Cthulhu plays no role for me

Still from Fab­rizio Terranova’s ‘Don­na Har­away: Sto­ry­telling for Earth­ly Sur­vival’ (2016)

Don­na Haraway’s most famous piece of writ­ing declared itself “faith­ful to fem­i­nism, social­ism, and mate­ri­al­ism.”1 But in the 1980s, there were many fem­i­nists, social­ists, and mate­ri­al­ists who couldn’t see how this self-described “polit­i­cal myth” was faith­ful to them at all. Was com­rade Har­away rec­om­mend­ing – beyond even crit­i­cal­ly embrac­ing tech­nol­o­gy, as the Bol­she­viks had – incor­po­rat­ing it into the human body? In fact, the Cyborg Man­i­festo (as it soon came to be known) expressed a dream of a pol­i­tics nei­ther of repu­di­a­tion nor exo­dus but rather – as she put it – faith­ful irony (i.e. blas­phe­my) vis-à-vis het­eropa­tri­ar­chal racial tech­no­cap­i­tal­ism. She encour­ages some­thing like a killing embrace of the bru­tal either/ors and dead­ly dyads imposed by that “matrix” of pow­er onto would-be human sub­jects. She invites recog­ni­tion of one’s indi­vid­ual (uneven) imbri­ca­tion with colo­nial­ism and the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex – the bet­ter to fuel one’s lov­ing rage and fer­vor to dis­man­tle those evils. As a trained biol­o­gist and pri­ma­tol­o­gist Har­away is able to deliv­er her blas­phe­my in a for­mal­ly blas­phe­mous blend of sci­en­tif­ic and poet­ic tongues. 

Haraway’s mul­ti­ple “cyborg” artic­u­la­tion of the self as a kind of pro­le­tar­i­an drag proved to have intense res­o­nance across the world. It is, in its own words, “oppo­si­tion­al, utopi­an, and com­plete­ly with­out inno­cence.”2 If the suc­cess that greet­ed the Man­i­festo sur­prised its author, the sus­pi­cion and shock did not. A sig­nif­i­cant lega­cy of the anti-nuclear and anti-mil­i­tary orga­niz­ing through­out the long 1970s – the feud in which, in fact, Har­away was inter­ven­ing – con­sist­ed of a false antithe­sis between a con­vinced techno­pho­bic left­ism and prac­ti­cal­ly all oth­er approach­es to the mat­ter of “techne.” Of course, at the time, myr­i­ad Marx­ist writ­ings on the co-imbri­ca­tion of cap­i­tal­ist tech­nolo­gies with nat­ur­al enti­ties exist­ed, which reflect on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of sal­vaging them for eman­ci­pa­to­ry ends – includ­ing the account of “nature as an accu­mu­la­tion strat­e­gy” devel­oped by the eco-Marx­ists Cin­di Katz and Neil Smith. But few such inter­ven­tions were com­ing (osten­si­bly) from with­in eco-fem­i­nism: the camp of peace-activists and Earth-defend­ers. Har­away, the self-described “Sput­nik Catholic,”3 did belong, in part, to that camp. Nev­er­the­less, her sis­ters in grass­roots fem­i­nism proved reluc­tant to take on board her mes­sage. The cyborg’s pop­u­lar­i­ty surged pri­mar­i­ly else­where: notably in art and “urban­ism.” David Har­vey hailed her as an indis­pens­able fig­ure for the prac­tice and study of spa­tial­i­ty: “she has evolved a won­der­ful way of talk­ing that acknowl­edges that, if every­thing is relat­ed to every­thing else in the world, then we must cre­ate sen­tences to reflect that fact.”4

Thus, while the Cyborg Man­i­festo was orig­i­nal­ly meant to be a straight­for­ward con­tri­bu­tion to the erst­while left pub­li­ca­tion Social­ist Review, what emerged was gob­s­mack­ing­ly “post­mod­ern.” As Har­away bold­ly declares: “The dichotomies between mind and body, ani­mal and human, organ­ism and machine, pub­lic and pri­vate, nature and cul­ture, men and women, prim­i­tive and civ­i­lized are all in ques­tion … they have been ‘tech­no-digest­ed’”.5 Re-phras­ing Bruno Latour’s famous dic­tum “we have nev­er been mod­ern,” she advanced that “we have nev­er been human.”6 Years lat­er, she clar­i­fied this prob­lem­at­ic in more con­ver­sa­tion­al terms: “Think­ing of machines as an ‘it,’ over and against which our organ­ic and inter­nal cells have to con­duct some kind of hero­ic strug­gle, is a very hard frame­work to avoid.”7 Even as it bewil­dered and offend­ed ele­ments of the left – who declined to see why one might want to avoid that kind of frame­work – the Cyborg Man­i­festo offered nour­ish­ment to many oth­ers. The new ana­lyt­ic weapons it prof­fered invit­ed mutant, con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed sub­jects to build a new world on the ruins of the present-day home, fac­to­ry, or lab. “Cyborg,” for some of us, is a lumi­nous trans­la­tion of the marx­ist idea that we make his­to­ry but not under con­di­tions of our choos­ing. It is a time­ly sug­ges­tion that polit­i­cal sci­ence address the fact that we are full of bub­bling bac­te­ria, inor­gan­ic pros­the­ses, and tox­ic eco­nom­ic mytholo­gies. It is hard­ly an over­state­ment to say that the now-ubiq­ui­tous field of “sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy stud­ies” was born with this weird, psy­che­del­ic text.

Yet, for all its polem­i­cal anti-human­ist pizazz, cybor­gic­i­ty was ground­ed solid­ly in social repro­duc­tion the­o­ry of the kind pio­neered by Marx­ist fem­i­nists Nan­cy Hart­sock, Ruth Cow­an, and Bar­bara Ehren­re­ich. What sep­a­rates the Man­i­festo from their metic­u­lous dis­sec­tions of labor divi­sions and mar­ket trans­for­ma­tions is, rather, its seem­ing­ly mirac­u­lous syn­cretism. Black, Indige­nous and Chi­canx fem­i­nisms (e.g. bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Bar­bara Smith, Cher­rie Mor­a­ga, and Glo­ria Anzal­d­ua), les­bian and “decon­struc­tive” fem­i­nisms (e.g. Monique Wit­tig), and queer, anti­colo­nial afro­fu­turisms (e.g. Octavia But­ler) were all treat­ed as though they were always already inex­tri­ca­bly linked to con­ver­sa­tions in biol­o­gy about genes, com­put­er-chips, sym­bio­gen­e­sis, and cyber­net­ic matri­ces (in par­tic­u­lar the cri­tiques of sci­ence of San­dra Hard­ing, Richard Lewon­tin, Hilary Rose, Zoe Sofoulis, Stephen Jay Gould et al.). The Man­i­festo is, in some ways, a retelling, rather than rein­ven­tion, of eman­ci­pa­to­ry thought’s fun­da­men­tal “eco vs. tech­no” dialec­tic. At the time of its pub­li­ca­tion, in the mid-1980s, con­tra­dic­tions in this are­na were com­ing to a head with­in fem­i­nism over the “new repro­duc­tive tech­nolo­gies.” The essay com­bines eco­nom­ic analy­sis – of the cen­tral­i­ty of “home­work” to the tech “rev­o­lu­tion” – with a decon­struc­tion of the fig­ure of the “human” in many ways rem­i­nis­cent of Frantz Fanon’s. Like Fanon, Har­away cen­ters the queer and racial­ized char­ac­ter of the ani­mal “pro­le­tar­i­an.” Apply­ing her cyber­fem­i­nist primatologist’s eye, she also insists “we are all chimeras;”8 his­tor­i­cal­ly sit­u­at­ed implo­sions of ani­mal and tech­nol­o­gy, vir­tu­al­i­ty and phys­i­cal­i­ty.

