david on magic

collecting quotes for nika from david on magic [to put here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/13AmnGN4jG7eL5aRr_LECwGLMQEZfG4Ps/edit]:

[page numbers of some essays are from kindle version from anarchist library linked]

via google.. magic: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural ( some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature) forces.


Why We Founded the Yes Women, an Art Group Demanding Justice for Divorcées in the Former East Germany – The long, hard road to the birth of a new slogan: “Never Mind Us!” – Nika Dubrovsky and David Graeber – December 17, 2019 – via The Anarchist Library – Retrieved on 28th November 2021 from news.artnet.com


Our first idea was to play on this irony with a demonstration during Berlin Fashion Week on Unter del Linda. The event would have been familiar to most members of the media who so regularly mocked or ignored the Association of Divorced Women from the GDR. This time, however, we imagined those women would be passing under the Brandenburg Gate in costumes by Vivienne Westwood. We hoped that the name would attract the attention of the international press. After all, we thought, Vivienne Westwood herself is old, had suffered due to an insufferable husband, but still managed to survive and even emerge triumphant. Such, we thought, is the magical power of art! – p 5 kindle

why we founded


Radical alterity is just another way of saying “reality” – A reply to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro – The Anarchist Library – Retrieved on 28th November 2021 from www.haujournal.org – Published in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory Volume 5, Number 2 Autumn 2015.


 In fact, it strikes me that the greatest achievements of anthropology have come precisely when we are willing to make that second move: to say, “But are we not all, in a certain sense, totemists?” “Is not war a form of ritual sacrifice?” “Does not knowledge of the logic of Polynesian taboo allow us to look at familiar categories like etiquette, or the sacred, in a different light?”.. p 7 kindle

I went to Madagascar expecting to encounter something much like a different ontology, a set of fundamentally different ideas about how the world worked; what I encountered instead were people who admitted they did not really understand what was going on with fanafody, who said wildly different, and often contradictory, things about it, but who were all in agreement that most practitioners were liars, cheats, or frauds. Coming back from the field, I consulted with colleagues who had been in similar situations (in the Andes, Andaman Islands, Papua New Guinea … ) and discovered that such sentiments are actually quite commonplace. They also confessed they never knew quite what to do with them. And in fact, this is precisely the aspect of magical practice that is most often dismissed as unimportant, or simply left out of ethnographic accounts. So I decided to take my informants seriously, and by doing so, to rethink my theoretical assumptions.. p 11 kindle

Radical alterity can never be contained by our descriptions, the argument goes, and we cannot understand it through deductive reasoning; rather, the ethnographer’s task is a creative, experimental, even poetic project—an attempt to give life to an alien reality that unsettles our basic assumptions about what could exist.. It strikes me that by doing so, and especially, by framing this attitude as an ethical imperative, OT makes it effectively impossible for us to recognize one of the most important things all humans really do have in common: the fact that we all have to come to grips, to one degree or another, with what we cannot know.. p 20 kindle

The only things about which we can have absolute and comprehensive knowledge are things we have made up.. p 21 kindle

It makes much better sense to define “reality” as precisely that which we can never know completely; which will never be entirely encompassed in our theoretical descriptions. The only things about which we can have absolute and comprehensive knowledge are things we have made up.. p 22 kindle

Perhaps the one expression I heard the most, when people talked about spirits, was simply “I don’t know.” Spirits were inherently unknowable. (The spirits that possessed mediums were ultimately unknowable as well.) I ended up concluding this lack of knowledge was not incidental; it was foundational. To put it bluntly, while OT would encourage me to privilege the fact that I will never fully understand Malagasy conceptions as to act as if those conceptions were simply determinant of reality, I decided to privilege the fact that my Malagasy interlocutors insisted they did not understand reality either; that nobody ever will be able to understand the world completely, and that this gives us something to talk about. It also gives us the opportunity to unsettle one another’s ideas in a way that might prove genuinely dialogic.. p 26 kindle

What I’d really draw attention to is that what Malagasy people seem to be doing in many of these cases is strikingly analogous to what OTers suggest for the practice of the anthropologist: they are engaging in an imaginative, poetic process to come to terms with a reality that they know they can never entirely understandOne of the qualities of this imaginative process is that it always tends to linger on the border between artistry and simple fraud. Recall the Malagasy cosmogonic myths mentioned earlier. They grapple with the most fundamental questions of life, love, death—the deepest mysteries of human existence. They are also obviously jokes; people laugh at them, call them “the lies of our ancestors”—though most also feel, on some level, they are also true. Just not true in any literal sense. In fact, for every great existential question there are usually half a dozen mythic answers that plainly contradict.. p 27 kindle

To give an illustration of the kind of analysis this perspective opens up to us, let me return to hasina. The word is often employed where an English speaker might refer to “luck,” “chance,” or “fortune” (though in the latter case it overlaps with another word, vintana). It took me quite some time to understand this usage. How did it fit with the notion of “invisible efficacy” or “sacred power”? Was everything, even everyday events, ultimately caused by spirits? .. Whenever we encounter an “apparently irrational” belief, we are likely to be in the presence of an existential quandary, a puzzle which no one, really, will ever be able to completely figure out... p 28 kindle

What I am saying is perhaps there are at least some cases where the practice of fanafody, or other forms of what anthropologists are used to calling “magic,” involve causative mechanisms we simply don’t yet understand. There are, after all, plenty of alternative traditions in science, uniformly treated with violent hostility by the intellectual mainstream, that speculate about such possibilities. (Some involve investigating ideas originally proposed by philosophers like Peirce, Whitehead, or Bergson, but the moment one makes such ideas out of the lecture-halls and uses them as the basis for scientific experiments, one is cast amongst the flakes.) No doubt many of their exponents are every bit the cranks and lunatics they’re regularly made out to be. But what if some of them were right?.. p 31 kindle

What I’m effectively asking, then, is “what if Ravololona really could prevent the hail from falling on people’s crops?” I must confess it still strikes me as unlikely. When I had to call it, I definitely came down on the side of the skeptics on this one. But maybe, just possibly, I was wrong. Still, of one thing I am certain: we’ll never have any chance of finding out if we commit ourselves to treating every statement our informants make that seems to fly in the face of accepted ideas of physical possibility as if it were the gate to some alternative reality we will never comprehend. Engaging in such thought experiments does not really open us to unsettling possibilities. Or, anyway, not the kind of unsettling possibilities that are likely to get anyone fired from their jobs. To the contrary, it ultimately protects us from those possibilities, in just the way Holbraad suggested OT protects Western science and common sense.. who knows, maybe there actually is something going on here that we just don’t know about? Since after all, if someone that no-nonsense tells you there might be something happening that science can’t account for, one has to confront the possibility that he might actually be right.. p 31 kindle

radical alterity


Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar – Indiana University Press, 2007 – Betafo (Madagascar) – 469 pages

much of the political struggle that did take place on a day to day level, was over who could impose their interpretation of what they ghostly powers were, and esp, what restrictions one had to observe as a result.. this was certainly what miadana’s neighbors did when they scolded her about the local fady…. p 152

w/in a small community like betafo, political action consisted largely of the manipulation of impression.. no one wanted to give the impression they were totally w/o resources… it is best to at least raise the possibility that one might have hidden powers, if only to intimidate others who might otherwise be inclined to hurt you.. on other hand.. the more you are seen as entangled in medicine.. less you can hope to stake a place as .. a respectable elder/rep of ancestors.. if stray too far.. excluded from moral community entirely.. continuum of bonified elders on one end and recognized witches on the other.. p 154

vazimba are a kind of thing that isn’t seen..  by defn mysterious, invisible, a kind of unknown power.. vazimba were normally invisible; when they did appear it was almost always in the nightmare visions of a child.. for present purposes, what is really important is the longstanding relationships between vazimba and slaves…. there was felt to be some sort of affinity.. p 221

but this rootlessness could, sometimes, open opportunities.. also held out the promise of a kind of power – if one rather dangerous and unpredictable.. slaves, or their descendants, continue to convert images of their own sense of loss into points of access to another world, thru which they can find the means to reconstruct a place for themselves, to bring things together rather than let them drift apart…. p 227

