About Tristes Tropiques

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  • Author Claude Lévi-Strauss
  • Translator John Russell
  • Country France, Brazil
  • Language French
  • Series Collection Terre humaine
  • Subject Anthropology
  • Published
  • 1955 (Librairie Plon, in French)
  • 1961 (Hutchinson & Co, in English)
  • Media type Print
  • Pages 404 (1961 English edition)
  • 425 (1975 Atheneum edition)
  • ISBN 2-266-11982-6

DocumenTv editorial and synthesized

Tristes Tropiques (the French title translates literally as “Sad Tropics”) is a memoir, first published in France in 1955, by the anthropologist and structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss. It documents his travels and anthropological work, focusing principally on Brazil, though it refers to many other places, such as the Caribbean and India.

Although ostensibly a travelogue, the work is infused with philosophical reflections and ideas linking many academic disciplines, such as sociology, geology, music, history and literature. The book was first translated into English by John Russell as A World on the Wane.

About Tristes Tropiques Learn Claude Lévi-Strauss
About Tristes Tropiques Learn Claude Lévi-Strauss


The book consists of 36 chapters, organised into nine sections.

Parts 1 to 3 detail Lévi-Strauss’ reflections on leaving Europe and visiting the New World and the Tropics, comparing his first impressions with subsequent visits, relating aspects of his academic training as well as his work as a professor during the founding years of University of São Paulo.

Part 4 ‘The Earth and its Inhabitants’ sets out a geographical analysis of the development of South American settlements, as well as an aside into social structure in India and what is now Pakistan.

Parts 5 through 8 each focus on a Native Brazilian culture group: Caduveo (or Guaycuru), Bororó, Nambikwara and Tupi-Kawahib respectively, while touching on many other topics.

Part 9 ‘The Return’ closes the book with reflections on, among other themes, the nature and purpose of anthropology, the effects of travel on the mind, the roles of Buddhism and Islam in global culture, humankind’s place in the universe and our connections to the world and to one another.


The opening sentence, ‘I hate traveling and explorers’, is notable for its irony. In general, the narrative is highly reflexive, often critiquing itself or the author’s and reader’s assumed pretensions, such as a thirst for the ‘exotic’.

Though the writing style is fluid, almost conversational at times, the structure of the text is extremely complex, linking together numerous places, times and ideas. For example, Part One: ‘An End to Journeying’ connects Lévi-Strauss’ first trip to Brazil in 1935 with his escape from France to New York City in 1941 and his later visits to South America, in a stylistic imitation of memory.

Lévi-Strauss frequently makes connections between ostensibly diverse entities or ideas to underline a point. For example, in Chapter 14, he compares the ancient cities of the Indus valley with those of the US in the mid-20th century, implying that Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa could be imagined as foreshadowing contemporary Chicago or São Paulo ‘after a prolonged period of involution in the European chrysalis’.

The work maintains an elegiac and poetic tone, lamenting a ‘lost’ New World but is tempered by a strong ambivalence, perhaps a product of the paradoxical idealized status of the anthropologist as a ‘detached observer’ who nevertheless remains engaged as a human participant.

Lévi-Strauss provides assessments of the impact of development on the environment, the ‘shrinking’ of the world through travel and tourism and the consequent emergence of a form of ‘monoculture’.

Critical reception and influence

The book was well-received on its publication.The organizers of the Prix Goncourt lamented that they were not able to award Lévi-Strauss the prize because Tristes Tropiques was technically non-fiction. Georges Bataille wrote a favourable review and Susan Sontag classed it as one of the 20th century’s ‘great books’.

Learn Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist who greatly influenced the world humanities and social sciences in the second half of the 20th century with a method of structural analysis that he relied heavily on phonology structure (phonologie structurale) to create and then apply to anthropological research.

Due to his massive scientific career (with more than twenty books and more than two hundred articles!), Due to the variety of research topics, due to the extremely novel hypotheses and methods he proposed, since the late 1940s, Levi-Strauss has constantly raised many debates and criticisms in many countries around the world, especially in France and the United States.

His works have been dissected, analyzed in numerous books and articles by many serious anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, linguists, historians ….


Born on November 20, 1908 in Bruxelles, but shortly afterwards his parents returned to live in Paris. His birth name is Gustave Claude Lévi. His parents were Jewish in Alsace (France).

His father was a portrait artist whose real name was Raymond Lévi, but he signed the name Levi-Strauss, because he was the grandson of Isaac Strauss, a famous conductor and composer in Paris in the middle of the century. 19. It was not until 1961 that Claude Lévi-Strauss officially adopted the name Levi-Strauss.

At the end of his high school years, he met a young member of the Belgian Socialist Party and knew Marx’s thought very soon. He works in the SFIO Social Party and becomes General Secretary of the French Society of Students. In 1928, he worked as a secretary to the congressman Georges Monnet1 of the SFIO Party, but continued to study at the law department of the University of Paris.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in law, he moved to study philosophy at the Sorbonne University, and passed a master’s degree in philosophy (ranked third) in 1931.

