This blog-post is a companion text to the podcast episode Writing With.
In academic writing, citations are the obvious sign of who you are thinking with and thus also writing with. Yet, there are always influences and companions in writing and thinking (and feeling) that remain uncited due to the limitations of the academic format. This is why we wanted to make a podcast about our writing companions; the ones we write with that remain uncited, but are maybe heard between the lines (a cat, a ghost, the ghost of the cats of the past)?
Writing is about making worlds, and it is therefore important to consider, who inhabits those worlds. Who are invited as companions in those worlds? If I write about writing with a cat, who am I writing it for? What is the use of my writing for the cat? As I explain in the podcast, I have recently been living, writing and thinking with a cat, which has raised some pressing questions about what I have come to call cat-writing, inspired by Haraways (2003, 3) “dog writing”. Can words ever describe the attempt to live ethically with a cat – and not just any cat, a particular cat that I live with, Sotku – and the problematics of having to sacrifice others for her to survive?
Yet, as a human being, I express myself with writing, reaching out to the world with words. The writing must continue, then, as cat-writing; with the cat, about cats, about writing with cats. Even though the cat herself always escapes, always refuses to settle into words.
As the Monster Network, we have also written texts together. In this process of co-writing, different writing companions – such as disciplinary and theoretical backgrounds, bodily/material realities and life histories – are brought together, even though we all spring from more or less similar interests and indebtedness to, for example, feminist/queer/postcolonial/more-than-human theories. This multiplicity of writing – how one’s “own voice” is always more than one – is what evokes the monstrous in writing.
Different methods and methodologies can also be used to perhaps tease out the monster, to craft the Frankensteinian creature into existence.
There is, indeed, a lot of debt in writing (as with all things). The writing ‘I’ owes a debt to past generations who created and sustained (though altered through repetition) the language used to express oneself in, as well as to future generations, who may or may not read the text. As Derrida suggests in Specters of Marx, one must learn to live in the company of such ghosts, as well as acknowledge this debt to the past and to the future as they haunt the present. In this sense, the writing ‘I’ speaks in multiple voices, is being spoken by the ghosts who came before and who come after.
While preparing the workshop ‘Writing Monsters’, Katrine Meldgaard Kjær and I discussed the figure of the exorcist – to the point of writing ‘exorcises’ rather than ‘exercises’ in our blogpost for this website. The exorcist, not least within popular culture, serves as a figure that gets rid of ghosts and demons, rids not least the female subject of multiple voices, makes sure she no longer speaks in tongues, in languages she has no right to know. There’s a violence in the exorcism, which is excused on the grounds of the humanist understanding of the subject as necessarily singular, as speaking in only one true voice. Katrine and I came up with the figure of the ‘intrasist’ as someone doing the opposite of the exorcist: an intrasist does not get rid of creatures that haunt the speaking, writing subject, but summons them, makes them appear not in order to be exorcised, but to be acknowledge, lived with, as a means of paying back our debt to them (this can never be fully done). A monster writing method may, then, be imagined as a summoning, an intrasism, a thinking with the other voices, not least those that contradict what we thought we wanted to say, or that speaks in tongues impossible to interpret, or that screams till our throats hurt, because what they want to say, what they want to speak through and with their host, is beyond any language, any known means of expression, still to come.
The idea of intrasism is really intriguing, and I think that the practice of cat-writing can also be seen as a form of intrasism. Living with a companion animal, a carnivore, summons up the complex histories and possible futures between humans and their companion animals – as well as the messy entanglements of love and violence that these relationships entail also in the present. In this sense, cat-writing is what Donna Haraway (2016) might call “staying with the trouble” in the present. Perhaps, monstrous writing is also something that, as a process, asks us to be mindful of the troubles that occur in the present, at the present moment of the writing?
I definitely think that monster writing can be understood as the ethical urgency of ‘staying with the trouble’, that is, staying with troubling, haunting voices rather than exorcising them. I also like the idea of cat-writing as intrasism; the voices we speak or attempt to speak are not necessarily human, and our writing companions may be teaching us how to challenge the borders and boundaries between the human and the nonhuman as we write. That would, perhaps, be the cat as intrasist.
Haraway, Donna J. (2003), The Companion Species Manifesto. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
Haraway, Donna J. (2016), Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Press.