- "This thick and fibrous now." A review of Donna Haraway's Manifestly Haraway and Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene
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Published a few months apart, Manifestly Haraway (April 2016) and Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (September 2016) together attest to the unique, undimmed pertinence of Donna Haraway's thinking to our "strange and uncertain" times (as Barack Obama recently called them). The three-in-one volume Manifestly Haraway carries reprints of the two essential manifestos—The Cyborg Manifesto (originally published in 1985) and The Companion Species Manifesto (2003)—followed by the transcript of a conversation ("Companions in Conversation") that took place over three days between Haraway and Cary Wolfe at her Santa Cruz home in May 2014. Absorbing if elliptical, the conversation sets itself the task of thinking together meaningfully the two epoch-making manifestos, revisiting the material-historical-political contexts and thought-worlds that shaped their particular objectives and deep continuities. The dialogue closes with Haraway gesturing toward a third manifesto in the offing—a "Chthulucene Manifesto." This work appeared a year later under the jauntier title Staying with the Trouble, gathering essays written between 2012 and 2015 and broadly concerned with the theme of multispecies survival in the Anthropocene.
Thirty years after its first publication, The Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century reads just as powerfully. As the "noninnocent" child of socialist-feminism and the Cold War-era of "command-control-communication-intelligence," the cyborg famously refused to simply reject science and technology, or to dream of lost wholeness. It saw clearly that erstwhile forms of resistance (premised on identities or totalizing theories) were increasingly obsolete, but also that late capitalism's military-industrial-technological and information systems had the potential to unravel the dualisms historically structuring the Western self and its practices of domination: self/other, organism/machine, mind/body, culture/nature, human/animal, male/female, reality/appearance, matter/fiction. In these conditions, Haraway memorably argued, the socialist-feminist movement needed to resist the "nothing-but-critique" impulse; rather, it needed to recognize its ironic allies in "transgressed boundaries" and "potent and taboo fusions" across gender, race, class, species, method and matter (52). As the organization of labor, market, gender, time, mobility, knowledge, communication, body, skin, and life changed substantively in the Reagan-Thatcher years, "cyborg writing" needed to be alert to the danger of naturalizing and sentimentalizing what was being lost—often inseparable from forms of oppression—and wake to the possibilities emerging from contradiction, unnaturalness and ambivalence. Without question one of the most influential, lucid, electric, thought-rebooting, anti-depressive texts of the late twentieth century, The Cyborg Manifesto described—in acidic, irrepressible prose—the ironic, even "blasphemous" form that the revolutionary struggle against the Western logos would have to assume in order to survive in the military-industrial-cybernetic age: "Perhaps, ironically," wrote Haraway, "we can learn from our fusions with animals and machines how not to be Man, the embodiment of Western logos" (52).
How not to be Man was also the concern, one could say, of The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness, where "dog writing" is argued for as "a branch of feminist theory"—with Haraway adding, ever the iconoclast, "or the other way around" (95). Seeing in twenty-first-century human-canine companionship an instructive guide for "fleshly material-semiotic" co-evolution and survival, she cautions: "Dogs are not surrogates for theory; they are not here just to think with. They are here to live with" (98). This text, with its greater dose of biography, worldliness, vulnerability, domesticity, sharing, joy, and saliva than The Cyborg Manifesto, (knew that it) risked striking readers of the angry/melancholic twentieth-century anti-bourgeois anti-realist persuasion as less radical. But therein lay precisely the provocation (and dogs' well-documented talent for warm-and-fuzzily fooling us): man's best friend is also his...