Eduardo Viveiros de Castro - The iconoclastic Brazilian anthropologist and theoretician, well known in his discipline for helping initiate its “ontological turn,” offers a vision of anthropology as “the practice of the permanent decolonization of thought”


Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics, Univocal, 2014.

The iconoclastic Brazilian anthropologist and theoretician Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, well known in his discipline for helping initiate its “ontological turn,” offers a vision of anthropology as “the practice of the permanent decolonization of thought.” After showing that Amazonian and other Amerindian groups inhabit a radically different conceptual universe than ours—in which nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object are conceived in terms that reverse our own—he presents the case for anthropology as the study of such “other” metaphysical schemes, and as the corresponding critique of the concepts imposed on them by the human sciences. Along the way, he spells out the consequences of this anthropology for thinking in general via a major reassessment of the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss, arguments for the continued relevance of Deleuze and Guattari, dialogues with the work of Philippe Descola, Bruno Latour, and Marilyn Strathern, and inventive treatments of problems of ontology, translation, and transformation. Bold, unexpected, and profound, Cannibal Metaphysics is one of the chief works marking anthropology’s current return to the theoretical center stage.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari wrote the companion text to Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus in 1980. Volume Two of Capitalism and Schizophrenia has impacted various disiplines in both the human social sciences and the arts. Cannibal Metaphysics, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s long awaited english translation of Metaphysiques Cannibales pushes the creative plateaus beyond the 15 given by Deleuze and Guattari. De Castro incorporates his ethnographic field research into a text that blurs the lines between anthropology and philosophy and pushes the limits of both. -

Can anthropology be philosophy, and if so, how? For philosophers, the matter has been and often remains quite simple: anthropology’s concern with socio-cultural and historical differences might yield analyses that philosophy can put to use (provided that it condescends to examine them), but only rarely does anthropology conceive its material at a level of generality or in relation to metaphysical issues in their positivity that would allow it to really do philosophy, especially of an ontological kind. Anthropologists, on the other hand, tend not to disagree, whether out of a preference for local problems or from the more canny recognition that even the best philosophers prove quite adept at mistaking modern ideological values for transcendental concepts. Such perspectives, however, are proving outmoded in the face of a now sizable group of thinkers, ranging from Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers to Marilyn Strathern to François Jullien, whose questions, concepts, objects and methods belong in different ways to both anthropology and philosophy, and who moreover propose that certain aspects of anthropology – analyses of scientific practices, knowledge of cultural variation, and an old thing called structuralism – are key to a new metaphysics as empirical, pluralistic and comparative as transcendental, unifying and general.
One of the chief instigators of this new approach is the Brazilian anthropologist and now philosopher Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, whose 2009 Métaphysiques Cannibales perhaps marks the first case of an ‘actual’ anthropologist, in the disciplinary sense, explicitly undertaking such a philosophy. (And ‘real’ philosophers agree: the book was published alongside those of Étienne Souriau, Tristan Garcia and Graham Harman in the Presses Universitaires de France series, edited by Quentin Meillassoux, Patrice Maniglier and others, entitled ‘MétaphysiqueS’.) A native of Rio (and carioca irony) who did fieldwork with a Northeastern Amazonian Indian group known as the Arawaté, Viveiros de Castro is widely known in social anthropology for showing that what falls under the domain of ‘social’ and ‘human’ relations for such Amazonian peoples is so broad – animals, plants, spirits are all conceived as persons – that modern distinctions between nature and culture, animals and humans, and even descent and marriage ties are effectively inverted. A generalized ‘potential’ or ‘virtual affinity’ obtains (‘affinity’ is the kinship term for relations established through marriage) wherein beings, because they are all initially related and thus ‘social’, must be established as ‘natural’ and substantial in the same way that conventional, cultural ones elsewhere have to be.
The means of doing that, from hunting to ritual to shamanism, involve contending with the additional fact that every relatable entity is conceived as having, whatever its bodily form, a soul – intentionality and apperception – of a ‘human’ character, and that all beings thus perceive themselves as humans, and other beings as either animals or cultural artefacts. Jaguars, for example, are thought to see themselves as humans, to see humans as human prey like peccarys and monkeys, and their own food as that of humans (blood as manioc beer). Successfully negotiating one’s relations with other beings therefore requires adopting their perspectives, as shamans do when they become animals, in order to know what they see things as being, and thereby in turn anticipating and knowing them as definite beings. What emerges from this ‘perspectivist’ universe, Viveiros de Castro continually emphasizes, is an ontology that reverses the terms of one of our most fundamental metaphysical dualisms. Because perspectivism confers on all beings the same ontological status, and distinguishing between them requires knowing the differences between their bodies, ‘culture’ becomes the underlying domain uniting beings in Amazonia and nature the differential, separating one. A ‘multinaturalism’ effectively prevails that is the converse of our naturalist multiculturalism.
Yet how Amazonian cosmology might function as a metaphysics for us goes well beyond its upsetting of our certainties about nature and culture and right to the core of contemporary philosophical debate. Although Métaphysiques Cannibales might appear to confirm, as nothing else has, that the forms of thought of indigenous peoples accord a central role to relations, virtualities and becomings in the way Deleuze claimed, Amerindian thought flips more than just the metaphysical poles by which modernity … - Peter Skafish

