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"We make each other up": Towards Day 9 (Tues, 2/17/15)

Anne Dalke's picture


I. coursekeeping
reminder of the talk @ 7 tonight in Dalton 300:
Jacqueline Patterson, "Race, Class and Power in the Climate Justice Movement"

for Thursday's class, read Haraway's Chapter 8:
it will be as challenging as the first one,
but try to apply it (as many of you did Ch. 1) to your own life:
think of a time when you had a "contact"
you've had with someone "other" than yourself,
a time when you used the "contact zone" to "become-with" someone else.
We'll use those experiences to work together on what those terms mean...

we’ll dig into the content of your webby posts a little later—
the general theme was certainly that of being overwhelmed,
and a general mode of dealing with this was to try and understand
by evoking similar experiences of your own--so there’s a lot for us to dig into…

but first: feedback on the process: was it fun? challenging? irritating? useful?

I also read your web events, and think you’ll like reading each others’;
have given each of you one or more "pen pals” whose papers I think
might interest you particularly (no limit on how many you read,
welcome to comment…saw Caleb picked up a phrase Abby had used
to describe the "liquid light... drawn up like sap” @ his site, like hers...
Donna Haraway and I think such cross-fertilization is GREAT!)
pedagogical assumption here is that open access, open source, open sharing
is more productive than private work, seen only by professor

Another dimension of this openness is that I respond on-line, sharing my reactions,
what I learned, what else your work put me in mind of, what else you might look at…
I don’t bother with judgments (good, bad, though I might tell you I’m delighted by
some gesture, confused by something else, and want to hear more;
I might make some suggestions about organization or futher research you could do).

I aim for a tone of friendly visiting, not evaluating, but listening and learning/teaching.
Happy to go on talking, on-line—often available to talk just before or after class,
can schedule conferences @ other times. Talk now, or wait til the next paper is due,
when I will expect you to have learned from, build on our exchange about this one…

Questions/thoughts/reactions to/worries about these processes (web-eventing/webby posting)??

Lots of echoes in your site sits/let me sound them—
themes of trashing (irritation of evidence that others are @ your sites),
and of belonging (questions whether you can claim these space as your own)

Ariel: snow like little pieces of cotton candy [but] I just felt as heavy and tired as those branches weighed down by the snow….the snow mutes emotions, blankets them along with the rest of the world in a shroud of white.

Amala also found that being @ her sit always draws her to reflect on her own emotions; she was saddened, annoyed and upset by broken beer bottles and cigarette stubs: “weird to think about other people not using the location the way I was.”

Caleb, too played “I spy” for beer cans, empty bottles, and plastic red Solo cups… thought about different time frames: his brief visits, vs. the stories the flora could tell…and tried not to use the language of possession…

which was something Joni wrote about, too: “calling it ‘my spot’ feels funny…It's not mine…How can we name things and mark them as significant without making it seem like their entire identity is how they are useful to us?”

Rosa struck the same keynote: “I could not help but think about this notion of belonging…What should live in this open, patched forest? Who decides who should be able to enter?.. a beautiful, silvery tree has been marked with people's names, stories, creativity perhaps… The people who had drawn, carved into this tree did not work with the tree; they could not ask the tree for permission…. For them, the tree seemed to be a writing board where they told their own truths.”

Marian also walked in the woods, and experimented with haikus and videos (one of watery sounds, the other full of very crunchy sounds…)

which Celeste described @ her own site: “the kind of crunching sound that makes you want to walk across the snow just for the sound of it, like eating chips long after you’re tired of the taste simply because you crave crushing and chewing.”

though she admits it doesn’t make sense, Celeste feels as though she’s being watched @ her site…maybe it’s because she feels she’s being intrusive? “The earth there is not welcoming,” her scape “has little to give” her right now…

Tosin was not entirely @ home @ her site: having just heard a creepy story, it was hard for her to feel comforted @ the labyrinth: she just stared @ it this time: “Unchanged. Still not understood.” (do some research about it…? Part of being present is seeking connections beyond the present...)

Teresa brought memories of Valentine's Day (a very different context!...which made her experience of the labyrinth very different. BUT! she was doing this (in 100-year-old record-breaking cold) without socks: "I was walking on a carpet of toothpicks."

Maddie wrote about how cold exaggerates everything, including any small change: “I am only really able to feel things when things are changing, or at the extreme.” (How to perceive what stays the same…? challenge of this task...)

Abby gave us a very vivid, sensous description of a sunset…in second person (“you study, you jump, your realize, you turn back, you linger”)—why that? Think about p.o.v. (are you telling me about my experience @ your site?)

