Staying with the Trouble: Notes on the Introduction

One student asked about the scope of Haraway’s book – is it planet degradation, capitalism, wars, biology, fiction, philosophy? The short answer is all of the above. Haraway is interested in how all of that connects and how we need to connect and work with all of that if we are to understand our current environmental situation.

Many students chose the same or similar citations so here I am going over the passages that gave most trouble.

Chthulucene – Response-ability p 2

“Chthulucene is a simple word. It is a compound of two Greek roots (khthôn and kainos) that together name a kind of timeplace for learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying in response-ability on a damaged earth.” Page 2.

  • Haraway makes up the word Chthulucene (time of the chthonic ones) and opposes it to the anthropocene, the time of anthropos/man.
  • She wants to suggest that our response to present conditions should not be narrowly focused on man as the superior species “star-gazing Homo” but on the complex of all living “critters” – the chthonic ones .
  • Even if humans are responsible for many environmental problems, all critters are actively dealing with them. If we are in another extinction event, other critters are feeling it first.
  • She opposes belief systems that are too simple, she wants to evoke complex life patterns, complex explanations, complex responses.
  • Adding the hyphen to response-ability, suggests that we are all responsible for our responses to the ongoing environmental issues.

Hope versus Despair p3-4

“Alone, in our separate kinds of expertise and experience, we know both too much and too little, and so we succumb to despair or to hope, and neither is a sensible attitude.” p 3

  • Haraway sees two responses to current troubles that she dislikes.
  • “Comic faith in techno-fixes” p3 – although she does not want to dismiss the importance of science and technology she is critical of the response that someone else (clever technicians or God) will save us from the problems.

“The second response, harder to dismiss, is probably even more destructive: namely, a position that the game is over, it’s too late, there’s no sense trying to make anything any better, or at least no sense having any active trust in each other in working and playing for a resurgent world.” p 3

  • Haraway suggests that it is also not response-able to give way to despair.
  • She particular notes that environmental activists and scientists may feel this despair even though they continue to struggle, but warns against it, because she thinks it will discourage us all.

“Staying with the trouble does not require such a relationship to the 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 moral critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of place, times, matters, and meanings.” p 1

  • For Haraway, “staying with the trouble” is a way of taking moral response-ability by working in the present, with all the people and things that are being affected, with the knowledge that things are imperfect and difficult.
  • It is lazy thinking to imagine that things were much better in the past (edenic), or that things were worse (after all there have been mass extinctions already).
  • It is taking the easy and immoral way out just to accept the worst (the apocalypse) or fantasize that some one else will save you (salvific future).

Oddkin p2, p4

“Kin is a wild category that all sorts of people do their best to domesticate. 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.” p2

“Staying with the trouble requires making oddkin; that is, we require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations, in hot compost piles.” (4).

  • Note the play on words, kin, godkin, oddkin
  • Kin means family, those you are related to, those who have the same interests.
  • A common and comfortable mental frames suggests we should be responsible for our family first, before friends, before strangers, before other species.
  • Haraway wants us to question this frame. She suggests that maybe we need to make kin with people, critters, and things outside our normal comfort zone to come up with solutions to current troubles.
  • She suggests that new ideas, new ways of being, new solutions may be generated by these new collaborations, like the microbes that are generated in compost piles.

Great Acceleration p6

“But, in my experience, feminists, including science studies and anthropological feminists, have not been willing seriously 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” p. 6

  • Haraway wants to acknowledge that the number of humans on the planet is one of the ongoing environmental problems.
  • But she also wants to acknowledge that addressing this issue can only be done in the light of recent history where some people were discouraged from or prevented from reproducing based on class, race etc.
  • AND in light of the history of women’s rights to own their own bodies.
  • She is acknowledging that this is one of the tangled, muddy issues that needs careful thought and action.

Saving until Later

There were also questions about string figures (SF), symbiogenesis, Anthropocene and the Capitalocene – Haraway goes into more detail on these issues in further chapters, so we will save them for later.