Dogs

In this episode, Kim finds out that Saronik gets a little weird when it comes to dogs. We talk about Donna J. Haraway’s book The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness

Haraway studies methods (and practitioners) of agility training in order to try and figure out what these praxes that bring together nature and culture, by means of which humans relate with species they have evolved with. 

Saronik is waiting to meet Miles, Kim’s amazing Newfie. Below, you can see him with Toby. 

He met Toby on two occasions a year apart, at the same cafe in Bushwick, completely by accident. 

TRANSCRIPT

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

dogs, species, companion, relationship, theory, essay, interspecies, human, constitutive, tropes, boxes, manifesto, calls, high, narcissism, partners, composes, harrowing, save

Kim

This episode, I am talking with Saronik about dogs.

Saronik  

That is correct. I am so excited I’ve been literally dreaming about this episode. 

Kim

Excellent.

Saronik

I’m not kidding. 

Kim

This seems like a very silly question to ask. But since it’s our standard question, what the heck is a dog?

Saronik  

Oh, I thought you were gonna ask what the heck are dogs in theory?

Kim

I wanna know what a dog is, first.

Saronik

I do not know what a dog is. That’s a question that I’ve sought the answer for and failed with good reason, I think. But I think–so I love dogs, which is an understatement, but we don’t have time for the actual statement. And I’m also one of those people who didn’t grow up having a dog and I think, like, we are a special subset within the group of dog lovers, like, people who didn’t grow up with a dog. I think we are, like, a special subset because I think there’s a kind of, like, sweet desperation to our love. And so I think the dog or, like, the love of a dog is the best thing to take us out of ourselves and undermine our narcissism. So it sucks that we often use them for narcissistic purposes. Today’s theoretical dogs are also, like, very real dogs and are from this essay called “The Companion Species Manifesto” by Donna Haraway, which is from 2003. And Donna Haraway, her famous essay, of course, is “The Cyborg Manifesto” and she’s a professor emeritus at UC Santa Cruz and also, okay, also shout out to the magical Elaine Friedgood. We have both been taught by her. So we both know the magic. But the shout out is because I first read this essay for one of her courses. So I’m going to, like, quote a lot of things today because I really like her language. And so she says, “dogs are about the inescapable, contradictory story of relationships, constitutive relationships in which none of the partners pre-exists the relating and the relating is never done once and for all,” and I think that is so sweet.

Kim

Wait, whoa, you’ve gotta parse that. What the heck does that mean?

Saronik  

Because I think it means that, like…

Kim

Can you read it again? 

Saronik 

Yes. So she says, “dogs are about the inescapable contradictory story of relationships, constitutive relationships in which none of the partners pre-exist through relating, and the relating is never done once and for all.” So I think what she means is, like, I think the best lesson to take from this would be, like, we might think that you know, we as humans exist prior to the dog, but the kind of people we are without dogs, we don’t exist as those people independent of the dog. 

Kim

Okay.

Saronik

So, so I think, to put it even more simply, which is basically what we should do, is that dogs change us in ways that we don’t always account for.

Kim

Do you mean individual dogs or like, domestication of dogs in human history?

Saronik  

I think, I think both. And she, yeah. So in the essay, she sort of, she’s very clear about the fact that, I think, she’s talking about both, okay. And so, I think, so the human dog dyad, or the human dog relationship, I think she thinks of it as this sort of unique coming together of instinct and training. And she uses this sort of composite word “natureculture,” like one word–natureculture–for it, and so I think, like, what’s very clearly apparent in the human-dog relationship can be said of other companion species as well, you know, species, including humans who have sort of evolved together. 

Kim

Okay. 

Saronik

And so we have developed our languages and physiology and figurations of companionship based on these relationships, and she says, us beings are “prehensile opportunistic ready to yoke unlikely partners into something new, something symbiogenitic, co-constitutive companion species and co-evolution are the rule, not the exception. Flesh and figure are not far apart. Tropes are what make us want to look and need to listen for surprises that get us out of inherited boxes.” Yeah, which is a ton of things. I know. 