when ghosts appear they do so because they embody frustrated desires, a yearning or a longing.. to live again, to play w children, or the sheer desire for children, to be children, manifesting itself in the urge to snatch them, to seize them as the visible emblems of everything the dead have lost. vazimba too are a kind of ghost , and they too are notoriously fond of children.. p 234

vazimba are spirits that have lost their place, bodies, memory, their specificity, their name.. they exist in water, unmoored; cast on currents instead of anchored in the ground like the proper ancestral dead.. by containing something which is the essence of flux and dislocation, one creates the possibility of overcoming the dislocation and finding oneself a place.. p 241

another theme that has emerged periodically through out this book has been the connection between invisibility and power.the power to act and transform the world tends to be rep’d as something essentially ambiguous, unknowable, that which cannot be defined.. it is essentially something negative, in the sense that it is defined primarily by what it is not.  this suggests one way to think about the nature of vazimba.. the victims of ongoing violence and oppression, one might say, have been, in certain ways, negated. they have been denied something: a place, the autonomy to create themselves, to act of their own accord. but by capturing this negation, fixing it in certain powerfully effective images – like vazimba, who are also defined almost entirely by what they lack – it is sometimes possible to transform it int a kind of power.. mediumship itself can be seen in exactly the same terms.. in most of madagascar, mediums are overwhelmingly women.. mediums insisted that when the spirits truly ‘moved in’ them, they lost all consciousness, and even afterward had no memory of what the spirit did/said..  they referred to themselves as the soldier of those kings.. it was a way of using an image of absolute negation as a way of claiming power and authority. .. access to invisible powers, to realize how effective this kind of move can be. in this game at least, everyone agreed that black people had all the advantages.. p 242

one of the real puzzles of this chapter is why a man so powerful should have felt so endlessly hemmed in by invisible limitations.. he had a constant tendency to evoke unseen rivals of power equal or greater to his own, then live in fear of them.. he seemed genuinely intimidated.. when kings and govt choose emblems to rep their own power, they tend to emphasize not so much the control of space as the capacity to annihilate it.. lightening, he notes, is in its own way the ultimate symbol of this sort of power because it can strike anywhere, utterly unpredictably, and so swiftly that flight is  inconceivable.. p 300

but.. at least in madagascar .. there was another side to this story. it was also precisely at the moment when the country had been conquered .. and these rational bureaucratic techniques of admin are being put in place.. that the new admins began waxing poetic (in their unofficial writings) about something they call the ‘malagasy soul’..  this ‘malagasy soul’ soon became a stock theme of french writing on the island. it was rep’d as the sign of profoundly alien mentality, full of quirky passions and dreamy fantasies, ultimately beyond the grasp of the understanding of a simple westerner.. p 382

the very attitude which western observers adopt in the name of science ends up being projected onto those they observe; ..except there, instead of making them seem like scientists..it makes them seem mystical, poetic, strange  profoundly different sorts of human being.. p 383

i have already noted the malagasy tendency to rep the source of human intentions and agency – spirits, ghosts, the soul – as something hidden, invisible, hence which cannot be ultimately known.. this is actually a very common way of rep ing things..  all over the world in conceptions of that aspect of the person which ethnographers most often refer to, in english, as ‘the soul‘ what tyler called the ‘life soul’ .. the hidden seat of human intentionality which gives us the capacity to act.. even where there is explicit metaphysical theory, people do take it for granted that one cannot ever know really know what another person is likely to do; and usually, that it is from this unknowable place – in the heart, the head, the throat, the liver, wherever one happens to place it – that actions, ideas, new unpredictable things emerge.. edmund leach once suggested that what unites all human beings is not that they are in possession of an immortal soul, but they are capable of imagining that they are.. perhaps (aside from the part about ‘immortality’) these are really not such altogether different things.. p 392

lost people


On Kings by David Graeber and Marshall Sahlin

HAU: 2017 – 556 pg paperback – The open-access PDF of On Kings by David Graeber and Marshall Sahlins, attached below, excluding third-party material therein, is available under the terms of a Creative Commons international license BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution Required / Non-Commercial Use / No Derivatives).

mediums, and curers in general, are often referred to as mpitaiza olona, the nursemaids, nurturers, or carers of others.. the verb mitaiza is ordinarily used for either breastfeeding infant or, by extension, taking care of a small, dependent child..  it can also be used for caring for the sick, . more so.. the benevolent, nurturant authority of someone more able and knowledgeable.. .. two levels.. the mediums and the royal spirits that possess them.. p 268 text (p 285 kindle from pdf)

on kings


Another Art World, Part 3: Policing and Symbolic Order – Nika Dubrovsky and David Graeber – efluxJournal – Issue #113 – November 2020


But why specifically puppets? ..giant puppets—which could represent anything from gods and dragons to caricatures of politicians and corporate bureaucrats—were simultaneously divine and ridiculous. These were objects that took days, even weeks to assemble, and were put together collectively by very large numbers of people. They were gigantic but fragile, and after a day’s use, almost invariably crumbled away. In other words, they mocked the very idea of a monument. .. Such a constant kaleidoscope of possible monuments evoked the sacred in a form so powerful that it effectively had to be made silly. Otherwise, its power would be too terrifying.

art world – p3


Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire – This edition © 2007 AK Press


burke same movement.. to improve manners of those below: most of all by eliminating all traces of the carnivalesque from popular life.. ie: actors, ballads, butt fights, cards dancing, folktales, magic, masks, puppets, witchcraft, .. ‘a reformation of manners’.. shutting down ale houses to outlawing ie: may poles, christmas revels.. p 32 text (p 38 kindle)

5 – provisional autonomous zone: or, the ghost state in madagascar.. p 157 text (p 163 kindle)

What mediums basically do is treat people who have been victims of one or another kind of magical attack (or witchcraft; while there were many different kinds, most Zanadrano I talked to insisted that their single most common task was to cure cases of am balavelona). As such, mediums can be referred to generically as mpitaiza olona, “nurturers” of those they cured and.. p 277 text (p 283 kindle from pdf)



Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Paradigm) – via free limited time (?) download from publisher – Prickly Paradigm Press; 1st edition (April 1, 2004) – paperback – 102 pg (kindle version from pdf 1116 pg)

case 3: highland madagascar – considered wrong for adults to be giving one another orders.. making wage labor morally suspect.. society remarkable peaceable.. yet once again.. surrounded by invisible warfare.. witches et al.. p 28 (p 283 kindle from pdf)

full para: Case 3: Highland Madagascar, where I lived between 1989 and 1991, was a rather different place. The area had been the center of a Malagasy state— the Merina kingdom—since the early nineteenth century, and afterwards endured many years of harsh colonial rule. There was a market economy and, in theory, a central government—during the time I was there, largely dominated by what was called the “Merina bourgeoisie.” In fact this government had effectively withdrawn from most of the countryside and rural communities were effectively governing themselves. In many ways these could also be considered anarchistic: most local decisions were made by consensus by informal bodies, leadership was looked on at best with suspicion, it was considered wrong for adults to be giving one another orders, especially on an ongoing basis; this was considered to make even institutions like wage labor inherently morally suspect. Or to be more precise, unmalagasy—this was how the French behaved, or wicked kings and slaveholders long ago. Society was overall remarkably peaceable. Yet once again it was surrounded by invisible warfare; just about everyone had access to dangerous medicine or spirits or was willing to let on they might; the night was haunted by witches who danced naked on tombs and rode men like horses; just about all sickness was due to envy, hatred, and magical attack. What’s more, witchcraft bore a strange, ambivalent relation to national identity. While people made rhetorical reference to Malagasy as equal and united “like hairs on a head,” ideals of economic equality were rarely, if ever, invoked; however, it was assumed that anyone who became too rich or powerful would be destroyed by witchcraft, and while witchcraft was the definition of evil, it was also seen as peculiarly Malagasy (charms were just charms but evil charms were called “Malagasy charms”). Insofar as rituals of moral solidarity did occur, and the ideal of equality was invoked, it was largely in the course of rituals held to suppress, expel, or destroy those witches who, perversely, were the twisted embodiment and practical enforcement of the egalitarian ethos of the society itself.. p 28

