Boundary Work

When Species Meet (Donna Haraway’s concept of “The Figure”)

Figures help me grapple inside the flesh of mortal world-making entanglements that I call contact zones. The Oxford English Dictionary records the meaning of “chimerical vision” for “figuration” in an eighteenth-century source, and that meaning is still implicit in my sense of figure. Figures collect the people through their invitation to inhabit the corporal story told in their lineaments. Figures are not representations or didactic illustrations, but rather material-semiotic nodes or knots in which diverse bodies and meanings coshape one another. For me, figures have always been where the biological and literary or artistic come together with all the force of lived reality. My body itself is just such a figure, literally.

For many years I have written from the belly of powerfull figures such as cyborgs, monkeys and apes, oncomice, and, more recently, dogs. In every case, the figures are at the same time creatures of imagined possibility and creatures of fierce and ordinary realiy; the dimension tangle and require response. When Species Meet is about that kind of doubleness, but it is even more about the cat’s cradle games in which those who are to be in the world are constituted in intra- and interaction. The partners do not precede the meeting; species of all kinds, living and not, are consequent on a subject- and object-shaping dance of encounters. Neither the partners nor the meetings in this book are merely literary conceits; rather, they are ordinary beings-in-encounter in the house, lab, field, zoo, park, office, prison, ocean, stadium, barn, or factory. As ordinary knotted beings, they are also always meaning-making figures that gather up those who respond to them into unpredictable kinds of “we”.

Donna Haraway, When Species Meet, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis/London 2008, pp. 4–5

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