Deleuze and Guattari: transcending nature/culture in anthropology?
“The Indians are Deleuzian.”
1 The Amazon Indians, Deleuzian? What if, instead, Deleuze and Guattari had become Amazonian? Actually, the issue here is a series of encounters between the indigenous people of Amazonia and an anthropologist, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, and another series of encounters between Viveiros de Castro and the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, one that is caught up in an asymmetrical relation of becoming with Pierre Clastres and his Amazonians against the State. In other words, while Clastres found a way to renew anthropology through the work of Deleuze and Guattari,  they themselves drew from his work to create the concept of nomadism and a certain becoming-Amazonian of the philosophy of A Thousand Plateaus. In turn, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro derived conceptual tools from Deleuze and Guattari’s writings so as to move beyond the division between nature and culture. Moreover, he reread Clastres’s work in order to rejuvenate its radical nature – i.e. to build on the virtualities already present within it: “What remained was to politicize nature or the cosmos – to ponder the cosmopolitical dimension of the ‘society against the State.’”  Viveiros de Castro sees the necessity of transcending the distinction between nature and culture, which Clastres’s work still implicitly contains, and of incorporating the “other kinds of citizens” into their “politics.” A cosmological non-separation of this kind must complete the political non-separation of the society against the State. This idea that “[a]ll of the inhabitants of the cosmos are people in their own department”  is what Viveiros de Castro calls Amazonian “perspectivism.” Let us see how he uses the concept of becoming, and other references to Deleuze and Guattari, to develop his reading of an “Amazonian plane of immanence”  beyond nature and culture.
2 Before explaining Amazonian perspectivism, let us start by establishing its mythological foundation. Viveiros de Castro carries out a close rereading of Lévi-Strauss’s Mythologiques, where the French anthropologist analyzes the pre-cosmological state of indistinction between “nature” and “culture”: “The world of origins is, precisely, everything: it is the Amazonian plane of immanence.”  Let us recall that for Deleuze and Guattari, the interplay between the virtual intensity and the current extension is such that the virtual multiplicity is the continual recapitulation of all differences within each other; disjunctive synthesis is its paradoxical logic. As a logic of becoming, disjunctive synthesis is a product of the ontological proposition of the univocity of Being, in other words of the co-belonging of all differences on one plane of immanence (without an external, transcendent mediating principle). On such a plane of immanence, let us also note that “relations are external and irreducible to their terms,”  a principle established by Deleuze that is essential to the conceptualization of becoming by him and Guattari. Viveiros de Castro performs a Deleuzo-Guattarian reading of Mythologiques according to this conceptual schema: “In sum, myth proposes an ontological regime ordered by a fluent intensive difference bearing on each of the points of a heterogeneous continuum, where transformation is anterior to form, relations superior to terms, and intervals interior to being.”  And if myth expresses what exists in principle and the way in which what exists in fact has come into being, this “nature”-like thing differentiating itself from a “culture” is not Nature separating itself from Culture, but indeed the history of the loss of some human attributes among animals. Contrary to what our systems of thought postulate, humans are not former animals: rather, animals are former humans. It is important to emphasize here that in Amazonian society, myth insists: it does not exist according to the modality of the Before, of the origin, but rather that of virtual coexistence, of virtual insistence as Deleuze and Guattari define it: “The intensive plane of myth is peopled with preincestuous filiations that ignore alliance. Myth is intensive because it is (pre-) incestuous, and vice versa: alliance is ‘really’ the principle of society, and the end of myth.”  By way of the notions of intensity and disjunctive synthesis, Viveiros de Castro discovers a new kind of intensive alliance that keeps society permanently open to its cosmological co-belonging and continually reconnects it to its intensive plane of myth (myth’s finality is the “extensive” alliance as structuralism defines it: the matrimonial alliance, the prohibition of incest, and reciprocal exchange). But before looking into this aspect more deeply, let us take a brief look at the notion of world in the Amazonian sphere.
