Chthulucene discussion continues in emails and in the LRB

My essay on the dangers of populationism in Donna Haraway’s latest work has touched a nerve. I’ve never had anything go viral like this. Some people (like Annie Koh) find generative things to say about the critique even if they felt like they had “read a different book” from me.

Haraway herself wrote to the authors of her forthcoming edited collection Make Kin Not Babies that:

Lewis’s essay—wonderful writing, smart analysis, an argument worth having, an argument necessary to have. Of course, I am over the moon with her amazing elucidation of the cyborg manifesto and under the weather for her complete repudiation of SwT. If she didn’t write and think so well, I would care less!  I do care.

 

Which is, needless to say, the most dizzying thing that has ever happened to me from an intellectual point of view.

Haraway is also angry and says she thinks my critique of her Chthulucene is ‘profoundly wrong’.

I insist that ‘make kin not babies’ is a position for anti-racist reproductive justice, including pro-child multispecies reproductive justice, and is NOT a re-enlivening of misanthropy and racism.

 

But, because she is none other than the incredible Donna Haraway, she does not just talk the talk of her own ‘staying with the trouble’ ethics, she walks the walk:

In conflict and collaboration, I am seriously grateful to Sophie Lewis for this essay, both the parts I love and the parts I hate.

 

I, too, am seriously grateful.

Meanwhile, Jenny Turner, writing in the London Review of Books, concludes her essay with very complimentary engagement with my Viewpoint essay:

 

‘I wrote this weeping (!)’ the human geographer Sophie Lewis tweeted by way of introducing the long, ferociously disappointed critique she recently published online with Viewpoint Magazine. Haraway, Lewis explains, was once her hero – ‘a trained biologist who analysed the swarming web of earthly life … and pursued a revolutionary’s desire for liberation in the same breath’; who ‘cared deeply’, in ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ in particular, ‘about human people in all their proliferating ingloriousness and … wanted post-gender communism for us’. But the essays collected in this latest book, as Lewis sees it, make ‘a decisive turn towards a primitivism-tinged, misanthropic populationism’, ‘apolitical’, ‘ethnocentric’ and dismayingly careless (‘In short, Haraway is trafficking irresponsibly in racist narratives’).

On the one hand, Lewis is lamenting Haraway’s drift, as she sees it, from ‘cyborgicity’ – fusile, human, fierce, dynamic – to a vague, hippy-dippy ‘multi-species feminism’. On the other, there’s the indisputable harshness of the maths. Haraway, Lewis writes, wistfully projects a future in which human numbers will have dropped from eleven to two or three billion over a couple of centuries: ‘One would be justified in expecting to get some elaboration on how the removal of eight billion heads … could be non-coercive – indeed, non-genocidal.’ Some discussion, for example, of ‘border-policing and population discourse’, some acknowledgment, perhaps, of ‘the class struggle already underway’ among ‘abortion activists, single mothers and commercial gestational surrogates’. Haraway, it should be said, does indeed mention ‘racial purity fantasies’ and that ‘fear of immigrants is a big problem’; but only in passing, taking such things as read. Lewis doesn’t think this is good enough, or enough to counter the overall anti-human creep.

Lewis also picks up on references I missed. On the Chthulu/Cthulhu wordplay, for example: ‘A cursory scan of scholarship on Lovecraftian literature suggests a stable consensus that the Cthulhu Mythos was (and remains) the vehicle of genocidal fever-dream and obsessive racism,’ meaning that Haraway’s use of the word is ‘a joke that misses badly; a lapse in judgment that is also slightly shocking’. I didn’t know about Cthulhu, but now I do, I’m shocked too. I also didn’t know that Gauley Mountain in West Virginia, the setting for Haraway’s ‘Children of Compost’ story, is in real life the place where the performance artists and queer-sex educators Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stevenson have settled, making them ‘presumably the template “compostists” in question’. So the Camille stories started life as a smug ecosexual in-joke. Oh dear.

In her book, however, Haraway expressed hopes for the Children of Compost project that would reach far beyond such dull beginnings. ‘Every Camille story that I write will make terrible political and ecological mistakes,’ she announced, ‘and every story asks readers to practise generous suspicion by joining in the fray.’ At the time of writing, she seemed to be envisaging a future for the project as ‘a collective digital world for story posting and gaming … designs, images, animations … histories and critiques’. So far, Haraway has confirmed, this is ‘a plan and not a reality’. If it ever does go up, I hope to see Sophie Lewis’s piece in pride of place on it, with an open Comments thread.

Because there’s another way of looking at the Children of Compost project, and the Staying with the Trouble book in general. Is it not perhaps that Haraway is a lot older now than she used to be, and withdrawing somewhat from the clamour of humans, so much more draining to deal with, as one gets older, than animals and plants? And if so, isn’t that just part of a fairly common life-pattern among ‘human people in all their proliferating ingloriousness’, and as such, just another dimension of human desiring behaviour for humanists to embrace?

