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Claude Levi-Strauss and the Search for Structure Author(s): David Maybury-Lewis Source: The Wilson Quarterly (1976-),

Vol. 12, No. 1 (New Year's 1988), pp. 82-95 Published by: Wilson Quarterly Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40257769 Accessed: 31/08/2010 08:07
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Ideas

CLAUDE
AND

LEVI-STRAUSS THE SEARCH FOR STRUCTURE

"Such is how I view myself," wrote Lvi-Strauss in his autobiography, Tristes Tropiques (1964), "a traveller, an archaeologistof space, trying in vain to restore the exotic with the help of fragments and debris."Like Rousseau two centuries before him, LviStrauss insisted upon the virtue of primitivepeoples. Yet he went beyond Rousseau. Dissecting the art, myths, and folkwaysof traditional societies, he sought to find a common code or "grammar" underlying the world's diverse cultural arrangements. His quest led to a bold rvaluation of "savage" thinking, which in turn yielded fresh insights into the workings of the human mind. As anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis explains, Lvi-Strauss's search for structure has powerful reverberationsin academiaand beyond, even to this day.

byDavid Maybury-Lewis
People always and everywhere have wanted to believe that there is some sort of patternin humanaffairs.They have seen their lives as part of a granddesign but untilcomparatively recentlyhave maintained that this designwas onlyfullyintelligible to the gods or to God, and that it wouldbe hubrisfor ordinarymortalsto aspire to a deep knowledgeof it. This attitude began to change with the philosophersof the andthe growthof the scientificspiritin Europe.After Enlightenment thinkerssuch as Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) and Charles-Louis Montesquieu(1689-1755) had the audacityto suggest that mere the granddesign, the idea mortals,too, might be able to understand beganto take holdthat humansocieties couldbe studiedscientifically as parts of the naturalworld.
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Claude Lvi-Strauss,in a 1963 photograph.

Many 19th-century anthropologistsfelt that they could and shouldclassify the societies of the world in much the same way as museumsclassifythe world'sfloraandfauna.By refiningthese classito fications(as they learnedmore aboutexotic peoples)and applying them the powerfulnew evolutionary theories of CharlesDarwinand would develop nothing less Alfred Russel Wallace,anthropologists than a naturalscience of human societies. was Lewis of these anthropologists the most influential Probably in who two HenryMorgan, majorworks, Systemsof Consansought the Human and Affinity of Family (1871) and Ancient guinity Society (1877), to demonstratethe mechanismsof social evolution. He arguedthat humansocieties hadpassedthroughstages characterized by technologicaladvances,which gave rise to new family systems and forms of politicalcontrol. The thesis impressedFriedrich Engels, who summarizedand embellishedit in his own book, The Origin of the Family, Private Propertyand the State (1884), with the eventual result that Morgan became the patron saint of anthropologyin communistcountries. There were skeptics, of course, but the idea of a "science"of It was a vision society provedto be a vision of enduringinspiration. that foundan eloquentspokesmanin A. R. Raddiffe-Brown, professor
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of social anthropology at Oxfordat the time of WorldWar H. Raddiffe-Brownarguedfor a social anthropology that wouldbe nothing - a of all the less than a comparative peoples of the world sociology herculeantask which demandedthat anthropologists be able to describe the structuresof humansocieties so that they could be comparedand classified. In a major treatise on the Australianaborigines, The Social diaOrganization of Australian Tribes (1931), Radcliffe-Brown of each tribal grammedthe clan systems andmarriagearrangements society. It was clear that he thought his diagramsrepresentedthe "structures"of the societies he was discussing.Did this mean that were somehownot partof other ideas andinstitutions the aborigines' To Raddiffe-Brown's the structure? critics,this seemed both implauAfter all, the aboriginesmight have seemed sible and unsatisfactory. who first met them (because to the Europeans "primitive" incredibly of their simple Stone Age technology),but later students noted the theirelaboraterelifor philosophical speculation, penchant aborigines' gious life, and the complexityof their social organization.

