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Irene Wolf­s­tone

Mak­ing trou­ble” is the most urgent task of our time, accord­ing to Don­na Har­away.

Haraway’s recent book con­tains revised ver­sions of pre­vi­ous pub­li­ca­tions, with a new final chap­ter. Her revi­sions cre­ate a coher­ent argu­ment for respond­ing to the con­ver­gence of cli­mate change and a mass extinc­tion event. Her cen­tral argu­ment is crys­tal­ized by the title: in response to the trou­bled world, we and all our human and oth­er-than-human kin urgent­ly need to make more trou­ble as a resur­gence of life. Mak­ing kin refers to mul­ti-species rela­tion­al­i­ty that is crit­i­cal to “ongo­ing­ness” in our chthon­ic (earth-based) lives. Sur­vival depends on becom­ing chthon­ic again. Chthon­ic aligns with Chthu­lucene, Haraway’s word for the cur­rent era of ongo­ing­ness as earth­lings that belong to the world we inhab­it.

Haraway’s intro­duc­to­ry chap­ter suc­cinct­ly frames her key con­cepts. Stay­ing with the trou­ble requires learn­ing to be present, not as a van­ish­ing piv­ot between awful pasts and apoc­a­lyp­tic futures, but as chthon­ic beings entan­gled in many unfin­ished con­fig­u­ra­tions of places, times, mat­ters, and mean­ings. The chthon­ic world, which she names Ter­rapo­lis, is full of inde­ter­mi­nate gen­ders and gen­res where “oth­er­ness” adds rich­ness to col­lec­tive polit­i­cal action in con­trast to mas­culin­ist pol­i­tics of exclu­sion.

In the first three chap­ters, Har­away deliv­ers her process and prac­tise. In Chap­ter 1, Play­ing String Fig­ures with Com­pan­ion Species, she guides the read­er in cut­ting the bonds with anthro­pocen­trism by focus­ing on mul­ti-species activism. She describes kin­ship with pigeons who trea­sured kin and despised pests that have been “build­ing nat­u­ral­cul­tur­al economies and lives for thou­sands of years” (15). Haraway’s use of “nat­u­ral­cul­tur­al” as an adjec­tive is an unex­plained shift from her past usage of “naturecul­ture” as noun. She uses the con­cept of “world­ing” to refer to the game of liv­ing and dying well togeth­er in Ter­rapo­lis. She con­cludes the chap­ter with a call to activism: “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. The dif­fer­ences matter—in ecolo­gies, economies, species, lives” (29).

Chap­ter 2, Ten­tac­u­lar Think­ing, is an epis­te­mol­o­gy that explores new ways of think­ing like an octo­pus, rep­re­sent­ed by Medusa, the Gor­gon. Chthu­lucene does not refer to a future epoch, but rather names the cur­rent unfin­ished time. Har­away is impa­tient with two respons­es to cli­mate change. The first response is embed­ded in the word “Cap­i­talocene,” which holds to a sil­ly belief in tech­nofix­es to reverse this man-made apoc­a­lypse, but fails to own up to its necrop­ol­i­tics of slav­ery, Indige­nous geno­cides, and the forced relo­ca­tions of peo­ple, plants, and ani­mals. The sec­ond response is embed­ded in the cyn­i­cal term “Anthro­pocene,” which implies that it is “game-over” and the defeatism of “too late” to change the future (56). Both respons­es require a for­get­ting, a dis­avow­al, a blind­ness to real­i­ty. Her intent is to demon­strate a third response—a response-abil­i­ty to stay­ing with the trou­ble in a live­ly way by mak­ing kin with com­pan­ion species.

Har­away com­pares the dis­avow­al of the threats of cli­mate change and extinc­tions to the “banal­i­ty of evil” in Han­nah Arendt’s analy­sis of Eichmann’s war crimes (36). The men­tal prac­tice of refus­ing to know, refus­ing response-abil­i­ty and refus­ing to be present in the moment is not unprece­dent­ed. Eichmann’s inabil­i­ty to think was a banal­i­ty of evil that par­al­lels the dis­avow­al of cur­rent and impend­ing dis­as­ters, geno­cides, and speci­escides. Dis­avow­al is the “evil of thought­less­ness.” Like Arendt, Har­away call us to think. Think­ing mat­ters! Think­ing is not a process for eval­u­at­ing infor­ma­tion and argu­ment; it is a choice between active car­ing for a trou­bled world or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in geno­cide.

In Chap­ter 3, Sym­poiesis, Har­away stays with the trou­ble by focus­ing on four eco­log­i­cal­ly-trou­bled places. She explores what a rec­i­p­ro­cal rela­tion­al­i­ty would look like if mul­ti­ple species engaged in the activism of resur­gence. She rec­og­nizes that Indige­nous peo­ples are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. Har­away tells sto­ries that make sense of ani­mism as mate­ri­al­ism by inte­grat­ing evo­lu­tion, ecol­o­gy, sym­poiesis, his­to­ry, sit­u­at­ed knowl­edges, cos­mol­o­gy, and sci­ence art. Resur­gence depends on imag­i­na­tion. Har­away makes an urgent call for trans­for­ma­tive learn­ing on how to become more response-able, more imag­i­na­tive, and more capa­ble of prac­tic­ing the arts of liv­ing and dying well in a mul­ti­species sym­bio­sis on a dam­aged plan­et (98).

The final five chap­ters are con­ver­sa­tions with oth­er places and beings that illus­trate the prac­tise of mak­ing kin. Chap­ter 4 is a plea to make kin, not babies (the title of her forth­com­ing book). Kin means more than enti­ties relat­ed by ances­try or geneal­o­gy. Kin­mak­ing is build­ing rela­tion­ships with beings that co-habit our world. Chap­ter 5 is a per­son­al reflec­tion on the kin­ship with ani­mals. Chap­ter 6 intro­duces the notion of ter­raform­ing with earth-oth­ers by plant­i­ng seeds in kin­ships with plants and insects. In Chap­ter 7, Har­away draws on Han­nah Arendt and Vir­ginia Woolf to under­stand the high stakes of train­ing the mind and imag­i­na­tion to go vis­it­ing, to strike up con­ver­sa­tions with natal and non-natal kin, to cre­ate the unex­pect­ed, and to take up the unasked-for oblig­a­tions of hav­ing met. In Chap­ter 8, the Chil­dren of Com­post invite read­ers to attend to the real­i­ties of liv­ing and dying in the world by build­ing the capac­i­ty to nur­ture and sup­port life.

The strength of this book is Haraway’s abil­i­ty to shift our think­ing and cat­alyze a resur­gence of liv­ing well. Her use of neol­o­gisms, sym­bols, sto­ries, and art illus­trate the imag­i­na­tion that is required for ongo­ing­ness. This book is a must-read for those who care about the plan­et and the human dimen­sions of cli­mate change adap­ta­tion.

Don­na Har­away is Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta in the His­to­ry of Con­scious­ness Depart­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Cruz. She is high­ly regard­ed for her inno­v­a­tive schol­ar­ship relat­ed to fem­i­nist phi­los­o­phy of sci­ence, cyborg the­o­ry, the­o­ry of sit­u­at­ed knowl­edges, and mul­ti-species the­o­riz­ing.