Curiosity And The Love Of Kinds

I need to ask again: Whom and what do I touch when I touch my dogs? How is "becoming with" a practice of "becoming worldly"? What do these questions mean when the entangled knots of companion species join kinds of dogs with their collectively organized people as fiercely as individual dogs interlace with particular humans? Kinds of companion species come in many flavors, but in this chapter, I need to break bread with a particularly contaminated and controversial kind of kind—an institutionalized "purebred" dog breed, in particular, Australian shepherds in the United States. Right from the start, my typological convention has taken a position in the fray, because I cannot bring myself to write about kinds of dogs as the dog, the Australian Shepherd, the only sort to get capital letters in the idiom of purebred dogland and elsewhere, while all nominative plurals are lowercased as collectives (Australian shepherds) or given scare quotes around call names for mere individual dogs, as in "Cayenne" rather than Cayenne, while I am unmarked Donna, empowered by honorary membership in the category Man to live textually outside scare quotes. Little privileges tell big stories. Typological errors suggest revisions. Respecere.

In the beginning of everything that led to this book, I was pure of heart, at least in relation to dog breeds. I knew they were an affectation, an abuse, an abomination, the embodiment of animalizing racist eugenics, everything that represents modern people's misuse of other sentient beings for their own instrumental ends. Besides, so-called purebreds got sick all the time, as well they should from all that genetic manipulation. Really bad, in short. Mutts were good as long as they were sterilized; trained to a low standard—lest human control play too big a role—by positive methods; and off leash in every possible situation. Fertile street and village dogs were good because they lived in the third world or its moral and symbolic equivalent in doggish humanism, but they needed to be rescued nonetheless. At home, in my progressive, American middle-class, white bubble, I was a true believer in the Church of the Shelter Dog, that ideal victim and scapegoat and therefore the uniquely proper recipient of love, care, and population control. Without giving anyone quarter about our collective and personal obligations to mutts and shelter dogs, I have become an apostate. I am promiscuously tied with both my old and new objects of affection, two kinds of kinds, mutts and purebreds. Two terrible things caused this unregenerate state: I got curious, and I fell in love. Even worse, I fell in love with kinds as well as with individuals. Parasitized by paraphilias and epistemophilias, I labor on.1

Research can be calming in such circumstances. Tantalized by questions about kinds of dogs, and especially by questions about the people and the dogs involved in health and genetics activism inside biotechno-logical natureculture, I was told to talk to a woman in Fresno, California, named C. A. Sharp, who, I was assured, was the diva of dog genetic health in Australian shepherd land. All of that fit nicely into my alibi as a science studies scholar and look-alike anthropologist. It helped that, tempted to excess by the modest success of my Aussie-chow cross mutt, Roland, in the sport of agility—an activity that my husband, Rusten, and I innocently began with our politically correct, rehomed, adult pooch to help him socialize and gain confidence with other dogs—I was also told that Sharp, a lady into a herding breed, albeit the conformation end of things, might be able to help me find a great agility prospect, a.k.a., a high-drive, purpose-bred, puppy athlete. My informants were right; C.A. was all this and more. Not only did she direct me to the stock dog breeders who helped bring Cayenne into the world; in 1998 Sharp and I began a research exchange and friendship in dogland that tied new companion-species knots in my heart and mind. In "Examined Lives" I will track Sharp's practices of curiosity and care over several decades to tease out how becoming worldly can work when kinds are at stake.

First, however, I need to tell how that material-semiotic kind called Australian shepherds came to be in the world at all. Knowing and living with these dogs means inheriting all of the conditions of their possibility, all of what makes relating with these beings actual, all of the prehensions that constitute us as companion species. To be in love means to be worldly, to be in connection with significant otherness and signifying others, on many scales, in layers of locals and globals, in ramifying webs. I want to know how to live with the histories I am coming to know. Once one has been in touch, obligations and possibilities for response change.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment