Over the last few years, we have witnessed, participated in, and interpreted, in various ways, a stunning proliferation of social and political manifestations of the global crisis of the world capitalist system. The multi-farious onslaughts of the larger crisis seem to plunge us collectively forward into ever more bewildering new predicaments, if not submerge us in outright disasters. Yet, we have nonetheless rediscovered and reinvigorated, in various ways, apparently dormant resources of creative energy for a heterogeneous and dazzling array of insurgent acts of desertion and dissension, defiance and subversion. Even to the varying extents that we may have sought to be participants in some of the diverse contemporary projects to “change the world,” however—not merely as “participant observers,” in other words, but as observant partisans—we have nonetheless only begun, I suspect, to adequately interpret this crisis. I am alluding here not so subtly to Marx’s famous Thesis 11 from the “Theses on Feuerbach”—wherein “the philosophers have merely interpreted the world, in various ways; [but] the point is to change it” (1970b, 123; emphases in original). Hence, it is with a sense of urgency with regard to our global political present—and likewise with respect to the inescapable demand of our unrelentingly calamitous circumstances that we act to radically change the world—that I am concerned nonetheless to engage the vexed problem of the analytic tools with which we presume to interpret our fast-and-furious reality. As Walter Benjamin never ceases to remind us, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” Yet, Benjamin’s ever-prophetic injunction—no matter how often piously cited—seems to go always unheeded. Our interpretive and analytic traditions tend to be stubbornly impervious to the exigencies and urgent mandates of an intractable and unrelenting state of emergency. Benjamin goes on:
“Where we perceive a [mere] chain of events, [history] sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage. . . .”
Perceiving these developments only serially (as mere events), we witness this singular accumulation of disastrous tragedies and atrocities, and we inherit the perverse and invidious consequences. We live amid the wreckages and convert them into the predicates of a way of life. Our social science and historiography descriptively document and record the results. But somehow the urgency of the veritable cataclysm seems to elude our tools of thought.
Our strategies and tactics for changing the world command an interpretation that uncompromisingly inhabits with us the state of emergency in which we live, an analysis that never retreats from crisis-as-a-way-of-life and refuses to avert its critical gaze from the abominable wreckage of a world characterized, now as in Marx’s time, by “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation,” in which “all that is solid melts into air” (Marx and Engels 1967, 83). In his closing lines to The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx declares that “the last word of social science” must be “combat or death; bloody struggle or extinction [nothingness]” (1963, 175).1 Still earlier, in his Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx similarly invoked this dire nexus between struggle and science, between combat and critique:
The weapon of criticism certainly cannot replace the criticism of weapons; material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory, too, becomes a material force once it seizes the masses . . . once it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp matters at the root. But for man the root is man himself.
Thus, we may better appreciate that the irascible young Marx’s revolutionary impatience for a practical disposition adequate to a world where emergency is the rule rather than the exception was no less exigent in its demand for a rigorously radical critique, indeed, a theory capable of truly apprehending the human condition itself. This would seem to suggest, in other words, the necessity for an adequately radical anthropology, in the most fundamentally philosophical sense of the word.
Anthropology as an academic discipline, by contrast, has conventionally taken as some of its most cherished foundational categories, the precise...