In March of 2016, Ana Lucia Lutterbach Holk and Sérgio de Castro were kindly received by the anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, in his apartment, in Praia de Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. The meeting took place on the eve of the last Congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis (WAP), held in April 2016, in Rio, and whose theme “Talking bodies” served as the starting point for a provocative dialogue on psychoanalysis and anthropology.
ANA LUCIA LUTTERBACH: We would like to hear from you about the theme of our WAP Congress — “Talking bodies”. Around this topic, due to the decline of the paternal function, there is a change in the relation with the symbolic, a presence and valorization of the real in the clinic. The Congress will revolve, mainly, around this new clinic.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: I follow it from a certain distance. To begin with, I have to say that I am completely ignorant on it. I am an object for you, I am not a co-subject.
ANA LUCIA LUTTERBACH: “Talking bodies” is the translation of a term coined by Lacan: parlêtre. So, we can start the interview from the question of the body.
SÉRGIO DE CASTRO: In your work on Amerindians, the body is a central reference. Hence, the idea of a possible interlocution came out, of a tension between our field, based on Lacan’s teachings, but also on those of Jacques-Alain Miller, who stands out a little from Lacan’s structuralism and from the anthropology such as you practice it today.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Actually, the structuralist Lacan is the only one I know.
LUTTERBACH: As a matter of fact, we are keen to hear about the relationship between anthropology and psychoanalysis, which was so relevant to the structuralist Lacan in the presence of Levi-Strauss.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Yes, it certainly was.
CASTRO: Lévi-Strauss’s short text, “Symbolic Efficacy”, for example, was a very important text for Lacan. It is in the beginnings of Lacanian psychoanalysis, for it brings a comparison of the shaman with the psychoanalyst, considered by some as an irony of Levi-Strauss.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: My impression is that in the beginning, Lévi-Strauss made a non-ironic approach, but little by little he became more and more… the hostile word is not suitable… more and more ironic — that’s the word. In fact, he and Lacan also moved away because of a personal friendship due to the suicide of Sebag, who was Levi-Strauss’s most favourite, a dear child of his.
CASTRO: At the end, there are some criticisms of Lévi-Strauss towards Freud’s Totem and Taboo, in The Jealous Potter, for example.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It is a rather bizarre criticism, because he points out that what Freud says, the Indians had already said. But then: is it a criticism or not? If it is a criticism, Freud is wrong and so are the Indians. In that case, Lévi-Strauss would be saying something unfit for himself. If Freud was right, the Indians had only anticipated him; and that only validates Freud. Lévi-Strauss has this ambiguity, which also appears in relation to several other thinkers. A half-ambiguous, ambivalent irony.
In A World on the Wane, Freud appears as one of his three great masters, alongside Marx and geology. The three showed that the world and truth come in layers. Then, he says that psychoanalysis, Marxism and geology lead us to understand that apparent reality is only one of the layers of a stratified structure, and so on. The relationship with Freud changed, but he wrote The Elementary Structures of Kinship against Totem and Taboo in the sense of having been the great interlocutor of this Freudian work. Freud had always been there for him.
CASTRO: The very question of the interdiction of incest, as Lévi-Strauss works it, is his reading of Freud’s Totem and Taboo.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Yes, it is! He will remake the Totem and Taboo from his contemporary anthropological material and not, as Freud did, with the anthropology of his day. So far as I know, in all phases of courtship, let us say, between Lévi-Strauss and Lacan, at the beginning, we find the notion of exchange, of the symbolic, the very notion of the symbolic in Lévi-Strauss derives from this notion of that time. After this, there was a kind of estrangement, and Lévi-Strauss rarely refers to psychoanalysis, except in this tone a little or openly ironic, when he compares the myth of Oedipus to an operetta, to the French vaudeville, and to the Indian myth, since all these structures are similar.
CASTRO: There is a point where Lévi-Strauss criticizes Freud, rightly so, which is something that Lacan will also do, albeit in a slightly different way. If I am not mistaken, Lévi-Strauss brings it up quickly in The Jealous Potter, or elsewhere, when comparing childhood to a primitive society, with an idea of progress, of an almost natural development towards civilization, from the assumption that there would be a natural “development” of the libido until a purported “maturity”. This very much annoys Lévi-Strauss, as well as Lacan.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: This is in a chapter called ‘The Archaic Illusion’, from The Elementary Structures of Kinship. And it is not only the child, but the madman and the primitive. It is a classic cliché of Freud’s time, not only Freud, but everyone, including anthropologists resorted to it. Childlike thinking, psychotic thinking, and wild thinking would have a number of common and specific traits. Ultimately, especially, for confusing word and thing.
CASTRO: It’s a highly pernicious idea of “evolution”, isn’t it?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Lévi-Strauss speaks of Freud… Well, if the primitive thinks as a child, what about primitive children, since… and what to say about the primitive madmen?
LUTTERBACH: Crazy and primitive children…
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: I think it’s a whole chapter on some similar aspects of the psychic life of the savages and the children or the crazy ones, I can’t fully remember it right now.
CASTRO: On the children and on the neurotics… Totem and Taboo begins in this fashion…
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: However, no one else feels it necessary to rebut that anymore.
LUTTERBACH: Does anthropology currently have any relation to psychoanalysis? Are you especially interested in it?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: No… I think that anthropology has moved away from psychoanalysis, mainly in the Freudian, Lacanian sense. For some 30, 40 years now, anthropology has been redirecting itself towards a very naturalistic direction, towards the cognitive sciences, and the neurosciences, and then it has moved a lot away from psychoanalysis.
LUTTERBACH: Even in France?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Yes, especially in France. There has been a kind of hypnotization of anthropology, of all Human Sciences, in fact, with this idea that the cognitive sciences would really give access to the explanation of human behaviour, as a whole. In my view, this was a shot in the water, it did not work.
For almost 20 years, cognitivism was almost a mantra, valid for everything. Anthropology went on to refer to cognitive sciences, cognitive psychology specifically, dating, flirting with socio-biology, animal cognition theories, human cognition, but that did not yield relevant results, although a lot of people still do that. In relation to psychoanalysis, you have isolated individuals who continued to engage in a dialogue with psychoanalysis in earnest, three or four individuals. But with very little external repercussion.
LUTTERBACH: Would this dialogue be with Lacan?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It would be with Lacan and even with Freud. But in fact, I think there was a kind of break-up. Each one of them would go their own way and psychoanalysis itself, as far as I know, also stopped taking much material, talking a lot with anthropological and ethnographic materials, which were produced since the 1950s, when Lacan and Lévi-Strauss were in touch.
In Brazil, as far as I know, I’m not aware of any anthropologist who has the influence of psychoanalysis as an anthropologist. I know of some psychoanalysts who have tried to dialogue with anthropology. One of them is Christian Dunker, in São Paulo, who wrote something with my work, which I have not read yet. But there has been no dialogue, to be very objective. And myself, I haven’t read psychoanalysis for many years. Freud, I have read, but Lacan I stopped where, more or less, Lévi-Strauss stopped.
LUTTERBACH: What have you read in Freud?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: I reread “Mourning and Melancholia” recently and Totem and Taboo. This I read practically every year, because I have to give course on magic and religion. Then, once in a while, I go back to Totem and Taboo. “Mourning and Melancholia” also for working with the question of death in indigenous societies. It was the two most recent texts, besides the text of the death drive, the “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”. They were texts that I gave in the course.
LUTTERBACH: And the concept of the unconscious, does not it lack you?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: No. Actually, the concept of the unconscious half disappeared, it has vanished from anthropology, and this is partly because the concept of the unconscious of Lévi-Strauss has a problem. Lévi-Strauss has an aversion to everything concerning the life he calls affective. The concept of the unconscious for Lévi-Strauss is completely intellectual in the intellectualist sense. He says the drives do not explain anything.
There is a famous Straussian quote: “The drives do not explain anything, they are either the result of the power of the body or the impotence of the spirit”. He resorts to this because he criticizes the theories of classical magic that ascribed magical thinking to fears, primitive fears, uncertainties, or desires. In short, they used a language that we will call affection, feeling, fear. And he rejected it quite vehemently and said: all these are ways of thinking, of classifying the world, of organizing thought that has no relation to affections. The unconscious for him is purely formal. He always says that.
CASTRO: In this way, the unconscious is pretty much structured as a language.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Formal. We do not know what to do, anyway, it does not matter the dimension, we can say, the bodily dimension of the unconscious.
CASTRO: This is a debate of ours.