with regard notionof structurewas dubious If Radcliffe-Brown's how was it to be appliedto Indiaor the to the Australian aborigines, how couldit become United States? And if not generallyapplicable, the basis for a scientificstudy of all the societies of the world?Many were reluctantto abandonthis vision of their discianthropologists pline, though the comparativescience they longed for seemed as elusive as ever. By the 1950s they hadreachedthe stage where they were talkingaboutstructuremore but enjoyingit less. It was at this moment of impasse that Lvi-Strausscame to the rescue with a differentand even more ambitiouskindof structuralism. had studiedphilosophy Lvi-Strauss A Belgian-born Frenchman, at the Sorbonne,and was doing a stint of secondary-school teaching when the Universityof Paris invited him to go to Brazilas one of several professorssent to help buildup the programsof the University of Sao Paulo.In 1935, at the age of 27, he arrivedin Sao Paulo and began teachingsociology.Duringthe next few years he went on interior.He became fascinated several expeditionsinto the Brazilian
David Maybury-Lewis, 58, a former Wilson Center Fellow, is professor of anthropology at Harvard University Born in Hyderabad (now Pakistan), he received a B.A. from Cambridge University (1952) and a D. Phil from Oxford University (1960). His many books include The Savage and the Innocent (1965), Akw-Shavante Society (1967), Dialectical Societies (1979). He also contributed papers to Claude Lvi-Strauss: The Anthropologist as Hero (1970). He is now working on a book dealing with structuralism and social organization. Copyright 1988 by David Maybury-Lewis.
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he met. He returnedto Francein 1939, in by the studyof the Indians time to join the army at the outbreakof WorldWarH. who came from a Followingthe defeat of France,Lvi-Strauss, to New York to Jewish family,managed escape City, where he secured a teaching job at the New School for Social Research, and his first works in ethnology.When the war ended, began publishing he served brieflyas culturalattachat the Frenchembassyin Washingtonbeforereturningto Francein 1947. He has livedandtaughtin Paris ever since, being elected first to a chairof social anthropology at the College de France and then to the AcadmieFranaise. that he began to elaborateduringthe 1950s The structuralism Radcliffe-Brown was a far cry from that of Radcliffe-Brown. spoke of or livingcreatureshave societies havingstructureseven as buildings structures.Lvi-Strausssuggested insteadthat scholarsconsiderthe structureof a society as being more like the grammarof a language. and NikolayTrubetskoy, Here he took his cue from RomanJakobson the 1930s as the known to be had come of what during linguists linguisticsby looking Prague School. These men had revolutionized for the "deep structures"that shape the speech utterances of all languages.Lvi-Straussproposedto apply a similarmethod to the study of humansocieties. The structureshe aimedto uncoverwould be the hiddencodes that generate social institutionsand behaviors. But how to uncoverthese deep structures? Lvi-Strauss'sexampleswere marvelously provocative.Rejectdivisionsof subjectmatter that had fettered his conventional the ing scholarlypredecessors, he tried to discern the patterns underlying peoples' ideas and institutionsand often arrivedat some startlingly conclusions. unorthodox

s>
he wrote eloquentlyof the IndiantribesIn Tristes Tropiques, hintermen whom he had met on his expeditionsinto the Brazilian for instance,hadbeen renownedwarriors land.The Mbaya-Caduveo, when they first encounteredthe Portuguese invaders in the 16th century. Their nobles were arrogant seigneurs who scorned their Portugueseand inferiors,amongwhom they includedthe conquering must have looked like in leather stiff Dressed coats, they Spanish. face cardsin a playingdeck. Indeed,these haughtynoblesupercilious men thought so highly of themselves that they refused to subject their women to the nuisanceof child rearing. They either aborted or killedthem at birth.To replenishtheir ranks,they noble offspring adopted childrenfrom below, thus bringingabout a most unusual form of social mobility. of this society to relatedthe exaggeratedhierarchy Lvi-Strauss the way its memberspainted(andstill paint)themselves.Fascinated
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he concludedthat by their complex but symmetricalface-painting, the Mbaya-Caduveo designs expressed a yearningfor the symmetry that did not exist in their society's hierarchical social institutions. As Lvi-Strausshimself stated it: "The mysteriouscharmand of Caduveoart may (as it seems at first) the gratuitouscomplication well be a phantasmcreated by a society whose object was to give symbolicform to the institutionswhich it might have had in reality, had interest and superstitionnot stood in the way/' In Tristes Tropiquesand a series of paperson social structure in StructuralAnthropology, VolumeI (1958), he suggested that the BororoIndiansof CentralBrazilwere likewisestrugglingto reconcile symmetryand asymmetryin their thoughtand social arrangements. He suggested that the prevailing scholarlyview of Bororosociety as societies all highlysymmetricalwas mistaken.Like many traditional over the world, the Bororoare formallydividedinto halves, or moieties. Every Bororomust belongto a moiety,andBororothoughtand life appear to be dominatedby the interrelationship between moieties. Yet from other, asymmetricaspects of Bororo society, LviStrauss concludedthat the symmetries in Bororo society were a smoke screen that the Indians used to obscurethe real asymmetryof their social arrangements. For example,Bororosociety ostensiblyfollowsa symmetricsystem of intermarrying moieties, but in fact it also adheresto another rule dividingthe moieties into Upper,Middle,and Lower segments. People in an Upper segment must marryfromthe Uppersegment of anothermoiety. Lvi-Straussargued that the asymmetryof UpperMiddle-Lowerrepresented the true structure of Bororo society, which they are at great pains to conceal from themselves.

