Donna Haraway s latest book, "When Species Meet," is a stunning meditation on the ordinary. Tying together questions of interspecies encounters and alternative practices of world building, Haraway explores how contemporary human beings interact with various critters to form meanings, experiences, and worlds. The text effortlessly slides between theory and autobiography; one of the driving connections in this regard is Ms. Cayenne Pepper, an Australian sheepdog whose darter-tongue kisses compel Haraway to look closely at what biologist Lynn Margulis calls symbiogenesis, a process that explains how life forms continually intermingle, leading to ever more intricate and multidirectional acts of association of and with other life forms. From lab animals to interspecies love to breeding purebreds, Haraway ensures that her readers will never look at human-animal encounters of any sort in the same way again.
While those familiar with Haraway s oeuvre will find numerous connections to her earlier work, she does an excellent job of narrating how she came to the questions at the heart of "When Species Meet "and (perhaps most importantly) what is at stake for her in these questions, politically and otherwise. Of particular interest to philosophy buffs are Haraway s gratifying critiques of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari s well-known writing on becoming-animal; these critiques arise as part of Haraway s overall challenge to the boundaries between wild or domestic creatures. Similarly, her response to Jacques Derrida s ruminations on animals reveals the provocations that can arise from work that pokes holes in conventional disciplinary engagements with any given topic. Haraway s willingness to take on both biology and philosophy, to cite only two of her resources, results in suggestive insights on a number of issues, but especially (with Derrida, et. al.) regarding the question of what it means to take animals seriously.
I found Haraway s considerable enthusiasm and knowledge in "When Species Meet "to be invigorating. This book should appeal to a broad audience including animal lovers, scientists and their allies, theorists, and people who love random and little known information (e.g., the history of imported North American gray wolves during South African apartheid). While Haraway emphasizes that her desire to look more carefully at companion species, those who eat and break bread together but not without some indigestion, does not come with any guarantees, she infectiously believes that there is a good deal at stake in the mundane and extraordinary details of the co-shaping species she documents across these pages. Given her hope for the worldly orientations, such as curiosity and respect, that might be cultivated by looking at companion species differently, it is appropriate that she begins and ends the text by reminding us that [t]here is no assured happy or unhappy ending socially, ecologically, or scientifically. There is only the chance for getting on together with some grace.
Review by Marie Draz, "Feminist Review "Blog