I have been holding onto Staying with the trouble: Making kin the Chthulucene for a few months now, and found the most perfect time to read it, on my way to Boston to the AAG 2017. There were a series of sessions organized around ‘Staying with the trouble’ and/or several abstracts with the phrase noted. This book is riddled with felicitous phrases and clarity in her hurricane-consuming writing, as always. A timely intervention in the endless narratives of the Anthropocene, as she says the Anthropocene is merely “a simple word” (2). If you read this text as a manifesto, she is asking many things from us, for us, to begin to enact living more promisingly in our damaged earth.
What does it mean to stay with the trouble in the Chthulucene? What is the Chthulucene? From my reading, I was able to grasp it means a“timeplace for learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying in response-ability on a damaged earth” (2). To live in the Chthulucene is to be called upon to be enact worldly relations and encounters that acknowledge inheritances whilst attending to the ruins of our earth, the damaged landscapes (in a very Anna Tsing-esque way). I appreciate this, and as Haraway notes, this avoids the “game over” cynicism and too joins hands with indigenous folks like Leanne Simpson who poignantly says indigenous people have been witnessing and attending to the processes of exterminations (I want to throw out and make irrelevant the apolitical term extinction, a later post?) (read interview here ). This moves away from the master narratives of environmental degradation and destruction as a recent phenomena, related to climate change exclusively. Colonizers have benefited time and time again from ruination and intentional-extermination, take for example the Dine, the churro sheep, the Navajo, and the colonizers as storied on page 93. So I like this term. I like what it renders at the table.
Which brings me to the most excitable points of Haraway’s text, extended from Marilyn Strathern an anthropologist who stated “it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas with” to then be embellished by Haraway, “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 (12). This is the largest take away for me. I have been deeply moved by thinking all-things surrounding: it matters who you love, who you care, for, who you chose to bring up-up-up! Especially in the arena of citation politics, you are explicitly drawing alliances with those you hold hands with when thinking through things, or as Haraway later states, “it matters what knowledges know knowledges it matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories” (35). If anything I think this is incredibly affective and serves as a reminder for all things ‘relational’.
One thing I was less than excited about what the other dominant phrase she weaves through her science fiction/string figure narrations which is, ‘Make kin not baby’. Moreso, this particular phrase has been picked up way less than then the sexy “staying with the trouble”. Haraway conjures up this phrase of “make kin not babies” because even acknowledging the fear of feminists to “slide into scandal” for the years-and-years-and-continual accumulation of violent population control, feminists “have not been willing to seriously to address the Great Acceleration of human numbers, fearing that to do so would be to slide once again into the muck of racism, classism, nationalism, modernism and imperialism”… BUT, “fear is not good enough” (6.) Pressing next into asking: what is a decolonial feminist reproductive freedom in a dangerously troubled multispecies world?” (6). In the Camille stories, the last chapter, Haraway offers something tangible to this, in the caveat of this science-fiction universe that the “wealthiest and high-consuming human populations reduced new births the most, with the support of the communities of compost; but human births everywhere were deliberately below replacement rates “(159). I still remain unsettled, deeply, that Haraway feels comfortable enough in her celebrated academic position to bring-back this conversation. I don’t think there is a good way to have this conversation. To speak of relations, why did she not press into conversations about general consumptive habits? Or how we use spaces singularly? I really do hope more conversations come out of this; as Haraway is like every settler-colonial breathing critter speaking of population control. Our inheritances do not allow for a “space beyond” to articulate ‘decolonial feminist reproductive’ conversations. Even Haraway herself claims, ”Perhaps the fact that all of us inherent the trouble of colonialism and imperialism in densely related, mostly white, Anglophone webs makes us need eachother even more as we learn to rethink and refeel with situated earth critters and their people” (xiiii). So shh? Step away from this, and please oh please people who hold hands with Haraway in their own thinking, hold her accountable for this. I am hopeful that there will be criticisms centred on this that arrive soon. I am fully on board with “make kin” especially as someone who does not have tight connections with biological family, and have had to create my own kin circles, that are far beyond the human barrier. However, I wish Haraway chose a different route to advocting radical kin-making practices, as she does with composting collectives. Maybe something’s do not need to be ‘stirred up’?
And another concern, or unsettling. In her conversations with pigeons, she speaks of their fecundity in a problematic sense as that “feral pigeon fecundity is itself a material urban force, and also a potent signifier of the overfilling of the land with settlers and immigrants and depriving the land of endemic wetland birds and aboriginal peoples” (28). This framing presents pigeons, and other nonhuman animals as colonizers rather than as colonized subjects. It is strange to read, especially with so many scholars and activists doing decolonial work, are pushing for more radical conceptualizations and ethical stances towards nonhuman animals. But maybe this makes sense, Haraway does not really care for animal liberation!
I will say that I really enjoyed this text. It was wondrous and peppered with accessible understandings, repletion, and imaginative provocations. Haraway and many others are tending to the possible/on-going ways of living of the feral. This is an ontological existence I am falling more and more in-love with everyday. The ultimate anarchists, or the “chthonic ones”. Long quote, but beautifully radical:
“Chthonic ones are beings of the earth, both ancient and up-to-the-minute. I imagine chthonic ones as replete with tentackles, feelers, digits, cords, whiptails, spider legs and very unruly hair. Chthonic ones romp in multicritter humus.…are monsters in the best sense, they demonstrate and perform the material meaningfulness of earth processes and critters. …they demonstrate consequences. Chthonic ones are not safe; they have no truck with ideologies; they belong to no one; they writhe and luxuriate in manifold forms and manifold names in all the airs, waters, and places of earth. They make and unmake; they are made and unmade. They are who are. No wonder the world’s great monotheisms in both religious and secular guises have tried again and again to exterminate the chthonic ones. The scandals of times called the anthropocene and the capitalocene are the latest and most dangerous of these exterminating forces. Living with and dying with each other potently in the Chthulucene can be a fierce reply to the dictates of both Anthropos and Capital” (2). What a homage to our greatest teachers.
Haraway, D. 2016. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Cthulucene. London: Duke University Press.