A Weekend With Donna Haraway

Donna HarawayMy best time at FOGcon came on the first night. First I listened to a riveting interview Brad Lyau conducted with Science Guest of Honor Donna Haraway. Then I participated in a panel on the economic singularity, which went well.

After that came the perfect moment: Haraway – who had stayed for the panel after her interview – came up to me afterwards and told me how much she liked The Weave, my science fiction novel that came out last year.

One of my idols praised my book! Life doesn’t get any better than that.

I was very excited when I learned that Donna Haraway was one of the guests at FOGcon. I’d been urging conventions to invite her for years. In 2014 when WisCon and the Science Fiction Research Association merged their events, I went to a number of panels that discussed Haraway’s work. It was clear to me that her work fit in well with the idea-driven science fiction that I consider the heart of the genre.

After all, this is a woman who uses the term SF to include:

  • String Figures
  • Science Fiction
  • Science Fact
  • Speculative Feminism
  • Science Fantasy
  • Speculative Fabulation

She gave a talk at FOGcon entitled “Staying With the Trouble: Making Oddkin in the Chthulucene.” The title alone provides some idea of the complex thinking she applies. “Chthulucene” is not inspired by what she refers to as Lovecraft’s “misogynist racial-nightmare monster Cthulhu,” but by “diverse earth-wide tentacular powers” dating back to the dawn of time. It represents “the dynamic ongoing sym-chtohic forces and powers of which people are a part,” she says.

Using the slogan “Make Kin, Not Babies,” she encouraged the development of ties to other people and other creatures, ties not limited by ancestry and genealogy, nor by species.

That’s just a taste of what she said in an hour-long talk that started with images from a video game and encouraged activism, changes in attitudes, and deep thought. She has a book forthcoming that will deal with the topics in depth.

I don’t profess to be a scholar of Haraway’s work. It is complex stuff, not always easy to understand. I heard several professors at WisCon discuss the fact that their students complain about having to read her work; all of them were unmoved by complaints and required it anyway.

I often find myself putting aside very academic work. Too much of it seems to be focused on arguing with previous scholars, perhaps because it is necessary to show how one’s work differs from theirs. To get to the point – which may be an important one – it is necessary to slog through references to other work, work that I have no interest in pursuing.

That is not the difficulty with Haraway. I think it is the interdisciplinary focus of what she does – her PhD is in biology, but her influences range so much farther – that makes reading her complicated. Add in her penchant for playing with words and renaming things, and you get sentences so complex that you need to think about each one carefully before moving onto the next.

Plus she refuses to take a simplistic approach to anything. Take these paired sentences from “A Cyborg Manifesto,” her seminal work from the 1980s:

From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defence, about the final appropriation of women’s bodies in a masculinist orgy of war. From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints.

Her presentations at FOGcon were at once challenging and accessible. Haraway is an excellent speaker and able to handle a variety of questions. There were a lot of good questions, too – FOGcon is the type of convention that attracts a lot of very smart people, the kind who listen well and bring up topics that help expand the discussion.

I spent the weekend having my brain challenged in all directions. It was a wonderful experience.

And she liked my book!


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