Staying with the Trouble: Notes on Chapter 2

This is a long and difficult chapter. Below I am responding to your comments chronologically by page number, so you may want to scroll through to the part you found interesting or confusing.

In this chapter Haraway continues to urge and explain new ways of thinking that she believes are critical at this time. Ways that reject human exceptionalism – the mental frame that assumes that “Homo Sapiens” is separate, superior, in control of the rest of the world; and bounded individualism – the mental frame that gives primary importance to the individual rather than to the group or network. Since she deals more with sympoesis in the next chapter, I will defer commenting on that until later.

Tentacular Thinking – Students including Nazifa, Nate P, Liam, Isaac, Nate S, Anthony C. picked quotes connected to this concept.

Nobody lives everywhere; everybody lives somewhere. Nothing is connected to everything; everything is connected to something.” p 31

  • This is part of Haraway’s argument against thinking in generalities. The places people live (e.g. cities in the west; refugee camps in the middle east) color what they are able to think.
  • The threads of the string figures and tentacular connections she is interested in are particular. It is not just that “everything is connected” – in a quasi-spiritual sense, but the details of how and why matter.

The tentacular ones tangle me in SF. Their many appendages make string figures; they entwine me in the poiesis–the making–of speculative fabulation, science fiction, science fact, speculative feminism, soin de ficelle, so far.” p 31 “Tentacularity is about life lived along lines—and such a wealth of lines—not at points, not in spheres“. p 32

  • String figures are a mental frame that focuses on connections and relationships.
  • The tentacular ones of this chapter are actual animals/critters with long arms/tentacles/fingers – spiders, jellyfish, humans.
  • The mental frame of string figures is useful for thinking and making (art) with these creatures, because it focuses on the networks and webs they create – life is about these connections not about the individual creatures (points).
  • The list of all the things that begin with s.f. are all the things which will benefit from thinking in this way and with these critters – i.e. science and art and politics.

Need to think -> Evil of thoughtlessness – students including Iffat, Candice, Marissa, Brooke, Randy, Spencer, Dominic and Jonathan chose quotes related to this.

It matters what thoughts think thoughts. It matters what knowledges know knowledges. It matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories.” p 35

  • 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.

What is it to surrender the capacity to think? These times called the Anthropocene are times of multispecies, including human, urgency: of great mass death and extinction; of onrushing disasters, whose unpredictable specificities are foolishly taken as unknowability itself; of refusing to know and to cultivate the capacity of response-ability; of refusing to be present in and to onrushing catastrophe in time; of unprecedented looking away. How can we think in times of urgencies without the self-indulgent and self-fulfilling myths of apocalypse, when every fiber of our being is interlaced, even complicit, in the webs of processes that must somehow be engaged and repatterned? Recursively, whether we asked for it or not, the pattern is in our hands. The answer to the trust of the held-out hand: think we must.” (35)

  • From here on p35 to the end of p36 Haraway is making an analogy between our collective inability to think about and deal with environmental disasters now and historical complicity with genocide.
  • She suggests that we do not know everything about all the problems that face us, but denial of what we do know is foolish.
  • Haraway again rejects giving up because it is too late to do anything (apocalytic thinking).
  • Instead she urges new ways of thinking, and exchanging patterns of thought and behavior (string figures).

… she saw commonplace thoughtlessness. That is, here was a human being unable to make present to himself what was absent, what was not himself, what the world in its sheer notone-selfness is and what claims-to-be inhere in not-oneself.” p36

  • Here is the end of the analogy. Haraway is suggesting that there are similarities between much of our thinking with respect to the current troubles and the war criminal Eichmann’s selfish thoughtlessness.
  • Mind frames like human exceptionalism and individualism let us ignore the rest of the world in the way Eichmann could ignore the people he killed.
  • In contrast Haraway wants to stress that we are entangled in the world not separate and controlling it.
  • Haraway wants to encourage mind frames like string figures and tentacular thinking that give weight to connections.
  • Note the complexity here: above Haraway acknowledges that all our thinking is situated not general (we all come from somewhere) but nevertheless it must not be insular but we need to focus on, learn about, work with connections.

“Anthropocene,” “Capitolocene”, “Chthulucene” – students including Janae, Xavier, Steven M, John K, Ambre, William R. Ehathan M, Austin, Alex, Mackenzie, Lingjia and Noah quoted text about these three words.