Kim

That one’s gonna be pressing too, but wait I have, I have a more fundamental question before you go by companion species. Do you mean or does she mean that, like, does she mean social animals in the sense that, like, humans are a species in which there is companionship? What does she mean?

Saronik  

No, no, no, she means between species.

Kim

Okay. 

Saronik

Yeah. And she, the idea of companion species is larger than dogs, but I think we can think of dogs both as sort of emblematic and also. Like, it’s the most it’s the one relationship that is in front of us in a very, like there’s a lot of attention already on it. So it’s easier to study I guess.

Kim

Are you a companion species with the birds outside your window?

Saronik 

I got the third-degree grilling! Yes, I would hope that they consider me as a companion species, although they don’t really care about my existence. I definitely care a lot about their existence, but yeah.

Kim

I think they care about you, too. Maybe that’s why they’re singing for

Saronik  

That is true. They do sing a lot outside this window

Kim 

Okay, anyway, so let’s get back to that quote. Can you read it again?

Saronik  

Yes. “Us beings are prehensile opportunistic beings ready to yoke unlikely partners into something new, something symbiogenetic, flesh and figure are not far apart. Tropes are what make us want to look and need to listen for surprises that get us out of our inherited boxes.” I think one I am not going to claim that I, like, absolutely understand this, but I think what she means is that there’s a certain kind of immediacy and sort of tangibility to the actual real relationship between human and dog. But, like, dogs also sort of permeate our language; they are the source of many of our metaphors and tropes. The figural aspects of the dog is sort of useful in understanding how far they have contributed to our evolution as a species.

Kim

Okay, so then perhaps this is a good point for me to ask my next question. 

Saronik

Yes. 

Kim

Which is, how do I use dogs in theory?

Saronik  

I think it’s a way to sort of de instrumentalize on like, de-accessorize dogs and acknowledge that we evolve vis-a-vis them and as we evolve vis-a-vis all companion species. And we can definitely, sort of, in a very real sense, we can use dogs in theory to fight horrible breeding practices. And I think Haraway channels a lot of the rhetoric that rescue programs use. The sort of underlying tenet of the breeding program is that the dog from inception to death is nothing but an object for your use in that case. But in the sense of like rescue programs, you are basically, you know, affording a certain kind of respect to the species and you are helping them as opposed to sort of creating them just for your use, I think. We have created this being for our predominantly aesthetic use, which has biological problems that are of our own creation. And that is just horrendous. Okay, so…

Kim

How will the theory dogs save the world?

Saronik  

Theory dogs. Yeah, I mean, I’m so glad you didn’t ask “how will dogs save the world” because that’s a rhetorical question. So, I think, so Haraway argues against the idea, she says that this sort of very popular idea that dogs love us unconditionally is actually like a pernicious idea. And she calls it again– it’s, like, a bombshell of a phrase– 

Kim

Yeah. 

Saronik

She calls it “the neurosis of caninophiliac narcissism.”

Kim

The neurosis of caninophiliac narcissism.

Saronik  

Because she says that, when we say that dogs love us unconditionally, it sort of absolves us of some kind of interspecies responsibility. 

Kim

Okay.

Saronik

And she says, I quote, “The dog’s value and life does not depend on the human’s perception but the dog’s often,” which I think is very, very true. And sorry, what was your… what was the question?

Kim

How will the theory dogs save the world?

Saronik  

Yes. Can I just, like, I’m just gonna sum up everything I’m feeling right now in one sentence. I think the way we think about dogs should help us resist our tendency and, like, this almost, like, irresistible tendency to collapse or reduce the world onto the human. I think the least likely, sort of animal or species that we can think of in this respect is the dog because the dog is the most humanized of species. So I think that’s what ‘s the brilliance of Haraway’s intervention, which is that she is sort of creating a split between this very easy equation that we have between us and dogs and sort of, sort of, like giving us pause to think about it. 

Kim

Okay. So, how will dogs save the world? 

Saronik

How will dogs save the world? 

Kim

Yeah. 

Saronik

Because, well, I mean, a world without dogs is not really worth living in. So they save the world by existing.

Kim

So that’s it for our episode on dogs. We hope that you recognize the interspecies relationship between you and every dog in the world. And if you have one, scratch it behind the ears.

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