Seven Short Temporary Statements on Anthropological Materialism
Anthropological materialism is a tradition, a polemical term, a sensibility, a temporality, an (internal) category and an actuality.
1. An uncommon and idiosyncratic tradition. Anthropological materialism originally designates afterwards a group of isolated French and German authors from the 19th Century and the 1930s who don’t always relate explicitly to any sort of materialism.
2. A polemical term. Anthropological materialism is neither a scientific socialism nor a romantic Marxism or a kind of humanism (although it can contain romantic and humanists elements).
3. A sensibility. Anthropological materialism is a method or, better, a sensibility, that grasps a playful doing in action and a poetical intensity in history that traditional materialist networks are unable to capture. This sort of poetical materialism is a kind of metonymy of a historic kernel that cannot be symbolised immediately without losing its specificity.
4. A temporality. Anthropological materialism embodies a vertical temporality that interrupts the horizontal temporality of the victorious march of the conquering heroes and the cyclical temporality of the industry producing commodities.
5. A category. Anthropological materialism is used as a correcting category to vulgar materialism. It helps us understand Walter Benjamin from a new perspective but, above all, as far as the term points out a work in progress by Benjamin himself, to actualise his method.
6. An internal category. Historical materialism includes anthropological materialism, although it doesn’t always notice it. Anthropological materialism has to be deliberately “integrated” (but not disintegrated) into historical materialism, i.e. put into an intern tension with it in itself.
7. An actuality. Linked to the dialectical analysis of the capital, anthropological materialism helps us understand our present. It helps us circumscribe the forces of intoxication embedded into the collective imagery linked to commodity fetishism.
(I submit these experimental and provisional statements of anthropological materialism to the discussion. All your critics, comments and corrections are very welcome.)
Marc Berdet, SOAS, London, 13th Nov. 2010.