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Levi-Strauss and History Claude Levi-Strauss: The Anthropologist as Hero by E. Nelson Hayes; Tanya Hayes Review by: T. O. Beidelman The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Spring, 1971), pp. 511-525 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/202625 . Accessed: 06/08/2012 23:08
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RobertMurphy.T.I mean published ethnography.00 ($2. thathisveryself-conscious attitudes aboutanthropology preliterate and Thomas 0. one shouldhave some graspof his personal view of the world and his of The profession. E. in andSusan areembarrassing theignorance H. Leach. Press. source datafor students of seekTheworkunder reviewis a fascinating in this case.dependable primarily a nonaudience.Leach's paperback remains bestguide. professional especially college students" (viii). the lesssaidaboutthe remaining the The essays. key to thislies in threeaspects his field experience. Rather. like the proverbial ClaudeLevi-Strauss' eachauthor blindmen gropingover variousportionsof an elephant. I E.I. better. as ClaudeLevi-Strauss:The Anthropologist Hero. At present. so his of far presents own version Levi-Strauss thatwe learn moreabout and outlookthan aboutLevi-Strauss the commentator his particular rehimself. slim still the alas. The essays Sanche Gramont. R. By thisI do not referto his fieldwork se which.1970) Hayesand TanyaHayes(Cambridge. 1971) and has published numerous articles on East African ethnography. $I0.95 paper). it is hardly coherent "introduction Levi-Strauss to for and. Sontag of theirauthors' and pronouncements concerning anthropology. Beidelman is Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University. Edited by E. the to understand sociologyof an intellectual vogue.judgingfrom his per was somewhat insubstantial.. valueof thiscollecin tion is questionable termsof the aimsstated the editors by (neither. O. Beidelman Levi-Strauss and History 264 pp. 1970). with a less specialized de by approach. ing Yet brandof structuralism. He is the author of Matrilineal Peoples of Eastern Tanzania (London.I Before one can discussany facet of Levi-Strauss' writing. is a professional for a incidentally.T. Nelson . I967) and The Kaguru (New York. R. Stuart Hughes. asthoseby DavidMaybury-Lewis. I review Leach's study in "Public Relations Officer of the Mind.The M." Anthropos(in press). anthropologist). Le'vi-Strauss (London. magazines. Leach.Most of the contributions minorpieces-professional are from such viewsorbriefcommentaries non-scholarly Some. and that has areperceptive assume the reader considerable but background in cultural Steinercombinesexcellence Only George anthropology. Mass.
though not as a scientific or scholarly achievement. BEIDELMAN societies are reflectionsof his experience in Brazil2 and his resultant judgments on the relative merits of civilized and primitive societies. owes much to his particularand dejecting experiences with a group of dying cultures lived out by a native Amerindianpopulationwhich itself seemsdoomed.512 | T. The interrelated tendenciestoward superficiality oversimplification and are important since they allow Levi-Straussto interpret with great freedom what he considersthe basicforcesbehind thesecultures. and sometimeshis reportsrest upon observationsmade in a few weeks or days. 1955).The Indiansof Brazilwere at first hunted down by a backwardpeasantry. There are three relevantaspectsof his field experience: I) Levi-Strauss' profoundly negative view of modern civilization. it seems unlikely that he masteredanyindigenouslanguage. All of these are centralto his concept of history. conjureup an appropriate Tristes not only for the participants for the anthropological but tropiques. It is certainly this book more than any other of his writings that is generally appreciated and which may well survive as a kind of classic. misgivings regardinghow many of his findings are based on objective and reliabledataand how many on his own highly colored interpretations and projections. Levi-Strauss touches upon nearly all of the themes which he later elaborates in his more controversial works. and finally proselytized by Americanfundamentalist missionaries. translated by John Russell and published as A World on the Wane (London.It does not appearthat Levi-Strauss residedwith any one society for more than a few months. O. despite disastersand colonial exploitation. Certainly.then neglected and later maladministeredby an inept government.Certainly. observeras well. Most of the aboriginal societiesof America have undergonerapidand violent destruction in the face of Europeancolonization. 373-38I of the English translation are essential reading.one must residea considerable time in In Tristes tropiques(Paris.many anthropologistsfeel that a stay of eighteen months to two yearsin one locale is barelysufficientto grasp the outlines of a culture. though perhapsjustified. is aperceptiveandhighly he but some of his colleaguesneverthelessentertain imaginativeobserver. the indigenous peoples not only survive and increasebut are now often aggressivelyclamoringfor their own forms of modern society? 2) Anotherfeatureof his field experienceis its relativesuperficiality. For those interested in gaining insight into the personal values behind his work. 2 .Granted. I96I). Their inevitabledestructionand disorientation theme for Levi-Strauss' book. But would Levi-Strauss have written so negatively of culturalcontact and change had he worked in Asia or Africa where. In contrast.
