Eduardo Viveiros de Castro; The Untimely Again

 

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Cy Twombly; Min-Oe

The Untimely, Again
(on Pierre Clastres; Archeology of Violence)

& Pierre Clastres; THE ARCHEOLOGY OF VIOLENCE (Full book)

 

 

Savages want the multiplication of the multiple. — Pierre Clastres

 

Relearning to read Pierre Clastres

Archeology of Violence, published in French in 1980 under the title of Recherches d’anthropologie politique, gathers texts that were written, in their majority, shortly before the death of their author three years earlier. It forms a pair with a collection of articles published in 1974, Society Against the State. If the latter has a greater internal consistency, and has a larger number of articles based on first-hand ethnographic experience, Archeology of Violence documents the phase of feverish creativity in which its author found himself in the months that preceded his fatal accident, at 43-years-old, on a road in the Cevennes.
Among other important texts, the last two chapters stand out: the essay whose name is given to the collection in its present form and the following article, which was the last that was published in his lifetime. They present a substantial reworking of the concept that made its author famous, that of primitive society as a “society against the State.” Revisiting the classical problem of the relations between violence and the constitution of the sovereign political body, Clastres advances a functionally positive relation between “war” (or rather the meta-stable state of latent hostility between local autonomous communities) and the collective intentionality that defines what constitutes primitive societies — the spirit of their laws, to evoke Montesquieu.
The death of Clastres was the second tragic and untimely loss suffered by the generation of French anthropologists trained in the passing of the ’50s to the ’60s. This period of intense intellectual ferment, in France as in other parts of the world brought about the major shifts in the politico-cultural sensibilities of the West and marked the ’60s-’70s with a unique quality — perhaps “hope” would be the best word to define it. The neutralization of these changes was precisely one of the foremost objectives of the concerted “revolution of the Right” that assailed the planet, imposing its physiognomy — at once arrogant and anxious, greedy and disen- chanted — upon the following decades of world history.
The first of the generation to leave was Lucien Sebag, who committed suicide in 1965, to the immense consternation of his friends (among them Felix Guattari), his teacher Claude Levi-Strauss and his psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. The twelve years that separate the deaths of these two ethnologists born in 1934, philosophers by training, who both broke with the Communist Party after 1 956, and converted to anthropology under the powerful intellectual influence of Levi-Strauss (then approaching its zenith), perhaps explains something of the difference that their respective oeuvres have with structuralism. Sebag, a member of the vibrant Francophone community of Tunisian Jews, was very close to the founder of structural anthropology, who considered the young man his likely successor. Sebag’s book-length study of the cosmogonic myths of the Pueblo, published posthumously in 1971, was one of the preparatory materials for the extensive mythological investigations of Levi-Strauss, which would finally awaken anthropology to the originality of Amerindian thought. Sebag maintained, beyond that, an intense involvement with psychoanalysis; one of the few ethno- graphic papers published during his lifetime analyzed the dreams of Baipurangi, a young woman of the Ache people, whom Sebag visited during periods which overlapped with Clastres’s time among them, before settling among the Ayoreo of the Chaco for fieldwork, which his death left unfinished.
What Clastres had in common with his friend was the ambition to re-read modern social philosophy in light of the teachings of Levi-Strauss’s anthropology; but the similarities between their respective inclinations stopped more or less there. Sebag was attracted mostly to myths and dreams, the discourses of human fabulation; the preferred themes of his colleague were rituals and power, the vehicles of the “institution” of the social, which offered apparently less analytical purchase to structural anthropology. Moreover, Clastres dedicated himself from early on to articulating a respectful but firm critique of structuralism, refusing to adhere to the positivist doxa that began to accumulate around the work of Levi-Strauss, and that threatened to transform it, in the hands of its epigones, into “a kind of Last Judgement of reason, capable of neutralizing all of the ambiguities of history and thought” (Prado Jr, 2003:8). At the same time, Clastres showed throughout his entire career an even more relentless hostility — which was not exactly respectful  — to what he called “ethnomarxism,” that is, to the group of French anthropologists who aimed to square non-centralized polities (in particular the lineage societies of West Africa) with the conceptual dogmas of historical materialism.
While Sebag wrote a book entitled Marxism and Structuralism, Clastres left us, in contrast, with Society Against the State and Archeology of Violence, the chapters of a virtual book that could be named Neither Marxism nor Structuralism. He saw in both posi- tions the same fundamental flaw: both privileged economic rationality and suppressed political intentionality. The metaphysical grounding of the socius in production with Marxism and with exchange in structuralism, rendered both incapable of grasping the singular nature of primitive sociality, summarized by Clastres in the formula: “Society against the State.” The expression referred to a modality of collective life based on the symbolic neutralization of political authority and the structural inhibition of ever-present tendencies to convert power, wealth and prestige into coercion, inequality and exploitation. It also designated a politics of inter-group alliance guided bv the strategic imperative of local, community-centered autonomy.

 

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Cy Twombly; Tiznit

 