LUTTERBACH: I think we can start there. Can you talk a little about this idea?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Perhaps the last anthropologist to have used a notion of the unconscious, more as an adjective than as a noun, was precisely Lévi-Strauss himself when he dealt with the unconscious mechanisms of social life. But, these unconscious sets are not mechanisms of the unconscious. They are the unconscious mechanisms of social life, in the sense of being spontaneous mechanisms that emerge from the very dynamics of social life. His own theory of exchange, he interprets it as such — Lacan will even take it and, so to speak, psychoanalyze it, in the sense of locating it as a structure of the unconscious.
However, I think, Lévi-Strauss would not subscribe to it. He would keep the concept on the level of the adjective, say, much more than the noun. Not that he does not admit the unconscious, but this unconscious, as I have said, is always an unconscious of a pre-representative order, more in the strictly logical sense. It has no precisely instinctual dimension. It is as if it were only a substrate, as if it were a famous metaphor by Bateson, an anthropologist who says: if we were able to see through the television screen all the mechanism inside it, we could not see what is happening in the screen. So, for me, Bateson is talking about the unconscious as exactly that, what’s behind the screen, that allows you to see what you see, but that if you saw it, it would not allow you to see what you see. However, notice that it is a strict way of thinking the thing, which says nothing about the body or the existential, bodily, human, and so on, condition. They are the conditions, almost Kantian, of conscious thinking. These conditions are unconscious. They are unconscious conditions as well as the grammar of a language. In fact, this is the metaphor: Levi-Strauss’s unconscious is like the grammar for us; the English grammar; No one here — if we start thinking about grammar rules — might be able to talk.
Then, for Lévi-Strauss, the unconscious is situated on the same level as the syntax of a language. Of course, when Lacan says that the unconscious is structured as a language, this will generate a whole mess in the sense that, well, but then what is what? If it, the unconscious, is structured as a language, then what is Saussure talking about is the same thing as what Lacan says, or not? Certainly not because what the unconscious is structuring is very different from the sounds of the language. This matter that is structured is something else.
However, on this matter, Lévi-Strauss did not speak. And, I would say that this matter is essentially the bodily condition. But that’s my thing, not the Indians’ view. My interest in the question of the body in anthropology is strictly ethnographic in the sense that my problem is to know what the indigenous theory is, what are the implicit and often explicit theories: ‘What is the indigenous anthropology?’ This, in the sense that Freud has an anthropology, that is, a certain conception of man.
Psychoanalysis has an anthropology, if we think about the conception of what is human being and what is not human being; where is the dividing line? where it is not? My question, as an anthropologist, has always been to say: very well, if I’m willing to study Western anthropology, I will not actually read anthropology, I will read Lacan, Freud, some philosophers, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, to understand how it is that the Western world conceives the idea of anthropos, and the very idea of logos as well.
I express my interest in the following way: when I am with the Indians, I like to know what they mean by anthropology. I’m not interested in doing an anthropology of them, I want to know what their anthropology is. Another sense of the possessive, the genitive. I want to know what they mean by human, what they mean by non-human, and what they mean by logos, by knowing, by knowledge. What they understand by what it is to know and what is human. We think we know. The anthropologist is supposed to get there and he already knows what man is and will study that particular variety of man that is the Indian X or the Indian Y. But he is already in possession of the sovereign knowing. He will only see how that Indian, let us say, expresses his concept of universal, what is the possession of it.
In this case, the Indian will be a specific manifestation of this concept. He can enrich the concept, he may eventually give an additional determination, for example, to demonstrate that the Indian thinks as the child, thinks as the crazy, or that Indian thinking clarifies childlike thinking and all these things. But you already know what thinking is.
CASTRO: As we say it in psychoanalysis, without the anthropologist leaving a master’s position.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly! So, in my question, I go the other way, I will say that I do not quite know what it is. I have to leave somewhere, so I build a little place where there are beings that look like me and not the face of fish or jaguars, but the choice stops there. I do not presume anything else but that those people correspond to men as we understand them; however, I do not presuppose what they think is human or not human in a relation that is merely synonymous with our ideas. Then, my job has been to try to retrace a virtual indigenous anthropology.
LUTTERBACH: What did they teach you?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Precisely, one of the things was the rather different place that corporality has in their thinking. In our culture, if we could just say so, it was Freud who discovered that the body was fundamental to human anthropology, anthropology in the generic sense; before him, the body, everything that came from the body or that referred to it, was seen as minor from a philosophical point of view. It is the idea that the body was insignificant in the literal sense of the word. It did not mean anything. It was the spirit what mattered.
CASTRO: It is Freud, then, that you resort to here.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: In a sense, I say that it was Freud who started to discover that eating, defecating, etc. that all these things were anthropologically dense. Before him, all this was considered the nature, the animal side of man that was better to forget, to control, to tame or dominate and, preferably, not to introduce into the great philosophical questions. The fundamental philosophical question is whether or not I think; I think therefore I am. The question is not whether or not I have a body. It’s I think, therefore I am. So, one of the things that caught my attention was how the corporality of the indigenous world had, on the contrary, a density, an importance.
Basically, I came to a society that was not Christian, that did not have those “two thousand years” of idea about the man like an animal with something more. Idea that, deep down, our anthropology, and to some extent the psychoanalysis itself, shares. We are animals, but we have a kind of additional layer, symbolic, language, law or culture. For me, all of these are successive names of the old notion of soul. That is, of what makes humans special in relation to the rest of the living.
CASTRO: And, possibly, even in relation to the Indians.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly, we think right and they are inchoative humans, frustrated humans, children in the sense of infants not yet fully developed. So, this idea that human beings are animals like the others, but, at the same time, they have a certain complement of soul, a surplus, as it is said in French, that somehow almost causes us to levitate, slightly, over the floor; while the other animals have four paws on the ground. I even think that Aristotle interprets the word anthropos as meaning what it has an erect head, which looks up. The man is the one that looks up. While the animals, the others, are looking down.
LUTTERBACH: And there’s another man up there?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: So, it is this idea of the human as something that is — inevitably, in the pessimistic sense of the term — an animal, but at the same time something that redeems it. This supplement can be a fault, it can be an excess — a fault that only man has. It is the idea of what is proper to man. Western anthropology has always been marked by this question, anthropology in the broad sense of the term, philosophical, and scientific anthropology, in the academic sense as well.
The question is: what is characteristic of man, characteristic of man, that distinguishes men from other animals? I realized that for the Indians the question of what distinguishes humans from other animals was not an important issue, because man was not at the centre. And not because he was an animal like any other, which would be, say, the position of a modern positivist scientist who in the limit would wish to be able to say: man is just like any animal in the sense that it is reducible to a material system of material interactions, of neurons, neural networks and electrical discharges. In short, the day I can study human behaviour in the same way I can explain the behaviour of a very primitive, very simple animal’s brain — because the chimpanzee is already more complicated — on the day I can explain the human brain — because it is always the brain — in a strictly mechanical way, in the physical sense, then I will have finally become science. Then I will show that man is really a material being, a living material system like any other. So, every time you, say, try to get around the question of what is proper of the man, inevitably in the West, this is the perspective of science, fundamentally positivist, that will say: Man has nothing of peculiar.
And even to the extent that we speak of a spiritual dimension, to the extent that we use the language of intention, desire, reference, affection, all these things are actually words we use because we are describing very complicated themes of material point of view and we have not yet been able to make a photograph, say, of a person’s brain, say, in a state of melancholy. The day that we take a complete tomography, we will be able to say: there is something that is just the lack of the neurotransmitter x etc., that is what psychiatry says. I would say: no, this is just a matter of excess sodium, calcium, calcium ions, serotonin, or who knows what else.
LUTTERBACH: Vinicius de Moraes said that he was missing two shots of whiskey. The missing substance for him was whiskey.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Or a shot of that cachaça over there, the one Sergio brought me! I would then say that there are two basic positions of Western anthropology. I always use the word anthropology in the sense of a theory of man, the native theory of man: an indigenous theory of man; Western theory of two thousand years of Christianity; of Greek philosophy; of Dostoevsky’s and so on.
I would say that there are two basic positions, one on which man is the animal with something more, or something that can be less, a minus, it can be a deficit, but it is something that distinguishes him, therefore it is a supplement. Even if this supplement is a felix culpa, a deficiency, it is something that puts him apart. Man is a separate animal, a special animal. Or you have this position, which for me is the dominant position and that has had several avatars throughout the history of Western thought: the first was the immortal soul, the special creation; then it turned out to be the culture, the spirit in the generic sense of the word, education, language, or desire, the lack, the symbolic, and so on.
