michelle kuo

  • Michelle Kuo: The question then becomes, What do these everyday moments of communism mean for a theory of the individual? How do they relate to individuality?
  • David Graeber: I developed that relation in the Debt book, and it’s been somewhat misunderstood. One of the ideas I was trying to pursue was how one comes up with something like the value of the individual without having to frame it within the rather mystical notion that you have a unique crystalline core, which is the basis of your value, irrespective of social relations. Because it struck me, if you look at matters like compensation for wrongful death and the ways traditional societies resolve feuds, there is very clearly an assumption of the unique value of the individual. But the uniqueness is predicated on the fact that the individual is a unique nexus of social relations. And I think that’s what we’ve lost—the notion that we’re sedimented beings created by endless configurations of relations with others. I think individuality is something we constantly create through relations with others, and that, in a way, this very fact resolves [Émile] Durkheim’s favorite problem, which is: How do I reward society for having allowed me to become an individual? Durkheim had this idea that we are all burdened by an infinite social debt, which he inherited from Auguste Comte—the idea that you owe society for allowing you to be an individual, that individuality is a kind of cosmic debt to society or to nature. I wanted to deconstruct the entire notion that one’s existence can be conceived as anything like debt. Since, after all, a debt is a relation of jural equality. It’s premised on the notion that there is a contractual relation between two equal parties. But how can the individual and society conceivably be posed as equal partners to a business deal? It’s absurd.So I wanted to move instead to a notion of the individual as a nexus of relations. But in order to do that you have to reimagine a lot of things, including, I suspect, our very notions of mind. A lot of the things we think of as the ultimate products of individuality are in fact products of relationships, of dyadic or triadic relations of one kind or another.