The non-Marxism of Clastres was different from his non-structuralism. For him, historical materialism was ethnocentric: it considered production the truth of society and labor the essence of the human condition. This type of economy-driven evolutionism found in primitive society its absolute epistemological limit. Clastres was fond of saying that “in its being” primitive cultures were an “anti-production machine.” In place of the political economy of control — control of the productive labor of the young by the old, of the reproductive labor of women by men — that the ethnomarxists, following Engels, saw at work in the societies they named, with impeccable logic, “pre-capitalist,” Clastres discerned, in his “primitive societies,” both the political control of the economy and the social control of the political. The first manifested itself in the principle of under-productive sufficiency and the inhibition of accumulation by forced redis- tribution or ritual dilapidation; the second, in the separation between chiefly office and coercive power and in the submission of the warrior to the suicidal pursuit of ever greater glory. Primitive society worked as an immunological system: perpetual war was a mode of controlling both the temptation to control and the risk of being controlled. War keeps opposing the State, but the crucial difference for Clastres is that sociality is on the side of war, not of the sovereign (Richir 1987). Archeology of Violence is an anti- Hobbes book (Abensour 1987). It might be even more anti-Engels, a manifesto against the forced continuism of World History (Prado Jr. 2003). Clastres is a thinker of rupture, discontinuity, accident. In this respect he remained, perhaps, close to Levi-Strauss.
Clastres’s work is more a radicalization than a rejection of structuralism. The idea of “cold societies,” societies organized in such a way that their empirical historicity is not internalized as a transcendental condition, finds in Clastres a political expression: his primitive societies are Levi-Strauss’ cold societies; they are against the State for exactly the same reasons that they are against history. In both cases, incidentally, what they are to conjure keeps threatening to invade them from the outside or erupt from the inside; this was a problem that Clastres, and Levi- Strauss in his own way, never ceased to confront. And if Clastrean war preempts structuralist exchange, it must be emphasized that it does not abolish it. On the contrary, it reinforces (in its prototypical incarnation as “incest prohibition”) its eminent status as the generic vector of hominization. For this reason the prohibition of incest is incapable to account for the singular form of human life that Clastres calls “primitive society” — which is for him, the true object of anthropology or ethnology, a word that he often prefers to describe his profession. For Clastres, and this point merits emphasis in the present intellectual conjuncture, anthropology or ethnology is “a science of man, but not of any man” (Clastres 1968). An art of distances, a paradoxical science, anthropology’s mission is to establish a dialogue with those peoples whose silencing was the condition of its own possibility as a science — the Others of the West, the “savages” or “primitives,” collectives that escaped the Great Attractor of the State.
Anthropology incarnates, for Clastres, a consideration of the human phenomenon as defined by a maximum intensive alterity, an internal dispersion whose limits are a priori indeterminable. “When the mirror does not reflect our own likeness, it does not prove there is nothing to perceive,” writes the author in “Copernicus and the savages.” This characteristically curt remark finds an echo in a recent formulation of Patrice Maniglier (2005: 773-74) concerning what this philosopher calls the “highest promise” of anthropology, namely, that of “Returning us an image in which we do not recognize ourselves.” The purpose of such a consideration, the spirit of this promise, is not then to reduce alterity, for this is the stuff humanity is made of, but, on the contrary, to multiply its images. Alterity and multiplicity define both how anthropology constitutes its relation with its object and this object constitutes itself. “Primitive society” is the name that Clastres gave to that object, and to his own encounter with multiplicity. And if the State has always existed, as Deleuze and Guattari (1981/1987: 397) argue in their insightful commentary of Clastres, then primitive society also will always exist: as the immanent exterior of the State, as the force of anti-production permanently haunting the productive forces, and as a multiplicity that is non-interiorizable by the planetary mega-machines. “Primitive society,” in short, is one of the conceptual embodiments of the thesis that another world is possible: that there is life beyond capi- talism, as there is society outside of the State. There always was, and — for this we struggle — there always will be.

“In Clastres there is a way of affirming that I prefer to all of the academic precautions.” The person who says this is Nicole Loraux (1987: 158—59), the distinguished Hellenist scholar, who did not hesitate, however, to counter a number of Clastrean assertions with critical considerations that are as judicious as they are serene. A serenity, it should be said, that is quite rare when one is dealing with the reception of Clastres’s work, whose “way of affirming” is strongly polarizing. On one side, it awakens a hatred of astonishing intensity among the zealots of reason and order; it is not uncommon that his anthropological anarchism should be the target of verdicts that seem to belong more to criminal psychopathology than to the history of ideas . Even in the specific field of South American ethnology, where his influence was formative (don’t mistake this for normative) for an entire generation, one witnesses today a re-intensification of the effort to nullify his work, in a badly-disguised ideological move where “academic caution” seems to work as an instrument for the conceptual defanging of Amerindian thought, reducing it to the blandest banality, so as to submit it to that regime of “harmony” that Clastres saw menacing the indigenous way of life in general.
Among the more generous and restless spirits, on the other hand, the work of Clastres provokes an adhesion that can be a little too impetuous, thanks to the spellbinding power of his language, with its quasi-formulaic, insistent concision, with the deceiving directness of his argumentation, and, above all, with the authentic passion that transpires from almost every page he has written. Clastres transmits to the reader the sensation that he or she is a witness to a privileged experience; he shares with him or her his own admiration for the existential nobility of the absolutely Other — those “images of ourselves” in which we do not recognize ourselves, and which thus retain their disquieting autonomy.
A difficult author, then. It is precisely his best readers who need to (re)learn to read him, after so many years of being convinced to forget and forsake him. They must remain attentive as much to his virtues as to his defects: to appreciate his anthropological insights and his sensitivity as a field ethnographer — Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians is a masterwork of the ethnographic genre — but also to resist his sometimes excessive finality, rather than timidly averting one’s eyes before his hyperboles and hesitations, his hastinesses and imprecisions. Resisting Clastres, but not stopping to read him; and resisting with Clastres, too: confronting with and in his thought what remains alive and unsettling.

Maurice Luciani, in a eulogy published in the magazine Libre, mentioned the “indifference to the spirit of the times” as one of the most characteristic features of the ironic and solitary personality of his friend. It is a curious assessment, seeing that the spirit of the present times tends to connect Clastres with another Zeitgeist, in order to discount his work as, of all things, anachronistic: romantic, prim- itivist, exoticist and other assorted sins that the “neo-neo” criticism (neo-liberal and neo-conservative) associates with the annus horribilis of 1968. But precisely, Luciani wrote in 1978, when the silence or opprobrium that would surround the oeuvre of Clastres and of so many of his contemporaries had already begun. A re-reading of Archeology of Violence at thirty years’s distance is, therefore, both a disorienting and an illuminating experience. If it is worth doing, it is because something of the era in which these texts were written, or better, against which they were written — and it was in this exact measure that they helped to define it — something of this era remains in ours, something of the problems of then continue with us today. Or maybe not: the problems have changed radically, some will say.  So much the better: what happens when we reintroduce in another context concepts elaborated in very specific circumstances? What effects do they produce when they resurface?
The effect of anachronism caused by the reading of Clastres is real. Take the first three chapters of Archeology of Violence, for example. The author speaks of the Yanomami as “the dream of every ethnographer”; he unleashes a furious sarcasm against missionaries and tourists without sneaking in any “reflexive” identification of the anthropologist with these pathetic figures; he shows a frank fascination for a mode of life that he does not hesitate to call primitive and to qualify as happy; he falls prey to immediatist and “phalloculocentric” illusions, as displayed in his praise of the story of Elena Valero; and he wallows in the sentimental pessimism (Sahlins 2000) of the “final frontier,” of the “ultimate freedom,” of “the last free primitive society in South America and no doubt the world.” All of this has become properly unsayable nowadays, in the polite society of contemporary Academe (the BBC or the Discovery Channel being now in charge of the enterprising up and dumbing down of such concerns). We live in an era in which prurient puritanism, guilty hypocrisy and intellectual impotence converge to foreclose whatever possibility of seriously imagining (rather than merely fantasizing) an alternative to our own cultural inferno, or even of recognizing it as such.
The brief but devastating analysis that Clastres makes of the anthropological project today seems uncomfortably aristocratic, in the Nietzschean sense. But it simultaneously anticipates the essence of the post-colonial reflexivity that would plunge the discipline in the following decades, into an acute “crisis of conscience” — the worst possible way to introduce a creative discontinuity within any political or intellectual project. This edge of Clastres’s thought has become almost incomprehensible today, with the rising tide of good feelings and bad faith that colors the cultural apperception of the neo-Western globalized citizen. And nevertheless, it is easy to see that the scornful prophecy con- cerning the Yanomami was substantially correct:

They are the last of the besieged. A mortal shadow is being cast on all sides …. And afterwards? Perhaps we will feel better once the final frontier of this ultimate freedom has been broken. Perhaps we will sleep without waking a single time…. Some day, then, oil derricks around the chabunos, diamond mines in the hillsides, police on the paths, boutiques on the riverbanks…. Harmony everywhere.

