Writing With

By Aino-Kaisa Koistinen and Line Henriksen

This blog-post is a companion text to the podcast episode Writing With.

Ethos Lab 1
Table filled with paper, writing utensils and mugs. You can see the hands of the people sitting around the table, holding pens and papers. Photo by Marie Blønd for ETHOS Lab.

Aino-Kaisa:

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.

Line:

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. 

Aino-Kaisa: 

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? 

Line:

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. 

Sotku (28.10.2020, revising a document): 1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq1qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq

“Sotku working as a writing companion.” In the image, there is a laptop with a bright screen in the background and, in the foreground, a cat’s head that blocks the keyboards and some of the screen. Image: Aino-Kaisa Koistinen.

Readings:
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.

Monster Talks 8: Writing With

With whom do we write when we write?

In this episode of Monster Talks, Aino-Kaisa Koistinen (University of Jyväskylä) and Line Henriksen (IT University of Copenhagen) talk about the people, thoughts, creatures, objects and events that keep us company when we write, and that make writing possible – or sometimes impossible, even monstrously disturbing. They talk about their own writing companions, a cat and procrastination, and Kaisa Kortekallio (University of Helsinki) shares a story about writing with darkness, Katrine Meldgaard Kjær (IT University of Copenhagen) talks about writing with music, and Nina Lykke (Linköping University) introduces us to a series of writing companions and their stories. 

Guest stars:

Katrine Meldgaard Kjær is an assistant professor at ITU. She works with interdisciplinary approaches to studying digital health, and is currently working on a project about medicinal cannabis.  She has her PhD from the Department for the study of culture at University of Southern Denmark, and is based in Copenhagen.

Kaisa Kortekallio works on environmental speculations and embodied estrangement at the University of Helsinki. Whether dealing with climate change or winter depression, she prefers strategies of adaptation to those of warfare.

Nina Lykke is Professor Emerita, Dr. Phil. Gender Studies, Linköping University, Sweden, and Adjunct Professor, Aarhus University, Denmark. Author of numerous books, such as Cosmodolphins. Feminist Cultural Studies of Technology, Animals and the Sacred (with Mette Bryld, 2000), Feminist Studies (2010), and Vibrant Death. A Posthuman Phenomenology of Mourning (forthcoming, 2021).

Music featured in this episode:  Ana Bogner: Monsters (https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Ana_Bogner/Multiple_Proportions/Ana_Bogner_-_Multiple_Proportions_03)

Nuno Adelaide: I’m a Monster (https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Nuno_Adelaida/none_given_1662/Nuno_Adelaida_04_Im_A_Monster) from the Free Music Archive. The Free Music Archive offers free downloads under Creative Commons and other licenses.

Monster Talks is a podcast series that explores the figure of the monster and the concept of the monstrous as important thinking tools for addressing dynamics of power, inclusion and exclusion, discrimination and violence. The podcast is made possible by the support of Nordic Culture Point and produced by The Monster Network in collaboration with Network for Gender Studies at UiS. All episodes are available from the podcast’s website at UiS.

Artwork by Joanne Teresa Taylor, NettOp, University of Stavanger.

The Monster Talks jingle: Narration and violin by Sara Orning. Voices by Ingvil Hellstrand, Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, Line Henriksen and Sara Orning. Mixed by Line Henriksen.  Sounds by SpliceSound (https://freesound.org/people/SpliceSound/sounds/188187/) and Anagar (https://freesound.org/people/anagar/sounds/267931/), www.freesound.org, Creative Commons 0 License.

Monsters of the Anthropocene: an OSEH Collaboratory (2021/22)

Ghost_trees_in_snow_2
Image: Ghost Trees in Snow, Wikimedia Commons. Sheila Sund from Salem, United States. Image description: Snowy landscape. Two spruces covered in snow are almost swallowed by a white fog. The fog erases the line between ground and horizon.

We’re happy and excited to announce that the Monster Network has received funding for a two-year Collaboratory at the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities, the University of Oslo, together with Rebecca Scherr (internal PI) and Hugo Reinert! The Collaboratory will take the shape of a reading group, and we will organize two workshops on the subjects of the monstrous and the Anthropocene. Keep an eye on our website for more information on the latest developments and possible ways of getting involved with the Collaboratory.  

