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DONNA HARAWAY with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve | The Brooklyn Rail



INCONVERSATION

DONNA HARAWAY
with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve

Speaking Resurgence to Despair/
I’d Rather Stay With the Trouble

All of us must become more ontologically inventive and sensible.

–Donna Haraway

It is 1989. I am enrolled in a graduate seminar called “Science Fiction and the Fictions of Science” taught by Donna Haraway in the History of Consciousness program in Santa Cruz, California, while also acting as her teaching assistant for an undergraduate course, “Science Fiction as Political Theory.” She receives a call from Artforum (edited at that time by Ida Panicelli) asking her to contribute to their special summer issue on “Wonder.” She says she doesn’t have anything but suggests the name of one of her graduate students. That seemingly innocuous moment of generosity and fierce resistance to hierarchical boundaries between “student” and “professor” has everything to do with how I ended up writing about art and ultimately becoming the Senior Art Editor of the Brooklyn Rail. Although I had come to Santa Cruz by way of The Whitney Independent Study Program (and a Masters in Cinema Studies from NYU where I studied with past Artforum editor, Annette Michelson), art was hardly my area of expertise. In fact, it is only because of my publication in the summer of 1989 of the preposterously titled “The Horror of No Longer Remembering the Reason for Forgetting or When the Time Comes Memories’ll Be the Armor” in Artforum that I was invited from that point on to write about art. The point is that both Haraway and myself come to art obliquely like crabs—her originary feeding ground being biology, feminism, and social justice, mine the curiosity of the dilettante (more respectfully called interdisciplinary education) shaped by the writer’s craft which, I soon learned, is perfectly matched to the challenge and curiosity of writing about art. The following conversation is part of a larger one conducted with Haraway in Santa Cruz in summer 2017, sponsored by Routledge for the forthcoming reissue of Modest Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Technoscience. 

Portrait of Donna Haraway, pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

Our topic is her most recent book, Staying with the Trouble (Duke University Press, 2016), which is also her most art-inflected work, both in terms of her accounts of “art science activist worldings” such as the work of Natasha Myers, Vinciane Despret, Beatriz da Costa, the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and E-line Media’s “world game” Never Alone, or the Los Angeles based Coal Reef Crochet Project, as well as her own ongoing speculative theoretical fiction (to which you are encouraged to add on)—The Camille Stories—with which she ends the book. There is also Fabrizio Terranova’s film, Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival (2016).1

From Implosion to Trouble

“I am a compostist, not a posthumanist: we are all compost, not posthuman.” 2

Thyrza Nichols Goodeve (Rail): Let’s begin with the word “trouble”—what it represents as a fine-tuning of your thinking. In our conversations about Modest_Witness I selected the word “implosion” as a short hand for getting at the boundary blurrings of the '80s and '90s which provoked the ideas behind the Cyborg Manifesto and the work in Modest_Witness.3 In other words, the cyborg was the figure, the “offspring” as you called it, of technoscientific implosions. It was the initial figure for where the work is—but not in any good/bad; utopic/dystopic narrative. In Modest_Witness you put it this way:

The offspring of these technoscientific wombs are cyborgs—imploded germinal entities, densely packed condensations of worlds, shocked into being from the force of the implosion of the natural and the artificial, nature and culture, subject and object, machine and organic body, money and lives, narrative and reality. Cyborgs are the stem cells in the marrow of technoscientific body; they differentiate into the subjects and objects at stake in the contested zones of technoscientific culture. 4

Donna Haraway: I think one of the reasons “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” is still read is because it didn’t make it easy to have a bottom line about it. Imploded worlds suck everything into them, the way tiny objects like a chip or a gene or a fetus become these strange attractors that contain whole worlds.

Rail: I think it’s interesting how trouble is the logical outcome of implosion. I mean—these worlds are neither simple nor easy, but “the trouble” also references Judith Butler’s use of the word in the book Gender Trouble (1990). It’s a great word because it is not just about being in trouble, but about disturbing or as in its original etymology “to make cloudy.” I read an interesting critique by Alex Galloway of Elizabeth Grosz’s new book on Deleuze which is relevant here. For him the problem with her book, and of Deleuze, was pushing too far into the realm of affirmation. I’ll quote: 

Or maybe the best name would be the “Red Bull sublime,” to borrow Anne C. McCarthy’s appealing formulation. There’s certainly an intoxicating sense of intensity in this language. Affirm. Enhance. Maximize. Optimize. Expand. I love joy and affirmation as much as the next person. And lord knows we all need to care for ourselves and care for others in these dark times. But I worry that the assumption of ontological if not subjective largess leads in a direction we might not want to follow. Specifically, it puts Grosz on a collision course with fields such as disability studies, afro-pessimism, or non-philosophy—essentially anyone focusing on insufficiency, finitude, diminishment, nihilism, negativity, de-growth, generic personhood, and other related themes.5

Your use of the word “trouble” not only acknowledges the necessary, and difficult, alliances and compromises that constitute our everyday material reality, but you emphasize how it’s necessary to get into trouble. It reminds me of Bettina Aptheker’s teaching of race in the Introduction to Women’s Studies class she taught in Santa Cruz in the '80s—that the only way to get anywhere is to take risks and make mistakes, i.e. to eschew white fragility wherever possible and…

Haraway: Yes, to make trouble, to stir up potent responses to devastating events, to affirm finitude and both living and dying: this is my very simple point. The violent turbulence of our times is unmistakable, and we must cultivate the capacities to respond—what I call “response-ability.” The list of troubles is indicative, but only that: destruction of peoples and homelands with sea level rises in the Pacific Ocean; poisoning of lands, bodies, airs, and waters through ongoing fossil and nuclear capitalism; mass extinctions and habitat destruction; mass displacements of human and nonhuman beings; permanent wars across much of the earth; rise of fascist and authoritarian regimes around the world; devastating increases in human numbers coupled to structural inequality of wealth and consumption; racialized reproductive injustice; unchecked sexual abuse; and on. Without the narratives of apocalypse or of salvation, staying with the trouble in caring and knowing and acting is such a simple, obvious political and ethical duty.

