graeber interview w thwaite

David Graeber Interview with ReadySteadyBook (Mark Thwaite) @thwaitedigital – 2007 – via kindle version from anarchist library – []

david graeber

notes/quotes – 7 pgs:


From our current perspective, it seems easy to see how naive a lot of this was: the very idea that there can be an objective, scientific, approach to social problems is just as much a product of capitalist habits of thought..t — in fact, a lot more so — than, say, a 19th century Swiss watchmaker and reader of Bakunin who felt that wage labor was a bad deal and therefore favored the abolition of the wage system.

There’s reciprocal exchange — which could be market-type, or could be gift type. 

oi.. to reciprocity ness.. in the end same song whether market or gift


Then there are other types of gift relationship too: for instance, *hierarchical relations, which aren’t reciprocal at all. **It you give something to a beggar or a child, you don’t expect anything in return, it’s more likely to be taken as a precedent and people will expect you to give it to them again the next time they see you. Because there’s no assumption of equality. Gifts from peasants to feudal lords worked the same way. Then there are communistic relations: from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs. We all treat our closest relatives or best friends that way. The question is how they’re all put together. So I’d say: genuinely capitalist relations are not even all that common in what we call capitalist systems. Most people working for a capitalist firm are acting like communists, at least to each other. (That is, if someone says “hand me that wrench,” the other guy doesn’t say “so what’s it worth to you?”) From that perspective, capitalism isn’t a total system — it’s actually parasitical on communism and always has been.

to me.. *reciprocity ness is huge part of hierarchical ness

**i don’t know that they expect it.. so much as (to me) that’s how a natural system would work.. but also.. children and beggar’s would never need to expect or beg.. if we were all legit free

***to me.. there is an underlying grokking of equality.. in the sense of nationality: human et al

Politically it was all over the place, some of his ideas were actually completely reactionary, others very radical indeed.

yeah.. react ness not radical enough.. nothing to date radical enough..

In retrospect I think what really drew me to them was the sheer subversive fun of this guy (robert graves radical ideas) who felt he didn’t have to respect received wisdom on anything

graeber can’t know law et al

Actually that point really impressed me, because, if it’s true, it gives us an important lesson on the nature of irony. That is: irony doesn’t make any difference. Or often it doesn’t. I’d always said actually that the difference between saying “the natives do this” and “the ‘natives’ do this” is actually none. But this is much more telling: here is this guy writes a hilarious satire of iron age society, and it takes almost three thousand years for anyone to even notice. 

His political ideas are just as odd: as I remarked in my Fragments book, he seems to have invented both primitivism (the kind that looks forward to industrial collapse as saving the planet and leading to the rebirth of a new society with reasonable, limited technology) and goddess-worshipping feminism, at the same time, though neither really want to see him as an ancestor in part because it’s impossible to figure out if he was really serious. It’s funny because a lot of the literary biographies seem to me to completely miss the point. They treat him like this wimpy guy obsessed by strong controlling women and justifying it by making up this weird mythology — where if you just read his essays, you’re immediately in the presence of man who’s obviously having as much fun as anyone can possibly have in the literary business, saying whatever he wants to say at any given moment no matter how outrageous, who respects absolutely nothing except his (usually numerous) lady loves. He was an utterly unsystematic thinker as a result. I spent much of my teenage years trying to figure out the system, since he kept insisting there was one. Then finally I felt I was in on the joke and that was even better


You know, I’m thinking about this now. I hadn’t really thought it all through before. But *I think the characters I really like are not the ones who are exactly rebellious. Rebellion plays into the hands of the status quo, in the same way that protest, say, on some level implies that you’re recognizing the authority of those you’re protesting against..t If you go around waving a sign that says “free Mumia” or “save the whales” — who are you addressing anyway? Are you calling on George Bush to do it? Kind of yes, but kind of no, you don’t really want to think that’s it, so you keep the grammar ambiguous — but still, in the end, you kind of are calling on those in power to cut it out or straighten out their act and that’s a recognition of their power..t That’s why anarchists reject the logic of protest and prefer direct action — which means, in effect, insisting on your right to act as if you’re already free. If someone is doing something bad you try to stop them, in the way you’d hope anyone would act in a free and just society — that is, if at all possible non- violently, but still, if a bunch of cops intervene, you do not treat them like authorities, you act as if they were a bunch of guys in blue costumes with weapons — that is, basically, a violent street gang. Anyway, so that’s why I like people like Graves. He left the game. Walked out. **Instead of rebelling, precisely, he insisted on his own right to make up a world he preferred,.. t to make his own judgments about anything, and act largely as if structures of authority didn’t exist. Milton? Hmm… not really a very good poet is he? Skelton? Much better! Iliad? Obviously a satire. Odyssey? Excellent, but not written by the same guy, clearly must have been written by a woman. I think it’s a cultural version of what I like to do myself politically.

*huge to response/protest/refusal vs as-if/refusal ness.. but descriptions of as-it/refusal ness (to me) .. still refusal/response/protest ness.. so to me.. still energy/time suck.. still cancerous distraction et al.. we keep spinning our wheels in all forms of defense

**graeber model law et al.. imagine if we

DG: Well, the people I knew in Madagascar weren’t in the least sense primitive. They were certainly poor. Well educated, on average — if I explained to the average rice farmer that I was there as part of my doctoral work in anthropology, they would certainly know exactly what I meant (some might exclaim on how young I was, since they were used to the French system, and assumed I was working on my Third Cycle which you usually get in your 40s) — but in material terms, most people had good food and houses and not much else. I guess from a political perspective, what was interesting was that state power had basically disappeared in most of rural Madagascar at that time: unless you were right along the highway, anyway, nobody was paying taxes and the police wouldn’t come. *It took me almost half a year to figure it out because everyone was pretending the government was still there — I mean, there were offices and people would go and file forms, but it was all kind of a charade. That’s why it was so clever in a way. **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.

*huge to batra hide in public law ness .. idiosyncratic jargon ness et al

**david on magic


The person who really propelled me into anthropology was probably Edmund Leach. He was another eccentric Graves-type, completely irreverent, always managed to come up with something brilliant and startling by largely ignoring where you were supposed to start and what you were supposed to say..t But in grad school I was about equally draw to Terry Turner, one of those brilliant Marxians who had a total theory of everything but somehow could never publish it, and my advisor Marshall Sahlins.