This “some day” seems pretty close: mining is already there, wreaking mortal havoc; oil derricks are not that far, neither are the boutiques; the policing of public thoroughfares might still take some time (let’s see how the ecotourism economy performs). The great and unexpected difference from Clastres’s prophecy, however, is that now the Yanomami have taken upon themselves the task of articulating a cosmopolitical critique of Western civilization, refusing to contribute to the “harmony everywhere” with the silence of the defeated. The detailed and unforgiving reflections of the shaman-philosopher Davi Kopenawa, in a joint effort of over thirty years with the anthropologist Bruce Albert materialized, at last in a book, La chute du ciel , which is bound to change the terms of anthropological interlocution with indigenous Amazonia (Kopenawa & Albert 2010). With this exceptional work we are perhaps really beginning to move “from silence to dialogue”; even if the conversation cannot be anything more than dark and ominous, for we live in somber times. The light is entirely on the side of the Yanomami, with their innumer- able brilliant crystals and their resplendent legions of infinitesimal spirits that populate the visions of their shamans.
Rather than anachronistic, Clastres’s work gives off an impression of untimeliness. One sometimes has the feeling that it is necessary to read him as if he were an obscure pre-Socratic thinker, someone who speaks not only of another world, but from another world, in a language that is ancestral to ours, and which, not being capable any longer of understanding it perfectly, we need to interpret: changing the distribution of its implicit and explicit aspects, literalizing what is figurative and vice versa, proceeding to a re-abstraction of its vocabulary in view of the mutations of our philosophic and political rhetoric; reinventing, in sum, the meaning of this discourse that strikes us as fundamentally strange.

 

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Cy Twombly; Quarzazat

 

Primitive society, from lack to endo-consistency

Clastres’s project was to transform “social” or “cultural” anthro- pology into a political anthropology , in the double sense of an anthropology that takes political power (not domination or “conflict”) as immanent to social life, and that should be able to take seriously the radical otherness of the experience of those peoples called primitive; this would include, before anything else, the recognition of the latter’s full capacity for self-reflection. To facilitate this, however, it was necessary firstly to break the teleological relation — or rather, the theological relation — between the political dimension of public life and the State-form, affirmed and justified by practically all of Western philosophy. Deleuze wrote, in a famous passage, that “The Left […] really needs people to think” because “the job of the Left, whether in or out of power, is to uncover the sort of problem that the Right wants at all costs to hide”. (1990/1995: 128,127) The problem that Clastres discovered, that of the non-necessary character of the association of power with coercion, is one of those problems that the Right needs to hide. Anthropology will necessarily be political, Clastres affirms, once it is able to prove that the State and all that to which it gave rise (in particular, social classes) is a historical contingency, “misfortune” rather than “destiny.”
To make people think is to make them take thought seriously, beginning with the thought of other peoples, since thinking, in itself, always summons up the powers of otherness. The theme of “how to finally take seriously” the philosophical choices expressed in primitive social formations returns insistently in Clastres. In chapter 6 of the Archeology of Violence, after affirming that the ethnology of the last decades had done much to liberate these societies from the exoticising gaze of the West, the author writes: “we no longer cast upon primitive societies the curious or amused look of the somewhat enlightened, somewhat humanistic amateur; we take them seriously. The question is how far does taking them seriously go?”. How far, indeed? That is the question that anthropology has decidedly not resolved, because that is the question that defines it: to resolve it would be for Clastres, equivalent to dissolving an indispensable and irreducible difference; it would be going farther than the discipline could aim.
Maybe this is why the author always associated the project of the discipline with the notion of paradox. The paradox is a crucial operator in the anthropology of Clastres: there is a paradox of ethnology (knowledge not as appropriation but as dispossession); a paradox intrinsic to each one of the two major social forms (in primitive society, chiefship without power; in ours, voluntary servitude); and a paradox of war and of prophetism (institutional devices for non-division that become the germs of a separated power). It would even be possible to imagine the first great conceptual persona (or perhaps “psycho-social type”; see Deleuze & Guattari 1991/1996) of Clastrean theory, the chief without power, as a kind of paradoxical element of the political, supernumerary term and empty case at the same time, a floating signifier that signifies nothing in particular (its discourse is empty and redundant), existing merely to oppose itself to the absence of signification (this empty discourse institutes the plenum of society). This would make the Clastrean chief, needless to say, an emblematic figure of the structuralist universe (Levi-Strauss 1950/1987; Deleuze 1967/2003).
Be that as it may, the fact is that today the paradox has become generalized; it is not only ethnologists who find themselves before the intellectual and political challenge of alterity. The question of “how far” is now posed to the West as a whole, and the stakes are nothing less than the cosmopolitical fate of that which we are pleased to call our Civilization. The problem of “how to take others seriously” became, itself, a problem that is imperative to take seriously. In La sorcellerie capitalists, one of the few books published in present-day France that pursues the spirit of Clastrean anthropology (mediated by the voice of Deleuze and Guattari), Pignarre and Stengers observe:

[W]e are used to deploring the misdeeds of colonization and confessions of guilt have become routine. But we lack a sense of dread when faced with the idea that not only do we take ourselves to be the thinking head of humanity but that, with the best intentions in the world, we do not cease to continue doing it. […] The dread only begins when we realize that despite our tolerance, our remorse and our guilt, we have not changed that much (Pignarre & Stengers 2005: 88).