This is not a criticism, it is my view as an anthropologist studying this tribe that we are. So, either you have this position that man is a plus animal, an animal with something that others do not have, or the tentative position, the other position saying no, man is an animal like the others. In the last analysis, animals are machines, they are material systems like any material system, especially complicated, and ultimately reducible to the laws of physics, thermodynamics, and, finally, quantum physics, or whatever.
It seems to me that the Indigenous position is able to offer a third way, let us say, another way of conceiving that their problem is not to say that men are different from all other animals, nor that they are like all other animals. Their position is to say: all animals are like us. That is a table turn, that is, we are not special, man is not special. Man is not special because he is less than we think he is, as the modern positivist scientist would think, but because animals are more than we think they are. And, not only animals, this is the world conceived as a whole. It is what we might call anthropomorphism, often confused as anthropocentrism, and always attributed to a kind of primitive, primitive narcissism by which man projects his own perception, his self-perception about the world: child does this, primitive does that, I — animated world, a Disney conception, say, of indigenous thought, for example. But, in fact, I contrast in a very marked way the distinction between anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism.
Anthropocentrism is the idea of man being at the centre, so there are thinkers who are fundamentally anthropocentric who have nothing anthropomorphic. Kant, for example, who thinks that the universe revolves around the human’s legislative understanding, with its categories of reality etc. Our classical conception of the chain of being in which man is the last most advanced link of species evolution, this biological misconception that man is the most evolved animal. It makes no sense for the biologist to say that. They are essentially anthropocentric conceptions: man is the special being, he is in the centre. Anthropomorphism, as I have twisted the notion, is the opposite, he says that everything is human. If everything is human, we are not special.
CASTRO: Another perspective.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: If everything is human means that the human being has nothing special. There you have a number of other problems that flow from there. For example, if everything is human, why do I see different things after all? I see an ounce, I see a canoe, I do not see men everywhere. And more: if everything is human, where do I stay? What makes me, so-and-so of such a member of such a tribe, different from that so-and-so of the other tribe, or different from the jaguar, different from the canoe?
That’s the question, shall we say. The problem I have formulated, in a somewhat drastic way, is that, for us, the common ground of humanity and animality is animality. Humans are animals that have come out of a generic, general animality. We were animals, and sometime, any mutation, be it biological or miraculous, there was some mutation in which humans somehow got out of the line.
CASTRO: This is a Darwinian, evolutionist reading.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly. A reading in which there was a neurological mutation, perhaps the erect posture allowed the brain to increase, or the use of the hands, the opposable thumb allowed whatever we wish. There are several readings, a number of theories about the process of hominization, as they call it.
This process of hominization, in the phylogenetic, biological sense, is a process that starts from an original condition in which man was something else before and that other thing was at the animal level. And man progressed; others may even think that he has fallen, but it matters little. The fact is, he got out of line, shall we say. The common background of humans and the rest of animals is animality as a general condition and a condition that one might call perhaps pure corporality. Because of that stepping out of the line was something that has to do with the location of the spirit. And when one wants to think of spirit, one thinks of the brain, a modern avatar of the spirit. The brain is that place where, in the body, is our pineal gland and so on. I say in my writings that to think this in indigenous terms is the reverse: the common ground of humanity and animality is humanity.
Throughout indigenous anthropology, in indigenous mythology, the aim is to explain how animals have been differentiated by various vicissitudes, various mythological adventures and misadventures, etc., as animals ceased to be human and not as humans ceased to be animals, we that process of ceasing to be is never complete one. So, for us, we remain animals in the background. We are naked. The idea that culture is like clothing. The symbolic language is something that has a fundamentally animal nature, and this often appears in the common language: man, at bottom, is a beast, a predatory and violent beast. If it were not culture, if it were not something to hold him. In Freud himself, we have this. So, if it was not for culture, people would eat themselves alive. That is, we remain in the animal background, but we have something that covers us, protects us, oppresses us or represses us.
The Indians see the exact opposite, they tell how animals ceased to be human: in the beginning of time all beings were humanoids, say. For us, in the beginning of time all beings were animal-like, but this ceasing to be human is never complete, there remains a human background beneath that appearance.
LUTTERBACH: Is it a background or is it a trace?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: I often jokingly say: just as for us the unconscious is the animal place of man — let us say, among the many ways of conceiving the unconscious — the unconscious is an animal part of man. Is it not true?
CASTRO: No. This is an old meaning. One of those “understandings” of psychoanalysis that Lévi-Strauss himself criticizes.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly! I’m not talking about psychoanalysis. I’m talking about our anthropology, I’ll call it anthropological vulgate. The unconscious is the place where primal instincts and other things are there insured by the superego, by the culture, by whatever that means. I usually say that if it were to think like this, in the case of the Indians, the unconscious of the animals is human. The human side of animals is the animal unconscious. What corresponds, to us, in our popular anthropology, to which our unconscious is animal and consciousness is human.
LUTTERBACH: Their animality protects them from humanity?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: No. That is complex. Their animality hides their humanity from us. In some indigenous cultures, it is very common that animals, from any species, taken as a point of reference, whatever it may be, perceives itself as human. In other words, in a funny way, when a jaguar looks in the mirror, it sees a human being, like us — anthropomorphic.
All these beings have a kind of generic body, which is the apperceptive body, let’s call it that, the body you notice when you look in the mirror or when you see a congener — someone of the same species as you — human, form, rather, a form, not a body. The jaguars, when taking off that animal clothing, which is more than a clothing because it is the equipment; a jaguar’s clothing is what gives it its jaguar characteristics that make it stronger than you: jump, walk, run, have those teeth. They are not thinking of jaguar clothing as a carnival costume; are thinking much more about what we would think of as a space suit or a diving equipment. That is, something that allows you to do things you could not otherwise do if you were not using that equipment. The goal of someone who will wear a diving suit is not to look like a fish; is to breathe into the universe of a fish. So, it is a little like this: the garment, which is the body of the jaguar, this body is not an appearance that hides a spirit that is the essence, but this body is what gives the jaguar its jaguar–ness, and what, precisely, has human form is the spirit. They say: no, the soul of the jaguar is human. And they often express this in a quite well-moralistic way.
There is a passage in an anthropologist’s book in which the Indians of the Upper Negro River, in the Amazon, says: the jaguar’s ferocity is of human origin. That is, the jaguars will not fight men; contrary to what one imagines, jaguars flee. But there are some that attack. Those that attack, in fact, are those in which the human side has taken over, so to speak. The hidden human side stepped forward. As if they said: for us, the only dangerous animal is the man, so animals that are dangerous are animals that have the human side in the foreground, just as for us dangerous men have the animal side in the foreground.
In our popular anthropology: one behaves like a beast. And the Indians, when they see a jaguar that behaves like a beast, they would say that it behaves like a man. Like an enemy, a warrior. Then there was this kind of alternation between the human form, the human anatomy, and also what we usually assign to the human spirit, let’s call it — language, communication, own ability to think, to anticipate, to take revenge, to remember, all the attributes of human mental activity. To use Descartes’ terms, the Indians consider consciousness the most well-shared thing in the world. For the Indians, this capacity, which we can call intentionality, the capacity to signify, to give meaning, is, so to speak, virtually universal. Virtually because if you ask them if the ants are people or were people, they will say: no, the ants are not.
Sometimes you get a little surprised. They start talking like this: In the old days, all the animals were people. You ask: all the bugs? They say: Every one! Then you ask: What about the turtle? And they say: The turtle is not. Then you realize that it is not a matter of taxonomy, of classification. But if the next day the shaman has a dream, there is a sick person, there goes a person and for some reason only he knows and he says: you are sick because it was the turtle that person had eaten the day before and its spirit is there to take revenge. Then, suddenly, from that moment, in that culture, in that society, in that village, the turtles will come to be considered also as having an agency of the human type, a human-like intentionality that no one had thought of before.
There are other animals that, on the contrary, are almost universally considered to possess a hidden human agency, which in general are the great predators such as jaguars, eagles, and anacondas. They are the animals that compete with man or that attack man, but they are often animals that we would consider completely insignificant, but which, for them, are the opposite, because these animals possess great humanoid capacities. Some surprise us, for example, bees and ants, animals that have just a coordinated capacity for action.
CASTRO: And human prey too, no?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: And the human prey, too. This indigenous vision is closely linked to what we might call a certain tropism that has to do with the food chain, the predatory chain. Humans eat to live. They know what they have to kill, and this is something they know a lot more than we do because they have no one to kill the ox for them, nor supermarket to buy the already cleaned meat. They have to do the dirty job, they have no one to do the dirty job for them.
