greek, Latin, or Indo-European at all) do not make themselves, no matter how complex and multileveled the systems, no matter how much order out of disorder might be produced in generative autopoietic system breakdowns and relaunchings at higher levels of order” (33).
  • “sympoiesis”: “collectively-producing systems that do not have self-defined spatial or temporal boundaries. Information and control are distributed among components. The systems are evolutionary and have the potential for surprising change,” from M. Beth Dempster.
  • “Grief is a path to understanding entangled shared living and dying; human beings must grieve with, because we are in and of this fabric of undoing. Without sustained remembrance, we cannot learn to live with ghosts and so cannot think” (39). [Can we be wary of the catchphrase and the epigram in this writing? So much seems to be designed to be eminently quotable—that, I suppose, is the point.]
  • “X taught me Y” is a powerful formation: “Ursula Le Guin taught me the carrier bag theory of storytelling and of naturalcultural history.”
  • “As a provocation, let me summarize my objections to the Anthropocene as a tool, story, or epoch to think with: (1) The myth system associated with the Anthropos is a setup, and the stories end badly. More to the point, they end in double death; they are not about ongoingness. It is hard to tell a good story with such a bad actor. Bad actors need a story, but not the whole story. (2) Species Man does not make history. (3) Man plus Tool does not make history. That is the story of History human exceptionalists tell. (4) That History must give way to geostories, to Gaia stories, to symchthonic stories; terrans do webbed, braided, and tentacular living and dying in sympoietic multispecies string figures; they do not do History. (5) The human social apparatus of the Anthropocene tends to be top-heavy and bureaucracy prone. Revolt needs other forms of action and other stories for solace, inspiration, and effectiveness. (6) Despite its reliance on agile computer modeling and autopoietic systems theories, the Anthropocene relies too much on what should be an “unthinkable” theory of relations, namely the old one of bounded utilitarian individualism—preexisting units in competition relations that take up all the air in the atmosphere (except, apparently, carbon dioxide). (7) The sciences of the Anthropocene are too much contained within restrictive systems theories and within evolutionary theories called the Modern Synthesis, which for all their extraordinary importance have proven unable to think well about sympoiesis, symbiosis, symbiogenesis, development, webbed ecologies, and microbes. That’s a lot of trouble for adequate evolutionary theory. (8) Anthropocene is a term most easily meaningful and usable by intellectuals in wealthy classes and regions; it is not an idiomatic term for climate, weather, land, care of country, or much else in great swathes of the world, especially but not only among indigenous peoples” (49)
  • “The chthonic ones are not confined to a vanished past. They are a buzzing, stinging, sucking swarm now, and human beings are not in a separate compost pile. We are humus, not Homo, not anthropos; we are compost, not posthuman. As a suffix, the word kainos, “-cene,” signals new, recently made, fresh epochs of the thick present. To renew the biodiverse powers of terra is the sympoietic work and play of the Chthulucene. Specifically, unlike either the Anthropocene or the Capitalocene, the Chthulucene is made up of ongoing multispecies stories and practices of becoming-with in times that remain at stake, in precarious times, in which the world is not finished and the sky has not fallen—yet. We are at stake to each other” (55).

3. Sympoiesis

  • This chapter is a reminder that despite her invocation of storytelling and SF, Haraway’s first examples are from the sciences. “Since Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, biological evolutionary theory has become more and more essential to our ability to think, feel, and act well; and the interlinked Darwinian sciences that came together roughly between the 1930s and 1950s into “the Modern Synthesis” or “New Synthesis” remain astonishing” (62).
  • “A model is a work object; a model is not the same kind of thing as a metaphor or analogy. A model is worked, and it does work. A model is like a miniature cosmos, in which a biologically curious Alice in Wonderland can have tea with the Red Queen and ask how this world works, even as she is worked by the complex-enough, simple-enough world. Models in biological research are stabilized systems that can be shared among colleagues to investigate questions experimentally and theoretically” (63).

4. Making Kin: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene

  • Here is the central challenge of chapter 4: Haraway, without ever coming out explicitly, teasingly and obliquely, is asking for voluntary human extinction.
  • “The constant questions when considering systemic phenomena have to be, When do changes in degree become changes in kind? and What are the effects of bioculturally, biotechnically, biopolitically, historically situated people (not Man) relative to, and combined with, the effects of other species assemblages and other biotic/abiotic forces?” (99).
  • Anthropocene as “boundary event” rather than geological epoch (100).
  • “We, human people everywhere, must address intense, systemic urgencies; yet so far, as Kim Stanley Robinson put it in 2312, we are living in times of ‘The Dithering’ (in this SF narrative, lasting from 2005 to 2060—too optimistic?), a ‘state of indecisive agitation’” (102).

[Case studies]

5. Awash in Urine

6. Sowing Worlds

7. A Curious Practice

8. The Camille Stories

  • Haraway’s extended attempt at her own SF: “The Camille Stories are invitations to participate in a kind of genre fiction committed to strengthening ways to propose near futures, possible futures, and implausible but real nows. Every Camille Story that I write will make terrible political and ecological mistakes; and every story asks readers to practice generous suspicion by joining in the fray of inventing a bumptious crop of Children of Compost” (136).
  • This is a story of bio- rather than geo-engineering and intensive, though putatively democratic population control.

Archive and Impact

  • Haraway has swung back from cyborg to goddess. This is a rich and frequently infuriating book. It more or less says the same thing over and over again: we need to enact new ways of entangled being.