fragments of an anarchist anthropology


Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams – First published 2001 by PALGRAVE – 337 pg


in alternative, heraclitean strain has always existed – one that sees objects as processes.. best-known .. via Hegel and Marx. but whatever form.. has been almost impossible to integrate with more conventional philosophy. it has tended to be seen as existing somewhat off to the side, as odd or somewhat mystical.. bhaskar – and those who have since taken up some version of his ‘critical realist’ approach: have been trying for some years to develop amore reasonable ontology.. some of his conclusions: .. 5\ tendencies –  so best to not refer to unbreakable scientific laws.. but rather tendencies..which interact in unpredictable ways. of course, the higher the emergent strata one is dealing with, the less predictable things become, the involvement of human beings of course being the most unpredictable factor of all.. p 52

the baining (of papua new guinea), a population of taro farmers who live in scattered hamlets in the mountainous interior of east new britain, are somewhat notorious… for complete lack of any elaborate social structure. fajans describes their society as a kind of “egalitarian anarchism” … as close as one is likely to find to a genuinely simple society. …as a result.. also lacking in mystification.. p 69

values need medium to be realized.. kayapo women.. painting bodies of children.. endlessly re-encoding an implicit model of the human body and society. .. transformation of inner “libidinal” powers into visible social forms.. human action/thought can only *take place thru some kind of material medium and therefore can’t be **understood w/o taking the qualities of the medium into account.. p 83

on the need/use of witchcraft.. as counter – bloch has noted that most common way of rep ing social value is by dramatic rep of its opposite.. evil, decay, chaos.. witchcraft.. way of doing same.. reaffirms moral values thru pre of utter immorality.. p 84

imagination implies the possibility of doing things differently.. hence looks at exiting world critically.. (to marx being human: production and imagination).. when one tries to bring an imagined society into being, one is engaging in revolution.. p 88

(on money) rather than serving as a mark of distinctiveness (like jewels might), it tends to be identified with the holder’s generic, hidden capacities for action (jewels show character.. money generic/standard image).. p 94

lacan’s notion of the ‘mirror phase’ in children’s development.. infants, he writes, are unaware of he precise boundaries between themselves and the world around them. little more than disorganized bundles of drives/motivations, they have no coherent sense of self.. in part this is because they *lack any single object on which to fix one.. hence lacan’s ‘mirror phase’ which begins when the child first comes face to face w some external image of self which serves as the imaginary totality around which a sense of that self can be constructed.. nor is this a one time event.. the ego is, for lacan, always an imaginary construct: in everyday life and everyday experience, on remains a conflicting multiplicity of thoughts, libidinal drives, and unconscious impulses.. acting self and imaginary unity never cease to stand opposed..  tylor.. life soul: heart/breath.. hidden force.. thought.. intentionality.. inner capacity/powers  vs  image soul: shadow/reflection.. physical appearance..detached from actual physical being.. able to wander free of body.. endures after body’s death.. p 97

hobbes.. whatever is invisible.. ‘unknown.. that is.. of an unlimited power’.. total lack of specificity, in other words, implies an infinite potential.. what is entirely unknown could be anything.. could do anything.. to be visible.. is to be concrete/specific.. (from specere.. to look at).. also the object of actions.. alien male observer and passive female observed..  in similar way.. power exercises thru display of wealth/royal splendor is not an a power that acts directly onto others.. it is always in its essence a persuasive power, meant to inspire others acts of compliance, homage, or recognition directed towards person engaging in display.. kings/nobles too could be said to have decorated selves w wealth in order to ‘demo to others how their whole selves would like to be treated’ after all in final analysis, a king’s status is based on his ability to persuade others to recognize him as such.. p 98

by holding on to the stuff, the hoarder preservers his power, which is the power to buy anything at all.. for the hoarder, money becomes a kind of ascetic religion..  in which the owner tends to develop an intensely personal, even secretive relationship w the source of his powers.. the impulse, once one has accumulated a substantial hard, is always to hide it in the ground where no one else can see it.. marx did not see such behavior as deriving from capitalism.. but from nature of money itself.. its abstract/mystical powers.. transform self into the desired object (engles).. p 100

what i’m suggesting is that if the polis felt the need to stamp money with its own image, it did so because it saw money as a dangerous, furtive power that had to be tamed and domesticated by rendering it visible... the emblem of public authority was to be impressed on it thru violence, literally hammered in.. the resulting coins were often things of great beauty.. in the end.. the very fact that the state was willing to seek out the finest artists of the day to cast its dies could be considered evidence of how desperate it had become to sub some other defn of value for one that had a continual capacity to elude it. it was an attempt to transform  money into an object of adornment, something visible in the most exemplary of fashions..  one might say (of coinage) that it is itself a mode for the process: transformation of private/invisible powers into legit, political ones.. ones made limited/particular by the public gaze.. p 103

the legend of gyges contains no explicit ref to the invention of coinage.. still, one might say that it is itself a model for the process: the transformation of private/invisible powers into legit, political ones.. ones made limited and particular by the public gaze.. earlier i made distinction between two sorts of social power: power to act directly on others and power to define oneself in such a way as to convince others how they should act toward you.. one tends to be attributed to the hidden capacities of the actor, the other to visible forms of display.. by now it should be easy to see how this same analysis can also be applied to value.. if money tends to become an extension of its holder’s capacities to act on the world.. (thus inspiring, according to marx, the impulse to hide it).. also to social id of owners.. thus generating impulse to show them off.. the constant transformation of the visible into the invisible and back again.. their adornment – via mauss – seen as having individual id.. implies presence of hidden life force/agency.. just as in tylor, the inner life soul always lies hidden behind a person’s unique exterior ‘image’.. p 104

it makes more sense to see this power of creation as emerging from their very lack of defn.. generic nature representing unlimited possibility.. p 110

so too distinction between power of money and power/value of ‘heirloom jewelry’.. money rep’d as invisible potency because of its capacity to turn into many other things.. in future.. as opposed to objects whose value is rooted in past actions.. p 114

in fetishizing an object, then , one is mistaking the power of a history internalized in ones own desires.. for a power intrinsic to the object itself.. fetish objects become mirrors of the beholder’s own manipulated intentions.. p 115

wampum was seen as carrying an intrinsic capacity to lift away grief.. p 127

wampum was not simply a representation of value… by assembling/presenting it as soothing words to unblock grief/anger in others, one actually created that peace and solidarity. like marx’s money, wampum was a representation of a value that could only be realized through its exchange.. if hidden, generic, or ephemeral wampum was the potential to create peace, heirloom belts were peace in it s crystalline from.. p 131

it (pulling strings/beads out of pouch) was an act of revelation, of bringing the invisible, intangible contents of mind or soul into visible, physical reality. this was in a sense the quintessential creative act, by which new political realities could be brought into being.  [earlier – wampum as word/thought/mind of giver..that made giving of wampum a pledge of sincerity, so that no important proposal or argument would be taken seriously without it.. ojibwa: .. the uniform kernel behind them (souls) is never itself visible to the eye. on the other hand, one thing all souls do have in common is an ability to speak, and “the only sensory mode under which it is possible for a human being to directly perceive the presence of souls of any category, is the auditory one. in other words, even if souls are invisible, they always make some sort of sound.. .. words themselves can be seen as mediating between the invisible and the visible in much the same way wampum does. they provide the necessary medium between hidden desires and concrete, visible realities. this is very important because, i think, it opens up the question of an underlying theory of creativity.. p 133

so we are back where we started: with a dreaming god who once again seems slightly confused about his own role in the process of creation, and who (therefore?) ends up mixing urges for destruction (he killed his wife – down the tree hole) in his creativity.