R.but subject Levi-Strauss' of lies reputation in his interpretation how primitive level of a formal peoplethink. cf. cosmological but involves even deeperlevels of significance. in fact-from one end of the SouthAmerican continent theother.LEVI-STRAUSS AND HISTORY | 513 are differences individualities discernible and any areabeforeprofound within a society. Leach. failure respect consider of the to and all theory data of bent. compared intimacy with the nativeshad taughtme to know theirneeds. 277-285. I2-37. "Levi-Strauss: Anthropologist and Philosopher. IV (1969)." Man.arts."3 to Briefexposure a particular groupwouldmatter if the alien less to of investigation were material cultureor physicaltypes. Thus we find him writing. Nowherein his writingsdoeshe examineall of the evidencefor any and cases to societyhe considers.and thoseneeds were much the same-amazinglyso. my threemonths' "." . thisis notjust on the difficult in andtaxonomic of categories set embedded a language. discrepant by Whateverelse one may write about Levi-Strauss. XXXIV (1965)." New Left Review. can hardly one describe him as "systematic" (thoughHughesdoes so in his essay). E.a positionwhichis consistent with Levi-Strauss' tendency to minimize detailed in fundamental differences orderto assert cultural similarities way of his structuralist idiom. dare so. writes of alienation and with a mixtureof pain. onemusteither To do knowa society profoundly well-or so littlethatone is unimpeded apparently facts. Leach. andin analytical to writing.oftenwith little demonstrable proof. . irony which a and With each suggests dramatic far from self-effacing personality. 4 This has been observed elsewhere. Leach has elsewhere commented on Levi-Strauss' tendency to over-homogenize and anthropomorphize societies. 23 5. Levi-Strauss more and readingone findsthat every savageresembles 3 A World on the Wane. R. half-consciously attain canonlyrealize through andlifestyles. Beidelman.Yet Levi-Strauss' homoseem strikingly primitives both as personswithin a societyand even as cultural geneous types betweendifferent societies: . he avoidsmanynegative contrary any This he haspresented. "Public Relations Officer.4but reported may be a reflection his own neo-Frazerian it alsoseemsconsistent his failure engagein trulyintensive with to and sustained fieldwork with any one particular Both in fieldwork society.we havea smorgasbord approach culture andsociety. enthusiasm. "'Kachin' and 'Haka Chin': A Rejoinder to Levi-Strauss.Forhim. by his describes journeysto remoteareasand exotic 3) Levi-Strauss in He aspartof a personal of peoples quest search self-realization. See E.not only of what these that peoplesaytheythinkandwantbut of thingshe implies theyyearn to but theirmyths.
