Haraway, _The Companion Species Manifesto_

Haraway, Donna J. Companion Species Manifesto. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003. (100 pages)

Branching from her work on cyborgs, Haraway introduces the idea of the companion species as a way to talk about people’s ties to non-human entities, namely, dogs. In the opening sequence, she notes, “we are, constitutively, companion species. We make each other up, in the flesh. Significantly other to each other, in specific difference, we signify in the flesh a nasty development infection called love. This love is an historical aberration and a naturalcutlural legacy” (2-3).

Defined, companion species refers to “contingent foundations’…a bestiary of agencies, kinds of relatings, and scores of time trump the imaginings of even the most baroque cosmologists” (6). Companion species confronts the question, “How can people rooted in different knowledge practices ‘get on together’” (7); responding, “in vulnerable, on-the-ground work that cobbles together non-harmonious agencies and ways of living that are accountable both to their disparate inherited histories and to their barely possible but absolutely necessary joint figures”—what she calls significant otherness.

As the introductory comments note, she focuses a lot of her attention on the “implosion of nature and culture” (16): the art of “naturecultures” is “attuned to specific human inhabitations of the land, but it is neither humanist nor naturalist art” (24). Such art—or approach, worldview, etc—is an inherently feminine way of approaching the relations of things. The historically masculine way of understanding man and his environment was to see how man “makes himself repetitively as he invents (creates) his tools…Man took the (free) wolf and made the (servant) dog and so made civilization possible…let the dog stand for all domestic plant and animal species, subjected to human intent in stories of escalating progress or destruction, according to a taste” (28). In these cases, man causes violence on plant and animal (natural) life in order to forward progress among men (cultural). However, what is not considered is the reciprocal ways man and animal have shaped each other: “Human life ways changed significantly in association with dogs. Flexibility and opportunism are the name of the game for both species, who shape each other throughout the still ongoing story of co-evolution” (29). She continues to note that “co-constitutive companion species and co-evolution are the rule, not the exception” (32).

At the heart of the companion species is love; she then confronts the idea of “unconditional love”: if the idea that man makes himself by realizing his intentions in his tools, such as domestic animals (dogs) and computers (cyborgs), is evidence of a neurosis that I call humanist technophiliac narcissism, then the superficially opposed idea that dogs restore human beings’ souls by their unconditional love might be the neurosis of caninophiliac narcissism” (33). She notes the construct of the pet relationship, and the demanding and risky position this can be for dogs within an economy of affection (in other words, reliant on the affection of humans). She offers, instead, the framework of “respect and trust, not love” as the basis for “good working relationship between these dogs and humans” (39).

She goes further to note that the bond between dog and human relies on the human being attuned to “who the dogs are and hear what they are telling us” (45). This is made more difficult when human language—and Western approaches to language—is not the medium. However, Haraway finds that at the core of understanding is “the negative way of knowing” or, in other words, “the recognition that one cannot know the other or the self, but must ask in respect for all of time who and what are emerging in relationship” (50). In this sense, educating a dog only “enfranchises” the relationship; rather, one should question, “how may a human enter into a rights relationship with an animal?”

Training, then, becomes an important method of building relationships through trust: “dogs and humans construct ‘rights’ in each other, such as the right to demand resepct, attention, and response” (53). Companionships is built through the relational work of training: existence depends on getting on together. Succintly, she writes, “love, commitment, and yearning for skill with another are not zero sum games. Acts of love…breed acts of love like caring about and for other concatenated, emergent worlds” (61). The goal of training, then, is to build a “disciplined spontaneity”: “both dog and handler have to be able to take the initiative and to respond obediently to the other…And then to remember how to live like that at every scale, with all the partners” (62).


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