And the question with which the authors conclude this reflection is a version of the one posed by Clastres: “how to make space for others?”. (ibid.: 89)
To make space for others certainly does not mean to take them as models, make them change from being our victims to being our redeemers. Clastres’s project belongs to those who believe the proper object of anthropology is to elucidate the ontological conditions of the self-determination of the Other, which means first of all to recognize the Other’s own socio-political consistency, which, as such, is not transferable to our world as if it were the long-lost recipe of eternal universal happiness. Clastrean “primitivism” was not a political platform for the West. In his reply to Birnbaum, he writes:

No more than the astronomer who invites others to envy the fate of stars do I militate in favor of the Savage world. […] As analyst of a certain type of society, I attempt to unveil the modes of functioning and not to construct programs… (p. 210)

The comparison with the astronomer calls to mind the “view from afar” of Levi-Strauss, but gives it an ironic-political twist, putting us in our due place, as if the voyage that was both desirable and impossible to make fell upon us and not the primitives. In any case, Clastres did not pretend to possess the plans of the vehicle that would have permitted us to make that trip. He believed that an absolute limit would prevent modern societies from reaching this “other sociological planet” (Richir 1987: 62): the population barrier. While rejecting the accusation of demographic determinism (here, p. 216), Clastres always maintained that the small demographic and territorial dimensions of primitive societies was a fundamental condition for the non-emergence of a separate power: “all States are natalists” (1975: 22). Primitive multiplicities are more subtractive than additive, more molecular than molar, and minor both in quantity and in quality: the multiple is only made with few and with little.
It is without doubt that the analysis of power in primitive societies can nourish reflection on the politics of our own societies (Clastres 1975), but in a way that is mainly comparative and speculative, one would say. Why did the State — an anthropological contingency, after all — become a historical necessity for so many peoples, and especially for our cultural tradition? In what conditions do the supple lines of primitive segmentarity, with its codes and territorialities, give way to the rigid lines of generalized overcodification, that is, to the setting up of the apparatus of capture of the State, which separates society from itself? And moreover, how to think the new face of the State in the world of “societies of control” (Deleuze 1995: 177-182) in which transcendence becomes, as it were, immanent and molecular, the individual interiorizing the State and being perpetually modulated by it? What are the new forms of resistance that impose themselves, in other words, those which inevitably emerge? (And we say “inevitably” because here too it is a question of unveiling modes of functioning, not of constructing programs. Or in order better to construct them, rather.)

There are two very different ways in which anthropology “universalizes,” that is, establishes an exchange of images between the Self and the Other. On the one hand, anthropology can make the image of the “others” function in such a way that it reveals something about “us,” certain aspects of our own humanity that we are not able to recognize as our own. This is the anthropological project that, initiated in the Golden Age of Boas, Malinowski and Mauss, consolidated itself during the period when Clastres was writing and has continued to the present, from Claude Levi-Strauss to Marshall Sahlins, from Roy Wagner to Marilyn Strathern: the passage from an image of the Other defined by a state of lack or need, by a negative distance in relation to the Self, to an alterity endowed with endo-consistency, autonomy or independence in relation to the image of ourselves (and in this measure, having a critical and heuristic value for us). What Levi-Strauss did for classificatory reason, with his notion of savage thought, what Sahlins did for economic rationality, with his original affluent society, what Wagner did for the concept of culture (and nature), with his meta-semiotics of invention and convention, and what Strathern did for the notion of society (and individual), with the elucidation of the Melanesian practices of social analysis and relational knowledge, Clastres did for power and authority, with his society against the State — the construction, by way of the image of the other, of another image of the object (an image of the object that incorporates the image that the other makes of this object): another image of thought, of economy, of culture, of sociality, of politics.
In none of these cases was it ever about raising a Great Anthropological Wall, but, rather, to indicate a bifurcation that, even if decisive, is no less contingent. Another cosmo-semiotic distribution between figure and ground; the “partial integration” of a series of small differences in the manner of making a difference. It is necessary to insist as much as possible on the contingency of these meta-differences, or many other “States” will recreate themselves in the sphere of thought, tracing a Great Divide, a rigid or “major” line on the plane of the concept. And that would result in something that Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 361-74) called “State science,” the theorematic science that extracts constants out of variables, as opposed to bolstering a “minor science,” a nomadic and problematic science of continuous variations, which is associated with the war machine rather than with the State; and anthropology is a minor science by vocation (the paradoxical science of Clastres). This contingent difference between Self and Other does not prevent, on the contrary it facilitates, the perception of elements of alterity at the heart of our “proper” identity. Thus, savage thought is not the thought of savages, but the savage potential of all thought as long as it isn’t “domesticated for the purpose of yielding a return” (Levi-Strauss 1966: 219). The principle of subproductive sufficiency and the propensity to creative dilapidation pulsates underneath all the moralism of the economy and the supposed post-lapsarian insatiability of desire (Sahlins 1972, 1996). Our society is also capable of generating moments — in our case, always exceptional and “revolutionary” — in which life is lived as an “inventive sequence” (Wagner 1981), and shares with all others (even if in a paradoxical, half-denialist way) the relational interpenetration of people that we call “kinship” (Edwards & Strathern 2000; Strathern 2005). And finally, in Clastres’s case, the realization of our constitutive dependence, in the realm of thought itself, before the State-form, does not prevent the perception (and conception) of all the contrary intensities, fissures, cracks and lines of flight through which our society is constantly resisting its capture and control by the over-codifying transcendence of the State. It is in this sense that the Society against the State remains valid as a “universal” concept — not as an ideal type, or as a rigid designator of a sociological species, but as an analyzer of any experience of collective, relational life.
The second mode by which anthropology universalizes itself, on the other hand, aims to demonstrate that the primitives are more like us than we are like them: they also are genetic maximizers and possessive individualists; they also optimize cost-benefits and make rational choices (which include being conveniently irrational when it comes to their relationship with “nature” — they exterminated the mega-fauna in America! They burned Australia down!); they are pragmatic and common-sensical fellows like us, not mistaking British sea-captains for native gods (Obeyesekere against Sahlins) nor experiencing their inner, substantive selves as relational “dividual” entities (LiPuma against Strathern); they also institute social inequalities at the smallest opportunity; they crave power and admire those who are stronger; they aspire to the three blessings of Modern Man: the holy trinity of State (the Father), Market (the Son) and Reason (the Holy Spirit). The proof that they are human is that they now share all of our defects, which got transformed little by little into qualities during the decades that gave us Thatcher, Reagan, the Patriot Act, the new Fortress Europe, neo-liberalism — and evolutionary psychology as a bonus. Primitive society is now seen as an illusion, an “invention” of modern society (Kuper 1988); the latter, apparently, is not an illusion and was never invented by any one; perhaps because only Capitalism is real, natural and spontaneous. (Now we know where the real core of the God delusion is hiding.)
It is against this second mode of universalization — reactionary, unimaginative and, above all, reproductive of the model and figure of the State as the true Universal — that the work of Clastres was written, preemptively one could say. For he knew very well that the State could not tolerate, would never tolerate, primitive societies. Immanence and multiplicity are always scandalous in the eyes of the One.

