Editorial: Issue #5. Making Kin: Part II

Welcome to issue #5 and Part II of our two-part series on “Making Kin,” inspired by Donna Haraway’s call for an expanded vision of kin and kinship.1in her essay “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” in which she argues that a revisioning of “kin” and “kinship” to include non–blood relations and nonhumans is imperative for us now as a species. That essay has since grown into a book, Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, September 2016). For this issue, we again received a record number of extremely strong submissions and as a result, Kristin, Melissa and I had to make a lot of hard choices. I think you’ll agree that every single piece of writing and artwork here is stunning, original beautifully crafted. Some of it is devastating, but all of it is nourishing and necessary. I hope you will take the time to give each one your careful attention.

This is the first issue of Dark Matter to appear since the November elections in the US. I admit my mood about this journal, as with just about everything else in my life, has in these months wavered between “Why bother?” and “Now more than ever.” In the case of Dark Matter, I’m glad to say I’ve come down firmly on the side of the latter. Between the unprecedented disconnectedness of the president of the world’s most powerful nation and his recent withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the conditions this journal was founded to address have only become more pronounced. As Miriam Greenspan writes in this issue, “The ascendancy of Trump is a threat to the earth and all its sentient beings, a threat that, if left unchecked, will speed our way to planetary disaster.” The matter, so it seems, is now darker than it’s ever been, our relationship to the earth more broken. But maybe not–maybe the darkness and the brokenness are just being exposed in a way they never were before. Certainly this is so of the disconnectedness. Bruno La Tour, in the May issue of Harper’s, argues that the “complete indifference to facts” that’s been a hallmark of this presidency so far is actually symptomatic of the direness of “the overall geopolitical situation….If there is no planet, no earth, no soil, no territory for the globalization to which all countries at COP21 [Paris Climate Conference] claim to be heading, what should we do? Either we deny the existence of the problem or we seek to come down to earth.” https://harpers.org/archive/2017/05/the-new-climate/

But it’s not just the disconnect and denial that are being exposed. It’s the fact that patriarchy is alive and well. Not so long ago the word was more or less banished among feminists for being too blanket, for erasing important cultural differences. But it is hard not to feel now that around the globe we are being held hostage by a bunch of guys with outsized egos they are feeding at the expense of all other living beings on the earth. Watching the US president’s exclusively white male entourage cheer him on as signature by signature he dismantles protections for women, the non-wealthy, and the earth, I find myself flung back to my radical feminist days of the ‘80s when I was fond of quoting Alice Walker’s character Shug in The Color Purple: “You got to git man off your eyeball, before you can see anything at all.” In playwright Karin Malpede’s “There’s a Wilding Inside: Theater, Ritual and Biophilia” in this issue, patriarchy is the connection between the two plays she presents: The Beekeeper, about victims of the Bosnian rape camps, and Extreme Whether, about catastrophic climate change. Malpede’s explicit aim in these plays is to create “an intensity of thought and feeling… that allows expulsion from the collective mind of wearying numbness…” and thus “…a vision, momentary, fragmentary, nevertheless real and embodied, of a dance of life, a returned embrace…”

In order to acknowledge the escalating danger and darkness of this time we now offer you Aftermath: 11/9, a column that will appear at the end of each issue. Aftermath will feature dreams, visions, nightmares or communications with nonhuman beings that respond in some way to this era of mounting crimes and obscenities against the earth and her most vulnerable inhabitants–and ideally provide clarity and/or guidance. I very much agree with Greenspan when she writes “our collective dreams carry the truth that is either intentionally or unwittingly obfuscated by the White House and the media.” The dreams in this issue, I believe, do exactly that.

A few words about “Making Kin,” a subject which feels more timely than ever. The suburbs of Montreal where I live saw record flooding this past spring. We are not often stricken by natural disasters here–at least not since the ice storm of 1999–so it was remarkable to see the footage of entire neighborhoods under water. Even more remarkable, though, were the continual testimonies of kindness in the papers — often on the part of those who had been hardest hit, e.g.: “This one woman I had never met before just showed up at my door at night and started bailing hundreds of buckets of water out of my basement… Even I found myself helping other people out, and I’m usually selfish as hell.” “Kindness,” of course, has its origin in “kin”–perhaps logically as well as etymologically–and I’ve been noticing, especially on my travels, a sense of kinship that is palpable in a way it was not before the November election. A mere mention of the US president’s name leads to instant bonding with strangers on the metro, with cab drivers, on airport buses.