I have always been more on Team Anti-Oedipus than Team A Thousand Plateaus. Partly this is autobiographical. I read Anti-Oedipus at a very impressionable time, too soon--in undergrad. I picked the book at City Lights in San Francisco partly because Hampshire Professor Margaret Cerullo had a blurb on the back. (This was the old Minnesota copy with the cover designed by Harold and the Purple Crayon.) At the time I was trying to navigate the world of "theory," designing my own major which combined anthropology and philosophy. I was positioned to understand less than a quarter of it, but the rest I thoroughly enjoyed. I stayed up all night on a red eye reading it. The other reason that I have continued to gravitate towards Anti-Oedipus, writing on it and teaching it, is that I felt that I could do more with it, plug it into my various conceptual machines, producing readings of primitive accumulation and Marx's ontology. In contrast to this A Thousand Plateaus seems to descend down so many rabbit holes that I cannot follow. I just don't know enough about birdsong and geology (another reason that I will never be a speculative realist, I suppose).
This little autobiographical opening seems to be the necessary context to approach Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's Metaphysiques Cannibales. At least it is my context. Viveiros de Castro's context is that of the situation of anthropology and its relation with philosophy. At its high point ethnographic anthropology claimed to represent the various cultures in the world, constructed a picture of humanity through its multiple refracted lenses, while in its low point, the moment of its self-critique, it was argued that these pictures were nothing more than reflections of the West's own preoccupations and colonial projects. (At this point I should mention that Viveiros de Castro almost titled his book Anti-Narcissus, which is a great title). Viveiros de Castro seeks another way of thinking the relation between anthropology and philosophy, a relation of neither transparent relation to an object or endles reflection of the subject. Viveiros de Castro proposes to examine the intersections where ethnography reveals multiple ontologies and where philosophy says as much about its culture as the world it purports to comprehend. As he writes, citing Roy Wagner,"Every understanding of another culture is an experiment with one's own."
It is from this perspective that Viveiros de Castro approaches the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia.  Deleuze and Guattari have always had an interest in not only ethnography but also in the ideas of various cultures. Deleuze and Guattari's concept of desiring production is as much indebted to Dogon myth as it is to Spinoza. Viveiros de Castro's approaches these texts through their intersection with anthropology, which is not to say that this is distinct from their ontological claims. As Viveiros de Castro argues the central distinction underlying Deleuze and Guattari's ontology has to do with the relation between two different types of difference, two different multiplicities, intensive multiplicities and extensive multiplicities. The central question is in some sense how the intensive multiplicity, the self differing multiplicity, passes into the extensive multiple, the qualitative into the quantitative. 
This axis, coupled with the focus on anthropology, makes it possible to frame the relation between these two texts differently. As Viveiros de Castro argues, Anti-Oedipus critique of Oedipus is in part framed interms of privileging filiation over alliance. Filiation is figured as the "intense germinal flux" as an intensive production that is prior to, and the condition of the extensive marking of persons and relations that define alliances. Everything is production prior to being marked, exchanged, and consumed. Filiation is intensive, alliance is extensive. The task of every socius, to code desire, can then be understood as containing the intense potential of desiring production, subjecting it to the order of alliance, to the family and reproduction. 
A Thousand Plateaus, or at least the tenth "plateau" on Becoming-Animal, shifts the terms. Alliance is no longer associated social reproduction, with the coding of society, but with transformation, becoming.  Viveiro de Castro reminds us that Deleuze and Guattari's understanding of becoming is framed between   Levi-Strauss's understanding of sacrifice and totem, between two different ways of understanding the human nature relation: "the imaginary identification between human and animal, on one hand, the symbolic correlation between social differences and natural differences, on the other." The alliance that is found in sorcery, in literature such as Moby-Dick, is neither an identification of man with nature, nor nature with society, but a transformation of each. As Deleuze and Guattari write, "Becoming is certainly not imitating, or identifying with something; neither is it regressing-progressing; neither is it corresponding, establishing corresponding, establishing corresponding relations; neither is it producing, producing a filiation or producing through filiation. Becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to, "appearing," "being," "equaling," or producing." 
As Viveiros de Castro writes, "The concept of becoming effectively plays the same axial cosmological role in A Thousand Plateaus that the concept of production plays in Anti-Oedipus." In each case the term in question is opposed to the order of representation, but it is opposed differently. As the citation above indicates, the shift from production to becoming is also a shift from filiation to alliance as the privileged term.  Filiation is no longer the intensive excess, but the imaginary genealogy that constructs identity and continuity out of the various alliances. "All filiation is imaginary, say the authors of A Thousand Plateaus. We can add: and all filiation produces a state, is a filiation of a state. Amazonian intensive alliance is an alliance counter the state (hommage to Pierre Clastres)." The critical perspective shifts from alliance to filiation just as the critical focus of the two volumes shifts somewhat from capital to the state. 
At this point it seems like it is a relatively simple manner of a shift from production to becoming, filiation to alliance, but, as Viveiros de Castro argues, there is always more than two. There are always both intensive filiations, filiations that exceed any legacy of state, family, or society, and intensive alliances, like those of sorcery and transformation. I should say that in the final analysis there are both intensive and extensive dimensions to each social relation, but, as Viveiros de Castro argues, Anti-Oedipus does not seem to allow for the latter, which makes the second volumes focus on alliance as a kind of becoming even more striking. The particular way that "one divides into two" in this case becomes important. Or, more to the point, it becomes important, when it is brought in line with the social , or economic dimension, of each of these concepts: namely, production/filiation and exchange/alliance. The task of Anti-Oedipus was to think a production irreducible to teleological and instrumental logics of production, breaking production from the "mirror of production," while the task of A Thousand Plateaus (at least some of the latter plateaus) is to think exchange irreducible to possessive individual foundations of the social order. The former is integral to at least the autonomist Marxist tradition and its emphasis on "living labor," while the latter is integral to much of the history of ideas of gifts and debt from Marcel Mauss to David Graeber. 
There is much more that could be said about this book. I have only really touched on its rereading of Capitalism and Schizophrenia that makes up the middle section, and have said little about its discussion of Amazonian ontologies (in the first section) and re-valorization of Levi-Strauss beyond the structuralist image (in the final sections). Suffice to say the book makes a strong case for the disjunctive synthesis of ethnography and philosophy, a case that is timely given the return to philosophical anthropology in the work of Etienne Balibar and Antonio Negri. - unemployed negativity

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro has recently joined others, such as Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, in appropriating savagery as a way to do “imaginary” (speculative-metaphysical) philosophy where ethnography, anthropology, and cosmology are included at once.  MBK does so in the realm of nihilistic but spirited culture where EVC’s culture is firmly positioned with reference to nature, pace Descola, Latour, etc. etc.  EVC’s nature-culture ontology is radically pluralistic and “multinatural”: it includes humans, other animals, gods, spirits, and the dead, as much as it includes “inhabitants of other cosmic levels,” meteorological phenomena, plants, objects, and artifacts.
EVC’s metaphysics, like MBK’s, states, in agreement with Q. Meillassoux, that “correlationism” must be “dealt with” and “overcome” (dismantled, reappropriated, and reinstalled).  For EVC this means passing through “the metaphysics of others” and returning to the “dissident” tradition of panpsychism via Tarde, Latour, James, and Whitehead.
Taking anthropology to be a truly pluralistic science, EVC calls for a reinscription of perspectivalist metaphysics – a metaphysics he finds at work in Amerindian cultures.  Not merely another view about “Nature” EVC calls for the very reinscription of human relations to nature by way of a “multinatural perspectivalism” inspired by these Amerindian cultures.
In place of current “modern” relations to nature, then, we are told that a “radical materialist panpyschism” must also be an “immanent perspectivism.”  One must place relations over substance and “the alterity of nexus” over any essentialist unities.
In the words of Benjamin Noys, EVC is thus “anti-correlation but pro-relation.”  While Amerindian multinaturalism and perspectivalism are indeed anthropomorphic they are not anthropocentric.  Again Noys: “The real way to break with correlation is via anthropomorphism, via panpsychism, and to, in a sense, drown ‘correlation’ [as but] one form of relation within a sea of other forms of relation.”
As Noys concludes, “A panpsychism of existence [is a] thought that places all in relation and otherness.  There is a universal relationality, of which even the thinking of relation is only one part.” - Leon Niemoczynski 

