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The Art of Coexistence in the Age of Mass Extinction

staying with the trouble
Forfatter: Donna Haraway
Man should enter into an intimate and living "collaboration" with other species rather than pursuing a dry zero-sum game of calculated risk and balancing self-interest, Donna Haraway believes. 


Donna Haraway is a veteran of the alternative California philosophy scene and consistently moves in the margins of the human race. In the past, she has challenged the way we understand ourselves by linking feminism to a thinking about non-human beings – both animals and cyborgs. This time she mustered a whole range of animals, scientists, artists, insects, bacteria and peoples in a new rethinking of the relationship between man and nature.

The form in the title "Staying with the trouble" summarizes Haraway's well-considered attitude to the world situation, which many choose to summarize under the epoch term "anthropocene". This natural term designates man as a "geophysical force" – with the capacity to overwhelm the forces of nature. Nature on Earth, understood as both flora, fauna and thermal systems, has lost much of its independence. In return, humans are reminded of their dependence on nature. It's time to refresh what the alternative movement on the 70's called "a declaration of INTERdependence".

New nature models. Haraway seeks the solution in a new understanding of ourselves, where we truly stop thinking of humanity as an exception to nature and to the individual as isolated from others. This is far easier said than done. The understanding of nature is always charged. We project the human into nature, while at the same time constantly trying to rediscover "natural" processes in society. Darwin was influenced by market liberalism and Adam Smith when he described the competition principles in nature in Origin of species. Communist Peter Kropotkin wrote the book Mutual Aid: A Factor In Evolution in 1920, to show that collaboration is as "natural" as competition, to underpin its anarchist understanding of society.

When Haraway grasps established nature metaphors, it is not to prove that something is more natural than anything else. Rather, she turns to biology as a toolbox for alternative ways of thinking about coexistence. Admittedly, she prefers more to Kropotkin than to Smith, because the most important tool is the term symbiosis. The concept of symbiosis is used here in line with biologist Lynn Margulis and her theories of cell evolution: There are strictly no individuals working together, for the individual himself er a collaboration so that even the simplest cells are the result of symbiotic processes. The interaction between bacteria and larger organisms, or between flowers and bees, cannot be reduced to anything these beings makes. Interaction with the environment is part of the creature's being – of what they see most deeply er.

The interaction between bacteria and larger organisms, or between flowers and bees, is not something these beings makes, but what they deepest er.

Fit great stories. So what we are is determined by the relationships we enter into. Therefore, Haraway is skeptical of the great stories of man's place in the world and the era of environmental disruption. Whether we choose the term anthropocene or going in for Jason E. Moore's the capital city, the stories tend to be for major: international groups, geophysical disorders, humanity as a geophysical player. Relationships remain abstract, and no one can relate directly to having to "save the world." When we retreat to the big stories, we end up with small and private stories where what we do doesn't play a significant role in the outside world.

"Staying with the trouble" involves participating in "fittingly great stories" created by the interaction between different species and communities, between consumers and activists, between landscapes and people. Haraway is looking to capture "attentive practices of thinking, love, rage and care". Interaction between species is not a dry zero sum game, a bookkeeping hell of numbers, calculated risk and balancing self-interest. Haraway searches for the sensual and juicy – intimate and living participation in what she calls "sympoiesis": "co-creation". Symposium is a kind of chosen symbiosis, a joint creation of a world and a way of life.

Election relationship with nature. Throughout, Haraway's stories are about what she calls "making kin," where "kin" is a kind of choice relationship across species – a relationship to selected animals, plants, or insects. Such a chosen relationship may come instead of or in addition to one's own family. Animal husbandry is the first thing that comes to mind, but even though Haraway herself is a dog enthusiast, she places more emphasis on more unexpected and eccentric stories, where humans and other beings are weaved together in far more unconventional ways.

One story is about the Hopi Indians' struggle to reintroduce their original sheep breed, and weaving here becomes more than a metaphor: It becomes an activity that connects sheep, people, pastures, politics and history. Another is about how an anthropologist created an ecological movement in Madagascar – including using children's books on local lemurs. Similar forms of art activism are explored through shamanistic environmental computer games for Inuit children, the connection between crocheting, math, coral reefs and nature conservation as well as letter pigeons, bloggers and park environments. All of these stories are complicated and full of surprising connections between very different parts. At the end of the book, Haraway includes a bunch of science-fiction fables about "Camille"; a series of generations of women living in a parasymbiotic relationship with an endangered butterfly species.

"Staying with the trouble" involves participating in "fittingly great stories" created by the interaction between different species and communities, between consumers and activists, between landscapes and people.

The front is long. A critical objection, of course, could be that these examples are too artificial, marginal or too speculative to be credible solutions. But such criticism loses the main point, which lies precisely here: In the problematic coexistence between man and nature, there are no quick solutions on a large scale. The only salvation for an increasingly marginalized nature is a myriad of individual projects and campaigns, driven by all the motives and connections that can come into being beyond self-interest: curiosity, admiration, care, affinity, scientific interest, historical connections – whatever than had to bring the species together. Without sentimentality, Haraway lists the meeting places: houses, laboratories, hunting fields, parks, farms, arenas, villages, hospitals, forests, slaughterhouses, veterinarians, nature reserves and factories. This is where the battle stands, it is these worlds that need to be worked on, improved and transformed.

Haraway's book is best read as an extended manifesto: a pointed, polemical and humorous attempt to muster a new way of thinking – a fruitful relationship with an increasingly vulnerable nature. This type of activism, art projects and academic fabrication cannot replace climate summits or major political measures. We obviously need both and all at once, as Arne Næs used to say: The front is long.

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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