What were the significance and the impact, for Claude Lévi-Strauss, of his experience as a refugee in New York between May 1941 and December 1944? If one follows Lévi-Strauss's late reconstructions, his exile appears surprisingly as an almost enchanted experience, marked by various encounters (Roman Jakobson, André Breton, Franz Boas), the first contact with North-West Coast Amerindian art, and the discovery of New York, an almost surrealistic city “where anything seemed possible.” Without contesting such an a posteriori reading, this article shows how such a reconstruction has been made possible through a complex reorganization of a traumatizing past. It then appears that the exile, and its remembrance in later texts, played a pivotal role in the development of Lévi-Strauss's anthropological work to come: his experience as a refugee was at the root of his reinvention of symbolism as well as of his reflections on humanity as a whole.
Claude Lévi-Strauss in New York
Equator Crossings, Sunsets, and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques
also internal transgression. Particular attention is then devoted to the description of the passage to Brazil that Claude Lévi-Strauss unfolds in two chapters of his famous Tristes Tropiques . This postromantic representation is interesting for two
Le cas de Laëtitia ou la fin des hommes
L’effacement du sujet représente une nécessité d’ordre, pourrait-on dire, méthodologique. Claude Lévi-Strauss 1 Désormais le sujet s’élimine de l’ordre des raisons. […] Tout l’humain est dehors, disent les sciences humaines. Tout est dehors ou tout
Susan Sontag seems to have been on to something when she placed her word portraits of Michel Leiris and Claude Lévi-Strauss back to back.2 An elaboration of her comparison (which was more implied than explicit) may help situate anthropological practice in France—and Leiris’ special role in it—within the larger context of trends elsewhere in the world.
La formation du structuralisme de Claude Lévi-Strauss
Lévi-Strauss considered that the birth of structuralism was mainly caused by his chance encounter with Roman Jakobson: the experience of war and exile had nothing to do with it. This article contends the opposite. It analyzes, from a sociological perspective, the articles Lévi-Strauss produced in New York in the 1940s. Focusing on political and cultural anthropology through the prism of primitive societies, these texts express in sociological terms Lévi-Strauss's self-representation, his hopes and strategies. He regards war as a moment in a cycle of reciprocal exchanges between groups. He sees power as the product of an ability to serve as an intermediary between groups and group members, and anthropological knowledge as the product of the social distance to groups necessary to compare their cultural models. Levi-Strauss's theories in exile are in affinity with his social position of a broker and intermediary between distant social groups among the French émigrés and between them and the Americans. Between the lines, all these formative texts show the efforts of Lévi-Strauss's consciousness to reverse the negative signs of his condition of exile. They played a role in the birth of structuralism even as they represent Lévi-Strauss's first auto-analysis (before Tristes Tropiques).
Flow and Participation in Punu Twin Dancing
While focusing on its dynamics, Bruce Kapferer considers ritual as a means for readjusting the flow of life, thus undermining Claude Lévi-Strauss's vision of ritual as a vain search for continuity. This article shows the potential of Kapferer's approach for understanding the dance rituals that the Punu of Congo-Brazzaville dedicate to twins, who, as waterspirits, embody the source of life. Advancing Victor Turner's attempt to account for the generative power of ritual, it discloses the means through which these rituals afford a lived experience of revitalizing continuity whereby the part embraces the whole and a focused, self-intensifying energetic dynamic unfolds and continuously readjusts its own flow. The analysis of rhythm and its actualization in song and dance turns out to be essential in this regard.
Narratology is the study of the ways in which narrative organises perception and experience. Narratologists understand narrative as a ‘meta-code, a human universal’ (White 1987), which is instrumental in enabling the re-organisation of time, space, character and event in the construction of meaning in texts. Narratologists draw on different epistemological traditions, and develop different approaches and practices. These approaches can be roughly categorised as belonging to textual, inter-textual, and extra-textual traditions. The textual approach is exemplified by the work of Vladimir Propp (1928/1968), Claude Levi-Strauss (1958/1963), Roland Barthes (1966/1977), Algirdas Greimas (1966/1983), Paul Ricoeur (1985), and Tzvetan Todorov (1990). Narratologists in this structuralist tradition categorize and taxonomize narrative form. Propp identified 31 ‘narratemes’ (the smallest narrative units, equivalent to morphemes at the sentence level), which occur in all narratives in unvarying sequence; Greimas developed a typology of narrative ‘actants’; and Ricoeur investigated connections between time and narrative to typify ‘configurational activities’ in narrative plots and sequences. These, and other, textual approaches to narrative, show how texts selectively draw on narrative resources (emplotment, ways of representing character, hermeneutic and proairetic codes) in the construction of narrative meaning.
When published, Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason appeared to be a major intellectual and political event, no less than a Kantian effort to found Marxism, with far-reaching theoretical and political consequences. Claude Levi-Strauss devoted a course to studying it, and debated Sartre's main points in The Savage Mind; Andre Gorz devoted a major article to explaining its importance and key concepts in New Left Review. Many analysts of the May, 1968 events in Paris claimed that they were anticipated by the Critique. But the book has had a very quiet 50th anniversary: it is now clear that the project has had little lasting effect beyond a narrow band of specialists. It has not entered the wider culture, has not been picked up beyond Sartre scholars except by one or two philosophically interested social scientists and feminist thinkers; and after the energy of 1968 wore off the Critique faded as well from the radar of political activists. This article asks and attempts to answer the perplexing question: Why? What became of the great promise of Sartre's project?
In Response to Charlie
Faisal Devji, Jane Garnett, Ghassan Hage, and Sondra L. Hausner
There is a close relation between satire and secularism as the latter came to emerge in Europe. Secularism, as is well-known, gained strength historically as a reaction to an era of European interreligious violence and massacres. It was not only a desire for the separation of church and state, as the classical formula has it. It was also an attempt to keep religious affect out of politics. This was in the belief that religion, because it is faith rather than reasoned thinking, produces too much of a narcissistic affect—that the faithful are unable to ‘keep their distance’ from what they believe in. It was thought that this narcissism was behind the murderous intensity of religiously driven conflicts. Being able to laugh at yourself literally means being able to not take yourself overly seriously. This, in turn, is crucial for the deintensification of the affects generated by the defense of what one believes in and for the relativization of one’s personal beliefs. Such relativization, as Claude Lévi- Strauss argued, is crucial for thinking oneself comparatively and in relation to others (the opposite of narcissism).
Rebecca Feinberg, Patrick Nason, and Hamsini Sridharan
In studying the lives and livelihoods of human beings, the social sciences and humanities often find their lines of inquiry tugged in the direction of other, nonhuman beings. When Claude Lévi-Strauss (1963) suggested that “thinking with” animals was relevant and fruitful to the study of humankind, scholars began to follow these leads with academic rigor, enthusiasm, and creativity. Propelled into the new millennium by the passion of the environmental movement, compounded by natural and anthropogenic disaster, and now entrenched in the discourse of the Anthropocene, recent scholarship has simultaneously called into question the validity of human exceptionalism and expanded our social and political worlds to include animals and myriad other nonhuman beings. This move is paradoxical: as the significance of human action on this planet has increased, the category of the human is continually challenged and redrawn. While contemporary posthumanist critique rethinks the importance of animals and strives to destabilize long-standing ontological exceptions, it does so just as the effects of human presence overwhelmingly single out our species as the dominant agents of planetary change (see Chakrabarty 2009; Steffen, Crutzen, and McNeill 2007).