In 1932, he married Dina Dreyfus, 3 years younger than him (born 1911); passing a master’s degree in philosophy in 1934, his wife will also switch to ethnographic research.

After two years of teaching philosophy in high school, he accepted the proposal of French sociologist Célestin Bouglé3 and his wife to Brazil to teach sociology at Sao Paolo University. Here, he organized and directed many field trips in Mato Grosso and Amazonia, with the participation of his wife.

During the first field trip (1935-1936), Claude Lévi-Strauss studied the two Indian-Indian tribes (amérindien) Caduveo et Bororo. During the second trip (in 1938), he studied the Indian-Indian Nambikwara clan.

Returning to France before the outbreak of World War II, he was mobilized into the army as a liaison in the Maginot stronghold in the years 1939 and 1940, then was assigned to high school in Montpellier. In 1940, he was removed from office by the Vichy government because he was Jewish.

In 1941, he separated from his wife, then left France for refuge in New York. Around September 941, he was invited to teach contemporary sociology to South America at the New School for Social Research.

In 1942, he joined General de Gaulle’s France libre and served as a spokesman for the Office of War Information. He was introduced to Roman Jakobson5 by the French philosopher Alexandre Koyré4. Through him, Claude Lévi-Strauss mastered the analytical method of structural linguistics that he would apply to the study of kinship and myth systems.

Participating in the scientific mission of Forces françaises libres in the United States, he and Henri Focillon6, Jacques Maritain7, Jean Perrin8 … established the Free College (École libre des hautes études) in New York in February 1942.

In 1945, he was appointed by the French Foreign Ministry as a cultural counselor at the French embassy in the United States, but still spent a lot of time referring to large American libraries. After divorcing Dina, he married Rose-Marie Ullmo and had a son.

In 1945, in his first important theory 9, Levi-Strauss declared a method of structural analysis, just as with linguistics, will rapidly renew profoundly how to study kinship, myth. voice, art, social organization, etc.

In 1947, he completed the Structures élémentaires de la parenté (Basic structures of kinship).

In 1948, he and his family returned to Paris.

In 1949, he published the Basic Structures of Ethnicity 10 which he used as the main doctoral thesis (while the thesis was a “La vie familiale socialist des Indiens Nambikwara”) (Family and social life of Indo-Indian Nambikwara) 11, then added as Deputy Director of the Human Museum.

In 1951, he was appointed Professor at the Practical College (École pratique des hautes études).

1952: Race et histoire published [Race and history]. In this book published by UNESCO, though thin but controversial, Lévi-Strauss proves that there are no objective standards that allow comparison and evaluation of all societies of all time.

According to him, if Westerners think that the culture of many other nations is “stationnaire”, it is because they do not go in the same direction with their culture; and progress is not essential and continuous.

In 1954, he married Mrs. Monique Roman and had a second son.

In 1955, he published the Tristes tropiques [sad Tropical] which was well received by many great intellectuals (like Raymond Aron12) and readers. The Goncourt judges apologized for not being able to award this book, because it was not a novel, but a travel book that recounted his travels and field trips ( mainly in Brazil).

At the end of Sadly, Lévi-Strauss wrote very insightful pages about the “truths” (viprité) that the Buddha had realized 25 centuries ago when he meditated under the Bodhi tree. He admired the Buddha as a great thinker, which, according to him, has so far been unable to overcome 13 so far!

1958: published Anthropologie structurale [Structural Anthropology] including many important articles published in journals. This book contributed significantly to Lévi-Strauss’s reputation.

1959: He was elected professor of social anthropology at the Collège de France (French Academy), after failing twice. Although it does not grant any degree, this academy is very prestigious, because its professors (elected by the professor council) are often regarded as top scientists, philosophers, historians, etc.

Lévi-Strauss’s reputation has increased to the point that, after he retired (1982), the professor of anthropology is still maintained by the French Academy and, even, his two disciples (Francoise Héritier14 and Philippe Descola15) next to each other.

1960: He established the Social Anthropological Research Department of the French Academy and the Graduate School of Practice. So far, this important research room is still active.

1961: together with Émile Benveniste and Pierre Gourou, he founded L’Homme (Human) magazine, a very prestigious magazine that published articles on anthropology and ethnography.

1962: published the book Le Totémisme aujourd’hui [Current institutions of totem] and La Pensée after the [Wild thinking]. In the final chapter of the following book (History and Dialectic), Levi-Strauss charged forward with Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism, creating a stir in the press as well as in the intelligentsia.

1964: published Le Cru et le Cuit [Life and the Ripe], the first of the Mythologiques series, consists of four episodes of about 2000 pages.

1967: published Du miel aux cendres book [From Secret to Ash], Legend II.

1968: Publishing the book L’Origine des manières de table [Origin of eating ways], Legend III.

1971: published L’Homme nu [Naked Human], Legend IV.

1973: He was elected to the French Academy (his candidacy for this institute was not surprising in the left-wing French intelligentsia). He published Anthropologie structurale deux [Structural Anthropology II]: the critique received it not so warmly, since after the May 1968 movement, structural theory was generally criticized.