They know that for all animals it is impossible to live without killing something. And, so, for them, all these acts of hunting — and even plant you have to kill, because you have to knock down forest, set fire to be able to do the plantation — then there is no life without destruction of another life. This for them is something taken extremely seriously because it is a world full of intentions. It’s as if we lived in a place where the walls had ears, so to speak. The walls, in this case, are the trees, the plants, the animals, everything is paying attention to what they are doing.
LUTTERBACH: Who is this Other of them who is paying attention?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: They say that all beings are watching over us.
LUTTERBACH: It’s the eye.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It is the eye because, even, this question of seeing is fundamental, that is to see how. They say: when you find a jaguar in the bush that killed a deer and is there, licking and sucking the deer’s blood, eating the deer, you see it like that, but she’s actually drinking corn beer, a rum, or whatever drink the Indians take. So, you think it’s just an analogy, as it were: the blood is for the jaguar just as beer is for us. It’s true, but it’s more than that: the jaguar is actually drinking beer, it’s like it’s hallucinating. For us, she is hallucinating. But if I were jaguar, who would be hallucinating would be us.
CASTRO: Hence perspectivism, right?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly. Then the jaguars see themselves as people doing the things that people do, people according to what the Indian considers worthy of people. Then the jaguars live in a world equal to that of the Indians, with villages, they drink corn beer, corn blood. They do not drink blood because no one’s drinking blood. Jaguar drinks. You see, but the jaguar does not see it that way.
LUTTERBACH: But what about the body?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: So, it is as if the naked human body, which is not the Indian body — the Indian is never naked — they are always with the whole body worked with adornments, perforations, tattoos, scarifications. Therefore, the immense emphasis that the Indians give to the corporal modification, the transformations, the interferences on the body.
CASTRO: It’s us who see them naked.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly. For example, the Indians generally think we are horribly ugly, especially the men, the “males”, because we are hairy like monkeys. First, because they have fewer hairs and second because they carefully shave to get dressed. They shave themselves carefully to take away any appearance of a beast that, in turn, does not see itself with hair because the monkeys see themselves as men. But then the human body appears as a sort of generic body, universal body. It is the way in which all species self-appreciate.
This creates a problem for humans, of course, for the Indians, because if this body is universal, that is, if this is the way in which every species perceives itself, including us, that is the great question, it is the great indigenous problem: if everything is human, then what am I? If all beings see themselves as I see them, but they do not see me as I see them — because the jaguar looks at a man and sees a pig in the bush, or a monkey, an animal that man eats, so it attacks us. The jaguar attacks us not because it has a special hatred for humanity or a special desire for humanity, but because it sees us as we see the pigs. Pigs do not see each other as we see them, they look like people. They see us either as jaguars or as cannibalistic spirits who attack them to eat.
This poses a problem different from ours. Our metaphysical problem, as a result of this human exceptionality, this state of ontological exception that is the human condition for us, our recurrent metaphysical anthropological vulgate is a solipsism problem: we are alone in the universe; the animals do not speak to us; there is no one else; or is there someone on another planet?
The idea that man is alone as a solitary species and that, in the limit, the individual is alone is a Cartesian issue: how can I prove that the other is a person? I can only prove that I think, therefore I exist. As for the other, then he will have to turn to God to deduce. It is the famous problem of the other minds that philosophers love. Issues of gender, which until now are discussed in analytic philosophy by those who adore such small scholastic puzzles — how do you know that the other people around you are not zombies, machines, that just look like people? It is not so simple to prove, starting from the metaphysical assumptions of the Western tradition. They are problems of solipsism, of the idea that we are alone — whether the species or the individual alone.
Our problem is lack of communication. In a sense, we need to learn to communicate more with each other, with the stranger, with the madman, even with the animal. We need to get out of our solipsistic prison. We can say something quite the opposite about the Indians: everything speaks. It is as if they are in a fully populated universe.
LUTTERBACH: Almost delusional?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It is… with voices… So, the problem is how to create a space. All Indian symbolic work consists in creating a human space — not the word.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Own. Exact. From this universe where the problem is: how do I define what is my own?
CASTRO: Everyone speaks, everything speaks, but it is not understood.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It is not understood. If you understand what a jaguar speaks, beware! Because you’re turning into a jaguar. When you begin to understand it is because something is strange. It usually means you are crossing the species barrier. Each species is human to itself. Two species can never be human to one another.
LUTTERBACH: And the man and the woman are of the same species?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: This is a question that is often posed. Men and women are of the same species, until further notice! But what you said is important: the jaguar is people to it!
CASTRO: In this sense, it is not exactly delusional.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Indeed. If you begin to understand what the jaguar is talking about, you are crazy. Crazy not in our sense, but in the Indian sense.
CASTRO: Was something wrong?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: If you are understanding what the jaguar is talking about, you would be changing species. It only has some beings, some individuals who have the ability to go back and forth, to pass. It’s the shamans. Otherwise, none of this would be known. How would the Indian know about all this what I’m saying if there was not someone who could turn into a jaguar and un-turn from a jaguar form?
LUTTERBACH: It is he, when he un-turns, that he can tell.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly. He tells. Usually what happens are moments. Everyone has moments of madness in the sense of becoming a jaguar, whether they are dreams, or terrifying and disturbing experiences — in the Freudian sense — in the woods where you are hunting and suddenly you hear some noise and you have a clear feeling that something is stalking you. Often the Indians have meetings in the woods — I cannot understand what that means, they are always solitary encounters — but it is a common hunting accident. The Indian is hunting, suddenly he sees the animal that he is hunting and the animal talks to him or behaves in an unexpected way. For instance, the Indian shoots the arrow into the heart of the animal and the animal does not die: he pulls the arrow with his paw and turns to the Indian. This produces a trauma. The Indian goes back to the village in shock, and often lies in a hammock, catatonic. Then the classic diagnosis is: his spirit was stolen by that animal. Now his spirit is living along with those animals, and the shaman has to go there in the world of animals to negotiate the return of his spirit because he was captured; he has let himself to be defined, let’s say, by the animal. As they say: if a beast talks to you in the woods, do not answer. Because if you respond, you are giving it the status of subject and you will be entering his world. So, if you happen to have an encounter in the woods and the beast speaks to you, do not answer because if you answer… Like in that vampire story: never invite the vampire, because you know that the vampire only goes into your home — according to the movies and the original Dracula book — if you invite. He stays waiting at the door. If you do not invite, he does not enter. Then it’s a bit the same idea: if the animal talks to you, do not respond, do not invite him in, because then it means you’re letting him define what is human. If he is human, you automatically cease to be. You become the prey.
These encounters are relatively frequent, do not happen every day, but are frequently reported accidents. They inevitably involve loneliness — the subject is alone. Precisely he has no relation to him. There is no human with him, so he is in a situation where his humanity has no one to recognize it. Then he can let himself be hypnotized, metaphysically captured by the animal. As I said, the Indians do not think they understand the speech of the jaguars. If they can understand the speech of the jaguars it is a sign that they are sick. Their souls have been captured, they are becoming a jaguar, they are dying… or they are turning shamans. Every shaman was a little crazy already. The shaman is a patient who has healed. He had these experiences and learned to control them and therefore he can travel, go and return. In general, normal humans, people who are not shamans, do not come back to tell the story. They die, in the literal sense, if they are captured.
LUTTERBACH: What about cannibalism?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Cannibalism is a big question. Just as for us solipsism is a big problem, and at the same time we spend all the time talking about communication, so also to the Indians — everything they eat has somehow a cannibal subtext because it is human; to be eating is always to be eating a human. Every indigenous question consists of how one dehumanizes what one is going to eat, how one neutralizes the animal spirit or the human aspect of that animal that one is going to eat. So often, there are tribes that do this, that the shaman does a transubstantiation, so to say, of some animal, that withdraws from the animal the human component so that it becomes only flesh.
CASTRO: Is there a certain horror of cannibalism, in the same way as the horror of incest?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly, there is a certain horror. That does not stop some people from practicing it. On the contrary.
CASTRO: Of course! As in Totem and Taboo.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: But that they practice in eventual conditions, in possibly sacred conditions.
