By Tim Savage, 9 February 2005

`In The Companion Species Manifesto, Donna Haraway has substituted dogs for cyborgs, but who or what is wagging the tail of the new post-humanism? Review by Tim Savage

Donna Haraway’s 100-page pamphlet: The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness deserves a central place at the table of a newly emerging conversation exploring ‘the question of the animal’. Yet since what we know as ‘the human’ has always been defined against a seemingly endless taxonomy of putative others – be they ‘dehumanised peoples’, ‘plants’, inanimate ‘objects’, or ‘animals’ – what 'humanity' is conceptualised as finds itself fundamentally at stake with this question too. Recent contributions to this topic include Giorgio Agamben’s new book The Open: Man and Animal (2004), two recent anthologies entitled Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal and Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Post-humanist Theory, as well as a number of Jacques Derrida’s recent musings. Deleuze and Guattari’s earlier work about ‘becoming-animal’ also finds pride of place at this human/animal/table interface too.

Haraway opens the first pages of this new manifesto in characteristic fashion by immediately historicising her earlier work:

I appropriated cyborgs to do feminist work in Reagan’s Star War Times of the mid-1980s. By the end of the millennium, cyborgs could no longer do the work of a proper herding dog to gather up the threads needed for critical inquiry. So I go happily to the dogs to explore the birth of the kennel to help craft tools for science studies and feminist inquiry in the present time, when secondary Bushes threaten to replace the old growth of more liveable naturecultures in the carbon budget policies of all water-based life on earth.

She then proffers the ‘Companion Species’ as a heuristic figure to replace her earlier 'cyborg' and for the political tasks which lie so urgently at hand. 'Companion Species' are the hybrid beings co-constituted by humans and any other species that have symbiogenetically given birth to and co-evolved each other. Symbiogenesis, albeit reductively, refers to how various beings (i.e.: bacteria, genes, larger organisms, etc.) can in fact only come into living existence through utter co-dependence on other quite different beings. Haraway asserts that particular populations of humans and dogs have in fact co-evolved each other throughout most of humanity’s history and that there can be no way in which humans can accurately understand not only what 'canines' are, but what 'humans' are, without accounting historiographically for this complex mongrel fact.

Thus 'human' and 'canine' species are not ontologically distinct identities and any narration of history that pretends that humans are the central historiographical agents is not only historically incorrect but also politically reactionary. In line with Theodor Adorno’s proviso against all identity thinking after Auschwitz, Haraway asserts that ‘relation’ is the minimal unit of analysis and being. Here then the bourgeois borders of all 'individual identities' are smashed open and even biology’s conventional species taxonomies are no longer held to be sacrosanct.

This 'question of the animal' then also poses a huge problem for conventional humanist forms of historiography – or, how we tell historical stories. For Haraway both the historical content and historical form known as 'Modernity' can be mockingly characterised as 'The Greatest Story Ever Told'. Nietzsche long ago observed that with 'Modernity' God is declared dead and humans jettison themselves into his mythic historiographical position – that of magically possessing almost exclusive world-making powers and historiographical agency. Here humans become ‘subjects’ and pretty much everything else is relegated to the role of ‘objects’ for instrumentalisation. Haraway's work is certainly far from unique in revealing the violent power relationships inherent to this humanist historiographical picture and yet she is peculiar in the way in which she attempts to engender, decolonialise, queer, and animalise it. This, she believes will result in a telling of historical tales that are not only more historically accurate, but that will also constitute a better resource for our collective future.

The Companion Species explores the human-canine hybrid and symbiogenetic being in a non-systematic variety of different ways. Rigorously materialistic, Haraway opens the manifesto with a queasy admission that her dog's tongue has upon occasion caressed the back of her own throat. She speculates that viral vectors and non-filial genetic exchanges have actually made the two species up, in the flesh. The manifesto concludes with a scene of sexual voyeurism, which due to the anticipated sensitivities of Mute readers, I will not attempt to describe here.

In between, Haraway explores dog-human relationships. She critiques the dangerous fiction of unconditionally loving dogs and relationships whereby humans treat dogs as furry surrogates for children. Haraway would prefer to have dogs to children, and if she did ever give birth she would prefer it most of all to be to an alien. The human-pet relationship too is challenged as too difficult a feat for most animals to perform. Occasionally, a working relationship may grant specific canines a greater chance of surviving in this far from perfect world. Haraway also narrates her own dog-training experiences and glosses some of the theories surrounding appropriate human-canine relationships.

What the reader will not find in these pages however is any celebration of animal rights or any abstracted notion of equality alleged to exist between dogs and people. And lest the reader expect a love story with soppy romantic undertones; Haraway reminds us of dogs' historical role in the genocide of Native Americans, in the maintenance of African-American slavery, and in assisting US soldiers in carrying out war crimes in Vietnam. Companion Species was written sometime before Abu-Ghraib.

The manifesto also rewrites the history of two registered breeds of dogs – the Great Pyrenees and the Australian Shepherd. Yet Haraway knows the importance of the undocumented be they human or canine and so she also turns to the Satos (Puerto Rican Street Dogs whose presence in cyberspace facilitates their adoption into Northern US homes with all the attendant colonialist baggage such adoption practices customarily portend). Haraway's historicising resolutely shows that biological notions of 'pure breeds' are as fictitious as their racist counterparts in the human world. Everywhere though the question of who these various and quite different populations of non-human others are, what they might need, and how we can enter into a more mutually beneficial relationship with them is foregrounded.

A few comments remain. I wonder what this new attempt at historiography would have turned into if the symbiogenetic figures chosen had been other than humans and dogs. A wide universe of complex relationship is figured but the story is partially skewed towards these two initial, however complexly constituted non-identitarian historiographical agents. Yet in fairness, no one can escape partial, selective, and biased accounts of history. Haraway always admits this, which is what her earlier essay Situated Knowledges is all about. However, perhaps with the inappropriate quibbling of the vegetarian, after reading her declare that she fed her dog liver biscuits and that she ate hamburgers at Burger King, I found myself asking what this story would have looked like if it had been written from the vantage points of those deadened meaty beings? Is there not a truly subaltern form of historiography potentially creatable here? Specific dogs are creatures Haraway loves. I'm not sure that this in itself is a sufficient recipe for constructing the type of historiography that we so desperately need.

It may also be that conflictual relationships are overly sidelined, although being far from absent here. Haraway is rightly loathe to provide grist for the mill of the neoliberal social Darwinists who overpopulate this planet, but real history consists of huge amounts of conflict that are absolutely central to what we have all become. Telling new (her)stories wields the potential power to produce better worlds but I am unconvinced that her text inhabits the historical violence that generates it well enough.

What if the existence of something akin to class difference not just between humans, but between humans and dogs and between different animals themselves were figured into the story? Absurd to some perhaps, but as I write this review in a Manhattan where there are restaurants for pampered dogs, maybe they are not. It is not only to issues of co-constitutive loving but to these issues of complex insurgency that I hope this emergent conversation about the ‘question of the animal’ will begin to consider in the times ahead.

The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, And Significant Otherness, Donna Haraway, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003, £7.00

Tim Savage <adorno666 AT> is an ex-Montrealer who abandoned academia and now works teaching refugees English in London


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