If we have nev­er been human, then what have we been? What are cyborgs? Part of the answer, to many read­ers’ sur­prise, is – sim­ply – “women.” In call­ing up this “invis­i­ble,” “leaky”9 vir­tu­al mon­ster, she calls on a mass con­stituen­cy to rec­og­nize and re-imag­ine itself: “women and oth­er present-tense, ille­git­i­mate cyborgs, not of Woman born, who refuse the ide­o­log­i­cal resources of vic­tim­iza­tion so as to have a real life.”10 In the same way that Wages for House­work was a weaponiza­tion of wages against house­work, how­ev­er, the invo­ca­tion of women was intend­ed to “abol­ish gen­der.” Har­away held forth “a pic­ture of pos­si­ble uni­ty … the self [that] fem­i­nists [of all gen­ders] must code”11 so as to foment a state of being “respon­si­ble”12 to the social rela­tions of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy in all their con­tin­gency. Pol­i­tics, she sug­gest­ed, “means both build­ing and destroy­ing machines, iden­ti­ties, cat­e­gories, rela­tion­ships, space sto­ries.”13 Recon­struct­ing the bound­aries of dai­ly life would inevitably yield a new human-ish sub­ject, “in par­tial con­nec­tion with oth­ers, in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with all of our parts.”14 The machine and the mon­ster, she explained, are both “us.”15

By the time I encoun­tered the Cyborg Man­i­festo in the ear­ly 2000s, it was a cult text. Har­away penned her chimeric essay – part bina­ry-implod­ing “fab­u­la­tion” of lib­er­a­to­ry sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, part avant-garde account of the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of post-Fordist soci­eties’ pro­duc­tion of peo­ple – in Cal­i­for­nia in 1984.16 Some­how, to me, Har­awayian words felt like com­ing home. Her writ­ing was witchy; baroque, yet pel­lu­cid. But I soon learned that many cul­tur­al gate­keep­ers in my British envi­ron­ment – notably those wed­ded to George Orwell’s patron­iz­ing and spar­tan rules for avoid­ing pre­ten­tious­ness Eng­lish – sim­ply couldn’t stand it. Such peo­ple insist­ed that, “objec­tive­ly,” these mad, dense sen­tences of hers just weren’t clear. Their dis­plays of non-plussed intol­er­ance in the face of Haraway’s roco­co prose seemed – and still seem – sus­pi­cious­ly dis­pro­por­tion­ate. Might they sim­ply rep­re­sent the cost of being a “Female­Man” (as she put it in her 1997 book title) tread­ing cheer­ful­ly and irrev­er­ent­ly on Marx­o­log­i­cal ground?

I think so, but I am any­thing but impar­tial. After all, Har­away began as my hero. My com­rades teased me relent­less­ly for cit­ing her in every sin­gle one of my arti­cles and reach­ing for her in every con­ver­sa­tion. Admit­ted­ly, my inter­est was main­ly in the old­er stuff, like Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™ (1997), where Har­away crit­i­cizes the “obses­sion with the gene as a form of reifi­ca­tion sim­i­lar to that of com­mod­i­ty fetishism.“17 But by the time I dis­cov­ered her writ­ings on the cyborg, she was talk­ing about dogs (a polit­i­cal choice, she claims, but not one whose impli­ca­tions were ever clear). At that point she over­whelm­ing­ly had, in Alyssa Battistoni’s words, “more to say about kin-mak­ing and agili­ty com­pe­ti­tions” than polit­i­cal coali­tions and oppo­si­tion­al strate­gies.18  Still, it was often fas­ci­nat­ing stuff, pos­ing ques­tions like: what kind of world do non­hu­man beings want and how can we know? I sat tight. I had, after all, felt first­hand her abil­i­ty to make Marx read­able, rel­e­vant and – yes – cyborg for poly­mor­phous­ly per­verse teenaged girls like me. It is thanks to her I came to ant­i­cap­i­tal­ist thought and strug­gle in the first place. Were it not for Har­away, I might nev­er have dared – or desired – to read Marx at all.

Here was a trained biol­o­gist who ana­lyzed the swarm­ing web of earth­ly life at the cel­lu­lar lev­el and pur­sued a revolutionary’s desire for lib­er­a­tion in the same breath. She pro­ject­ed an infec­tious, sub­ver­sive sense of con­fi­dence that bio­log­i­cal real­i­ties – from com­put­ers to embryos to brains – mil­i­tate for, rather than against, a com­rade­ly and just exis­tence. Her thought laughs gen­er­ous­ly at human­ism and posthu­man­ism in equal mea­sure, reveal­ing play­ful and at the same time utter­ly seri­ous modes of orga­niz­ing, or lines of flight, with­in the dead­ly matri­ces of tech­nol­o­gy-medi­at­ed vio­lence she insists our own bod­ies co-com­pose. Her unbound­ed, psy­che­del­ic, mil­i­tant-par­tic­u­lar­ist mate­ri­al­ism doesn’t so much explode the reproduction/production dis­tinc­tion as make it look ridicu­lous, embar­rass­ing. She seems to be gri­mac­ing in the face of such cat­e­gories, fol­low­ing Medusa – a prac­tice of reflect­ing back and splin­ter­ing chau­vin­ist epis­temes which she calls “dif­frac­tion.”

The fig­ure of the cyborg turns the mar­gin­al­i­ty of “queer” on its head, tak­ing for grant­ed that pro­le­tar­i­an mon­sters under fire from trans­pho­bia and antiblack­ness are pow­er­ful recom­bi­nant oper­a­tives, cen­tral to class strug­gle. Rather than adding axes of oppres­sion to her mil­i­tant Marx­i­an heuris­tic, she com­post­ed them. Her mis­sion? To imple­ment forms of orga­niz­ing capa­ble of unit­ing “witch­es, engi­neers, elders, per­verts, Chris­tians, moth­ers, and Lenin­ists long enough to dis­arm the state.” She artic­u­lates a mate­ri­al­ism that makes pal­pa­ble how we are all touched by the cyborg virus in the “fem­i­niz­ing” land­scape of neolib­er­al work. Though a sto­ry about com­mon ground, it is not a sexy sto­ry. As Bat­tis­toni remarks in her own por­trait of Har­away: “The Manifesto’s pop­u­lar­i­ty has no doubt been fueled in part by the vision of a bion­ic babe implied by the word itself – a Furiosa or the Ter­mi­na­tor – but lit­tle could have been fur­ther from her mean­ing.”19 Battistoni’s essay reminds its read­ers how, when asked to give an exam­ple of what exact­ly cybor­gic­i­ty is in an inter­view, Har­away talked about “how like a leaf I am,” describ­ing the “intri­ca­cy, inter­est, plea­sure and inten­si­ty” of this sense of imag­ined kin­ship. How many peo­ple in 1989 (or since) pic­tured the neo­pro­le­tari­at as… leafy? – yet it is: an inti­mate mass net­work of syn­the­siz­ers, imper­fect­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing, indi­vid­u­al­ly mutat­ing, and crack­ling with sta­t­ic.

