By Eduardo Viveiros de Castro
I once had the intention of writing a book that would have been something of a homage to Deleuze and Guattari from the point of view of my discipline; it would have been called Anti-Narcissus: Anthropology as Minor Science. The project was to characterize the conceptual tensions animating contemporary anthropology. From the moment I had the title, however, the problems began. I quickly realized that the project verged on complete contradiction, and the least misstep on my part could have resulted in a mess of not-so anti-narcissistic provocations about the excellence of the positions to be professed.
It was then that I decided to raise the book to the rank of those fictional works (or, rather, invisible works) that Borges was the best at commenting on and that are often far more interesting than the visible works themselves (as one can be convinced of from reading the accounts of them furnished by that great blind reader). Rather than write the book itself, I found it more opportune to write about it as if others had written it. Cannibal Metaphysics is therefore a beginner’s guide to another book, entitled Anti-Narcissus, that because it was endlessly imagined, ended up not existing – unless in the pages that follow.
The principal objective of Anti-Narcissus is, to mark the ‘ethnographic’ present in my fashion, to address the following question: what do anthropologists owe, conceptually, to the people they study? The implications of this question would doubtlessly seem clearer were the problem approached from the other end. Are the differences and mutations internal to anthropological theory principally due to the structures and conjunctures of the social formations, ideological debates, intellectual fields and academic contexts from which anthropologists themselves emerge? Is that really the only relevant hypothesis? Couldn’t one shift to a perspective showing that the source of the most interesting concepts, problems, entities and agents introduced into thought by anthropological theory is in the imaginative powers of the societies – or, better, peoples and collectives – that they propose to explain? Doesn’t the originality of anthropology instead reside there – in this always-equivocal but often fecund alliance between the conceptions and practices coming from the worlds of the so-called ‘subject’ and ‘object’ of anthropology?
The question of Anti-Narcissus is thus epistemological, meaning political. If we are all more or less agreed that anthropology, even if colonialism was one of its historical a prioris, is today in the process of completing its karmic cycle, then we should also accept that the time has come to radicalize the reconstitution of the discipline by finishing the job. Anthropology is ready to fully assume its new mission of being the theory/practice of the permanent decolonization of thought.