 

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Cy Twombly; Volubilis

 

Individuals versus singularities

The thesis of the society against the State is sometimes confused with the doctrine of libertarianism in the “American” sense of the term, as if its entire logic amounted to an opposition to the interference of the central government in the life of individuals, a praise of the so-called “free” market, a defense of citizens militias and so on. But to take the theoretical dismantling of the concept of the State as telos of collective human life for a rejection of political organization as such, or to convert it into a hymn to “rugged individualism,” is a grotesque mistake. Chapter 9 of the present book is instructive in this respect, as it discusses a symmetric misreading. Pierre Birnbaum, whose criticisms the author refutes here, does a Durkheimian reading of the Society Against the State thesis, identifying it as “a society of total constraint.” Clastres thus summarizes the criticism:

In other words, if primitive society is unaware of social division, it is at the price of a much more frightful alienation, that which subjects the community to an oppressive system of norms that no one can change. “Social control” is absolute: it is no longer society against the State, it is the society against the individual.

Clastres’s response consists in saying that “social control,” or rather, political power, does not exert itself on the individual but on an individual, the chief, who is individualized so that the social body can continue undivided, “in relation to itself.” The author then sketches the thesis that primitive society inhibits the State by means of the metaphysical extrusion of its own cause and origin, attributing both to the mythical sphere of the primordial Given, that which is totally beyond human control and, as such, cannot be appropriated by a part of society so as to conventionalize mundane inequalities. In putting its bases outside of “itself,” society becomes nature, that is, it becomes what Wagner (1986) would call a “symbol that stands for itself,” blocking the projection of a totalizing Convention that would symbolize it, as it were, from above. The heteronomic transcendence of the origin serves then as a guarantee of the immanence and autonomy of social power. Clastres attributes this political mini-theory of primitive religion to Marcel Gauchet, who years later was to develop it along lines that Clastres perhaps could not have predicted. Gauchet attributed the origin of the State to this very exteriorization of the origin — by means of a human takeover of the place of transcendence — and went from there (to make a long story short) to a reflection on the virtues of the liberal constitutional State, a regime in which society approached an ideal situation of autonomy through an ingenious interiorization of the symbolic source of society that would not destroy its “institutive” exteriority as such. The State against the State, as it were, in a sublation of Clastrean anarchism, which would finally see itself transformed into a defensible political program.
It seems to me that the response to Birnbaum could go farther. The society against the State is effectively against the individual, because the individual is a product and a correlate of the State. The State creates the individual and the individual requires the State; the self-separation of the social body that creates the State equally creates-separates the subjects or individuals (singular or plural), at the same time that the State offers itself as a model for these: I’Etat c’est le Moi. And so it is important to distinguish Clastrean society from its Durkheimian homonym, a source of equivocations that was not always clarified by Clastres, who occasionally tended to hypostasize primitive society, that is, to conceive of it as a collective subject, a Super-Individual which would be really, and not only formally, exterior and anterior to the State (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 359), and therefore ontologically homogeneous with it. Durkheimian society is the State-form in its “sociological” guise: think of the constitutive coerciveness of the social fact, the absolute transcendence of the Whole in relation to the Parts, its function of universal Understanding, its intelligible and moral power to unify the sensorial and sensual manifold. Hence the strategic relevance, for Durkheim, of the “opposition” between individual and society: one is a version of the other, the “members” of Society as a collective spiritual body are like miniscule individual sub-States subsumed by the State as the Super- Individual. Leviathan. The primitive society of Clastres, on the contrary, is against the State, and so therefore against “society” conceived in its image; it has the form of an asubjective multiplicity. By the same token, its components or “associates” are not individualities or subjectivities, but singularities. Primitive societies do not recognize the “abstract machine of faciality” (Deleuze & Guattari op.cit.: 168), producer of subjects, of faces that express a subjective interiority.
An interpretation of Clastres’s anarchism in individualist or “liberal” terms would therefore be an error symmetrical to the kind of reading that would imagine his primitive society as a totalitarian- totalizing order of a “Durkheimian” type. In the felicitous formula of Bento Prado Jr. (2003), his thought was, rather than anarchist, “ anarchontic ” — a portmanteau word which includes not only the reference to the Athenian archontic (ruler) role, but also the string /-ontic/, as if to epitomize the metaphyisical or ontological content of Clastres’s anarchism, his opposition to what he saw as the founding principle of the Western doctrine of the State, to wit, the idea that Being is One and that the One is God.

 

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Cy Twombly; Solon I

 

Between philosophy and anthropology

It is customary to consider Clastres as an author of the hedgehog type (“one idea only, but a BIG idea”), a proponent of a monolithic thesis, the “Society against the State,” a mode of organization of collective life defined by a doubly inhibiting relation: one internal, the chief-tainship without power, the other external, the centrifugal apparatus of war. It is in this very duality that one can glimpse the possibility of alternative philosophical readings of the Clastrean thesis.
The first reading places the emphasis on Clastres’s role in determining a universal “political function” in charge of constituting “a place where society appears to itself” (Richir 1987: 69). The society against the State is defined, in these terms, by a certain mode of political representation , while politics itself is conceived of as being a mode of representation, a projective device that creates a molar double of the social body in which it sees itself reflected. The figure of the chief without power stands out here as being Clastres’s major discovery: a new transcendental illusion (ibid.: 66), a new mode of institution (necessarily “imaginary”) of the social. This mode would consist in the projection of an outside, a Nature that must be negated in order for Culture or Society to institute itself, but which must at the same time be represented within the culture through a simulacrum, the powerless chief.
This take on Clastres’s work effects what can be called a “phenomenological reduction” of the concept of society against the State. It originates in the approximation between Clastres and the intellectuals that gathered around Claude Lefort in the magazine Textures and, following that, in Libre, where the three last chapters of Archeology of Violence were published. Lefort, a former student of Merleau Ponty, was co-founder with Cornelius Castoriadis the group “Socialism or Barbarism,” an important actor in the history of leftist libertarian politics in France. The trademark of this phenomenologico-socialist assemblage (which included Marcel Gauchet until his realignment in the ’80s) was the combination of a resolute anti-totalitarianism with a no less staunch metaphysical humanism that reveals itself, for example, in the “anti-exchangist” position that was assumed early on by Lefort. Lefort’s critique of the structuralist search for formal rules subtending practice, and his preference for understanding “the shaping of the lived relations between men” (1987: 187), might have been one of the influences on Clastres, alongside the more explicit Nietzschean-derived theory of debt that connects Clastres’s work to the different anti-exchangism of Deleuze and Guattari.
This phenomenological reading gives Clastres’s “political anthropology” a decidedly metaphysical slant. From that angle it is through politics that man, the “political animal,” ceases being “merely” an animal and is rescued from the immediacy of nature and turned into a divided being, having both the need and the capability to represent in order to be. The extra-human, even when it is recognized as essential to the constitution of humanity, belongs to the realm of belief; it is a division that is internal to the human, for exteriority is a transcendental illusion. Politics is the proper mirror for the animal turned Subject: “Only man can reveal to man that he is man” (Lefort in Abensour 1987: 14).