3 According to Viveiros de Castro, the Amazonian world is completely different from our own. We posit a unique nature and a multiplicity of cultures, in other words many points of view on the same world. Our “multiculturalism” is inversely proportional to the Amazonian “multinaturalism” that is based upon a multiplicity of worlds, i.e. “a unity of spirit and a diversity of bodies.” For the Amazonians, “all beings see (‘represent’) the world in the same way; what changes is the world they see.”  Whereas in our tradition the point of view creates the object, from the Amazonian perspective the point of view creates the subject. In this perspectivism, the point of view is not one of a subject on an object: it is not a representation. Here, the point of view creates the subject: a body enters into a network of relations that precede and determine it. In this world, while on the one hand some humans see animals as prey, on the other, some animals – who are human in their domain – may see humans in the form of prey.  These two points of view are not at all the same thing. In fact, in order for this perspectivism to be correctly understood, we must call upon the concept of becoming that Deleuze and Guattari theorized in the tenth plateau of A Thousand Plateaus (“1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible…”). Reading it was a decisive step for Viveiros de Castro, in particular as it gave him the conceptual tools for rereading Lévi-Strauss. Structuralism limits difference to a “correspondence of relations,” said Deleuze and Guattari: in Lévi-Strauss’s reading of myths, however, he constantly encountered becomings. Becoming does not merely consist of a correspondence of relations, any more than it is some sort of imitation. On the contrary, the concept of becoming – adhering to the principle of the primacy of the relation – postulates that “[b]ecoming produces nothing other than itself. […] What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.”  Regarding anthropology, the two authors then go on to say that becoming produces nothing by filiation, but “concerns alliance.” Of course, this does not mean alliance as structural anthropology understands it: it is instead an invitation to reenvision this concept that Viveiros de Castro makes his own: “It is not a matter of opposing, as classical structuralism did, natural filiation and cultural alliance. The counter-naturality of intensive alliance is equally counter-cultural or counter-social.”  Here, “counter-cultural” means that society traces lines of flight: what interests the author is the operator of these lines of flight, i.e. the shaman. This interpretation of Amazonian shamanism is one of the original anthropological applications of the concept of becoming, the other being the conception of Amerindian society and cannibalism as the way of being of a society that is open to the outside, which is constantly seeking to maintain itself within an environment of exteriority, in other words the “cosmopolitics of the society against the State.” 
4 This does not mean denying that there are social codes. Every society is coded, i.e. it produces a semiotics that works in tandem with the mingling of bodies; but according to the Deleuzo-Guattarian lesson, what interests Viveiros de Castro are those elements that defy coding in a society, tracing lines of flight. In this sense, for example, while there is in fact a prohibition of posthumous incest, which is a foundation shared between all species, “shamanic perspectivism operates in the reverse, regressive element of the twilight chromaticism of the sky and the earth (i.e., the shamanic voyage), the universal background humanity of all beings, and a pharmaceutical technique (tobacco) that radically scrambles the nature/culture distinction.”  Here we recognize the sign of becoming: this “involution” or “form of evolution between heterogeneous terms” should not in any way be understood as a regression.  This “involutionary” shamanism is transversal: the shaman is the operator of the mythical ground of the primordial communication between all beings, a virtual coexistence that he puts into practice through his capacity for shifting from one point of view to another, he who “transform[s] into an animal in order to transform that animal into a human (and vice versa).”  He is a “real relater,” Viveiros de Castro tells us, meaning that the relations that the shaman maintains with animals – the “other citizens,” each in their domain – take place through an “infinite circulation of perspectives” that is an ontological activity as well as a (cosmo)political one. On this level, the animals are simply other humans: “Amerindian shamanic perspectivism has multinaturalism as its cosmic politics.” 
5 Although the shaman has access to the “heterogeneous continuum of the precosmological world,” Amazonian society does not isolate itself within its own domain: it is actively open to the outside world in a dynamic of group constitution through the assimilation of exteriority:
Hence the importance of the notions of predation or prehension – theft and gift, cannibalism and becoming-enemy – that have always accompanied it. Both are attempts to capture the movement of a power of alliance that would be something like the fundamental state of indigenous metaphysics, a cosmopolitical power irreducible to the domestic-public affinity of classical kinship theories. 