The word “Anthropocene” – the time of man – was coined to give a name to this period in earth’s history reflecting man-made impacts (a layer of plastic being laid down in the fossil record, CO2 increasing in the atmosphere, extinction of many species). Although she will use this term Haraway dislikes it because she feels it ties in to the same myths of the superior man who can control everything,

The story of Species Man as the agent of the Anthropocene is an almost laughable rerun of the great phallic humanizing and modernizing Adventure, where man, made in the image of a vanished god, takes on superpowers in his secular-sacred ascent, only to end in tragic detumescence, once again.” 47

  • Haraway makes fun of mental frames that, starting during the 18th and 19th centuries, replace the idea of an all powerful god, with all powerful man who can understand and control everything with his science and technology. These are the mental frames of Homo Sapiens, human exceptionalism, individualism.
  • Just as the ultimate influence of god and religion dwindled, so the controlling power of Homo Sapiens seems to be failing.

Haraway finds the term “Anthropocene” too thoughtless and blind to the actions and activities of other critters, too top down in it’s approach to fixing the problems …

“…the Anthropocene relies too much on what should be an ‘unthinkable’ theory of relations, namely the old one of bounded utilitarian individualism—preexisting units in competition relations that take up all the air in the atmosphere.” p 49

  • mind frames that focus on the individual and on competition should be “unthinkable” because they are mind frames that are no longer of any use in thinking through current problems.

Haraway prefers the term “Capitalocene” for the current age, although it is not used so often because it implies a political stance.

… scientifically speaking, global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that earth-human systems are becoming dangerously unstable in response.” p 47

But most of all she like the term she herself coins the “Chthulucene”

The sciences of Anthropocene are too much contained within restrictive systems theories and within evolutionary theories called the Modern Synthesis, which for all their extraordinary importance have proven unable to think well about sympoiesis, symbiosis, symbiogenesis, development, webbed ecologies, and microbes.”

  • This is a critique of current scientific thinking about earth systems and evolutionary theories, which Haraway finds too limited.
  • sympoiesis, symbiosis, symbiogenesis etc.- the next chapter delves more into these concepts, but effectively she is arguing that thinking and mind frames that deal with connection and relationship are going to be much more important going forward than ones that deal over-simplistically with individuals in competition.

This Chthulucene is neither sacred nor secular; this earthly worlding is thoroughly terran, muddled, and mortal – and at stake now.” p 55 “We are at stake to each other. Unlike the dominant dramas of Anthropocene and Capitalocene discourse, human beings are not the only important actors in the Chthulucene, with all other beings able simply to react. The order is reknitted: human beings are with and of the earth, and the biotic and abiotic powers of this earth are the main story.” p 55

  • Lovelock was criticized because scientists thought the Gaia theory was too spiritual – Haraway wants to claim a third path for her ideas about the Chthulucene, neither spiritual not scientific but embracing both and any other useful and perhaps contradictory ideas that come along.
  • Haraway critiques both terms, Anthropocene and Capitalocene, because they underplay the importance of other forces on the earth both living and non-living: animal & microbial life AND geologic and chemical forces.
  • We are at stake to each other. Although humans are not the only stake-holders in these troubles, what we do also matters.
  • She is urging her readers to join her as Chthonic ones, thinking, working and playing in ways that fit her complex notion of the Chthulucene.

But coral and lichen symbionts also bring us richly into the storied tissues of the thickly present Chthulucene, where it remains possible- just barely- to play a much better SF game, in nonarrogant collaboration with all those in the muddle. We are all lichens; so we can be scraped off the rocks by the Furies, who still erupt to avenge crimes against the earth.” p56

  • The richly present Chthulucene – refers back to the war criminal who could not be present to, would not think about, what he was doing – she is urging the opposite.
  • She is urging that we collaborate with all species of the current troubles, rather than thinking we are a species apart.
  • Humans are not immune to extinction events.

Historically situated relational worldings make a mockery both of the binary division of nature and society and our enslavement to Progress and its evil twin modernization.” (Haraway 50)

  • Worldings is making up theories about the world.
  • In the sentence above this one Haraway pays tribute to big world thinkers like Marx and Darwin but at the same time warns about theories that explain cause and effect too simply; assume that everything is tending towards a particular end; or impose too rigid a plan for proceeding.
  • Instead she calls for smaller world theories that are aware of historical context and that nature and culture are entangled in complicated ways.
  • Progress has an upper-case P to draw attention to the mind frame, related to the mind frame of human exceptionalism, that life on earth progresses from the microbe to man; and that mankind progresses from cave-man to technologically superior us.
  • Haraway is skeptical that Progress and modernization, which are related to the consumer-culture of capitalism, are either beneficial in themselves or good mind frames for dealing with the current troubles.