Rail: The subtitle is “Making Kin in the Chthulucene.” Can you discuss your notion of making kin, especially oddkin, in relation to staying with the trouble. What are examples of some of our troubled but productive kin?6

Haraway: First, the “chthonic” and the “chthulucene” (meaning “times of the chthonic”) refer to ongoing, pastpresentfuture processes and entities of the earth—not the earth as mother, but the earth as our flesh and we its flesh, but only a part, not the center or goal of it all, because it is always tentacularly entangled in composing and decomposing worlds. The Chthulucene is a counter to the arrogance of the Anthropocene and Capitalocene, not a substitute, but a troubling presence and force that has never disappeared, and to and with which we are at stake. Making oddkin in this timeplace, this earth, is allying with both biogenetic relatives and very different other sorts of beings, living and dead, to craft enduring, generationally robust, sustaining collectives. Oddkin can be migrants and refugees and longer-term residents joined to reclaim land and waters; or plants, animals, and situated human people joined to rebuild robust habitats committed to multispecies reproductive justice; or the living and the dead joined to affirm still-possible kinds of just flourishing; or many other sorts of compositions that make real kin, those who are for and with each other in caring through living and dying, true family, not a poor substitute for the heteronormative reproductive family; or peoples joined in reparations and restitution for past and ongoing violence to build truly diverse decolonial communities; and more.

Rail: Let’s clear up the origins and meanings of Chthulucene right away. Two things are important—the origins for you are the spider named Pimoa cthulhu, not Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, and you mutate the word to add a very significant “h” so that it is “chthulucene” not “cthulhu.” 

Haraway: Yes, the “h” is very important to me because “chth” refers to chthonic ones—of the earth. The chthonic ones have no truck with ideologues; they belong to no one; they writhe and luxuriate in manifold forms and manifold names in all the airs, waters, and places of the earth; they are replete with tentacles, feelers, digits, cords, whiptails, spider’s legs, and unruly hair whereas “cthulhu” is the name of the racist Lovecraft monster which I have no interest in (although the person who named the spider obviously did). I take Pimoa cthulhu, an eight-legged arachnid that lives under stumps in the Redwood forests, as my demon familiar. It also matters to me that the SF timeplace I call the Chthulucene is not a person, neither the monster Cthulhu nor the Mother Earth. The chthonic processes and entities that are the earth are not persons, but finite complex material systems, which can break down. We can personify and tell stories that way, but misplaced concreteness is both easy and pernicious.7

Rail: So, this spider Pimoa cthulhu is for the Cthulucene and Staying With the Trouble what OncoMouse™ was for technoscience in Modest_Witness?

Haraway: A bit. But maybe better, Staying with the Trouble is full of many sorts of tentacular entities, stories, patterns, and processes in addition to that fine spider, whose name evokes both the chthonic of the earth and the Pimoa Indigenous people in white settler society. Squid, cuttlefish, octopuses, crafted fiber and biological coral, SF storying as itself tentacular—all that. OncoMouse™ was a simpler sort of critter, for all its many cyborg relationalities.

Rail: Although we have had many conversations about your work, I want to focus on the prominent role of what you call “art science worldings” in Staying with the Trouble. I’m especially interested in the crossover between art activism and multispecies art projects. But before we get into Staying with the Trouble, I think it is important for people to know how art and biology have always been entangled for you. I learned this from reading your first book Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields; Metaphors of Organicism in Twentieth Century Developmental Biology (Yale University Press, 1976), which was your dissertation in the History of Science at Yale. One of the great lessons I’ve learned from reading your work is the parallel function of creativity in biology/nature and art—that these are worlds that are deeply connected in an ontological way—both fields are about the development of dynamic form. In that book you lay out the connections between aesthetics and biology, which, according to Philip Ritterbush, are at the very beginning of biology. I was struck with how Ritterbush situates biology within the history of Romanticism, and you discuss Coleridge as well as Goethe, so the through-line to the conversation with art in Staying with the Trouble makes sense in the deepest way. Crystals concludes with a quote from Goethe, invoking the influence and wisdom of the “poet scientist.” Biology is very poetic. It is a poiesis, in your terms. That sounds so trite but it’s the way it’s discussed in Crystals.

Haraway: Yes, in graduate school we read Goethe, and I was influenced by Philip Ritterbush’s lovely little book called The Art of Organic Forms (Random House, 1968). But, I was encouraged by my dissertation adviser, G. Evelyn Hutchinson, who was a world-famous theoretical population biologist and ecologist. He spent his summers studying Italian illuminated manuscripts in order to learn about natural history. He also encouraged us to read Virginia Woolf, Goethe, and Simone Weil. We were as likely to be reading those authors as we were to be reading a paper in ecology or molecular biology. It was unusual, but not unheard of. I think one of the things that our humanist friends don’t know is that biologists are not stupid about this stuff. They both know a lot, and care a lot, about these narratives. There are a lot of biologists who are quite interested in visual arts.