At the same time, the image was less a ques­tion of acknowl­edg­ing over­lap­ping DNA, as Bat­tis­toni says, than “think­ing about the immense amount of labor and prac­tice that had gone into pro­duc­ing the knowl­edge that she was like a leaf in so many ways. Think­ing about how incred­i­ble it was to be able to know such a thing.”20 Cyborgs are col­lec­tive brains.

Some folks pick up the fig­ure of the cyborg and use it in a cel­e­bra­tional mode, and miss the argu­ment that the cyborg issues specif­i­cal­ly from the mil­i­ta­rized, indeed a per­ma­nent­ly war-state based, indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ism of World War 2 and the post World War 2 Cold War. They miss that the cyborg is born as the cyborg ene­my… Now, from that par­tic­u­lar­ly unpromis­ing posi­tion, what pos­si­ble kinds of cracks in the sys­tem of dom­i­na­tion could one imag­ine beyond a kind of sub­lim­i­ty, a kind of wal­low­ing in the sub­lime of dom­i­na­tion which, of course, many folks do…21

As Haraway’s con­cern makes clear, far from rep­re­sent­ing an aes­theti­cized apoc­a­lyp­tic ide­al for the Anthro­pocene, the cyborg is a mul­ti­ply col­o­nized test-sub­ject, sit­u­at­ed square­ly in the Cap­i­talocene. “She” is a labor­er who traf­fics in infor­ma­tion­al, cap­i­tal, and gen­der codes. Think of a hor­mone-deprived pris­on­er; or a man­u­fac­tur­er of low-grade cir­cuit-boards and com­put­er-chips on night-shift; or a preg­nant house­wife-cum-call-cen­ter-con­trac­tor; or a forcibly ster­il­ized migrant hijack­ing radio-waves, evad­ing search­lights.

Or for instance me. Ever since she first hacked my teenaged frontal lobes, I have made sense of myself as cyborg and stal­wart­ly defend­ed what I rec­og­nized in my mar­row to be the fun­ny, the wild, the pro­found, the rad­i­cal­ly illu­mi­nat­ing genius of Har­away. I’ve argued against all of the stan­dard charges laid against her: self-indul­gence, styl­is­tic obscu­ran­tism, “post­mod­ern” triv­i­al­i­ty, ety­mo­log­i­cal shaman­ism.22 And, since Har­away opened the door to rad­i­cal thought for me, what fol­lows has been painful to write. It is a lamen­ta­tion: not that her crit­ics were right before, but that, sub­stan­tive­ly, her lat­est mono­graph, Stay­ing with the Trou­ble: Mak­ing Kin in the Chthu­lucene, jumps the shark and her­alds a change.

Since the 1980s, a steady suc­ces­sion of fig­ures have cropped up in Haraway’s thought, char­ac­ters who are com­pa­ra­ble to the cyborg but far less pop­u­lar, and far less polit­i­cal­ly gen­er­a­tive: the “mod­est wit­ness”; the coy­ote; the trick­ster; Female­Man; the Sur­ro­gate, the “com­pan­ion species”; Onco­mouse™; and since 2014, “string fig­ures” and “chthon­ic ones.” Already in 2003 (in the Com­pan­ion Species Man­i­festo) she declared in dis­grun­tled tones that: “I have come to see cyborgs as junior sib­lings in the much big­ger, queer fam­i­ly of com­pan­ion species.”23 Indeed, in ret­ro­spect, I won­der now whether the coin­ing of those more overt­ly “organ­ic” suc­ces­sors must be under­stood in the con­text of Haraway’s frus­tra­tion with the per­sis­tent rev­o­lu­tion­ary human­ism of cybor­gic­i­ty. Per­haps I am sens­ing a dou­ble frus­tra­tion in Har­away: not only with the com­mon mis­un­der­stand­ing of the cyborg as a kind of android, but also with the very non-mis­un­der­stand­ing of her cyborg (out­lined above). Per­haps this cyborg, which Har­away called the ille­git­i­mate off­spring of mil­i­tarism, cap­i­tal­ism, and state social­ism, also rep­re­sents a some­what ille­git­i­mate (even par­tial­ly regret­ted) daugh­ter of a reluc­tant intel­lect.

In Stay­ing with the Trou­ble: Mak­ing Kin in the Chthu­lucene,24 Har­away has made a deci­sive turn towards a prim­i­tivism-tinged, mis­an­throp­ic pop­u­la­tion­ism. Though she start­ed off cham­pi­oning the cyborgs of class strug­gle against the god­dess­es of techno­pho­bia (her immor­tal clos­ing line: “I would rather be a cyborg than a god­dess”), my sus­pi­cion is that, now, she’s gone over to the god­dess­es.

Despite endur­ing decades of den­i­gra­tion from some left quar­ters as a “po-mo” thinker, Haraway’s remarks about Marxism’s lim­i­ta­tions in the past have not remote­ly amount­ed to anti-Marx­ism. The Cyborg Man­i­festo cared deeply about human peo­ple in all their pro­lif­er­at­ing inglo­ri­ous­ness and it des­per­ate­ly want­ed post-gen­der com­mu­nism for us – the species that reads and writes man­i­festos. It didn’t link labor­ing with health­ful­ness, moral­i­ty, or being deserv­ing. But in the essays con­sti­tut­ing Stay­ing with the Trou­ble she has, in fact, devel­oped a new affin­i­ty for just that. Now, she wants a decline in human beings more than she wants to smash cap­i­tal­ism. In fact, it isn’t clear if she even still wants the lat­ter. Although the lines are drawn coy­ly, they are unmis­tak­able. Her cur­so­ry but emphat­ic and repeat­ed anti­na­tal­ist instruc­tions – that is, enjoin­ders against mak­ing babies – seri­ous­ly risk reha­bil­i­tat­ing the very eugenic anti-human­ism her ear­ly work on “Ted­dy Bear Patri­archy” (for exam­ple) inveighed against so bril­liant­ly. Pop­u­la­tion reduc­tion, as she now fan­ta­sizes it, is declared by fiat to be nondis­crim­i­na­to­ry, friend­ly, col­lec­tive, and non-coer­cive.