this is not what i mainly want to emphasize, though. what really interests me is the underlying theory of creativity and its relation to conceptions of the person…. via persona (embodied and eternal name) & soul (inner seat of desires). one was embodied in visible tokens such as wampum, while the other was fundamentally invisible and perceptible mainly through dreams and voices. both were to a certain degree exterior to consciousness, but exterior, one might say, in opposite directions: one a social imposition, the other, desires so intimate even the desirer was not entirely aware of them.. dreams were the desires of this inner soul, or “the language” in which those hidden, invisible desire could begin to take visual form.. the iroquoian societies combined a very indulgent attitude toward children, with extreme psychological pressures on adults.. children never punished.. to frustrate a powerful desire in a child might engager their health.. adults on other hand.. esp men.. we held to high standards of generosity, bravery, stoic impassivity in face of hardship.. even when tortured to death.. p 141

delage: ‘w/in the huron community, there were no commercial transactions.. goods acquired were spontaneously shared.. this generalize practice of giving insured equality and accounted for the disdain w which the accumulation of goods was viewed.. it governed the rules of courtesy at all times as well as the huron penchant for games of chance, contributions to feasts, rituals, and carnivals, and the obligation to satisfy any desire expressed by a member o the community.. as a result.. not sellers/buyers.. commanders/commanded.. rich/poor.. among the hurons.. their hospitality towards all sorts of strangers is remarkable.. 146

dream economy – combination of absolute unpredictability and ephemerality.. p 147

a child’s upbringing follows same implicit pattern.. mother side provide food.. father side bodily adornment.. the beauty/magic crucial to .. exchange.. p 165

on sabarl, according to battaglia, people make an explicit distinction between two aspects of the self: on the one hand an internal dynamic energy or life force hidden w/in the body (here too associated w food), on the other a ‘soul’ w an external ‘image’.. the word used bears the literal meaning of ‘shadow’ or ‘reflections’.. p167

kula .. like so many shell valuables.. seem to be such perfect embodiments of value because they combine exterior brilliance w the constant reminder of a  dark, mysterious, womblike interior.. one seemed obsessed w essences.. the other w surfaces.. p 168

kwakiutl .. was one of radical heterogeneity.. (vs polynesian societies everyone from gods so homogenization) .. was fragmented into social groups.. leaders were incarnations of totemic creatures.. that had no real connection w each other.. what the system lacked was any uniform medium for comparison.. p 169

w/in this usage there seems to be a recognition that political power is built largely on reputation; that it is only the fact that others believe on has it that allows it to exist.. as such it required constant maintenance: maori nobles (and just about all free men considered themselves noblemen) were notoriously touchy. to leave even an implied sleight or insult unavenged would lead to the weakening of one’s mana,  unless set straight by some sort of utu, some act of recompense, reciprocity or revenge.. p 171

all this does recall the terms i was developing in ch 4: the passive aristocrat, oriented toward the past, whose role is just to be; the active warrior oriented toward the future. but the particularly metaphysical quality of maori philosophy also means that it is difficult to make a clear distinction between, say, visible forms of power id’d w the display of property and hidden powers of action.. p 173

in all these cases we are dealing w some version of ‘the law of the strongest’.. since id’ing ie: a canoe w one’s backbone.. didn’t give anyone a right to it.. such an action was a test of power: one still had to persuade others to agree (even if from fear) or defend one’s claim by force.. but successful persuasion, intimidation, or the application of force was, it seems clear, itself the proof of one’s mana.. p 174

when one speaks of the hau or mauri of a person, however (as opposed to of a forest/coast), one is not talking about ‘productivity’ in anything like the same sense: the term does not appear to have anything to do either w human fertility, or to material production of any sort.. rather, it appears to be rooted in a certain notion of essence.. first calls it ‘vital essence: the assumption being that behind any material form is an invisible, dynamic power that makes it what it is.. it is at once the source of appearance and potential for action, which , .. was for maori philosophers seen as merely an expression of an inner nature.. if interfered w, contaminated, or ‘lost’ .. the object or being that is its emanation.. in this case, a human being – will therefore begin to lose its integrity, decay, or simply die.. p 177

mauss’ famous essay – ‘category of the person’.. 1938.. mauss began by noting that the latin word ‘persona’ is in fact originally derived from an etruscan word, phersu, meaning ‘mask’..  presumably, wrote mauss, such a system is ultimately derived from something like the kwakiutl one, in which only nobles had true personae, and these were embodied in certain sorts of emblematic property, passed in ancestral line, that literally made the person who he was.. in fact.. such emblematic properties.. entirely caught up in a kind of theater.. .. properties themselves.. considered theater props.. p 195

walens suggests that the kwakiutl saw almost everything as a box.. collective property and food storage boxes..one’s name as itself a kind of box in which powers/qualities/rights are contained..  ‘humans are born from boxes, swaddled in boxes, catch, store and serve their food in boxes, live in boxes, travels in boxes, and when they die are buried in boxes.. even the body itself is a type of box: humans not only live/die in boxes, but are themselves boxes.. names act as containers for invisible spiritual matter in the way that wooden boxes contain material items.. p 197

marriage was often represented as the equiv of war.. it is in part for this reason that rituals themselves could be referred to, in the kwakwala language, as “frauds” – though this made them no less sacred. indeed, the presence of sacred power, nawalak, was seen above all in its ability to make its audience shiver with fear.. p 200

all (theatrics et al) meant to wow the appreciative spectator.. ultimately everything goes back to theater, to what one can put over on a (demanding but appreciative) public. the title and treasures would be meaningless without it: everything about them refers to the presence of an audience.. dimensions of audience corresponds, from actor’s pov, to dimensions of society as a whole.. and of course here ‘the actor’ is to be taken in most literal sense.. which brings us back to my original point about history.. these performances are not in themselves remembered.. ‘great deeds’ like most great performances, tend to disappear.. kwakiutl theater is semi improv; the costumes/props/performances undergo constant innovation/refashioning, but almost none of creative energies that go into them leaves a permanent trace on collective memory.. p 203

part of the overall purpose of ritual was, as in most hunting cosmologies, to aid in an endless recycling of souls.. but even the skins were not really a uniform medium of exchange: while they could be seen as representing souls of individual animals.. were obviously of diff sorts/sizes/qualities.. p 205

origin of coppers always a mystery; seen as coming from far away, outside of community, a kind of generic elsewhere..  if accumulate history.. these histories were extremely brief.. copper as vital energy itself..- widerspack-thor calls coppers a “metaphor of energy,” a “container and catalyst of energy held in each individual, each chief, each tribe”…sergei kan argues that coppers were like slaves in that they were in a certain sense persons and in a certain sense not; also”like slaves, coppers were “alive,” and hence were the quintessential wealth exchangeable for all other types of property.. p 207

so why, then, does the identity of the modern celebrity not rub off in a similar way, if only slightly, with the transfer of guitar picks or autographed photos? the answer, i think, is that the celebrity’s mystique – if one wishes to call it that – is seen as being derived not from an exterior apparatus, but from within. ..ie: what makes bb king famous is .. not his guitar but his ability to play it…. derived from inside, (essence/capacity/talent) rather than from anything he or she owns….. in such system (kwakiutl).. the key issue would be not the ability to play .. but the right to do so.. (if given bb king’s guitar).. p 213

maori – generative power of the gods …. made people fundamentally the same, differentiation (individualism) was seen as an effect of conflict and strife. (kin invites people to aggressively raid king’s house). kwakiutl – individualism plentiful..how to create society in first place (king invites all to come and take whatever).. the dilemma then was not about self defn but abut defn of others.. in this light.. potlatch was mech for endless re creation of society: society defined.. as a potential audience.. the totality of those people whose opinions matter to a social actor.. reproducing society is about assembling and having a dramatic effect on audience.. this is the aim of really significant social action; gifts, and accompanying recognition, .. medium and final recognition.. p 216

in fact.. one could even say that gift exchange of this balanced sort is actually more concerned w asserting the absolute autonomy of the actors than most market contracts.. ie: of rental contract.. pretending to be more constrained (owing each other money/maintenance) then actually are.. in classic gift scenario.. it is precisely the opposite: giver pretends he expects/desires nothing whatever in return .. recipient pretends not bound by any sense of obligation to make a countergift.. both parties are claiming to be far freer and more autonomous than they actually are.. p 219

