Monday, October 24, 2011
Four Legs Good! In praise of Companion Species
In The Companion Species Manifesto Donna Haraway asks what might happen if we started taking relationships with animals seriously. She asks this in part as a way to (re)consider history. This feminist manifesto differs from the earlier (and I'd say more anthologized) Cyborg Manifesto in that the companion species is a precursor to the function the cyborg has in that earlier text. Here's what I mean: she's traded the slogan "Cyborgs for Earthly Survival," for the pithier "Run fast; bite hard." Upon reading Haraway I was immediately reminded of the tagline of my blogging cyber-mentor Sina Queyras's Lemon Hound: "More bark than bite since 2005." I wondered what our academic relationships with animals may tell us. Sure, not everyone is an animal lover and not everyone can--or wants--to live with an animal, but I am constantly surprised by how many academics--and how many female academics--I know who are dog, cat, or other animal-crazy. What's up with academics generally (feminists specifically) and animals?
I found myself mulling this question over again when I was standing in my dear friend M.'s office earlier this week. While we were chatting I noticed a poster above her desk. It read "behind every productive woman there is a rather remarkable cat." Indeed! I thought, but why?
Granted, my companion species is a rather remarkable dog by the name of Felix (though I've had fine cats in my life) but the point is that animals seem to be absolutely necessary in the lives of many academics I know. In my department alone Chai, Tusket, Finnegan, Sam, Obie, Sage, Rosie, Duchess, Herbie, Tink, Brock, Ollie, Cobaka, and Waldo provide unquantifiable amounts of anecdotes. Those of us who live with animals seem to flock together in the halls to share the most recent story of our four-legged friends.
I have always loved animals. I got my first pet--a hamster named Hammy--after I passed the goldfish test when I was about five. Tippy the Beagle came to live with us when I was about eight. Sam came later, and Wallace the cross-eyed, soft-hearted, fancy-stepping deer hound still lives with my parents, but it wasn't until graduate school that I really developed companionship with a four-legged friend. Felix and I have lived together for eight years. He came home with me when he was a wee pup and we were both in Montreal. He, in a pen waiting to be adopted; me, writing my MA thesis. I was one of only two people in my cohort who chose to write a thesis, and it was lonely work. While I think it prepared me for the solitariness that is (often) scholarly research at the time I was surprised by how lonely I felt. Walking with Felix got me out of my head and out of the house.
Since 2004 Felix has been my constant companion. We moved from Montreal to Calgary together. He has seen me through immense changes in my personal life as well as in my career. He sits beside me when I grade papers. He sits beside me when I read. He wakes up with me when I can't sleep because of some anxiety or another, and he leans on me when I have a cry (often that cry is my first response to peer review. There, I said it). But perhaps what my relationship with Felix reinforces on a regular basis is something that Haraway calls significant otherness. Animals--dogs, for Haraway--are "partners in the crime of human evolution." They tell us much about ourselves, and they tell us much about the way we as treat others. Oh yes, and they have wonderful senses of humor.
Do you have an animal in your life?