wouldhimself Forproofareader of is that is important is thatthereader madeaware a goodnumber here one of Levi-Strauss' interpretanearlyevery question anthropologists on detailfrom the tionswherethesearegrounded any kindof factual andarchaeological record. is possible" (248). too.Levi-Strauss history. that he first presents his pessimistic "entropy" theory about the history of human endeavor (397). 6 La Pensee sauvage (Paris. English translation. The Savage Mind (Chicago. Rackerby. 1966). cf. Leach.thateverycustom trait merely further pebble reveal himself bothto himselfandto the world whichhe disdains yet I seemsto yearnto attract.I canonly present my reader. and the Misuse of Analogy. I haveprefaced discussion Levi-Strauss' of notionsof history my his at because viewson historymay be criticized with thesecomments which two levels:Oneis thatthemoralandthephilosophical positions seem To he assumes idiosyncratic. combinaget far toward explaininghis tion of escapismand self-assertion goes to of attraction a youngergeneration anthropologists concerned about in the questfor identityandmeaning a worldof violatedandindetermoral minate values. This finalchargeis serious. BEIDELMAN and is a to unturned more. in Raceand forwardsimilarnotionsearlierin Tristes tropiques. . therefore. statement the non-anthropological to as criticisms a cautionary all What haveto examine of thefacts." AmericanAntiquity. Poverty Point. in or areunworkable sincetheyleadto paralysis useful they judgments A is thatthefactson whichthesenotionsarebased actions.a taskfarbeyondthe scopeof thispaper. sometheymayseemuntenable. Levi-Strauss seems to be satirizing himself when he states of such speculation: "Nothing is possible: everything. to demonstrate much would of for careful examination allof theevidence eachof hisproposirequire tions. "'Kachin"'.7 put 5 For example. unquestionablywastheconcluding upon notion of in of Mind. second point as areso distorted poorlyconsidered to maketheentire and presentation thanconvincing demonstraof assertion rather a merematter confident as but tion. It is here. neednot be alwaysa pology so suffused This fault. "Levi-Strauss. They but arenot necessarily wrongin the sensethatthey canbe disproved. XXXIII (1968). can thinkof no otherwritingsin anthroThis with self-consciousness. 1962).5 ethnographic in workswhich touch Thereare passages many of Levi-Strauss' it of but theproblems history.6 which he attacksSartre's chapter The Savage had to that drew attention his views. However. 7 A Wlorldon the Wane contains an incredibly simplistic and subjective account of preColumbian American history which advances wild diffusionist hypotheses on the most meager bits of myth and art motifs (239-248).butit cansometimes in theway of objectivity. O. 388-390. F.514 | T.
yet. and Society (New York. The Division of Labour (Glencoe. In any case. the basic theme of this brief study is the advocacy of social diversity. During this exposition Levi-Strauss uses the term "history" in two rather different ways. 261-285. I96I). China and India. unless it is prepared to renounce its own individuality" (41). How the relations between China and Japan. I960). the theory seems contradictory: on the one hand. translated by John and Doreen Weightman and published as Conversationswith Claude Levi-Strauss (London. and Greece and Rome fit into all of this is difficult to tell.0I His thought is convoluted and at times vague and contradictory so that it is not always easy to resolve a position taken at one point in his writing with another taken later. and no attempt is made to account for any technological differences nor for similar annihilations or conquests of societies in the Old World. Despite its title." in Harry Shapiro (ed. 9 LeFoninauguralefaite le mardi5janvier 1960 (Paris. "A culture's chance of uniting the complex body of inventions of all sorts which we describe as a civilization depends on the number and diversity of the other cultures with which it is working out. as exhibited in his theories on the division of labor. Entretiensavec Claude Levi-Strauss (Paris. 1952).). o0 G. Paul and R. the one fatal flaw which can afflict a group of men and prevent them from fulfilment is to be alone" (40). O. Number and diversity: a comparison of the Old World with the New on the eve of the latter's discovery provides a good illustration of the need for these two factors" (39). I947). 1967). "it is difficult to see how one civilization can hope to benefit from the way of life of another. At some points he equates history with 8 Race et histoire(Paris. simultaneously published in English as Race and History (Paris.). Culture. I969). I begin with Race and History (1952). 1952). For this reason the best method of expounding his interpretation of history seems to be chronological.8 in his inaugural lecture for the chair of social anthropology at the College de France. Man. contrast this with :mile Durkheim. translated by S. a common strategy. a point which LeviStrauss takes up along the same lines in his provocative essay.LEVI-STRAUSS AND HISTORY | 515 History. being less diverse and complex. "The one real calamity. generally involuntarily. . II This seems an expansion of the Durkheimian notion of the desirability of social differentiation. more easily succumbed to alien conquest. The author goes on to maintain that it was the diversity of cultures in the Old World which led to their vitality and that the New World cultures. 1960). Paul and published as The Scope of Anthropology(London. "The Family. 56-61.9 and in a published series of radio interviews. on the other. A. Charbonnier (ed."I No proof is offered for this audacious assertion other than a few over-general remarks.