1975: published La Voie des masques [Path of mask].

1982: retired.

1983: published Le Regard éloigné [Remote Look]. In the preface, the author says this book should be called Anthropologie structurale trois [Structural Anthropology III] 16. This book is well received.

1984: published the book Paroles données [Words to Say] summarizing his lectures at the French Academy.

1985: published the La Potière jalouse [The envy of her pottery].

1991: published the Histoire de Lynx book.

1993: published the Regarder book, écouter, lire [Look, listen, read].

From 1994 onwards, Levi-Strauss published little books, but he continued to review books regularly for the magazine l’Homme.

May 5, 2008: Gallimard publishes, in the La Pléiade collection, the book Œuvres [The Works] includes a number of books of his own choosing.

– October 30, 2009: He died in Paris.

Three books published after his death: L’Anthropologie face aux problèmes du monde moderne [Anthropology opposite modern world problems, 2011], L’Autre face de la lune [The other side of the moon, 2011 ], Nous sommes tous des cannibales [We are all cannibals, 2013].

In addition to the French Academy, he is also a member of the British Academy, the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Literature, the foreign member of the Academy. America…

He is also a honoris causa of the universities of Brussels (Belgium), Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Johns-Hopkins, Yale (USA), Montréal, Laval (Canada), Oxford (England), São Paulo (Brazil), Uppsala (Sweden), …

Among the awards and medals he was awarded with the Gold Medal of CNRS17 (National Center for Scientific Research, France, 1967), the Erasmus18 Prize (1973) and the International Prize of the Catalunya19 Region (Spain, 2005)


As mentioned above, even while in high school, Levi-Strauss read Marx. In an interview with the newspaper L’Express on January 17, 1886, he announced that he had learned Marx’s “model method” and that he remained “loyal to Marx […], but not on the level of political ideas”. .

In De près et de loin [Proximity, 1988] 20, he thinks that it is «three lovers» of youth (Marxism, Freud’s psychology and geology) that interest him in the dimensions hidden dimension of reality.

It was in Tristes Tropiques [Sad Tropical, 1955] that Levvi-Strauss showed why he had moved from philosophy to ethnography. As a professor of philosophy of philosophy, he was uncomfortable with philosophy, because in the 1930s, French philosophy deeply influenced by German phenomenology (Husserl21, Heidegger22) advocated to grasp reality. mainly through subjective experience; he felt bored teaching philosophy that he considered too “judgment” (spéculatif), separate from science and specific phenomena23.

Around 1933 or 1934, he happened to read Robert H. Lowie24’s Primitive Society [the original]: it was this book that led him into ethnology25.

Between 1941 and 1944, it was thanks to the works of American anthropologists influenced by the German and Austrian schools of history (Franz Boas26, Robert Lowie, Alfred Kroeber27) that Levvi-Strauss thought of an infinite structure. consciousness of collective phenomena such as parenté. According to him, Franz Boas is «one of the first people to emphasize the following major facts for human sciences: the laws of language work unconsciously28».

In 1942, the discovery of the research works by two Russian phonists Roman Jakobson and NS Troubetskoi29 in which they deployed and systematized the results of Ferdinand de Saussure30 was a “great admiration”. (éblouisement) of intellectuals for Lévi-Strauss: it provided him with the tools he still sought.

The uniqueness of Lévi-Strauss’s structural approach was to introduce the theoretical method of phonology into descriptive anthropology and the German, British and American functionalism.

According to him, for the social sciences, structural phonology has played «the innovative role that atomic physics, for example, has played for all accurate sciences» 31.

In a lesson 32 published in 1933, Troubetskoï proposed four basic approaches that structural anthropology would absorb as the foundation: studying the unconscious infrastructure of intelligible phenomena, prioritizing dealing with the The system between the elements rather than handling the elements themselves, clarifying the systems and discovering the general rules of inductive and deductive.

Levi-Strauss was also influenced by natural sciences (especially of zoology, biology and geology). In the early 1940s, he discovered In Growth and Forms33 in New York [About Growth and Formation] by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson34; This book helped him create the concept of “transformation” (transformation) that plays an important role in his legendary structural analysis method.

From the beginning of the 1940s, in preparation for his doctoral thesis, Levi-Strauss asked mathematician André Weil (founding member of the famous Bourbaki group) to help solve complex marriage rules by reason. Klein group theory.

Levi-Strauss also stated that he was influenced by the French scholar Marcel Granet35 that he used the research works in the book Basic Structure of the Tribe; of Georges Dumézil36 which he considered as the “initiateur (initiator) of the structural method” 37; by Marcel Mauss38, 39 in the article “Introduction à l’œuvre de Marcel Mauss (Introduction to Marcel Mauss’s career)” he greatly appreciated; and of Jean-Jacques Rousseau40 which he considered as the “founder of human sciences”.

From the early 1970s onwards, although Levi-Strauss was older, he had observed and absorbed the results of genetics and cognitive sciences (sciences cognitives) 41.