One would be jus­ti­fied in expect­ing to get some elab­o­ra­tion on how the removal of 8 bil­lion heads from the total head­count over the next cen­tu­ry or so could be non-coer­cive – indeed, non-geno­ci­dal. But there is real­ly only a fable, based around a micro-com­mu­ni­ty in the Unit­ed States, pro­claim­ing that this is pos­si­ble.25 The utopia of 2-3 bil­lion human beings is sup­posed to arise from a choice, sim­ply, to not make babies. As a pro­gram, this rep­re­sents a provoca­tive break with mate­ri­al­ism. It is also a provo­ca­tion it is impos­si­ble to ignore or over­look, since it is effec­tive­ly all that ties togeth­er what would oth­er­wise be an uncon­vinc­ing but inof­fen­sive col­lec­tion of vague, repet­i­tive chap­ters on var­i­ous eco-tech­no-ani­malian assem­blages such as car­ri­er-pigeons and pills that stop uri­nary leak­age in mam­mals.

The trend already seemed appar­ent in her last book When Species Meet,26 but it has now been con­sol­i­dat­ed in Stay­ing with the Trou­ble, where the fem­i­nist-sci­en­tif­ic empha­sis on epis­temic par­tial­i­ty (pio­neered since the 1980s by Har­away along­side fig­ures like San­dra Hard­ing) has turned into a com­mit­ment to plu­ral­ism, and where she active­ly shuns the pur­suit of sys­tems the­o­ris­ing - for, as she says in a recent biopic, such the­o­ris­ing only ends up “daz­zling” us.27 Haraway’s for­mer (pro­found­ly sys­tem-ori­ent­ed) Marx­i­an tech­nofem­i­nism has giv­en way, then, to some­thing called mul­ti­species fem­i­nism: a ten­den­cy pio­neered also by Anna Tsing char­ac­ter­ized by a bare­ly dis­avowed will­ing­ness to see whole cities and cul­tures wiped from the plan­et for the sake of a form of thriv­ing among “com­pan­ion species” involv­ing rel­a­tive­ly few of us.

To be under­whelmed by Stay­ing with the Trou­ble might be explained in part by its re-print­ing of sev­er­al known essays with very lit­tle tru­ly new mate­r­i­al; plus it hav­ing tak­en a long time to come out. But it is also because the rev­o­lu­tion­ary spark in Haraway’s “more-than-human­ism” has appar­ent­ly been lost along the way and sup­plant­ed by an apo­lit­i­cal notion of trans-species Gemein­schaft. One intrigu­ing con­se­quence of the place human­i­ty now occu­pies in her ends-means argu­ment is that non­hu­man as well as human ani­mals receive less method­olog­i­cal care. Even as Haraway’s delight­ful cri­tiques of Der­ri­da and Deleuze’s inabil­i­ty to real­ly respond to actu­al ani­mals (a cat, a wolf…) ring fresh in my ears, it strikes me that these “chthon­ic ones” (the lat­est case stud­ies) are odd­ly dis­tant and inan­i­mate sketch­es of but­ter­flies, spi­ders, pigs, ants, sheep, and rac­ing pigeons. They are all “crit­ters” by whom Har­away says (fre­quent­ly) she is entranced, riv­et­ed, pas­sion­ate­ly gripped. Yet I don’t see it. It was hard to care about the pigeons in Stay­ing with the Trou­ble – even hard­er than car­ing about the dog(s)28 in When Species Meet back in 2007, who were at least mixed up in a bril­liant pas­sage or two about the bio­cap­i­tal­ist labor-pow­er (or not) of those with “paws, not hands” (“we need a Bio­cap­i­tal vol­ume 1!).29

The fail­ure to respond to earth­ly com­pan­ions, of course, is the very thing Har­away always sets out to con­se­quen­tial­ize. “Thou shalt not make kil­l­able,”30 she wrote in that last book. Speak­ing as a trained lab-biol­o­gist, she saw with unique clar­i­ty how there is no ratio­nal­iz­ing away or escap­ing the killing we per­pe­trate, the suf­fer­ing we inflict (albeit not with equal com­plic­i­ty, and not under con­di­tions of our choos­ing). Rather than cul­ti­vate guilt, we must, she said, stay with our respon­si­bil­i­ty for it. We must pro­mote response-abil­i­ty by “shar­ing suf­fer­ing”31 every time, even if and when we decide to kill. Because this artic­u­la­tion of the bloody fusion between pol­i­tics and ethics has always struck me as extra­or­di­nar­i­ly fruit­ful and rev­e­la­to­ry in an every­day as well as world-his­toric sense, I nev­er allowed my wor­ry that Har­away might pre­fer ani­mals to humans to deter my deep grat­i­tude (rev­er­ence, even) for her gifts. Until now.

Wit­ness this dif­fi­dent wish where Har­away is reflect­ing on the world “over a cou­ple hun­dred years from now” and writes in a hope­ful mode: “maybe the human peo­ple of this plan­et can again be num­bered 2 or 3 bil­lion or so”.32

In one faux-inno­cent spec­u­la­tive sen­tence, Har­away here dis­ap­pears bil­lions from her own 11 bil­lion+ pro­jec­tion of this century’s like­ly peak homo sapi­ens head­count.33 Elu­sive as its explic­it appear­ances turn out to be, in the final analy­sis, the numer­i­cal goal of pop­u­la­tion reduc­tion under­girds and dri­ves this book – not just its piv­otal chap­ter (chap­ter 4 – “Mak­ing Kin”).34 As she repeat­ed­ly drums home, don’t make babies – as much as make kin – becomes the take-home injunc­tion for the read­er of Don­na Har­away. The vision of trans-species Gemein­schaft that emerges is not so much post- as anti-human.

It is a vision that emerges shy­ly and – yes – guilti­ly rather than respon­si­bly. In the Intro­duc­tion, she calls “make kin not babies” a “plea” and dives right into a ten­den­tious process of mar­shalling unwill­ing allies to her cause before she has even stat­ed what it is. Indeed, what is most strik­ing through­out is this guilt – Haraway’s appar­ent dis­com­fort with what she has to say, indeed, her near-inabil­i­ty to say it – and this, in a way, is what says it all.