none of which was likely to affect his civilization: Would he not be inclined to describe that civilization as 'stationary'? In other words. as though he is being objective and outside and beyond cultural values. disparate segments of our own society. Levi-Strauss goes on to describe our concept of history. 0. The former notion of history relates to the ideas he later advances in his dispute with Sartre. and if we communicate with other. Other cultures. Having put forward the far from original notion that time is related to perceived differences. modern man has launched out on countless lines of philosophicaland sociological speculationin a vain attempt to achieve a compromise between these two contradictorypoles.' not necessarily because they are so in fact. on its broadest scale (social evolution). but because the line of their development has no meaning for us. He says: Facedwith the two temptationsof condemning things which are offensive to him emotionally or of denying differenceswhich are beyond his intellectual grasp. and cannot be measured in terms of the criteria we employ" (23). at the same time. to eradicate what still shocks and offends him in that diversity. . and to account for the diversity of cultures while seeking. At other times. I) "What would be the observer's attitude toward a civilization which had concentrated on developing values of its own. then we have broadened the perspective of our social world. If we claim to transcend our own culture. as another myth-myth being for him the means by which men resolve the logical scandals presented when they confront reality with their particular cosmology. history simply being a way of looking at the past in order to rationalize the present. BEIDELMAN myth. we are very likely to be labeled eccentrics or madmen. he speaks of events over time as they "really" took place. does the distinction between the two types of history depend on the intrinsic nature of the cultures to which the terms are applied.516 T. The problem is that facts can never be anything but what we can perceive as facts and this in turn remains imbedded in the totality of our own language and culture. if we have failed in such communication. If there is a factual truth outside of this formulation. it can be of little significance to us. whose development would appear to us to be significant. on the contrary. would seem to us to be 'stationary. that is. that is to say. or does it not rather result from the ethnocentric points of view which we always adopted in assessing the value of a different culture? We should thus regard as 'cumulative' any culture developing in a direction similar to our own.
. would be absorbed in a sort of undulating tide which. possibly equally active and calling for the utilization of as much talent. it seems clear that the diversity is merely apparent. could never be canalizedin a permanentdirection. [I9] For Levi-Strauss. what does this consist? It is really an to wipe out the diversity of cultureswhile pretendingto accord attempt it full recognition. and however strangesome of them may be. in point of fact. differences were simply the product of perception determined by one's society. both in the past and in far distantlands. they all. attempting not only to minimize diversity even while lauding it. startingfrom the same point and leading toward the same end. whereas here. instead of being added to previous innovations tending in the same direction. but only in terms so broad as to be irrelevant to conduct or judgment. primitive societies fit this second category. once in motion. for there. which might probably best be described by the In expressionfalse evolutionism. All innovations. he writes of history in a sense which suggests something more objective: [Thereare]two types of history:a progressive. It is difficult to resolve this view with that advanced under heading (I). objectively speaking. in which discoveries and inventions are accumulatedto build up great civilizations. and another type. this is a gross oversimplification of contemporary theories of social evolution and smacks of many ideas popular in the Victorian era. the ultimate significance of time is that it gives sufficient dimensions to human activities for these to lead to the eventual dissolution of all societies and the annihilation of all men everywhere.Humanity is claimed to be one and the same everywhere .. Possibly so. I see little reason why similar objections cannot be raised against Levi-Strauss himself His theories about the fundamental structure of the human mind simply locate the "mythical" solvent elsewhere. but this seems more useful as eschatology than as social science. but to deny to time most of the significances which conventional historians have given it. are treated as phasesor stagesin a single line of development. two different types of social processes going on in time. there are. 2) At other points. For him. Furthermore.. come back to a single formula. If the variousconditionsin which human societiesare found. [I4] Of course. This seems confusing and . We shall see that for Levi-Strauss time does exert a profound influence upon mankind.LEVI-STRAUSS AND HISTORY 517 But however much these lines of speculationmay differ. but lacking the gift of synthesiswhich is the hall-mark of the first.acquisitivetype.