Research career

Because Lévi-Strauss’s research career is very massive and very difficult to read (due to “too much” technical and theoretical), we can only partially access it. Therefore, we have relied heavily on research books42 on Levi-Strauss to briefly introduce his method of structural analysis and major research topics, as well as the present book of totemism.

Structural analysis

The concept of model plays an important role in structural anthropology. Levi-Strauss defines it as a tool of intelligence that enables visualization and thus captures an underlying abstract structure beneath the reality studied.

In Levi-Strauss, the dimension of space – often referred to as “co-existence” (synchronique) – plays an important role, but it is not so that he despises the dimension of «calendar» (diachronique), but it is just one dimension of the environment in which changes (transformation) of social structure occur.

According to Levi-Strauss, the structures of the human spirit are the structures of the brain. And, because they are universal, all human beings share them, no matter in what age and society.

He sees society as a complex system of invariant autonomous characteristics that derives from the relationships between its constituent elements; therefore, society cannot be deduced from studying the factors alone. He advocated studying the facts:

* at an unconscious, objective level, not at the level of subjective experience and through conscious perception of individuals (indigenous people or informants);
* by paying special attention to the relationships between factors, not just studying the factors themselves;

* through the mediation of common common rules that we must build by inductive and deductive methods.

Levi-Strauss clearly distinguishes the concept of the system with the concept of structure associated with the concept of transformation.

If the system is a whole of elements that have some relationship, then the structure – only discovered by reasoning – is a configuration of the relationships between the underlying elements. in the system: this configuration can vary according to a limited number of logical capabilities.

The variation indicates the variation of the structure due to the effect of the environment, creating a new configuration of the system.

According to him, «non-permanent structure (réductible) into the system: the whole consists of elements and relations that combine them together. In order for us to talk about the structure, between the elements and the relationships of many whole, there must be invariant relations, and so we can move from one whole to the other through a transformation »43. Therefore, he considered the concept of “transformation” as “associated with structural analysis” 44.

In 1988, looking at his own past, Levi-Strauss remarked: «people misunderstood the nature and importance of what I borrowed from linguistics.

In addition to general inspiration – I agree, that is very big – they simplify the role of the unconscious operation of the mind in creating logical structures […] and on this basic principle. are constituent elements that have no intrinsic meaning … »45.

Symbolic thinking and wild thinking

In the article “Introduction to Marcel Mauss’s research career” 46, Levi-Strauss determined the role of «symbolic thinking» (pensée symbolique) in the development of society and in social life.

According to him, the origin of society is associated with the sudden (émergence) of symbolic thinking. But Maurice Godelier47 argues that this hypothesis of a breakthrough as a “big bang” is unscientific48.

According to Levi-Strauss, symbolic thinking is deeply rooted in the unconscious, but this unconscious is not the affectif of the compressed desires (désir refoulé) according to Freud’s conception, but inconscient cognitif.

After a quick glance in the Book of Taxation today, Levi-Strauss gave a thorough presentation of “wild thinking” (penée sauvage) in a famous book of the same name49 (both books were published). in 1962, a few months apart.

According to him, wild thinking is a symbolic manipulation of the human spirit to organize reality as a whole, not through the stages of cropping and analysis; it is more complementary than opposed to domestiqué (ie scientific thinking or “engineer thinking”): thinking after slow, inductive or deductive thinking, to reach Partiel results can be redone. So wild thinking is a common and non-temporal way of thinking (intemporel), besides scientific thinking and “competing” with it.

Two different wild and scientific minds «not about intellectual manipulation and nature but because they are applied to different types of phenomena». Therefore, wild wild thinking continues to operate in every age and in every society, even in the contemporary West.

Wild thinking is a gradual thinking (classificatoire). It captures the patterns of reality in their totality to classify (catégoriser) and name cultural phenomena through analogy with nature.


Before Levi-Strauss, when studying kinship, traditional anthropology was mainly concerned with the family as an autonomous unit consisting of husband, wife and children, in time dimension, and not much interested in the their nephew (neveux), cousins ​​(cousins), uncle aunts and grandparents. He was particularly interested in previous less-studied social events: reciprocity (réciprocité) and alliance (alliance) between kinship groups, extramarital affairs and incest.

As we know, the ban on incest is a popular event. Levi-Strauss thinks it is the place and condition of the transition from nature to culture.

The prohibition of incest forced to exchange women who were not married to women who were married. It is men who exchange women, not vice versa, because in every society men dominate political power.

Symbolic thoughts (pensée symbolique) make men see women as values ​​and signs, as the most precious gifts to give, to exchange. Towards the end of her life, Levi-Strauss still defended the position of “men exchanging women”, though it was always criticized when vehemently, especially by the male and female claimants (féministe).

According to Maurice Godelier50, Lévi-Strauss’s kinship study consists of four “periods”:

The first period (from 1943 to 1956): this topic attracted him almost entirely. In the article “L’analyse structrale en linguistique et en anthropologie” 51 (Structural analysis in linguistics and in anthropology, 1945), he presented for the first time the concept of “atome de parenté” consisting of individuals of two generations; among these individuals there are four types of relationships that can be friendly, comfortable (+) or antagonistic (-):

– between husband and wife;

– between him or his younger brother or sister;

– between you and your sister’s son;

– between father and son.