mauss emphasized that our accustomed sharp division between freedom/obligation is .. like that between interest and generosity, largely an illusion thrown up by the market, whose anonymity makes it possible to ignore the fact that we rely on other people for just about everything.. p 221

to adopt a critical perspective on a practice or institution ( as i have just done) is usually a matter of placing it w/in some larger social totality.. in which it can then be seen to play an intrinsic part in the reproduction of certain forms of ineq, or alienation, or injustice.. this is what marxists usually accuse mauss of forgetting to do, and not entirely w/o reason.. but here the maussian could well reply that for criticism to have any purpose, one must also be able to place some practices on institutions w/in and imaginary totality in which they might not contribute to the reproduction of ineq, alienation or injustice.. such question were clearly rarely far from mauss’ mind, and for me, this is precisely what is most radical about his thinking.. it encourages us to view practices/institutions in terms of their potentialities, to force on oneself a kind of pragmatic optimism.. ie: ‘capitalism’.. usually defined as broadly as possible as any form of self interested financial calculation.. is always present everywhere..  mauss’ defn would do the opp.. it would present us w the possibility that the specter of communism might lurk not only w/in families and friendships but w/in the very org of corp capitalism itself, or any situation in which people are united in a common task, and inputs/outputs therefore org’d only by the actors’ capacities/requirements rather than by any balancing of accounts.. p 227

to imagine society as a contract is to imagine it in distinctly market terms….. given tremendous power of econ ideologies in world today.. relentlessly hammered in on everyone .. words like ‘contract’ have become pretty obviously unsalvageable..  those who think differently simply don’t have the power or influence to create new definitions in peoples’ minds, .. or at any rate, any significant number of them.. mauss tried to change the way we think about contracts in ‘the gift’ .. his efforts had no effect whatever.. since marx, we have been used to talking about how social orders become naturalized; about..how what are ultimately arbitrary conventions come to seem like inevitable constituents of the universe.. p 230

trade w the newcomers came to be regulated by ritual objects that the europeans referred to as ‘fetishes’ on which they were asked to swear oaths and that were held to bind together otherwise unrelated people in contractual obligations.. the power ascribed to such objects (fetishes) were in this case quite similar to the sort of sovereign power imagined by hobbes: not only were they tokens of agreement, but they were themselves capable of enforcing those agreements because they were essentially forms of crystallized violence.. (on wampum/fetishes) … here it was as if the power and abstraction of money itself were turned back against itself as a form of imaginary violence that could prevent its own worst implications.. p 231

hasina then was  sort of inherent grace, given by the very nature of the cosmos..  one could hardly imagine a more extreme contrast between this ideological rep of timeless hierarchy and the sordid details of actual politics, full of constant murder, extortion, and kidnapping.. but bloch notes hasina could be used another way: coins given at tribute to king.. bloch suggests an analogy w english term ‘honor’ … certain people said to ‘have’ honor.. to be intrinsically noble.. but the word can also be a verb: you can honor people by treating them as if they were that sort of person.. in theory, by honoring them you are simply recognizing something they already have; in reality of course, they have it only because people treat them that way.. so.. having hasina1: intrinsic superiority.. is like having/inheriting honor; giving coins hasina2: is like honoring people.. 233

for bloch, the critical thing is the way all such rituals serve to mystify the real source of royal power, which is precisely the monarch’s ability to make other people pay tribute and otherwise treat him like a monarch.. by claiming that power comes from a domain beyond human action.. after living in madagascar (and contemp merina ritual language) i’m not sure i ever heard hasina used to convey a notion of intrinsic hierarchical superiority.. i heard the verb used all the time.. p 234

belief that beyond human ness made it un definable.. and so.. powerful enough to unite.. p 235

we are back again to social contracts. the message seems to be: kingship emerges from popular consensus. this consensus has to be constantly reaffirmed; .. p 236

 always seems to be some sort of notion of agreement and always too a sense that this agreement was established primarily through the power of words – two facts brought together by the fact that persuasive words themselves could themselves be referred to as masina.. ..usually, at least implicitly, creating such an agreement also involves creating some invisible force of violence that has the power to enforce it.. if one examines nineteenth century archival records, it quickly becomes clear that this was by far the most common way in which the monarch’s power really entered into people’s everyday affairs: in effect, by gestures meant to constantly re-create the king’s power to enforce agreement, in both senses of the term.. p 237

diff between bloch’s analysis and my own..bloch specifically interested in way such rituals produce certain image of timeless, immutable authority; in fact he defines kinship itself as a way of viewing relationships between people in terms of the links established by sex and parenthood so that the social ties which are rep’d in this way appear as natural, inevitable and unchangeable to those who operate them’.. .. i was looking at ‘magical practice’.. which is about humans creating hasina.. seems in some ways explicitly opposed to kinship.. p 238

magic, then, is about realizing one’s intentions (whatever those may be) by acting on the world.. it’s about humans actively shaping the world.. conscious of what they are doing as they do so.. the usual marxist critique would not apply. on the other hand, magicians also tend to make all sorts of claims that seem pretty obviously untrue and at least in some contexts do act to reinforce exploitative systems of one sort/another.. so it’s not as if marxists could endorse this either.. hence perhaps the tendency to avoid the subject altogether.. p 240

 the point is always that while curers( for instance) can hardly help but know that much of what they are doing is stage illusion, they also think that since it does cure people, on some level it must be true.. p 243

curers, genuine or not, are clearly powerful and influential peopleit means anyone watching a performance was aware that the person in front of them might be one whose power was based only on their ability to convince others that they had it. and that, it seems to me, opens the way for some possibly profound insights into the nature of social power.. p 244

nonetheless you have the same uncomfortable relation between two premises that are pretty clearly contradictory, yet in practice seem to depend on one another.. after all.. what would malagasy society be like if everyone really did act as if medicine only worked if you believed in it, or if you wanted it to? harmful magic – which is most magic – would simply cease to exist.. perhaps one could say something similar about the nature of political power, or at the very least, of obviously coercive forms like the org of a state.. to a large extent, power is just the ability to convince other people that you have it (to the extent that it’s not, it largely consists of the ability to convince them you should have it)... could there really be a society in which people acted as if they were perfectly well aware that this was the case? would this not mean that power itself – at least in its nastier, most obviously harmful manifestations – would cease to exist.. in same way harmful magic would? on defining magic around two features..1\ that it is not inherently fetishistic, in that it recognizes that the power to transform the world ultimately goes back to human intentions.. p 245

 boas’ turn of the century kwakiutl informants, whose word for ‘ritual’ was same as for ‘fraud’ or ‘illusions’.. seemed to have some very magical tendencies in their ways of thinking about social power.. p 246

on azande ..not able to question the very foundations of their own mode of thought.. one of things i’m trying to do is shatter some of artificial distance that so man anthro theories end up often unintentionally creating between observer and observed.. i myself really doubt anyone, anywhere, is unable to question the foundations of own thought; although it’s probably also true that the overwhelming majority of people in world also don’t see any particular reason why they should.. .. one might say that statements like”kings descended from the sky, except, not really” are about as far as one can go in defetishizing power without creating some sort of discourse, some way of talking and thinking about power, that is not itself entirely entangled in the practice of power – or that at last aspires to stand apart from it.. in order to create these exterior spaces, however, one must want to do so…in practice, it implies some sort of conscious program of social change. . p 247

seem to have changed their opinions on the subject of royal power almost instantly after the monarchy was overthrown i 1896 and now tend to describe it, or any kind of power which some people (have) the right to give arbitrary orders to others, as fundamentally immoral.. does leave us with the rather surprising conclusion that if one is looking for unfetishized consciousness in nonwestern societies, one of the most likely places to look is precisely around objects westerners would be inclined to refer to as “fetishes.” i suspect on reason has to do with the nature of revolutionary action itself- that is, if one interprets the word”revolutionary” in the broadest possible sense.. (on marx – and diff between human and other – is in architecture – human imagines building first.) this is the ambiguity, though: while our ability to revolutionize emerges from this same critical faculty, the revolutionist, according to marx, must never proceed in the same manner as the architect, it was not the task of the revolutionary to come up with blueprints for a future society, and then try to bring them in to being, or indeed to try to imagine details of the future society at all. that would be utopianism, and marx has nothing for revolutionary theorists who proceeded along these lines.. one might say: that a revolutions trying to design a new society would be like an architect trying to design a building to be constructed in a universe where the laws of physics would be entirely diff.. p 248