For excel­lent rea­sons, the fem­i­nists I know have resist­ed the lan­guages and poli­cies of pop­u­la­tion con­trol because they demon­stra­bly often have the inter­ests of bipo­lit­i­cal states more in view than the well-being of women and their peo­ple, old and young. Result­ing scan­dals in pop­u­la­tion con­trol prac­tices are not hard to find. But in my expe­ri­ence, fem­i­nists … have not been will­ing 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.35

The claim that any num­ber of humans is expend­able for the sake of the kin-com­mu­ni­ty is advanced via a series of dis­avowals and but’s fol­lowed by odd­ly timid pieces of com­mon­sense. I know what you’re going to say… she repeat­ed­ly par­ries: “But”… :

But that fear is not good enough. a 9 bil­lion increase of human beings over 150 years, to a lev­el of 11 bil­lion by 2100 if we are lucky, is not just a num­ber; and it can­not be explained away by blam­ing Cap­i­tal­ism or any oth­er word start­ing with a cap­i­tal let­ter.’36

For Har­away now, it seems that what is bad is “scan­dals in pop­u­la­tion con­trol prac­tices,” not pop­u­la­tion con­trol per se, even if his­tor­i­cal­ly the two can hard­ly be called dis­tinct. While that last cat­ty sen­tence sticks in the craw,37 it is bare­ly the worst of what’s here. If 9,000,000,000 is indeed not “just a num­ber” (it cer­tain­ly seems that way to me) Har­away declines to tell us what else exact­ly it is. Leav­ing the impli­ca­tion open, she intro­duces – as though it were already legit­i­mat­ed – the word “urgency” as a syn­onym for pro­ject­ed pop­u­la­tion increased, with­out nail­ing down what the emer­gency con­sists of. Of course, what Har­away analy­ses as “avoid­ance,” based in “fear” (of slid­ing into the muck of “racism, clas­sism, nation­al­ism, mod­ernism, and impe­ri­al­ism…”) could also be giv­en the ben­e­fit of the doubt and inter­pret­ed as a deci­sion; a con­scious rejec­tion.

With “make kin, not babies,” Har­away is far from the first to appre­ci­ate the seem­ing para­dox and impor­tant truth: that mak­ing larg­er fam­i­lies might result in a small­er total pop­u­la­tion. That is, fam­i­ly enlarge­ment can be a qual­i­ta­tive rather than quan­ti­ta­tive mat­ter. There is a class strug­gle already under­way around the bio­log­i­cal dimen­sions of the mak­ing of a good life – a strug­gle waged (among oth­ers) by abor­tion activists, sin­gle moth­ers, and com­mer­cial ges­ta­tion­al sur­ro­gates threat­en­ing strike action. But rather than work through the pre­con­di­tions and like­ly strate­gies for achiev­ing (non-)reproductive jus­tice polit­i­cal­ly, Har­away pro­ceeds on the vague and sim­plis­tic pre­sump­tion that the “kin­no­va­tions” of queer “odd­kin”38 are nec­es­sar­i­ly bet­ter and less vio­lent than bio­genet­ic forms of fam­i­ly.) At the same time, the queer bio­log­i­cal efflo­res­cence she val­orizes is already here – she says – every­where. We have to active­ly gen­er­al­ize it any­way. This feels like a flat ontol­ogy; less a mat­ter of “trou­ble” (or strug­gle) than infi­nite regres­sion The basis for pre­fer­ring “odd­kin” over non-odd-kin goes basi­cal­ly unjus­ti­fied. Why “kin­no­vate”39 if tra­di­tion­al fam­i­lies are already queer? How does kin­no­vat­ing break down the struc­tur­al appa­ra­tus­es of slow vio­lence?

The blur­ring of descrip­tive and pre­scrip­tive ele­ments is a poor replace­ment for dialec­tic imma­nence. Should a read­er pause to ask, skep­ti­cal­ly, what is polit­i­cal­ly “bet­ter” about ten­tac­u­lar­i­ty, exact­ly? they may not find a sub­stan­tive answer. Not-mak­ing-babies is nev­er much relat­ed to the objec­tive of build­ing coun­ter­pow­er. And if all of us “share flesh” already, what is the polit­i­cal pur­pose of fos­ter­ing more flesh-shar­ing? Even if uni­ver­sal flour­ish­ing is eas­i­er to imag­ine when few­er humans are in the pic­ture, desir­ing few­er humans is a ter­ri­ble start­ing-point for any pol­i­tics that hopes to include, let alone cen­ter, those of us for whom mak­ing babies has often rep­re­sent­ed a real form of resis­tance.40

This eth­no­cen­tric anti­ma­ter­nal impulse is an espe­cial­ly dis­ap­point­ing about-face for Har­away. The Cyborg Man­i­festo vin­di­cat­ed a non-inno­cent, anti­colo­nial mater­ni­ty (regen­er­a­tion) sym­bol­ized by mutant or sur­ro­gate preg­nan­cy; it names as cyborg, for instance, “the indige­nous woman Mal­inche, moth­er of the mes­ti­zo ‘bas­tard’ race of the new world.”41 The cyborg, Har­away mem­o­rably declared back then, “is out­side sal­va­tion his­to­ry. … it has no truck with … unalien­at­ed labor, or oth­er seduc­tions to organ­ic whole­ness…”42 Com­pare this with the first pages of Stay­ing with the Trou­ble, which repli­cate this prophet­ic tone, and even ele­ments of its con­tent:

Chthon­ic ones are beings of the earth, both ancient and up-to-the-minute. [They] have no truck with sky-gaz­ing Homo… no truck with ide­o­logues. … Chthon­ic ones are not safe. … They make and unmake; are made and unmade.43

To those in the know, this is instant­ly rec­og­niz­able music. But it falls flat. To her read­ers hun­gry for mobi­liza­tion and orga­ni­za­tion, as such, the bulk of Stay­ing with the Trou­ble is like­ly to feel like a bit of a warm­ing-over of pre­vi­ous themes and ten­den­cies: cybor­gic­i­ty wrung clean of sys­temic analy­sis and social­ism, repack­aged as a vague and omnipresent ani­mist ten­tac­u­lar­i­ty.

While wax­ing forth about “sym­chthon­ic” poten­cy, Har­away will usu­al­ly men­tion the work both of mak­ing and unmak­ing, tying and cut­ting, and so on. But in prac­tice she nowa­days under-empha­sizes the poten­tial­ly antag­o­nis­tic-sound­ing acts of cut­ting and unmak­ing almost to the point of silence, even as she cuts human­i­ty down to size. Her ear­li­er call for new grap­plings with the form labor takes as social dom­i­na­tion (strad­dling species lines – Bio­cap­i­tal Vol­ume I) also seems for­got­ten. The core impe­tus­es now appear to be down­right pro-work, eras­ing her own gen­dered and oth­ers’ com­pan­ion­ate labor. What is left is a whole­some anti-lazi­ness wed­ded to the injunc­tion to be always doing: respond, act, cul­ti­vate, invent, dis­cov­er, bind, work, be ever more capa­ble and alert (“Shut Up and Train!” was the slo­gan of When Species Meet).

In the end, it seems that nobody at all except Har­away her­self and Cayenne (her age­ing but “sporty” dog) is proac­tive enough. Even if her crit­i­cisms of nox­ious nar­ra­tives, despon­dent or naive, hit their mark, it seems nowa­days that Haraway’s biggest prob­lem is hav­ing fall­en out of love her­self with the human mass­es. The year right now is 2017, yet she sug­gests pes­simisti­cal­ly that for future his­to­ri­ans, “the peri­od between about 2000 and 2050 on earth should be called the Great Dither­ing.” This “Great Dither­ing,” she says,

was a time of inef­fec­tive and wide­spread anx­i­ety about envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion mis­tak­able evi­dence of accel­er­at­ing mass extinc­tions, vio­lent cli­mate change, social dis­in­te­gra­tion, widen­ing wars, ongo­ing human pop­u­la­tion increase due to the large num­bers of already-born young­sters (even though birth rates most places had fall­en below replace­ment rate), and vast migra­tions of human and non­hu­man refugees with­out refuges.44

Just like that, she con­veys her rather bru­tal cer­tain­ty that humans, over­all, are “dither­ing” and will be for anoth­er 33 years.