For example in the Trobriand Islands (Melanesia) – in matriarchy – the relationship between husband and wife is intimate and affectionate (+), the relationship between father and son is free and uncontrollable (+), mandarin The relationship between him (brother or sister of his mother) and grandson (sister or sister’s younger sister) is respectful and antagonistic (-), and the relationship between him or his brother and sister or sister is taboo ( tabou) (-).

In order to write the Basic Structure of the Tribe, Levi-Strauss exploited the vast knowledge base that British, American, Australian and New Zealand anthropologists had accumulated in the first half of the 20th century: he had Refer to more than 7000 books and articles!

According to Maurice Godelier, with this masterpiece, Levi-Strauss rebuilt, a century after Morgan52, “kinship awareness”, yet kinship was the most important subject of anthropology.

Based on the principle of alliance and the prohibition of incest, Lévi-Strauss classifies all kinship systems into two categories: basic systems (they divide relatives into permitted or forbidden ones as wives). husband and wife: diagonal cousins ​​(cousin croisé) can be married, while parallel cousins54 (cousin parallèle) are prohibited); complex systems in which the selection of a spouse is not pre-defined in the kinship list, but in accordance with political, economic, religious standards, etc.

Levi-Strauss shows that there are two different marriage exchange structures: he called narrow exchange (échange restreint), when A provides wife to B and B provides wife for A; and called échange généralisé, when A gives wife to B and B to C, then gives n, and n will give wife to A.

In addition to the book Basic Structure of Kins, in 1956, he wrote a very important article 55 analyzing the role of families in the functioning of kinship systems.

In the second period (1965-1966): “The Future of Kinship Studies” 56, Levi-Strauss asked anthropologists to study semi-complex structures (structures). semi-complexe – that is, the transitional forms from the structure élémentaire to the complex structures (structure complexe) – to which he defines the principles of operation and illustration by body systems The clan called «Crow-Omaha» 57.

He reiterated this proposal in the preamble of the Basic Structure of the Tribe, which was reprinted in 1967, with several chapters related to the kachin’s kinship system rewritten by the Englishman Edmund. Leach58 vehemently criticized.

In the third period (1973-1976): in the book La voie des masques [«Path» of the mask] 59, Levi-Strauss created the concept of “maison” as a kinship structure to illuminate the text. substance of kinship systems of Indian-Indian Kwakiutl, Tlingit …, in the north-west coast of the United States and Canada.

He defined this concept as the “legal entity that holds an inheritance (domaine), which consists of material and non-material possessions maintained by the transmission of his name, property and titles according to his lineage. real or fictitious, considered plausible under the only condition that such continuity can be expressed in kinship or alliance, and, most commonly, in the language of both 60 ».

From 1976 to 1982, in the lectures, he continuously analyzed the research works on the system of «houses» in many places (Indonesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, New Zealand, Madagascar, Micronesia and Africa). The abstracts of these lectures are published in Paroles données61 (1984).

In 1983, in lecture 62 to commemorate historian Marc Bloch, he not only defined his conception of history and called upon historians and anthropologists to work together, but also presented their minds. His favor of the «home» system has been studied by historians since the 19th century.

Lévi-Strauss’s conception of “home” has had a clear influence on some ethnographers (such as Cécile Barraud, Jean-Pierre Digard …) and historians (Philippe Maurice, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber).

Fourth time (1996-2000): although he was very old, Levi-Strauss closely followed new forms of kinship in Western society and posed complicated legal, political, and moral issues. : maternal pregnancy issue (mère porteuse), a famille homoparentale family. For them, Levi-Strauss was very liberal.

According to Maurice Godelier, in the field of kinship research, in the second half of the 20th century, no anthropologist had many theoretical innovations such as Levi-Strauss64. Not only that, he was extremely erudite, had a clear and accurate writing style, a strict argument.

Maurice Godelier65 argues that Levi-Strauss has persisted in not recognizing the role of the “lineage”, which is equally important as the coalition’s role in creating and structuring close relations. race in human society. He always pulled the lineage towards nature (as biological process) and pulled the alliance toward culture.

Yet, according to Maurice Godelier, the principles of lineage – only four: unilinéaire, “self-selected” (ambilinéaire), bilinear (bilinéaire) and indifferent (indifférencié) – are also cultural and “artificial” (artificiel) as alliance rules: they are just constructs, symbols of life’s processes. They are independent of alliance principles.

For several decades, in the West, the lineage axis is more stable than the alliance axis: marriage is declining while union libre and living together as husband and wife but not married (concubinage) 66 increasing.


Levi-Strauss made great contributions to analyzing myths and legendary thinking. Compared to his predecessors (like Marcel Mauss, Robert Hertz67, Marcel Granet, Louis Gernet68 and Georges Dumézil), he created a new starting point with two concepts of structure and transformation.

In addition, he added structural analysis by music model. But according to the musician Jean-Jacques Nattiez, the “homologie” that Levi-Strauss thought was found between the artistic music (musique savante) of the West and the myth is unfounded69.

According to Maurice Godelier, the article “The Structural Study of Myth» 70 (1955) is indeed the «declaration of structural analysis of legends» 71. According to Levi-Strauss, a myth is the sum of all its variants; the importance of a legend «not in style, in storytelling as well as in syntax, but in stories told» 72; a myth consists of constituent units, ie “mythème” (mythème) that are defined as “paquet de relations”.

Also in this important article, Levi-Strauss argues that all myths must be considered in all its variations that can be simplified (réductible) into a formula of the mathematical type he calls “merit.” the formal mode of myth »(formule canonique des mythes).

This formula is considered by many anthropologists to be incomprehensible and not useful for approaching myths. But, conversely, there are also a few people (like Lucien Scubla73 and J Petitot74) who view it as the key to understanding them deeply75.

According to him, legendary thinking is no different (or very different) empirical thinking (ie scientific thinking).

From 1951 to 2002, Levi-Strauss used two structural and transformative concepts to analyze about 2,000 major myths of American-Indians in both South and North America (over 350 ethnic groups!).

He presented the important results that he obtained in the following nine books:

1962: Le Totémisme aujourd’hui [Current institutions of totem] and La Pensée after vage [Wild thinking].

1964: Le Cru et le cuit (The life and the ripeness).

1967: Du miel aux cendres (From honey to ash).

1968: L’Origine des manières de table (Origin of eating ways).

1971: L’Homme nu (naked person).

1975: La Voie des masques [«Path» of the mask].

1985: La Potière jalouse [Her envious pottery maker].

1991: Histoire de Lynx [Forest Cat Story].

In addition, he has 44 articles related to legends published in the following four books:

1958: Anthropologie structurale [Structure humanity].

1973: Anthropologie structurale II.

1983: Le Regard éloigné [Remote view].

1984: Paroles données [Words spoken].

Just the four Mythologiques episodes contain many important results of a research work that no ethnographer or mythologist has ever conducted, to inventory the animals and plants, the techniques, ecological, astronomical and meteorological facts are present in myths: Levi-Strauss has spent a lot of effort to read hundreds of documents to reestablish specific American insights- Indices about nature and culture.

Levi-Strauss studied the same myth as when he studied kinship structure: he wanted to find manipulations of thinking related to the creation of relationships and social events, but at the same time he Keep abreast of ethnographic data (ethnographique) and history. That’s why he made anthropology take a very long step in researching and understanding some basic aspects of human life.

Totem institutions76

In 1910, J. G. Frazer77 published in London, Totemism and exogamy [Totem and extramarital institutions], consisting of four volumes and about 2,200 pages thick. In this book, the author claims to have gathered all that is known about the totem institution that he sees as a system.

In the same year, AA Goldenweiser79, in an article 80 thicker than 100 pages, argued that in the totem institution people were confused with three different nature social phenomena: social division into clans (clan ); rules for clans of animal or plant names or symbols; the belief that there is kinship and lineage relations between members of a clan and their totem.

In 1913, in the book Totem und Tabu [Totem and tabu], S. Freud tried to find the answer to the question many anthropologists posed about the presence of incest prohibition in all human societies. He used two concepts of “horde primitive” and inferiority Œdipe81 to understand the formation of tabu as well as the role of totem in «original» societies.

In 1916, in an article 82, F. Boas argued that in the institution of totem, people often confused two things: on the one hand, it was the naming of groups of people built on kinship (this naming was conducted in many ways including the use of animal and plant names); on the other hand, it is a problem of homogenizing people with plants or animals.

From Boas onwards, the concept of “totem institutions” is becoming less and less interested by anthropologists, so much so that it is not mentioned by Social Structure [Social Structure, 1949] of G. P. Murdock83.

In France alone, in 1920, A. Van Gennep84 published the book that Claude Lévi-Strauss deemed “the last masterpiece” (chant du signe) of totem institutions.

After repeating the stages of discussions around the totem concept from Frazer, Levi-Strauss carefully reviewed the records of the totem institution in Australia, mainly based on the study of 85 (1933-1934) of AP Elkin86.

He analyzed the totem institutions of social groups, ie the “half” (moitié), mathematics (section) and sous-section, as well as individual totem institutions (gender, receptor). pregnancy, locality, birth place of the child) and dreams (mother’s during pregnancy).

Elkin came to the conclusion that it is impossible to find a unity between all these totem phenomena, and therefore there is no one, but many non-homogeneous totem institutions (yérogroge) and cannot be simplified ( irréductible).

But Levi-Strauss draws from it a much more radical conclusion: if totem institutions are not homogeneous and cannot be simplified, it is because of the so-called totem institutions that do not exist, but only a « illusion “.