whose specialtywas Brazilian Indianswere inAnthropologists trigued but unconvinced.I, for one, noted errors in Lvi-Strauss's readings of the evidence from Braziliansocieties and pointed out - we had only been offerednew that- even discounting these errors with previous readingsof the data,whichwouldhave to be compared readings.In fact, the symmetricreadingsof Bororosociety are still more broadlyexplanatory than Lyi-Strauss's asymmetricone, andit is noteworthythat later, when Lvi-Strausswrote at length about Bororomyth, he did not make use of his own previousinsistenceon asymmetryamong the Bororo. of However,most of his readershadlittle interest in the Indians CentralBrazil.What fascinatedthem was the bold and imaginative to dig beneathclansandmoieties, attemptto get behindappearances, and to discernthe underlying "code"that had generatedthese social arrangements.
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The analysesof CentralBrazilian peoples could be passed over as mere preliminaryexamples. K the method worked elsewhere, wouldhave solvedthe problemthat hadstumpedearlier Lvi-Strauss The of these codes, moreover,wouldmake posanalysts. comparison sible the generalizations about humanbeings, their ideas, and their societies that had hithertoprovedso elusive. But Lvi-Strauss'sfirst majorcomparative work, The ElemenStructures did not reassure doubters. of Kinship (1949), tary in the Ever since anthropology emerged as a scholarlydiscipline mid-19thcentury,the subjectof kinshiphas loomedlarge. For most of humanhistorypeople organizedtheir societies alongfamilial lines, societies still do. The relegationof kinship to the andmanytraditional developmentof associations privatesphere and the corresponding whichare not (or at unions,clubs in the public-sphere, corporations, least are not supposedto be) based on kinship,is a relativelyrecent development.

All societies have to incorporate into itself is perplexing. Kinship their arrangementsthe fact that they can endure only if men and women produce and rear children. Yet the kinship systems built aroundthese "facts of life" are as varied as humaningenuitycan make them. There are, for example, wide differencesin the way societies classifyrelatives.Some have no specialword for "mother." She is insteadaddressedby a term that refers to manyother women of the first ascendinggeneration.Some societies recognizedescent only in the male line, others only in the female line. Yet others structure their systems by requiringmarriagewith certaincousins. and explainthese variations? How can we understand Lvi-Straussproposeda general theory of kinship,buildingon work of Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) concerningthe the sociological central importanceof gift exchanges in humanaffairs.Lvi-Strauss argued that human beings had passed from a state of nature to a - the momentthey pro- had in fact become human state of culture than more hibitedincest. This prohibition, any other, separates the it leads to exogamy, humanfrom the animalworld. Quite obviously, the practiceof "marrying out,"for if men may not take the womenof their own familyas mates, the system will work only if all other men The imperativeof marryingout are under the same prohibition. forces all members of a social system to deal with and depend on outsiders;it lies at the root of perhaps the oldest ambivalencein humanaffairs.It also providesthe tension that is released in jokes about in-laws,includinga South Africanaphorism,quoted by LviStrauss,which suggests that a relative by marriageis an elephant's presumably. hip- suffocating,
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But the rule that one had to many out of the familydid not establishwhom one did in fact marry.In early humansocieties, kinship was too importanta matter to be left to chance or to individual whim. Systems of regularintermarriage among groups were therefore set up, and Lvi-Straussdemonstratedingeniouslyhow they couldhave resultedfrom the idea of marrying out but not too far out (i.e. marriagebetween certain kinds of first cousins). In fact, such systems exist in many parts of the worldtoday,for example,among the Bedouinsof the MiddleEast. We know how they work and also how they get aroundthe problems of chance and demographyto ensure that there are spouses available for everyone. didnot intendhis theoryto applyonlyto However,Lvi-Strauss those societies that prescribedmarriagewith specific first cousins. He argued, rather,that kinshipsystems existed essentiallyto regulate marriage,and that the institutionalization of these kindsof firstcousinmarriageswas the essential patternfrom whichall other systems (presumably the complexstructures)were derived.