Kathleen Moore, whose Great Tide Rising I rave about in my “After-word” in this issue, identifies four categories of kinship, two of which are “the kinship of interdependence” and “the kinship of a common fate.” The chances are very good that increasingly in the coming years, many of us will be welcoming perfect strangers into our circle of kin, either because we understand we need their help (even if it is only to not feel so alone in a world that seems to be going mad) and/or because we share the common fate of being dropped into a disaster zone. This issue includes several accounts of human-human (and more specifically woman-woman) kindness/kinship that is life-saving. As with so much else, in this matter we are having to learn what indigenous cultures around the world have never unlearned. The title of Lois Red Elk’s poem “Take Her Hands” is, Red Elk explains, what “Sioux women say when someone is overwhelmed.” But of course the women in her poem don’t just say the words–they take her hands. In the years ahead, I believe, many of us will be learning to “take her hands.”

In “Bio-Empathy: Writing to Resee the World” four Toronto writers weigh in about what they feel is demanded of literature in a time of mass extinctions; taken together, the writing and the artwork in this “Making Kin” issue read like a response to the call they have issued. Like Part I, Part II of “Making Kin” is dominated by accounts of intimate relations with our nonhuman kin, relations that in many cases demand or bring about profound changes. I myself spent a revelatory two weeks in Baja in March being first with the blue whales of the Sea of Cortez and then the gray whales of San Ignacio Bay. The trip was a direct result of the writing in Part I, most especially Nancy Windheart’s “Saved by Whales.” Nancy, who co-led the trip together with wilderness guide Anne Dellenbaugh2They will be leading the same trip next March http://nancywindheart.com/baja-womens-retreat/., persuaded me to sign up. But in truth the persuading had already happened via Nancy’s writing about the whales, which primed me for the experience. Andrea Mathieson’s “Listening for the Long Song” played a role too–in particular her observation that “…most of us have lost our ability to hear the subtle sounds of the Earth and the voices of all her creatures.” I wanted very badly to learn to listen to the whales!

Photo by Lori Kutlik

I am not yet ready to provide an account of that trip here–though I will try and do so for the next issue. It was difficult, initially. I just couldn’t convince myself the whales would want anything to do with us humans after what we’ve done to them and to the oceans. But after a number of days, it became impossible to deny that they were coming to us and coming for us–and that they were having a powerful effect on me. My rational mind had to no choice but to take a back seat to what was demonstrably happening. In “The Mystery: Approaching the Elephant People,” Deena Metzger writes of a similar process. Over a period of seventeen years, Metzger has made nine trips to see the elephants in Africa. Only now after the ninth trip are certain understandings arising with clarity–and we’re given the benefit of that clarity in this piece. Yet, as she acknowledges, so much still remains shrouded in mystery.

What I know is this: I came back from the whales able to listen in ways I couldn’t before. I came back convinced that what I habitually see and hear and feel is a tiny fraction of what I could be seeing and hearing and feeling. “We are all so much more than we think we are,” Moore writes in Great Rising Tide. “We are exhaled by hemlocks, we are water plowed by whales, we are matter born in stars, we are children of deep time.” I came back larger than I’d been before, and I came back smiling–no longer possessed by the madness in Washington. “Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool,” Celie says towards the end of The Color Purple. “Next to any little scrub of bush in my yard, Mr._____’s evil sort of shrink.” This line kept repeating itself to me during my last days in Baja. Celie is referring to her abusive husband; I was filling in the blank with–well there were several, and you can probably guess. Can whales make evil shrink? Yes they can!!

“What we don’t know may yet save us,” I wrote in the editorial to the first issue of this journal. Thanks to the whales, I am more aware than ever of how little I know. In a time when the sum total of what we humans think and know can seem pretty dismal, such awareness is supremely comforting. I think you will find as you move through this issue that everything in it has been created with humble awareness both of the limits of conscious human knowing and of our interwovenness with the lives of other species. Along with Sharon English, in “Bio-Empathy,” all of the contributors here are aspiring… “to reawaken to the field of earthly relationships in which we exist… to explore what the end of our separateness might feel like—and how it might happen, that beginning of deep reconnection, return…”

Lise Weil

Montreal June 2017

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