Rail: I was blown away by the work of Natasha Myers at the Symposium at Yale.8 You discuss her paper with Carla Hustak, “Involutionary Momentum”, in Chapter 3—which is about several art activist projects. Their work strengthened the notion of symbiogenesis, which you use extensively throughout the chapter.

Haraway: First, sympoiesis simply means “making with.” I call that chapter “Sympoesis: Symbiogenesis and the Lively Arts of Staying with the Trouble.” The sections of that chapter look to the biologists first. But symbiogenesis is biologist Lynn Margulis’s term. She was a radical evolutionary theorist, one of the co-founders of Gaia theory with James Lovelock.9 Her life’s work was with bacteria and Archaea, how new kinds of cells, tissues, organs, and species evolve through what she memorably called “the long-lasting intimacy of strangers.” According to Margulis we owe everything to bacteria and Archaea—to their fusings and stabilizations. In truth, to be animal or plant is to become with bacteria.

Rail: Bacteria! It’s the new missing link. There has been so much in the news, popular culture, and scholarship about the microbiome. The artist Kathy High has organized an exhibition Gut Love: You Are My Future in Philadelphia, and there is an interview by Sadie Starnes with her in this issue of the Rail. Bacteria seem to be what constitutes the new model of biology, of being, as built on a model of “becoming with.” In this context, it’s worth quoting how you introduce yourself in When Species Meet (2008):

I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, …I am vastly outnumbered by my tiny companions; better put, I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates. To be one is always to become with many. Some of these personal microscopic biota are dangerous to the me who is writing this sentence; they are held in check for now by the measures of the coordinated symphony of all the others, human cells and not, that make the conscious me possible. I love that when “I” die, all these benign and dangerous symbionts will take over and use whatever is left of “my” body, if only for a while, since “we” are necessary to one another in real time.10

Haraway: Yes, I am talking about symbiogenesis there. It is a description of ourselves as complex compositions involved in “multispecies becoming with.” There is no such thing as an individual in the old sense, but what I am calling “holoents”—the entities are not all “bio” and so “holobiome” isn’t good enough for the good-enough unities that make a composition in the world.

Rail: Would you tell the story of the Hawaiian bobtail squid and its bacteria? It’s so amazing.

Haraway: The Hawaiian bobtail squid’s bacterial symbionts are Vibrio fischeri, which are essential for the squid to construct a ventral pouch that houses luminescing bacteria. The luminescing bacteria are essential because when the squid is out hunting the luminescing bacteria make it look like a starry sky to its prey below on dark nights, or appear not to cast a shadow on moonlit nights. The bacteria are fully part of the squid’s developmental biology.

Rail: Yes, it’s utterly sensible and material “becoming with.” It is in When Species Meet that you do a necessary job of critiquing Deleuze’s “becoming animal,” which was adopted by many in the art world at one point. While “becoming” is instrumental to the work of a number of male philosophers—Heidegger and Deleuze most prominently, you differ because your becoming with comes directly out of biology, specifically developmental biology and it is what makes your work distinct from philosophers like Deleuze or even Timothy Morton, with whom there are overlaps. It is poetics derived from the material conditions of biology. Or is there a better way of saying that?

Haraway: Feminism is one of the roots too—becoming-with each other is the name of the game!

Rail: As in all your work, figuration is critical to Staying with the Trouble.11 We talked a bit about the spider Pimoa cthulhu as one of the figures for the Cthulucene but there are many figures drawn from biology in Staying with the Trouble. I think of Margulis’s work with M. paradoxa or Natasha Myer’s work on the orchid and the bee and that fantastic xkcd cartoon which I hope we can reproduce.

Haraway: Well, M. paradoxa, which lives in the gut of the Australian termite, is everyone’s favorite “poster critter” for explaining complex “individuality.” It looks like a single-celled swimming ciliate until one looks at it under an electron microscope where Margulis discovered how it is actually made up of five distinct kinds of creatures.12 She proposed the word “holobiont” in 1991 which means “entire beings” or “safe and sound beings.”13

Rail: Which isn’t individuality at all but the idea that we are and have always been multitudes.

Haraway: But it is also goes back to how I introduce myself in When Species Meet—my point is critters do not precede their relatings; they make each other through semiotic material involution and entanglement.

Rail: The story of the orchid and the extinct bee is incredible. You say, “My hinge to science art worldings turns on the ongoing performance of memory by an orchid for its extinct bee.”14

Haraway: Yes, I include xkcd’s wonderful Bee Orchid cartoon which does something very important—it does not say the flower is exactly like the extinct insect’s genitals. The shape of the flower is “an idea of what the female bee looked like to the male bee…as interpreted by a plant…the only memory of the bee is a painting by a dying flower.”