From this theory, he analyzedthe caste system of India,the social organizationof China, and the social arrangementsof the AmericanIndians. His argumentscombined leapsof inferspeculative ence with evidence that was so technicalas to be unintelligible to Yet those who could understandhis argumentssoon nonspecialists. began to object. The theory was grand and many of the insights telling, but the evidence was questionableas were the inferences drawnfrom it. of incest, rather than languageor Why should the prohibition other institutions,be the distinguishing characteristic of humanity? Were all kinshipsystems marriagesystems in more than a trivial sense? Was Lvi-Strauss'sgrandthesis borne out? Was there in fact any real way of confirming it? Soon, however,the doubtersdiscoveredthat they were but-butbut-inglike pedanticoutboardmotors in the wake of a grandvision that was sailing,indeed soaring,away from them. For Lvi-Strausshad moved on, writing a series of books that of exploredthe nature of humanthoughtitself. The most influential these was The Savage Mind (1962). In it he consideredthe curious of totemism,the widespreadcustom by whicha person phenomenon or a groupof peopleis associatedwith some materialthingor animal or species in the naturalworld. Lvi-Straussconcludedthat totems were a matterof classification. The Australian for example, aborigine, who says, "I am a wallaby," is neither feeble-minded nor confused, and he certainlyknows a great deal aboutwallabies.He is makinga
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symbolicstatement to the effect that his clan is to other clans as wallabiesare to other species. Lvi-Straussarguedthat both a propensityto classifyand careof the naturalenvironment have been keys to human ful observation It was this combination since time immemorial. that enabled thinking to make importantdiscoveriesduringthe Neolithicrevolumankind in humanaffairs tion, whichLvi-Straussconsidersjust as important Revolution.The inventionof agriculture,weaving, as the Industrial and pottery,for example,took place long before the adventof scienas we now knowit. Moreover,isolatedtribalsocieties in tificthinking existence today also possess a detailedknowledgeof their environment, which shows, accordingto Lvi-Strauss,that they likewise engage in speculativeinvestigationand classification. "Savagethought,"Lvi-Straussinsisted,was as logicaland systematicas "scientific thought,"thoughit often reacheddifferentconclusions. He offered two reasons for this: Savage thought argues from differentpremises,and it refuses to accept a vacuum.Detailing the associative connectionsmade in savage thinking,Lvi-Strauss pointedout that while science accepts "don'tknow" as its frontier, savage thought is totalizing. It insists on systems, which is why is such an importantpart of it. classification By now it shouldbe clear that savage thoughtis not the same thing as the thinkingof savages, or at any rate not the same as the thinkingof people we might be tempted to label as savages. On the contrary,it is the way people think much of the time, except when they are makingan effort to be scientific.People who order their lives accordingto horoscopes (for which there is no scientific evior who believe dence), or who act on what we call "superstitions," their water is part of a conspiracyagainstthem, or that fluoridating theoriesthat who fit their ideas into any one of a numberof totalizing go beyondthe hard evidence, are thinking"savagely."