but data on social change are incredibly rich and offer other alternatives for analysis besides archaeology. since I have at times been criticized for being uninterested in history and for paying scant attention to it in my work" (25). fluid) societies and primitive (cool. literate societies (civilizations) ordinarily exist only at the terrible price of exploitation and human . Indeed. He ends his address by referring to an ideal civilization in which machines would do the burdensome tasks of men while men would be freed from exploitation.it is the natureof the factswe study which leadsus to distinguish within them that which belongs to the order of structureand that which belongs to the order of event. He concludes with the Gallic summation: "In the absence of an inaccessible factual truth. LeviStrauss engages in a quasi-scientific idiom which has sometimes led to his being incorrectly described as objective or as having a method. Levi-Strauss speaks of the possibilities of reconstructing the past by applying new scientific advances to archaeological methods. static) ones. history seems to hold few positive interests for Levi-Strauss. This relates to Levi-Strauss' belief that highly complex. we would have arrived at a truth of reason" (34). He writes of playing with these models "in the laboratory. if we take a cue from our object of study and adopt a transformational ratherthan afluxionalmodel. By contrast. Important as the historical perspective which-as may be. In his inaugural address. There is no cause for surprise. He explains how he abstracts logical systems from the facts observed in the field and then suggests that these can be expanded in terms of their own internal logic in order to understand their scope and possibilities. whereas the assertions in heading (2) enable him to disallow any conventional evaluation of these which would judge civilization superior to primitive life.518 T. there is no cause for surprise. He goes on to say: In truth. the diversity of human societies and their number-several thousand still at the end of the nineteenth century-make it seem to us as if they were displayed in the present. He goes on to remark: "This historian's profession of faith may come as a surprise. internally differentiated. but it does allow Levi-Strauss to preserve his dichotomization between civilized (hot.then." but it is merely the laboratory of his own mind.  Knowing Levi-Strauss. 0. we can only attainit at the end: afterlong researches radiocarbondating and palynology demonstrate-are not even always within our competence. In describing his transformational model. BEIDELMAN inconsistent.
himthearts merely by-product literacy. on the one hand.willy-nilly. crystalline teachus is not structure whichthe best-preserved primitive of societies antagonisticto the human condition" (49). and between all primitivesocieties. impervious my professional an essentially Thisis all the more truein thatit is emotional attitude.WithLevi-Straussappears somekindof absolute in inheres structures themselves-if. as it were.on the other.Society. his Conversations with his otherwork wherehe has Charbonnier is more consistent he and affairs in how hisstudies shownlittleinterest contemporary in may beenmodifiedby has aid society:"Butmy political attitude not really and it the factthatI became anthropologist. mastery over his environment is apparentlyonly incidental. the synthesizer sociology at wouldleadtowardclearer of the possible. man's function literacy to enable to exploitandenslave another. thereis moreresemblance thanthere between two categories. while civilization's franticproductivity profoundwrong compounds betweenall civilizauponwrong. DurkIn Conversations(29-3 I).Forhim. Yet he claims inspirationfrom Marx. historywould makeitselfby itself.andFreud. Henceforth. almost andso I mustadmitthatit is to."Then. whatis meant a society being"outside above by by especially and history. existfreeof the sinof hecticproduction. very difficult to bridge the gap between the objective attitude one other communities from the strivesto maintainwhen considering in outsideandthe situation whichone findsoneself. tions. ends.inside heim. remains an outside.anythingcan be morality madeout of the preceding passages. of history.indeed.society would be free from the millennial cursewhich has compelledit to enslave menin orderthattherebe progress. lecturehe speaksof socialgoals and Althoughin his inaugural with in makessome moraljudgmentson societies. thinking. placed able to exhibit once again that regularand. I2 one's own society" (13). the real It is difficult makeout precisely to what is meantby thesecomand ments. societies primitive whichis possible of and only by the enslavement alienation the masses. wouldbe and outside abovehistory.12 one of is men In contrast. leastfor Weber appraisal the motivations self-aggrandizement power remainrelatively and of constant from society to society and provide bases for comparative it that objective study.LEVI-STRAUSS AND HISTORY | 519 and For of a are suffering. is culture He the having entirelytaken over the burdenof manufacturing progress. he provides the most extended exposition of this view. ."A little Weber.