For more on EVC's pluralist universal relationism and multinaturalism, see his "Cosmologies: perspectivism" HERE.

review by Jean-Christophe Goddard (scribd)

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: Some Reflections on the Notion of Species in History and Anthropology

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul: The Encounter of Catholics and Cannibals in 16-century Brazil. Prickly Paradigm Press, 2011.

In the mid-sixteenth century, Jesuit missionaries working in what is now Brazil were struck by what they called the inconstancy of the people they met, the indigenous Tupi-speaking tribes of the Atlantic coast. Though the Indians appeared eager to receive the Gospel, they also had a tendency to forget the missionaries’ lessons and “revert” to their natural state of war, cannibalism, and polygamy. This peculiar mixture of acceptance and rejection, compulsion and forgetfulness was incorrectly understood by the priests as a sign of the natives’ incapacity to believe in anything durably.

In this pamphlet, world-renowned Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro situates the Jesuit missionaries’ accounts of the Tupi people in historical perspective, and in the process draws out some startling and insightful implications of their perceived inconstancy in relation to anthropological debates on culture and religion.

“At once an anthropological interpretation of historical encounters between Europeans and ‘natives,’ a critically reflexive approach to anthropological understandings of ‘culture,’ ‘belief,’ and ‘identity,' and, perhaps most importantly for scholars working in Amazonia, a highly influential framework through which many ethnographers have come to understand indigenous cosmology and sociality. . . . Viveiros de Castro’s book has left an important mark on Americanist scholarship in recent years, and its translation should only extend its influence.”

From the Enemy's Point of View

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, From the Enemy's Point of View: Humanity and Divinity in an Amazonian Society. University Of Chicago Press, 1992.

The Araweté are one of the few Amazonian peoples who have maintained their cultural integrity in the face of the destructive forces of European imperialism. In this landmark study, anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro explains this phenomenon in terms of Araweté social cosmology and ritual order. His analysis of the social and religious life of the Araweté—a Tupi-Guarani people of Eastern Amazonia—focuses on their concepts of personhood, death, and divinity.
Building upon ethnographic description and interpretation, Viveiros de Castro addresses the central aspect of the Arawete's concept of divinity—consumption—showing how its cannibalistic expression differs radically from traditional representations of other Amazonian societies. He situates the Araweté in contemporary anthropology as a people whose vision of the world is complex, tragic, and dynamic, and whose society commands our attention for its extraordinary openness to exteriority and transformation. For the Araweté the person is always in transition, an outlook expressed in the mythology of their gods, whose cannibalistic ways they imitate. From the Enemy's Point of View argues that current concepts of society as a discrete, bounded entity which maintains a difference between "interior" and "exterior" are wholly inappropriate in this and in many other Amazonian societies.

 Perspectival Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Equivocation

The relative native. Download this PDF

(anthropology) AND (science) (E. Viveiros de Castro)

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: Some Reflections on the Notion of Species in History and Anthropology by Álvaro Fernández Bravo


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