Stengers and Haraway on Indigenous Cosmopolitics

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a Sawyer Seminar Lecture at UC Davis featuring Isabelle Stengers and, responding to Stengers, Donna Haraway.  Although they’ve been influencing one another’s works for years, this was one of only a handful of public appearances they have made together.  Adam Robbert of the world renound Knowledge Ecology posted recordings of the lecture HERE, and for a good overview of the topics covered, check out his notes HERE

Following the other lectures in this Sawyer Seminar series, the topic of the lecture was the problem of indigenous cosmopolitics.  I say problem because they were note proposing answers or uncontested definitions, but were opening a series of questions.  How do cosmopolitical proposals for  a global or universal collective of humans and nonhumans relate to indigenous lifeways, for which politics is embedded in local places?  Is “indigenous cosmopolitics” an oxymoron?  If it exists, how?  And so what?

Stengers focused on indigenous cosmopolitics by way of an encounter with “the challenge of animism,” which she connected with the challenges of magic, sorcery, and witchcraft, citing Starhawk on withcraft (feel the smoke of witches burning) and citing David Abram’s sense of an “ecology of magic.”  The main point for Stengers is simply this: ideas are actual participants in the craft of cosmopolitics.  They are, as Haraway put it, “cosmopolitical critters,” actors in the risky “speculative fabulation” (sf) that defines the craft of cosmopolitics.  

Our challenge is to learn the craft of building lures, the craft of animating and being animated by abstractions.  Indigenous cosmopolitics enrolls narrative and memory in practices of reclaiming (not to restore, but to reformat and reactive) the metamorphic power of ideas, bringing them into an open space of participation where humans and nonhumans can (just maybe) co-constitute a world where, as Zapatistas put it, “many worlds will fit,” including the worlds that we call “ideas.”

Learning to Swim with Deleuze

The movement of the swimmer does not resemble that of the wave, in particular, the movements of the swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movements of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs.  That is why it is so difficult to say how someone learns: there is an innate or acquired practical familiarity with signs, which means that there is something amorous—but also something fatal—about all education.  […]

When a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other—involves difference, from one wave and one gesture to another, and carries that difference through the repetitive space thereby constituted.  To learn is indeed to constitute this space of an encounter with signs, in which the distinctive points renew themselves in each other, and repetition takes shape while disguising itself. […]

To learn to swim is to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea in order to form a problematic field.  This conjugation determines for us a threshold of consciousness at which our real acts are adjusted to our perceptions of the real relations, thereby providing a solution to the problem.  Moreover, problematic Ideas are precisely the ultimate elements of nature and the subliminal objects of little perceptions.  As a result, ‘learning’ always takes place in and through the unconscious, thereby establishing the bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind.

Gilles Deleuze, Difference and repetition, trans. Paul Patton. (Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 23, 165.