7 Far from being a classical matrimonial alliance where the exchange of women allows a group to internalize or assimilate the outside, to connect it with its own identity, this intensive alliance demonstrates the group’s becoming-other. The Tupinambá eat a captured enemy – who may live normally among them for years – during a cannibal ritual where the group, by absorbing the enemy, is determined by him. In other words, according to the logic of perspectivism, the group places itself within a system of relations that precedes its identity. It is determined by placing itself within the point of view of the relation with the enemy: we therefore note “a process for the transmutation of perspectives whereby the ‘I’ is determined as other through the act of incorporating this other, who in turn becomes an ‘I’… but only ever in the other – literally, that is, through the other.”  And if one eats the body of the other, what one absorbs is a sign: “This body, nevertheless, was a sign with a purely positional value. What was eaten was the enemy’s relation to those who consumed him; in other words, his condition as enemy.”  Before the victim’s sacrifice, a kind of verbal jousting took place, a “solemn verbosity,” between the captive and his killer, where speaking and eating actualize and reproduce the a priori of the cycle of vengeance. Here, Viveiros de Castro revisits Frank Lestringant’s interpretation of Montaigne’s “On Cannibals,” in which cannibalism is not a dietary choice: the flesh that is eaten is not a food, but a sign.  Cannibalism is therefore a mode of “‘semiophysical’ prehension”  of the other: a “semiophysical,” non-symbolic relationship that references the materialist semiotics of Deleuze and Guattari. According to the two authors, the sign is a notion concerning the relation of bodies between themselves. It belongs to the material domain of forces and variations of power; it is not a referent that connects the object to human thought. The sign does not signify: it produces.  According to Viveiros de Castro, cannibalism is a dynamic of capturing signs that is essential to “the alloplastic or allomorphic impulse”  of these societies, their way of being that is radically open to the Other. Becoming-cannibal, becoming-other, becoming the other, incorporating the other so that the community of that other will in turn incorporate the community that consumed him, etc.: this is the whole cosmopolitical cycle of those societies sustained by cannibalism. Viveiros de Castro provides a definition of this social way of being that could have been penned by Deleuze and Guattari: “It was […] an order where interiority and identity were encompassed by exteriority and difference, where becoming and relationship prevailed over being and substance.” 
8 This alloplastic way of being of Amazonian society even problematizes the distinction between the inside and the outside. Here again, Viveiros de Castro follows A Thousand Plateaus: “The law of the State is not the law of All or Nothing (State societies or counter-State societies) but that of interior and exterior.”  This is the mechanism of state sovereignty and its dynamic of appropriating an outside via war. In this perspective, Viveiros de Castro reinterprets the tension or uncertainty that he observes in Clastres’s work between one analysis focusing on the perspective of a local group, the primitive community, and another targeting the primitive society, i.e. a set of several communities. On the one hand, Clastres emphasizes the unity and indivision of the community versus the separation of power in his writings on chieftainship; on the other, writing on war, he privileges a social perspective of dispersion and alterity.  For Viveiros de Castro, some work in the field of Amazonian ethnology, that of Marina Vanzolini Figueiredo in particular, allows for an overcoming of that hesitancy.  In fact, while there is no vertical division between the dominant and the dominated in Amazonian society, a process of horizontal division is, however, at work. Within the community, a dynamic of horizontal division produces exteriority by dispersing that community: this is what underlies the multiplicity of local groups that constantly move from the position of ex-relatives to enemies and from enemies to allies. According to Viveiros de Castro, this horizontal division of the one and indivisible community is the empirical cause for the fission creating the multiplicity of groups, whereas “the transcendental cause for any possible social interiority” is that exteriority or multiplicity. In other words, the condition of possibility for Amazonian society is alterity. It is a way of being or rather a way of becoming that he calls a politics of multiplicity, which does not necessarily express itself as a political multiplicity in every Amazonian society, but is a virtuality shared by all.  As Deleuze and Guattari see it,  the issue is then to get past Clastres’s aporia, i.e. the impossibility of the emergence of a State in a society whose essence is to be against the State, and to understand that this politics of multiplicity develops according to different degrees of actualization in each particular Amazonian society (thus in some Amazonian societies this politics of multiplicity and a certain kind of separate power may coexist).
