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- Humanity is confined to the borders of the tribe, the linguistic group, or even, in some instances, to the village (...).
- Race and History (Unesco, 1952), p. 12.
- The entire village left the next day in about thirty canoes, leaving us alone with the women and children in the abandoned houses. [Le village entier partit le lendemain dans une trentaine de pirogues, nous laissant seuls avec les femmes et les enfants dans les maisons abandonnées.]
- Notes in an early work, often cited as an extreme example of androcentrism, even among leading anthropologists, "Contribution à l'étude de l'organisation sociale des Indiens Bororo" (1936) p. 283
- We can understand, too, that natural species are chosen not because they are "good to eat" but because they are "good to think." [Les espèces sont choisies non commes bonnes à manger, mais comme bonnes à penser.]
- Totemism (1962), [Le Totémisme aujourd'hui, as translated by Rodney Needham], p. 89
- Often paraphrased as "Animals are good to think with".
- These facts make the creator of music a being like the gods, and make music itself the supreme mystery of human knowledge.
- Mythologiques I: Le cru et le cuit (1964)
- Never better than after the last four centuries of his history could a Western man understand that, while assuming the right to impose a radical separation of humanity and animality, while granting to one all that he denied the other, he initiated a vicious circle. The one boundary, constantly pushed back, would be used to separate men from other men and to claim—to the profit of ever smaller minorities—the privilege of a humanism, corrupted at birth by taking self-interest as its principle and its notion.
- [Serialism] is like a sailless ship, driven out to sea by its captain, who has grown tired of its being used only as a pontoon, and who is privately convinced that by subjecting life aboard to the rules of an elaborate protocol, he will prevent the crew from thinking nostalgically either of their home port or of their ultimate destination.…
- The Raw and the Cooked : Introduction to a Science of Mythology (1975) Vol. I, [Le Cru et le Cuit, as translated by Doreen and John Weightman], p. 113
- A day will come when the idea that for the sake of food the people of the past raised and massacred living beings and with complete equanimity displayed their flesh in bits and pieces in shop windows, will no doubt inspire the same revulsion that the cannibalistic meals of the Americans, Oceanians, or Africans inspired in the travelers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
- The idea behind structuralism is that there are things we may not know but we can learn how they are related to each other. This has been used by science since it existed and can be extended to a few other studies — linguistics and mythology — but certainly not to everything.
The great speculative structures are made to be broken. There is not one of them that can hope to last more than a few decades, or at most a century or two.
- As quoted in his obituary, Daily Telegraph (4 November 2009)
Tristes Tropiques (1955)
- Page numbers are from the Penguin edition, ISBN 0-14-016562-2, translated by John and Doreen Weightman
- I hate travelling and explorers. Yet here I am proposing to tell the story of my expeditions. But how long it has taken me to make up my mind to do so! It is now fifteen years since I left Brazil for the last time and all during this period I have often planned to undertake the present work but on each occasion a sort of shame and repugnance prevented me from making a start. Why, I asked myself, should I give a detailed account of so many trivial circumstances and insignificant happenings? Adventure has no place in the anthropologists profession; it is merely one of those unavoidable drawbacks, which detract from his effective work through the incidental loss of weeks or months; there are hours of inaction when the informant is not available; periods of hunger, exhaustion, sickness perhaps; and always the thousand and one dreary tasks which eat away the days to no purpose and reduce dangerous living in the heart of the virgin forest to an imitation of military service … The fact that so much effort and expenditure has to be wasted on reaching the object of our studies bestows no value on that aspect of our profession, and should be seen rather as its negative side. The truths which we seek so far afield only become valid when we have separated them from this dross.
- Ch. 1 : Setting Out, p. 17
- The order and harmony of the Western world, its most famous achievement, and a laboratory in which structures of a complexity as yet unknown are being fashioned, demand the elimination of a prodigious mass of noxious by-products which now contaminate the globe. The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown into the face of mankind.
- Chapter 4 : The Quest for Power, p. 38
- While I complain of being able to glimpse no more than the shadow of the past, I may be insensitive to reality as it is taking shape at this very moment, since I have not reached the stage of development at which I would be capable of perceiving it. A few hundred years hence, in this same place, another traveller, as despairing as myself, will mourn the disappearance of what I might have seen, but failed to see.
