Who and whatever we are, we need to make–with—become–with, compose–with—the earthbound… My purpose is to make kin mean something other/more than entities tied by ancestry or genealogy. – Donna Haraway
And I’ve long thought there is no environment. There is only community comprised of organisms who exist within bounds without borders. Organisms whose birth, survival, and death ensures communal thriving.
– Megan Hollingsworth, ex•tinc•tion wit•ness July 2016
This issue of Dark Matter was inspired by Donna Haraway’s 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 (“Make Kin, Not Babies!” is her proposed slogan). The call we sent out was for “writing and artwork that offer ways to embody and/or enact an expanded vision of kin/kinship.” Interestingly, most of the material we received centered on human–nonhuman relationships and most especially on human–animal kinship. At some point in production, between the fact that much of the writing we had expected to publish here was still in progress and that this issue had already burst its seams, it became clear that this was Part I of a two–part series. Part II of “Making Kin” will appear in spring of 2017 with more on making kin across the human–nonhuman divide, but also—we promise!—at least some writing on human–human relationships.
During the time we were gathering work for this issue, I had to have my cat Davy put to sleep. She had been with me for almost seventeen years. The night after she died I dreamt I was in a realm where there was no human/animal distinction. It was a realm I’d never been in before. A month after her death I dreamt I came across a group of rural hippies, mostly guys, sitting outside on big couches. Animals were snaking in and out and over and under their legs and laps, not only cats and dogs but undomesticated animals like ferrets and raccoons. One of the guys came to me with a sandwich. It looked like a hot dog but it was wedged between slices of homemade bread. “Here,” he said, ”It’s a grief sandwich.” “Thank you so much!” I said. “Oh,” he said, “it’s not just for you. I’m making a grief hot dog sandwich for everyone.” Behind him I saw a grill and indeed there were a lot more hot dogs cooking on it. Now I understood these guys were all in mourning like me. A couple of them began telling me about the cat they’d just lost, listing its features exactly as if it were a human being. They handed me a printed piece of paper listing all the attributes and accomplishments of the deceased, just like an obituary.
This dream tells me a lot. These were not the kind of people I usually bond with. Guys on outdoor couches cooking hot dogs on a grill? But we did bond – by way of our love for our animals, by the grief we felt for the ones we’d lost. They saw their animals as complex beings with attributes and accomplishments. In fact, they lived in a realm in which ordinary human/animal distinctions did not exist, in which we were all one. And by the end I had come to feel I was one of them. Together we took the holy communion of grief hot dog sandwiches, made with homemade bread.
Kristin, Dark Matter’s assistant editor, lost her cat only weeks after I lost Davy. Davy and Duncan were not our only cats, but they were the ones with whom we had the deepest intimacy. Two or three times during this period we made dates to discuss Dark Matter submissions––and each time got no further than talking about Davy and Duncan. We discussed their particular attributes and accomplishments. We ate grief hot dog sandwiches together. Kristin wrote a piece about Duncan that I felt belonged in this issue. I sent her a piece I wrote awhile back about losing my cat Gracie which she insisted we put in to accompany hers. So, in a Coda, you will find our testimonials to cats we loved and lost as a kind of hot dog grief sandwich to share with our readers. Like so many of the others in this issue, and like so many thinkers and writers at this time, as Patricia Reis points out in her After•Word, both pieces play with and push up against the rigid human–animal divide we’ve been taught to believe in.
Almost all the writing in this issue is testimony to the fact that animals, stones, flowers, landscapes, the night sky , sea creatures, even shoes and bars of soap, can be extraordinary teachers. And it would seem that what they have to teach us is – primarily—kinship, not only with them but with the entire physical universe.
In January of this year, friends Deena Metzger and Cynthia Travis travelled to an African reserve hoping to receive instruction from elephants. We are lucky to have their reports from that trip in this issue. It originated in a dream Metzger tells in her piece, one from which she awoke knowing, first, that “we must do everything we can…to prevent elephant extinction” and second, that “we will not be able to think our way to vision. We will have to go to Africa and listen.” In the end, the elephants came. And they communicated, with tremendous eloquence. Most of what they conveyed was wordless. But Cynthia Travis distinctly heard this: “You must learn to listen with your feet—then you will know what to do.”