Even those of us who have not read any HP Love­craft are like­ly to have some famil­iar­i­ty with the death-cult god for which that pro­lif­ic 1920s pulp sci­ence-fic­tion writer became famous. The weird, faux-arcane sound of the word “Cthul­hu” has a wide­spread abil­i­ty to con­jure images of apoc­a­lypse, and per­haps piles of skulls. A cur­so­ry scan of schol­ar­ship on Love­craft­ian lit­er­a­ture sug­gests a sta­ble con­sen­sus that the Cthul­hu Mythos was (and remains) the vehi­cle of a geno­ci­dal fever-dream and obses­sion­al racism. While seri­ous fans and Love­craft nerds still ener­get­i­cal­ly debate His “real” mean­ing, the media life of Cthul­hu pro­ceeds large­ly out­side of their (or the author’s) con­trol. With this in mind, there is a won­der­ful review of Stay­ing with the Trou­ble at the group blog Sav­age Minds, authored by the Dread Destroy­er (Cthul­hu) him­self:

Sure my meth­ods are “con­tro­ver­sial” but [Har­away] and I have the same goal in mind: con­fronting our shared eco­log­i­cal cri­sis by address­ing the prob­lem of accel­er­at­ing human pop­u­la­tion growth. Where­as she seeks to carve out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that fem­i­nism can nav­i­gate the racist and eugeni­cist his­to­ries of lim­it­ing human repro­duc­tion, I advo­cate for a strat­e­gy of direc­tion action, i.e. human sac­ri­fice.

Har­away mis­tak­en­ly believes she has inoc­u­lat­ed her­self against my min­ions by adding a super­flu­ous “h” to Cthul­hu. …  I am skep­ti­cal that she did not mean to sum­mon me by speak­ing my name.45

Indeed.

She, how­ev­er, protests: “Cthul­hu plays no role for me.”46 An unin­ten­tion­al­ly com­ic apopha­sis. And she instructs us repeat­ed­ly to “note the dif­fer­ent spelling” as we approach her “Chthu­lucene”: Cthulhu/Chtulhu.

Cthul­hu (note spelling), lux­u­ri­at­ing in the sci­ence fic­tion of H.P. Love­craft, plays no role for me, although it/he did play a role for Gus­tave Hormi­ga, the sci­en­tist who named my spi­der demon famil­iar…. I take the lib­er­ty of res­cu­ing my spi­der from Love­craft for oth­er sto­ries.47

In actu­al­i­ty, it is the spi­der – not the sub­lime mis­an­throp­ic dom­i­na­tion of Cthul­hu – and the indige­nous cos­molo­gies – not Love­craft – who have been mar­gin­al­ized in this book. Haraway’s forced insis­tence that some­thing she has just named “plays no role” is an almost mon­u­men­tal­ly ridicu­lous moment from a self-pro­claimed “mate­r­i­al-semi­otic” thinker. How many read­ers would spot the dif­fer­ence with­out being told to in the foot­notes? How many would imag­ine it to be remote­ly sig­nif­i­cant? She ropes the Dread Destroy­er (neg­a­tive­ly) into her con­cept her­self, so how can Cthul­hu be quite so “irrel­e­vant” to Chthu­lucene chthon­ic ones as all that? In the doc­u­men­tary film Don­na Har­away: Sto­ry­telling For Earth­ly Sur­vival (2017) by Fab­rizio Ter­ra­no­va, Har­away tries to sug­gest that the Chthu­lucene is “a kind of joke” because “it too threat­ens to become too big” of a con­cept, like the Anthro­pocene con­cept she is cri­tiquing. In my view, though, it is a joke that miss­es bad­ly; a lapse in judg­ment that is almost slight­ly shock­ing. After all, it is Har­away her­self who is con­stant­ly say­ing in this book (quot­ing Mar­i­lyn Strath­ern) that “it mat­ters which sto­ries tell sto­ries, which con­cepts think con­cepts.” To paint with a homonym of HP Lovecraft’s mass-mur­der­ing titan rep­re­sents a choice.

Pre­dictably, Har­away makes sev­er­al ges­tures declar­ing her cog­nizance of sys­temic colo­nial­ism, cap­i­tal­ist aus­ter­i­ty, white-suprema­cy, and their man­i­fes­ta­tions in the form of repro­duc­tive strat­i­fi­ca­tion. She notes (cor­rect­ly) that many peo­ple she holds dear “hear neo-impe­ri­al­ism, neolib­er­al­ism, misog­y­ny, and racism in the ‘Not Babies’ part of ‘Make Kin Not Babies’”’ – she even com­ments “who can blame them?” in paren­the­ses (foot­note, p.208). Nev­er­the­less, in a breath­tak­ing eva­sion of these issues, the reduc­tion of human pop­u­la­tion imag­ined by Har­away takes place in the con­text of a racial­ly unmarked (i.e. white) com­mu­ni­ty sit­u­at­ed at Gauley Moun­tain in West Vir­ginia. Here, the para­ble tells, thanks to chains of events set in motion by com­postists, “human num­bers … were declin­ing with­in a delib­er­ate pat­tern of height­ened envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice” by the year 2220. Gauley Moun­tain is the cur­rent real-life home of the white “eco-sex­u­al activists” Annie Sprin­kle and Beth Stephens; and they are, pre­sum­ably, the tem­plate “com­postists” in ques­tion. I do not wish to cast asper­sions on Sprin­kle and Stephens’ projects, but the fact remains that they are afflu­ent cos­mopoli­tans who have set­tled in the Appalachi­an “hill­bil­ly” con­text.48  Despite this appar­ent incon­gruity, in Haraway’s vision of the future:

That pat­tern [of height­ened envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice] empha­sized a pref­er­ence for the poor among humans, a pref­er­ence for bio­di­verse nat­u­ral­so­cial ecosys­tems, and a pref­er­ence for the most vul­ner­a­ble among oth­er crit­ters and their habi­tats. The wealth­i­est and high­est-con­sum­ing human pop­u­la­tions reduced new births the most … but human births every­where were delib­er­ate­ly below replace­ment rates.49

Undaunt­ed, Har­away repeats that if I am appalled by her grasp­ing the net­tle of “the” pop­u­la­tion ques­tion (or, as she puts it, the issue of the Great Accel­er­a­tion of human num­bers), then I might be suf­fer­ing from “beliefs and com­mit­ments … too deep to allow rethink­ing and refeel­ing,” com­pa­ra­ble to the “Chris­t­ian cli­mate-change deniers who avoid the urgency … because it touch­es too close­ly on the mar­row of one’s faith”.50 How deep, pre­cise­ly, should our com­mit­ment to antiracism be? 