Liz experimented with just writing all down all her thoughts, instead of chasing them off while she sat...

I also did a video: like Marian and Celeste, attending to sound
--it's full of the sound of the generator that’s ruining my retreat! 
also, like Amala and Caleb, noticing/featuring the trash @ my site


So: shared themes trashing (=violation),
and its other side: belonging and possession.
Seems like an invitation to visit one another’s sites this week,
and leave a note (not @ the site but on Serendip…? or both? or either...?
A version of Tosin’s geo-caching….?) Is this premature?
Do you want to keep your sites for yourselves for a while yet....?

II. Back to inside activities!
When we stopped on Thursday, we're were playing a lively game of barometer--
also take a moment to process that, as a pedagogical tool? ecological game?
(I like the dance of certainty--you have to take a stand--and uncertainty:
the explication, movement, multiple interpretations that emerge...)
Do it again sometime, asking you to draw up the phrases to read out...?

Today we move on to a Barbara Smut's friend Donna Haraway
(of particular interest to Ariel, Marian, Caleb, who "spoke for" Barbara last week)
I want to start us off with a passage which describes Smuts' practice, p. 23 f:

Smuts had been advised to be as neutral as possible, to be like a rock, to be unavailable….Good scientists were those who, learning to be invisible themselves, could see the scene of nature close up, as if through a peep hole. The scientist could query but not be queried…without any ontological risk…to themselves…or to their cultures’ dominant epistemologies (23-24).

Smuts began adjusting what she did—and who she was—according to the baboons’ social semiotics….”the process of gaining their trust, changed almost everything about me…being recognized as a subject with whom they could communicate”…the human being acquired a face…Smuts had to enter into, not shun, a responsive relationship (25).

all the actors become who they are in the dance of relating…full of the patterns of their sometimes-joined, sometimes-separate heritages both before and lateral to this encounter. All the dancers are redone through the patterns they enact (25).

Smuts defines a greeting ritual as a kind of embodied communication, which takes place...over time…communication about relationship…and the means of reshaping relationship and so its enacters…”With language, it is possible to lie…However…closely interacting bodies tend to tell the truth.” This is a very interesting definition of truth…in which all partners have face, but no one relies on names….The truth or honesty of nonlinguistic embodied communication depends on looking back and greeting significant others, again and again…this truth telling is about co-constitutive natural cultural dancing  (26-27).

this put me in mind of our discussion on Thursday about honesty:
is honesty possible while thinking ecologically?
is it possible to be fully present to the world--and to one another,
not thinking of larger ramifications, qualifications, alternatives?

Marian wrote that idea that really grabbed her in the reading during the section about Smuts was how her questions flipped as she studied the baboons. "The question was not, Are the baboons social subjects? but, Is the human being?”… She became a study subject for the baboons.

Caleb wrote that he was struck by Haraway’s and Maddie’s words
about Derrida and the little cat:  “I think Haraway wants us…to let ourselves partake in direct ‘response and respect’…to challenge the self-oriented statement of ‘You are not-I,’ and turn instead to dialogue, a face-to-face questioning: ‘Who are you?’

I’m wondering how much we do this with one another? (Maddie also said, “I believe that animals and humans never truly understand each other completely….[even among humans,] it is impossible for everything to be understood.”) So let’s experiment with this…

So! I want us to do a little exercise to see if we can get @ this:
when you entered the classroom today, what happened?
who did what? what do you do? who did you greet?
who did you not greet? what determined those interactions?
what do I do, when I enter? who do I greet?
how present is each of us to one another?

let’s try this again… get up: you have re-entered the room,
and you will now greet each of your companions in this class:
walk around acknowledge each person in the class, in silence—
with whatever level of touching seems appropriate (you can ask, with gestures…)
The instructions are Caleb's--we're seeking "a face-to-face questioning: ‘Who are you?’"

process this!

III. As several of you noted, this is surely the most skittery
(certainly one of the most overwhelming) pieces of academic writing you’ve ever read

not linear, very associational!—which makes sense: since Haraway believes that everything
co-constitutes everything else, she would write this way.
Her central claim (summarized by several of you) is not just that we are all connected,
but that this has consequences: that we become in relationship,
become with one another and other creatures:
we are constituted in intra-actions, entangled, coshaping:
"We make each other up."

Ariel talked during Thursday's barometer about the microbiome—
how we are all filled with bacteria; Haraway ditto, pp. 3-4:
I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other 90 percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such, some of which play in a symphonynecessary to my being alive at all, and some of which are hitching a ride and doing the rest of me, of us, no harm….I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates. To be one is always to become with many….when ‘I’ die, all these benign and dangerous symbionts will take over and use whatever is left of ‘my’ body….my companion species...are my maker.