all creative action is to some degree revolutionary; but to be revolutionary to any significant degree, it must change that larger structure in which it is embedded..  at which point one can no longer imagine one is simply working on objects, but must recognize that one is also working on people.. in every case we are talking about what seems, from the perspective of a system, to be ‘arbitrariness’ but from the perspective of the individual ‘freedom’.. p 249

in a moment of profound historical change, no one involved could possibly know what the total system in question actually consists of.. one is caught in what a hegelian would call a moment of dialectical unfolding. knowledge is necessarily fragmentary; totalities that the actors are working w are necessarily imaginary, or prospective, or numerous and contradictory.. the presence of an audience is what makes it possible.. p 250

the power of money is an effect of a gigantic system of coordination of human activity.. in situation of radical change, a revolutionary moment in which the larger system itself is being transformed,…… the larger social reality does not yet exist. all that is real, in effect, is the actor’s capacity to create it.. on objects not having power… but in another sense, it- or the faith people place in it – really does have the power to bring a new social order into being.. .. it is unreasonable to expect anything like a social science, any systematic attempt to decipher the nature of social reality – that is, to create a discourse that aims to stand outside the practices of power – actually to emerge except as part of a very particular kind of social project. one might even say, “utopian project.” historically, imagining there could be a discourse that would not partake of practices of power and inequality was closely related to imagining there could be a world that wouldn’t. .. only .. around the enlightenment,… when one has a notion that it would be possible (or, perhaps more accurately, legitimate) to imagine what a new social order might be like, and then bring it into being… (famous from 68 – -give power to the imagination).. p 251

this (power of imagination et al) tends to be overlooked by those who see anthro as basically a product of imperialism.. the emergence of what we call ‘social science’.. came about in an intellectual milieu that was not only marked by imperialism on a world scale but also obsessed w the possibility of revolution, its own sudden and dramatic transformation in to something diff.. p 252

over course of this book i’ve argued that systems of categories, or knowledge, are really just one side of a system of action; that society is therefore in a sense always an active project or set of projects; that value is the way actions become meaningful to the actors by being place in some larger social whole, real or imaginary. To adopt a dialectical approach means to define things not in terms of what one imagines them to be in a certain abstract moment, outside time, but partly by what they have the potential to become. It is extremely difficult to think this way consistently. But when one is able to, any number of seemingly impossible quandaries dissolve away.. p 254

i hope that if i have accomplished anything over the course of this book, it’s to suggest where on might at least look for a solution: that much of the problem lies in the parmenidean logic behind the very notions of “society” or “culture,” which lead to irresolvable paradoxes between individual motivation and social form, and that an approach that begins instead from questions of value, creativity, and an open-ended layering of real and imaginary social totalities, might do much to help resolve them.. p 256

so that it is possible to conceive of happiness largely as one’s relations with objects (or at best, people on treats like objects): …..and it is of course exactly this extraction that allows promoters of the market to claim to be acting in the name of human freedom, as simply opening the way for individuals to make up their own minds about what they want from life without anyone noticing that most of the individuals in question spend the vast majority of their waking hours running around at someone else’s beck and call. it’s a pretty neat trick if you think about it.. much of the power of market theory stems from its very simplicity.. it does contain w/in it a theory of human nature, a theory of desire, pleasure, freedom, and even, in  its won way a theory of society.. the fact that in all these areas the argument is so simplistic as to be full of holes is, for ideological purposes, of almost no significance, particularly if no one is proposing a more coherent alternative.. p 257

what we call ‘reality’ is really its side effect.. p 258

one of the key arguments of this book has been that what we call “structure” is not a set of static forms or principles but way in which changes – or in the case of social structure, action – is patterned; it consists, as piaget (or turner) would put it, of the invariable principles that regulate a system of transformations. as such, it is a notoriously elusive thing.. but hidden behind that glimmering image of perfection is almost always the awareness of something imperceptible, a looming absence of its own… this absence tends to be perceived not as a lack but as a kind of power. but the ultimate illusion, the ultimate trick behind this whole play of mirrors, is that this power is not, in fact, power at all, but a ghostly reflection of one’s own potential for action; one’s “creative energies,” as i’ve somewhat elusively called them.. p 259

theory of value


Revolution in Reverse –  2007 – via The Anarchist Library – Retrieved on May 16th, 2009 from news.infoshop.org


revolution in reverse (or, on the conflict between political ontologies of violence and political ontologies of the imagination) .. conflict of violence and imagination.. p 3 kindle

‘all power to the imagination’.. ‘be realistic demand the impossible’.. rarely if ever are they the object of serious theoretical reflection .. why is it that the idea of an radical social transformation so often seems’ unrealistic’.. gist of my argument: 1\ right & left founded on different assumption about .. power. r – violence/destruction. l – imagination/production/creativity.. 2\ complicated by – systemic inequalities backed by force – skews imagination – living inside fractured structure –> alienation.. 3\ Our customary conception of revolution is insurrectionary: the idea is to brush aside existing realities of violence by overthrowing the state, then, to unleash the powers of popular imagination and creativity to overcome the structures that create alienation. Over the twentieth century it eventually became apparent that the real problem was how to institutionalize such creativity without creating new, often even more violent and alienating structures. As a result, the insurrectionary model no longer seems completely viable, but it’s not clear what will replace it.. p 4 kindle

When one is asked to be “realistic then, the reality one is normally being asked to recognize is not one of natural, material facts; neither is it really some supposed ugly truth about human nature. Normally it’s a recognition of the effects of the systematic threat of violence.. It even threads our language. Why, for example, is a building referred to as “real property”, or “real estate”? The “real” in this usage is not derived from Latin res, or “thing”: it’s from the Spanish real, meaning, “royal”, “belonging to the king. All land within a sovereign territory ultimately belongs to the sovereign; legally this is still the case. This is why the state has the right to impose its regulations… p 7 kindle

The idea that nations are human-like entities with purposes and interests is an entirely metaphysical notion. The King of France had purposes and interests. “France” does not. What makes it seem “realistic to suggest it does is simply that those in control of nation-states have the power to raise armies, launch invasions, bomb cities, and can otherwise threaten the use of organized violence in the name of what they describe as their “national interests” — and that it would be foolish to ignore that possibility. National interests are real because they can kill you.. The critical term here is “force”, as in “the state’s monopoly of the use of coercive force.” Whenever we hear this word invoked, we find ourselves in the presence of a political ontology in which the power to destroy, to cause others pain or to threaten to break, damage, or mangle their bodies (or just lock them in a tiny room for the rest of their lives) is treated as the social equivalent of the very energy that drives the cosmos.. I would argue that Leftist thought is founded on what I will call a “political ontology of the imagination” — though I could as easily have called it an ontology of creativity or making or invention... p 8 kindle

if artistic avant gardes and social revolutionaries have felt a peculiar affinity .. borrowing each other’s languages/ideas.. it appears to have been insofar as both have remained committed to the idea that.. the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and, could just as easily make differently. In this sense, a phrase like “all power to the imagination”..  expresses the very quintessence of the Left.. .., imagination and violence seem to interact in predictable, and quite significant, ways.. p 9 kindle

I’m an anthropologist by profession and anthropological discussions of violence are almost always prefaced by statements that violent acts are acts of communication, that they are inherently meaningful, and that this is what is truly important about them. In other words, violence operates largely through the imagination... p 11 kindle

It (skewed imagination via structural violence) might  create situations where laborers are relegated to mind numbing jobs.. w only an elite allowed to indulge in imaginative labor.. it might also create social situations where kings, politicians, celebrities or CEOs prance about oblivious to almost everything around them while their wives, servants, staff, and handlers spend all their time engaged in the imaginative work of maintaining them in their fantasies.. For a long time I was genuinely puzzled as to how so many suburban American teenagers could be entranced, for instance, by Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life.. p 16 kindle