9 In explaining the relationship between the correlative dynamics of fission and fusion of groups, Viveiros de Castro demonstrates how, from a political point of view, “all of the boundaries between the inside and the outside definitively”  dissolve. But there is another boundary that Clastres did not overcome: that of the human race. For him, “politics is an affair that is strictly intra-specific.”  Clastres hardly ever discusses those other kinds of citizens called animals – who, as Viveiros de Castro has demonstrated, are essentially “humans” in other forms – because he establishes a separation between politics and nature, where the power rejected by the one and indivisible society projects itself in a kind of natural exteriority.  And yet, as Clastres himself notes in one of his texts, in Amazonian society, “nature, in short, like society, is traversed through and through with the supernatural.”  This remark on Amazonian cosmology ought to have led him to the realization, as Viveiros de Castro notes with astonishment, “that the common ‘supernaturalization’ of nature and society made any distinction between these two domains utterly problematic” given that “nature revealed itself as social and society, as natural.”  This is because perspectivism is ultimately a “cosmology against the State”: a way of being where heteronomy is fundamental, as it is based upon the myth or “Amazonian plane of immanence” beyond nature and culture, which is a world where everything communicates within the regime of cosmopolitical non-separation. Here we again encounter the Earth of Deleuze and Guattari, a “cosmopolitics” beyond nature and culture. In their “geology of morals,” the conceptual distinction between politics and metaphysics no longer seems relevant, since the dynamics of territorialization and deterritorialization, like the becoming that draws a transversal between all of these domains, have as their horizon the line of flight of absolute deterritorialization and the becoming-imperceptible that are regimes of cosmopolitical co-belonging. We will conclude with a small clarification. An extremely malicious book recently accused Viveiros de Castro of soliloquizing, presenting him as a “ventriloquist anthropologist” who does not care at all about what the Amerindians think. In the view of this book, he claims to speak for them by mimicking the fiction of the discourse of contemporary French philosophy,  as though he didn’t have extensive field experience or hadn’t worked with many Amazonianists who had also made close studies of the Amerindians. In fact, this attack coming from the field of anthropology targets the very definition of the discipline. Viveiros de Castro’s version of this definition is nonconsensual: “I suggested defining anthropology as an experimental metaphysics that carries out experiments with the thoughts of others, indigenous thought, by considering it for example as philosophical thinking.”  Yet if one carries out a thought experiment with others, doesn’t that demonstrate the capacity of having a real encounter with the other?  The translation – or the forced entry – of the other’s thinking into our idiom also undermines our convictions, just as the Amerindians, warding off Clastres’s vision of the State, ultimately undermined the naturalness of the State-form engraved in our customs, our practices and our thoughts, at least in the conceptual reading that Deleuze and Guattari made of it, a reading whose potential still remains to be discovered.  In a time of environmental crisis, Viveiros de Castro, an attentive reader of Deleuzo-Guattarian “geophilosophy,” becomes the mediator for an Amazonian “cannibal metaphysics” beyond nature and culture, the spokesman for the inhabitants of a burning forest whose cosmopolitics offers us another image of thought.
Here is what he wrote upon discovering Anti-Oedipus: “As the authors of L’Anti-Oedipe have so forcefully argued, primitive societies are first of all societies that mark. And to that extent, they are in fact societies without writing; but what this statement means primarily is that writing points to the existence of a separate, distant, despotic law […]. [I]t is precisely in order to exorcise the possibility of that kind of law […] that primitive law functions as it does […]. The mark on the body, on all bodies alike, declares: You will not have the desire for power; you will not have the desire for submission. And that non-separate law can only have for its inscription a space that is not separate: that space is the body itself.” Pierre Clastres, “De la torture dans les sociétés primitives,” L’Homme: Revue française d’ethnologie 13.3 (July-September 1973): 120 [“Of Torture in Primitive Societies,” Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology, trans. Robert Hurley and Abe Stein (New York: Zone Books, 1989), 187-188].
Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités: Pierre Clastres face à l’État, trans. Julien Pallotta (Bellevaux: Dehors, 2019), 104. We note that Viveiros de Castro’s overcoming of the nature / culture schema has several antecedents, notably the work of Roy Wagner (The Invention of Culture, 1975) and Marilyn Strathern (After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century, 1992), who reassessed the concepts of “nature” and “culture” in anthropology. We add that the concept of “Amazonian perspectivism” was developed in cooperation with Viveiros de Castro’s Amazonianist colleagues Manuela Carneiro de Cunha and Tânia Stolze Lima, just as his work is written in a dialogue with his international colleagues, in particular Philippe Descola and Tim Ingold. In this article, I will concentrate on what the author draws from the work of Deleuze and Guattari in order to develop the theoretical framework of his research. [Translator’s note: For the English edition of Clastres’s book Recherches d’anthropologie politique, published as Archeology of Violence (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010), Viveiros de Castro wrote an introduction, “The Untimely, Again”, which was translated from Portuguese by Ashley Lebner. He expanded this introduction for the Portuguese edition, which came out a year later. Politique des multiplicités is the French translation of this expanded version. Some excerpts of the new version therefore exist in the earlier version – their translation will be identified in the footnotes.]
Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 109 [“The Untimely, Again,” 47].
Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 109 [“The Untimely, Again,” 48].
Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 109 [“The Untimely, Again,” 48]. “What we call ‘mythology’ is a discourse-of certain others, as a general rule-about the given (Wagner 1978); it is myths that give, once and for all, what will be taken as the given: the primordial conditions from and against which humans will be defined or constructed; this discourse establishes the terms and limits (where they exist) of this ontological debt.” Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales: Lignes d’anthropologie poststructurale, trans. Oiara Bonilla (Paris: PUF, 2009), 150 [Cannibal Metaphysics: For a Post-Structural Anthropology, trans. and ed. Peter Skafish (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2014), 177].
Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Paris: Flammarion, 1977), 62 [Dialogues II, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 55].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 33 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 67]. The author has declared that the challenge for him was to “know how to rewrite the Mythologiques on the basis of everything that A Thousand Plateaus disabused me of in anthropology.” Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 51 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 84].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 101 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 130].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 38 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 71].
“Conversely, animals do not see humans as humans. The jaguars see us as prey, for example, as a kind of wild pig, or more precisely, as peccaries.” Viveiros de Castro, “Une figure humaine peut cacher une affection-jaguar,” Multitudes 24, www.cairn.info, Spring 2006, Web, 13 May 2022, 46 [Translation taken from Andrea Scholz, “Man – Object – Jaguar / Project Description: An Approach to Perspectivism,” Humboldt Lab Dahlem, www.humboldtlab.de, 1 December 2015, Web, 13 May 2022].
Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Mille plateaux (Paris: Minuit, 1980), 291 [A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 238].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 137 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 164].
Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 104.
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 190 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 215].
Deleuze and Guattari, Mille plateaux, 292 [A Thousand Plateaus, 238].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 122 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 152].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 25 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 60].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 154 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 181].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 112 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 142].
Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 113 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 142]. It was a sign, as the Tupinambá do not eat their enemies anymore. Viveiros de Castro constructs his interpretation of generalized cannibalism as a society’s “alloplastic” mode of being on the basis of the testimony from 16th century missionaries, where the trouble-free conversion of the Tupis contrasted with the difficulty they had in giving up the dynamic of intertribal vengeance and the cannibalism that went along with it.
Viveiros de Castro, L’Inconstance de l’âme sauvage: Catholiques et cannibales dans le Brésil du xvi siècle , trans. Aurore Becquelin and Véronique Boyer (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2020), 115 [The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul: The Encounter of Catholics and Cannibals in 16th-Century Brazil, trans. Gregory Duff Morton (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2011), 70].
Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics, 143 [translator’s note].
We may recall that the theory of marking in Anti-Oedipus, the inscription of the sign directly onto the body, posits that this signaletics precludes the appearance of an writing system independent of the body, the signifying medium for the separate law of the despot. Inspired by this theory, Clastres developed his theory of the “society against the State,” where the society does not permit the appearance of a power independent of the social body. Deleuze and Guattari then revisit this theory and interpret it in particular as a mode of being that does not distinguish between an exterior and an interior, politically speaking. It is the State, in fact, that develops the form of interiority: its separate law is to be understood as the transcendent law that establishes the infinite debt creating interiority or the subjective fold of the bad conscience. Let us note that the theory of marking in Anti-Oedipus takes a serious approach to the theory of the internalization of moral law in The Genealogy of History. Nietzsche had developed this theory through his readings of the anthropological research of the time, correlated with Judeo-Christian morality where the body is no longer marked: the punishment is not forgotten anymore and the pain is internalized by bearing the moral burden. Moreover, A Thousand Plateaus develops the idea that the form of the State is also an interiority, a physical space appropriated on the basis of the law of interior and exterior, but also a memory, the writing of a history. Viveiros de Castro adds that the “society against the State” is a society against memory, because in it the dead are eaten (in addition, he quotes Deleuze and Guattari: “Every time they eat a dead man, they can say: one more the State won’t get” – Mille plateaux, 148 [A Thousand Plateaus, 118]). The dead are eaten, because there is no hierarchization between the living and the dead (the ancestors), but rather a relationship between humans and non-humans, with the dead treated as though they were animals. Viveiros de Castro develops the idea that the law of the State is an anthropological law that – in developing a cult of the dead according to the principle of interior and exterior – establishes a strict distinction between the domain of humans and that of non-humans (Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 107). In Amazonian societies, on the other hand, the human race does not set itself apart in space or in time: as “humans,” they live alongside other “humans” in other forms (animals), while they themselves change form upon death (they become animals).
Viveiros de Castro, The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul, 50 [translator’s note].
Viveiros de Castro, L’Inconstance de l’âme sauvage, 85 [The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul, 47]. In other words: “Tupinambá religion, rooted in the warrior exocannibalism complex, projected a form in which the socius was constructed through relationship with the other, in which the incorporation of the other required an exit from oneself – the exterior was constantly engaged in a process of interiorization, and the interior was nothing but movement towards the outside.” Viveiros de Castro, L’Inconstance de l’âme sauvage, 83 [The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul, 46].
