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  • Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene by Donna J. Haraway
  • Devin Proctor
Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. 296 pp.

If you have read any anthropology in the past few years, you'll have learned that we live in the Anthropocene, an epoch wherein humans have been the primary determinants of transformation upon the earth. We have burned through fossil fuels, destroyed ecosystems, and charted a course for uninhabitable climate change, all the while exponentially increasing our numbers. And now, a global ecological disaster is upon us. Donna Haraway denies none of these facts, but is impatient with what she sees as the two dominant responses to this calamitous future: a "comic faith in technofixes…[that] technology will somehow come to the rescue of its naughty but very clever children"; and a position that "the game is over, it's too late, there's no sense trying to make anything better" (3). It is against these two views that she proposes we attempt to "stay with the trouble," that is, face the situation head on with the recognition that "we require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations,…we become-with each other or not at all" (4). Based on the idea of becoming-with other humans, but more importantly with non-human others, Haraway traces a possible reconfiguring of the way we exist on this planet in the present, leading to an imaginable future that narrowly avoids our currently impending ruin. Along the way, she is guided by the framing motif "SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, Speculative Feminism, Science Fact, So Far" (2). The book can be split into three parts: the first (and by far largest) part, Chapters 1–4, introduces new theory in hefty, circuitous, and poetic ways; part two, Chapters 5–7, explores examples of different kinds of becoming-with and exercises the theory on the ground; finally, Chapter 8 takes a turn into Science Fiction (or Speculative Fabulation), writing a [End Page 877] narrative history of the next 400 years in a world that has (in the present day) chosen to "stay with the trouble" and avert tragedy.

Chapter 1, "Playing String Figures With Companion Species," continues Haraway's premise in The Companion Species Manifesto (2003), this time focusing on our becoming-with all species—animal, insect, and bacterial. Expanding her Cyborgian interrogation—"why should our bodies end at the skin" (1991:178)—she challenges the posthuman, now incorporating much more than humanity and technoscience. We are post-post-human in our engagement with our companion species. We are compost (com-post): "ontologically heterogenous partners becom[ing] who and what they are in material-semiotic worlding" (13). Haraway also introduces her first major SF motif here—String Figures. String figure games such as "Cat's Cradle" or the Navajo "Coyotes Running Opposite Ways" require what Haraway calls "response-ability," meaning that partners must take turns accepting and relinquishing responsibility for a successful finished product. It is this type of ability we must extend to our companion species. This chapter also implies how the book should be read. Terms like compost and response-ability serve as cues to readers that the book itself is a game, but one they have a responsibility to play along with. In the tradition of Haraway's writing, the book introduces many new terms and uses them throughout. Like the numerous characters (and nicknames) in a Tolstoy novel, readers must pay careful attention to new vocabulary, lest they miss the brief definition tucked in the middle of a paragraph in a middle chapter, after the word has already appeared several times over.

Chapter 2, "Tentacular Thinking," asks us to reimagine our current paradigm through the connections we have with other species. To think like tentacles is to take up "life lived along lines" (32) rather than at points or spheres; in other words, thinking through connections, not the connected. As a part of the book's game, Haraway's circuitous and interwoven literary style forces readers into thinking tentacularly, which turns us away from the concept of bounded individualism—the crux of Haraway...