THE VIEW FROM AFAR by Claude Levi-Strauss


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A Levi-Strauss sampler: essays on classic themes--race, kinship, myth, ritual--many of which are accessible to a wide audience. ""The View From Afar"" symbolizes both Levi-Strauss's image of anthropology's distinctive approach and his own desire to return--after some 50 years' research--to earlier themes. Throughout, Levi-Strauss's defense of structuralism as a method interweaves with his dismay (first sounded in Tristes Tropiques) at the decline of cultures and civilizations. The first essay, ""Race and Culture,"" caused fireworks on its initial presentation as a UNESCO talk. Rather than decrying all forms of racism, Levi-Strauss questions the extent to which cultures themselves create races through the course of their histories, and wonders whether defense of difference is not itself critical to cultural survival; to preservation ""of those old particularisms. . . that we carefully safeguard in libraries and museums because we feel ever less capable of producing them ourselves."" Levi-Strauss' own pleasure in cultural variation is evident in a series of essays presenting cultural puzzles. Comparing themes of forgetfulness, misunderstanding, and indiscretion in myths from ancient Greece and North American tribes, he finds both sets of myths resorting to similar metaphoric structures (such as the seductress stepmother or the seduced sister). ""This would confirm. . . that even in a case that defies geographic or historical connection, the repertoire from which mythical thinking draws its themes and motifs has limited resources."" Several essays on constraint and freedom reveal Levi-Strauss' appreciation of the tension between the two. In art, he would welcome a return to craft; instead of questioning the role of schools in aiding or constraining the creative child, he would change the focus from schools to society, from children to adults--""frenzied consumers"" who ""anxiously await the coming of the creative man. And since we cannot glimpse him anywhere, in despair we turn to our children."" Finally, in response to a French government debate: ""True liberty is that of long habit, of preferences--in a word, of customs. . . Liberty is maintained from the inside; it undermines itself When people think they can construct it from without."" Vintage Levi-Strauss, not just for connoisseurs.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1985
ISBN: 0226474747
Publisher: Basic Books