In fact, there was a misconception about the word «totem» from the beginning. At the end of the 18th century, J. K. Long87, an English merchant created from the totem from the language of the Ojibwa (north of the Great Lakes of North America) where the clans brought animal names.

According to Levi-Strauss, subsequent studies on the Ojibwa people proved that JK Long confuses this clan’s naming system (not tied to a single ban) and a system of guardianship (esprit gardien) that Ojibwa people invoke to protect them personally.

Why do institutional institutions use animal names and plants to associate them with good groups of individuals? Malinowski88 thinks that it is because primitive people draw from their living means and animals and think that they can control by ritual and magic their growth and proliferation89.

But Levi-Strauss showed that many plants, animals or other things were chosen as totem, but there were absolutely no practical, economic or other benefits. So Malinowski’s functional explanation doesn’t stand!

Levi-Strauss also considered what he called Radcliffe-Brown90’s theory of the institution of totem. In the first theory (1929), 91 according to Malinowski’s fonctionnaliste, Radcliffe-Brown said that for «the majority» the tribes that we call primitive, everything and everything has The important effect on welfare (bien-être) of a society, tends to be the object of ritual practices, and institution of totem is only one aspect of this general attitude.

But Levi-Strauss rejected this idea because of many ethnic groups – like the Eskimo, the Andaman people, the Indian-Indians of California, etc. – behave ritually for many animals but not turn them into totem.

On the other hand, as Raymond Firth92 emphasized in an article93, «most of the mammal species do not bring any clear economic benefits». So must find elsewhere the reasons for making totem institutions.

In 1951, during lecture 94 to commemorate Huxley95, Radcliffe-Brown raised the following question: “By which principles do couples like hawks and crows, buzzards and crows, coyote wolves and wild cats, be choose to denote the “halves” of a duality organization? »96.

According to him, the falcon-crow pair has the same common trait that allows them to be compared: they are two types of raptors; but there is also one opposite of them: falcons are predators, and crows are scavengers (charognard).

Therefore, totem phenomena is probably a way of establishing corrections and opposites through many different animal and plant codes. In the world, there are many societies that use the opposite of two colors such as red / white, or two dimensions of space such as high / low, heaven / earth, etc. The most systematic and broadest opposition model is Chinese theory of yin and yang.

According to Levi-Strauss, the institution of totem is actually just an illusion of the ethnics because of the degree of confusion: where we imagine it, it should not be considered separately from each other between groups and totem, but should consider the “same differences”, ie the difference (différentiel) between the natural plane (totem) and cultural aspect (groups) by placing themselves on the overall level of the ethnic group considered, even of many neighboring ethnic groups.

According to him, «the so-called totem institutions depend on the sense of entendement, and the requirements it meets […] in the intellectual order. Therefore, it is nothing old or far away. Its image is released, not received; it does not take its nature from the outside. Because, if illusions hide part of the truth, this truth is not outside of us, but within us »97.

The concept of institutionalizing the totem in a artificial way is that many phenomena are actually heterogeneous (shouterogène), not only that they are garbled and arbitrarily isolated.

According to Levi-Strauss, in fact, this concept helps us to know the mental state (mentalite) of those who thought to discover it, rather than about ancient societies. The illusion of totem seems to have been a means of allowing Westerners of the 20th century to feel that they are completely different from the “wild” people (aftervage)!

Also, in the Par-delà nature et culture98 [On the other side of nature and culture], Philippe Descola99 used the word “totémisme” (totem mode) to refer to one of the four “modes of awareness and relationship.

»(D’identification et de relation) is determined by the similarity and difference between intériorité (including emotions, consciousness, desires, memories, ability to communicate …) as well as between physicalité (flesh, blood, bone, skin … and form of life) of mankind and non-humain things including animals, plants, gods and even objects100. For the “totem method”, the “non-human” things have the same “internal character” and “material” as humanity.

The rise and fall of structural theory and Levi-Strauss

Until now, Lévi-Strauss’s stance against structural theory is still debated. Through contact with Roman Jakobson, he learned of the concept of structure used in linguistics and based on it to create structural methodology.

But when applied to anthropology, he never forgot the specific ethnographic data. It was very difficult for him to use mathematical tools, but it was also very limited.

Immediately in 1945, Levi-Strauss emphasized a «difficulty hindering the application of phonological methods into primitive sociological studies. The superficial similarity between phonological systems and kinship systems is so great that it immediately takes us on the wrong path »101.

His suspicion for the abstraction of formaliste tradition is evident in Structure et dialectique102 [Structure and dialectics, 1956] and especially in the article La structure et la forme103 [Structure and figure awake].

It should be added, too, that Levi-Strauss uses far more “structure” words, “structural» than the words “structuralisme”, but is actually less used. In the preface of Regard éloigné (1983), he said that this book should be called Anthropologie Structurale Trois [Structural Anthropology 3].

However, due to his great reputation in France as well as in the United Kingdom and the United States, Levi-Strauss became, from about 1959 onwards, the tutelary god of structuralism.

