jueves, 24 de mayo de 2012

Human nature is an interspecies relationship


 Recent developments in anthropological thought, particularly in the areas of sensory
memory or sensuous scholarship, marginality and mimesis, and landscape or
place offer a way out of misplaced essentialism, which demands strict adherence to
what does or does not count as biodiversity, knowledge, and memory... 
An awareness of new microbiological facts of life suggests that fundamental
boundaries between organisms, between species, are blurrier than previously
thought. A close look at human skins, guts, and genomes reveals that human beings
are a consortium of sorts, a medley of microbial becomings (Haraway 2008:31).
By the late 20th century, biologists were beginning to find that viruses and other
microbes transfer genes across species lines as well as higher level taxonomic categories
like families or even phyla—spreading genetic material laterally among
living creatures, rather than vertically down generations (Helmreich 2003). Evolutionary
theorists began to rethink their mappings of interspecies relationships,
challenging prevailing Darwinian orthodoxies about linear descent (Margulis and
Sagan 2002; see also Hird 2009). In the words of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari:
“Evolutionary schemas would no longer follow models of arborescent descent going
from the least to the most differentiated, but instead a rhizome. . . . We form
a rhizome with our viruses, or rather our viruses cause us to form a rhizome with
other animals” (1987:11).

A rhizomorphic zeitgeist inflects many branches of biology. And anthropology
has been infected, too. Fusing Margulis’s symbiogenesis (the coming into being of new
creatures through symbiosis) and Foucault’s biopolitics, Stefan Helmreich (2009)
suggests that we think of the governance of entangled living things as a question of
symbiopolitics. A symbiopolitical multispecies ethnography turns out to have a good
deal in common with the traveling methods of multisited ethnography (Marcus
Playing with popular anxiety surrounding microbial becomings, performance
artist Caitlin Berrigan created a series of sentimental objects in an attempt to
“befriend a virus.” Growing tired of the rhetoric of war commonly used by health
care workers to describe her illness, hepatitis C, Berrigan, who carries the virus
in her blood, performed what she called a “nurturing gesture,” at the Multispecies
Salon. Drawing her own blood, she offered it to a dandelion plant as a nitrogen-rich
fertilizer: “Blood containing human pathogens is still a good fertilizer for plants,”
she argued, “I can give to the dandelions what would be a danger to any human”
(see Figure 3). Enacting a relation of shared suffering, of mutual care and violence
(cf. Haraway 2008), Berrigan told audience members that she takes dandelion root
as medicine to help her liver cope with viral infections.
FIGURE 3. “Lifecycle of a Common Weed” by Caitlin Berrigan.
Noting that the recipient of her nurturing gesture is regarded as a “weed,”
Berrigan worked to give the dandelion biographical and political life (bios), elevating
it from the realm of bare life. “The dandelion actually has a lot to offer us even
though they grow everywhere, and are killed with herbicides,” she later told us
(see also Berrigan 2009). Berrigan’s art and personal medical regimen might be
understood as a “microbiopolitical” intervention, calling attention to how living
with microorganisms (in this case, a pathogenic virus) is caught up in discourses
about how humans ought live with one another (Paxson 2008:16). Appropriating
tools of biotechnology and syncretic medical traditions, she worked to create a
symbolic cycle of nutrients in urban environments, on a micro local scale, in
opposition to dominant institutionalized practices and global commodity chains
(cf. Paxson 2008:40). 

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