The “ontological turn” in anthropology is arguably one of the most inventive developments in the human sciences of the last decades, and yet it is barely engaged in the United States. This seminar, taught by one of the principal American anthropologists involved in its ongoing elaboration, offers an advanced, graduate-level introduction to the turn through close readings of one of its signal texts, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's Cannibal Metaphysics (which the instructor translated) and of portions of other, related texts: Philippe Descola's Beyond Nature and Culture, Marilyn Strathern's The Gender of the Gift, Roy Wagner's The Invention of Culture, and Claude Lévi-Strauss's Introduction to The Work of Marcel Mauss and The Savage Mind.
Focused on Viveiros de Castro's “method of controlled equivocation,” this six- week course will present the idea that the ontological turn is of broad significance to the humanities as a whole because this method—of contrasting the incompatible senses, or equivocations, engendered in ultimate modern signifiers by other variations of thought—reorients interpretation away from its ongoing emphasis on indeterminacies in signification and toward the fixity of incommensurate signifieds and their presumed referents. Topics covered will include the parallel work of Philippe Descola; the ontological distributions of collectives in which kinship and other kinds of relations have primacy over individuals; gender and feminism in the turn, via the work of Marilyn Strathern; the structuralist basis and future of the interpretation of equivocations; politics as conceived by the ontological turn as well as its critics; the turn's relation to critiques of secularism, to extra-Occidental “metaphysics,” and to the ecological crisis.
This seminar is ideal for beginning and advanced graduate students; persons applying to graduate school who wish to prepare themselves with a brief theory course; practicing artists and curators; and anyone, from any line of work or life, interested in ideas.
Peter Skafish has held positions as Maître de conférences associé and Fondation Fyssen fellow at the Collège de France; Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at McGill University; and visiting faculty at The University of California, Berkeley. He is currently completing a book, Rough Metaphysics: The Speculative Thought of an American Channel (An Anthropology of Concepts) and establishing The Institute of Speculative and Critical Inquiry, a nonprofit institute that supports interdisciplinary theoretical research and its public teaching, and its journal, The Otherwise.
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