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To stay out of trouble

Sudhirendar Sharma | Updated on January 09, 2018

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Staying with the Trouble' Donna J Haraway; Non-fiction; Duke University Press; Durham; ₹1910

Staying with the Trouble' Donna J Haraway; Non-fiction; Duke University Press; Durham; ₹1910

Donna Haraway argues for a world where humans evolve kinship with other creatures to ward off environmental breakdown

Trouble is what everyone avoids getting into, and yet it manages to cling and endure. Be it small or big, transient or lasting, personal or social, local or global, there is one or more for each at any given point. We are all tasked with making trouble as well as to settle it. It is said that without trouble there wouldn’t be glory either. With most of us living in troubling, disturbing and torrid times, what sort of salvific future can we expect?

Staying with the Trouble may not be easy, but staying out of it is even more daunting. It amounts to denouncing the world in the expectation of an ideal one. But is there a perfect world? Conversely, the world at large is metaphorically rooted in a bony pelvis, as shown on the book jacket, and metamorphoses into a butterfly through a skeletal vertebral column that has fleshed appendages on the sides. The complex image is indeed transformational reflection of dying and living — disturbing and reassuring at the same time. It seems to be convey that only through troubles does man become adult and mature. As a feminist scientist with extraordinary credentials, Haraway creates Chthulucene, a term aimed at replacing Anthropocene (human influence on the planet), and Capitalocene (influence of capital on humans), as a kind off time-marker for learning to stay with the trouble by taking responsibility to wipe it out.

As human population is almost set to cross 11 billion by 2010 — nine billion of those added over 150 years from 1950 to 2100 — the dominant discourse has debated, from two extreme positions, the impact of growing numbers on processes such as climate change. If some are optimistic that technology will fix troubles, others wonder if there is any sense in trying to make anything better. Haraway considers those who have answers to the present urgencies, and those who don’t, equally dangerous, and uses Chthulucene to cut through human exceptionalism and the utilitarian individualism of classical political economies. In discussing our problematic relationship with the natural world, the author proposes the flattening of inter-species hierarchy to cultivate response-ability.

The Chthulucene is proposed as an idea of non-hierarchical multi-species world of thinking and working. Haraway uses the spider’s web as a metaphor for a world in which there is no hierarchy between humans and non-human animals, where all lives are interwoven to guide us to possibilities of coexistence within environmental disturbance. The spider tentacles help feel attachments and detachments, and are both open and knotted at the same time. At the core of the thesis is the challenge to the idea of individuality. Instead, it demands sympoiesis — making together, rather than autopoiesis — self-making. It is in new ideas and thinking wherein lie possible solutions as old ideas fail as evidenced by the inequities of our resource-extracting economies.

Using a curious mix of cultures and mythologies, the book seeks to identify and cultivate capacity of specific bodies and places to respond to world’s urgencies with each other at the core. “I am not interested in restoration, but in more modest possibilities of recuperation, and getting on together,” stresses Haraway, whose rejection of rigid boundaries in A Cyborg Manifesto, of separating ‘human’ from ‘animal’ and ‘human’ from ‘machine’, had rattled contemporary thinking when it was published in 1984. As a distinguished professor in the history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Haraway proposes a process of living and dying together as an utmost urgency, as the natural system is on the verge of breakdown.

The book investigates the work of interdisciplinary artistes and scientists who are inventing new ways of working together, and also with other species. Take the case of pigeons, treasured kin or despised pests, which were engaged in an experiment to collect and distribute information about air quality to the public. Such data helps generate “imaginative action” to enhance collective thinking to address complexities. These are not easy solutions, but possibilities. Staying with the Trouble is a work in progress on ideas which are aimed at developing new sensibilities and means to foster collective response-ability.

Some ideas may appear esoteric largely due to our collective failure to see beyond the horizon. Having participated in a workshop on “narration speculative”, wherein the participants were tasked to fabulate a baby’s journey through five generations, Haraway could envision predicted events (ice-cap melting, sea-level rise, and species extinction) on paper. After the workshop, she gave the call to “make kin, not babies” in order to invoke and practise a deep responsibility towards all earthlings. If we are interested in taking care of the Earth then there is no way other species can be denied their right environmental justice. Haraway thinks that we could be truly pro-child if we practise kinship with other critters, as opposed to the crazy pro-natalist, but actually anti-child world we live in.

Staying with the Trouble is a tough book to read. The long, convoluted paragraphs and the technique of bringing multidisciplinary aspects into a single narrative, make it a challenge. Nonetheless, it is a scholarly work in which the world is modelled on generative ideas to help avoid despair in the face of ecological destruction.

Sudhirendar Sharma is an independent writer, researcher and academic

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Published on August 18, 2017
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