The second and, to my mind, more consequential appropriation of Clastres’s ethnology places emphasis on the inscription of fluxes rather than on the institution of doubles, on semiotic-material codes rather than on symbolic Law, on supple and molecular segmentarity rather than on the binary macropolitics of the inside and the outside, on the centrifugal war machine rather than on the centripetal chiefship. I am referring, of course, to the reading of Clastres by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus (1972/1983) and A Thousand Plateaus (1981/1987), where Clastres’s ideas are used as one of the building blocks for the construction of a “universal history of contingency” and of a radically materialist anthropology, which is quite at odds with the political spiritualism that transpires from their phenomenological interpretation.
Anti-Oedipus was an essential book for Clastres himself, who attended the courses where the book was rehearsed, while A Thousand Plateaus, published after his death, criticized and developed his intuitions in an entirely new direction. In a certain sense, Deleuze and Guattari completed Clastres’s work, fleshing out the philosophical richness that lay in potential form therein. The embarrassed and embarrassing silence with which anthropology as a discipline received the two books of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, in which take place one of the most exciting and disconcerting dialogues that philosophy and anthropology have ever had, is not without connection to the similar malaise that Clastres’s work provoked in an always prudent and always prudish academic environment. “It seems to me that ethnologists should feel at home in Anti-Oedipus. . . ” (Clastres in Guattari 2009: 85). Well, the vast majority of them didn’t.
In Anti-Oedipus, society against the State becomes a “primitive territorial machine,” losing its residual connotations of a collective Subject and transforming itself in a pure “mode of functioning” whose objective is the integral codification of material and semiotic flows that constitute human desiring production. That territorial machine codes the flows, invests the organs, marks the bodies: it is a machine of inscription. Its working presupposes the immanent unity of desire and of production that is the Earth. The issue of the powerless chiefship is thereby resituated in a wider geophilosophical context: the will to non-division that Clastres saw in the primitive socius becomes an impulse to the absolute codification of all material and semiotic flows and to the preservation of the coextensivity of the social body and the body of the Earth. The “anticipatory” conjuration of a separate power is the resistance of primitive codes to despotic overcodification, the struggle of the Earth against the deterritorializing Despot. The collective intentionality that is expressed in the refusal to unify under an over-codifying entity loses its anthropomorphic mask, becoming — and here we are using the language of A Thousand Plateaus — an effect of a certain regime of signs (the presignifying semiotic) and the dominance of a primitive segmentarity, marked by a “relatively supple line of interlaced codes and territorialities.”
The main connection between Anti-Oedipus and Clastres’s work is a common, although not exactly identical, rejection of exchange as a founding principle of sociality. Anti-Oedipus maintained that the notion of debt should take the place occupied by reciprocity in Mauss and Levi-Strauss. Clastres, in his first article on the philosophy of indigenous chiefship — a convoluted critique of an early article of his teacher, where the chiefly role was thought of in terms of a reciprocal exchange between the leader and the group — had already suggested that the indigenous concept of power simultaneously implied an affirmation of reciprocity as the essence of the social and its negation, in placing the role of the chief outside of its sphere, in the position of a perpetual debtor to the group. Without taking from exchange its anthropological value, Clastres introduced the sociopolitical necessity of a non-exchange. In his last essays on war, the disjunction between exchange and power transforms into a strange resonance. In dislocating itself from the intracommunitary relation to the inter-communitary relation, the negation of exchange converted itself into the essence of the primitive socius. Primitive society is “against exchange” for the same reasons that it is against the State: because it desires autarchy and autonomy — because it knows that all exchange is a form of debt, that is, dependence, even if reciprocal.
A Thousand Plateaux takes up Clastres’s theses in two long chapters: one on the “war machine” as a form of pure exteriority (in terms of which organized violence or war “proper” has a very minor role) in opposition to the State as a form of pure interiority (in terms of which administrative centralization has an equally secondary role); and another chapter on the “apparatus of capture,” which develops a theory of the State as a mode of functioning that is contemporaneous to the war machines and the mechanisms of inhibition of primitive societies. These developments not only modify elements of Clastres’ propositions, but also some of Anti-Oedipus’ central categories. The Savage-Barbarian-Civilized scheme opens up laterally to include the pivotal figure of the Nomad, to which the war machine now sees itself constitutively associated. A new tripartition, derived from the concept of segmentarity, or quantified multiplicity, makes its appearance: the supple and polyvocal line of primitive codes and territorialities; the rigid line of overcoding resonance (the State apparatus); and the line(s) of flight traced by decoding and deterritorialization (the war machine). Clastres’s primitive society (the“Savages” of Anti-Oedipus) loses its privileged connection to the war machine. In A Thousand Plateaux, it is seen as simply recruiting it as a form of exteriority, in order to conjure the tendencies towards over-coding and resonance that are constantly threatening to subsume the primitive codes and territorialities. In similar fashion, the State can capture the war machine (that is, nonetheless, its absolute exterior) and put it at its service, not without running the risk of being destroyed by it. And finally, contemporary societies remain in full contact with their “primitive” or molecular infrastructure, “suffused by a supple fabric without which their rigid segments would not hold.” With this, the exhaustive and mutually exclusive dichotomy between the two macro-types of society (“with” and “against” the State) gets diversified and complexified: the lines coexist, intertwine and transform into each other; the State, the war machine, and primitive segmentarity all lose their typological connotations and become abstract forms or models, which manifest themselves in multiple material procedures and substrates: in scientific styles, technological phyla, aesthetic attitudes and philosophical systems as much as in macro-political forms of organization or modes of the representation-institution of the socius.
Finally, at the same time that they take on board one of Clastres’s fundamental theses, when they affirm that the State, rather than supposing a mode of production, is the very entity that makes production a “mode” (op.cit.: 429), Deleuze and Guattari blur the overdrawn distinction made by Clastres between the political and the economic. As is known, the attitude of Capitalism and Schizophrenia towards historical materialism, including towards French ethno-Marxism, is quite different from that of the author of “Marxists and their anthropology” (ch. 10). Above all, the issue of the origin of the State ceases being the mystery that it always was for Clastres. The State stops having a historical or chronological origin, as time itself is made the vehicle of non-evolutionary reverse causalities (op.cit.: 335, 431). There is not only a very old actual presence of the State “outside” of primitive societies, but also its perpetual virtual presence “within” these societies, in the form of the bad desires that it is necessary to conjure and the foci of segmentary resonance that are always developing. 19 Deterritorialization is not historically secondary to territory, the codes are not separable from the movement of decodification (op.cit.: 222).
Critiqued and requalified, the theses expounded in the short texts of Pierre Clastres therefore have decisive weight in the conceptual dynamic of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. In particular, the Clastrean theory of “war” as an abstract machine for the generation of multiplicity, opposed, in its essence, to the overcoding State monster — war as enemy number one of the One — plays a key role in one of the major philosophical systems of the 20th century.

