myth at lse

nov 26 2021 – David Graeber LSE Anthropology Tribute Seminar on ‘Myth’ – 84 min video – Megan Laws (LSE Fellow Anthropology) – Giulio Ongaro (LSE Postdoc Anthropology) and Michael Edwards (Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge

part of lse graeber series

 myth by david graeber


notes/quotes from video:

alpa: next week cancelling in commemoration of strike.. were going to discuss bureaucracy.. so speaker will make text available..

alpa: today.. diff than before.. which all discussed one of david’s key texts.. all speakers today were phd students .. david made the point that ideas emerge in convo and never in mind of single great thinker alone.. today will explore the influence of terrance turner and edmund leach on david..

5 min – alpa: first will hear from giulio ongaro (fellow in dept in laos non lit farmers.. also placebo affects and collective tech.. et al – and megan laws (research fellow.. task of trying to measure impact of bs jobs) bout the significance of myth for david and how david’s ideas on myth developed from his teacher terrance turner.. giulio and megan have been co organizing this series..

8 min – alpa: then michael edwards (research fellow.. myanmar transition) will share his reflections on david – the influence of edmund leach and the revolution in myanmar

9 min – megan: from their paper – towards a progressive theory of myth (giulio and megan).. on david and myth festing.. and weeding out myths.. what it is to human creativity/transformation.. central to his overall take on scope of anthro.. for him anthro was most valuable as a comparative inquiry into human possibilities.. one that threw our contemp myths into (?) and that was key to our own creative potential and possibilities for social transformation..

myth of tragedy and lord et al

12 min – megan: though david never published specifically on myth.. the theme emerges in a variety of guises thru out his work: values, possibilities, doe.. often taught on myth.. before his death he had prep’d a series of lectures focused on gregory bateson’s naven mythical complex.. most importantly in 2017 he wrote a long forward to terry turner’s the fire of the jaguar.. on the origin on cooking fire.. terry was for david what david was for many of us.. david regarded turner as the most underrated social theorist of the last 50 yrs.. and the fire of the jaguar as one of the greatest achievements of anthro theory.. to be a classic..

14 min – megan: myth not normally that of an activist.. but what david saw in turner was a rare progressive theory of myth.. the embodiment/paragon of human collective creativity.. a reflection on the diff ways we choose to org ourselves and the similar ways we reproduce those forms.. in what follows we examine these connections..

15 min – giulio: few words on fire of jaguar .. a truly dynamic structuralism.. structure is a pattern of action.. ‘a group of transformations bounded together by invariant constraints’

18 min – giulio: on abstract levels of actions creating hierarchies.. then onto structures of org.. why we treat others way we do.. can’t create level.. myth comes into play for higher levels..

20 min – giulio: myth in short does not reflect static aspects of society.. but the processes thru which these aspects are produced or maintained.. takes perspective of the subjects rather than of the analyst

22 min – megan: on social creativity.. is myth a form of ‘alienated consciousness’

23 min – megan: myth is also creativity turned against itself.. .. the content of myth: which often suggest that latter day humans can’t be genuinely creative anymore.. more about the fixing of relationships.. ie: animals had no fixed form.. then humans branded animals w fire.. so myth does appear to be an ‘alienated consciousness’..

24 min – megan: appear to be presented w way things are.. not how they came to be.. the dark side of myth.. misunderstanding ness.. we frequently criticize peers ideas of social activity.. et al.. we see same idea in david’s writing on fetishism.. objects not w power over us.. embody social creativity.. can establish relations.. similarly w myth.. danger is when we elevate myth with fact.. via david: condition we find ourselves in now.. ‘ultimate hidden truth of world is something we make.. and could make it differently’

graeber make it diff law et al

27 min – giulio: on myth and conscious social experimentation.. he knew couldn’t take a view from nowhere.. rather than making anthro not legit science.. to david main point/part

30 min – giulio: david: ‘i am bored of p0st humanist.. i think i’m a pre humanist’..

giulio: graeber’s culture as creative refusal.. and doe.. show role that creative refusal and conscious social experimention has played thru out human history

david on creative refusal and dawn of everything (book)

32 min – michael: (reading – ch on volume coming out on david’s anthro a piece called ‘forward thinking.. reading a revolution in myanmar’

33 min – michael: on striking and praying to chanting et al.. (in myanmar) .. what draws them into revolution thru protest/prayer.. transcended lines of diff between religions.. part of answer lies in imagination.. what would david make of this

35 min – michael: david never wrote about myanmar.. but interested.. for him revolution was tied up w imagination..

dead zones of imagination.. imagination.. imagine if we

36 min – michael: was going to write forward for edmund leach’s work.. so we can’t know what he would have written.. but what we do know is that graeber was a fan.. ‘leach inspired me to take up anthro.. he was a model of intellectual freedom’ – dg.. ref’s to leach infiltrate graeber’s work

38 min – michael: both (graeber and leach) thought in long stretches of time.. both great writers..