 

Multispecies Art Projects

Rail: Could there be anything more beautiful than that statement the only memory of the bee is a painting by a dying flower? He turns it into a multispecies art project. Staying with the Trouble discusses several remarkable art projects, with pigeons in particular. There is an artist named Duke Riley who also works with pigeons who recently had a show in Chelsea. This summer he produced one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen—called Fly By Night—at dusk he released 2,000 pigeons from a barge docked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, fitted with little LED lights on their legs. As it grew dark all we could see were the active, dynamic flight patterns of the lights as the pigeons swooped and circled and returned to the barge where they lived. In the exhibition there were large photographs of these flights shot with long exposures, presented in the gallery as huge blue graceful abstract patterns—light paintings by pigeons! His performance caused some trouble, as a tiny group of animal rights people protested that the LED lights were hurting the pigeons. 

Haraway: I saw YouTube videos of the performance and loved it! The artist Beatriz da Costa’s PigeonBlog was similarly controversial. She used working pigeons to gather real-time pollution data in a project with her students Cina Hazegh and Kevin Ponto. PETA tried to shut it down, calling it abuse of animals.15

Rail: Beatriz da Costa16 was such an important pioneering interdisciplinary artist and her early death from cancer was so awful. But her PigeonBlog project is such an example of a successful multispecies art, science, and activist work rooted in love, politics, and knowledge.    

Haraway: Da Costa was concerned with the way data about pollution in Los Angeles was collected. The refineries, power plants, and highways where air pollution is worst cluster around working class, immigrant, and communities of color. She came up with the idea of working with pigeon racing fanciers and with engineers, equipping racing pigeons with DIY-built tiny monitors that could gather real-time pollution information. Da Costa did not try to become an air pollution scientist but to spark collaboration and spark further questions, perhaps including getting better official data for addressing air pollution in marginalized communities. Her project was about environmental justice fused with multispecies art making. The actual pigeons really mattered; they were full participants, not just flying objects carrying the packs.

Rail: So, it involved working not only with working class and communities of color but artist engineers who were asked to design safe monitors for the pigeons. You suggest such designs allowed the pigeons to function as active agents, not just bodies.

Haraway: Yes, it took almost a year of building hands-on multispecies trust and knowledge essential to joining the birds, technology, and several differently situated communities of people. The pigeons were not SIM-cards, but living co-producers—the artist-researchers and pigeons had to learn to interact and to train together with the pigeon-racing humans and the racing pigeons. All the players rendered each other capable; they “became with” each other.

Rail: What was PETA’s objection?

Haraway: The pigeons were living beings subjected to the designs of the artists without their consent. Using them is bad enough in science, where at least there might be health-knowledge benefits, but for local PETA activists, using them for art was inexcusable. They saw art as functionless and indulgent.

Rail: Oh dear.

Haraway: Right, that the pigeons were partners (albeit unequal partners) and that art could be as important as science, perhaps more so, did not register with these particular PETA people. Note I am NOT condemning all PETA people here, much less all animal rights people. Their questions and actions can be, in my view, necessary trouble making in animal exploitation as usual. It’s simply that I think they were flagrantly wrong about PigeonBlog. There is another issue here too for both me and Beatriz: function, teleology, and utility cannot be allowed to decide the worth of art or science!

Rail: That is absolutely crucial because it’s where, or indeed why, “art science worldings” at their best expand the boundaries of both art and science. They are true companions. Art isn’t merely illustrating science nor is science merely getting off on aesthetics but to use your language, they are making one another more capable. In a similar vein, when you describe the pigeons as the ones making the string figures “ready to trace the air in string figure patterns of electronic tracks,”17 I think of the active agents of Duke Riley’s collaborations with the pigeons as making one another capable as well. Such multispecies art projects are so different than the controversial art the Guggenheim Museum pulled from its big contemporary China exhibition, Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World. The artwork that bothered most of us was not Theater of the World (1993) by Huang Yong Ping18, which I wish hadn’t been pulled (although in today’s climate I can’t see how they would have been able to exhibit it) but the inclusion as art of the 7 minute video documentation of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s “performance” called Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003) where humans walk around an installation of fight dogs tethered on tread mills who froth at the mouth in exhaustion straining to reach and fight one another.

Haraway: The dog actors in that case are hardly agential beings. They are captive bodies provoked to extreme emotional and physical frustration for an exhibit about impossible touch. Raising deep ethical questions, training is a complicated, non-innocent practice between human beings and other animals, as well as among human beings; but training-with is not the same thing as captive forced performance. The difference matters immensely. I care about art-design-activist practices that join diverse people and varied critters in shared, often vexed public spaces but it is critical that the other critters exercise consequential degrees of freedom in performance and becoming-with. I also discuss Vinciane Despret who wrote about the artist and designer Matali Crasset’s Capsule (2003) in Caudry, France. The Beauvois association of carrier pigeon fanciers asked Crasset to build a prototype pigeon loft that would combine beauty, functionality for people and birds, and a pedagogic lure to draw future practitioners into learning demanding skills. 

Rail: You mention the book Despret did with Isabelle Stengers called Women Who Make a Fuss: The Unfaithful Daughters of Virginia Woolf (2014). Fuss is another way of introducing trouble. In the work she did with the sociologist Jocelyne Porcher with pig and cattle non-industrial farmers, they certainly dove into the trouble (as opposed to Adrienne Rich’s “diving into the wreck”). What was the point of their research?

Haraway: They studied farmers and their animals in France and learned how these food-producing animals are working and working with their people. This is not a utopia; it is not innocent. But here is also a way of living and dying, nurturing and killing that deserves a future. The breeders insisted that their animals, as they put it, “know what we want, but we, we don’t know what they want.” Figuring out what their animals want, so that people and cows could together accomplish successful breeding, was the fundamental conjoined work of the farm.