In Linda Bender’s profound and beautiful book Animal Wisdom: Learning from the Spiritual Lives of Animals she writes of an encounter with buffalo in an African park that is strikingly similar to the meetings described by both Travis and Metzger. On her last day in the park a large herd of buffalo emerged suddenly from the bush, came to a full stop in the road and turned to stare at her and her driver. “Every single member of the herd, even the very young, was standing stock–still, gazing at us with an air of solemn formality. In that moment, I understood that their sudden appearance had been intentional, that they were a sort of delegation, and that I was the one they had come to see. Their message, delivered telepathically with one voice… was: Do not forget us. Do not forget us. Teach others in your land what you know; do not forget us.” Bender understood this message, most immediately, as a cry for help from endangered animals. But it was not only that, she felt sure. “More frequent contact with us has sensitized [the animals] to what troubles us…The pain of being disconnected from the Earth, from each other, from our fellow creatures, and from the Source of all life is the worst pain they can imagine, and they are concerned about us. They understand even better than we do that the suffering we inflict on them is an expression of our own suffering, and that their physical condition cannot get better unless the human spiritual condition gets better. They want to help.”(17,18) Writes Travis: “It behooves us to consider that the elephants realize that our species has gone rogue – that our trauma is driving us to rape and destroy; that we are in dire need of some serious cross—species eldering and matriarchal leadership…” About the remarkable encounters with whales she recounts in this issue, Nancy Windheart remarks: “We often talk about ‘saving the whales’—but the truth is, the whales are saving us.”
We humans are in need of saving. Just as we don’t seem to know how to stop abusing and destroying the earth we live on and owe our lives to, we do not seem to know how to stop abusing and destroying each other. Camille Norton reminds us in her After•Word “how the dark matter of racial injustice belongs to the history of our planetary ecological crisis”; for one thing, as she points out, places of ecological trauma are so often home to people of color. (Climate change itself cannot be considered apart from white supremacy, as Naomi Klein has demonstrated, because the “wildly unequal ways in which human lives are counted” has determined the level of change considered to be “dangerous.”) Karen Mutter’s “Kinship and Murder” begins as a response to the anti–gay massacre in Orlando but moves almost immediately to the other recent violence in her back yard: the gunning down of Trayvon Martin of 2012 and the Florida bear hunt of 2015. Mutter is both unable and unwilling to consider any of these events separately. “In a world that does not see each living being as kin, we are all fair game.” More, she links them to the violence of her own profession, medicine, which “did not ask me to consider the lives of my kin beyond the human realm… [which] does not consider the consequences of pharmaceutical and radiologic pollution for the Earth and all beings…[which] places human need as supreme to everything else.”
It is the separating that is killing us—the not–seeing–as–kin/kinned. If it is true that we cannot consider our ecological crisis apart from systemic racism, it’s also true that we can’t keep addressing human–on–human violence without reference to the larger physical world we’re all part of. In her notes to “She and I,” Kathryn Kirkpatrick writes of the growing rift she has felt between herself and other feminists whose “thinking.. assumes human beings are in the struggle alone.” As someone for whom “feminist,” intrinsic and essential as it is and has been to my sanity and my self–definition, is for this very reason no longer an adequate identifier, I felt a shock of recognition at these words. What if, as Megan Hollingsworth suggests in the epigraph above, when we said “community,” we meant not only the humans existing inside those borders but all the other organisms living there as well? What if social injustice were never considered apart from the injustices we humans inflict on the earth and other nonhuman beings? “Some of us have become used to thinking that woman is the nigger of the world, that a person of color is the nigger of the world, that a poor person is the nigger of the world. But, in truth, Earth itself has become the nigger of the world.” Alice Walker wrote these words, way back in 1986.
But justice isn’t the only or even the main issue. It’s our human cluelessness. “Our spiritual ecosystem is out of whack because there’s too much human nature in it and not enough of other forms of nature,” writes Bender. The same could be said for many of our other systems. In “Listening for the Long Song,” the concluding article in this issue, Andrea Mathieson notes that “…most of us have lost our ability to hear the subtle sounds of the Earth and the voices of all her creatures.” Caught up as we are in our human dramas (this U.S. presidential election needs to be over now!), “we become deaf to the loving wisdom constantly available to us within the natural world.” We are unable to “listen with our feet”—as the elephants instructed—to that “great animal, alive and breathing” beneath us.
I had a moment reading Mathieson where I was able to see even my own rage and panic about testerone–driven destruction and extinction as a kind of static preventing me from tuning into deeper levels of awareness––– and ironically, from truly hearing the beings whose lives I’m so anxious to save. Windheart says the whales taught her “how to drop my awareness down into the earth, to open through the perceived edges of my physical form into something vast, deep, and universal.” Call it universal awareness, call it Anima Mundi, call it The Long Song, call it Source, we humans are mostly cut off from it and suffering the pain of disconnection. We need the wisdom and counsel of nonhuman nature and we need to learn to listen.
I have learned so much from the writing in this issue. Every piece deserves your careful attention. Please don’t miss out on a single one.
Montreal October 2016
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