The Subject as Material Subject – Eduardo Viveiros de Castro
“What interests me is the possibility of reintroducing the past of the subject, which doesn’t have to be idealistic, but a materialistic theory of the subject—the subject as a material subject. This way of thinking about animism is similar to that of the native Amazonians, a people I know well. They believe that the human and non-human share a common base in humanity, whereas we believe that they share a common base in non-humanity. We believe, for example, that what people have in common with animals is material: a body. Among the native myths always begin with a time when every living being was human. But in the end the aim is to explain how certain beings stopped being human. These beings left humanity to become animals or objects. With our myths, it’s exactly the opposite. In the beginning we were all animals or pure material. Certain of us then became humanized. So we have the heroic tales of humanity conquering nature, which is an alterity from the point of view of culture: culture as modern soul, something that distinguishes us from the rest of creation. Whereas among the Amazon Indians, it’s exactly the opposite. In their view, we are all in the world. Humans merely have a particular materiality. What makes us human as such is our body, not our soul. Our soul is the most common thing in the world. Everything is animated, you see: animism.
In animism, the soul is the seat of otherness. It is what connects us, brings us together with the rest of the world. It is precisely through the soul that we are connected, that we speak to each other, literally, whereas distinction comes through the body. You have to create a body. This is very important in the world of the Amazon Indians. All the techniques used to form a body: adornment, makeup, tattoos, incision, painting—all of this is to make a body that is different enough from the general base of humanity or soul, which raises the possibility that all entities in the world can communicate.”