But the question still remains as to why some societies rely extensively on savage thought, while others, Eastern or Western, whichresults in theohave developedan alternativeway of thinking, answer is that reticaland abstractscience. Lvi-Strauss's surprising theoreticalscience develops along with historicalconsciousness.In "cold"societies that see the world totemically,that is, as a system there is where everythingfits into the grandscheme of classification, see the in "hot" societies contrast, people only savage thought.By worldas beingin a state of fluxandtry to explainit andthemselvesin historicalterms- which in turn leads to scientificthinking. The ironyof this conclusionis that Lvi-Straussends up championingscience but doubtinghistory. The Savage Mind concludes
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with a fierce attack on Jean-PaulSartre's insistence in Critique of DialecticalReason (1960) that historyis a privilegedform of knowl- that history to the contrary edge. Lvi-Strauss argues convincingly as used by Sartre and most Westernthinkersdoes not escape from ideology and subjectivity.Worse still, it is a cannibalpursuit that devoursthe peoples outside our Westerntraditionand ingests them into our own view of the world. But if historicalconsciousnessdoes we need not not enableus to get at a truththat is not culture-bound, us there. The structuralist method will despair. get In a quartetof books- TheRaw and the Cooked(1964), From Honey to Ashes (1966), The Origin of TableManners (1968), and The Naked Man (1971)- and innumerableshorter works, LviStrauss embarkedon a massive demonstration of the efficacyof scientific structuralismwhen appliedto myth. He chose myth as an by demographyor ecolexpression of pure thought, unconstrained In can but ogy. myths anything happen, only certainthings do. Since myths followrecurringpatterns,we couldlearn what and how myth tellers thinkif we couldonlylearnto read these patterns.That would in turn teach us somethingabout humanthoughtand the universal structureof the humanmind.

But how can we read myths correctly? Lvi-Strauss Studyof Myth" gave his answerin "The Structural (1955). He arguedthat myths are not simplyjust-so stories, intended to explainnaturalphenomena or other mysteries of life, nor are they parables.Rather,they are complex statements intendedto resolve the painfulcontradictions of humanexperience.Their message cannot be derivedsimply(if at all) from the apparent"stories"that they tell. Instead,these stories have to be brokenup andreorderedso that we can perceive that certain elements of them hang together when contrastedwith other groups of elements. The myth can then be "read"like a musicalscore and its real message deciphered. Take perhapsthe most famousmyth in all Westerncivilization, the story of Oedipus.Lvi-Straussarrangesit in four columns(see oppositepage). The story line runsfromleft to right in columnsA-C, with columnD addinga kindof symbolicglossary.But the real message of the myth, Lvi Strauss tells us, is in the relationship among the columns. ColumnA refers to the over-ratingof relationsamongkin. ColumnB refers to the under-rating of relationsamongkin. Column C refers to the killingof creaturesthat emerge fromthe earth. ColumnD implies that these men have themselves been born from the earth, since in many myths one can recognizea man who
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A Over-rating of kin Cadmos seeks his sister Europa, ravished by Zeus

B Under-rating of kin

C Denying men born of earth

D Signs of men born of earth

Cadmos kiUs the dragon The Spartoi kill one another T, , Labdacos (Laios s = father) lame

Oedipus kills his father, Laios Laios (Oedipus' father) = lefthandedness Oedipus kills the Sphinx Oedipus = swollenfoot (?) Oedipus marries his mother, Jocasta

Eteocles kills his brother, Polynices

Antigone buries her brother, Polynices, despite prohibition

has come up out of the earth by his awkwardness(such as leftin walking. or his difficulty handedness) The message of the myth then is that A is to B as C is to Dof them as the denialof the over-ratingof kin is to the under-rating originfrom the earth is to the insistence on it. The purposeof the - acbetween Greek tradition myth is to resolve the contradiction out of the to men come and Greek which up ground expericording ence of the fact that they are bornof women. It does this by likening to anotherone one insolubleproblem,one irresolvable contradiction, that turns out to be not insolubleafter all. From this myth (or, as is more usualin Lvi-Strauss's analyses, from a system of myths),one learnsthat kin and affine (a relativeby marriage),natureand culture,life and death are not eternalantitheWQ NEW YEAR'S1988

