Presented at the MIT Symposium on Zooetics, April 28, 2018
From Lynn Margulis, a touchstone to whom we have returned frequently these past two days, I accept that the truly original arises in symbiosis, a process that Scott Gilbert reminds us always entails difficulty and cooperation, carrying within it the possibility that any party to symbiosis might eat or be eaten.
As we try to work across boundaries, as we try somehow to place art into more than just proximity to science and technology, as we try (following the lead of Isabelle Stengers and Catherine Malabou) to gain consciousness of our habits of thought, and even to attain some minute glimpses of consciousness of our consciousness, we reside within the struggles of thinking.
Isabelle Stengers and Vincienne Despret reach back to Virgina Woolf to remind us: Think we must. We must think.
But, meanwhile, Donna Haraway enjoins us to Stay with the Trouble.
The troubles with which we might stay are multiple.
Here is one of them.
Several times in these two days, we have turned, sometimes gingerly, toward problems and difficulties and frictions related to the possession and dispossession of land. We sit here, at what we can call the Massachusett Institute of Technology, a “land grant” university built on landfill that covers marshes that will, perhaps rather soon, become watery once again. But, for now, the “solid ground” of MIT (which is never solid, but moves with the root systems of trees every time the wind blows) – this illusion of solid ground sustains buildings and research and decorative plantings and some of most brilliant and most idealistic young people whom you could ever hope to meet.
Yet, to name only one case among many, two of MIT’s buildings and one of its academic programs are paid for by people who were trained here, alumni of MIT, whose personal and professional achievements are founded in racism, in runaway capitalism, and on a willingness to do anything to advance their own interests.
We have heard, too, in these two days, about gardening and the microbial life of the soil; we have heard about skin and touch and about eyes, ears, and noses. We have heard about mud.
I would like to imagine being muddy as a form of resistance.
The figure of the garden has been considered for eons as a place of refuge. But it too contains the violence of eating and being eaten, of displacement and ripping. Yet, for me, there may a place to work here: a place in which humans are de-centered, a place where we are so obviously outnumbered and thoroughly outwitted by species as visible as wild rabbits and as hard-to-discern as the fungi and bacteria that make soil soil.
So, what might emerge from this bringing into conflict, on the one side, the soil, the plants, food and water, the consciousness of the microbial world in which we are both container and contained – what might emerge if we brought all of these into conflict with the mighty and fearsome politics and economies of extraction and dominance? What might happen if the brain, the body, the senses of the artist were inserted into the brain, the body, the senses of the institutions (and the Institutes) of power?
Who will eat, and who will be eaten?