For her, this is not just internal--but external,
and extends to how we greet other humans—
she evokes anti-racist, anti-colonialist discourse--
but also other species (next chapter about agility training:
how she and her dog Cayenne re-make one another);
and this sort of becoming-with/other-worldling has
enormous repercussions for the work we do here together.

IV. I had asked each of you to ground your first web-event
in a metaphor for ecological thinking/teaching/learning
(I was prodding you to think theoretically, to generalize
from your particulars to a larger claim about ecological thinking.)

Not all of you did this--and those who did came up with similes instead
(not as strong a figure: "This classroom is a microbiome, vs. it is like one.."
but we do now have a range of evocative images:
Teresa: a democratic nation (engaging difference)
Abby: painting with watercolors (balance between freedom and control)
Rosa: the “bluing of ideas”
Ariel: “painting solar systems on the back of your hand” (largeness within small spaces)
Marian: fractals (and ever-larger fractal patterns)
Liz: sharing roots and branching out
Maddie: rolling a ball uphill (maintaining intention)
Tosin: a marathon that someone else signed you up for and expects you to finish
Caleb: after the plunge  (ditto: how to intervene…?)

Haraway works with three other metaphors for
thinking ecologically = 'becoming with"--
which tickled me, because I've used each of them:

1) “turtling all the way down” (p. 33)
2)  tree of filiations--> Darwin's; our webby posts?
3)  rhizome  (p. 28)

[on Deleuze and Guattari, “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible,” A Thousand Plateaus]:
Patrilineal thinking, which sees all the world as a tree of filiations ruled by genealogy and identity,
wars with rhizomatic thinking, which is open to nonhierarchical becomings and contagions…
”Becoming is always of a different order than filiation. It concerns alliance…the anomaly…
is freed in the lines of flight…transformed by contagion” (28).

arboreal descent is both a latecomer to the play of bodies
and never uniquely in charge of the material-semotic action (30).

A Thousand Plateaus is the second part of Deleuze and Guattari's landmark,
radical, philosophical project, Capitalism and Schizophrenia:
a toolbox for 'nomadic thought' and anti-capitalism.

V. At the heart of this—and probably the most challenging thing to take in:
re-thinking the self, not as one but as many (Ariel's and Haraway's microbiome; see also

pp. 31-32: Lynn Margulis…believes everything interesting on earth happened among the bacteria, and all the rest is just elaboration….ever more complex life forms are the continual result of ever more intricate and multidirectional acts of association of and with other life forms….living critters form consortia in a baroque medley of inter- and intra-actions…to be an organism is to be the fruit of ‘the co-opting of strangers, the involvement and infolding of others…Attraction, merger, fusion, incorporation, co-habitation, recombination…and other forms of forbidden couplings, are the main sources of Darwin’s missing variation”....The shape and temporality of life on earth are more like a liquid-crystal consortium folding on itself again and again than a well-branched tree.

p. 32: Scott Gilbert [critiques] autopoiesis for its emphasis on self-building and self-maintaining systems....Gilbert stresses that nothing makes itself in the biological world…Gilbert calls this “interspecies epigenesis”….the embryonic co-construction of the physical bodies has many more implications because it means that we were ‘never’ individuals."

Haraway places this conception of who/how we are in the world
a history of four great wounds to self-certainty (pp. 11-12):

Freud described three great historical wounds to the primary narcissism of the self-centered human subject…
First is the Copernican wound that removed Earth itself…from the center of the cosmos..
the second wound is the Darwinian, which put Homo sapiens firmly in the world of other critters…
The third wound is the Freudian, which posited an unconscious that undid the primacy of conscious processes….
I want to add a fourth wound, the informatics or cyborgian, which infolds organic and technological flesh
and so melds that Great Divide as well….Doing without both teleology and human exceptionalism is…
essential…these wounds to self-certainty are necessary (11-12).

Necessary for what??

Marian said that we humans see ourselves as the ‘culmination’ of evolution;
Ariel and Tosin both stepped off from that, calling our attention to these ‘four wounds” of history--
though they understood their implications very differently:
Abby said that ‘humans are narcissistic, self-centered beings….
Science tries to offer a humbling, subjective perspective.…”
while Tosin saic that “these major ‘blows’ to the importance of humanity
have given us even more reason to create a separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’

To be continued...

