collecting: haptic ecologies of kin and kind

2000-2006. As rural children, my peers and I come face to face with all material considered useless and ready to be disposed of, into the ocean: black garbage bags, plastic bottles, oil, old car parts, onion sacks containing corpses of unwanted kittens.

While some of these sink to the bottom of the harbour and stay there, potentially serving as reminders for the times we used to have or possible regrets (all those poor kittens), others float on the surface and are carried away in sweeping movements by the Notre Dame Bay. In good weather, she sends them back mellifluently, maybe hoping we will gather them again and find better ways of dealing with our disposals.

The next year we enter junior high where we have our first critical look at environmental studies. We are taught to get out into nature and take care of our bodies because endorphins make us feel better. We are taught to play our part in keeping our towns clean, and a summer project for students encourages us to pick up litter from ditches. Because we live in the middle of nowhere, our only way to get around is by walking or riding our bikes. Feel good, do good. We get to cash in all the bottles we collect. After all, the best way to engage adolescents in critical environmentalist praxis is through a capitalist promise, no?

Still, after all this learning and all these dollars later, I have been no stranger to spitting out my gum in public or leaving trash behind in places I know I shouldn’t.

004 (4)

Double exposure from my Holga 135bc. September 2011. Photo: Daze Jefferies.

In his article examining Indigenous perceptions of relationships between humans and nature, Enrique Salmón (2000) asks us to think about the concept of kincentric ecology and to interrogate its unfolding in traditional and vernacular terms and practices.

Do we care enough about our emerging kin? Those life-forms who are coming, and will come, into being as our corporeal holdings rot and take on new forms. In this moment, most of us only think we won’t be returning to the earth in any way. We aren’t thinking about the ways we make, weather, and are in this world together (Neimanis and Walker 2014).

Conjointly, how might we change our everyday actions to better reflect the philosophy that we inhabit the earth with many others (non-human and more-than-human), that we are “sharing breath with our relatives” (Salmón 2000: 1328)?

Putting together the work of Indigenous thought, ecofeminisms, posthumanisms, and art/science/theory collaborations brings to light the cogent need to re/think our haptic relations to kin, what Larissa Lai might call “shreds of the flesh of [our] own kind” (2002: 52). This imagery of and turn to touch/ing can put us face to face with the way we produce sustainable narrative-making with the environment. It is not enough to say that life-forms are made of the same quantum parts. We need to be aware of our intra-active touching with all other lives, recognizing that when we harm them, we harm ourselves. We play a game of Double This, Double That.

In Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Donna Haraway imagines an “elsewhere and an elsewhen that was, still is, and might yet be: the Chthulucene” (2016: 31). While some may think that her theorizing comes from an unexpected place (the spider Pimoa cthulhu), its rootedness in nature follows a tradition of particular Indigenous pedagogies (Wildcat 2009; Pierotti 2011; Simpson 2014). Because the spider has been named by humans, yet its eight long feelers embody the tangled and tangling elsewhere/elsewhen Haraway contemplates, her theory is able to come into being through the intra-action of human and non-/more-than-human nature, as the Chthulucene “entangles myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages” (2015: 160).

maman

The sculpture Maman (1999) by Louise Bourgeois. I remember seeing it for the first time at the National Gallery of Canada in 2009 and being completely taken aback yet captivated. Photo: Deanna Nichols. https://flic.kr/p/4mrynM

Haraway teaches me that “tentacle comes from the Latin tentaculum, meaning ‘feeler’ and tentare, meaning ‘to feel,” and that “tentacularity is about life lived along lines…not at points, not in spheres” (2016: 31-2). I step out of the book’s pages to catch a glimpse of my own surroundings, to imagine the lines formed in rock by the feelers of the Atlantic Ocean: the way that she has played with this island, forming rugged edges where land touches water in bursts, and at places in the sides of cliffs where that touching never stops, smooth surfaces like innocent skin from “continuous erosion” (Hallett 2010).

These life-forms have been playing with each other for millions of years, and both of them are still here.  Not so long ago, our human kin started to erase many of these lines that guide us: we try to dominate in this game of touching and feeling, we strip away interrelations and exchanges from tentacular powers and forces, from all things. When Haraway says that “maybe, but only maybe, and only with intense commitment and collaborative work and play with other terrans, flourishing for rich multispecies assemblages that include people will be possible,” (2015: 160) she wants us to recognize the harm that cannot be undone, to imagine ways to mend these many forms. She asks us to make our own sacrifices in order to care for our many kinds of kin, our familial/familiar, since “it is high time that feminists exercise leadership in imagination, theory, and action to unravel the ties of both genealogy and kin, and kin and species” (161).

What potential might lie in viewing the natural world, not as “one of wonder, but of familiarity” (Salmón 2000: 1329)? What about the intra-action of both? Is the notion of wonder a key component of imaginative thinking? Can imagination be familiar?

For a moment I imagine myself as Larissa Lai’s hybrid shapeshifter Nu-Wa (fish, snake, human) with her many types of feelers. Nu-Wa shows me her ancient world without touch: “In the beginning there was just me…The materials of life still lay dormant, not yet understanding their profound relationship to one another” (2002: 1). If we do not recognize the critical power of relating to all our multispecies and multiform kin through touch, and if the earth does not use all her tentacles to seek revenge first, maybe in the end we will be like Nu-Wa, alone and unable to feel.

And I will not be ready. Will you?

She might leave me, she might leave you.

She might show you garbage floating on the surface.

She might ask you to imagine, like Stacie Cassarino:

the space between what you deserve
and what you will into this animal world,

knowing you will lose it,
you will float there, hardening (2009: 12).

References

Cassarino, Stacie. 2009. “Kingdom of Glass,” In Zero at the Bone: 11-2. Kalamazoo, Michigan: New Issues Poetry & Prose.

Hallett, Vicki. 2010. “Continuous Erosion: Place and Identity in the Lives of Newfoundland Women,” In Despite this Loss: Essays on Culture, Memory and Identity in Newfoundland and Labrador, eds. Ursula A, Kelly and Elizabeth Yeoman, 74-91. St. John’s: ISER Books.

Haraway, Donna. 2015. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” In Environmental Humanities, 6: 159-65. http://environmentalhumanities.org/arch/vol6/6.7.pdf.

Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Lai, Larissa. 2002. Salt Fish Girl: A Novel. Toronto: Dundurn Press.

Neimanis, Astrida., and Rachel Loewen Walker. 2014. “Weathering: Climate Change and the ‘Thick Time’ of Transcorporeality,” in Hypatia, 29 (3): 558-575. DOI: 10.1111/hypa.12064.

Pierotti, Raymond J. 2011. Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology: Indigenous Peoples and Politics. New York: Routledge.

Salmón, Enrique. 2000. Kincentric Ecology: Indigenous Perceptions of the Human-Nature Relationship,” In Ecological Applications, 10 (5): 1327-32. https://www.fws.gov/nativeamerican/pdf/tek-salmon-2000.pdf.

Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. 2014. “Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation,” In Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 3 (3): 1-25. http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/22170/17985.

Wildcat, Daniel R. 2009. Red Alert!: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing.

© Daze Jefferies (dsj272 @ mun.ca), 2017

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