28 November 2008

On Levi-Strauss

No, not jeans!

Today is the centenary of the birth of Claude Levi-Strauss. Indeed it is his birthday, for he is still alive. But age is not his claim to fame; that lies in his theorisation of anthropology through "structuralism". He sought underlying principles of human thinking through the discovery of common themes in the culture and language of disparate peoples. That is as close as I will go to the edge lest I sink into mire of gallic intellectualisation; if you want to know more, google him at your peril.

I have no idea what to make of him. I read most of his major works thirty-odd years ago when I felt the need to justify myself as an "intellectual"--a need now happily past. Like many others, I wore my membership of the club of those who had finished The Raw and the Cooked or The Savage Mind, more as a badge of my conquest of tedium than as testimony to my own thinking having been informed in any useful way. Later, of course, he appeared to be a model of clarity and simplicity alongside his "post-structuralist" heirs.

Sorry to be dog-in-a-mangerish on his birthday, but he has outlived his reputation. Not because he was "wrong"--there is no way to demonstrate or argue that in his weird world--but because nowadays, intellectual fashion can pass over one in the course of a lifetime. And I still have no idea what he and his gang thought they were contributing to any understadning of the real world... But, he did persuade lots of people to play his game!

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