Standing atop the deck of a home, surrounded by lush Californian forest and birdsong, a slender woman speaks to the camera about alien body snatchers and her experiences with orthodontia. Donna Haraway, the scholar-theorist of a teeming body of work that spans gender, technology, biology, and vast elsewheres, animatedly drops the revelation that, at the turn of the 19th century, orthodontists used sculptures of Greek gods to determine the “correct” facial bite for a century of mouths. But not before a bee lands on her grey-crowned head. With a gentle ruffle, she helps it back on its airborne path.
The film, Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, was directed by Belgian filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova. Like most, his first contact with Haraway’s work was A Cyborg Manifesto (1985), the post-structuralist tract that linked racist, male-dominated capitalism with the history of science, which also argued that, in “our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” This was revelatory for Terranova.
“At that time,” he says, “that kind of philosophy was like air for an asphyxiating field of activism. We needed new ways to slow down and breathe again.” So, after meeting at a conference, Terranova reached out. “The first conversations were funny and highly demanding, like her!” And he’s right: When I called Haraway in Santa Cruz, our conversation veered from the politics of family, to the symbolic order of tentacled beings, to her relationship with Cayenne, an Australian shepherd—all of which populate the film.
Haraway, born in 1944 in Denver, Colorado, is the daughter of a sportswriter, so while this author of numerous books, articles, and experimental texts doesn’t come from a family of intellectuals, she grew up in a house was filled with stories. Besides this, it was the liturgical, ritualistic “fascist Catholic scene” of Denver, which her family was part of, that made her appreciate storytelling.
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published in GARAGE, Feb. 2018