The Companion Species Manifesto

Donna Haraway is a hurricane in my life, and most likely is for anybody who encounters her words. She exists as a force to take ‘life’ and twist, turn, topple, shake it until it resuscitates itself in some new manner. I first encountered Haraway in my days of wanting to be a radical feminist ethno-primatologist (thank you agustin fuentes  for existing).  I picked up Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (1989) marking that as my first time reading Haraway. I will confess I have not read the text in whole, but do return to it time and time again.. to be fair, it is some 500 pages of her celeritous writing.  And I most pause to state reading Primate Visions has been instrumental in challenging my own gaze and what nonhuman animal’s were ‘important’. I am uncomfortable with abusing this word, but to she showed me how to decolonize my studies of nonhuman animals.

I have a deep love for her as well as a bone in my body that CANNOT stomach her and disagree profusely with her at times, yet she has been one of the most refreshing, and challenging thinkers I have had the pleasure of spending time with. I recently picked up a copy of The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and the Significant Otherness (2003). What a clever 100 page-manifesto. Haraway has some ‘pop-culture’ phrases and one of them is to stay with the story. This statement is of dual importance, first to acknowledge that our knowledge is full of stories and that we have to apply ourselves full-heartedly to what is present in our life. It helps from falling into traps of feeling disconnected.

I want to spend sometime speaking to a few points that I see at the heart of the treatise: how to have ethical relationships with companion animals  (specifically dogs) that we have brought into our stories. Ethical relations require us to unshackle both ourselves and nonhuman animals from the scripted relationships that society zealously imposes.  I like her defending off “unconditional love” as a pernicious assumption/expectation between human-dog, with emphasis on the dog being forever grateful to the human saviour. Unconditional love felt from a dog discourages the human partner to work to “inhabit an inter-subjective world that is about meeting the other in all the fleshy detail of a moral relationship” (34). Part of this requires the human to love-beyond their dog, to love the whole lot and to get to know the dog, breed, species, histories, contemporary political markings and more. To be in-love with your companion is to care for extra-species beings. Unconditional love also creates expectations from the dog- and those that aren’t freely passing out love and charm are considered dangerous, odd and un-doggy.

Haraway does exactly that with Cayenne, her Great Pyrenees companion whom has engendered her to write about the dog-human relations. Haraway also brings forward the categorized ‘Sato’ dogs which are street-dogs in Puerto Rico to shed light on the capitalization of dogs. This process unfolds by street-dogs moving  from the impossible Puerto Rico into the loving homes of the North, what she calls a movement of ‘philocanidic’. The particular process requires an airplane which is an instrument in a “…series of subject-transforming technologies. The dogs who come out of the belly of the plane are subject to a different social contract than the one they were born into” (93). Thinking about animals as becoming ‘commodities’ it is striking that in this case, it is the association with an ‘exotic/other/poor/developing’ background that marks them as being extra special and extra pricey. From this one can already paint a picture of who will be adopting these Sato dogs, nice middle class white families. Also, as the animals move into new social contracts- what happens if they do not squeeze into the typical-dog personality orchestrated by most ‘pet-owners’? I wonder about their lives after arrival.

This has me thinking about the act of rescuing a dog.

Haraway made me most excited at the rear end of this manifesto. She speaks to resisting the mommy-title for Cayenne. She she did not want a child, she wanted a dog. It is too easy to see a companion animal as some sort of surrogacy or substitute where a ‘human’ child is missing. However, this kin system requires the dog to be infantilized, a discourse that gets in the way of remembering they are a nonhuman animal that deserves respect along those lines. This is a fair way to work towards having  a multi-species family. A family that is “made up in the belly of the monster of inherited histories that have to be inhabited to be transformed” (97).

Reading this manifesto it is clear that Haraway is calling out for those of us who share lives with companion animals, to take the time and resources to get to know them- their stories and histories and how we are implicated in them. From there we can situate our relationships in histories and contexts. I find this to be very important work, especially, as a white educated cis queer lady whom rescued an elderbull from what was clearly a case of abuse, neglect and reproductive exploitation. In North America pit bull’s have been marked by very nasty stigma’s and expectations. Their histories have been skewed to fit contemporary understandings of the pit bull, acting as an erasure for the whiteness that marker their bodies with violence. I have not witnessed one other nonhuman species have to do so much reconciliation and work to prove their worth. Even with that, it is a fugue battle that still equates them as fighters and dangerous dogs. Redemption from the markings we have placed on them seems impossible.

I appreciate what Haraway espouses in The Companion Species Manifesto attempting to be ethical humans entangled in inter-species relatioships. I have a lot to think about, a lot of possible work to come from this direction.


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