holding incompatible things together

When I was in 5th grade, Sister Rosemarie lectured us passionately about the moment in a Catholic Mass where the priest raises up the Eucharist and repeats Jesus’ admonition to drink his blood and eat his flesh, and to “do this in memory of me.” It was so important, she told us, that she wished she could get up from her pew, turn around, and tell us all to PAY ATTENTION.

That’s how I feel about this:

“Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true.” — Donna Haraway, A Manifesto for Cyborgs (emphasis mine)

This is huge: “holding incompatible things together,” rather than choosing one thing out of all possible things, christening that one thing Truth, and rejecting all incompatible things as untrue/wrong/inaccurate just because they are incompatible with the “Truth” you chose. Haraway offers this example further into her chapter:

“From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defense, about the final appropriation of women’s bodies in a masculinity orgy of war. From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints. The political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point.” (emphasis mine)

This makes me think of the duck-rabbit, the simple drawn figure used by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Depending on how you, um, brain while you’re looking at this picture, you see either a duck or a rabbit.


You can shift between the two (if you’re seeing a rabbit, think of the ears as a duck bill; switch that around if you’re seeing a duck), but trying to see both at the same time is challenging. Impossible, maybe…or maybe not. I don’t know. You can definitely reach a point where you at least feel like you’re balancing both images at once, and I think that’s worth something.

Anyway. Why try to argue that this image either IS a duck or IS a rabbit, rather than trying to see both (or more? What else do you see?) and savor the “holding [of] incompatible things together.” It seems so simple with an image like this, and so difficult, and threatening, and dangerous with bigger things.