La Furia Umana
  • I’m not like evereybody else
    The Kinks
  • E che, sono forse al mondo per realizzare delle idee?
    Max Stirner
  • (No ideas but in things)
    W.C. Williams
RAPHAELLE OCCHIETTI / Mobilizing the Arts, Humanities and New Economic Media to Confront the Trouble

RAPHAELLE OCCHIETTI / Mobilizing the Arts, Humanities and New Economic Media to Confront the Trouble

“—how to revolt? How to matter and not just want to matter?”  

Donna Haraway 2016: 47[1]

Sometimes I feel as if I were  a part of the Spider Monster, the latest villain from the series Stranger Things . This disarticulated, enormous, vicious, repugnant creature — designed by the Montréal-based visual effect company Rodeo FX[2] — perfectly meets the challenge of being highly repulsive yet at the same time visually fascinating. The worst part is that it is composed of the very bodies of rats and humans alike it gobbles up [3]. The monster feeds on and literally incorporates the loved ones of the heroines and heroes of the series. In a way, today’s world order feels like this monster. Only this time there is no main character that remains unscathered. In today’s dominant economic, social and ecological regime, no matter how one wishes to escape it, one is confronted with the dreadful fact that we may all be not only profoundly enmeshed in it but also nourishing it with our own substance, with our own lives.

As the philosopher, scientist, critical and feminist thinker Donna Haraway has taught us (among others), thinking with and through the idea of monsters is a stimulating and potentially liberating endeavour. For what is considered “monstrous” in a  strictly negative sense is in fact more a matter of the eye of the beholder than of objective criteria[4]. But could this be a double-edged sword? In her latest book, Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene, “Chthulucene” is proposed as a wide and animated earthly composition of beings as well as of temporalities; another lens with which to consider the many relationships on Earth anew. But if Chthulucene is a creative and favorable “tentacular” system of co-existences of earthly creatures, what about the other monster-epochs of the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene[5]? What if the things that appears horrendous to many of us in the workings of the Capitalocene[6] and its neo-liberal, neo-imperialist economic drives, was in fact the perfect dream of many human beings? The line between what can be considered a powerful and yet nurturing monster, and a solely destructive one, is often blurred: the “monster” of the Capitalocene can easily be seen as a playground — of profit-making, social prestige — or the terrain of something even as harmless as earning a living for oneself or for one’s family. Besides, when confronted with highly interconnected webs of “villains” such as “Big Pharma, Big Agribusiness, and Big Science […]”, there is “plenty of reason to damp down the certainty of villainy and to explore the complexities […] ” of today’s world, as Haraway herself notes (:115). It is perhaps this ambiguity that makes a real and large-scale transition to a collective nurturing of the world  (an actual Chthulucene) so difficult. So, where does one start?

“Staying with the trouble”: this phrase resonates deeply within our minds. Where the second part of Haraway’s book title—“Making kin in the Chthulucene”—has garnered comparatively more attention[7], here we wish  to take a step back, and linger on the first part of the title, the “trouble”. By acknowledging the “trouble”, one earns a “response-ability”[8] which may well make the difference between the triumph of passivity and denial[9], and the true commitment to  respectful “living and dying well with each other in the tissues of an earth whose very habitability is threatened” (:132). Hence, for those who take stock of the devastating consequences of world order and aim at challenging the status quo, what does “staying with the trouble” mean? What does the trouble look like? First, we might have to look inwards in order to answer this question. The first step towards the advent of a truly dense and generative time such as Chthulucene may be to acknowledge how one (however involuntarily) participates in the role of the monster of the Capitalocene. Furthermore, to recognize how deeply engulfed we are collectively, more or less victims of it, and more or less replicating it. But the fact that we cannot escape it is essential: we have to face the trouble.

This dossier of La Furia Umana is dedicated to creating the space for a collective, respectful, imaginative challenge of the mind, taking a cue from the many examples of intellectual and emotional journeys provided by Donna Haraway. We have invited artists, practitioners, researchers and scholars to engage freely and creatively with Haraway’s book and the notion of the “trouble”. The point is not necessarily to propose interventions or projects that directly reiterate the stories and experiments Haraway presents in her book, but rather to encourage exploration in the general direction which Haraway points towards. As she says, “I want to stay with the trouble, and the only way I know to do that is in generative joy, terror, and collective thinking.” (: 31). Although sometimes with rage, discouragement and a sense of cluelessness in front of the immensity of such a task,  nonetheless we have gathered here in the spirit conveyed by Haraway. It is a process that even Haraway acknowledges being “bumpy”: prone to mistakes, difficulties, intense dialogue and contradictory visions (:137-143; 217). But we genuinely think that promoting openness and interdisciplinarity is key to mobilizing for change. The reader will appreciate the many “string figures”[10] that connect and emerge from the contributions in this dossier; they are meant to draw together a broader vision of the trouble and the ways that we can identify it, and thus confront it.

I like to start this dossier with Kelly Sears’ video Maximum Umbra, as it can represent where one stands when choosing to face the trouble. There is an innocence in contemplating the eclipse that warms the heart and echoes our genuine hopeful selves. The stances of the child in the blue dress creates an arc of movement which speaks to both the past, present and future. But as the accelerated catastrophe unfolds, the festive ritual seems plagued with our collective passivity and impotency. There is no clear answer while watching this crowd: should we shake them, or let them enjoy the show? We are left with a white sheet on which to project poetic and pragmatic SF scenarios.