he states: "But if the anthropologist allowed himself to be obsessed by problems of this kind.. BEIDELMAN Elsewhere. in comparisonwith our own great society. The problem is not to avoid judgments. he would become a philosopher and cease to practice anthropology. The preceding three quotations suggest a wrong-headed conception of both the biological and social sciences. he retreats before any opportunities to disclose some immediate relevance of his findings for his own society: "You are asking me to make a comparison.  Yet. or about the biases of historical writers. first put forward in Tristes tropiques: I would say that.. and any measure of a society's scope and importance is simply a function of the observer's . there has been constant change and flux in all societies. and since we are immersed in one or more societies. for these are the essence and purpose of social science. this seems inconsistent since Levi-Strauss' notions about the contrast between civilization and primitive societies. these judgments cannot be dissociated from our own moral notions." and they tend to remain indefinitely in their initial state. At the least. His function is a more modest one. Levi-Strauss expands upon the analogy between social processes and entropy.520 T. which happens to be our own. a task of description and classification. In these same Conversations. or like clocks in relation to steam-engines.They are societieswhich createthe minimum of that disorderwhich the physicists call "entropy.the societiesstudied by the anthropologistare in a sense "cold" societies rather than "hot" societies. When asked to make a comparative judgment between our culture and certain primitive ones. Levi-Strauss seems most irresponsible when he at first seems liberal and relativistic. indicate pervasive and important value judgments." (I53). if one recalls his previous statements in Race and History. but I would not be an anthropologist if I did not abstain from commenting on the position of one particular society. Rather. which is the total category of cultural phenomena. the zoologist or the entomologist. and within this prescribed field the anthropologist undertakes a task which is comparable to that performed by the botanist. in the light of observations deriving from other societies" (48).. the problem is to make it constantly clear when and why we make such judgments and not to enshrine them in a realm beyond revision and criticism. It consists in marking out a particular sector. with all the great modern societies. and this explains why they appearto us as static societies with no history. 0.
[38-39] History has now become not simply a myth to resolve logical scandals in our perception of experience. social progress and evolution are misconceived ideas. modern societies interiorize history as it were. I would say. It may be that they were not static in form as well as in activity but that we lack information about the upheavals which took place. the more varied the past of such societies appears. We should not. operate.. except as it contributes to our own illusory struggles toward misdirec- ted ends. This includes the anthropologist. from another. at a higher temperatureor. Certainly the more we learn from oral history and archaeology. there are greaterdifferentials the system. either European or those of the Third World. [Thus] Societies like our own. every reader is on his own. but in the historical sense.."In fact. and they all go equally far back. then.. differentialswhich are caused by social differences. He seems to hold out little hope that we shall return to an arcady of primitive communities and he sees the gargantuan turmoil of civilization leading us to annihilation. social change and activity end in nothingness.. which in their case are more important than statisticalphenomena. this is what we mean when we say that these societieshave no history-and to consequentlythey arecharacterized a very high degree by phenomena of a mechanical nature. every human society has a history. draw a distinction between "societies with no history" and "societieswhich have histories. to be more of between the internaltemperatures exact.) As to how to retrieve a workable definition of a society from the preceding. How else can we account for the many revolutionary innovations since prehistoric times? [These cool societies] . function at a temperatureof absolute zeronot zero as understood by the physicist. which have a history. Levi-Strauss' reluctance to involve himself in contemporary societies. but rather a kind of symbolic jujitsu (to borrow a phrase from Victor Turner) by which we take the energy of time and change and channel it into the maw of our own furnace of frantic social activity. History is hardly very useful in these terms.. From one perspective.LIVI-STRAUSS AND HISTORY j 521 own cultural eyeglasses. and turn it into the motive power of their development. seems to stem from an expression of moral revulsion toward his own civilization and . since all history datesfrom the birth of mankind. It seems that Levi-Strauss finds it difficult to believe in change. (Any reading ofLevi-Strauss encourages an urge to coin preposterous metaphors. But whereas so-called primitive societies are surroundedby the substanceof history and try to remain impervious to it.
