Thursday, September 07, 2006

Becoming intense, becoming Haraway

Tonight I had the good fortune of seeing Donna Haraway deliver a lecture here at Indiana University. Her talk, "We Have Never Been Human: When Species Meet," was the keynote address at IU's first-ever Kindred Spirits conference, which is taking place here today, tomorrow, and throughout the weekend. It promises to be a remarkable event interrogating the relationship between human and non-human animals. The lineup even includes (among other notables) Carole Adams, whose The Sexual Politics of Meat is a remarkable, thought-provoking book about vegetarianism.

I'm writing, though, to talk about Haraway's relationship to the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Judging by the title of the talk, perhaps it comes as no surprise to hear that one of her objects of interest was Deleuze and Guattari's chapter from A Thousand Plateaus, "Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible" (chapter 10). She began by noting that many had suggested to her over the years that her work was Deleuzo-Guattarian in spirit, and so after some time she decided, finally, to read them. She also noted many of Deleuze's individual writings (most notably one of my favorites, Difference and Repetition), and generally seemed laudatory toward his larger body of work. (I'm not sure how she feels about Guattari, who was the self-avowed environmentalist of the duo.) ATP chapter 10 was another story, however. She described it as something to the effect of, "the 50 pages that deserved to be burned at the inquisition." Ouch. If I gather correctly, she most objected to their celebrating the wolf pack and denigrating the image of the lone, older woman walking her dog.

From a feminist standpoint, I can certainly understand the objection. I also agree that D&G are wrong to dismiss the significance of the woman-dog scene, which, as Haraway pointed out, is a deeply complex moment of interspecies encounter. As a dog parent (see the photo above-left of my canine companion), I intuitively "get" what she was getting at. What's intriguing to me, though, is how, in a way, Haraway seems to shoot out the other side in trying to achieve an ethics of interspecies interaction. To me what's so significant and interesting about D&G's discussion of the wolf pack is precisely the absence of people in that moment, or their implicit suggestion that philosophy/critical theory need not always return in some moment to the human in order to address broad ontological questions. Haraway, in the end, seems to want to understand the human through the non-human and vice-versa, which I take to be a different kind of project--a new humanism, I think, rather than a Deleuzo-Guattarian ahumanism. And for my part, the latter continues to be a more compelling project, precisely because it doesn't demand that human beings always dwell within the philosophical proscenium.

I don't plan on lighting any fires at the inquisition anytime soon, in other words. I should say, though, to be fair, that Haraway's talk was provocative, engaging, and nothing short of amazing--precisely the kind of work people have come to expect from her. I was lucky to have had a chance to see her in person.


kathleen said...

Giorgio Agamben in _The Open_ poses a third possibility that is neither being human nor _be_coming animal, but is "outside of being"(91). He writes: "To render inoperative the machine that governs our conception of man will therefore mean no longer to seek new -- more effective or more authentic -- articulations, but rather to show the central emptiness, the hiatus that -- with man -- separates man and animal, and to risk ourselves in this emptiness: the suspension of the suspension, Shabbat of both animal and man" (92).
I think all three projects hold promise.

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Kathleen,

Thanks for your comment. I've read some of Agamben's other work, but I haven't yet had the pleasure of reading The Open. Clearly I'll have to check it out. I love the line/idea, "Shabbat of both animal and man"--though I would add that people are animals, too, but who am I to quibble with Agamben? I also need to read his Homo Sacer, which I suspect may offer some interesting theoretical perspective to my work on intellectual property piracy.