CASTRO: Of course! How one devours the totem. But to use terms that Freud and Lévi-Strauss also use, from Totem and Taboo, are moments of transgression. In the cannibalistic moment, what one is eating is not dehumanized; there, a congener is eaten.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Certainly. Firstly, cannibalism is by no means universal among the Brazilian Indians; secondly, it is not exclusive to the Brazilian Indians. It is common in North America, in some places in Africa, too. There are several types of cannibalism: pious, religious, funerary cannibalism — in which the ashes of their dead are eaten — and which has nothing to do with warlike cannibalism, when you capture enemies in war and then kill them and devours them. Both are ritualistic, but they are rituals with different functions. The so-called endocannibalism (eating the dead relatives) is funerary. You do not kill the subjects. He is expected to die and then to eat him. Like the Nambikwara, for example. There are groups that eat their own dead as a form of burial. It’s a form of funeral. In the case of warrior cannibalism, or exocanibalism, you capture foreigners to perform them ceremonially and devour them.
The execution is always ceremonial, it is always a moment of ritualized transgression, strongly symbolic and, above all, humanization of the prisoner, unlike what is done with the animal. With the animal you take a being that is potentially human and takes all precautions to dehumanize it so that the animal does not take revenge, for example. So as not to have problems with the animal and say: here is just meat. There are even some Indians who arrive at the theological sophistication of saying that they kill, say, a deer and before they eat it they call the shaman, the shaman, who says: this is cassava. That is, it does exactly the opposite, this is just bread, it has no flesh or blood from anyone. Of course, it is a godly hypocrisy. But it is also a protection. Already in cannibalism, which we do not call cannibalism, because strictly speaking it would be anthropophagy… Cannibalism means eating the alike; anthropophagy means eating man. The Indians think that every food act is potentially anthropophagic, because the animal has a human aspect. Then you have to de-anthropize the animal so you do not commit anthropophagy. In the case of cannibalism, which is to eat the like, few species do that.
CASTRO: But would this exocanibalism be a cannibalistic practice?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It would be a cannibal and also anthropophagous practice, as in the example of Hans Staden. In capturing him, the first thing they did with Hans Staden — a European, German, blond — was to put him naked, cut his hair and painted him in the Tupinambá fashion. This was meaningful: to kill and eat him, he would have to be like them. He would have to become human, because humans were just the Tupinambá people. If he had a beard, he was an animal, not a man. The Indians have this conception that baffles us a little.
At the same time that they are often described in anthropology as ethnocentric, because, on the one hand, they think that only they are truly human and that other tribes or peoples are less than human; on the other hand, they say that animals are people. It is as if, from our point of view, they always get it wrong. We know who are people, and who are animals. The Indians think that there are other people who are not people and there are animals that are people. In fact, they have another map, another anthropological cartography.
LUTTERBACH: Don’t they have the concept of guest or host?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: They have several. To some extent, the cannibalistic victim is a guest who is then humanized. And there is a whole dialogue — exactly the opposite of the case I mentioned earlier, that of not responding if an animal speaks to you. The cannibal ritual is all prepared by a dialogue between the victim and the slayer, in which the slayer asks: are you so-and-so of the tribe that killed my relatives in the war such as last year? And the guy says, yes, I am the so-and-so of the tribe that killed your father in the last war, you can kill me now that tomorrow you will be captured by my tribe, who will get you and kill you.
Cannibalism is exactly the transgressive reversal of this normal eating process in which you have to be careful not to eat people. In cannibalism is the opposite. Extreme care is taken so that what you kill and eat is people. Be, indeed, them!
LUTTERBACH: Is it linked to the idea of revenge?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Total! Revenge is the theme. In Tupinambá, cannibalism was the supreme act of revenge. Revenge was even more important than cannibalism to such an extent that when the missionary priests, together with the colonial governments, compelled the Indians to abandon it, it was easier than one might think. Precisely because it was a transgressive and dangerous practice that mobilized complex affections. They abandoned cannibalism with relative ease. What they absolutely refused to give up was revenge.
Often, since they could not eat the prisoners, because the custodians, the priests, and the colonial armies would not let them, they would unearth the dead enemies to break the dead man’s skull with a club, which was the crucial gesture of the ceremony — breaking the head of the enemy to kill him. Then he was eaten. But being eaten was as if it were an act of perfection, in the etymological sense of completing, to finish the supreme act of revenge. The crucial act of revenge was the execution of the prisoner preceded by this dialogue which guaranteed that they were both human and knew very well what they were doing there.
LUTTERBACH: But in this description it seems like a revenge that eliminates hatred.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It was a very complex situation. The enemy often spent months living in the village and treated as a guest. They gave him a woman. When they had children, they killed and ate their children. This is specific to the Tupinambá — they were strictly patrilineal in conception. The son of a woman with a man was entirely made of man. Then the son of the enemy with a woman of the tribe is an enemy like the father. Even for the mother. There were problems: the mother often ran away with the boy or did not eat the child. Sometimes the enemy spent years in the village as a guest and sometimes went to war with the tribe, fighting as if it were their own tribe. He did not escape for a very simple reason, of honour, since he was left in complete freedom. If he fled, his tribe would never receive him back, saying: you’re a coward, you do not believe we have the ability to avenge you.
CASTRO: He was re-enacting the next war.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Exactly. This allowed the machine to continue to run. If he ran away, he was ruining the game — in the high sense of the word. A highly elaborate ritual game that had no food component. Unlike the animal, before which the goal was to eat it, in the case of cannibalism the food value was irrelevant to such an extent that five thousand people were often called to watch the execution and the prisoner’s corpse was cooked, which wasn’t sufficient to feed five thousand people. That is, what you ate was a homeopathic dilution.
I began to work on the question of cannibalism because in my fieldwork, among the Araweté, in the Amazon region, cannibalism, in a way, was present. They spoke Tupi, like the Tupinambá of Rio de Janeiro, but cannibalism was posthumous, spiritual, of the souls that were devoured by the gods. That seemed, however, very similar to the real cannibalism practiced by the Tupinambá people.
In studying Tupinambá cannibalism, I began to realize that one of the things that appeared in the chronicles of the missionaries, who witnessed the executions, who were witnesses to the ritual, was a very interesting phrase from Anchieta in which he said: the dialogue between the slayer and the one who is going to be killed sounded as if the dead man was the killer, such was his arrogance. I began to realize, then, that everyone ate the dead prisoner, except the killer. As soon as he killed the prisoner, he would go into mourning, seclusion, stayed aside naked, took a bath, and stay in a hammock for weeks. As these chroniclers say: in mourning for their victim. Which meant, ultimately, that he and the prisoner were in total specular relation; in fact, they were indistinguishable. A sort of fusion — temporarily — where the prisoner said: you who are killing me now, will be killed tomorrow. Then there was a kind of reverberation, of indistinction between the two, precisely marked by the fact that he could not eat the enemy because he was that guy.
There was an identification, in the literal sense, of the killer with the victim, which is the opposite of what happened to the animal, when there was a total disidentification: this is not people here. In a sense, cannibalism is anti-alimentary. It is a transgression, but it was a kind of reflection, in the philosophical sense, on this question of humanity, of nonhumanity; the similar and the dissimilar; of the human background of all. And at the same time, you had to turn the enemy, who were not people, into people like us to be able to kill you; and the animal that was had like us, you had to turn it into non-people to be able to eat it.
This led me to define, before talking about the history of perspectivism and that anecdote of Levi-Strauss, that cannibalism is actually a process because, after all, what are these guys eating? It is not meat, not corn; is not a food problem, nor is there any information in the literature about any virtue the enemy’s flesh possessed or the like.
I then formulated the idea, a theoretical hypothesis, that cannibalism is a process of assumption, from the point of view of the enemy. The killer saw himself as an enemy of the enemy, and therefore he became an enemy, that is, he determined himself as an enemy. It was the process of one becoming the other; a process in which you take the enemy’s point of view. What you ate, what you killed was your relationship with the enemy. And he adopted the point of view about himself. You determined yourself as an enemy. This first appeared to me when I began to analyse the Araweté war songs, sung after the enemy was killed — they did not eat, but they killed. The songs of war drew my attention because it appeared in the lyrics of my songs: my enemy attacked me, my enemy killed me, I ran away, things like that. I started to ask who the enemy is, who’s talking here? Ah! It’s the dead guy. I realized that the one who said I, at the corner, was the dead and who was my enemy of that I, was the guy who was singing. When the singer, who was the killer, said: my enemy, he is saying, in fact, I. He was referring to himself. Then there was: I am the enemy. This idea that I am an enemy, to me, was the secret of cannibalism. We have a question of a perspective game. What is at stake in cannibalism is a certain perspective operation of assumption from the point of view of the other.
