Eulogy for David Graeber

By Sophie Carapetian, 19 October 2020
Image: David Graeber, TUC anti-cuts protest in London, 26 March 2011, Dim Sum Block (虾饺武装派别)

David Graeber, academic, anthropologist and revolutionary died on 4 September, 2020 in hospital in Venice. To mark his passing and celebrate his life and work, including his contribution to Mute, we publish this eulogy by his friend and comrade Sophie Carapetian


Something I’ve learned about grief, through the death of my father, is that the process of loss, of losing someone that you love is in part a process of losing focus, a process where time imposes a kind of erosion of memory. The memory of the person starts to soften and blur, a kind of matter forms over what was once solid, and that matter is like moss but the material that its composed of is made up of time. This process has a correlate in photography. I'm not talking here about what is now the norm in image making: digital images or digital photographs. I'm talking about analogue photography with real film, photographs that are sculptural, that become what they are through tracing an impression of actual real light bouncing off the surfaces of objects and leaving a negative imprint on light sensitive film. And unless preserved in the appropriate conditions, photographs fade, the edges of the object pictured, its contours, the recorded information, starts to fade. Much like memory. I've been trying to work out how to paint a portrait of David, using text not images. It is impossible. Trying to work out which words to choose to preserve some of the contours of David's life, trying to work out what to pull into focus and how to preserve him in some way, a textual portrait. A teacher of mine, who is quite a terrible artist, once told me that portraiture is a bourgeois conceit. I disagree. And so here I am to make a sketch of David in keeping with his politics, which were, as we all know, revolutionary, and that placed the emancipation of the working class as their central concern.


David was many things to me, he was a teacher, a friend, a comrade, an agony aunt, a patron of my art practise, he would support me financially, we have shared political organising work together, been in meetings together, demos together, thrown paint bombs at the cops together. We discussed our ideas about politics, art, revolution, current affairs. I learnt a lot from him, from our endless debates. David and I did have fundamental disagreements in our analysis of the capitalist mode of production. For example we disagreed about the way the labour theory of valued worked in relation to unpaid domestic labour. We disagreed about his theses on bullshit jobs, a book I did research work on for him. I have quite deep objections to key areas of his analysis. But we didn’t need to agree to be comrades. I didn’t need to fight over these issues with him, instead we had a ten year daily dialogue, feeling out together our different analysis, finding common ground – of which there was much. Being David's friend and comrade could be tough sometimes, he really could be quite disagreeable, anti-social and quite mad. This however was a mutual affair. After all I'm actually certified clinically insane, had a three year psychosis and David was always there for me, supporting me, always on the other end of the phone. Always having my back.


I have this memory I want to share. It was during my psychotic breakdown three years ago, I had left my phone in a cafe, purposely and in fear, as I was terrified of being under state surveillance, of being monitored by the cops and was convinced that the state was trying to kill me and so I had got rid of all my electronic devices. I had decided a few days later – psychosis is not very consistent – that I need to pick the phone up, but, I was seriously terrified. David offered to go with me to Victoria and pick the phone up. I remember walking through Victoria with David on this bitingly cold and wet and snowy day, we were both wearing our massive Russian fur hats that he bought us, we must have looked like total lunatics. In my mind we were two revolutionaries on a mission together to destroy the capitalist class and its ruling order and that every step through the snow was to reach that end. We picked up the phone. I was so terrified of it and I asked him 'if I use this smart phone will I forget everything' he said he’d remind me. We went on our way. What I didn’t say, what I was scared of losing, was all those memories and thoughts and modes of life that have not been subsumed by capital, the things we must forget as we check our hourly notifications, sign into our phones with facial recognition software, update our social media accounts strategically networking to bolster our personal brands. I was scared I would forget being a revolutionary, forget what love is, forget my anger. But David promised me he’d help me remember and I still do. I remember everything. All that has gone on in these last ten years of austerity, of hell, of failed revolutionary moments and ruptures, of the conformism and malice and brutal abjection and the humiliations we have all had to collectively endure and try and fight together. That David spent all his time resisting. His life work.


I met David through taking direct action and through organising the occupation of Goldsmiths library in 2010 at the height of the student movement. I didn’t know who he was. We actually became friends because he found me crying because some students had grouped up on me and called me a terrorist after a debate in the occupation's general assembly. He comforted me, made some jokes, reassured me and we became friends. At the time I didn’t have the political vocabulary to be able to discern that those student were just fucking liberals and that I shouldn’t waste my tears on them. You live and learn. Fuck liberals. David taught me that. And David believed in me, as a revolutionary, and as an artist. He taught me to believe in myself regardless of what liberals and reactionaries level at me. And I believe in him, as a comrade, as a kindhearted revolutionary, as a political economist and as a brilliant anthropologist. He was all these things and so much more. There was so much to believe in.


That I met David on the barricades is really significant to me. It’s an important detail to me because David was a militant revolutionary in a really committed serious way and I don’t think this should ever be glossed over or get lost as just trivial sport. He was deadly serious about social, political and global revolution. He identified as an anarchist and advocated that society and government should be fully participatory and horizontally democratic. Though the years I've know him, I've heard him be dismissed so many times as a liberal – for say, in his book Debt arguing for a debt Jubilee, instead of, say, the total abolition of value and class… the critiques are usually the same kind of clunky cookie cutter drivel that actually didn’t engage with what David was writing and how he lived his life. A comrade that I admire and look up to once told me kindness was revolutionary. Well, David was one of the kindest and most generous people that I ever met. He would fight anyone, everyone all the time, say on Twitter for example. And people would mock this, wind him up, pile on and attack him. And David would be combative in return, with all of these counter revolutionaries, all the time. This well known behaviour would lead people to gossip and ridicule him, saying he couldn’t take criticism. But people never asked why. Why would he argue with random people that had no bearing on his life, why would he take the time to bicker? And as David's friend I would beg him to not look at Twitter or respond to trolls and haters… but when I think about it, David responded because he actually cared, believed in his ideas, and passionately wanted complete social change, justice and global revolution. He didn’t care about status, he would argue with everyone regardless of their clout and social standing. He refused authority, becoming comrades with his students, with complete strangers, with the random people who wrote to him and who were touched by his work. I was learning what it means to be a revolutionary from David, learning from him what this entails and how to navigate and live a life as if in two different worlds, in multiple times zones, that of normative time and that of revolutionary time. How to have a job and exist in the straight world but at the same time be involved in revolutionary class warfare. Something David really excelled at. I realise that David occupied a very unusual and rare space and social position – he wasn’t just a public intellectual, he was a public revolutionary. His politics did not remain as theoretical abstraction. They did not remain relegated to the academy. David endeavoured to make revolutionary analysis popular, but never watered down his politics for his mass audience. He made his ideas accessible, legible to those not lucky enough to have gone to university. He didn’t just write ground breaking academic research but wrote popular critiques of work, of authority, sexism, bullying, anti-semitism… I could go on. David didn’t hide in the comforts of academia, he actually went to the demos, the occupations, the meetings, the war zones. He broke the law, put his body on the line, risked arrest along with the rest of us. I really respect his praxis it's seriously rare and was a beautiful thing to be part of. David, I will never forget you. I hope that all of those gathered here today will start infinite fires in both the memory of his life and to keep alive the hope, compassion and solidarity of our shared revolutionary work. Rest in power comrade.


Sophie Carapetian is an artist, book designer and dyslexic typesetter. She is based in what is left of London. She can be contacted at sophie.carapetian AT