- Chapter 4 : The Quest for Power, p. 43
- Teaching and research are not to be confused with training for a profession. Their greatness and their misfortune is that they are a refuge or a mission.
- Chapter 6 : The Making of an Anthropologist, p. 55
- Not only does a journey transport us over enormous distances, it also causes us to move a few degrees up or down in the social scale. It displaces us physically and also — for better or for worse — takes us out of our class context, so that the colour and flavour of certain places cannot be dissociated from the always unexpected social level on which we find ourselves in experiencing them.
- Chapter 9 : Guanabara, p. 86
- In the case of European towns, the passing of centuries provides an enhancement; in the case of American towns, the passing of years brings degeneration. It is not simply that they have been newly built; they were built so as to be renewable as quickly as they were put up, that is, badly.
- Chapter 11 : São Paulo, p. 95
- The work of the painter, the poet or the musician, like the myths and symbols of the savage, ought to be seen by us, if not as a superior form of knowledge, at least as the most fundamental and the only one really common to us all; scientific thought is merely the sharp point — more penetrating because it has been whetted on the stone of fact, but at the cost of some loss of substance — and its effectiveness is to be explained by its power to pierce sufficiently deeply for the main body of the tool to follow the head.
- Chapter 13 : Pioneer Zone, pp.123-124
- Freedom is neither a legal invention nor a philosophical conquest, the cherished possession of civilizations more valid than others because they alone have been able to create or preserve it. It is the outcome of an objective relationship between the individual and the space he occupies, between the consumer and the resources at his disposal.
- Chapter 16 : Markets, p. 148
- One must be very naïve or dishonest to imagine that men choose their beliefs independently of their situation.
- Chapter 16 : Markets, p. 148
- Once men begin to feel cramped in their geographical, social and mental habitat, they are in danger of being tempted by the simple solution of denying one section of the species the right to be considered as human. This allows the rest a little elbow-room for a few more decades.
- Chapter 16 : Markets p. 149
- Men can coexist on condition that they recognize each other as being all equally, though differently, human, but they can also coexist by denying each other a comparable degree of humanity, and thus establishing a system of subordination.
- Chapter 16 : Markets p. 149
- The image a society evolves of the relationship between the living and the dead is, in the final analysis, an attempt, on the level of religious thought, to conceal, embellish or justify the actual relationships which prevail among the living.
- Chapter 23 : The Living and the Dead, p. 246
- The police are not entrusted with a mission which differentiates them from those they serve. Being unconcerned with ultimate purposes, they are inseparable from the persons and interests of their masters, and shine with their reflected glory.
- Chapter 37 : The Apotheosis of Augustus, p. 378
- If we judge the achievements of other social groups in relation to the kind of objectives we set ourselves, we have at times to acknowledge their superiority; but in doing so we acquire the right to judge them, and hence to condemn all their other objectives which do not coincide with those we approve of. We implicitly acknowledge that our society with its customs and norms enjoys a privileged position, since an observer belonging to another social group would pass different verdicts on the same examples. This being so, how can the study of anthropology claim to be scientific? To reestablish an objective approach, we must abstain from making judgments of this kind. We must accept the fact that each society has made a certain choice, within the range of existing human possibilities, and that the various choices cannot be compared with each other: they are all equally valid. But in this case a new problem arises; while in the first instance we were in danger of falling into obscurantism, in the form of a blind refusal of everything foreign to us, we now run the risk of accepting a kind of eclecticism which would prevent us denouncing any feature of a given culture — not even cruelty, injustice and poverty, against which the very society suffering these ills may be protesting. And since these abuses also exist in our society, what right have we to combat them at home, if we accept them as inevitable when they occur elsewhere?
- Chapter 38 : A Little Glass of Rum, pp.385-386
- Logically, the "infantilization" of the culprit implied by the notion of punishment demands that he should have a corresponding right to a reward, in the absence of which the initial procedure will prove ineffective and may even lead to results contrary to those that were hoped for. Our system is the height of absurdity, since we treat the culprit both as a child, so as to have the right to punish him, and as an adult, in order to deny him consolation; and we believe we have made great spiritual progress because, instead of eating a few of our fellow-men, we subject them to physical and moral mutilation.
- Chapter 38 : A Little Glass of Rum, pp.388-389
- Natural man did not precede society, nor is he outside it.
