Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: Some Reflections on the Notion of Species in History and Anthropology

The text that follows was written by the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Rio de Janeiro, 1951) in response to a questionnaire regarding the problem of species prepared and sent to him by Álvaro Fernández-Bravo, for e-misférica 10.1. The recent work of Viveiros de Castro is not too well known by American [English] readers. His most important English-language book came out twenty years ago, From the Enemy’s Point of View: Humanity and Divinity in an Amazonian Society (The University of Chicago Press, 1992). He recently published The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul: The Encounter of Catholics and Cannibals in 16-century Brazil (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2011), which is a translation of his previously published work. Among his most important recent works are A inconstância da alma selvagem e outros ensaios de antropologia (São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2000), Métaphysiques cannibals. Lignes d’anthropologies post-structurale (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2009), and the Spanish version of the same book, Metafísicas caníbales. Líneas de antropología postestructural (Buenos Aires: Katz, 2010). He has taught at the University of Chicago, Cambridge University, University of Manchester, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil and is currently professor of Anthropology at the National Museum, Federal University of Río de Janeiro as well as researcher at CNRS, France.
The focus of the questions addressed to the author was organized around the topic of Multinaturalist Perspectivism, a concept developed in his work that emphasizes the point of view of Amazonian Indigenous peoples. Viveiros de Castro’s argument is to move out from the Amerindian world as an object of observation/study into an effort to look to the world (including its non-human components) from an Indigenous point of view. Not the return of the native, but the turn of the native, as he has stated. Amerindian perspectivism is a theory and vision of the world with a strong connection to “multinaturalism”, a category opposed to multiculturalism that assumes the coexistence of different “natures” as in Amazonian cosmology. These “natures” include non-human animal perception along with a human one, all of them sharing a common perspective or affinity. As the author put it, what matters is no longer to classify the species in which nature is divided, but to know how the species themselves take over this task (2010: 69), producing images of nature according to their perspective. In his books and articles, in active dialogue with Deleuzian philosophical positions, Viveiros de Castro refers in many opportunities to “species”, particularly in relation to the human-animal pair. Animals and humans share a common point of view, according to which different and moving “natures” are conceived.
The questions addressed to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro asked him to develop some of his concepts, particularly the relationship between Multinaturalist Perspectivism and species. Is the category of “species” still useful to understand the world? What is its value to produce knowledge? Is it possible to avoid the epistemic violence that has characterized taxonomies and racialist hierarchies in the History of Science in the West and continue thinking with “species”? Shall we preserve “species” as a conceptual tool or should it be abandoned at all? Is it possible to capture “species” and assign them an emancipatory function?
Text by Álvaro Fernández Bravo