Until then (and after): beware the monsters of the Anthropocene.

Capturing Chronic Illness Digital Photography Exhibition: Call for Submissions

Photo
Image description: Person, almost visible but largely transparent, holding a mug in
a kitchen. Through the person we see various kitchen appliances.
Photo copyright: Donna McCormack

We invite photographic submissions to a digital exhibition on the subject of chronic illness. Donna McCormack & Ingrid Young, exhibition organisers, welcome works in progress as well as finished pieces. Submissions are not limited by style or subject. We invite submissions from people who are living with or have been affected by chronic illness and who want to share their work. We are particularly interested in photographs that challenge traditional imagery of chronic illness, and that engage with queer, feminist or decolonial modes of capturing these experiences.


As part of the submission process, we ask you to provide a short description (max 200 words) of the image (or images) and say a little about how your image speaks to chronic illness.

Photographs will be hosted on the project website, and the exhibition will form part of the Visualising Bodies programme at the Being Human Festival in November 2020.

Deadline for submission: Friday, 6 November 2020

To find out more and to submit a photograph, please go here.

Any questions? Contact: capturingchronicillness@gmail.com

Spider Conversations I (or: TERRIFYING SCARY CREATURES WILL ATTACK YOU!!!!)

By Ingvil Hellstrand, Donna McCormack and Line Henriksen

In 2013, a conversation about spiders and monstering helped spawn the start of The Monster Network. As part of our unruly origin story, we revisit our thinking and conversation after the Somatechnics Conference – Missing Links (2013) in this blog post. This was an event where Line, along with other organisers, brought together a panel that consisted of herself, Ingvil and Donna. We didn’t quite realise that this was the start of the Monster Network; we couldn’t predict the future, and the future was unpredictable, but this thread was the start of a dialogue that would grow beyond anything we initially thought about spiders.

Office spider 2013. Photo by Line Henriksen. Made part of the conversation 26 August 2013

Ingvil, 25 June 2013 

A little story first: in the evening of the day we had our panel, I went to the bathroom in Wärdshuset Gamla Linköping (where the conference dinner was being held), and as I sat there a little spider came creeping up very close to my left foot. I was startled, and, not being particularly afraid of spiders, felt that it came a bit too close. And I remember thinking “please don’t let it crawl into my bag!”. However, the spider, having become aware of me at the same time as I became aware of it, stopped dead in its tracks. And I thought, “well, now, who’s monstering whom?”  

I liked the way our monsters came together at the same time as our presentations brought to the fore something about the monster not being just “monster”, as if there is something in the figuration of the monster that needs re-addressing. As in monster theory in general, the monster-figuration is useful for talking about difference and recognition. The ethical aspects of understanding the monster as something in proximity to ourselves is a very interesting discussion, partly because it requires a kind of self-reflexivity, but also because (and this is what I found so intriguing in our conversation), the monster itself is not a fixed or static thing. All of us ascribed agency and potential to “our” monsters; they were not just the symbolic Other that signifies what is not normal or normative, but they were agents in their own existence. Both Donna and I talked about how the non-human monsters take pride in being precisely that; not human. There is a double-bind here somewhere: that the monster, having gotten rid of its monstrosity and become more able to “pass” as human makes it simultaneously more eerie/uncanny and domesticated. The hopeful monsters in pop-culture contribute to make the monster into a subject, more than object (Heroes, Twilight, X-men, Battlestar Galactica) because we can recognise them as contemporary political (and perhaps ethical?) agents. At the same time, the unknowable monster, the impossible monster (smile dog) perpetuates the idea of the monstrous as something that cannot be grasped (neither bodily or as idea). The monster is somehow caught in between a kind of domestication in popular culture and a (conventional?) unknowability of the monster. How do you recognise the monster? And how does it recognise you?  

Continue reading “Spider Conversations I (or: TERRIFYING SCARY CREATURES WILL ATTACK YOU!!!!)”