Thoughts on Donna Haraway’s “Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene”

“Good stories reach into rich pasts to sustain thick presents to keep the story going for those who come after.”

I recently, and after a good four months of slow reading, finished Donna Haraway’s amazing book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene.  It was possibly the most challenging and most rewarding book I’ve ever struggled through to finish.  She writes in long, rolling sentences full of commas and adjectives that can be frustrating to follow.  But what ideas to finally submit into your consciousness!

“In the midst of spiraling ecological devastation, multispecies feminist theorist Donna J. Haraway offers provocative new ways to reconfigure our relations to the earth and all its inhabitants. She eschews referring to our current epoch as the Anthropocene, preferring to conceptualize it as what she calls the Chthulucene, as it more aptly and fully describes our epoch as one in which the human and nonhuman are inextricably linked in tentacular practices. The Chthulucene, Haraway explains, requires sym-poiesis, or making-with, rather than auto-poiesis, or self-making. Learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying together on a damaged earth will prove more conducive to the kind of thinking that would provide the means to building more livable futures.” Duke University Press

Some quotes:

“Staying with the trouble does not require such a relationship to times called the future.  In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.” (1)

Haraway calls for us to stop thinking, as she says in the quote above, of better times past or future or to live in despair of the end of all things, but rather to be here now, together, with other humans and non-human critters both flora and fauna.  She asks us to make kin with all of these kinds of beings that we share the earth with; oddkin is her word, kin that is not purely biologically or genetically based.

“Making kin as oddkin rather than, or at least in addition to, godkin and genealogical and biogenetic family troubles important matters, like to whom one is actually responsible.” (2, emphasis mine)

She references so many other writings, papers, books, albums, even video games, I could spend a couple years just exploring all the deliciously tantalizing material in the footnotes section, which is itself 60 pages long.  One point made with many references is that no creature is singular unto itself.  We all live in ‘tentacular’ complication and mixing with each other at all times (how many species of bacteria live in/on a human body, for example?)… therefore, how can any one being or even species truly live only for its own survival?

She says, “The critters of all my stories inhabit an n-dimensional niche space called Terrapolis… Terrapolis is n-dimensional niche space for multispecies becoming-with.  Terrapolis is open, wordly, indeterminate, and polytemporal.  Terrapolis is a chimera for materials, languages, histories.  Terrapolis is for companion species… not ‘post-human’ but ‘com-post.’  Terrapolis is in place; Terrapolis makes for unexpected companions.” (10-11).

I was reminded reading this section of two things.  The idea of “becoming-with” brings to mind Starhawk’s discussions of “power-with” as opposed to “power-over” (probably to be found in Dreaming the Dark and Truth or Dare, if you want to chase it down).

I was reading, just after finishing Haraway, the short piece “Chiapas: The Thirteenth Stele” by Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas.  He references over and over the desire by the Zapatistas to build a world that can contain many worlds within it.  Here he is:

“Whoever helps one or several zapatista communities is helping not just to improve a collective’s material situation, it is helping a much simpler but more demanding project: the building of a new world, one where many worlds fit.”

Haraway also references over and over the need to build a world that contains much messiness and difference within it, and not just amongst humans but an embrace of and kinmaking with the oddness and strangeness and difference of many other beings.  Not to say this is a book of “we are all one” messaging.  Not at all.  It’s much more dirty, complicated, and earthbound than that (another quote: “eating each other properly requires meeting each other properly” pg 73). Here is Tim Morton on this topic from another excellent and difficult book, Dark Ecology:

“Ecognosis is like knowing, but more like letting be known.  It is something like coexisting.  It is like becoming accustomed to something strange, yet it is also becoming accustomed to strangeness that doesn’t become less strange through acclimation.”

The last section of Staying With the Trouble is a sort of sci-fi story about Children of the Compost, a group of people starting in the present and extending out five generations through a lineage (I think not genetic, but oddkin) of people named Camille.  This is Haraway’s imagining of what ‘staying with the trouble’ could look like into the future.

I have been thinking incessantly about Children of the Compost, and about the zapatista idea of a world that can contain many worlds, and Morton’s concept of ecognosis, as I try to both write my own fictional world that deals with these issues and to structure my actual life to ‘stay with the trouble.’

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller

What is the difference between fighting the existing reality, and protecting your kin?

Here is a video of Haraway talking at Evergreen last spring.




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