There is no such ortho­doxy, no such denial, when it comes to pro­le­tar­i­an (espe­cial­ly black and brown people’s) fer­til­i­ty rates. These have long been con­cep­tu­al­ized as a threat and a prob­lem includ­ing with­in fem­i­nism. On the con­trary, crit­i­cal demog­ra­phers still have to fight hard to bring gross struc­tur­al inequal­i­ties – in mor­tal­i­ty rates rather than fer­til­i­ty – into the frame at all. If Har­away were real­ly “res­cu­ing” and recu­per­at­ing images of degen­er­a­cy (what James Kneale calls Lovecraft’s core topoi of racial “con­t­a­m­i­na­tion” and “infec­tion”51 ) for the pur­pos­es of antiracism, wrest­ing them away from fas­cist myth­mak­ing, she would need to care­ful­ly cen­ter an analy­sis of the cen­tral­i­ty of bor­der-polic­ing and pop­u­la­tion dis­course to white suprema­cy. She does not do this. She express­es an appetite for a “wormy pile” of “chop[ped] and shred[ded] human as Homo”,52 a ban­quet of “Human­i­ty as humus”,53 but with­out tack­ling the bor­der regimes that fatal­ly con­trol and lim­it this sup­pos­ed­ly joy­ful “diverse” com­min­gling. “Liv­ing-with and dying-with each oth­er potent­ly in the Chthu­lucene can be a fierce reply to the dic­tates of Anthro­pos and Cap­i­tal,”54 she blithe­ly remarks. If it can, it isn’t real­ly clear how, or for whom, this is true. As Kneale says of Love­craft, there are “tex­tu­al thresh­olds” here that “do not sim­ply express racist fears; they pro­duce the nar­ra­tives that dra­ma­tize fears of con­tact and change”.55 In short, Har­away is traf­fick­ing irre­spon­si­bly in racist nar­ra­tives.

In con­trast, the cyborg stood for a pol­i­tics of “pol­lu­tion.”56 And inso­far, I remain for read­ing Har­away against Har­away. For all her chas­tise­ment of “bit­ter cyn­i­cism”,57 and for all her talk of mud and piss and worms, the chant­i­ng god­dess who has dis­placed the ear­li­er cyborg, at least in the pages of Stay­ing with the Trou­ble, is too much of a clean-liv­ing mis­an­thrope – and above all, too much of a pes­simist – to be a com­rade.58 Mean­while, her neglect­ed (if not dis­avowed) frame­work of cybor­gic­i­ty becomes a more and more potent heuris­tic for think­ing class com­po­si­tion and embody­ing its strug­gles every day. Cyborgs for Earth­ly Sur­vival! was the slo­gan Har­away sub­mit­ted to Social­ist Review. That spir­it still lives in the inter­stices of Stay­ing with the Trou­ble. Part of our task is indeed “not to for­get the stink in the air from the burn­ing of the witch­es, not to for­get the mur­ders of human and non­hu­man beings in the Great Cat­a­stro­phes named the Plan­ta­tionocene, Anthro­pocene, Cap­i­talocene”.59 Part of it is, indeed, to “move through mem­o­ry to rep­res­enc­ing;” to grow capa­ble of response; to become kin; and to “stay with” trou­ble. But the main thing is to make an alto­geth­er big­ger kind of trou­ble.

Ten­tac­u­lar, spi­dery aes­thet­ics are all well and good, but they do not esca­late any­thing. These vague “chthon­ic” sig­ni­fiers of well-mean­ing are a flim­sy chal­lenge to their name­sake, the Great Old One, Cthul­hu – that vivid necro-patri­ar­chal sav­ior-fig­ure who is a car­i­ca­ture, arguably, of impe­r­i­al cap­i­tal. It is as though these new Har­awayian com­pan­ions – the chthon­ic ones – are mak­ing pre­cise­ly the error she bewailed over the cyborg: “wal­low­ing in the sub­lime of [His] dom­i­na­tion.” I have been relieved to see that, in the inter­views in Fab­rizio Terranova’s recent and beau­ti­ful film Don­na Har­away, Har­away con­tra­dicts some of the ele­ments of Stay­ing with the Trou­ble laid out in this essay. “It is real­ly impor­tant to be in revolt,” she empha­sizes there: “We do have to prac­tice war: we do have to be for some worlds and against oth­ers.” Sad­ly, how­ev­er, that is not what comes across on the writ­ten page. So, for­get the Chthu­lucene. Despite all its talk of numer­i­cal­ly dec­i­mat­ed humankind, this the­o­ret­ic turn is not remote­ly destruc­tive enough. Ulti­mate­ly, this Cthul­hu guy’s got noth­ing on cyborg rev­o­lu­tion when it comes to abol­ish­ing present real­i­ties. What if the cyborgs made a come­back? They knew who their ene­mies were. Over­pop­u­la­tion did not num­ber among them. There is so much on earth, after all, that we real­ly do have to destroy.

 


  1. Don­na Har­away, Man­i­fest­ly Har­away: The Cyborg Man­i­festo and the Com­pan­ion Species Man­i­festo. ed. Cary Wolfe. (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press 2016), p.5. 

  2. ibid, p.9. 

  3. Ibid, p.283. 

  4. Don­na Har­away and David Har­vey, ‘Nature, pol­i­tics, and pos­si­bil­i­ties: a debate and dis­cus­sion with David Har­vey and Don­na Har­away’ (Envi­ron­ment and Plan­ning D: Soci­ety and Space 13 (1996): 507-527) p.508. 

  5. Man­i­fest­ly Har­away p.32. 

  6. Don­na Har­away and Nicholas Gane, “When We Have Nev­er Been Human, What Is to Be Done? An Inter­view with Don­na Har­away” (The­o­ry, Cul­ture, Soci­ety 2006, 23(7–8): 135–58). 

  7. Har­away and Har­vey (1996) p.514. 

  8. Man­i­fest­ly Har­away p.7. 

  9. Ibid  p.13, p.11. 

  10. Ibid p.59. 

  11. Ibid. p.30. 

  12. Ibid. 57. 

  13. Ibid. 68. 

  14. Ibid p.67. 

  15. Ibid p.65. 

  16. Her assign­ment had been to map the con­tours of social­ist fem­i­nism in the era of neolib­er­al­ism and the web. The East Coast SR edi­to­r­i­al col­lec­tive hat­ed what she turned in, but the West Coast col­lec­tive over­ruled them and pub­lished it (and thank good­ness they did). 

  17. Bat­tis­toni, per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence 2017 

  18. Alyssa Bat­tis­toni, ‘Mon­strous, Dupli­cat­ed, Potent’ (n+1 mag­a­zine 2017), https://nplusonemag.com/issue-28/reviews/monstrous-duplicated-potent

  19. Bat­tis­toni (2017). 

  20. Ibid. 

  21. Har­away and Har­vey (1996) p.514. 

  22. Often I thought I could some­times detect the whiff of misog­y­ny on them any­way – the struc­ture of thought that recoils sub­con­scious­ly and will­ful­ly hears only bab­bling nar­cis­sism because it dim­ly reg­is­ters a threat or feels indig­nant at not being the intend­ed inter­locu­tor. 