 

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Cy Twombly; Untitled

 

Between anthropology and ethnology

The present excitement surrounding archeological discoveries, in Amazonia, of vestiges of social formations that were similar to Circum-Caribbean chiefdoms, as well as the advance of historical studies on the contact zones between the Andean polities and the societies of the Lowlands, have brought scholars to dismiss the concept of “society against the State” as a doubly European artifact: it mistakes as an original given what is really the result of a dramatic involution of Amerindian societies beginning in the 16th century; and it would be an ideological projection of some old Western utopias that attained new currency during the fateful decade of 1960.
The fact that these two different invalidating arguments were mobilized together against Clastres by certain currents of contemporary ethnology suggests that the latter is not free of its own ideological baggage. The focus on the centrifugal tendencies that inhibited the emergence of the State-form never stopped Clastres from identifying “the slow work of unifying forces” in the multicommunity organizations of the Lowlands or the presence of social stratification and centralized power in the region (especially in northern Amazonia). With regards to “anarchontic” European utopias, we know about how much they owe to the encounter with the New World, at the beginning of the Modern era. The misunderstandings were plenty, without a doubt, but they were not arbitrary. Finally and most importantly it should be noted that the post-Columbian demographic regression, catastrophic as it effectively was, cannot explain the alpha and omega of the latter-day sociopolitical landscape of indigenous America; just as any other evolutionary trajectory, “involution” expresses far more than adaptive constraints. It is on this crucial surplus of meaning — of structure, of culture, of history, as you will — that the ethnological relevance of the “society against the State” thesis rests, and in function of which it should be evaluated .
Primitive society perhaps was, for Clastres, something like an essence; but it wasn’t a static essence. The author always conceived of it as a profoundly unstable mode of functioning in its very pursuit of ahistorical stability. Be that as it may, there indeed exists a quite characteristic “way of being” of what he called primitive society, one that no ethnographer who has lived with an Amazonian culture, even one which has well-defined features of hierarchy and centralization, can fail to experience in all of its evidence, as pervasive as it is elusive. This way of being is “essentially” a politics of multiplicity; Clastres may only have been mistaken to interpret it as if it should always express itself in terms of a “political” multiplicity, an institutional form of collective self-representation. The politics of multiplicity is a mode of becoming rather than a way of being (hence its elusiveness); it is effectively instituted or institutionalized in certain ethno-historical contexts, but does not depend on such transition to a molar state to function — quite the opposite. That mode precedes its own institution, and remains in or returns to its default molecular state in many other, non-primitive contexts. “Society against the state,” in brief, is an intensive concept, it designates an intensive mode or an omnipresent virtual form, whose variable conditions of extensivization and actualization it is incumbent upon anthropology to determine.

Clastres’s posterity in South American ethnology followed two main axes. The first consisted in the elaboration of a model of Amazonian social organization — a “symbolic economy of alterity” or a “metaphysics predation” — which extended his theses on primitive warfare. The second was the description of the cosmological background of counter-state societies, the so-called Amerindian “perspectivism.” The two axes explore the fertile hesitation between structuralist and post-structuralist tendencies that characterizes Clastres’s work; both privilege a Deleuzo-Guattarian reading over a phenomenological reading. Together, they define an indige- nous cosmopraxis of immanent alterity, which is tantamount to a counter-anthropology, a “reverse anthropology” of sorts, which is located in the precarious space between silence and dialogue.
Clastres’s theory of war, although at first glance it seems to reinforce a binary opposition between inside and outside, the human Us and the less-than-human Other, in fact ends up by differentiating and relativizing alterity — and, by the same token, any position of identity — undermining the narcissistic or “ethno-centric” subtext that sometimes accompanies the author’s characterization of primitive society.
Let us imagine Clastrean ethnology as a conceptual drama in which a small number of personae or types come face to face: the chief, the enemy, the prophet, the warrior. All are vectors of alterity, paradoxical devices that define the socius by means of some form of negation. The chief incarnates the negation of society’s exchangist foundations, and represents the group inasmuch as this exteriority is interiorized: in becoming “the prisoner of the group,” he counter-produces the latter’s unity and indivision. The enemy negates the collective Us, allowing the group to affirm itself against him, by his violent exclusion; the enemy dies to secure the persistence of the multiple, the logic of separation. The prophet, in turn, is the enemy of the chief, he affirms society against chiefship when its incumbent threatens to escape the control of the group by affirming a transcendent power; at the same time, the prophet drags society towards an impossible goal, self-dissolution. The warrior, finally, is the enemy of himself, destroying himself in the pursuit of glorious immortality, impeded by the society that he defends from transforming his prestigious deeds in instituted power. The chief is a kind of enemy, the prophet a kind of warrior, and so forth, and back again.
These four characters therefore form a circle of alterity that counter-effectuates or counter-invents primitive society. But at the center of this circle is not the Subject, the reflexive form of Identity. The fifth element, which can be considered the central dynamic element precisely due to its excentricity, is the character upon which the politics of multiplicity rests: the political ally , the “associate” who lives elsewhere, halfway between the local, co-resident group and the enemy groups. Never have there been merely two positions in the primitive socius. Everything turns around the ally, the third term that permits the conversion of an internal indivision into an external fragmentation, modulating indigenous warfare and transforming it into a foil social relation, or more, as Clastres maintains, into the fundamental relation of the primitive socius.
Political allies, those local groups that form a band of security (and uncertainty) around each local group, are always conceived, in Amazonia, under the guise of potential affinity, that is, as a qualified form of alterity (matrimonial affinity) but that nevertheless remains alterity {potential affinity), and which is marked by aggressive and predatory connotations that are much more ritually productive — that is, really productive — than mere undetermined, anonymous enmity (or than the depotentializing reiteration of matrimonial exchanges that creates a social interiority ). It is the unstable and indispensable figure of the political ally that so impedes a “generalized reciprocity” (a fusion of communities and a superior sociological unity) as much as generalized warfare (the suicidal atomization of the socius). The true center of primitive society, this loose network of local groups jealous of their reciprocal independence, is always extra-local, being situated at each point where the conversion between interior and exterior can be effected. For this reason, the “totality” and the “indivision” of the primitive community do not contradict the dispersion and the multiplicity of primitive society. The character of totality signifies that the community is not part of any other hierarchically superior Whole; the character of indivision signifies that it isn’t internally hierarchized either, divided in parts that form an interior Whole. Subtractive totality, negative indivision. Lack of a locatable distinction between an inside and an outside. Multiplication of the multiple.