Rail: It is important because it is about the cow as a food source. One of the most troubling and troubled areas is meat, especially the giant factory-farming corporations. Also milk.

SF

Rail: We have only touched on what you call SF. First, what does SF stand for? You described the pigeons making string figures in da Costa’s PigeonBlog project, but “SF string figure of multispecies becoming-with” is key to the four specific science art activist worldings you describe in Chapter 3.

Haraway: SF stands for string figures, science fiction, speculative feminism, science fantasy, speculative fabulation, science fact, and so far. String figures are like stories, they are about giving and receiving patterns; they are ongoing and they can fall apart or do something very interesting and vital. 

Rail: Which is another way of describing theory.

Haraway: Yes, scholarship and politics are about passing on knowledge in twists and skeins, holding still and moving, anchoring and launching. SF is a methodology—it’s about practice and making as well as thinking and imagining. It’s about dropping threads and failing but sometimes finding something that works, that wasn’t there before.

Rail: What are the four projects you discuss in Chapter 3?

Haraway: They are: 1) The Crochet Coral Reef project; 2) the Madagascar Malagasy-English children’s natural history Ako Project books by Alison Jolly and her collaborators; 3) the Never Alone computer game project of the Inupiat in Alaska in alliance with E-line Media people; and finally 4) the coalition work among the Black Mesa Navajo and Hopi, the scientists and indigenous herding people committed to Churro sheep, the Black Mesa Weavers for Life and Land, and most of all the Diné activists of the Black Mesa Water Coalition.

Rail: What you stress with each of these is that each is risky, each is about tangled lives, each is an example of “science art worldings… in which scientists, artists, ordinary members of communities, and nonhuman beings become enfolded in each other’s projects, in each other’s lives.”19 The most complicated and the one I want to focus on is the fourth—the Navajo weaving which brings together the Navajo-Churro sheep restoration and the Black Mesa Water Coalition. The number of threads you follow starting with the sheep is extraordinary. But I like the way you complicate it from the beginning, implicating our own investment in such projects, pointing out how the very terms “art” and “science” in this context continue to do colonizing work.

Haraway: SF is my way into it, but I try from the start to interrupt my own SF idiom with the Navajo word na’atl’o’, the Diné word, and then tie that to the fibers of the Navajo-Churro sheep, to the women’s practices, which really can’t be appropriated as an art practice either. It is many sorts of things, but fundamentally na’atl’o’ is the continuous weaving of who the Diné are and where they came from. In Navajo language string games are na’atl’o’ which are also pedagogical tools for teaching children about the cosmos and constellations. I try to write about them in such a way as to resist appropriating na’atl’o’ as a universal string figure practice. They’re on the web, you can see them on Grandma Margaret’s YouTube,20 where you see her playing with her grandson. Daybreak Warrior is the name of the older grandson’s website. He’s a Christian Navajo. It’s fascinating, you should watch her doing it, in Navajo and in English, back and forth. And her room, where they’re sitting and where the YouTube film is taken, is full of photographs in the background of relatives who served in the armed forces because the Navajo have served in an incredible range of positions in the American armed forces. You’ve got a very patriotic U. S. home here that’s also very strongly Navajo, very strongly Christian—at least one of the grandsons is. It’s a kind of cultural complexity that you just can’t reduce.

Rail: The Navajo weaving is also a multispecies art project since the wool of the Churro sheep ties people to animals through patterns of care and what you call “response-ability.” Could you talk about it?

Haraway: String figures led me there. Well, the sheep are really what led me there. Well, no, actually Cayenne21 brought me there because Cayenne was an Australian Shepherd, a dog of white settlers in the U.S. West. So, in a non-trivial way it’s Cayenne who linked me to all that. That’s what I mean when I say things like “dogs make us more worldly, not less.” If we track them and their histories, they lead to other tangled histories, and each of these histories leads us to caring. Every time we track a thread, our universe of caring grows. And then accountability. You can’t forget that you know. I may not have known once, but I do now. And so once I know, then what? Then you owe something back. Your caring has consequences.

Rail: I love the way your dog brought you to the sheep, who/which bring you to the Navajo and to these weavings. You have some weavings in your house?

Haraway: We have a Navajo weaving on our wall that my partner Rusten’s father bought on the reservation in the 1960s. But we don’t know the name of the weaver or the price he paid or who received the money. We have another Navajo rug that’s hanging over the desk, and we know who wove that one and more about how the exchange worked. Rusten and I spent some time together at the old Hubbell Trading Post that’s now part of the National Park System. These weavings tie us as white settlers to entire histories of conquest as well as to ongoing continuous weaving by the Diné in and for hózhó, or living in right relations, in “beauty.” The fibers, the people, the animals and lands, the histories all require response; they demand cultivating response-ability.

Rail: Speaking of trading posts and the trouble—my great grandfather on my father’s side was denounced on the floor of Congress by Custer for bribing Indians on trading posts. He was Ulysses S. Grant’s ne’er do well brother. Grant was so mad at Custer for using his brother as an example of corruption in his administration he sent him out to Little Big Horn!   