That all these things are simply figments of our imagination. True enough. But then: what else could they be? And why is that a problem? If imagination is indeed a constituent element in the process of how we produce our social and material realities, there is every reason to believe that it proceeds through producing images of totality. That’s simply how the imagination worksOne must be able to imagine oneself and others as integrated subjects in order to be able to produce beings that are in fact endlessly multiple, imagine some sort of coherent, bounded “society” in order to produce that chaotic open-ended network of social relations that actually exists,. p 17 kindle

All these entities are the product of institutions and institutional practices that, in turn, define certain horizons of possibility. Hence when voting in parliamentary elections one might feel obliged to make a “realistic” choice; in an insurrectionary situation, on the other hand, suddenly anything seems possible.. p 20 kindle

how to create alliances between different zones of possibility is a fundamental problem.. my aim in writing this has been to see if one could work back from the experience of direct action to begin to create some new theoretical tools… that can perhaps contribute to a broader project of re-imagining.. p 22 kindle

revolution in reverse


Dead zones of the imagination: on violence, bureaucracy, and interpretive labor. The 2006 Malinowski Memorial Lecture. 25 pg pdf (2012) from LSE Research Online – [https://eprints.lse.ac.uk/53222/1/Graeber_Dead_zones_imagination_2012.pdf] –

Original citation:
Graeber, David (2012) Dead zones of the imagination: on violence, bureaucracy, and
interpretive labor. The 2006 Malinowski Memorial Lecture. HAU: Journal of ethnographic theory,
2 (2). pp. 105-128. ISSN 2049-1115

The experience of bureaucratic incompetence, confusion, and its ability to cause otherwise intelligent people to behave outright foolishly, opens up a series of questions about the nature of power or, more specifically, structural violence.. p 2

anthropologists are drawn, above all, to what might be called areas of symbolic richness or density of meaning, where “thick description” becomes possible. The preference is understandable. But it tends to warp our perceptions of what power actually is, and how it operates, in ways that are both decidedly self-serving, and that in overlooking structural blindness, effectively become forms of structural blindness themselves.. p 3

dead zones of imagination


The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity Hardcover – November 9, 2021 – David Graeber David Wengrow – Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition (November 9, 2021)

what’s really important about such festivals is that they kept the old spark of political self consciousness alive.. they allowed people to imagine that other arrangements are feasible, even for society as a whole.. since it was always possible to fantasize about carnival bursting its seams and becoming the new reality.. p 117

we know now we are in the presence of myths… p 526

dawn of everything (book)


From Managerial Feudalism to the Revolt of the Caring Classes (December 27, 2019) – The Anarchist Library – Retrieved on 28th November 2021 from davidgraeber.org


You have to pretend to work because it’s somebody else’s time (it’s a very strange metaphysical notion we have in our society that someone else can own your time)... p 4 kindle

managerial feudalism to revolt of caring classes


A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse – April 2013 – The Anarchist Library – Retrieved on 3rd September 2020 from https://thebaffler.com/salvos/a-practical-utopians-guide-to-the-coming-collapse – Originally published in Issue No.22 of The Baffler. This article is an excerpt from The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, by David Graeber.


Were revolutions ever really what we thought them to be? For me, the person who has asked this most effectively is the great world historian Immanuel Wallerstein. He argues that for the last quarter millennium or so, revolutions have consisted above all of planet wide transformations of political common sense.. Revolutions are thus planetary phenomena. But there is more. What they really do is transform basic assumptions about what politics is ultimately about. In the wake of a revolution, ideas that had been considered veritably lunatic fringe quickly become the accepted currency of debate. 

They considered it far more important to prevent effective opposition at home than to actually win the war. It’s as if American forces in Iraq were ultimately defeated by the ghost of Abbie Hoffman..

The combined result is a relentless campaign against the human imagination. Or, to be more precise: imagination, desire, individual creativity, all those things that were to be liberated in the last great world revolution, were to be contained strictly in the domain of consumerism, or perhaps in the virtual realities of the Internet. In all other realms they were to be strictly banished. We are talking about the murdering of dreams, the imposition of an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future

The human imagination stubbornly refuses to die. And the moment any significant number of people simultaneously shake off the shackles that have been placed on that collective imagination, even our most deeply inculcated assumptions about what is and is not politically possible have been known to crumble overnight

utopian guide


The Democracy Project : a history, a crisis, a movement – 2013 – Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. via 1846 pg pdf from astudygroup.files.wordpress – 2016


the problem isn’t lack of imagination.. the problem is the stifling system of debt/violence, created to ensure that those powers of imagination are not used.. p 1743 pdf

the human imagination stubbornly refuses to die.. and the moment any significant number of people simultaneously shake off the shackles that have been placed on that collective imagination, even our most deeply inculcated assumption about what is and is not politically possible have been known to crumble overnight.. p 1781 pdf

the democracy project


David Graeber Interview with ReadySteadyBook by David Graeber and Mark Thwaite – 16th January 2007 – Retrieved on February 19th, 2012 from [https://web.archive.org/web/20120219231501/http://www.readysteadybook.com/Article.aspx?page=davidgraeber]

What I was really ended up studying though was magic. And mortuary ritual, the famous famadihana rituals where people would take their ancestors out of the tombs and rewrap them in silk shrouds; and spirit possession; and the endless quarrels about history between the descendants of nobles and descendants of slaves. It’s funny: it makes it sound all exotic but it’s not really all that exotic when you’re there. It’s just a bunch of ordinary people, like you might know anywhere, who like to sit around drinking and telling funny jokes, who are in most ways all much more different from each other than they all are collectively different from people in say England or America, except, they happen to live in a world where everyone assumes there are people know how to blast you with lightning or seduce you with love magic or drive you insane by getting you possessed by an evil ghost. Except you never know who because most people who suggest they might know how to do something like that are obviously lying.. p 6 of 7 via kindle version from anarchist library

graeber interview w thwaite




Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia Hardcover – January 24, 2023 – via local library overdrive download from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 24, 2023) ebook purchase

if nothing else.. what i’d like this little experiment in historical writing to bring home is that existing history is not just deeply flawed.. it’s also unnecessarily tedious and boring.. let us tell then a story about magic, lies, sea battles, purloined princesses, slave revolts, manhunts, make believe kingdoms .. spies, jewel thieve, poisoners.. that lies at origins of modern freedom.. hope the reader has as much fun as i did..  quite clear that at least some of the ‘kings’ encountered by foreign observers were simply playing a game of make believe.. w malagasy complicity.. pirates were particularly good at such games.. in fact on reason the golden age of piracy remain stuff of legend is that pirates of that age were so skilled at manipulating legends.. they deployed wonder stories.. whether of terrifying violence or inspiring ideals.. as something very much like weapons of war.. even if war in question was the desperate and ultimately doomed struggle of a motley band of outlaws against the entire emerging structure of world authority at the time.. intro

while in european accounts malagasy women are sexual ‘gifts’ presented by men to other men, here it’s the women who initiate the action.. the malata came about not because of foreign pirates established themselves on the coast and took local wives, but rather, because malagasy women set out to find foreign men to marry; indeed, were willing to use powerful fanafody, or medicine, to acquire them. such medicine, as we shall see, has long been famous in madagascar, not just for its ability to cause feelings of desire and affection, but also as a means to bend others completely to one’s will. pretty much any magic that is designed to directly control the minds and behavior of others is classified as ‘love magic.’.. p 151

these various forms of revenge magic – fehitratra, manara mody, rao-dia.. still exist (at least in the sense that people still insist they do) and in the community where i worked, at least, were all considered form of ody fitia, or ‘love magic’ along w a whole series of others, such as fanainga lavitra (which can cause an absconded lover to go into a trance form which he or she does not awaken until he returns to the caster), or tsimihoa-bonga (which confines a lover w/in a certain perimeter), that were considered ody fitia – either because they tended to be used in romantic situations, or because they were ways of bending another to one’s will. love magic was above all about power and control.. now they are not longer seen as typical of any particular geographical regions.. but the fact that 150 years ago, they were seen as the particular speciality of women from the northeast coast who entered into commercial and sexual alliances w outsiders is surely significant.. p 158