BEIDELMAN from a disinclination engagein collectiveefforts. the thoughat timesrewarding.. The poverty of totemic myths is thereforedue to the fact that the function of each is only to establisha differenceas a difference:they are the constitutiveunits of a system" (23 ). rev. Yet all systemsof thought are selecwhich he describes.goals. SavageMind. And thus he arguesthat the civilizationsof Europeand Asia have a totemic void because: ". tive and all partakeof those aspectsof classification all At a high level of abstraction historyis a kind of myth sinceit tells us only that which we see as significantand that significancederivesfrom our own perplexitieswith the present. Consideringthe preceding works. meaning the actualtotal past. from our own social milieu. a study such as Pieter For (London. many by Levi-Strauss goes on to accuseSartreof naivety in his interpretation of history along non-relativisticlines.accordingonly some of them the privilege of having a past.but it makesa selectionbetween its elements. Levi-Straussseems to be considering history as a kind of myth. O.. . it at form (the more so. almostnegative way: it does not accountfor the present. thereseemsto be an aloofness. ed.. with that of classifyingthings is and that this undertaking incomparable and beings (naturaland social) by means of finite groups" (232).andshared passions. In any case.but the targetof Levi-Strauss' and this has attracteda wider audiencethan his earliercomments.) is only one of Geyl's Napoleon: andAgainst historiansentirely aware of this problem. diffidence dishis own. It is dubious whether societiescan be so neatly dichotomized. He means. (242). for historian'schoice of categories.One muststaylong in an aliensociety derived incursions to experience fearful.522 | T. Elsewherehe usesthe word "history"to referto somethingmore real. the latter have elected to explain themselves by history raises the topic of history by contrasting it with totemism (231-232).On the personal to a aboutminglingwith level.Even if mythical history is false. But such an interpretationseems ratherdejavu. For him. all historical events are to a large extent the products of the . noting that Sartrehas confused ". little new is put forth in The historicalpolemic is Sartre. 1964. one might least manifestsin a pure and accentuated traits of an historicalevent" because it is false) the characteristic say. what Levi-Strauss and here it is difficultto understand while history is only selectively totemic thought is totally classificatory in so: "Historyis surreptitiously introducedinto the structure a modest. anda preference a towardattaining moremanipulatable tancefor dealing with the alien. fromcommonvalues.
All meaning is answerable to a lesser meaning. others) ethnographic cogitation. but there seems no reason why anthropology and sociology also are not part of our contemporary mythology. and if this regression finally ends in recognizing 'a contingent law of which one can say only: it is thus. this prospect is not alarming to those whose thought is not tormented by transcendence even in a latent form. too. These. on the sole condition of bowing to this contingent law. For man will have gained all he can reasonably hope for if. A great deal of what we call anthropological explanation consists of translation. But if so. while at the same time knowing (but in a different register) that what he lives so completely and intensely is a myth-which will appear as such to men of a future century. Elsewhere Levi-Strauss characteristically backtracks by admitting that no one can elude these difficulties. seems a form of highly personal To the anthropologist. the contrary. unknowabletruth: He who begins by steeping himself in the allegedly self-evident truths of introspectionnever emerges from them. by socializing the Cogito. It is not in his power to do so and wisdom consists for him in seeing himself live it. he succeeds in determining his form of conduct and in placing all else in the realm of the intelligible" (255-256). and will no longer appear at all to men of a future millenium. which gives it its highest meaning. Sartre in fact becomes the prisoner of his Cogito: Descartes made it possible to attain universality. But they thus shut the door on knowledge of man: written or unavowed "confessions"form the basisof all ethnographic research. which he describes as enabling one to secure analytical truths through reason. and not otherwise' [he quotes Sartre]. Knowledge of men sometimes seems easierto those who allow themselvesto be caught up in the snareof personalidentity.  is essentialto an understandingof the mythology of "our own time" (249). philosophy this on (like all the a the studyof which affords first-class document. Furthermore. but conditionally on remaining psychological and individual. Each subject'sgroup and period now take the place of timeless consciousness . Levi-Strauss is correct as far as he goes. reflect and translate alien experience into another. .. why then such an intense polemic beforehand? "I am not however suggesting that man can or should sever himself from this internality. more meaningful set of terms.LEVI-STRAUSS AND HISTORY 523 his own individualcumsocialperspectivewith real. LeviStrauss' own mental laboratory.. Sartremerely exchanges one prison for another. and perhaps to himself a few years hence.