It seems to me that Haraway is probably as aware as a writer can be that what she has to offer at the moment is nowhere near enough to engage with all the ‘trouble’ that needs to be engaged with. All she can do, she seems to be saying, is to stay with it a while, worrying at the very edges of her capacity, and then pass it on. ‘We need each other’s risk-taking support, in conflict and collaboration, big time,’ is how she ends that infamous two-page endnote. ‘The answer to the trust of the held-out hand’, as she also puts it. ‘Think we must.’

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“Chthulu plays no role for me” (at Viewpoint magazine)

Head’s-up: the brilliant Marxists at Viewpoint magazine published my essay on Donna Haraway. It’s received a hell of a lot of eyeball traffic and even prompted an email from the great DH herself, so, in light of all this engagement, there are likely to be further developments, refinements or perhaps retractions of this critique! Stay tuned. 

I remain for reading Haraway against Haraway. For all her chastisement of “bitter cynicism”, and for all her talk of mud and piss and worms, the chanting goddess who has displaced the earlier cyborg, at least in the pages of Staying with the Trouble, is too much of a clean-living misanthrope – and above all, too much of a pessimist – to be a comrade. Meanwhile, her neglected (if not disavowed) framework of cyborgicity becomes a more and more potent heuristic for thinking class composition and embodying its struggles every day. Cyborgs for Earthly Survival! was the slogan Haraway submitted to Socialist Review. That spirit still lives in the interstices of Staying with the Trouble. Part of our task is indeed “not to forget the stink in the air from the burning of the witches, not to forget the murders of human and nonhuman beings in the Great Catastrophes named the Plantationocene, Anthropocene, Capitalocene”. Part of it is, indeed, to “move through memory to represencing;” to grow capable of response; to become kin; and to “stay with” trouble. But the main thing is to make an altogether bigger kind of trouble.

Exciting times…

Amniotechnics

This essay of mine was published at The New Inquiry two months ago. Better late than never to log it on my blog, right? It’s called AMNIOTECHNICS, which is the name of the concept I’d like to explore in a book.

Amniotechnics is the art of holding and caring even while being ripped into, at the same time as being held. It is protecting water and protecting people from water. I want a generalized praxis of this, which doesn’t forget the importance of holding mothers and thwarted mothers and, yes, even wannabe “single fathers,” afloat in the juice; breathing but hydrated; well-watered but dry. I hope it is possible even for fantasists of ectogenetic progeny, like Frankenstein, who have dreamed of a birth unsullied by a womb, to become capable amniotechnicians in time. Their worldviews may not hold water, but I think they too have to be held. It is possible for any of us to learn that it is the holders—not the delusional “authors,” self-replicators and “patenters”—who truly people the world. “Water management” may sound unexciting, but I suspect it contains the secrets to the kinmaking practices of the future.

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If this grabs you, go read the rest of it over at TNI, email or tweet at me with your thoughts and criticisms, and watch this space for a longer version.

On transphobia-whorephobia

I forgot to mention – I contributed an essay to the latest issue of Salvage magazine, analysing contemporary RadFem(TM) politics, specifically the project of SWERFs (sex-worker-exclusionary radfems) and TERFs (trans-exclusionary radfems). It’s called SERF ‘n’ TERF: Notes on Some Bad Materialisms.

Here’s an excerpt!

Justified hatred of (sex) work in no way justifies attacks on (sex) workers’ self-organisation. Quite the opposite, in fact. Nobody will abolish (sex) work but (sex) workers themselves. And neither surgery nor the absence of surgery nor chromosomes nor lipstick nor cocks have anything to do with the class composition of this struggle against the gendered division of work and gender oppression generally. As Riki Anne Wilchins put it in 1994: ‘if pre-ops are excluded, then I am pre-op. If non-ops are excluded then I am non-op. For that matter, if post-ops are excluded, then I am post-op.’ Let’s take over the factories of our own bodies and have no truck with efforts to police the bounds of womanhood or, for that matter, humanity, let alone ‘productivity’. Being practically all of us whores, it’s about time we learned to fight as such, especially for our trans sisters, and against the tyranny of work.

On the Future Genealogy of the Date

On the Future Genealogy of the Date

I’m extremely excited to be published in Blindfield journal, in response to their CfP on “housework”, & thrilled to have worked with such a great team of editors. My article on Moira Weigel’s new book, and dating as emotional labour, is now up!

By Sophie Lewis

What would the most thrilling and intimate moments in our collective social reproduction feel like in the cities of our dreams? It is far harder to answer this than to identify the lack in what we’ve currently got. Most people currently live for, in large part, the joy of flourishing in communion with their love-mates. Yet there is a dimension of burdensome labor to the process of tracking down those ‘other halves’ – as they are still called – just as there is work in the process of making a life with them, not least creating the home within which love can be tended. What one can think of, then, as the housework of finding and cultivating sweethearts is today more private and individualized than ever. At the same time, a certain forced collectivization of living has lately been imposed on more and more of us…

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linking the issues in the struggle for reproductive justice

whether the end-product of any given uterine activity is a cancer, a miscarriage, a termination or a live newborn infant, the very best of technological assistance should – clearly – be freely available to all.

 

re-blogging from movements@manchester:

Should we be doing more to link the issues in the struggle for reproductive justice? 

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