if nothing else, all this gives a sense of what, in our initial story the use of ‘love charms’ to lure and keep foreign sailors might actually imply. there can be little doubt that pirates were informed of such possibilities very quickly; as they settled in w their new malagasy families, their new friends and relatives would surely have explained all this, insisting (no doubt not entirely insincerely) that they only had their best interests at heart. given the fact that the pirates were frequently ill, and many died, of malaria and other tropical ailments, one can well imagine the web of rumors that must have quickly surrounded them.. p 159

what evidence we have suggests that magic – the domain of fanafody, or ‘medicine’.. was particularly contested territory.. it is striking, for instance, that mayeur’s ratsimilaho manuscript, and accounts of warfare in general, never mention charms or incantations, though they do mention other sorts of ritual.. since in madagascar fanafody is usually quite central to the practice of war .. p 174

lacombe doesn’t tell us anything about the origins of his tutor, but he emphasizes that local magical lore seemed to be bound up around two mythological figures, the giant darafify, and the witch mahao.. darafify is a familiar character in malagasy folklore, a kind of paradigm of the benevolent warrior, ruler and explorer, who crossed up and down the island looking for worthy subjects to rule, creating various features of the landscape, and engaging in occasional battles w rival giants.. mahao, in contrast, is very much a local figure.. we know her only from lacombe.. these two existed in clear opposition, one the patron of protective magic, the other, apparently, of love magic and witchcraft.. one can get a sense of the terms of the opposition form the stories told about a stet of three great lakes that lay in the forests behind the town of tamatave: rosoabe, rasoamasay, and nosibe.. .. p 175

lacombe reported crossing this lake some time before, and recalled how his guide warned him that men were required to remain absolutely silent while crossing this lake, lest a terrible fate await them.. the passage is worth quoting in full: ‘you should’ he added, ‘perceive in the lake an island larger than the others. there once lived a woman as beautiful as she was wicked: mahao, daughter of a powerful antemoro chief named andriantsay. this prince had taught her the secrets of the art of magic as his ancestors had brought them from arabia, that she might be useful to men. but mahao one day surprised her husband asleep on the breast of a young slave; after stabbing him to death, she swore an implacable hatred fro all men, and from that time on she made use of her science to harm them.. in this manner many, many chiefs and valiant warriors perished .. however.. a diff talisman, that raised mahao to the level of a spriti, gave her ht epower to hurt people even after her death.. she remains on teh bottom of the lake and hearing the voice of a man is enough to awaken her old hatreds.. let us not talk too much because it would inevitable lead us to the caves wherein she dwells’.. .. p 178

the story of mahao packs together almost every theme that has emerged in this section: the arcane knowledge of internal outside groups.. the sexual rebellion of their womenfolk, the power but also vindictive use of love magic, the opposition of that power to the male warrior class.. and in the story at least, the eventual response and victory of the warriors.. but theirs is an ambivalent victory. mahao is dead, but undefeated.. she remains under the water, her power unbroken.. even the male warriors whose speeches dominate the great assemblies have to remain silent when they pass over her.. and the two principals, darafify and mahao, remain locked in permanent suspended opposition w/in the logic of magical practice itself.. p 181

it corresponded to a period when madagascar, like so many postcolonial societies, was itself experimenting w state socialism.. since then both the large political situation and the primary focus and terms of historical analysis have changed.. an age of ‘globalization’ and the emergence of planet wide bureaucracies fostering the interests of an increasingly narrow econ elite, in the name of the global ‘market’ has also seen the rise of a style of historical writing that focuses above all on international trade, secondly on ‘local elites’ as the prime.. or even exclusive.. actors in history.. while there has certainly been superb historical work on madagascar that departs form this focus in significant ways, for the most part, those who have written about pirates follow this model.. foreign traders all y w or conflict w local elites. ‘elites’ are assumed to be in all important ways the same; at best they might divide into ‘political elites’ and ‘magico-religious specialists‘ but mainly the assumption sees to be that there must always be elites, that such elites are primarily in the business of accumulating wealth and power, and that if they can be differentiated, it s mainly by how much power and wealth they have so far managed to accumulate.. in all this, either popular movements or intellectual currents (other perhaps that ‘western’ ones) .. cosmology, value, meaning.. are largely written out of the picture.. the first entirely, the second at best to appear as fancy dress costumes for a series of actors who no matter how colorful, are nonetheless cursed to obsessive compulsively enact the exact same play.. p 187

what i’ve really been trying to do in this book is to reconsider the history of he pirates in madagascar, and the rise of the betsimisaraka, in this light.. pirate ships surrounded themselves w stories of daring and terror.. one could even say, armed and armored themselves sw such stories.. but on board ship they seem to have conducted their affairs thru convo, deliberation and debate.. settlements like sainte marie and esp ambonavola seem to have been self conscious attempts to reproduce that model on land.. w wild stories of pirate kingdoms to overawe potential foreign friends or enemies, matched by the careful development of egalitarian deliberative processes w/in.. but the very process of the pirates’ settling down, allying themselves w ambitious malagasy women, starting families, drew them into an entirely diff conversational world.. this i argue is the real significance of the stories that malagasy princesses lured the pirates to the land thru the use of love magic (ody fitia): being drawn into the life of a malagasy community inevitably means being drawn into a world of endless discussion, speculation, and debate about hidden powers and intentions, and in this new discursive universe, local women clearly had the upper hand. (and of course, as mervyn brown pointed out, if any pirate did try to break out of the world of talk and resort to simple violence it would have been easy enough to simply kill him).. p 278

pirate enlightenment


from andrew johnson’s bureaucrats w guns:


Observation 3: Hollywood cops play the same role in contemporary U.S. American culture as Gods or spiritual forces in the state of nature

Graeber is fascinated by the political power of magic. The disappearance of the police in Madagascar was replaced by widespread belief in spiritual forces. Neighbours got along due to fears of curses or superpowers. Graeber’s ethnographies include elaborate interpretations of premonitions and spells. Witches are notable political actors. Graeber’s debate with Viveiros de Castro is precipitated by Graeber’s rereading of the African tradition of fetishes. Non-state societies are ruled by beliefs in Gods and spiritual forces. Metahuman beings are the abstract power that maintains the social and political order. For Graeber, politics is animated by myths and illusions. Police power is one such myth. Originating as a ritual practice, policing is now predicated upon its enduring necessity.


Thesis 2: A strategic goal of the police abolitionist movement is undermining police mythology

perhaps will underminine.. but not deep enough to set us all free

The ultimate protagonist of Graeber’s essay On the phenomenology of giant puppets (2007) is the magical, imaginative powers of activist puppeteers. Enormous papier-mâché puppets are non-threatening, fantastic creations. They are intended to illustrate the *promise of democracy, the human capacity to reorganise our social and political relations. The **mythic power of puppets lies in imagination: the power to make people believe that another, better world is possible. Puppets attempt to break the spell that the capitalist order holds over us. So too, police power can only be maintained by widespread social acceptance. To break the spell of the capitalist order it is also necessary to break the spell of police authoritarianism. While riot police man the barricades, authoritarian myths impose cultural barriers to social change. Police authority is an imagined barrier that precludes the possibility of unpoliced alternative worlds. Police mythology holds that there is no alternative to police violence. Breaking the spell of police authoritarianism is thus an ideological effort to overcome the figurative, imagined walls that prevent social progress

*not democratic admin.. rather.. org around legit needs

**yeah that.. but needs/begs to be beyond democracy ness.. beyond any form of m\a\p






so i went back to your google doc and noticed your format.. then i tried to retrieve as much as i could in that kind of citation verbiage.. which i never pay attention to.. perhaps why my site/quotes/tweets are so idiosyncratic/cryptic.. am hoping you have someone who can just go to that page link on my site and take out whatever might be appropriate/helpful to what you’re doing with the quotes and add them to the doc