Donna Haraway’s Staying with the trouble is a thick text, full of different ways of interrogating and exploring the threads of connection and where we fit into the mess of humanity and ecology. Like many environmental humanities scholars and practice led researchers in the ecological arts, I found Staying with the trouble a rich theoretical foundation for the processes that I use to story my community and my environment while being mindful of the relationships between my work and way I connect to mesh that is life on Earth.
One challenge of interpreting and applying Staying with the trouble is the sheer volume of ideas that Haraway proposes. Jumping between scientific jargon, her own words and the words of philosophers and artists – there’s a lot of ideas about words and ideas in and through words to make sense of. In particular I find it challenging to grapple with the idea of staying with the trouble – which seems to be regularly interpreted as the practice of choosing to engage with the injustices of the world because they are all connected to each other and to ourselves as Earthlings. Whenever I think about the idea of agency or consent in staying with the trouble the same Harry Potter quote always pops into my head trouble usually finds me.
So for my practice, the value Haraway’s work is not so much about choosing to engage with the extinction crisis, or choosing to see and explore my connection to the community or the environment. I think that’s because I have already grown up knowing entirely that my survival depended on my Earthly others, where so few kids who grew up like me got to grow up at all. For years, I trained to spot the traces and tracks that the beings, culturally* lost to deep time, left on the world we see today. I knew that I was just a jot on a planet so complex and ancient it would continue to change and shift and that the question was whether we – being mammals – will be welcome to come along. Learning to stay with the trouble did not really seem like a lesson I needed Haraway to teach me (although it’s nice to read something that articulates how we can relate to each other through time very well).
The two chapters that I do draw on a lot are Chapter 4: Making Kin, and Chapter 8: A Curious Practice. I’m drawn to these two chapters for different reasons, so I’ll write about them separately.
Chapter 4: Making Kin
My research involves a lot of making. Some of it is making for a brief or commission – where there is the expectation that what I make conveys a particular message that can be received and interpreted by a particular audience. Most of the making I do though is making to make sense of ideas, to find a path through my thoughts. Haraway’s ideas on Making Kin are very useful here.
Making Kin is a way of valuing the Earth bound, finding personhood, care and love between beings that may not typically be considered as beings at all – rather, things. Because materiality is so central to my practice I find a lot of meaning in the ideas around building and thinking through the connections of what I’m making with, to arrive at who I’m making with. An example of this is my eagle comic which is about a place and an eagle that I met briefly. I made this story with a woolies bag from my dad, a plastic bag, old fabrics and scraps from my family, and a coffee bag that had been shipped from unknown workers in Brazil and sold to me by my friends Emma and Amy at Reverse Garbage. Making Kin is a lens with which to explore back through these materialities, to see what I’m making with as lively beings in and of themselves. I think about making kin when tracing this way of ‘making with’ all the way back to the triassic creatures whose bodies make up the plastic bag in my crocheted fish.
Making kin and making kind are ideas that I draw on as a mindset to engage with and work through the materialities of my graphic storytelling practice. A Curious Practice is a means of analysing what I story and why I story it.
Chapter 8: A Curious Practice
A curious practice is a good anchor for storying animist worlds. In this chapter, Haraway is quick to show that visiting and storying the ways of being that are not ours’, using examples of birds and cows, is a risky business. Haraway argues that it is hard and messy – but vitally important – to try to observe and story the ways of the Earth bound that are very different from our own ways of being. To explore with empathy and curiosity, but to resist bringing our own ideologies or agendas to the story. I draw on this chapter a lot because it informs how I try to go visiting into animal and plant beings in my imagination, asking and talking to them before storying with them.
Although Haraway also explicitly discusses Le Guinn’s Carrier Bag Theory in Chapter 6: I think there’s a lot of the Carrier Bag Theory imbued in the way that Haraway articulates a curious practice. Treating storying and imaginative practices as a way of exploring ways of being and empathic connection, without necessarily coming to a clear or definitive end, or moral, of a story is a key take-away from a curious practice. This chapter has become an anchor for how I engage with and choose which stories I tell in my practice, as well as the development of the ideas about making a lot of short comics, rather than a graphic novel. Storying small relationships or observations, borne from curiosity about other ways of being is becoming a very common theme in my research practice.
*European colonial cultures, Indigenous cultural technology has documented ice ages and climate changes for thousands of years.