Saturday, August 20, 2016

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: Brazilian Perspectivism?!



Totonac carving
c. 1500, Jalapa, Mexico
Image taken from Julian Bell's
Mirror of the World
Montage A/Z 
(for more see here)

"... mais le passage de chaque tranche verticale de temps présent à la suivante s'effectue de façon discontinue, par une sorte de saut qualitatif et non par une progression chronométrique linéaire et continue..."
Francis Bayer, De Schönberg à Cage
"Le mouvement simple est une banalité. Eliminer l'élément temporel. Hier et aujourd'hui come simmultanéité. La polyphonie dans la musique répondit dans une certaine mesure à ce besoin... La peinture polyphonique est supérieure à la musique en ce sens que l'élément temporel y est plutôt une donnée spatiale. Ne définissons pas le donné présent comme tel, définissons dans le passé et dans le futur; précisons largement, dans une perspective multilatérale. Définir isolément le présent, c'est le tuer... alternance simultanée... il faudrait alors passer [du rouge au vert, du vert au rouge] par saut..."
Paul Klee (traduction par Pierre-Henri Gonthier)
"Revenir, l'être de ce qui devient."
Gilles Deleuze
"... ce oui-là ne s'efface plus... Le temps n'apparaît que depuis cette singulière anachronie..."
J. Derrida (L'Ouia), Joyce gramophone

It is said that Lévi-Strauss considered the work of Viveiros de Castro as highly innovative. In Castro’s From the Enemy’s Point of View we read sentences like this: “The invariant of the Tupi-Guarani cosmological structure is the metaphysical encompassment of the domain of the social by the macrodomain of the extrasocial [nature and supernature]. The interior of the socius and its values are subordinated to exteriority” (86-87). They challenge traditional sociological and anthropological views, which tend to understand ceremonies and rites as merely reflecting stable structures internal to a given society.
But on the whole how far does Viveiros de Castro's so called perspectivism go?
His conception of exteriority seems frustrating when compared to, for instance, Blanchot’s. This is a problem that goes beyond sociology and anthropology, and might have passed somewhat unnoticed even to Lévi-Strauss. 
Is it legitimate to conceive of a radical exteriority while maintaining concepts such as presence, pure negativity, and a conception of time which is, in the end, linear?*** 
In key moments of his argumentation, Viveiros de Castro does appeal to concepts such as, on the one hand, “full presence” (210), “presence and plenitude,” and, on the other, “pure negativity,” even if he insists that what is important is the “middle term” between them (252). It is true that he characterizes becoming as “neither identity nor contradiction,” and calls it “an ontological restlessness” (270). But the fact that he doesn’t subordinate “the future to the past” (as Florestan Fernandes does) (278) means very little. In the end, he does something worse: he subordinates future and past to the vortex of the present, to the “temporal cycle of vengeance.” The latter is for him “an absolute present” (291), in which one is “effectively present” (292, original emphasis), and whose aim is the “future” ahead (306).
To put it bluntly, this is time conceived linearly and chronologically, as an arrow. In Deleuze, for instance (and differently), we would have Aion besides Chronos, and they both make up a kind of primordial chaos (Logique du sens, p. 13-14, 77-78). This chaos is made of residues, corporeal and incorporeal. Displayed against this scenario, the Araweté’s notion of specter (ta’o we) (which suffers a “double corruption” transforming itself into a “dead opossum” after the corruption of the cadaver) seems rather something “corporeal” — Artaud’s corps-passoire — than the incorporeal of ancient Stoicism as suggested by Castro (From the Enemy’s Point of View 205-206). The latter is similar only to Araweté’s notion of celestial soul. But Castro says that when the celestial soul is finally cannibalized and scalded by the gods in the sky, “mourning” comes “to an end” (214). Then where are the residues? Without residues, what would be the meaning of the living as “middle term”? 
If my reading is fair, Castro’s “anthropological perspectivism” turns out to be flawed. What he calls “affirmation” (294) cannot be equated to Nietzsche’s. Castro’s conception is much more Hegelian (or rather romantic) than Nietzschean or truly post-structural. 
There is, however, another Brazilian intellectual who confronted similar problems more effectively: Haroldo de Campos — he understood the thought of authors such as Derrida much more thoroughly. In books such as O Sequestro do Barroco na Formação da Literatura Brasileira, Haroldo truly challenged the basis of Brazilian traditional conceptions of culture, which have always depended on a linear conception of time and history (as elsewhere in the Occident). In anthropology, Aracy Lopes da Silva is also worth mentioning. In the end of her book Nomes e Amigos: da prática Xavante à uma reflexão sobre Jê (1986), she engaged with concepts such as "difference" and "alterity" in a quite singular way. One of her main references was Pierre Clastres' conception of "primitive war" (fundamental also to Deleuze and Guattari's "Traité de Nomadologie" in Mille Plateaux). Her ideas, however, were not fully developped.
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***Questions such as this emerge many times in the work of Derrida. I will quote just one passage which I have not referred elsewhere: "C'est cette evenementialité-là qu'il faut penser mais c'est elle qui résiste le mieux à ce que on appelle le concept... on ne la pensera pas tant qu'on se fiera... à une temporalité historique faite de l'enchaînement successif de présents identiques à eux-mêmes et d'eux-mêmes contemporains" (Spectres de Marx). 

*****See also:
- Liste des figures du chaos primordial: la cartographie;
- Écriture/Violence;
- Xingu and Rio +20;
- Jaguanhém;
And also:
- A Strategy for Writing: Contracting Contemplation in Budapeste and Leite Derramado;
- Luso-Brazilian Encounters of the Sixteenth-Century;
Ontological Excess & Metonymy;
- The Indians Who Came From Ophyr;
- Cannibalism and Women Gift in Early-Modern Period, Brazil;
- Santísima Trinidad del Parana;
- Misiones (Argentina);  

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