39 min – michael: could suggest imagination might have been a central theme in his forward.. ie: 1982 – social anthro.. not having a soul.. but that they could imagine they have one – el

40 min – michael: david: ‘when one tries to bring/imagine society into being.. one is engaging in revolution’

44 min – michael: on leach saying.. often bored w the facts..

49 min – michael: (talking about his speculations of what graeber’s forward would have been)

50 min – michael: ‘what drew us into this work was sense of fun.. an ideal that should be open to everyone’

51 min – michael: both are also good readers.. been less about imagination in its reading (than writing).. what modes of speculative reading do we pursue.. fb posts.. texts that don’t exist.. graeber on author leaving work unfinished.. to leave to imagination of interpreter.. unfinished/incomplete like myanmar’s revolution.. imagining that world.. bring it into being

to many doe ness


54 min – alpa: to giulio and megan.. question of imagination not featuring in your myth presentation.. what is relationship between them.. and to michael .. on back and forth ness of hiearchy ness.. and why is leach not there (in doe) at all.. curious that this forward was never written.. despite asked david many years ago

57 min – megan: giulio and i went back and forth trying to figure what turner actually said rather than what graeber said of turner.. ie: in process of drawing attention to action.. myth doesn’t only reflect social org.. but foster form.. that is form of imagination and creative refusal.. we see that much more in david’s work than turner’s

59 min – giulio: david always had this cartesian imagination.. could definitely have fit it in for sure

1:00 – michael: on relationship between fact/theory.. ‘would it still be relevant even if all facts are wrong’.. so i wonder if something about 2 david’s and their need/want for rigor .. so maybe graeber hesitant in more public places like doe

1:01 – nick long: idea of myth historically constructed but super cultural set of claims.. how barth fits into it.. et al..

1:03 – giulio: found a classic graeber twitter spat.. graeber asking if needed a left wing.. someone asked about barth..

1:04 – megan: made us question 1\ how distinctive all this is 2\ what contemp myths but are we lumping ie: myth and ideology together..

1:05 – alpa: to add .. why not include all those theorists on utopia.. that’s myth right

jonah upton: on common myths now.. seeming unprogressive..

megan: we talk about progressive study of myth.. what is progressive is supposed to be way myth is approached w focus on action.. what’s important.. not that myth itself contains progressive politics.. but if it contains that core idea that it’s a creation by people.. that is progressive.. but doesn’t mean the content is a progressive form.. human creatives vs myth that seems to deny that possibility

1:08 – hans st.. : where does the imagination come from..? circular causation.. then where does the newness come from?.. leach is clearly conservative.. i think it’s forcing a lot to see it as progressive.. on david saying.. be like leach open to everyone.. but that’s precisely what leach did not do.. exlcusive/privileged to analyst

1:10 – michael: not my intention to present leach as a progressive.. i think david’s interest is in their differences.. i think what graeber and leach draw our attention to is contradiction.. can see it in david as well.. how it all gets held together in an individual.. of course this want’s leach’s view.. it’s possible david was much more comfortable being a radical at home.. than in critiques of ie: madagascar

1:13 – giulio: change in one doesn’t lead to change in other.. we’re not suggesting there is a correspondence.. but w/o that caveat language might be misleading..

megan: one thing that comes up in turner’s writing.. refers to relationship between actions and social situations.. so talking of myth as providing a space to create/experiment/introspect/imagine.. et al.. to see how actions might affect et al.. on exploration of diff possibilities and consequences of actions

1:15 – yash: on this connection between everyday logical hierarchies.. emergent levels of action.. and social/real hierarchies.. what do you think is the relationship between these two.. is ritual where logical get turned into real? roy bhaskar on material/demi reality.. how these logical get turned into real

1:17 – megan: section in possibilities and in values.. relates to turners work.. takes looking at logical hierarchy from person who occupies that position to see if it’s a social one.. ie: caste doesn’t seem like a quality at all

1:18 – giulio: on the ritual point.. still have to get heads around.. but in fire of jaguar.. talking about liminal stage where transformation and weird things happen.. for turner.. meta structure.. higher level.. we didn’t include that in the paper.. didn’t seem relevant and didn’t grasp paper.. terrance talks about it in a paper called secular ritual..

1:20 – alpa: which makes me wonder about the progressive potential of myth.. doesn’t it matter which societies.. ie: if writing about caste.. et al..

julio: could you go into more depth of relationship of two ontologies of relationship and violence.. michael.. once i asked david and he said.. ‘violence at service of imagination is popular insurrection and imagination at service of violence is top down totalitarianism’.. so i wonder what you make of that

1:21 – michael: i’m not sure i have a answer that will add more than what you just said in your question.. in places there are he has juxtapositions.. ie: in rev in reverse .. the ontology of violence/imagination.. but then also what he says about the lopsided structure of imagination in several parts of his writing.. not sure the context in which it would be possible/appropriate to think about violence as an expression of imagination or at least of the kind of immanent imagination that he talks about.. i wonder if that might appear in some of the things he wrote about rojava or elsewhere..

revolution in reverse.. structural violence.. graeber violence in care law.. graeber violence/quantification law.. et al

rojava’s third way





lse graeber series