I didn’t know David Graeber. I’m a 24 yr old girl living in Pennsylvania, USA. I work for fair treatment of prisoners.
When I took my first job doing this I was excited to be of some service to someone and to work for a cause I felt mattered. It was good work, though hard to stomach sometimes. The hardest part, though, was the office with fluorescent lighting, the slew of emails, and all the other trappings of professionalism. This was so extraordinarily oppressive I could not see straight. My brother had recently died which made me acutely aware of the fact that life does end. I could not bear to imagine all my future years stretched out before me, all taking place behind that desk, in that office, wearing a blazer and sorting files.
For a number of reasons, that was the darkest time in my life. Like, dark how they portray it in the movies. For 12 entire months it was all I could do to wake up each day.
David’s writing was my only source of actual hope and comfort during this time. I would take a hot bath and read Bullshit Jobs and suddenly the rope around my chest would loosen for as long as I was reading. His article about interstitial democracy made me feel that a better world is not only possible, but worth working towards.
You will never know how grateful I am to him for putting his thoughts into action – for actually writing and publishing a book so that it might reach me.
I read Michael Hardt’s obituary of Graeber in Jacobin. He decidely does not describe David Graeber’s outlook as optimism since it is staked so much in reality. I agree. This is why he could offer me hope when no one else could. My loving family! My loving boyfriend! My dear friends! They could not offer what I needed to hear.
I would like to tell him thank you. I would like to let him know that he helped me see a life away from that extraordinary darkness. I am so much freer now and so much of that is thanks to him.
— Jessica Smith
Kings. It was already apparent in the twentieth century to the anthropologist A.M.Hocart, one of David’s favorites, that as he said, “So far from having done with divine kingship, we seem to be returning to it in a more virulent form.” Now in America the would-be king is literally virulent, spreading his coronavirus disease wherever he goes. It is the opposite of the Royal Touch of the medieval kings who could cure their people’s scrofula with their royal hand. Instead of the Royal Touch, the president of the United States gives us the Middle Finger.
No government ever told Englishmen how to line up in a queue, as Hocart was fond of saying: it is an agreement among perfect strangers based on tradition of the rights of the first comer. ‘Self help,’ Hocart called it: “Anyhow,” as he wrote, “whoever governs, it is not the king, but self help.” I think David respected Hocart because both his own politics and anthropology were based on the same idea. “Anarchy,” David called it, and he documented it by profound cross-cultural scholarship, referring to the many ways people collectively organized their lives by their own lights—from their kinship relations to their notions of morality and reciprocity—without the benefit of law or state.
Recently I had occasion to reflect on David’s career since I had known him as PhD student at the University of Chicago. I can do no better here than sum up as I wrote then: One of David’s books is titled “Possibilities.” It is an apt description of all his work. It is an even better description of his life. Offering unimagined possibilities of freedom was his gift to us.
— Marshall Sahlins
A short report from Gdynia
The weather was absolutely beautiful, the children’s playground packed to the brim – they had their carnival, that’s for sure! I was there for an hour and a half and since nobody came, I packed things up and went to my parents. I couldn’t live down nobody even trying to put a pin on the map in the so-called Poland so I did try. While I haven’t met anyone, I think it might say something about the lack of Graeber’s popularity here or that everyone interested was doing their own thing, who knows! Maybe it was the lack of a photo that made the thing unappealing.
I have no idea when or whether Graeber was in Poland, whether or not he spoke here or visited any of the anarchist spaces. I know that a friend of his back in 2001 in Quebec remarked that we don’t know what vegetarian and vegan means. If you see this Emma and did not have a chance to visit Poland again – we’ve learnt, at least in some spaces. We’re still fighting the good fight against considering fish not-meat.
Thanks David for all the work you’ve done. I think I should do something to popularize your writings here. Too bad I never found the courage to contact you and try to arrange you coming to an anarchist congress Kongresono last year. I shall never know if I’d find it to invite you to the next one. Guess what should be done is to present your thought there. That’d be pretty neat.
Oh I forgot to include these Cube for Truth lads ‘n lasses in my write up. Three carnivals so close to each other, some vegan activists in guy fawkes masks, children and me!