2) while of civilization". Levi-Straussexhibits no sustainedconsiderationof history as the study is generallyacceptedto be. the agent of history. the ultimate goal of the human sciences to be not to constitute. LeviStraussgoes on to announce: The anthropologist history.which is always anthropologyare models presentedby Levi-Strauss highly for. it is in this intransigentrefusalon the part of the savage mind to allow anything human (or even living) to remainaliento it. temporarily preceded or factsareno moregiventhanany other.. however complex a systemof categorization are both more and less than the entities and actions they somehow standfor. . 0. is of equal validity. A trulytotal history would cancelitself out-its productwould be nought. Levi-Straussassertsdichotomies which cannot be demonstrated but which imply valuejudgments. since the is as societies they historian strivesto reconstruct pictureof vanished the to wereatthepointwhichfor themcorresponded the present... But all societiestry to constructtotal cosmolomay be. being relative.. depending only on social context? It is not clear. and historicaldata play little part in his research. and. .It is the historian. What makes historypossibleis that a sub-setof eventsif found.. the otherin space.for a given period. symbols gies. Certainlythe structural selective and have been the product of his own perspective. And the difference even less great than it might seem..What limited interest he does show is contingent upon aim of denying other issuesimportantto him relatingto his paradoxical in fundamentaldifferences human cultureswhile at the same time any .524 T. the same is true for anthropology.but he doesnot accordit a special respects value. and who constitutes themby abstraction asthoughunderthe of threatof an infiniteregress.Thereis only a differenceof tone. not meaning. Consequently. He conceivesit as a studycomplementary his own: one of to in them unfurlsthe rangeof humansocieties time. whilethe the does his best to reconstruct historical stageswhich ethnographer historical theirexistingform. [256... BEIDELMAN Are we then to assume that all knowledge. What is true of the constitution historical factsis no less so of theirselection. in these two assertions:I) of primitive societies-".. but history-for. that the realprinciple of dialecticalreason is to be found" (245). . 257] Yet. but to dissolveman" (247). of to haveapproximately samesignificance a contingent indivifor the dualswho have not necessarily the experienced eventsand may even considerthem at an intervalof severalcenturies. Historyis therefore never history.
you tend to ignore chronology. By minimizing technology and maximizing modes of thought thisis passedon to the reader.LEVI-STRAUSS AND HISTORY | 525 implying that the values of primitive societiesare equal or superiorto civilization. in any structural pattern the time-factor is at a discount.are too broadand ungroundedin factualdetails to be of much analyticaluse. and there is a great deal of truth in it.I3Levi-Strausswrites more of the exploitative and less of the useful aspectsof such achievements. but it does show up the main disadvantage of structural analysis as a tool for historical research." "What was the Parthenon for?" Times Literary Sutpplement. Indeed. . while the contrastsbetween civilization and primitive societies. it is at a general level exhibiting little novelty or use to either historiansor anthropologists. 13 In a perceptive review of the application of current sociological fads to Greek and Roman historical studies. events through time become secondary.If Levi-Strauss has anything to say on the philosophy of history. If you are concentrating on categories. at best. 937-938. The relativity of knowledge to a social milieu is hardly a new realization.3574 (28 August 1970). where the universal nature of the human mind is the key causal factor for an explanatory system.along with an over-homogenization of alien societies. Levi-Strauss' position seems to make little sense in terms of much of contemporarysocial science or philosophy. an anonymous reviewer writes: "This is all vastly stimulating. staticand fluid cultures.
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