LUTTERBACH: Is there any relation to Freud’s Unheimlich?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: An uneasy strangeness? Yes of course. I would even attribute the Unheimlich to those jungle encounters where you have the feeling that something is wrong; nothing happened, but everything changed. The forest is the same, but suddenly you have entered a world of alien subjectivity.
LUTTERBACH: Yes, but it also has a sense of the Unheimlich, the “uneasy strangeness”, in which I am the enemy. It seems he gets in touch with the enemy he is.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Yes, inside of oneself. I have as epigraph of an article that is in ‘The inconstancy of the wild soul’ and that is called “Immanence of the enemy”, a poem by Sá de Miranda, of the medieval time. He was Portuguese, from the Portuguese Renaissance — “I became an enemy of myself,” or something like that. “Living with me I cannot; I cannot live without me; I became ‘nemy,” as it was written at the time, “I became ‘nemy of me”. The idea that every being contains an internal enemy indicates that cannibalism is a way of assuming this inimical condition as actually being the ideal condition for the adult Tupinambá man.
LUTTERBACH: Because it goes beyond the imaginary issue of this other imaginary one. I get the impression that it is not just this encounter with this fellow in the imaginary sense.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: I even say, in my thesis, that those who ate went to the real. Whoever took charge of the symbolic was the killer. He had the burden of carrying on his back the problem of the symbolic. He was the guardian of the symbolic. He entered mourning, changed his name. Often the name he received was that of the enemy. He was in charge of all the symbolic, let’s put it this way; and the guests, the village, the cops, did something that was absolutely different, in the real, so to speak.
In my work, I began to say: in fact, these people are just a pronoun; the human, in fact, is much less a noun than a pronoun. Human is who say I. Everyone you give the word to is human, imaginary, but it does not matter as long as you put the jaguar in the position to say I. The human for me is much more a pronoun than a noun. Hence the idea of perspectivism, is the idea of a pronominal game: who says I, who says you; What am I, who are you, who is he, and so on…?
CASTRO: But what about the body noun?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: The body. See you. In the discussion with Tânia, a colleague, a question arose for me: if everything is seen as a people, why do not we see the jaguar as person? Since everything is human, what distinguishes it? It was in this process that I accidentally opened A World on the Wane and came up with that anecdote of the two anthropological methods of inquiry into whether the other was a person or not. There, Lévi-Strauss tells ironically, as was his style, to show how both sides were ignorant, ethnocentric. You see, not even the Europeans believed that the Indians were people, nor the Indians believed that the Europeans were people, but the method was not the same. He does not give much emphasis, he even plays like this: the Indians were even more scientific than us because they used the method of the natural sciences — concrete experience. And we had the method of the social sciences, we sent theologians to investigate these guys. I thought I had more than that. The Europeans did not doubt that the Indians had bodies.
Their problem was if they had soul because body everyone has. It is precisely for us the universal substratum: matter, body, bodily functions. This all ties the human to the rest of the universe. What distinguished humans from the rest of the universe — the problem of theologians of the day — was mainly whether they had an immortal soul or not. In a sense, it was a problem of anthropomorphism, formulated in terms of the time: do they have souls or they don’t? The intentions of the Europeans were the worst possible: we can kill everyone or we have to convert, because they are people and then you can enslave. The Europeans sent theologians to see if the Indians were beings of reason, as was said at the time, if they were able to understand, to talk and ended up concluding that they were people! This did not improve the situation for the Indians.
LUTTERBACH: And, did the Indians conclude that the Europeans were people?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Lévi-Strauss embellished the story a little: it was a case — it was in Puerto Rico that it took place — in which an Indian chief caught a poor Spanish sailor, killed him, put him inside a canoe full of water to see if it rotted because they were not sure of the humanity of those beings. When he saw that he was rotting, they concluded that they were people. Imagine: the conclusion is even more tragic: if these beings are really human like us, we are screwed because they won’t stop coming! We kill and they keep coming. They are infinite. That is, we lost the war. They are not spirits so that we could eventually negotiate. They are people like us, but numberless, they do not stop coming.
Anyway, what interested me was that they were two different methods. The differential for the Indian was the body. What was distinguishing, let’s put it this way, the fundamental ontological marker was corporality. The ontological marker for us was the spirit, the soul, the ontological-anthropological marker. If it’s people like us, it’s the body or the soul. They had no doubt they had a body because animals also have a body. The Indians had no doubt that those beings had spirit because everything has spirit. The question was whether they had a “human” body. Spirit, they certainly had because animal also has. Both assumed that those beings were not human, in fact, they were problematically human, so let’s test.
For us the problem was in the soul and for the Indians it was in the body. That explains a lot of things. It explains why Indians give this “manic” attention — in quotation marks — to the body as a marking place, because that body is indeed crucial. If the human body is a generic form with which every being is perceived in its self-perception, how do I construct its own, how do I make a properly human body, properly, you see, from a Tupinambá standpoint, properly Araweté, properly Kaiápo? Because human is too generic a word, hence, everything is human. The problem is how it is a Tupinambá human. For this, one must determine the body as specifically Tupinambá. Make my body different from the generic body of jaguar, white, alligator, that naked body. It is necessary to dress the body, and that means marking and modifying it, according to the most common ways of constructing a properly human body, in the sense of exclusively mine, Tupinambá, of my society, using pieces of animal bodies: feathers, feathers, claws. It is as if I take from the animal world, from the animal clothes, pieces of the bodies of their appearances to build a kind of composite animal that will mark my distinctive ethnic identity. Then the Tupinambá had a specific haircut, he put macaw and ostrich feathers behind, a specific tattoo, made a hole in the lip, put a jade stone. They constructed an entirely artificial body using elements of nature taken, above all, from the bodies of animals, to construct a human body. But according to another sense of human: human its tribe, its people, the real humans, those that look and see like another human.
When you look at a Hans Staden, you do not see another human, you see something half-beast, who knows if it’s a monkey, whether it’s a person or a spirit. Then he will pick him up, and instead of drowning like they do to the others, they will take him as a prisoner and dress him up as a Tupinambá. Shave him, paint him to mark him out. That is, it is in the body that are marked the changes that in our culture are often attributed to the spirit.
CASTRO: Could one think of a materialism in this case?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: As much as one could think of an animism, a spiritualism, since the soul is precisely that which brings all beings together. The bottom of being is the spirit in the sense that everything thinks, everything is there, everything reflects, everything has intentions, everything means, everything speaks, everything hears.
CASTRO: But, this drowned body that is going to rot, is there anything in it of this materialistic position, of a different entrance in very close matters?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: No doubt; but, look: materialism was derived from the fact that spiritualism was never in doubt. Universal animism, the spiritualist ontology was the basis. This they already knew, because everyone certainly has spirit. In fact, every spirit for itself has a human form. This guy has a human form for them, but let’s see if he’s a real person. It has a strictly analogous episode in New Guinea, which was invaded and colonized by Europeans much later. In the highest parts of New Guinea, there are very high mountains where thousands of people lived, and by 1930 no one had gotten there. The first Australian patrols that arrived there discovered an immense amount of people whom no one had ever heard of.
Today we have narratives and memories of the Indians there who say that in the first encounter with the white, they thought they were all spirits. Then, they put a boy to spy to see them defecating, to see if they defecate. The boy said he smelled like them. They concluded the invaders were people! Materialism, really. And the question is exactly the same. In this case, nobody got killed, but one goes through the same thing: one gets rotted, one has a body; if it smells like a human being, it’s just like one of us.
LUTTERBACH: You mark a lot of the artifice in the body, the image, the look. It seems that the look has an importance.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: The look has a very great relevance. So, has the ear.
LUTTERBACH: Yeah. That’s what I wanted to ask, the question of the voice, of the tongue in the body.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Undoubtedly, one of the fundamental things for them is: to be really people, you have to speak our language. Language is a fundamental marker of humanity, but of humanity in that sense of property. For the Tupinambá, real people have to speak the Tupinambá language. If you do not, you are not a person, you are less than a person. The language is fundamental. But, as for the question of vision — not only in Brazil, but elsewhere in the world in which perspectivism also appears in these terms — they often describe that what distinguishes species from each other is that they have different eyes. The eyes of each species are different. So, they see things differently from us. They mark the eye very much as being the organ that defines the specific essence — in the zoological, generic sense — of each type of being.
An important point to remember is that when they say that jaguars are people, what matters most to them is not that they are people because they have a human soul, but because they form a society. They are part of a body politics; they are a tribe. As is the tribe of the Tupinambá, it has the tribe of the jaguars, the tribe of the alligators, the tribe of snakes, the tribe of whites. They are always thinking in terms of collectivity; the human here is essentially a collective category. It is not the individual. The human is a point of view, so it is a pronoun. That’s who says I. And in that sense the human is not a substance.
