Total Aesthetics

Art and The Elemental Forms

in Volume 10 (2004): Issue 1 (Dec 2004)
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A minor mystery is when Durkheim began and how he crafted and created his monumental work, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse: le système totémique en Australie. The first evidence comes with lectures he started to give in 1906. They contain a sort of prototype of the eventual text, but, though important, make clear there was still a long way to go. And they were roundabout when he decided on major changes to the Année sociologique, in order, he explained, to give more time to personal research. The next evidence comes with two letters of 1908. In fact, they are where we first overhear him talk about 'my book' as a definite project. In one he is happy to do the introduction and some preliminary material as a couple of articles, which came out in 1909. In the other he is not at all happy to let a new idea just slip into the world, but wants to save it for development, with maximum impact, in 'my book' itself. Indeed, there was no further publication of bits of the book. There has been no further discovery of letters by him about its contents. And there has been no discovery of any drafts, let alone a final revised and corrected manuscript. In sum, there is a documentary blank for the three key creative years that led to the appearance, in summer 1912, of a masterpiece.