Haraway: Well, you have individual trading post people who are decent people and very pro-Navajo but they’re embedded in a system where whether they are good people or not is really not the point. The trading post system was what turned wool into blankets and created a system of indebtedness. There is a marvelous writer, Kathy M’Closkey, who wrote Swept Under the Rug (2002), which is an account based on the many long hours she spent in the archive reading the old account books at the trading post, following the rug trade, and the role that the trading post played in the permanent state of indebtedness that’s part of the practice of colonialism. The Navajo were forced to produce more and more wool from their sheep in order to buy basic necessities. The traders than sold the weavings in the art and tourist market. Navajo weaving is one of the first indigenous products to enter the national and international commodity market, already in the 19th century. And they don’t have trademark protection on their patterns, and so you get these cheap knockoffs from Oaxaca and Pakistan and so on.

Rail: What is the story of resurgence you tell in the book? How is this story “at the heart of the trouble in a damaged world”?

Haraway: There are a number of diverse configurations involved in the restoration of the Navajo-Churro sheep. Churro are central to cultural renewal through weaving from their wool and caring for the sheep. By the 1970s only a tiny amount of Navajo-Churro sheep survived. Some were protected by the Black Mesa Diné. A number of coalitions came together to restore the sheep. One was an animal-scientist at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo named Lyle McNeal who founded the Navajo sheep project in 1997. He donated some of the first rams born from his seed flock in the 1980s to the Women in Resistance on Black Mesa—but this was no easy process –thirteen moves in four states over twenty-five years with many confrontations with the law! But other coalitions formed: weavers such as Glenna Begay, Lena Nex, and Carol Halberstadt, a poet, activist, and lover of wool from Masachusetts, co-founded a fair trade collective called the Black Mesa Weavers for Life and Land, which supported sheep herding, wool buys, and weaving. A Navajo-Churro flock was also established at the Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona and the Diné be’iína/The Navajo Lifeway—a community-based partnership—was founded in 1991. All of these were ways of reconnecting generations broken by boarding schools and forced stock exterminations. Navajo language use was also encouraged among the young who are also tied to these sheep.

Rail: Learning from sheep is like your story of learning from Cayenne by following the story.

Haraway: The critters are critical to environmental justice, to the development of robust ecosystems for humans and nonhumans, to hózhó.

Rail: What is hózhó?

Haraway: A refrain from Navajo prayers that often accompanies a weaver’s work—shil hózhó, means, “With me there is beauty” or shil’ hózhó, “in me there is beauty” or “from me beauty radiates” (shits’ áá d óó hózhó). The translation of hózhó is usually beauty, order, harmony, but a better translation would emphasize right relations of the world, including human and nonhuman beings who are of the world, not in the world as a container. The Diné endured two periods of extermination of their Churro sheep. They call these genocides Hwéeldi—the first was under Kit Carson in 1863 for the U.S. War department.

Rail: Is that part of the Long Walk?

Mariposa Mask, Guerrero, Mexico. Pre 1990. UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver. Photo by James Clifford

Haraway: Yes, the 1863 Hwéeldi is the originary trauma. That is, it can be neither forgotten nor effectively mourned. I take this idea from Toni Morrison’s Paradise by way of Kami Chisholm’s PhD dissertation in History of Consciousness, another SF, string figural, pattern. The central act of removal was the killing of animals, led by Carson, as well as the cutting of orchards, followed by rounding up of people and then the long march to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico. This forced march was followed by four years in a prison camp and then the walk back to Navajo lands. When the People returned to the Navajo reservation, they found that those who had escaped Kit Carson’s soldiers had carefully tended Churro sheep that had been spared in the remote areas of Dinetah including Big Mountain/Dzil ni Staa/Black Mesa. The second Hwéeldi was the result of “progressive” agricultural authorities of the New Deal. It had to do with the ecological concept of the carrying capacity of the land, meaning how many humans and animals and crops a piece of land can support before it becomes unsustainable. The erosion and overgrazing of the land were not tied to the deep decapitalization and forced indebtedness of the People in the wool commodity market system, but to misuse of the land to be fixed by progressive scientific ecological management. The killing of sheep and goats and the mandatory introduction of stocking permits to male heads of households (in a matrilocal pastoral system), coupled to many other “reforms” too numerous to discuss here, combined to further decapitalize a whole people in ways that remain profoundly unrecompensed.

Rail: But there is a story of resurgence in more recent coalitions where the sheep lead back to the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC).

Haraway: Yes, the BMWC is a young, interethnic, intertribal (Hopi and Navajo) student organized group founded in 2001, committed to fighting water depletion and natural resource exploitation by the Peabody Energy Company and others. Black Mesa is a critical place for transitioning out of coal-based economies to solar and other renewable power, and Black Mesa is essential to Navajo cosmology. It is the mother encircled by the four sacred mountains where the waters are the mother’s blood, and the coal is her liver. The BMWC Just Transition initiative beginning in 2005 brings together many partners to make resurgence on Black Mesa a reality, or at least a real possibility. They closed down the Black Mesa Mine and Mohave Generating Station in 2006. Examples of resurgence are the Black Mesa Solar project, the Food Security Project, the Navajo Wool Market project, the Green Economy Project, and the Climate Justice alliance. Like the discussion of the vanishing bee and its faithful orchid, these are examples of how the biologies, arts, and politics need each other. 

The Camille Stories

Rail: There is one last way that art comes into Staying with the Trouble—it is how you end the book. We can’t cover them in full, but briefly, what are the Camille stories?

