Sunday, November 08, 2009

"Let's go and study the primitives before they disappear."

Claude Lévi-Strauss, French anthropologist dies.
B. 28 November 1908
D. 30 October 2009

He was known for championing the position that so-called primitives are not inferior to Europeans and their societies are structurally similar. He was criticized for being more philosopher than anthropologist. (See "Claude Lévi-Strauss" by Edmund Leach for an adequate compilation of those criticisms) I only have an undergraduate degree in anthropology and therefore a too limited knowledge; However I enthusiastically embrace the rare real thinker in the field. There are far too many pedantic bean counter anthropologists who substitute meaningless observation acquired via tunnel vision for thorough holistic (I hate that word.) analysis. Indeed most anthropologists lose the forest in observing the trees. Yes, he was French and often used ten words when two might do. (Mais quels mots!) Anthropology remains for me more art than science thanks those like him (and that would certainly disappoint the old codger). His notion of 'bricolage' informs my art.
Il est le premier philosophe qui a expliqué les rouages de l'art et la science dans la culture.

Some quotes:

"There still exists among ourselves an activity which on the technical plane gives us quite a good understanding of what a science we prefer to call 'prior' rather than 'primitive', could have been on the plane of speculation. This is what is commonly called 'bricolage' in French. In its old sense the verb 'bricoler' applied to ball games and billiards, to hunting, shooting and riding. It was however always used with reference to some extraneous movement: a ball rebounding, a dog straying or a horse swerving from its direct course to avoid an obstacle. And in our own time the 'bricoleur' is still someone who works with his hands and uses devious means compared to those of a craftsman. The characteristic feature of mythical thought is that it expresses itself by means of a heterogeneous repertoire which, even if extensive, is nevertheless limited. It has to use this repertoire, however, whatever the task in hand because it has nothing else at its disposal. Mythical thought is therefore a kind of intellectual 'bricolage' - which explains the relation which can be perceived between the two.
Like 'bricolage' on the technical plane, mythical reflection can reach brilliant unforeseen results on the intellectual plane. Conversely, attention has often been drawn to the mytho-poetical nature of 'bricolage' on the plane of so-called 'raw' or 'naive' art, in architectural follies like the villa of Cheval the postman or the stage sets of Georges Méliès, or, again, in the case immortalized by Dickens in Great Expectations but no doubt originally inspired by observation, of Mr Wemmick's suburban 'castle' with its miniature drawbridge, its cannon firing at nine o'clock, its bed of salad and cucumbers, thanks to which its occupants could withstand a siege if necessary ..."- Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (La Pensée Sauvage) Quote found (HERE) Site of Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval

"I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact."

"Enthusiastic partisans of the idea of progress are in danger of failing to recognize... the immense riches accumulated by the human race. By underrating the achievements of the past, they devalue all those which still remain to be accomplished."

"Language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing."

"Since music is a language with some meaning at least for the immense majority of mankind, although only a tiny minority of people are capable of formulating a meaning in it, and since it is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods, and music itself the supreme mystery of the science of man, a mystery that all the various disciplines come up against and which holds the key to their progress."

"The paradox is irresoluble: the less one culture communicates with another, the less likely they are to be corrupted, one by the other; but, on the other hand, the less likely it is, in such conditions, that the respective emissaries of these cultures will be able to seize the richness and significance of their diversity. The alternative is inescapable: either I am a traveller in ancient times, and faced with a prodigious spectacle which would be almost entirely unintelligible to me and might, indeed, provoke me to mockery or disgust; or I am a traveller of my own day, hastening in search of a vanished reality. In either case I am the loser…for today, as I go groaning among the shadows, I miss, inevitably, the spectacle that is now taking shape."
Tristes Tropiques
, this quote from Susan Sontag's 1963 New York Review Of Books essay "A Hero Of Our Time" (LINK)

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