But the body is something else. Precisely, the whole question is what it is like to make a human body. Human in the sense of proper human, not in the sense of human in that generic sense, where the whole universe is humanoid. But how do I make a body of its own that sets me apart? It involves not only this work of marking, inscription, mutilation, incision, decoration, painting, etc. Everything that sculpts a body out of this generic human body. A specific body, in the literal sense, in which each society sees itself as a species, just as each species is seen as a society. The tribe of jaguars is of the same nature as the Tupinambá tribe. The Tupinambá tribe is a species. It is as if it were a natural species and you, white people, are another species, which does not mean that there can be no marriages, just exchanges of bodies, and even there have to be changes of bodies because even among the Tupinambá a distinctive body is made.
Someone’s body is different from his wife’s body, because his body is the same as his sister’s and so he cannot marry her. There are internal distinctions that pertain to intraspecific corporalities, but which are of another nature than the pan corporalities, proper to the species as a whole. There is a Tupinambá man, a man in the sense the Tupinambá-human, which is the human itself and that has to be manufactured, but within that Tupinambá-human there are body differences which are marked in the body precisely. For example, Indians attach immense importance to dietary restrictions and to the fact that relatives have the same body. In what sense: it is in a much more ideal sense than in ours. If you are my father, for example, and you get sick, I cannot eat a lot of things because if I eat will harm you. In fact, the bodies communicate.
There is a kind of collective embodiment of the body of relatives. Relatives form a body; they share a body at a distance. This sense that if the mother and the son share the same body for them, it is as if the relatives were a great uterus, that they were all in communication, even when they are already with the bodies — in the common sense of the word — separated. So, if my son gets sick, I have to do a lot of dietary restrictions so as not to harm him. I cannot do a number of things: I cannot hunt, I cannot go out in the sun. That is to say, many of the things that happen to us in the plane of the mind or culture or spirit, for the Indians is the opposite: they are processes that comes about in the body.
For example, for us, the process of cultural change, of acculturation is essentially conceived as a change of mental contents. It is very molded, I think, in the model of the religious convention where you become someone else because you change the way you think. For the Indians, there is always the question: we are turning white, let’s turn white… how does an Indian turn white? For us, essentially, the Indian turns white when he begins to think like a white individual. The idea that you become a white Indian by changing what he has in his head, so to speak, even if to do that you have to move his body, but that body is merely instrumental. That is, put clothes on them.
LUTTERBACH: That’s because of shame…
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Yes. But what matters is that bodily discipline is actually part of a fundamental spiritual process. For the Indians, it is exactly the opposite: you turn white when you start eating like white, eating white food, having sex with white, dressing as white, doing things that a white person does. That is, it is your body that turns white and not your soul, your spirit, the mental contents.
The mental contents follow the corporal change and not the opposite. For us, spiritual change produces a change in your bodily habits: you become evangelical, you stop drinking, start wearing long sleeves, and so on. But you do it because you have become evangelical. The Indians think like Pascal’s famous phrase: if you do not have faith, kneel down and pray and that you will have. Pascal was saying it and not in an ironic way, it was true. If you kneel down every day, you will end up having faith. This is a bit of an indigenous way of thinking.
Change your body, change your body habits, change body substances with whom you interact, change your food, change your sexual partner for a white sexual partner, and that will turn you white. Because, then, yes, you will start thinking like white. That is, for them culture is not in the mind as it is for us. For us culture is essentially a cosa mentale, that is, culture is in the way people conceive things, think things through. For the Indians culture is on the body.
CASTRO: Are these bodily markings like paint and marks absolutely unique?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: They do not have to be singular. They are combinations, because the Indians often see a painting of another tribe and find it interesting and put in them, but never the same. They will make some modification.
CASTRO: But, what about between members of the same tribe?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: There are often variations, but they are variations of that tribe. If you are an expert and look directly at an Indian, you say: this is Araweté, this one is Kaiápo, by the body. Immediately through the body you see the type of body deformation, of this abstract human body, generic, five fingers, two legs and such, that is not good for anything, this is a substrate. For him, then, the body occupies the same differentiating function which, for us, occupies the soul.
We imagine our species as possessing a specific spiritual attribute: culture, or the language that only men have. Within this species we imagine each society as possessing a specific spiritual content: it is the culture of that people, it is the spirit of that people. And within each people we imagine each individual as distinguishing himself from the other, essentially, by his mental content to such an extent that I can perfectly imagine exchanging his body with you— a fiction that one passes into the body of the other-but to exchange soul with you in the sense of changing spiritual contents, it is impossible because if I change soul with you I will be you.
CASTRO: In our current orientation in psychoanalysis, there is something absolutely irreducible in this body. Maybe that’s where we can say that we are beyond structuralism. We have surpassed this intellectual framework. For us, the structure is the Lévi-Straussian intellectual, added with desire, however the desire was also resolved on the plane of the signifier and language, the spirit. With the concept of enjoyment and what we call real, we uniquely mark the body in an irreducible way.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Only in our case — and perhaps this is the difference for the Indians — this body is individual par excellence. In the Indian case, this body is collective in the sense that what it marks belongs to a body of relatives. A literally transindividual body. The closest analogy would be, as I have said, the woman with the child in her belly, in which two bodies are somehow blended together; everything a woman eats hurts her son. Exactly: you cannot smoke, you cannot drink. Somehow, for the Indians, this holds true in a much more general way.
Indeed, there is a difference there: the body for them is the place of singularity, but of collective uniqueness. Not of individual singularity. Of the singularity of a particular transindividual collective body, of relatives. Therefore, kinship is so thematised by anthropology because it speaks of how the Indians conceive the person as a compound of other people who are their relatives. So, you are, in fact, a divided, composed person. And there are several initiation rituals in various primitive tribes where you have to get the boys — the rituals are all male —and you need to dematernize them, take the whole female part of them because it was actually made by a man and a woman, then he has a male part and a female part.
LUTTERBACH: Is it the female part or is it the mother part?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It is the mother’s part, so you have, in fact, to put it in an undivided, entirely masculine state; you have to obliterate, eclipse, eventually cancel the female part of that body. The indigenous body is a body, first, collective; secondly, it is made of other bodies, so that my body and its body, if we are relatives, be in perpetual communication, in an action at a distance, say. What is unthinkable to us, even if it works for the mother and the child in the belly, and only. Of course, if my wife is sick, I’m going to eat my feijoada because I know it will not hurt her. Yet I may not eat out of solidarity or anything of the kind, but it does not leave in some way a vague conception that our bodies are in communication. We just transfer it to the spirit. This is done by spiritual solidarity.
LUTTERBACH: For love.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: For love. But love understood in that case as an empathy that is not bodily. Only it’s corporal, of course it is! I think the distinction — and perhaps what is worth exploring is this: the body thought by psychoanalysis to be the place of the absolute individual singularity and the indigenous body as being a singular body, in the sense that it distinguishes types of being, social types of being and not individual types of being. It does not distinguish individuals, but it distinguishes collectivities.
LUTTERBACH: But collective uniqueness is kind of paradoxical.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Perhaps it is the thing that ultimately marks the general question, a macro quest, which is here for us the last ratio, the last irreducible place is the individual understood as body, precisely. Before, I could be the individual as I cogito, while I. For the Indians, this cogito or this body are collective. The indigenous body is a body of relatives. It is not a body of individuals.
LUTTERBACH: Is the relative consanguineous?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It depends. There is a whole point: Indians often marry what we call relatives, even because they are small societies, people who they call relatives, but who are related and not inbreeding. Consanguineous, in that the word has a technical sense in anthropology, it is not who has the same blood, DNA or something like that. Consanguineous are those people that I cannot marry. And related are those relatives with whom I can marry. For instance, for the Tupinambá, the mother and the son are not relatives because the mother does not transmit any substance to the child. The son is entirely his father. That’s why the enemy’s son was eaten: because the mother was Tupinambá, but the son was not.
LUTTERBACH: They are not relatives, but they cannot marry.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: There is this complication. Things do not all coincide. The son is not a blood relative of the mother — in the sense we give the word — but he is a blood relative of the mother in the sense that the Indians give the word. Or rather, we use to describe the Indians, that is, belongs to the group of non-marriageable. This distinction between the marvelous and the non-marvelous is fundamental in the indigenous world. In short, incest is all articulated from this. This distinction is not necessarily between a Tupinambá and a non-Tupinambá.