Haraway: They come from a collaborative writing workshop several of us did at Isabelle Stengers’s “Gestes spéculatifs” workshop at Cerisy. It is important to stress that my Camille stories are a pilot project meant to be added onto and continued by others. The Camille stories bring us back to how we began this discussion—how speculative fabulation and making oddkin are essential to staying with the trouble, specifically here the very real threat of the burden of immense and growing human numbers on the earth. The Camille stories are a speculative fabulation and they take up the left’s inability to confront the unimaginable multi-billions of human beings, industrial food animals, and companion pets that are populating the planet in a regime of forced life and forced death. There were 1 billion people on the planet in 1900, 3 billion people when I was born mid-century, today there are 7.5 billion, and by the end of the 21st century there will be more than 11 billion, if we are very lucky and birth rates continue to decline as they are now doing almost everywhere.22

Rail: How do the Camille stories address the problem? You write about five generations of Camilles whose symbionts are Monarch butterflies…

Haraway: These stories try to get the Camilles through five human generations in communities committed to healing damaged places, in communities tied into cosmopolitical geographical patterns by the routes of migrating critters who/which would not have a future without the naturalcultural care of these people across those lines of travel. Every child in these communities has to have at least three parents in a world committed to anti-racist multispecies reproductive and environmental justice. Reproductive freedom takes the form of the pregnant person choosing a symbiont for the unborn child, and the child—but not the nonhuman partner in the symbiosis—is also genetically altered by the symbiosis in order to facilitate care-taking. Note: the child is not the primary agent of reproductive freedom, a point worth remembering in all sorts of discussions on this matter. The child bears the consequences of the exercise of choice by another. What I call The Communities of Compost are not innocent utopias.23 The parent bearing the first Camille chose Monarch butterflies as the symbiont, a fateful decision that links the Mazahua of Michoacán with the North American multiracial settlers of New Gauley in coal-mining-devastated West Virginia, holding open space against onrushing forces of extinction and for naturalsocial justice. The migratory routes of the Monarchs in the great eastern flyway ties these communities together in projects and hopes of multispecies environmental justice. I urge Brooklyn Rail readers to go to the stories for a fuller account, as well as for an invitation to write stories for the Communities of Compost, the collective name for the oddkin towns where the Camilles cultivate—or redefine, perhaps even reject—their response-abilities.

Rail: In the conversation we did for Modest_Witness you say, “For good and bad reasons, population is the third rail of left political discourse.” You were accused by two young feminists, Jenny Turner in The London Review of Books and Sophie Lewis in Viewpoint Magazine, of having a genocidal imagination!24

Haraway: In a review that was positive about my work in general, they accused me of trafficking in a racist genocidal discourse. I usually don’t answer my reviews, good, bad, or indifferent, but I answered this. It made me furious. It illustrated the very thing I am trying to say that human overpopulation is a taboo topic on the left. You are not allowed to even talk about it. The younger woman said that I had become so loyal to the nonhuman that I am not for “us” in the same way as I was when I wrote the Cyborg Manifesto. I wrote back and said you forgot that I started out in biology, and for me it has always been about human beings as part of a biological world. With the other critters. I didn’t have to get there from somewhere else. The Cyborg Manifesto was a kind of episode in the midst of that and it too was about a tripartite affair that involved the technologies, the human beings, and the other organisms. The fact is, to raise this issue is something we really need to work on together. We can’t give this issue away to the Neo-Malthusians or to economist development ideological discourse.25 The good news is that the reviewers who made these accusations and I have exchanged many an email, and we have formed a kind of alliance, if not agreement, that gives me heart. Feminists rock, in conflict and collaboration! Here is how I put it in a forthcoming essay in Making Kin Not Population:

The subject is forbidden, no matter how carefully introduced; it has been ceded to the right and to development professionals. To insist that seriously facing the burden of human numbers—associated with vast numbers of technoscientific microbes, plants and animals in petro-extractionist complexes that drive forced life and excess death of humans and nonhumans alike, especially since the 1950s—is not racist; but shutting up out of terror of the issue might well be. Fear of getting things wrong certainly does not serve reproductive justice, even in human exceptionalist terms, much less in terms of multispecies reproductive justice. I think failing to think together anew is a scandal, a collective failure of courage. 26

My point is, we must somehow make the relay, inherit the trouble, and reinvent the conditions for multispecies flourishing, not just in a time of ceaseless human wars and genocides, but in a time of human-propelled mass extinctions and multispecies genocides that sweep people and critters into the vortex. We must dare to make the relay; that is to create, to fabulate, in order not to despair.

 