- Chapter 38 : A Little Glass of Rum, p. 392
- Enthusiastic partisans of the idea of progress are in danger of failing to recognize — because they set so little store by them — the immense riches accumulated by the human race on either side of the narrow furrow on which they keep their eyes fixed; by underrating the achievements of the past, they devalue all those which still remain to be accomplished.
- Chapter 38 : A Little Glass of Rum, p. 393
Myth and Meaning (1978)
- I never had, and still do not have, the perception of feeling my personal identity. I appear to myself as the place where something is going on, but there is no ‘I’, no ‘me.’ Each of us is a kind of crossroads where things happen. The crossroads is purely passive; something happens there. A different thing, equally valid, happens elsewhere. There is no choice, it is just a matter of chance.
- Nature has only a limited number of procedures at her disposal and that the kinds of procedure which Nature uses at one level of reality are bound to reappear at different levels.
- Chapter 1 : The Meeting of Myth and Science
- I may be subjected to the criticism of being called ‘scientistic’ or a kind of blind believer in science who holds that science is able to solve absolutely all problems. Well, I certainly don’t believe that, because I cannot conceive that a day will come when science will be complete and achieved.
- Chapter 1 : The Meeting of Myth and Science
- People who are without writing have a fantastically precise knowledge of their environment and all their resources. All these things we have lost, but we did not lose them for nothing; we are now able to drive an automobile without being crushed at each moment, for example, or in the evening to turn on our television or radio. This implies a training of mental capacities which ‘primitive’ peoples don’t have because they don’t need them.
- Chapter 2 : ‘Primitive’ Thinking and the ‘Civilized’ Mind
- I am not far from believing that, in our own societies, history has replaced mythology and fulfils the same function, that for societies without writing and without archives the aim of mythology is to ensure that as closely as possible—complete closeness is obviously impossible—the future will remain faithful to the present and to the past.
- Chapter 4 : When Myth Becomes History
Quotes about Claude Lévi-Strauss
- Apart from the advantages accruing from from praying ardently to Marx, a facility for startling and often entertaining play upon words, suitable for a salon, account no doubt for much of Lévi-Strauss’s celebrity although […] equally effective in this respect must be his highly original technique of persuasion (reminiscent of a sorcerer’s spell casing) based on threatening people with mathematics: muttering darkly about algebraic matrices and transformations without revealing their exact nature.
- Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences As Sorcery (Penguin, 1974), p. 85
- I would go as far as to say (as my anger comes back) that any attempt to codify musical reality into a kind of imitation grammar (I refer mainly to the efforts associated with the Twelve-Tone System) is a brand of fetishism which shares with Fascism and racism the tendency to reduce live processes to immobile, labeled objects, the tendency to deal with formalities rather than substance. Claude Lévi-Strauss describes (though to illustrate a different point) a captain at sea, his ship reduced to a frail raft without sails, who, by enforcing a meticulous protocol on his crew, is able to distract them from nostalgia for a safe harbor and from the desire for a destination.
- The true meaning of myth, Lévi-Strauss held, lay below the narrative surface, and was to be detected by considering the changes apparent in different versions of the same legend. In his own metaphor, he studied the relationship between various narratives rather as a musician would seek to weave together different instrumental parts to form a symphony.
- Obituary, Daily Telegraph (4 November 2009)
- He represents an extremely subversive vision with his interest in populations that were disdained. He paid careful attention, not touristically but profoundly, to the human beings on the earth who think differently from us. It’s a respect for others, which is very strong and very moving. He knew that cultural diversity is necessary for cultural creativity, for the future.
- NYTimes commemoration at age 100
- Obituary, Daily Telegraph (4 November 2009)
- Lecture: The Birth of Historical Societies (3 and 4 October1984) UC Berkeley (audio file)
- Linguistic and Commodity Exchanges
- "Claude Lévi-Strauss: a Career Spanning a Century" by Philippe Descola, in The Letter of the Collège de France n°4, 2009, p. 36
- "Interview with Claude Lévi Strauss" (1972) video, 1 hour (in French with English subtitles)
- "Documentaire 52: About Tristes Tropiques (1991)
- Various excerpts from Structural Anthropology at marxists.org
- Extract from "Race and History" (1952)
- List of works by Claude Lévi-Strauss
- Claude Lévi-Strauss's profile on the Académie française site
- Excerpts from La Pensee Sauvage