When Species Meet


Two questions guide this book: (i) Whom and what do I touch when I touch my dog? and (2) How is "becoming with" a practice of becoming worldly? I tie these questions together in expressions I learned in Barcelona from a Spanish lover of French bulldogs, alter-globalisation and autre-mondialisation.1 These terms were invented by European activists to stress that their approaches to militarized neoliberal models of world building are not about antiglobalization but about nurturing a more just and peaceful other-globalization. There is a promising autre-mondialisation to be learned in retying some of the knots of ordinary multispecies living on earth.

I think we learn to be worldly from grappling with, rather than generalizing from, the ordinary. I am a creature of the mud, not the sky. I am a biologist who has always found edification in the amazing abilities of slime to hold things in touch and to lubricate passages for living beings and their parts. I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about io percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other 90 percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such, some of which play in a symphony necessary to my being alive at all, and some of which are hitching a ride and doing the rest of me, of us, no harm. I am vastly outnumbered by my tiny companions; better put, I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates. To be one is always to become with many. Some of these personal microscopic biota are dangerous to the me who is writing this sentence; they are held in check for now by the measures of the coordinated symphony of all the others, human cells and not, that make the conscious me possible. I love that when "I" die, all these benign and dangerous symbionts will take over and use whatever is left of "my" body, if only for a while, since "we" are necessary to one another in real time. As a little girl, I loved to inhabit miniature worlds brimming with even more tiny real and imagined entities. I loved the play of scales in time and space that children's toys and stories made patent for me. I did not know then that this love prepared me for meeting my companion species, who are my maker.

Figures help me grapple inside the flesh of mortal world-making entanglements that I call contact zones.2 The Oxford English Dictionary records the meaning of "chimerical vision" for "figuration" in an eighteenth-century source, and that meaning is still implicit in my sense offigure.3 Figures collect the people through their invitation to inhabit the corporeal story told in their lineaments. Figures are not representations or didactic illustrations, but rather material-semiotic nodes or knots in which diverse bodies and meanings coshape one another. For me, figures have always been where the biological and literary or artistic come together with all of the force of lived reality. My body itself is just such a figure, literally.

For many years I have written from the belly of powerful figures such as cyborgs, monkeys and apes, oncomice, and, more recently, dogs. In every case, the figures are at the same time creatures of imagined possibility and creatures of fierce and ordinary reality; the dimensions tangle and require response. When Species Meet is about that kind of double-ness, but it is even more about the cat's cradle games in which those who are to be in the world are constituted in intra- and interaction. The partners do not precede the meeting; species of all kinds, living and not, are consequent on a subject- and object-shaping dance of encounters. Neither the partners nor the meetings in this book are merely literary

This page intentionally left blank

Jim's Dog. Courtesy of James Clifford.

conceits; rather, they are ordinary beings-in-encounter in the house, lab, field, zoo, park, office, prison, ocean, stadium, barn, or factory. As ordinary knotted beings, they are also always meaning-making figures that gather up those who respond to them into unpredictable kinds of "we." Among the myriad of entangled, coshaping species of the earth, contemporary human beings' meetings with other critters and, especially, but not only, with those called "domestic" are the focus of this book.

And so in the chapters to follow, readers will meet cloned dogs, databased tigers, a baseball writer on crutches, a health and genetics activist in Fresno, wolves and dogs in Syria and the French Alps, Chicken Little and Bush legs in Moldavia, tsetse flies and guinea pigs in a Zimbabwean lab in a young adult novel, feral cats, whales wearing cameras, felons and pooches in training in prison, and a talented dog and middle-aged woman playing a sport together in California. All of these are figures, and all are mundanely here, on this earth, now, asking who "we" will become when species meet.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Baseball For Boys

Baseball For Boys

Since World War II, there has been a tremendous change in the makeup and direction of kid baseball, as it is called. Adults, showing an unprecedented interest in the activity, have initiated and developed programs in thousands of towns across the United States programs that providebr wholesome recreation for millions of youngsters and are often a source of pride and joy to the community in which they exist.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment