Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Reading :: The Companion Species Manifesto

Originally posted: Tue, 27 Jul 2004 07:45:04

The Companion Species Manifesto

By Donna Haraway

If you're like me, as you examine the literature of technoscience, sometimes you pause in your office or library carrel and ask yourself questions.

Questions such as "Are there any scholarly treatises in the humanities that include lengthy descriptions of dogs engaging in oral sex?"

And after a moment's thought, you probably concluded: no, I suppose not.

Well, my friend, you would be wrong.

You would be wrong because Donna Haraway, that iconoclast, has authored another manifesto. Her Cyborg Manifesto was a brilliantly iconoclastic piece of work in which Haraway ruthlessly interrogated allies as well as enemies, relentlessly probing Marxists, feminists, and socialists as well as taking shots at capitalists, paternalists, and the Right. That manifesto presented a figure or trope that could be used to describe the mixed, intertwined, inseparable relationships among people, nature, and technology.

Haraway takes up this agenda again in The Companion Species Manifesto, a slim pamphlet published by Prickly Paradigm Press. Here, she turns away from the figure of the cyborg to that of the dog, using this new feature to address the issue of "natureculture" discussed in more depth by Latour in his latest book. The dog, she concludes, is the right figure for this: they aren't "furry children," they're actually companions and partners with their own talents, agendas, and places in the family. Dogs become part of vital natural-cultural ecosystems, no more and no less important than human beings.

Well, now you don't have to read the pamphlet. In fact, I can't recommend it. Like Haraway's last book, it's terrifically self-indulgent in style, pacing, and subject. I tired quickly of the uninspired wordplay, with words like "dogmatic" and phrases like "going to the dogs" repeated too often to seem clever. And like Latour's entry in this series, the argument is edited with a light hand, so it tends to be undisciplined and flabby. If you want the sense of the argument without the flab, take a look at Haraway's chapter in Chasing Technoscience.

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