  23. Man­i­fest­ly Har­away p.103. 

  24. Don­na Har­away, Stay­ing with the Trou­ble: Mak­ing Kin in the Chthu­lucene (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press 2016). 

  25. The Camille Sto­ries’, as Har­away explains in Stay­ing with the Trou­ble, are the upshot of a group sci­ence-fic­tion exer­cise in which Har­away par­tic­i­pat­ed with Vin­ciane Despret and Fab­rizio Ter­ra­no­va at a sum­mer work­shop organ­ised by Isabelle Stengers in France. 

  26. Don­na Har­away, When Species Meet (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press 2007). 

  27. Don­na Har­away: Sto­ry­telling for Earth­ly Sur­vival (2017) dir. Fab­rizio Ter­ra­no­va. 90 min. http://earthlysurvival.org

  28. I know I was not alone in feel­ing crest­fall­en at the time and hop­ing fer­vent­ly that When Species Meet did not sig­ni­fy a tru­ly last­ing reori­en­ta­tion in Haraway’s thought, away from build­ing post­cap­i­tal­ism and towards think­ing (mainly/only) about her dog Cayenne. 

  29. When Species Meet p.56, p.46. 

  30. Ibid. p.80. 

  31. Ibid. p.69. 

  32. Stay­ing With the Trou­ble p.103. 

  33. It is often the case that suc­cess­ful fem­i­nist strug­gle results in few­er human births and I have no prob­lem say­ing that few­er human births will almost cer­tain­ly be a plan­et-cool­ing (thus, ‘good’) effect of the for­mer goal. Com­mon sense dic­tates that it would prob­a­bly be eas­i­er to enjoy finite plan­e­tary resources in real com­mu­nist abun­dance if there were 3 bil­lion of us instead of 7 or 11 bil­lion (I dis­pute, how­ev­er, that this is real­ly ful­ly know­able). It’s still a far cry from that obser­va­tion to a pol­i­tics that takes pop­u­la­tion reduc­tion as its end, even if it strin­gent­ly avoids the lan­guage of “over­crowd­ing” or even “over­pop­u­la­tion,” as Har­away does. 

  34. Actu­al­ly, the major­i­ty of Chap­ter 4 seems only to appear – as though spooked – in its own vast and apolo­getic foot­notes. “For our peo­ple to revis­it what has been owned by the Right and by devel­op­ment pro­fes­sion­als as the ‘pop­u­la­tion explo­sion’ can feel like going over to the dark side,” she repeats in one of these, “But denial will not serve us.” She knows, she says, that “reem­pha­siz­ing the bur­den of grow­ing human num­bers, espe­cial­ly as a glob­al demo­graph­ic abstrac­tion, can be so dan­ger­ous.” And nat­u­ral­ly “coer­cion is wrong at every imag­in­able lev­el in this mat­ter, and it tends to back­fire in any case, even if one can stom­ach coer­cive law or cus­tom (I can­not).” Still, “What if nations that are wor­ried about low birth rates (Den­mark, Ger­many, Japan, Rus­sia, Sin­ga­pore, Tai­wan, white Amer­i­ca, more) acknowl­edged that fear of immi­grants is a big prob­lem and that racial puri­ty projects and fan­tasies dri­ve resur­gent prona­tal­ism?” (p.209). “Thanks to Michelle Mur­phy [author of Seiz­ing the Means of Repro­duc­tion] for … the resis­tance to my argu­ments, no mat­ter how well intend­ed. I still think they are nec­es­sary” (p.210). And so on and so on. 

  35. Stay­ing With the Trou­ble p.6. 

  36. Ibid. p.6-7. 

  37. I guess you could say Har­away scored a point off me there, giv­en how much she enjoys and approves of “indi­ges­tion” (p.58). But not all instances of heart­burn pro­vokes the “thought” that Har­away, quot­ing Arendt, grand­ly declares she wants to pro­mote. 

  38. Stay­ing with the Trou­ble p.221. 

  39. This entre­pre­neur­ial con­cept is glossed p.208-209. (Har­away would doubt­less claim it is a joke, just like the ‘Chthu­lucene’ con­cept, a joke because it repro­duces the prob­lems of the con­cept it is sup­posed to détourne or sup­plant). 

  40. “Make kin not babies” hap­pens to be a mot­to I have – per­son­al­ly – been more than will­ing to ren­der oper­a­tive in a life lived, very much like Haraway’s, “queer­ly” but as a white Anglo-Euro­pean whose bio­genet­ic self-repro­duc­tion has only ever been struc­tural­ly encour­aged. I am, truth be told, ashamed to see it deployed in this way against the prin­ci­ples of repro­duc­tive jus­tice. 

  41. Man­i­fest­ly Har­away p.56. 

  42. Ibid p.8. 

  43. Stay­ing with the Trou­ble p.2. 

  44. Ibid. p.145. 

  45. Matt Thomp­son, ‘Stay­ing with the Trouble—Making Kin in the Chthu­lucene: Review’ (Sav­age Minds 2016) http://savageminds.org/2016/11/18/staying-with-the-trouble-making-kin-in-the-chthulucene-review/

  46. Stay­ing with the Trou­ble p.173. 

  47. Ibid. 

  48. As with ‘kin­no­va­tion’, the lan­guage in which Har­away now couch­es her inter­ven­tions would some­times not seem out of place in Sil­i­con Val­ley. Tran­shu­man muta­tions and but­ter­fly-beards notwith­stand­ing, the ques­tion aris­es: is the “Com­mu­ni­ties of Com­post” an image of gen­uine­ly trans­for­ma­tive process, or a kind of polyamorous start-up? “The Com­mu­ni­ties of Com­post worked and played hard” (p.138)… 

  49. Stay­ing with the Trou­ble p.159. 

  50. Stay­ing with the Trou­ble p.6, p.208. 

  51. James Kneale, ‘From beyond: HP Love­craft and the place of hor­ror.’ (cul­tur­al geo­gra­phies 2006, 13(1):106-126). 

  52. Stay­ing with the Trou­ble p.32. 

  53. Ibid. 160. 

  54. ibid p.2. 

  55. Kneale (2006) p.120. 

  56. Man­i­fest­ly Har­away p.57. 

  57. ibid p.3. 

  58. I note that the word “god­dess” appears in Stay­ing With the Trou­ble no less than four­teen times, quite a lot for some­one who once said – and still says – she’d rather stand with the unnat­ur­al and the queer. 

  59. Stay­ing with the Trou­ble p.166. 

Author of the article

is a writer, translator, utopian and critical geographer who has completed a PhD on gestational surrogacy (entitled Cyborg Labour) at the University of Manchester, England. Her academic writing is in (or forthcoming in) Antipode, Feminism & Psychology, Signs, Frontiers and the anthology Intimate Economies (Palgrave 2016). Her non-academic writing appears at Blind Field, Salvage, Jacobin, The New Inquiry and Mute. She helped turn Bini Adamczak's Communism for Children into English, as well as Patu/Antje Schrupp's Brief History of Feminism, for MIT Press. She is writing a book entitled Full Surrogacy Now."