Deleuze and Guattari, Mille plateaux, 445 [A Thousand Plateaus, 360].
Unlike Clastres, who presents war as the stubborn affirmation of the group’s autonomy, according to Viveiros de Castro: “Tupinambá war of vengeance was the manifestation of an originary heteronomy, the recognition that heteronomy was the condition of autonomy.” L’Inconstance de l’âme sauvage, 117 [The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul, 72].
See Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 102.
Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 90 [“The Untimely, Again,” 40].
We will recall that in A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari establish a typology of the formations of power where any form of actualized power contains other “machinic processes” than the process that usually underlies it (the apparatus of capture of State societies; the war machine of nomadic societies, etc.): “Each process can also function at a ‘power’ other than its own; it can be taken up by a power corresponding to another process.” Deleuze and Guattari, Mille plateaux, 544 [A Thousand Plateaus, 437]. Viveiros de Castro’s interpretation of Clastres’s work, based on numerous studies in political ethnology of Amazonian society, leads him to develop his own idea of the coexistence of political powers involved in a given Amazonian group.
Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 103.
"Clastres separated politics from nature, by seeing the’political function’ as a movement of self-instituting separation that projected and resymbolized a natural externality." Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 104.
Clastres, “Mythes et rites des Indiens d’Amérique du Sud,” in Recherches d’anthropologie politique (Paris: Seuil, 1980), 64, quoted in Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 105 [“The Untimely, Again,” 45].
Viveiros de Castro, Politique des multiplicités, 106 [“The Untimely, Again,” 45].
Pierre Déléage, L’Autre-mental: Figures de l’anthropologue en écrivain de science-fiction (Paris: La Découverte, 2020). Déléage’s book is above all a sarcastic tract where he broadly outlines his critique, accusing Viveiros de Castro of inverting the lexicon of Western anthropology. Déléage reduces Viveiros de Castro’s work to a cartoonish version of perspectivism without taking into account the other aspects of his writings, which lets Déléage suggest that in Beyond Nature and Culture, Descola politely refuses the theoretical hothouse of the Brazilian anthropologist (140), whereas Descola explicitly declares that his concept of animism is the product of a collective international dialogue in which Viveiros de Castro participates. As a result, while we note that Déléage’s reading is a slapdash affair, on the other hand we can say that he did not dare call his eminent colleague a science fiction author…
Cleber Lambert and Larissa Barcellos, “Entrevista com Eduardo Viveiros de Castro,” Primeiros Estudos 2 (2012): 252; my translation. It is quite understandable if some anthropologists who are not that interested in theoretical speculation find this definition appalling. It is also a political question: we will recall that the anarchist foundations of Clastres’s political thinking was considered shocking at the time, and part of the field remains shocked today. As it shares the same political horizon, Viveiros de Castro’s work elicits the same sort of reaction.
Because it is of course impossible to think as others do: “[W]e cannot think like Indians; at most, we can think with them” (Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibales, 169 [Cannibal Metaphysics, 196]). And as Oiara Bonilla, Jean-Christophe Goddard and Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc put it so well, Déléage “did not hear the Amazonian voices that Viveiros translates into the language of Western philosophy in order to shake it up, with all the more force given that it is impossible, as any translator knows, to transpose a text into another language without recreating that language almost completely.” Oiara Bonilla, Jean-Christophe Goddard and Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, “L’autre-mental de Pierre Déléage,” Lundimatin 254, lundi.am, 14 September 2020, Web, 12 May 2022).
Bonilla, Goddard and Sibertin-Blanc suggest that a history of voices from beyond Europe that are present in the history of ideas remains to be written. “We know what Leibniz owed to Chinese political thought (which Christian Wolff also admired), but it is perhaps less well-known that as a friend and admirer of Lahontan, he based his own critique of Hobbes on the critique of European political rights by the Huron Kondiaronk. And what can be said of the debt German critical tradition owes to the formulation of the concept of the ‘thing-in-itself’ by the Ghanaian Anton Wilhelm Amo?” (Bonilla, Goddard and Blanc, “L’autre-mental de Pierre Déléage”). The history of ideas is not just a long dialogue between “civilized” people, and although the colonizers almost never allowed the colonized to speak, it would be very interesting to identify the voices from outside of the West that are present, in spite of everything, in a discourse that, on the face of it, seems to exclude them.