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ses that fragmenthumanconsciousnessand humanexistence; they can indeed be reconciled.The interpretation of this myth, as of the hundredsof others that Lvi-Strausshas analyzedin his works, is both originaland provocative.But, as usual,it poses problems. between origin Why shouldwe suppose that the contradiction from the earth and ordinarychildbirth botheredthe Greeks enough for them to invest intellectualand emotional energy in myths to resolve it? This contradiction is, after all, merely the differencebeModern tween a theory of originsand the facts of humancontinuity. Christianfundamentalists are not concernedby the "contradiction" between the story of Adamand Eve and the facts of childbirth any between more than evolutionistsare worriedby the "contradiction" the originof the species and its present procreativehabits. Furthermore,can we be sure of Lvi-Strauss'sinterpretations of the meaningof varioussymbolsin the myth?He refers to Kwakiutl and Pueblomyths that interpretdifficulty in walkingas an indication of emergence from the earth, but did it mean this to the Greeks?

Lvi-Strausshas a tendencyto interpretmyths as if they were fragmentsof some universallanguagespokenby all people at different times and places.But if it is a languagethat is so hardto decode, andif Lvi-Strauss can onlydecodeGreekmythsby referringto Hopi stories that the Greeks could not possiblyhave known,then who is saying what and to whom in this difficultlanguage,and is anybody getting the message?A Swedishscholar,BertilNathorst,who considered this problem,concluded that the mythmakers must all be talking to Lvi-Strauss. Of course it may be only we who have to use Hopi myths to decode Greek ones; the Greeks may not have needed to. Perhaps, too, Lvi-Strauss'sinsistenceon the linguisticanalogyshouldnot be taken too literally.But the unorthodoxbrillianceof Lvi-Strauss's analyses,together with their grandiosetheories,raises a host of similarly troublingquestions. What in fact is the relationshipof these analysesto the things they claim to explain? It is a question which Lvi-Straussblithelybegs. In a famous to The Raw and the Cocked,his first passage from the introduction majorwork on mythology,he defendedhimselfagainstthe criticism that his interpretations of SouthAmericanmyth may tell more about the interpreter'sthinkingthan aboutthat of the Indians: "For,if the final goal of anthropology is to contributeto a better knowledgeof objectivethoughtand its mechanisms,it comes to the same thing in the end if, in this book,the thoughtof SouthAmericanIndians takes shape underthe actionof mine, or mine underthe actionof theirs." Here Lvi-Straussassumes that it is possible to by-pass the
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problemsof social and culturalanalysisthat are centralto anthropolmainstreamof objective ogy and to tap directlyinto the panhuman thought.He also avoidsthe problemof knowingwhat a correctinterhas been misinterpreted, pretationis; for if the thoughtof the Indians there is a sense in which their thoughtis not present at all in LviStrauss's analysis.Is Greek thought really present in the desire to resolve a problemaboutoriginfrom the earth?Do AmericanIndians and others construct elaborate myth systems to encode messages about kin and affine, nature and culture?Some critics argue that not those of the myth-tellthese are Levi-Strauss'spreoccupations, have claimed)there is no if (as some structuralists ers. Alternatively, is then what of the claim that structuralism correct interpretation, scientific?

Lvi-Strauss'smethods are not those of the naturalsciences, of what he and they neglect the ordinary precautions methodological calls "the human sciences." In studying myth, for example, he and uses partialversionsof othpresents some myths in paraphrase to how a myth was collected,by attention much not does He ers. pay it was supposedto be, and a of sort what from story whom, whom, what sorts of reactionsit usuallyelicited.In decodingit, he refers to of he can glean aboutthe naturalenvironment whateverinformation of their to studies often much less refers he but the myth-tellers, thought, their rituals, and their social arrangements.This enables him somehow to decode even the thoughts of people about whom very little is known at all, beyond a story or two that has been collectedfrom them by travelers in passing. have an inconand "proofs" his "demonstrations" Furthermore, venient circularity. They dependon the acceptanceof Lvi-Strauss's assumptionsin the first place. In effect, he shows little concernfor the verificationof his hypotheses about other peoples and their thoughts.Indeed,he does not treat them as hypothesesat all. They are offeredas suggestionsand later assumedto be proved,when all is the coherenceof the argument,not its that has been demonstrated to correspondence anythingoutside of itself. of his strucYet Lvi-Straussinsists on the scientificobjectivity turalism.It is because it is scientific,he argues, that the structuralist method enables us to uncover constantsin humanlife and thought. The study of myths is a particularly good way of doing this because much not so are he tells thought up by humanbeings as us, myths, their without in human knowledge.If we understand beings thought the mainstreamof thoughtfor myths, he adds, then we understand societies and individual which individual people are only the tempostarted that A structuralism outlets. by trying to discover the rary
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essence of whole cultures and societies has now moved on to the - not just the thought of a direct investigationof human thought in general. particular society, but the thoughtof humankind Many of Lvi-Strauss'scritics feel that this shouldnot be the majorobjectiveof the humansciences, andthat we cannotin any case achieve it by Lvi-Strauss'smethods. Nevertheless, it is possibleto dissent from Lvi-Strauss's claims,to be skepticalof his theories, to that his readings disagreewith him on specificsand still acknowledge of culturesand myths are both brilliant and original.

