Caring

It is always bracing to go back to the lab after a visit with great philosophers and the awful places one gets into because of them. Let me revisit the hemophilic canines in "Value-Added Dogs and Lively Capital" (chapter 2). There we saw how dogs suffering from hemophilia became model patients, as well as surrogates and technologies for studying a human disease, over the course of years beginning in the late 1940s in the laboratory of Kenneth Brinkhous at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.24 To share the dogs' suffering, or that of participants in today's experiments, would be not to mimic what the canines go through in a kind of heroic masochistic fantasy but to do the work of paying attention and making sure that the suffering is minimal, necessary, and consequential. If any of those assurances are found impossible, which is always a risky judgment made on the basis of reasons but without the guarantee of Reason, then the responsible work is to bring the enterprise to a halt. Breaking the sacrificial logic that parses who is killable and who isn't might just lead to a lot more change than the practices of analogy, rights extension, denunciation, and prohibition. Examples could include making sure experiments are well planned and executed; taking the time to practice care among and for all the people and organisms in the lab and in the worlds reached by that lab, even if results come more slowly or cost more or careers aren't as smooth; and practicing the civic skills of political engagement and cultural presence in these sorts of issues, including the skills of responding, not reacting, to the discourse of those who do not grant the goodness or necessity of one's scientific practices. None of this makes the word wicked go away; I am not advocating cleaning the soul by hygienic reformism. I am advocating the understanding that earthly heterogeneous beings are in this web together for all time, and no one gets to be Man.

If the plant molecular biologist Martha Crouch was right that some of the pleasures of lab science that tend to make practitioners less able to engage in full cosmopolitics come from a Peter Pan-like preadolescence, in which one never really has to engage the full semiotic materiality of one's scientific practices,25 then maybe sharing suffering is about growing up to do the kind of time-consuming, expensive, hard work, as well as play, of staying with all the complexities for all of the actors, even knowing that will never be fully possible, fully calculable. Staying with the complexities does not mean not acting, not doing research, not engaging in some, indeed many, unequal instrumental relationships; it does mean learning to live and think in practical opening to shared pain and mortality and learning what that living and thinking teach.

The sense of cosmopolitics I draw from is Isabelle Stengers's. She invoked Deleuze's idiot, the one who knew how to slow things down, to stop the rush to consensus or to a new dogmatism or to denunciation, in order to open up the chance of a common world. Stengers insists we cannot denounce the world in the name of an ideal world. Idiots know that. For Stengers, the cosmos is the possible unknown constructed by multiple, diverse entities. Full of the promise of articulations that diverse beings might eventually make, the cosmos is the opposite of a place of transcendent peace. Stengers's cosmopolitical proposal, in the spirit of feminist communitarian anarchism and the idiom of Whitehead's philosophy, is that decisions must take place somehow in the presence of those who will bear their consequences. Making that "somehow" concrete is the work of practicing artful combinations. Stengers is a chemist by training, and artful combinations are her métier. To get "in the presence of" demands work, speculative invention, and ontological risks. No one knows how to do that in advance of coming together in composition.26

For those hemophilic dogs in the mid-twentieth century, their physiological labor demanded from human lab people the answering labor of caring for the dogs as patients in minute detail before addressing questions to them as experimental subjects. Of course, the research would have failed otherwise, but that was not the whole story—or should not be allowed to be the whole story when the consequences of sharing suffering nonmimetically become clearer. For example, what sorts of lab arrangements would minimize the number of dogs needed? Make the dogs' lives as full as possible? Engage them as mindful bodies, in relationships of response? How to get the funding for a biobehavioral specialist as part of the lab staff for training both lab animals and people on all levels, from principal investigators to animal room workers?27 How to involve humans with hemophilia or humans who care for people with hemophilia in the care of the dogs? How to ask in actual practice, without knowing the answer through a calculus of how much and whose pain matters, whether these sorts of experiments deserve to flourish anymore at all? If not, whose suffering then will require the practical labor of nonmimetic sharing? All of this is my own imagined scenario, of course, but I am trying to picture what sharing could look like if it were built into any decision to use another sentient being where unequal power and benefit are (or should be) undeniable and not innocent or transparent.

The Belgian philosopher and psychologist Vinciane Despret argued that "articulating bodies to other bodies" is always a political matter. The same must be said about disarticulating bodies to rearticulate other bodies. Despret reformulated ways for thinking about domestication between people and animals.28 My study inhabits one of the major sites where domestic animals and their people meet: the experimental laboratory. I have made side trips into the agricultural animal pen and abattoir, propelled by the cattle in Baba Joseph's story, beasts loved and cultivated intensely by Nhamo and her people, beasts used cruelly by the tsetse flies and their trypanosomes, and beasts turned into efficient, healthy enough, parasite-free, meat-making machines in the death camps of industrial agribusiness. The language of nonmimetic sharing and work is not going to be adequate, I am sure, even if it is part of a needed toolkit. When our humanist or religious soporifics no longer satisfy us, we require a rich array of ways to make vivid and practical the material-ethical-political-epistemological necessities that must be lived and developed inside unequal, instrumental relations linking human and nonhuman animals in research as well as in other sorts of activities. Human beings' learning to share other animals' pain nonmimetically is, in my view, an ethical obligation, a practical problem, and an ontological opening. Sharing pain promises disclosure, promises becoming. The capacity to respond may yet be recognized and nourished on this earth.

I end in the company of another arresting writer, Hélène Cixous, who remembers how she failed her childhood dog with abject betrayal. Many years later, she knew only that she loved him, knew only how to love him, recognized only how he loved. Bitten hard on the foot by her crazed dog, Fips, who had been brought to the insanity of the bite by the daily pelting of rocks into the family's compound in Algiers after World War II, the twelve-year-old Cixous, subject like all her family to the insupportable pain of the death of her father and the repudiation visited on the scapegoat outsiders by the colonized Arabs all around them, could not face the awful fate of her dog. No complexity of lived history saved her family from the label of doubly hated French Jews. The Cixous family, like the colonized Arabs, were made categorically killable. No grace of a happy ending saved Fips from the consequences. The leashed dog, apparently expecting the girl Hélène to step on him, savaged her foot, holding on despite her desperate beating to make him let go; after this, Cixous could no longer face Fips. The dog, ill and neglected, died in the company of her brother; Hélène was not there. As an adult, Cixous learned to tell the story of Job the Dog.

The story ends in tragedy. . . . I wanted him to love me like this and not that. . . . But if they told me I wanted a slave I would have responded indignantly that I only wanted the pure ideal dog I had heard of. He loved me as an animal and far from my ideal. . . . I have his rage painted on my left foot and on my hands. . . . I did not make light in his obscurity. I did not murmur to him the words that all animals understand. . . . But he had ticks, big as chickpeas. . . . They ate him alive, those blood drinking inventions created to kill a victim entirely lacking in possibilities to escape them, those proofs of the existence of the devil soft vampires that laugh at the dog's lack of hands, they suckle it to death, Fips feels his life flow into their tribe of stomachs and without the chance of combat. . . . I did not accompany him. A foul fear of seeing the one I did not love strong enough die, and as I would not give my life for him, I could no longer share his death.29

My story ends where it began, with the dilemmas posed by bloodsucking insects, when the logic of sacrifice makes no sense and the hope for forgiveness depends on learning a love that escapes calculation but requires the invention of speculative thought and the practice of remembering, of rearticulating bodies to bodies. Not an ideal love, not an obedient love, but one that might even recognize the noncompliant multiplicity of insects. And the taste of blood.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment