Staying with the Trouble: Notes on Chapter 4

This week I asked you to read Staying with the Trouble chapter 4 & its footnotes, The Ecofeminism of Mad Max by Sarah Mirk and Mad Max Fury Road: A Savage Masterpiece of Eco-feminist Violence by faustusnotes. As usual I am responding to sections that most students were interested in or wanted explained. I am working through the readings chronologically, and putting names of students next to sections they asked about. Response to Haraway annotations first then a couple of responses to the second article. I have added some links – I am sure you all have lots of extra time to listen/browse/watch – enjoy!

Staying with the Trouble, Chapter 4

“No species, not even our own arrogant one pretending to be good individuals in so-called modern Western scripts, acts alone; assemblages of organic species and of abiotic actors make history, the evolutionary kind and the other kinds too.”  p100 John K

  • Haraway wants to emphasize our connection to and dependence on other species to counter the assumption that we are “masters of” nature.
  • assemblages of organic species and of abiotic actors – refers back to the fact that humans being are made up of multiple microbial beings. Even the very first single-celled beings existed in the sea and its chemical mix (abiotic actors) made their life possible.


“It’s more than climate change; it’s also extraordinary burdens of toxic chemistry, mining, nuclear pollution, depletion of lakes and rivers under and above ground, ecosystem simplification, vast genocides of people and other critters, et cetera, et cetera, in systemically linked patterns that threaten major system collapse after major system collapse after major system collapse.”
“… Jason Moore’s arguments that cheap nature is at an end; cheapening nature cannot work much longer to sustain extraction and production in and of the contemporary world because most of the reserves of the earth have been drained, burned, depleted, poisoned, exterminated, and otherwise exhausted.”
p 100

These two paragraphs illustrate how serious Haraway (and many others) thinks the current troubles are. Apocalyptic films like Mad Max:Fury Road are based on the assumption that the worst has already happened: environmental disaster, nuclear war, pandemic. They are predicated on the idea that only the few survive, millions and billions have died. This week we are in the middle of a pandemic and the question of who dies becomes a little closer – who gets the ventilators? These are the kinds of questions we tend to avoid (see the points about the evil of thoughtlessness in chapter 2 and in my notes). Without thinking we may let forces “beyond our control” – famine, drought, war, water-shortage – fix our exploding population. We may prefer to turn a blind eye rather than acknowledging the complex, long-term human choices and actions that are are part of these problems.

Refugees and Refuges

“Right now, the earth is full of refugees, human and not, without refuge.” p 100 “One way to live and die well as mortal critters in the Chthulucene is to join forces to reconstitute refuges, to make possible partial and robust biological-cultural-political-technological recuperation and recomposition, which must include mourning irreversible losses.” p 101 Justin S, Jake K, Allison, Grace, Jiajun, William

  • Haraway urges the making of refuges (places of safety) for both animals and people and different combinations thereof, for example:
  • rewilding and wild-life corridor projects:
  • a much more partial example of recuperation and recomposition
  • I think the art projects Haraways mentions in her book would be examples of cultural refuges.

‘My’ Chthulucene, even burdened with its problematic Greek-ish rootlets, entangles myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages—including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus.” p101 Maddy, Roman

  • Chthulucene – the word she has coined for the present times as opposed to the anthropocene (see chapter 2 and in my notes).
  • myriad temporalities and spatialities – Haraway wants to say that as the problems we face stretch out in space and time in complicated ways, so must our understanding of them and our actions.
  • myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages – the solutions she thinks most likely to succeed will involve interacting groups of people and things, each of which is internally complex.
  • she expects we will have to make strange allies – human, animal, technical, microbial and mash-ups.

“I also insist that we need a name for the dynamic ongoing symchthonic forces and powers of which people are a part, within which ongoingness is at stake.” p 101 Xavier

  • symchthonic  – Haraway’s chthonic ones are the opposite of individuals – plural, tangled and symbiotic critters rather than human individuals. symchthonic  is “with the chthonic ones.”
  • I think a useful analogy is to a symphony – so ongoing symchthonic forces and powers – are all processes that these tangled critters are involved in together.

I am a compostist, not a posthumanist: we are all compost, not posthuman.” p101/2 Brooke, Diane, Genevieve

  • a compostist is one who makes compost.
  • compost is the scraps of vegetable and garden waste left to rot down to make new, fertile soil for growing things.
  • for Haraway we are compost (a complex mishmash that may be used to generate new growth) not post-human.
  • post-human – the idea that we will be able to get rid of our meat bodies and dependence on earth and just become code in some kind of technical structure.

Kin making is making persons, not necessarily as individuals or as humans.” p 103 “I think that the stretch and recomposition of kin are allowed by the fact that all earthlings are kin in the deepest sense, and it is past time to practice better care of kinds-as-assemblages (not species one at a time).” p103 Lingia, Nazifa, Dominic, Ambre, Kaley

  • Haraway wants to change the meaning of the word “kin” so it includes more than biological family, because kin are the what we take care of.
  • She also extends the word “person” – to dogs, or other pets, or robots or microbes. Because we give people “rights” and we might want to extend “rights” to other kinds of non-human entities.
  • She defends the extension of the word kin because at biological/chemical level everything on earth is the same.

We must find ways to celebrate low birth rates and personal, intimate decisions to make flourishing and generous lives…without making more babies… We need to encourage population and other policies that engage scary demographic issues by proliferating other-than-natal kin—including nonracist immigration, environmental and social support policies for new comers and “native-born” alike…” Footnote 18, p209 Mackensie

This footnote takes us to a very political implication of the kind of kin-making Haraway advocates. She urges us to engage a future which cannot sustain billions of humans at the current levels of consumption of the richest/the west, not by apocalyptic thinking that kills people off, but by addressing the issues with integrity, morality, humanity and an imagination that includes more than humanity.

Mad Max Fury Road: A Savage Masterpiece of Eco-feminist Violence

Beneath this infectious ecstasy of the open road the main characters are laying out an ecofeminist thesis.

  • On the surface the movie is an action-packed adventure about vehicles and speed – calling to mind exciting chase sequences that give viewers an adrenaline rush.
  • Underneath is a story about the patriarchal forces (violent and greedy control by a small group of dominant men) that have led to environmental collapse by misuse of earth resources and women.

Even the first time we meet them, one of them is cutting off a chastity belt with teeth built into it, freeing herself of patriarchal sexual shackles, and the perverse vagina dentata fears that the patriarchy brings with them.

  • patriarchy – is basically rule by the fathers, implying that a small group of older men are in control. Younger men may expect to move into ruling positions but women may not.
  • patriarchal ideologies typically keep women in their place by insisting on the kind of binary absolutes discussed in this week’s lecture – male/female, strong/weak, active/passive, etc. etc.
  • perverse vagina dentata fears – a sort of freudian common sense suggests that groups that oppress others typically live in fear of them and ascribe evil motives and evil to them. So here the chastity belt has teeth which reflects the fear of these oppressors of a vagina with teeth in it.