Additional Reading Notes from When Species Meet
Part I: “We Have Never Been Human”
Chapter I, “When Species Meet: Introductions”

1) Whom and what do I touch when I touch my dog?
2) How is ‘becoming with’ a practice of becoming worldly?

alter-globalisation, autre-mondialisation (more just, peaceful other-globalization)

those who are to be in the world are constituted in intra- and interaction. The partners do not precede the meeting (4)…myriad of entangled, coshaping species of the earth …asking who ‘we’ will become when species meet (5)…mutually constituting, intra-active touch (6).

…what Bruno Latour calls the Great Divides between what counts as nature and society, as nonhuman and as human…these ‘others’ have a remarkable capacity to induce panic in the centers of power and self-certainty…self-righteous ad incurious stance (9-10).

the culturally normal fantasy of human exceptionalism…is the premise that humanity alone is not a spatial and temporal web of interspecies dependencies (11).

A great deal is at stake in such meetings, and outcomes are not guaranteed…There is only the chance for getting on together with some grace (15).

We are both the freedom hungry offspring of conquest, products of white settler colonies…each reproductively silenced females…training each other in acts of communication we barely understand. We are, constitutively, companion species. We make each other up (16).

I never wanted to be posthuman….urgent work still remains to be done….patterns of relationality…need rethinking…partners do not precede their relating; all that is, is the fruit of becoming with (17).

[etymologies: companion-> cum panis, with bread; species-> specere, to look; specie, stamped coinage; respecere, respect]

endangered species…the colonized, the enslaved, the noncitizen, and the animal…all Others …at the heart of racism…companion species must instead learn to live intersectionally (18).

Anna Tsing writes, “Human nature is an interspecies relationship” ….The worldly game must be one of response and respect (19).

Derrida…understood that actual animals look back at actual human beings…He identified the key question as…how to distinguish a response from a reaction…Yet he did not seriously consider…how to look back….he did not become curious about what the cat might actually be…making avaiable to him in looking back…Incurious, he missed a possible…introduction to other-worlding (19-20).

..not all Western human workers with animals have refused the risk of an intersecting gaze…Barbara Smuts [and many others] met the gaze of living, diverse animals and in response undone and redone themselves and their sciences…the practices of communication outside the writing technologies (21).

Jeremy Benthan’s question…whether animals can suffer…I do not think…is the decisive question, the one that turns the order of things around…how much more promise is in the questions, Can animals play? Or work? And even, can I learn to paly with this cat?…What if a usable word for this is joy? And what if the question of how animals engage one another’s gaze responsively takes center stage…. ? (22).

D&G’s associational web of anomalous becoming-animal feeds off a series of primary dichotomies figured by the opposition between the wild and the domestic…I am not sure I can find in philosophy a clearer display of misogyny, fear of gaining, incuriosity bout animals, and horror at the ordinariness of flesh, here covered by the alibi of an anti-Oedipal and anticapitalist project (28-30).

[cf. Thelma Rowell’s Soay sheep with] ‘domestic’ ovine eating machines…rarely asked an interesting question…with no experience of jointly becoming available…’becoming with’ a curious scientist (34).

“Interesting research is research on the conditions that make something interesting”….competition is so easy to see….What else might be happening? (34)

Do we prefer living with predictable sheep or with sheep that surprise us and that add to our definitions of what ‘being social’ means?” This is a fundamental worldly question, or what…Isabelle Stengers might call a cosmopolitical query, in which ”the cosmos refers to the unknown constituted by these multiple divergent worlds, and to the articulations of which they could eventually be capable, as opposed to the temptation of a peace intended to be final” (35).

My premise is that touch ramifies and shapes accountability….Caring means becoming subject to the unsettling obligation of curiosity, which requires knowing more at the end of the day than at the beginning (36).

[cf. breeding, abandonment of South African Wolf-Dog Hybrids;
Israeli cowboys managing European-style cattle in occupied Syrian territory]

Which histories must we live? (37)

We are in the midst of reinvented pastoral-tourist economics…raising the most basic questions of who belongs where and what flourishing means for whom….it is easy to know that factory farming..must be undone. But what then? How can food security for everybody…and multispecies’ coflourishing be linked in practice?....not another occasion for the pleasurable and individualizing frisson of guilt? answers will make one feel good for long (40-41).

attachment sites need for meeting species redo everything they touch. The point is…to become worldly and to respond….”there is no resting place in a multiple and partially connected world” (41-42).

Once again we are in a knot of species coshaping one another in layers of reciprocating complexity all the way down…Appreciation of the complexity is, of course, invited. But more is required too…learning to be ‘polite’ in responsible relation to always asymmetrical living and dying, and nurturing and killing…The exercise of good manners makes the competent working animals those whom the people need to learn to recognize. The ones with face were not all human (42).