Alexandra Cuesta’s photographs diffuse the ambivalence of living in today’s big cities through a delicate palette of whites, greys and greens. Unexpected corners of a Japanese city strive precisely in the frictions of the built environment. One may wish to emulate the daydreamer in the grass as a way to navigate its way in today’s world.

In Giuseppe Vigliotti’s video, we dive into the deep blue of the ocean, in a space of inner peace. A flourishing tropical soundscape accompanies the oscillating white stratum that arises from the marine-like background. And yet, as the (ice) sheet sways, we discover its scars and ripped surface. Will it truly be lost forever?

Annalisa Massari and Alice Bidorini present an uplifting “demalling” project, where a shopping mall is reconverted to enhance mobility, inclusion and art. They address the presence of new architectural ruins and how they weigh on the urban fabric. Can new public shared spaces that are used to enhance creativity and education emerge from the decaying consumerist architecture?

With Ana Fernández, we explore the hopeful notion of  “becoming-Malinche”, navigating from the colonial past to the most recent climate disasters. As we learn about it, one has to reject the judgmental attitude and change the patriarchal interpretations of the character of Malinche. Occupying an intermediary position that aims to connect two worlds, Malinche reaps new meanings from the nature and culture she salvaged. 

Sylvain George brings us on a fascinating yet sometimes painful journey. Sharing with us exclusive footage from his new documentary, he delves into an exploration of Walter Benjamin’s writings on childhood. Unexpected and fascinating parallels with Donna Haraway’s thinking arise, and childhood reveals itself as a place of utopia and revolt. In the darkest places and abandoned margins of society,  do “children of compost” already actually exist? 

Elena Mazzi shares  a collaborative project with us that weaves together indigenous knowledge, resistance to dominant investment patterns and contemporary land grabbing. On the scarred land of the Mapuche, with fresh eyes we learn to look at silver, pumas and lakes. 

Amanda Boetzkes questions Haraway’s methodology and narratives for us, in the light of the continual damage inflicted by hegemonic structures of knowledge. Is speculative fabulation a form of escapism? What is it answering to, and should we question its appeal? The psychological wound that we share when acknowledging the trouble is in fact unbearable. But in this race to change the course of global warming, can we really afford not to denounce plainly hegemonic knowledge-complexes, knowing that they ferociously dictate the terms of their own critique? 

Sophie Lécole Solnychkine brings Haraway’s metaphor of the mud to the field of film studies. The cinematographic image is “thick” with meaning. The materiality it displays can activate new relationships to our earthly world. In that respect, thinking with and through the cinematographic media has the power to make us feel and live in our damaged world as well as activating our critical eye. 

Luca Peloso digs into the Hamlet trail in Haraway, and uncovers a whole philosophy of being in the world. Exploring how one relates to society’s rule, we examine the meaning of dust and shit and death. What happens when one refuses the order of things? “Hamlet” may be the place where each of us fail. 

Ubaldo Fadini brings anthropology in contact with philosophy, and investigates the institutional level of human organization. Questions of differences are put to work with the question of valorization. Will we be able to create new monsters? 

Toni D’Angela addresses one of the key components of a society: school. How can school be a thriving and genuine place of learning? It is a place where we do “between”, between teachers and students, between students and the world. School is a process, firmly rooted in spaces and places. And at the same time it is a place of experience that propels us into action and co-creation.

Jonathan Beller presents the special dossier he curated on economic media, where the fundamental question of our economic structures is tackled. By defining and redefining the inner societal structures governing us all, he and his contributors seek to go beyond the endless economic laws that impede any major change to occur. As Beller reminds us, we live in a world where every single activity, even creative ones, are embedded in systems of value extraction. So, how can money truly become a social tool? In fact, one way of standing up against the current social and ecological disasters may be to imagine a post-capitalist economic media. 

Jorge Lopez breaks down the basic equation of accounting for us, in an effort to understand what part of our protocols we could reconfigure. 

Dick Bryan imagines what this kind of new protocol of value creation could look like, and presents the steps to create reciprocal staking that evade the sole outcome of profit-making.

Finally, Akseli Virtanen presents a fascinating glossary that shows how language is important. Redefining what now governs us is a step towards a true “economic co-poiesis”.

Raphaelle Occhietti

[1] Unless otherwise specified, all citations are from Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press). 2016.

[2] Stranger Things Season 3.

[3] Note that the mingling of animals and humans here does not guarantee any ecological consciousness or salvation.

[4] As Haraway concisely explains: “Lovecraft’s dreadful underworld chthonic serpents were terrible only in the patriarchal mode.”, in note 4 of Chapter 2, p.174.

[5] I call them “monsters” inasmuch as they are destructive and generative powers. For Haraway, they perpetrate “horrors” (:3) and she describes them as having the effect of monsters: “The scandals of times called the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene are the latest and most dangerous of these exterminating forces. Living-with and dying-with each other potently in the Chthulucene can be a fierce reply to the dictates of both Anthropos and Capital.”, p.2.

[6] A term Donna Haraway embraces: “Still, if we could only have one word for these SF times, surely it must be the Capitalocene.”, p. 47.

[7] Understandably as it is a promising and enticing invitation that gives a direction for action.

[8] Because  “responsability […] requires response-ability” (:114).

[9] The two attitudes that propelled Harway to write her book.

[10] See Chapter 1.