CFP: Marcel Henaff’s Anthropology: Good to Think With

Submission deadline: April 30, 2023

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CRITICAL HERMENEUTICS Vol. 7, n. 1, June 2023

Marcel Henaff’s Anthropology: Good to Think With

Editors: Vinicio Busacchi, Marco Castagna (guest ed.)

This issue is dedicated to introducing readers to Marcel Henaff (1942-2018)’s work and to the perspectives it opens up in the field of human sciences.

Henaff bequeathed a rich work whose fruits are still many to be reaped. As a border thinker, Henaff has continuously worked to ensure that anthropology and philosophy progress together, by virtue of the conviction that only starting from this collaboration can concrete results be obtained in favour of social well-being. On the other hand, his reflection was always generously made available to international associations, especially those of a trade unionist nature. For these same reasons, Henaff travelled a lot, putting no dialogue between knowledge and scholars otherwise extremely distant from each other. The multiplicity of languages into which the author’s essays and articles are translated are the testimony of this continuous effort, even physical.

In the early 60s he taught at the University of Copenhagen. He than obtained a position at the International College of Philosophy of Paris, and since 1988 has been a professor of philosophy and anthropology at the University of California, San Diego. He also taught at the University of Baltimore, Maryland (U.S.A.) and Kyoto (Japan) as a research associate. He regularly collaborated with the Esprit magazine, where he published numerous papers, and which dedicated a special issue to him. In 2002 he received the Grand Prix Moron of the Academy of France and the Prix Victor-Cousins of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences for his book Le prix de la verité. In 2011 he received the Faculty Research Award from the University of California.

Although he become famous with a work on Levi-Strauss’ thought – who considered him a favourite among their readers – the dominant trait of Henaff’s research can already be traced in his reading of De Sade. Here, the “Libertine body” no longer coincides with a body of flesh and blood but becomes the disturbing witness of a profound social transformation, in which the body is considered in terms of production, use, exchange and waste.

Probably, it is precisely this same centrality accorded to the living body that allows Henaff to move among the theoretical models offered by philosophy without ever abandoning the terrain of sociology.

He is considered one of the leading modern anthropologists of the gift and its relationship to the theme of recognition, but he has also contributed to the rapprochement of Levi-Strauss, Mauss and Ricoeur. In Le prix de la vérité (2002) he had analysed the ways in which the ceremonial gift requires the introduction of a symbolic character of the gift/counter-gift exchange which cannot be resolved only in the economic dimension, but which requires reference to a logic of culture (Wittgenstein and Peirce). Here the lesson of Levi-Strauss’ Structuralism is quite evident, which Henaff would have tempered in his last works with the contribution of Wittgenstein’s doctrine of “language games” and with recourse to Peirce’s triadic concept, form which he derives the idea of institution as a normative system of real relationships. Therefore, with the following Le don des philosophes (2012) Henaff opens the comparison between the different “philosophies of the gift”, coming to focus on the gift as a procedure of public recognition.

He has also been, since the 1990s, one of the main architects of the philosophical questioning of Structuralism and the work of Claude Levi-Strauss, in particular through his books Claude Lévi-Strauss and the Making of Structural Anthropology (1991) and Claude Lévi-Strauss, le passeur de sens (2008). In 2004 a polemic pitted him against Jacques Godbout and Alain Caillé, considering the positions taken by the Mauss group as based on the idea of the gift only as an economic operator, while Henaff defended a political conception of it, as well as its persistence in contemporary societies. On the themes of the gift and Structuralism, he would also initiate a lasting collaboration with the journal Esprit. In particular, in an article published in 2001, he analyses how Levi-Strauss moved with the Mythologies to another methodology which, without abandoning the structure, referred more to the concept of transformation. Like that of his master Levi-Strauss, his anthropology was “good to think about”. This is the title he had chosen for this second dossier, coordinated in 2004: “Claude Levi-Strauss: une anthropologie bonne à penser”. Beyond the long article dedicate to structural anthropology in its debates with phenomenology and hermeneutics, and the interview offered by Levi-Strauss for this dossier, it is possible to read a short article on the transition from “structure” (“Adieu à la structure?”, August-September 2011), that result of work on kinship, to the “transformation”, fruit of the work on mythology, in Levi-Strauss’ structural anthropology, thus leaving more room for the musical concept of variation.

With decisive papers on global civilisation (“Vers la ville globale : monument, machine, réseau, March-April 2004), Paul Ricoeur’s relationship with Greece (“La Grèce avant la raison”, November 2013), on translation (“La condition brisée des langues : diversité humaine, altérité et traduction”, March-April 2006), on the gift (“L'argent et le hors-de-prix”, February 2002; “Le don perverti : Pour une anthropologie de la corruption”, February 2014) and on time (“La valeur du temps: remarques sur le destin économique des sociétés modernes”, January 2010), Henaff himself practiced variation on bases that, in him, “insisted”. From California where he taught anthropology and philosophy, he intervened in the debate on the interpretation of 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. In fact, in “Terreur et vengeance. Une immense demande de reconnaissance” (May 2016), Henaff wondered how to interpret the vengeful logic claimed by the terrorists. He argued that it was not exactly revenge, but a “terrorism of punishment”, linked to an identity wound and a request for recognition. He concluded: “There is no dept in the story, nor a genetic defect. Starting from this heritage, there is the responsibility of assuming the choice of linving together for the time to come”.

Contributions from a wide range of potential fields (anthropology, sociology, philosophical hermeneutics, political philosophy andethics) will help to fully understand and appreciate Marcel Henaff’s work of research and reflection. A non-exhaustive list of possible topics would include:

- Henaff’s contribution to the human and social sciences

- Henaff and relationship between anthropology and philosophy

- Henaff and the interdisciplinary dialogue

- Henaff’s work and its relationship with Structuralism

- The body: Henaff, reader of De Sade

- Henaff and Ricoeur on recognition

- Henaff and the anthropology of gift

- Henaff: the gift between anthropology and philosophy(-ies)

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