Life in Common: An Essay in General Anthropology

Life in Common: An Essay in General Anthropology

Life in Common: An Essay in General Anthropology

Life in Common: An Essay in General Anthropology

Synopsis

In Life in Common Tzvetan Todorov explores the construction of the self and offers new perspectives on current debates about otherness. Through the seventeenth century, solitude was considered the human condition in the Western philosophical tradition. The self was not dependent on others to perceive itself as complete. Todorov sees a reversal of this thinking beginning with the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century. For the first time the self was defined as incomplete without the other, and the gaze no longer served only to satisfy personal vanity but constituted the fundamental requisite for human identity. nbsp; Todorov traces the far-reaching implications of Rousseau's new vision of the self and society through the political, philosophical, and psychoanalytical theories of Adam Smith, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Georges Bataille, Melanie Klein, and others, and the relevant literary works of Karl Philipp Moritz, the Marquis de Sade, and Marcel Proust. In an original study of the bond between parent and child, Todorov develops a compelling vision of the self as social.

Excerpt

Anthropology as it is generally practiced today is never “general.” It has as its object particular societies or their culture. But the word can also be taken in its literal sense of “knowledge of man” to denote the concept of humanity that would underlie various investigations of the human sciences as well as moral or political discussions or even philosophy. It is this kind of anthropology that is at the origin of the present study.

General anthropology is situated halfway between the human sciences and philosophy. It does not seek to challenge either one but rather to act as a bridge allowing the two to join or to be an intermediary space that would facilitate an exchange of ideas. It differs from other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, or ethnology in that, rather than concentrating on the observation of one kind or aspect of human activity, it seeks to highlight the implicit definition of humankind itself, the unformulated intuitions of these sciences. It does not try to judge in advance, as we might think, the relative importance of identical and diverging characteristics of the species by giving more importance to the first and neglecting the second. The very idea of differences among societies or individuals implies qualities in common, and this communality makes comparisons and the study of differences fertile or at least possible. Such a general anthropology allows us to free ourselves of the jargon of each discipline or clique within that discipline, jargon that sometimes seems to be the sole purpose of its practitioners. In hoping to find what is common to these sepa-

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