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  • The Anti-giraffe
  • Maria José de Abreu (bio)

The other day someone asked me how I would summarize the moment we are living in. My answer was that we are experiencing a total loss of perspective compensated only by an outstanding agility. Our incapacity to determine relations of cause and effect according to point of view is rewarded by a suppleness of form in responding to quick-shifting scenarios. The now-this-now-that sway of motion associated with the swift resolve of governmental leaders, market impulses, or media warfare is turning us into agile athletes whose intent is no longer to predict where things are going but to adapt as new situations erupt.

It is no wonder that calls for supra-agility come precisely when, due to a global pandemic, our breathing is being intensely regimented. If the virus includes all those who breathe as potentially infected, such inclusion also masks the violent exclusions it produces. The virus affects people and countries in differential ways, intensifying the partitions between the elderly and the young, between those who are locked in and those who are locked out, between the worker who saves lives and those who are willing to sacrifice life to the mad autocrat. [End Page 217]

I try to imagine what creature could rise above the disconcerting dizziness of our time. I picture the slow semblance of a giraffe’s lankybodied neck famously heralded by the utopian socialist Charles Fourier as “the hieroglyph of truth” in his meditations on the future. Yet what the giraffe gains in vistas, as it browses on branches eighteen feet above the ground, it loses in its odd gait, unagreeable to burdens it may be called on to bear. The giraffe’s harmonious powers may be surpassed only by what Fourier nourished in his imagination as a creature who, more outstandingly, will remind us of what we do not yet conceive as realizable, as our indispensable burden.

Created at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, Fourier’s blissful new world was an effort to conceive an alternative societal organization, as civilization had reached a state of paralysis under the weight of its own contradictions. Fourier’s critique of economic liberalism, his ideas of a breathing-in-common at the Phalanx, and his fantastic animals and botanizing of hope were the vital force of possible interventions out of the impasse, his desperate appeal to imagination against stuckness, his way of designifying a world undergoing deep structural transformations—a world, in sum, where neither giraffe (perspective) nor reindeer (agility) seemed to harmonize but instead called for a narrative of counteractualization: the anti-giraffe.

Perhaps today we find ourselves at a similar temporal threshold when breathing will allow us to see not only what our moment is but also what it is not. [End Page 218]

Maria José de Abreu

maria josé de abreu is assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University. She is author of The Charismatic Gymnasium: Breath, Media, and Religious Revivalism in Contemporary Brazil (2021). Her current project explores the concept of home to think an oikopolitics of the present.



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pp. 217-218
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