Staying with the Trouble: Notes on Chapter 1

I want to start with this quote cited by Lila, “It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties.” (p12).

  • this is a key point in Haraway’s text, one she repeats often.
  • it implies matter – material connections – as well as thinking.
  • it suggests we need to carefully examine the mental frames we use to understand and act in the world, to question our assumptions.
  • her analogy of string figures, rooted in a physical game, is a kind of mental frame, and one she finds useful for working out her ideas.

String Figures – students including Andrew L. Genevieve, Anthony C quoted parts of Haraway’s text to do with string figures, for example, “Playing games of string figures is about giving and receiving patterns, dropping threads and failing but sometimes finding something that works, some-thing consequential and maybe even beautiful, that wasn’t there before …” p 10

  • The stories about pigeons in the rest of the chapter are about different communities, people and animal, giving and receiving such string figures/patterns for radically different purposes.

“Scholarship and politics are like that too — passing on in twists and skeins that require passion and action, holding still and moving, anchoring and launching.” p 10

  • This brings her analogy from the actual game to a way of thinking about the patterns at play in scholarship and politics.

“Although they are among humanity’s oldest games, string figures are not everywhere the same game. Like all offspring of colonizing and imperial histories, I-we-have to relearn how to conjugate worlds with partial connections and not universals and particulars.” p 13

  • Haraway is always suspicious of simple and universal mental frames, and draws attention to the problem of things that seem the same not being the same – how should we all think about them?

Pigeons – many students, including Janae, Alexander and Robert S. found the stories about pigeons very interesting, “Codomesticated with their people, these other-than-human critters nurture the kind of trouble important to me. Pigeons have very old histories of becoming-with human beings. These birds tie their people into knots of class, gender, race, nation, colony, postcolony, and- just maybe- recuperating terra-yet-to-come.” p 15

  • The different stories about pigeons are all, analogically, string figures – tying pigeons, people, and specific times and places into particular patterns.
  • Haraway insists the specific way things are linked is more important than abstract, universal connections.
    • “Who renders whom capable of what, and at what price, borne by whom?” p 23
    • These are the crucial questions to ask.
  • They are “becoming with” stories because the patterns come into being by the action of all the actors and affect them all in very material ways.
  • There are knots of class, gender, nation etc. because the stories are of pigeons used for spying, racing, checking air pollution etc. etc.
  • The kind of survival activities Hawaray believes in for earth’s future are complicated ones like this.

Terrapolis – many other students chose quotes about Terrapolis including Dominic, Marissa, Zachary, Kaley. Terrapolis is the world the way Haraway would like it to be. She thinks science fiction speculations are needed as we confront environmental troubles, thinking far outside the box. “Terrapolis is rich in world, inoculated against posthumanism but rich in com-post, inoculated against human exceptionalism but rich in humus, ripe for multispecies storytelling. This Terrapolis is not the home world for the human as Homo, that ever parabolic, re- and de-tumescing, phallic self-image of the same; but for the human that is transmogrified in etymological Indo-European sleight of tongue into guman, that worker of and in the soil.” p 11

  • She rejects posthumanism – the idea that we will transcend (soon) our bodies and now longer need a fleshly world to support us – and human exceptionalism – mental frame (both scientific and religious) that assume humans are separate, superior, in control of the rest of the world.
  • She embraces compost and humus i.e. the soil, the earth full of microbes, worms, decomposing matter.
  • She rejects human as “Homo” i.e. Homo Sapiens, the superior wise man, and makes up a new word guman – that mashes together human and gusano, the spanish word for worm – a being that is not frightened of getting dirty to stay with the trouble.

Response-ability and other hyphens – Several students chose quotes referring to this concept including Timothy B, Ambre, and Bea and Noah for example, “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.” p 29

  • Here response-ability implies our responses as well as our responsibilities.
  • The “We” is all critters, worms and pigeons as well as humans.
  • All the different pigeon stories showed critters responding in different ways and Haraway writes, “The details matter. The details link actual beings to actual responsibilities.” p29
  • “To re-member, to com-memorate, is actively to reprise, revive, retake, recuperate.” p 25 To put parts (of the body) back together; to remember with others. Adding the hyphen makes the reader aware of the roots of the words, of matter, and of action.