The society against the State is a human-only project; politics is an affair that is strictly intra-specific. It is with regards to this aspect that Amerindian ethnology advanced most in recent years, extracting the intuitions of Clastres from their anthropocentric shell and showing how his decision to take indigenous thought seriously icquires a shift from the description of a (different) form of insti- tution of the (similarly conceived) social to another notion of anthropology — another practice of humanity — and to another notion of politics — another experience of sociality.
Chapter 5 of Archeology of Violence is a fundamental text in this respect. The author writes there:

Any amount of time spent among an Amazonian society, for example, allows one to observe not only the piety of the Savages but the investment of religious concerns into social life to a point that seems to dissolve the distinction between the secular and the religious, to blur the boundaries between the domain of the profane and the sphere of the sacred: nature, in short, like society, is traversed through and through with the supernatural. Animals or plants can thus at once be natural beings and super- natural agents: if a falling tree injures someone, or a wild beast attacks someone, or a shooting star crosses the sky, they will be interpreted not as accidents, but as effects of the deliberate aggression of supernatural powers, such as spirits of the forest, souls of the dead, indeed, enemy shamans. The decided refusal of chance and of the discontinuity between the profane and the sacred would logically lead to abolishing the autonomy of the religious sphere, which would then be located in all the individual and collective events of the tribe’s daily life. In reality, though, never completely absent from the multiple aspects of a primitive culture, the religious dimension manages to assert itself as such in certain specific ritual circumstances.

The decision to determine a religious dimension “as such” — the refusal, therefore, to draw the consequences from what was suggested by the general cosmo-logic of Amazonian societies — perhaps indicates the influence of Gauchet . This made Clastres less sensitive to the fact that the common “supernaturalization” of nature and society made any distinction between these two domains utterly problematic. Under certain crucial conditions — religious conditions, precisely — nature revealed itself as social and society, as natural. It is the cosmological non-separation of nature and society, rather than the exteriorization by “society” of power as “nature,” which should be connected to the political non-separation that defines the society against the State.
And still, Clastres puts us on the right track. In that chapter he outlines a comparison between the cosmologies of peoples from the Andes and the Lowlands, which contrast diacritically in terms of their respective modes of dealing with the dead. In the agrarian Highlands, dominated by the imperial machine of the Inca, religion relies on a funerary complex (tombs, sacrifices, etc.) that links the living to the original mythical world (populated by what the author called somewhat inappropriately “ancestors”) by means of the dead; in the Lowlands, all the ritual effort consists, on the contrary, of maximally disjoining the dead and the living. The relation of society with its immemorial foundation is made, so to speak, over the dead body of the deceased, which should be dememorialized, that is, forgotten and annihilated (eaten, for example) as if they were mortal enemies of the living. Yvonne Verdier (1987: 31) in her beautiful commentary of Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians , noted that the major division between the living and the dead was a guarantee of the indivision among the living. The society against the State is a society against memory; the first and most constant war of the “society for war” is waged against its dead defectors. “Every time they eat a dead man, they can say: one more the State won’t get” (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 118).
But there is an additional step to be made. The contrast between the Andes and Lowlands suggests that the variable distinction between the living and the dead has a variable relation with another variable distinction, that between humans and non-humans (animals, plants, artifacts, celestial bodies and other furniture of the cosmos). In Andean worlds, the diachronic continuity between the living and the dead jointly oppose these as humans to the non- humans (which are thereby potentially conceived as a single encompassing category), submitting the cosmos to the “law of the State,” the anthropological law of the interior and exterior, at the same time that it allows for the institution of synchronic discontinuities among the living, which were blocked in societies against the state thanks to the annihilation of the dead (no ancestrality = no hierarchy). In the Lowlands, the extreme alterity between the living and the dead brings dead humans close to non-humans — to animals in particular, since it is common in Amazonia that the souls of the dead turn into animals, whereas one of the main causes of death is the revenge of “spirits of the game” and other animal souls on humans (animals as both the cause and outcome of human death). At the same time, however, this approximation makes of non-humanity a mode or modulation of humanity — all of the non-humans possess a similar anthropomorphic essence or power, a soul, hidden beneath their varied species-specific bodily clothing. Relations with “nature” are “social” relations, hunting as well as shamanism pertain to bio-cosmopolitics; “productive forces” coincide with “relations of production.” All of the inhabitants of the cosmos are people in their own department, potential occupants of the deictical “first person” position in cosmological discourse: inter-species relations are marked by a perpetual dispute surrounding this position, which is schematized in terms of the predator/prey polarity, agency or subjecthood being above all a capacity for predation . This makes humanity a position marked by relativity, uncertainty and alterity. Everything can be human, because nothing is only one thing, every being is human for itself: all denizens of the cosmos perceive their own species in human form as humans and see all other species, including us “real” humans (I mean, real to “us”) as non-humans. The molecular dissemination of “subjective” agency throughout the universe, in testifying to the inexistence of a transcendent cosmological point of view, obviously correlates with the inexistence of a unifying political point of view, occupied by an Agent (the agent of the One) that would gather unto itself the principle of humanity and sociality .
It is that which ethnologists of Amazonia call “perspectivism,” the indigenous theory according to which the way humans perceive animals and other agencies that inhabit the world differs profoundly from the way in which these beings see humans and see themselves. Perspectivism is “cosmology against the State.” Its ultimate basis lies in the peculiar ontological composition of the mythical world, that originary “exteriority” to where the foundations of society would be projected. The mythical world, however, is neither interior nor exterior, neither present nor past, because it is both, just like its inhabitants are neither humans nor non-humans, because they are both. The world of origins is, precisely, everything: it is the Amazonian plane of immanence. And it is in this virtual sphere of the “religious” — the religious as immanence — that the concept of society against the State obtains its true ethnographic endo-consistence, or difference.
It is of the utmost importance to observe, then, that the mode of exteriorization of the origin which is specific to societies against the State does not signify an “instituting” exteriorization of the One, or a “projective” unification of the Exterior either. We must take note of all the consequences of the fact that primitive exteriority is inseparable from the figures of the Enemy and the Animal as transcendental determinations of (savage) thought. Exteriorization serves a dispersion. Humanity being everywhere, “humanism” is nowhere. The savages want the multiplication of the multiple.

— Translated by Ashley Lebner


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