One of the most exciting projects I’ve had a chance to work on in my role as specialist for STS has been this past summer. Paired with a graduating senior/co-term in Earth Sciences, Bobby McLean, I have been working on the Who / Where am I project as part of STS Summer Research College. Other projects in the group include: Japanese local jurisdictions and the fallout of Fukushima; the growing body of literature attacking open access to information; and organizational behavioral trends in data-mining companies. Our project re-examines current cultural gathering practices in light of traditional hosting protocols, living arts-based engagements, and alternative epistemologies, including local indigenous methodologies. In short—we are putting on a series of interactive, immersive performances in The Nitery theater to start off the fall quarter!
The project began two years ago as a PWR Research grant to study visions and alternative ways of knowing. But along the way I was introduced to the most recent work, Staying with the Trouble, of prominent STS scholar and multi species feminist author, Donna J. Haraway, down at UC Santa Cruz. In her work, she argues that the most sustainable vision for life on the planet is to stay with the current trouble of our recent cultural paradigm shifts right here in the present. To occupy a middle, or below ground (Chthonic) view of current life systems, their problems, and their potentialities. To gather in unexpected groupings (oddkins), to remake language and current ways of thinking about things—especially technodeterminism—in a collaborative process she terms “sympoiesis” or “making with,” and to consider doing so by taking lessons from the natural world, the creature world, and from, especially, the human body of knowledges created by the arts and by indigenous worlds.
Clearly, Haraway is intersecting in major ways with the current work of cultural rhetorics, with performative gatherings, and with re-aligning and re-establishing important points of contacts in a “cat’s cradle” of various cultural discourses and rhetorics, with various practices and conceptualizations, and with not only re-imagining, but in re-discovering ways of thinking, ways of knowing, and ways of engaging with others collaboratively that have always been and continue to remain part of our species story on the planet. But importantly, understood or “seen again” or re-envisioned differently than we may have been trained, engaged, and accustomed. As she writes, “We need to take seriously the acquisition of that kind of skill—emotional, intellectual, material skill—to destabilize our own stories, to retell them with other stories, and vice versa.”
In the project we are working hard on bringing together in a month’s time, then, we have assembled an oddkin gathering of undergrads and community members that include an Army Vet, a CS major dancer, an AAS major story collector, an Asian American Theater actor, a Marine water systems PhD, a SLAC intern and graphic designer, and a playwright director deviser from PWR. We are working from a script that adapts an ancient tale, The Handless Maiden, that’s been retold by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and others as an initiation or descent into the underworld. We are banking on various cultural modes of rhetoric—storytelling, live scene playing, movement, singing, food, writing, spatial engagements, and escape room play stations—to do what Haraway calls for in living arts and arts activism: to gather people and work together through artistic practices to shift the way we see things, the way we do things, and the kinds of ways we come to know ourselves, in our own spaces and in the spaces of others.
We are hoping to go into rehearsal the day after Labor Day, but we are still missing some important members—especially student actors who will act as guides, bringing the audience along to take part in each of the scenes that the principal actors will play out alongside them, in the story of a young girl who must find deeper resilience and reserves and power in herself in order to fully become who she is. If anyone is interested in joining in our sympoiesis as unexpected oddkin collaborator, please let me know. Especially in planning a symposium tentatively titled Living With the Trouble, to campus, for start of spring 2019, that would bring in Donna J. Haraway and serve as phase three of Who / Where am I, and a strong celebratory bridge between PWR and STS and their vital co-works.