It is an internal distinction to the Tupinambá, in the case, that married only with Tupinambá although they could marry, eventually, with foreigners and such. But it is an internal distinction to the bodies of the Tupinambá: the bodies of marriageable relatives and the bodies of non-marriageable relatives. And these bodies are collective bodies, bodies that communicate with each other. However, he had all sorts of things going on. For example, it is very common for a husband and wife in the Indian tribes that are, a priori, and in the beginning, belonging to bodies of opposite relatives, at the end of the coexistence, after the exchange of body substances, eating the same food, eating together, of having sex, become consubstantial. They have the same body, and often I cannot eat the food if my wife is sick because, in fact, we have the same body. She became consubstantial with me. There are all kinds of complexities. Perhaps the fundamental difference is this: the indigenous body is a diacritical body, which marks the specificities much more than in the spirit, in the soul, but at the same time it is a collective body. The Indians always think of humanity in the form of collectivity. And we always think humanity in the form of individuality.
LUTTERBACH: And what organizes this collective? We were starting to talk about the decline of the paternal function that organized our culture.
CASTRO: Beyond Oedipus. The Oedipus is no longer a reference for us. What keeps them together?
LUTTERBACH: In your interview with the journalist Eliane Brum, in the newspaper El País, you talk about the June 2013 movement on the dispersion of interests, saying that there is no ONE that brings this together, everyone participates in their interest. And you stay on that until you say — one thing I loved — that the Indians are experts at the end of the world. You talk about this issue of the environment, the precariousness of the poor and the Indians. In fact, its concept of Indians includes the poor.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Do not be poor, be an Indian, it’s my anthropophagic motto. I remember a French anthropologist and psychoanalyst who probably died, he was an Africanist, he lived in Africa, and discovered that in Mozambique, during the wars of liberation, there were horrible things. He worked in the African tribes, which are societies in which what we would call paternal function is strongly defined, with ancestral cults, patriarchalism. They are strongly marked societies. All these structures, in fact, are very similar to those of the Old World.
For those who work with Indians of the Americas, as I do, Africa is very similar to Europe from the point of view of its imaginary universe and its symbolic structures. They are very similar. They have been in communication for millennia. It’s the Old World. In the New World, an Indian is much more different from an African than an African from a Dane, when one arrives at the level of origins, of their symbolic structures, in the sense that anthropology gives the word.
Here, among the Amerindians, there was an isolation of approximately 30,000 years. I remember that this African-American psychoanalyst anthropologist was invited by a fellow Frenchman, who is also an Americanist like me, to visit the Yanomami and when he returned, the first thing he said was: These guys are not symbolic! These guys are psychotic! They have no symbolic! No father in that society!? Does it not have the paternal function?!
LUTTERBACH: Then, what is it that organizes the tribes, what brings together the tribes? What makes the tribe a tribe, which is ONE?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Nothing! She is never one; it is always dividing. They use war against each other.
LUTTERBACH: Is it the Other?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It is the Other that makes the One.
CASTRO: The Other enemy?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: And this Other is completely within, too, because the tribe is constantly outsourcing, dividing, breaking up, and therefore this unity is always temporary, always precarious. Depending on the level you are talking about, what unites the tribe is the set and the language.
LUTTERBACH: That means it’s not the shaman.
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: No. He may be the boss, but the boss just has that job, which [Philippe] Descola described very well, the boss is there like the Queen of England. You put the guy there to serve as an anchor for the group to think of itself as a group because it has a guy who speaks on behalf of the group, who delivers speeches that no one hears, nobody pays attention and he keeps talking. You’re a boss without power. His function is simply to unify the group, but this function is highly unstable. The most frequent thing in this world is: when you are not satisfied with your tribe, you leave. You take your family and make another village. Since you don’t have a monarch, you don’t t have a police force, you don’t have a transcendent structure, you don’t have a Constitution, there is nothing that forces you to stay there.
LUTTERBACH: But he’s leaving where?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: In the old days you could leave a village — the Amazon, Brazil was large — and you would come and go with your relatives.
LUTTERBACH: And I could survive…
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: Yes. The policy of an indigenous collectivity is marked by a very intense factionalism. They are societies that are units, but internally divided all the time. An indigenous society is like a Florentine republic of the sixteenth century: it has all sorts of witchcraft, envy, latent conflicts, and so on. They are always there, and at the first opportunity — if we can call it an opportunity — the tribe is splitting.
That is why they are usually small populations. You hardly have indigenous societies with more than 500 people in the same place, in the same village, because they cannot stand it. They do not tolerate it. There is nothing that forces them to tolerate, as we are forced to tolerate, to live in collectivities of thousands of people because we don’t have a passport, we cannot cross the border, we have the police, we have citizenship marked on a paper. There is nothing that forces you to live in that community.
LUTTERBACH: But what I was thinking was survival itself. I mean, a body of relatives, they alone can create a new village with resources for hunting and such?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: An old couple with a reasonable number of daughters and sons-in-law, because most of these are what we call uxorilocal, that is, husbands come to live with their wife’s relatives, so their children go to the house of the wives and their daughters bring the husbands to their house. The great authority relationship in indigenous society is not father and son, but it is father-in-law and son-in-law.
There is only one thing that a man needs to be complete, which is a wife. So, who, in fact, holds the scarce resource in this society is the father-in-law, not the father. Because they inherit, they have very little. There is no transfer of ownership. When a guy dies, you break, burn and bury all their assets. One of the most fundamental things of the patriarchal structure in the West is the transmission of property. That is a society in which there is no transfer of property, so to speak, since the child is an adult. Who has authority over the son is the one who has the potential wife of the child. Then, it is to the father-in-law that the son-in-law owes obedience, he owes services, sometimes he has to work years in his father-in-law’s field until he has his first child. Then he can get out of there and make his separate little house. Eventually, it will be the cell that will give rise to a new village etc. But the great relation of power in this society, the critical relationship, if one can say so, is the father-in-law relation. Because the father-in-law owns the daughter, so to speak, and therefore owns the wife.
LUTTERBACH: And one day the husband becomes the owner of the wife?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: No. And one day the husband will become the owner of his daughter’s husband.
LUTTERBACH: Yeah? But will his wife always be his father’s?
VIVEIROS DE CASTRO: It’s not that she’s going to be her father’s. This varies from society to society. In uxorilocal societies, where the sons-in-law go out to live with their wives, women form a united group. That is to say, the mothers are all together, so in fact they are matriarchal societies, not in the sense that the inheritance is to be transmitted by the mothers, as the matriarchy was imagined. But they are matriarchal in the sense that family units are composed of sisters. Mothers, sisters and men are all coming from other homes. The father-in-law, himself, was a son-in-law, his son-in-law will turn his father-in-law. But they are always somehow foreigners in the women’s house.
The houses are feminine territory. In general, in these villages, where the houses are feminine territory, and the father-in-law is the father-in-law, who is himself an ex-son-in-law, it is his wife who really is the pillar of family continuity. She is the matriarch in this sense. Men, by contrast, often have a house in the centre of the village, where only men can attend, a kind of men’s club in which women cannot enter; and that there are sacred things that women cannot see.
There is a whole theater of masculine compensation, because the concrete family life, domestic, is strongly marked by the feminine continuity and the men, then, create a space of the sacred, in the middle of the village, in which they have the sacred flutes. A space more often linked to origin myths.
Primitive matriarchy is a very common indigenous myth. It is not only a Western or Oswaldian myth, it is also a myth of the Indians. Formerly, women… were men who menstruated and women commanded. The women commanded because they had the flutes— the flutes are clearly phallic and, at the same time, hollow instruments — then it is like a phallus, a phallic uterus, which blows. It is an instrument, from a certain point of view, of its genital, sexual and procreative meanings. Women used flutes and men menstruated. Then there were several vicissitudes in which men stole women’s flutes, women menstruated, and men became the owners of the flutes and, therefore, the guardians of the sacred. And women become profane beings, relegated “to the periphery”, which is where really the things that count are passed: food production, the kitchen, the son-in-law hunting and having to take the hunt for the mother-in-law for her to divide it with the whole family, etc.
However, there is this “house of men”, as it is often called, in the centre of the village, where the masculine function is secured, a position, a symbolic eminence of masculine function. If you ask the Indians, they will say: it is the men who rule. But when you see how it works, men command you to the extent that they are the guardians of the sacred. But the political life of the village is — all of it — controlled by women because women are the bodies of relatives who are in the houses. There is a lot of subtleties about it.
Trad. Liracio Jr.