[Above artwork by Tsuruko Yamakazi]
Michelle Kuo: What’s interesting, too, is the entire notion of rupture. As historians or cultural critics, we’re always taught that rupture is good and continuity is bad. It’s still a reaction against [Leopold von] Ranke’s narrative version of history. In other words, continuity is seen as a reactionary way of looking at history. But you’re obviously interested in posing a more sweeping, long-range history or theory of history. Why did you choose to do so?
David Graeber: As an activist it strikes me that some of the most radical, most revolutionary movements today base themselves in indigenous communities, which are communities that see themselves as traditionalists but think of tradition itself as a potentially radical thing. So the deeper the roots you have, the more challenging things you can do with them.
[If] you apply the logic of critique too consistently, you create this almost gnostic notion of reality, that the one thing we can do is to be the person who realizes the world is wrong. It may be incredibly rewarding intellectually, but it’s also a terrible trap. I always go back to Marx’s famous phrase from 1843, “Toward a Ruthless Critique of Everything That Exists.” It was something he wrote when he was twenty-five, which is appropriate for that age. When I was younger, I felt that way, too. Now I feel that such ruthlessness has its price.
— David Graeber