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McKenzie Wark on decolonial anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro


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At the Verso blog, McKenzie Wark surveys the work of anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, focusing especially on his books Cannibal Metaphysics (2014) and The Ends of the World (2017), the latter coauthored with Déborah Danowski. As Wark notes, Viveiros de Castro’s mission is to reverse the historical and methodological colonialism of anthropology, instead seeking in indigenous myth and philosophy ways to inhabit the world that remedy the Western-led destruction of it. Here’s an excerpt from Wark’s piece:

The quadrant unexplored in this taxonomy might be that of the human as preceding the world. Rather than subtract the human from correlation with the world, subtract the world — but at the beginning. The Amerindian myths Viveiros anatomized in Cannibal Metaphysics can now take its place in a larger schema. As we saw, various subsets of the human changed into other species, or into things. The part that did not change remained human. If in the west one is inclined to think of humans as the future and animals as the past, here is the reverse: A structure for thought that rather does away with attempts to find what is special in a human development out of the animal, but it language, labor, law, desire, culture, history, or a future.

There might be a corresponding Amerindian concept of time, a non-modern one lacking modernity’s distinctive, non-transitive quality, opening on to an ethnographic present rather than an historical present. This present epoch began when humans ceased becoming-other, ending a mythic, virtual time of transformations. A worldless humanity gives way to a world peopled by multiple peoples. The human is the active principle at the origin of a diverse world. It is a sort of inverse Garden of Eden. Humans came first. Nature separates itself from culture. Amerindian myth is not one with an “environment” that is external to the social. Rather, there are multiple forms of the social, populated by different species, each of which appears to its own kind as human. Every encounter with another species is war and diplomacy, embedded in a cosmopolitics.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for such an anthropomorphism over an anthropocentrism, even a negative one like speculative realism where the very subtraction of the human becomes a relentless absent presence. Danowski and Viveiros de Castro: “… we are of the opinion that that anthropomorphism should be granted full philosophical citizenship owing to the as yet unexplored conceptual possibilities it opens.” (71) To say all the others are human is paradoxically a way to remove the specialness of the human.

Image of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro via filosofiaemvideo.com.br.