Hello Miss Dubrovsky,
I hope this email finds you safe and healthy. I have been thinking about writing this email for a long time. I couldn’t decide what to say or how to say, not because I didn’t know enough but because I felt too much and didn’t figure out how to do justice to the feeling I am to address. With every photo of Mr. Graeber you post it becomes increasingly difficult for me to not to write this email.
I came to know Mr. Graeber’s work through my awakening to the realm of political reality. I got introduced to Marxism just after I graduated with an engineering degree. Owing to the poor state of education in social sciences in these so called ‘universities’ most people don’t get to explore the reality in full and get trained to focus on unimportant things like career, money, degrees etc. Mr. Graeber’s articulation of questioning the established assumptions shattered my understanding of the world and drove me to explore ideas on those new fronts he illuminated.
I am not much of a reader but I started watching his lectures on youtube and couldn’t stop for a long time. His historical grasp and sociological understanding in all of his theoretical formulations incited me to explore other disciplines like history, anthropology and the study of alternative social order in greater depth. Before coming across Mr. Graeber’s work I was familiar with Marxist ideas and was an ardent student of Marx and Chomsky. I felt like I figured out at least what is there to think and fight about. But Mr. Graeber’s discussions on value theory, debt and direct action was a domain that brought light on topics that were largely absent from the domain of political discussions – at least in Bangladesh, where I am from. I will always be in debt of Mr. Graeber’s works.
His sudden departure from our mortal world hurt a lot of fellow souls like me and created an unfathomable absence around us. Particularly in this juncture of our history his insights would be of incomparable significance and we will all miss them sorely. From the video footages and recollections of him it’s pretty clear to me how magical it could have felt to be in his company. I will always regret not having that fortune and will never understand how must it feel to not to have him in person anymore with us.
I would love to offer my friendship to you and invite you to visit Bangladesh whenever this pandemic is over. We will keep working to make the cry of emancipation heard all over the world. I will stop today with a revolutionary song from my culture.
— Hossain Cyrus
A letter to Nika from Mark Fuller
I messaged you back on Twitter and wanted to re-iterate how inspiring your Museum of Care project sounds. As I mentioned in a recent tweet, I just finished reading David’s “Les Pirates des Lumières”, which was yet another amazing book teasing out the complexities of history. I had wanted to say more than what fits in a tweet about what David meant to me. When I first saw a tweet referring to his no longer being with us, it was quite difficult to accept this sad news. I was hoping I’d misread the first tweet. He gave so much to everyone, it didn’t matter ‘who’ you happened to be. He changed my way of thinking, answered DMs and emails. To be clear: we didn’t really know each other, but his generous responsiveness to any communication from anyone in the world not only validated our ideas and presence in the world but imparted such a sense of solidarity and of hope. I am attaching a file with two typical email exchanges (there were also DMs) illustrating his commitment to strangers. Thank you for generously inviting us to contribute to and attend the memorial. Take care and stay safe.
A letter to Nika
I hope you are well, and I hope it isn’t too strange for me, a stranger, to be emailing you.
I am a comparative literature student from the united states. I was a fan of your husband, and through him, discovered you, and, if it isn’t too odd to say, your online presence has provided a lot of reassurance to me through the grief and upheaval I have been dealing with these past few months. If nothing else, I would like to express gratitude for that, and sincere condolences for the loss of your husband.
I hope this isn’t too strange for me to ask, but truly, I am not sure where to turn with a question like this. In thinking about what I “should do” with my life, I feel quite disheartened by the state of things, and very afraid of being trapped in a world where things seem to continually be moving from bad to worse. I would love to move out of America, but am not sure how, as I don’t know how to go about finding work abroad. I am thinking of taking the next term off of university as well, but am not sure if this is a good idea, or if there is a way I can move abroad during that time. I suppose I also feel quite guilty for wanting this, as it is a selfish desire as well. I suppose I am just pining for a world where I can study and write outside the confines of American academic institutions, but I just don’t know if that is a realistic thing to wish for, or if I am being idealistic and naive. Perhaps I am trying to ask: what would you do if you were a student now, trying to write, and trying to move to another country?
I know this is completely out of the blue, and a question that is not at all your concern, so please feel no pressure to respond.
I very much hope you are well, and again, if nothing else, am grateful for all you have done, and the hope you have inspired in me.