David Graeber died on September 2, 2020. I posted the following
comment on social media shortly after I learned of his death.
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I wanted to share a reflection on Graeber.
I first met David in 2003, as the “anti-globalization movement” was winding down, and kept up with him over the years. He and I were never super close, but we were friends and he was very close to some people with whom I am very close. He was kind and charming to me every time that we interacted without exception.
Keeping up with David meant not just tracking the vicissitudes of his personal life—where he was living and working and with whom he was hanging out—but also following how he managed his immense intellectual gifts and commitment to engagement. Most of us tend to build lives around the prompts given to us, but that was not really an option for David: his tremendous talents and capacities ensured that his life would be a project or an adventure.
I recall that that there was a time when he wrote angry, polemical replies to critical reviews of a book of his on Amazon. All of this played out on Amazon’s reviews page! And I remember thinking that it was completely nuts. Ignore the reviews or at least be magnanimous, but don’t make potential readers think that you are angry or feel pressured to respond to your work in a certain way! I had never seen an author do something like that.
I believe that he learned to restrain himself, but witnessing it had an impact on me and took me some time to figure out. I never thought that David was worried about book sales or his fame per se. You don’t become David Graeber if you’re trying to make money and I don’t think he was invested in his fame as such—he was never pretentious and always super approachable.
I think that he felt wounded by critical reviews because he poured his heart and soul into his books. He was a scholar, but I think he made himself vulnerable in his work in ways that few other scholars do. As I see it, his fears and hopes and attachments were embedded in his writing. Naturally it hurt when people found fault with it.
Reflecting on this made me feel so grateful to him. He outlined an immensely interesting, dramatic way of navigating the world as an intellectual, fascinating and inspiring in its own right, but, more than anything, I am grateful for his vulnerability. How fortunate we are that he was willing to take the risk and give so much of himself to us—to me and his intimates and all of those he impacted. The world is truly a better place for it.
He is gone far too soon. I mourn his loss and celebrate his memory. I send love to all those who are struggling with this right now.
~ Chuck Morse
[The photo of David was taken at my wedding on October 22, 2006]