Homme de lettres and how to share the corpus of work

Enviado por aarquivista, dom, 2021-09-26 01:14


homme de lettres and how to share the corpus of work

It has been almost a year since David died and it is still hard to believe it.

For the last five months of his life, he had been ill, complaining of several strange symptoms, but the doctors he had been seeing about it found nothing significant or life threatening.

The shock I felt that fateful afternoon, when within hours of David feeling ill on the beach in Venice, on the Lido, where Luchino Visconti shot his Death in Venice and I watched my husband collapse, still hasn’t faded.

Before David died, I had never seen a corpse. When my grandparents died, for all sorts of reasons, I never saw their dead bodies. A childhood friend died in a car accident, but when he was buried I stood far away and managed not to look at his corpse.

So in that hospital in Venice, my husband’s corpse was the first I had ever seen. He looked to me as though he had just fallen asleep, calm and even smiling a little.

I remember meeting David years ago, long before we married. It was in downtown New York. We went out for coffee at noon and walked around the city all day, talking for hours.

We were so different, he and I. I was born in the Soviet Union and he was raised in New York City, the “enemy’s heart.” Yet, immediately upon meeting David, I had the feeling I had always known this man, that despite the distance between us he was now my brother, an old friend, a comrade. Many people who knew David personally described him as having made a similar impression. Most people don’t open themselves up so fully and quickly to strangers. David almost always did.

When I lived for a time in Jerusalem, I was surprised to learn that what Jesus refers to as hell in the Gospels is not some underground S&M dungeon staffed by devils and full of horrors. Christ was instead referring to a very specific place known to all during his time in Jerusalem: the garbage dump, where the corpses of the poor, the homeless, and criminals were burned, their bones left to be scavenged by wild dogs and other animals. When Christ warned that sinners “will burn in hell,” he was issuing to those who stray from the light a very specific warning: if you do not invest your life with the living, you will die unloved and your corpse will be abandoned, fed to the dogs.

As an anthropologist, David knew that societies are largely defined by their relationship toward the dead. Our rituals of caring for the dead, celebrating  their life and managing the grief that follows loss—this is culture, this is what makes us human.

David Graeber was my husband, but he was also an amateur guitar player, a lover of Japanese and Kurdish food, an anarchist, a science fiction enthusiast, a professor, a writer, and in a seemingly impossible way a kismet friend to hundreds if not thousands of people all over the world. Given the outpouring of condolences that I have received since his passing, I have never once feared that David was at risk of going to hell, of being left forgotten among the bodies of so many others. Not with him living on in the hearts and spirit of so many people.

Shortly after his death, my friend Simona Ferlini explained that the word “corpse” shares its etymology with corpus, referring to a body of laws or, in particular, a collection of works. That I would soon after our marriage find myself dealing with both David’s corpus as well as his corpse is, of course, a great personal tragedy. I will have to spend the rest of my life going through his corpus, experiencing the destruction of most of what was so dear, familiar, and precious to me. Locked as I was for an entire year in a small studio in the middle of pandemic-stricken London, I spent most of my time sifting through David’s archives, the writings he did not have time to publish, his diaries, his correspondence. The effluvia of any great thinker like David.

And even here I can see that he lives on, as I find myself continually unable to contain my admiration for David Graeber and my joy of looking through what made him who he was, what he laughed at, what fueled his courage, and how curious and unexpected it all seems in aggregate, on this side of his death.

Actually, it is a perversely happy feeling.

David Graeber was what the French call an homme de lettres. He lived to share his ideas, experimenting with as many ways of expressing them as he could. Much like Noam Chomsky, another noted anarchist-scholar, David made himself available to those outside of the academy and would speak almost everywhere he was invited. He poured over his lectures preparing them, writing virtually all the time. Anyone who knew David, who understood what motivated him, was aware that his dedication was not out of vanity. Rather, it was a project to change the world, as well as change himself and others, through ideas, texts, lectures, and speeches.

I believe his project is quite a success. He indeed made our world a slightly better place.

After David’s death, this process must continue. Especially today, when changing the world is a matter not of ideological design but of the sheer survival of everyone on earth.

David left an enormous archive—more than a hundred notebooks, as well as incidental jottings, many letters, and unpublished texts.

But how do I deal with it correctly in a digital age?

There are many different traditions of how to treat a corpus. Unfortunately, we live in conditions of late capitalism, with its brutal structures of symbolic powers and dominations.

Partly, the task is connected to the old Catholic way of “caring” for dead saints, involving endless body: bones, fingers, and so on, that would be dragged around to the various churches and put on display. As always with the church, money and profit get involved. In our time, all this could be succinctly termed the dismemberment and privatization of corpses.

I truly hope that this can be avoided with David Graeber’s body of work.

So, I plan to split David’s archive into two parts: a physical one and a virtual one. The physical documents, along with his symbolic academic capital, should be kept (and protected) by a meaningful academic institution. After all, David’s life was always very much connected to academia.

But there must yet be another part—the non-academic one. David and I wrote several essays in this vein, under the rubric of  Art Communism (https://www.e-flux.com/journal/102/284624/another-art-world-part-1-art-communism-and-artificial-scarcity/).

In particular, we describe the concept of “culture and the reproduction of culture” introduced by Alexander Bogdanov, the founder of the early Soviet Proletkult.

Proletkult worked to create horizontal links, interdependent relationships between teachers and students, and most importantly, new modes of knowledge production and reproduction. The future free humans envisioned in the project would be understood not as romantic creators, not as professional-intellectuals, but as an amateur (or DIY, samodeyatelnost’in Russian) proletariat. Much of what Bogdanov and his allies described has now been realized in the best aspects of the Wikipedia project.

I am looking at David’s texts—his archive—as a very generous framework providing space for these horizontal connections, replete with open questions, doubts, and unexpected links to different thoughts, with entry points for reader-commentators almost anywhere.

I am thinking of creating a wiki environment for all who would be interested to join, including and above all non-academics, so that we are able not only to read his texts or examine scans of David’s (very beautiful) diaries, but to have a space to complete, rewrite, compose and develop his works, thereby creating our own.

In other words, to set up some version of the International Proletkult, using David’s texts as a basis.

Perhaps this will continue the space of sharing content, creating conditions for working together, that David was arranging all his life. Through his corpus David’s magical power to form direct emotional and intellectual connections with people, in person or through his texts, will make his legacy a living and constantly evolving project in which all of us, his readers and fellow writers, will be involved. By commenting on, thinking about and developing his projects, his thoughts, we will constantly shift the boundaries of the public and private, using our own experiences, our bodies and minds.

I would like to believe that this opening to a collective body of work is most consistent with the type of care David would practice and approve.