Scientia and the Schizoid Split

Lone Star Swan figures in Chapter 1 in Donna Haraway’s book Staying with the Trouble. He was a homeless man living in the Mission District in San Francisco. A mural Bird Man of the Mission depicts him feeding urban pigeons, his companions and friends in street life. 

Mural painting of Lone Star Swan feeding pigeons

         Practices of companionship across species is a key theme in the first chapter of Haraway’s book, and the interrelations between people and pigeons are a good example of the particular kind of ‘trouble’ that Haraway suggests we stay with.

“Pigeons have very old stories of becoming-with human beings,” asserts Haraway (2016:15).

         Haraway tells natureculture stories. Her accounts are not about human becoming, isolated, detached from the world, but about human-becoming-with the world: “Natures, cultures, subjects and objects do not preexist their intertwined worldings.” (2016:13)

         I google him. Lone Star Swan – Schizophrenic. A youtube video. He was a family man, father of four, a prized journalist. The video is made by a previous friend. Lone Star Swan holds a small pigeon in the hand while ranting about things in his head.

The pigeon rests on his chest when he sleeps outside a store front. He chain smokes and every day he writes a paper accounting for the state of the world, punched out on a mechanical typewriter, multiplied and distributed by foot and hand to the district. Some of the neighborhood residents consider him a wise man, telling truths about society. His family tell painful stories of loss. He says, he has so many people in his head. Jesus, Buddha. And that he keeps talking, because that quiets the incessant commands of other voices. He is schizophrenic.

Scientia, Latin for ‘knowledge, knowing, expertness,’ etymologically related to Greek skhizein: ‘to split, cut, cleave’; Gothic skaidan and Old English sceadan: ‘to divide, separate, split and cut’. Science is related to cutting and dividing. Modern analytical science emerged at a point in time, where the conviction was that complete understanding of the universe could be obtained, and that the way of achieving this was through splitting, cutting and cleaving the world into component, separate parts and systematically working through them, one by one, in processes of categorization, classification and typologization (Capra & Luisi 2014).

Science emerged as a schizoid split (Davis & Sumara 2006).

In my reading, Haraway attempts to repair the split: Natures and cultures, subjects and objects, people and pigeons do not preexist their relationality: “Ontologically heterogeneous partners become who and what they are in relational material-semiotic worlding.” (Haraway 2016: 12f.)

Intertwinement, knotting and entanglement are some of the terms that Haraway uses to describe the material-semiotic relating of people and other species: “The partners do not precede the knotting; species of all kinds are consequent upon worldly subject- and object-shaping entanglements..” (Haraway 2016:13)

The string figure, cat’s cradle, a becoming in movement, shows the emergent enactment where strings and figures become together. The Bird Man of the Mission becomes with the urban pigeons. This becoming-with is a becoming-without other beings. The loss of the family, the loss of profession, the loss of a particular kind of security and shelter. The becoming-with of the bird man figures as a human-animal assemblage of companion species, simultaneously tragic and fascinating, ordinary and extraordinary beings-in-encounter. SF figures in SF streets.

  • SF
  • science fiction
  • speculative feminism
  • science fantasy
  • speculative fabulation
  • science fact
  • string figures

Haraway does multispecies storytelling with the intention of recuperation; with the intention of helping us get on together. This is what she sees as staying with the trouble – the getting on together in complex stories of life and death. Her SF stories are real, and they are also what she calls ‘speculative fabulations and speculative realisms’. They redo ways of living and dying; flawed, partial, but still attuned to possibilities. They redo ways of living and dying with (still possible) recuperation and (still possible) (finite) flourishing. (10) 

Haraway’s string figures craft conditions and suggest patterns of companionship that we can try out, on what she calls a vulnerable and wounded earth. (10)

“These string figures are thinking as well as making practices, pedagogical practices and cosmological performances.” (14)

“String figures can be played by many, on all sorts of limbs, as long as the rhythm of accepting and giving is sustained. Scholarship and politics are like that too — passing on in twists and skeins that require passion and action, holding still and moving, anchoring and launching.” (10)

They enact knowing and being in the world with the opening pattern of a cluster of knots.

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