As we know, in the 1950s, in parallel with Lévi-Strauss’s increasing popularity, it was also formed in France, a structuralist tendency mainly based on the Cours de linguistique générale [General Linguistics Curriculum]. of Ferdinand de Saussure as Roland Barthes104 in literary critic, Martial Guéroult105 in the history of philosophy, Algirdas Julien Greimas106 in semiotics (sémiotique) and Jacques Lacan107 in psychoanalysis. They advocate only caring about the contemporary dimension and completely forget the edge of the modern calendar and objective reality.

Until about 1966, Levi-Strauss had a close relationship with Lacan and the author of Communications magazine, including Roland Barthes, A. J. Greimas, Tzvetan Todorov, …

In the second half of the 1960s, structuralism in the broad sense was widely talked about by the press with the publication of books such as Théorie de la littérature (Literary Theory, 1965) by Tzvetan Todorov108, Sémantique structurale (Language structuralist, 1966) by Greimas, and especially the Écrits (Articles, 1966) by Jacques Lacan, and the S / Z (1970) by Roland Barthes.

In many articles and interviews in 109, Lévi-Strauss vehemently criticizes the overly formal formalism of those books, which he considers as the “manifestation of the legendary peculiarity of our time” and as « the delirium has the class »(délires cohérents) 110. And from there, he shunned Lacan and Barthes111.

After the May 1968 movement, especially in the early 1970s, many anthropologists (more or less Lévi-Strauss), some of whom were disciples, were influenced by Marxism and leftist. (even leftist!), begins to criticize Levi-Strauss: Bernard Delfendahl112, Robert Jaulin113, Pierre Clastres114, Maurice Godelier, Emmanuel Terray115 …

To add that, although all admire Levi-Strauss, they do not share His conception of politics as well as life: for example, he thinks that the «soldier» (honnête homme116) is not a “committed intellectual”, he considers himself to be “closely tied to the past”. (passéiste), «conservative», «righteous anarchy»!

At first influenced by Levi-Strauss quite clearly, Pierre Bourdieu117 introduced his theory of the role of agents: in Le Sens pratique118 [Practical Spirit, 1980], he attacked the method in a straightforward way. Levi-Strauss’s, which he considers, focuses on the collective rules of human societies and forgets the personal strategies and the weight of the economic aspect.

Throughout her life, Levir-Strauss always patiently conversed with many anthropologists whether they supported or opposed him: Marshall Sahlins119, Rodney Needham120, Edmund Leach, Dan Sperber121, Françoise Héritier, Maurice Godelier. In the 1960s and 1970s, he discussed with Françoise Héritier about the kinship systems «Crow» and «Omaha», with Maurice Godelier, Marc Augé122 historicité and Marxist thought, with Dan Sperber, Lucien Scubla123 about the concept of “sudden” (émergence) and «cognitive structure» (cognitive structure) …

From 1980 onwards, in the social sciences, researchers are more interested in concepts such as historicité, subjectivité, empirisme, and personal theory. on method (individualisme méthodologique).

Instead of dreaming of performing spectacular syntheses of Levi-Strauss, young anthropologists like to conduct narrow-field investigations; they give words to social actors and absorb the subjective feelings of these people. They are often interested in new small subjects that appear such as anthropology of children, education, health, etc.

That’s why Levi-Strauss’s influence in the social sciences has been declining, especially in the United States, after two decades of “French Theory” and “post-modernisme” fans (postmodernism). modern).

However, in France, there are still some anthropologists who inherit Lévi-Strauss’s structural method, but with a creative spirit.

The social anthropology laboratory, founded by him in 1960, continues to study the complex structures of kinship and approach kinship phenomena by informatics processing.

Most notably, the research works of Emmanuel Désveaux124 on socième (ie the common basic forms of social association) and especially of Philippe Descola on «awareness of villages The ontologie or «methods of identification» have been outlined above in the section on totem institutions.

In conclusion, we would like to emphasize a few more questions about Lévi-Strauss’s career and personality.

Although structural theory has long fallen into a period of decline, until now the French intelligentsia in general still admire his massive and serious scientific career.

Based on Directory 3 at the end of this book, it can be affirmed that Levi-Strauss is the social scientist of the most studied second half of the 20th century: there are more than fifty books and hundreds of articles. about him.

Not only that, from 1963 to after his death, there were about twenty weeks of newspapers and magazines (including famous ones like Annales ESC, Critique, Esprit, L’Homme, Nouvel Observateur, La Pensée, Les Moderns temps …) made a special number on him; Esprit magazine alone has a record: up to four numbers!

In terms of personality, Levi-Strauss is often criticized for taking the posture of a skeptical, pessimistic and even pessimistic “sage” because not only does he claim Western domination has been accused. , but also said that there would be nothing left after 125 years when humanity disappeared with this earth in a few billion years 126.

But, to some extent, we can see Levi-Strauss as the forerunner of the eco-movement: in the 1960s, before this ideological and political movement formed, due to the religious life naturally and every creature127 (very close to Buddha) and because of the “remote view” and coverage, he gave the most insightful and radical ideas on ecology, although he knew it was difficult to save. Be human and this planet!

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