His approachis so rich in insight and new ideas that it has revolutionized the study of myth and symbolism,in and out of anthropology.It has had an enormous influenceon literarycriticism. to Here at last was a methodthat claimedto enableits practitioners break out of the endless cycle of subjectivityand to decode the thoughtbehindthe text, regardlessof who its authorwas. Indeed,it launcheda new academicvogue for the study of authorlesstexts. At the same time, Perry Anderson,writingfrom a Marxistperspective in In the Tracksof Historical Materialism (1983), credits The Savage Mind, with havingalmost Lvi-Strauss,and particularly single-handedly destroyedthe hold of Marxismover Frenchintellecand tuals. He notes that Lvi-Strauss's attackon Sartre'shistoricism his refusal to accept the superiorityof dialecticalreasoning went unanswered. Instead, Louis Althusser incorporatedLvi-Strauss's antihistoricism into his own work, and soon other influential French - Foucault,Lacan,Derrida,and others - were takingstructhinkers turalism,not Marxism,as their point of reference. Yet structuralismcame under heavy fire in Paris during the student upheavalsof 1968. It was attackedby students and radicals for being indifferentto people as well as to history.Indeed, it was accusedof treatingthe study of humanbeings almostas an exercise - an attitudemore likely to appealto professors in literarycriticism thanto students.To borrowLvi-Strauss's was phrase,structuralism being excoriatedas cold theory in a hot society, which also explains how it succeeded in reemerging,phoenix-like, from the ashes of the intellectualconflagration of 1968. French Marxism,in recent years, has been in politicalretreat. WithFrench society tryingto "coolit," the times have seemed ripe for an impersonal theory that focuses on the constantsin humanaffairs,turns its backon history,and appears to offer no recipe for politicalaction. But Lyi-Straussian structuralism is by no means devoid of social implications. Lvi-Strausshas shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all humansocieties, notjust those of the industrial nations,are capableof remarkable feats of speculativethought.This is in itself a revolutionWQ NEW YEAR'S1988

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ary notion.It forces us to recognizethat we in the West, despite a scientificadvantage,have no basisfor claimingintellectual temporary over the rest of the world. superiority Lvi-Strausshas given us the most sophisticated Furthermore, - the naive faith in progress refutationof evolutionaryhistoricism that informsthe socialtheories of Marxistsand liberalsalike.We can no longer assume that our way of life representsthe most advanced stage of progress, and that other societies have simply been less successfulthan ours in reachingit. Instead,we have to face the fact that societies develop differentemphases, which in turn give them differentdestinies. Lvi-Straussoffers us a new vision of what it means to be human,and he challengesus to develop new ways of coming to terms with the differences between human societies. These are remarkable achievements,and they are not much diminhas not developedthe science ished by the fact that his structuralism of society that it once promisedus. Yet if Lvi-Strausshas failedto establisha scientificmethodof analysis(as I believe he has), he has more thanmade up comparative His attemptto lookat culturesas brilliance. for it with his imaginative thoughthey w;erelanguages,and his effort to discoverthe universal structuringprinciplesbehindthem, have influencedscholars in the humanitiesand social sciences throughoutthe world. New developments in semiotics(the studyof signs andsymbols),literarycriticism, history, and even psychology have all been inspired by his work. Meanwhilephilosophers argue with him but cannotignore his influence. It seems, therefore, that althoughacademic specialists may up his they will be following specificconclusions, rejectLvi-Strauss's leads for a long time to come.

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