The two aspects I most appreciate about Donna Haraway’s 2016 Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke UP) are her commitment to a unique form of scholarly writing and her commitment to a practice of partiality.
For scholars used to reading ‘theory’, Staying with the Trouble might jar the ear and eye. Haraway argues, shows pictures and tells stories through neologisms and repetitions, and with a casual prose cadence that superficially belies her deep and broad grasp of ecological, feminist, anthropological, and philosophical bibliographies. She tends to start a chapter or line of thought with a term—a slogan or a neologism—and then to spin out from this term with a set of stories, artistic practices, and theoretical interventions. She doesn’t quite term her process “SF” (though she should), but she points to SF as a “ubiquitous figure” in her book. SF, she says, stands for “string figures, speculative fabulation, speculative feminism, science fact, and science fiction.” SF is “a method of tracing”, “the actual thing, pattern, and assembly that solicits response” and it is “practice and process; it is becoming-with each other in surprising relays” (3).
For instance, while Haraway doesn’t dispute the usefulness of the designation Anthropocene, she crafts the term Chthulucene (from chthonic = earth and kainos = now) (2) as a way of deflecting scholarly and activist focus from humans (anthropos) to humus, that is, the soily muddy earth continually produced by the death, rotting, and breaking down of living matter. Over and again, Haraway notes that she is not posthuman but “compost hummus”, and that instead of limping along with the Humanities, we should be crafting Humusities. We are, she insists, always immersed in sympoesis, a sensory materialism of multi-species becoming.
What Haraway intuits and responds to through this form of writing is the ways in which bodily habits are reified and replicated by linguistic habits, so that we need new words and new linguistic patterning (or pattering) to scrape off the reified encrustations and open the cognitive and physical channels for different affective and practical engagements with the world.
Haraway’s slide from human to hummus situates her ethics firmly in matter and in the partial connections of material entities (instead of universals or principles situated meta-physically) (13). Hers is an ethics and politics born of what she terms “finite flourishing” (10). It is a feminist practice of finding and creating “big-enough stories in the netbag for staying with the trouble” (54). Like Melanie Klein’s “good-enough mother”, these big-enough stories do not function like phallic superheroes but as string figures that connect partial entities and remind those of us partially connected by these figures to keep our focus low and long. Through her multiple SF’s Haraway gives us ways of feeling-with, becoming-with, loving and living and thinking-with all that is threatened and dying or dead in our world–but in ways that do not sink us into mourning but give us good-enough tools for conjugating our mourning with our loving and joyful being-with the world.
I wish to end with an extended quotation from Haraway:
“The details matter. …Each time a story helps me remember what I thought I knew, or introduces me to new knowledge, a muscle critical for caring about flourishing gets some aerobic exercise. Such exercise enhances collective thinking and movement in complexity. Each time I trace a tangle and add a few threads that at first seemed whimsical but turned out to be essential to the fabric, I get a bit straighter that staying with the trouble of complex worlding is the name of the game ove living and dying well together on terra, in Terrapolis. We are all responsible to and for shaping conditions for multispecies flourishing in the face of terrible histories, and sometimes joyful histories too, but we are not all response-able in the same ways. The differences matter—in ecologies, economies, species, lives.” (29)