Notes

  1. See also: Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, an 80-minute film portrait by Fabrizio Terranova, 2016, available in the U.S. through Icarus Films.
  2. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, (Durham: Duke University, 2016), 101. She also says, “We are humus, not Homo” (55) and, “Philosophically and materially, I am a compostist, not a posthumanist. Critters—human and not—become with each other, compose and decompose each other, in every scale and register of time and stuff in sympoietic tangling, in ecological evolutionary developmental earthly worlding and unworlding.” 97. See also footnote 3, Chapter 1, 169.
  3. “Nothing Comes Without Its World,” Donna J. Haraway and Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, forthcoming
  4. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleManÓ Meets_OncoMouseÔ Feminism and Technoscience (20th Anniversary edition) (New York: Routledge, 2018).
  5. Modest_Witness, 1997, 14.
  6. Alex Galloway, “Peak Deleuze and the Red Bull Sublime,” November 5, 2017 Accessed November 10, 2017 http://cultureandcommunication.org/galloway/peak-deleuze-and-the-red-bull-sublime
  7. See also: Making Oddkin: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, Yale University, October 23, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-iEnSztKu8&feature=youtu.be.
  8. “Misplaced concreteness” is Alfred North Whitehead’s term for the error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. See Alfred North Whitehead, “The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness or Reification,” in Process and Reality (1929).
  9. Natasha Myers, Associate Professor of Anthropology, York University. Author of Rendering Life Molecular: Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015). Also see: https://culanth.org/fieldsights/790-photosynthesis; https://natashamyers.wordpress.com/
  10. Developed in the 1970s by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, Gaia theory proposes the earth as a self-regulating homoestatic biosphere.
  11. Donna J. Haraway, When Species Meet (University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 3–4.
  12. For those unfamiliar with Haraway’s use of figuration see her Introduction to When Species Meet.
  13. See Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan’s essay in Natural History Magazine, 2001. Accessed November 7, 2017. http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/htmlsite/master.html?http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/htmlsite/0601/0601_feature.html
  14. “Margulis proposed [in 1991] any physical association between individuals of different species for significant portions of their lifetime constitutes a ‘symbiosis’ and that all participants are bionts, such that the resulting association is a holobiont.’” See, Sarah Walters, “Holobionts and the Hologenome Theory” Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, September 4, 2013, Accessed November 20, 2017 http://www.intellectualventureslab.com/investigate/holobionts-and-the-hologenome-theory     
  15. Staying with the Trouble, 69.
  16. Beatriz da Costa, “PigeonBlog,” in “Special Issue: Interspecies,” Antennae No. 13 (Summer 2010): 31-48. Accessed November 8, 2017. http://roblafrenais.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/ANTENNAE-ISSUE-13.pdf
  17. PigeonBlog is a collaborative endeavor between homing pigeons, artists, engineers and pigeon fanciers engaged in a grassroots scientific data gathering initiative designed to collect and distribute information about air quality conditions to the general public. Pigeons carry custom-built miniature air pollution sensing devices enabled to send the collected localized information to an online server without delay. Pollution levels are visualized and plotted in real-time over Google’s mapping environment, thus allowing immediate access to the collected information to anyone with connection to the Internet.
  18. Beatriz da Costa (1974–2012) was an interdisciplinary artist, professor, and scholar who worked across art, science, engineering, and politics. She co-founded Preemptive Media with Jaime Schulte and Brooke Singer and was a former collaborator of Critical Art Ensemble. She exhibited at documenta 13 and taught at The University of California, Irvine as a founding member of the Arts Computation, Engineering (ACE) graduate program. In 2007 she began her PhD work with Donna Haraway at Santa Cruz. As she was dying of cancer she made several art projects including The Cost of Life and “The Anti-Cancer Survival Kit.” She was also the co-editor with Kavita Philip of Tactical Biopolitics (MIT Press, 2008).
  19. Staying with the Trouble, 22.
  20. Theater of the World (1993) by Huang Yong Ping is described as “a cage-like structure housing live reptiles and insects that coexist in a natural cycle of life.” Accessed November 22, 2017 https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/art-and-china-after-1989-theater-of-the-world
  21. Staying with the Trouble, 58.
  22. “Navajo String Games by Grandma Margaret” Accessed November 22, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qdcG7Ztn3c
  23. Haraway wrote about her collaborations in companion species agility with Cayenne in The Companion Species Manifesto (2003). 
  24. But it is not just about population numbers, but about the disappeared. See Haraway, forthcoming: “The Disappeared include human resisters to criminal nation states, the imprisoned, missing generations of the Indigenous and other oppressed people and peoples, unruly women, trafficked child and adult sexual and other workers, Black and Brown young people, migrants, human beings subject to ethnic cleansing and genocide, and already about 50% of all vertebrate wildlife that were living on earth’s lands and oceans less than 50 years ago, plus 76% of members of fresh water species.” Donna Haraway, “Making Kin in the Chthulucene: Reproducing Multispecies Justice,” forthcoming, Making Kin Not Population: Reconceiving Generations, edited by Adele Clarke and Donna Haraway (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press), 2018.
  25. Chapter 8 is called, “The Camille Stories: Children of Compost.” The phrase “children of compost” refers to Haraway’s rejection of the word posthumanist. (See Staying with the Trouble, 11, 55, 97, “I am a compostist, not a posthumanist: we are all Compost, not posthuman.” (101)
  26. “My Life With Ms. Cayenne Pepper,” by Jenny Turner in The London Review of Books. For the full text of Haraway’s response see: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n11/jenny-turner/life-with-ms-cayenne-pepper
  27. The very morning we were discussing this on June 15, 2016, there was an article in the New York Times by Eugene Linden, “Remember the Population Bomb? It’s Still Ticking”. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/15/opinion/sunday/remember-the-population-bomb-its-still-ticking.html
  28. Haraway, forthcoming, “Making Kin in the Chthulucene: Reproducing Multispecies Justice,” in Making Kin Not Population, ed. Adele Clark and Donna Haraway.

Contributor

Thyrza Nichols Goodeve

THYRZA NICHOLS GOODEVE is the Senior Art Editor for the Brooklyn Rail.

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